ANA crisis: Denja bares it all

In this interview with AWAAL GATA, the immediate past president of the association of Nigerian Authors  (ANA), Denja Abdullahi, explains the impasse the association is currently enmeshed.

 In the history of ANA, only the EXCO you led could not organise an election that would herald successors; why and how did that happen?

What happened at the Enugu Convention was bound to happen and had been incubating for a long time. People should view it from a historical perspective and should not think anything extraordinary had happened that was caused by my executive. Bitter and divisive politics in ANA  started rearing its head fully since 2005 at the Kano convention. Before then you hardly notice anyone campaigning for offices in ANA.

  It was at conventions or during nominations we got to know who was contesting for what post. But from 2005 the political situation in ANA changed due to several factors. The charged political atmosphere continued with the keen contests of 2009 in Minna and that of Abuja in 2011 whereby the use of the social media to disparage opponents became a strategy. The height of the gladiatorial  politics in ANA was the contest of 2015 between me and BM Dzukogi in Kaduna for ANA Presidency. It was a contest that was not supposed to be considering the relationship between the two of us up till then. We had always worked together for the political health of the association and its general progress.

There would have been no contest between us in 2015 as both of us had a gentleman’s agreement ( I can supply you mutual emails to that effect) going but some shadowy figures propped up the contest between us. There was even a meeting called by the elders of ANA (Dr Wale Okediran, Prof Zaynab Alkali and Prof May Nwoye) to forestall the looming  contest which they felt was going to be unhealthy. At that meeting, witnessed by supporters from both sides, the henchman of the shadowy figures on Dzukogi’s side, who is today at the head of the present dissension in ANA, insisted that there must be no reconciliation and made it impossible for the initial objective of the meeting to be achieved. So, we went to Kaduna in 2015 primed for battle, and I won. Even the Kaduna elections were nearly aborted and we barely managed to survive that elections with all the budding thuggery, mudslinging, low scale bribery, etc. that took place. In the history of ANA , my executive was the only one that contented with an active opposition right from day one in office. Previously, once an election was won and lost, the losers go to rest and allow the new executives to function. In my own case, those who lost to me and their supporters ranged themselves up in an active opposition against me. They criticised and plagued every move of mine and they nearly sabotaged my first convention in Abuja in 2016. They even tried to go to court to get an injunction to stop that convention. In spite of this bitter and unconscionable opposition to my administration, I did my best to fulfill my campaign promises and was re-elected in 2017 in Makurdi still against the forces against me in 2015.

They could not stop me from delivering on my campaign promises and they were witnesses to my achievements in office. This same forces decided that come what may, they must succeed me or destroy the association. They started their campaign to succeed me on a platform of calumny: “Let us rubbish all of his so-called achievements and tarnish his image so that he will not be able to influence anything against us.” Instead of them telling ANA members what they have to offer like I did in 2015, they went about disparaging me and my executives and making spurious unproven allegations. They formed a party and started going round elders of ANA and some chapters with their campaign of calumny. They were so bereft of ideas and had no other campaign strategy except that of calumny. It is on record that Prof Idris Amali, a founding member of ANA, who they took that sort of campaign to in Lafia, warned them to desist and pointed out to them the consequences of such a campaign, which has come to pass. It is also on record that before the convention I sent out two official memos to ANA chapters through the chairmen, warning them of the looming disruption of the Enugu convention; going by the vicious and divisive activities of that particular group. I for once knew that the group was determined to disrupt the convention at Enugu and my executives did all it could to get the convention to the point of our dissolution. They were not ready for the elections to hold and they disrupted it when it was time for it. Recently, their chief scribe, came out openly to state that their group alongside three other presidential aspirants met a day to the elections and planned the strategies which they used to disrupt the election. The strategies were thuggery, vote buying, and corrupting security men (one of them who attended NMS Zaria called up former colleagues still in service at 82 Division Enugu to frighten away the soldiers that the LOC provided for security).

 They created disorder during the nomination of the electoral committee, insisting that presidential aspirants must be represented in the committee. Have you ever heard it done anywhere where contestants in an election will have representative on the panel conducting the same election? They forced the hand of the house to accept that anomaly even when there were reasonable opposition to that. Even at that, their men in that same panel executed their not hidden agenda of sabotaging that same election. Accreditation was nearly concluded when they gave the signal for disruption and unaccredited persons led by one of the presidential aspirants forced  themselves inside the hall. That and more was what happened in Enugu. Anybody looking for who to blame for what happened in Enugu should contextualise things properly before laying the blame. Myself and my executive have no blame in the matter for we did not do anything differently from the traditions, conventions and constitution of ANA.

It is being alleged widely that you wanted your deputy, Camilus Ukah, to succeed you, no matter what; is that the truth?

Those making the allegation that I wanted my VP, Camillus Ukah to succeed me at all cost are not honest in their claim. In the history of ANA, had VPs not succeeded to the office of the President? (Abubakar) Gimba was VP before he became President, so was Olu Obafemi, Jerry Agada and myself. So if I had had a very good working relationship with my VP for four years and this is someone who had been a chairman of a state chapter and had been very visible in the association coupled with his credentials as an accomplished writer, so he should not aspire to succeed me, because some other person is aspiring to same? Is it even possible for an incumbent President to anoint a successor and force the congress to elect that person? Elections in ANA are never rigged. If it is so, then Elechi Amadi would never have lost to Olu obafemi in Port Harcourt in 2001, neither will Yahaya Dangana have lost to Jerry Agada in Minna in 2009 nor Agada losing to Remi Raji in Abuja in 2011. Dzukogi and I who were both close to Remi Raji contested in 2015 and I defeated Dzukogi. I can even say that in spite of me being VP to Remi Raji, he was, earlier,  close to Dzukogi than myself; why did he not rig Dzukogi into succeeding him? Yes, I certainly have my preference like any other person and if a vote had taken place I  would have  voted for one person. It is a secret ballot and no one can  force the other to vote against his or her conscience. The list of participants and accredited delegates are deterninable at every ANA election, so how could I have insisted someone must succeed me? The people making that allegation knew all what they have done in the open and in the secret against me, so they planned to discredit the process before hand by saying I want to anoint my VP to succeed me. The simple truth was that they were not confident enough to be part of a free and fair election. They were also afraid of my general goodwill among members of the association, having led to the best of my ability, so they fished all over the place for what they will use to cause disruption.

As it is being alleged in  ANA circles, your anointing of Ukah is for your ‘illegalities’ as president to be covered, specifically, your alleged sale of a part of ANA land in Abuja. What are the truths of all these?

 I disagree with you for saying ANA circles. Call it (Ahmed) Maiwada circle.  Let us call a spade a spade. The ANA that I have led for four years and regularly presented the reports of my stewardship at AGMs, executive council meetings and annual meetings of chapter chairmen and secretaries with the EXCO; no objections were raised against my “illegalities” or queries raised that I had not answered until one Ahmed Maiwada came to contest for presidency? So he is the only thinking member of the association among the multitude? All the decisions we took and all the things done while in office were done by me alone? The ANA land you said, is Ahmed Maiwada not part of it all along? Are you not aware he prepared the ANA land development MOU with KMVL in 2012/2013 as ANA National Legal Adviser and counsel, and that MOU was appended to by Remi Raji and BM Dzukogi as President and GS respectively? I met that agreement as President  in 2015 /2016 and my executive did not sign any other agreement with the current developer or any other till I left office. I formed a land committee inclusive of Ahmed Maiwada, chaired by Dr Wale Okediran and there was nothing done on that ANA land which that committee was not aware of. The developments on that land throughout my tenure was reported to the congress not by me but by the committee at every AGM  with written reports.

We also  sought authority from the congress to proceed on major moves on that land at every point. Minutes of meetings of congresses, executive council meetings and ANA land committee meetings are available to back up all these. My executive was the first to take the Congress of ANA to the site of the land in 2016 after the first convergence in  1985 when Vatsa allocated it.

 My executive was the only executive after various successive executives to muster the strength to commence real development of the place to the level at which it is today. Instead of praise I am being  vilified for it in some quarters; for the simple reason that I am being erroneously considered as a threat to their ambition to lead ANA.

To the charge of selling ANA land, it is simply impossible for me to do that, as I have never been in custody of the documents of the ANA land. Is it possible to sell a land which you do not have custodial rights and documents? It will only be foolish and highly prejudicial for anyone to believe someone can sell a land which is not in his custody or which he does not own. That will be 419 and he will eventually be unearthed. I have challenged those going about to tell people that I sold ANA land in other to shore up their desperate political interests to produce evidences of the people I sold the land to and state the amount I collected for those sales. He who alleges should prove. The charge of sale of ANA land is the regular blackmail against ANA presidents over the years and for a presidency like mine that did the seemingly impossible by developing the land with structures and infrastructures, then I should expect more serious blackmails from opponents. Go read the ANA land development report presented at the AGM in Enugu and that at the media tour I had on the land in September 2019  to get the facts of the ANA land. Saying that I want Camilus Ukah to succeed me to cover up on illegalities on the land is ‘sheer flatulence’ ( apology to Prof Olu Obafemi). That means Remi Raji enthroned me to cover up for his own illegalities on ANA land and Agada enthroned Remi  to do same and it goes backwards like that. If you want to know if ANA land was sold to anyone or how it was sold, then go read the MOU with KMVL of 2012/2013 prepared by Ahmed Maiwada and endorsed by the official representatives of ANA; or best still go and ask KMVL what he had been doing there since 2012 as he has since then been vested with all custodial rights to that land as an agent and developer of the land by ANA. As president of ANA from November 2015 to November 2019, I have paper and document trail of every single thing my executive did on that land.

Intellectuals and writers should work with concrete evidences not rumours, mudslingings and wicked and unfounded political insinuations. Why are people not even asking why a particular presidential candidate has been so obsessive about the ANA land to the point of recklessness? When I campaigned for presidency the ANA land was just one item out of my 15 -point agenda and what I promised to ANA on the land I have delivered it as well other things on my agenda except one( the literary prizes). That particular candidate’s obsession on the ANA land , which he had used to cause the dissension we are in now, must be driven by a compulsive motive that we do not about. It will unravel with time.

After the general election was disrupted in Enugu, an electoral committee was reportedly formed to see to the conduct of a proper election within 180 days. According to Maiwada, that committee was voided by another formed by the Association’s advisory council, which is unconstitutional, without informing some of the candidates. The disregard for Enugu committee prompted the March 7 election in Abuja. Can the advisory council organise ANA election? Was the Enugu Elcom nullified without some candidates’ knowledge?

The electoral committee that was duly formed before the dissolution of my executive could not conduct the elections before the process was disrupted by the delegates from the Akwa Ibom chapter led by Ofonime Inyang, one of the presidential aspirants, who insisted that all the 17 delegates from his chapter must be allowed in to vote( including his wife who was in South Africa at that moment).  That was after all the other chapters had been duly accredited with unqualified persons first timers  and students) screened out by the electoral committee who were working with the list of all persons who paid to attend the convention and the list of eligible voters based on the records available to ANA from 2012-2018. In ANA, first timer attendees of the convention are not allowed to vote. These two basic procedural electoral rules were read out to the house and were affirmed before the accreditation process began. Following the rules, chapters like Enugu who registered 47 were left with 12 eligible voters and almost every chapter lost varying numbers of persons based on those simple two rules. We had insisted before hand that those who were not financially up to date will not be allowed to vote but we had to do away with that so that it would not be read that we were trying to favour any candidate. Do you know that a particular candidate who was the most noisy had not paid a farthing to the National and his local chapter as dues for years? Do you know he called me to beg to pay up for a few years and was even pardoned by his chapter from paying the local dues? In another association, such a candidate would have been expressly disqualified from contesting. But in ANA   the egalitarianism in us allow even members who do not pay their dues to vie for elective positions. So many other members in that convention in Enugu who were brought there to cause disruption were in that category of members who last paid dues to the Association in the year 2015 or even a decade before then.

Coming back to your question , in ANA constitution no electoral committee can work beyond the convention within which it was set up. The work of that committee ended with the disrupted elections. So that electoral committee whose tenure was purportedly extended by some chairmen of chapters acting for the total congress of ANA was ab- initio a violation of ANA constitution. The electoral committee tried to get the election to continue after the initial disruption by moving delegates into another venue with electricity and starting the accreditation process all over again and sought the opinions of the presidential aspirants . Two of them, Chike Ofili and Camillus Ukah,  agreed to the continuation of the process but two others,  Ahmed Maiwada and Ofonime Inyang, insisted that the elections must be postponed. Isaac Ogezi, the , Legal Adviser of my executive  was asked to read what the constitution says on the situation and he did so. The constitution affirms that in the event of an election not holding at an elective convention, the ANA advisory council should convoke an Emergency General Meeting of the Congress which will appoint a caretaker committee to conduct an election within 180 days.

Go read article 9 sub-section 7-8 where these  provisions can be found.The life of the electoral committee formed at Enugu therefore ended at the end of that convention. That was why Professor Akachi Ezeigbo, the chairman of the committee, refused to proceed with the committee, citing the unconstitutionality of extending the life of that committee beyond Enugu. Odia Ofeimun and Remi Raji who I had to plead with before they accepted the anomalous situation of representing presidential candidates in an electoral committee to sit over the elections in which those they were to represent have interests, also decided not to do anything with an electoral  committee that had expired constitutionally. The ANA advisory council took over and after consulting widely released a statement formally dissolving the Enugu electoral committee and set out constitutionally provisioned procedure to lead us into a valid election until the Covid-19 pandemic set in. After the dissolution of the Enugu electoral committee, two members of the dissolved electoral committee released a time table for an election to have held on the 22 February 2020. That unauthorized and brazen action gave credence to those who were opposed to representatives of candidates being made part of those to serve as impartial umpires of an electoral process.  Did that election hold? It did not. But these two partisan individuals were the same persons that were corralled into another nebulous electoral committee that was convoked by a body of chairmen and secretaries unknown to the ANA constitution who went ahead to conduct a purported elections in Abuja on 7th of March 2020 where the Congress of ANA were disenfranchised including other contestants. The Abuja  meeting of a few chairmen of chapters which was heavily sponsored by a particular candidate was first advertised as a meeting of some concerned chairmen of chapters in clear violation of a subsisting instructions of the advisory council on the way out of the impasse. The party that worked behind the scene with the ANA Abuja chapter Chairman to convoke the Abuja meeting where their plan to impose themselves on the Association was perfected, had all along been disparaging the advisory council and claiming without evidence that ANA does not have an advisory council. An advisory council that was duly appointed with letters of appointment in January 2016 with the Congress duly informed at the AGM in 2016? The Advisory council have been working for ANA since their appointment and have featured and recognised as such at several ANA functions over the years. Suddenly they no longer exist in the eyes of a particular candidate and his supporters in 2020? Is that not being clever by half? With regards to the travesty of 7th March in Abuja, go read Article 33 sub-section 1-7 of the ANA constitution and you will see that chairmen and secretaries of ANA cannot constitute themselves into an Emergency General Meeting  (EGM) of ANA to elect a National executive council for the Association on behalf of ANA Congress. They have no such power so whatever has happened at that meeting of clearly partisan chairmen of some chapters( which is not even representative of the stand of their members) was null and void and of no effect as lawyers put it.

The advisory council have the full power to set up the process as they have done that will lead to the election of a new national executive council. Members who chose not to participate because they do not like the face of those in the advisory council are not doing the right thing. Why the advisory council is being vilified in some quarters by a particular candidate is that they came to the whole electoral process on the erroneous  premise that the elders of ANA have all along been anointing their presidential candidates and therefore they must not be allowed to preside over any election in ANA again. One of the aspirants have been known to be saying that since Okediran, all those who have become ANA presidents have been Okediran boys. So because one very special messiah-like candidate is contesting this time around we should change all our rules, traditions, conventions and kill all the elders and past presidents to allow for his emergence? We should also violate the sense of comradeship, communal ties, unity and  health of the Association for a messiah to emerge? What exactly is at stake here?

Is it constitutional for chapter chairmen and secretaries to elect national EXCO, citing ‘necessity’?

Going by my explanations,  it is not constitutional for such to take place. Their is no basis for citing the doctrine of necessity when the laid down constitutional procedure have not been fully exhausted but rather ignored  by those who met in Abuja. Those who gathered in Abuja are mainly supporters of a particular candidate who went there without the mandate of members of their chapters. It was a ploy to force collegiate or delegate elections on the Association.  We all know delegate or collegiate electoral process is susceptible to manipulative corruption and massive vote buying. Before the Enugu convention , a particular candidate had his men phoning chapter chairmen  across the country offering sums of money to pay for their registration,  transportation and even promised hotel accommodation in Enugu. I did my investigations when I noticed unusual payments of funds by chapters into ANA National account, especially from places where hitherto chapter chairmen had told me of financial handicaps and got factual information of monetary inducements. I contested for the Presidency of ANA twice in 2015 and 2017 and on both occasions I never sent money to any chapter for any reason. In Enugu itself , money was been moved from one hotel to the other where delegates were camped. Money politics and massive attempt at vote buying by candidates  were some of the factors that made the elections at Enugu to be so contested. A lot of money had been sunk into the whole process by candidates , who had earlier travelled like headless chicken , some with large  teams , on campaign trails all over the country. When I contested in 2015 and 2017, I travelled only to just two or three places , which I did in the stride of my official work covered by my place of primary work. My opponent too on both occasions did not travel much. To succeed Denja Abdullahi as President  of ANA , 4 aspirants, a record number of contestants in the history of ANA , devoted a lot money, passion and energy to campaign and yet people expect a final contest without all sorts of intrigues and desperate tactics. The same people who campaigned so relentlessly to succeed me were those alleging that I did not achieve anything , a white fat lie that will not fly in the face of the scorecards of my executive(2015-2019). No one has asked them what is fuelling the increased interest and intense aspiration backed  with loads of cash  to occupy an office where there is no salary nor allowance attached to it? Coming back to your question, I did not write the ANA constitution and the last amendments was not done during my tenure as president. In the subsisting ANA constitution, there is no room for Chapter chairmen and secretaries to invoke any doctrine of necessity. In ANA chapters are clearly subordinated to the National Executive Council and if any body could invoke the doctrine of necessity , that will be the Trustees , Advisory Council and the General Congress with an existing National Executive Council superintending over it. Even the Congress itself cannot convoke itself , it has to be convoked by a subsisting National Executive Council.

At the moment, some people are already working as ANA EXCO, how do you intend to resolve that? What is ANA trying to do to mend fences? Have you reached out to every party for a truce?

Anyone working as ANA Exco now as we speak is self- appointed. No valid election of a national executive council has taken place and no action can be taken on that premise by anyone. My executive is yet to formally handover power to anyone since no executive has been elected yet. When I was elected in 2015 and re-elected in 2017 there was a handing and taking over process which involved the transfer of files, documents , instruments, website, social media handles,  properties and formal notification of ANA partners, bankers and contacts of a change of baton.All these are still pending since we do not have an elected  executive yet. Any group parading itself as ANA National Executive Council now are simply impersonating or must have carried out a coup  and may be planning to enforce that on the association. You can do a poll and ask general ANA congress members, not only chairmen of chapters, if they have elected any national executive council and the people who participated and presided over the election; you will get confirmation if any group as at now has authority to call itself ANA National Executive Council. The process to validly elect a new national executive council as provisioned in the ANA constitution is still on-going and will be concluded after the Covid -19 pandemic. Anyone who wants to lead the Association in any of its capacities should submit to that process and participate as no one has been excluded.

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