Interview with Remi Raji continued from Previous Page
A.E.: And are there any collaboration between PEN Nigeria and the Association of Nigerian Authors, both organizations of which you are a member.
R.R.: I am current Secretary of PEN and a current national officer of ANA. I would have wished that there is a greater collaboration, or shall I say sustained collaboration between ANA and PEN, but there is little. I assumed that being a member of both organizations, as many others, would be a plus but it has not been. ANA is the umbrella body of Nigerian writers worldwide; it has the spread and the resilient network to make things work. PEN Nigeria is a geographic arm of PEN International which itself is an autonomous arm of UNESCO; and it derives its significance especially from Resolutions and Rapid Action Network (RAN) in defence of the defenceless and the defensible. The Senegalese experience in which both PEN Senegal and the Association des Ecrivains du Senegal interact and enjoy the full patronage of the Presidency and the Cultural Commission is a rare example that I know of at least in Africa. If this is not duplicable for the simple history of the fear of the writer as adjudicator, or trouble maker in Nigeria, there are indeed areas where both PEN and ANA require collaboration for greater mutual leverage. In any case, the membership of PEN at inception and even now, derives from the absolute membership of ANA.
A.E.: Is there a formal process through which the Nigerian PEN keep in touch with and support activities ( if any) of Nigerian writers in exile?
R.R. The formal process of keeping in touch with Nigerian membership of PEN abroad, including writers in exile has been put in place almost a year ago. And the process involved the election of WiE (Writers-in-Exile) committee as part of the Board, with the mandate to report developments, events, or issues around the condition of exile and when available to send personal information for further reference at PEN International’s WiE meeting or bulletins.
A.E.: In the same breath, how has PEN Nigeria taken up the cause of Nigerian writers in exile, who have been barred as a group from entering their work for that prize?
R.R.: You know that there are procedures to such institutional matters. To the best of my knowledge, the WiE did not send a proposal indicating a necessity on the part of PEN as a body to speak on behalf of Nigerian writers in exile against the prohibitive clause in the NLNG Prize. But I can tell you that there are levels of advocacy ongoing, three quarters of which is reported for security reasons. Some of us, in different ways, have reacted against the strange indigenizing clause, whatever the argument on the side of encouraging home-bred writing. But PEN Nigeria has no practical powers to force the change alone; the advocacy is on words and other non-violent procedures of pressure. You know the story of how the suggestion of the clause came about. PEN was not part of the consulting group and could only push for amendment or restoration after the clause had formed. As I have said elsewhere, a Nigerian Literature Prize is a lofty thing to will into being, but its residency clause will limit its openness by half its size. The feeling that Nigerian writers abroad have better opportunities or exposure to other awards, which is false, should not be allowed to diminish the quality of the challenge of the best in the country.