By Prisca Sam-Duru & Vera Samuel Anyagafu
Dubbed the biggest cultural Picnic in Africa, the 14th Lagos Book and Art Festival(LABAF), which commenced on the 12th November, 2012, came to a memorable close last Sunday at Freedom Park, Lagos.
With theme ‘Narratives of Conflict’, the festival which was activity packed featured various sessions such as debates, conversations, reflections, workshops, performances, as well as several stands mounted by books exhibitors, visual artists and textile designers.
This year’s festival was dedicated to veteran artist Bruce Onabrakpeya, who recently turned 80. It also featured a pre-festival event which kick-started with a book trek to Quintessence gallery, Ikoyi Lagos on the 12th where a conversation was held around two books: Witness to Justice by Bishop Matthew Kukah and Roses and Bullets by Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo.
The festival also had a Publisher’s Forum with theme; ‘Financing the Book Trade’, held on the 5th of November at the Goethe Institute, Lagos. The Forum was organized as a workshop for Nigerian publishers.
The festival colloquium which was part of the main festival events, indeed was the intellectual backbone of the three day event. The colloquium was woven around discussions on Bishop Matthew Kukah’s Witness to Justice which is a book that explores events surrounding Nigeria’s most ambitious attempt at addressing the ills of the past.
Other books discussed were Akachi Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets which chronicles in a very emotive manner, her perspective of the Nigerian civil war. Also, Kayode Fayemi’s Out of the Shadows, and Wale Oshun’s Open Grave which are both riveting accounts of experiences during exile and battles to recovering the country from the jaws of the military were also discussed.
There were readings, reviews and discussions around the books by members of the panel which included Niran Okewole, Tade Ipadeola, Deji Toye and Prof Akachi Ezeigbo while Tunji Lardner moderated.
Dr Okewole pointed out that there is a lot more that Nigerians can gain by studying authors who were there when critical events took place. On Achebe’s controversial book, There Was A Country, he said that “Achebe recollects from his memory “and memory according to him, “has a way of rejecting and selecting materials which distinguishes the book under discussion from some of his previous books.”
He posited that there are different forms of narratives and that it is possible to look at Nigeria from a longitudinal narrative. But he however questioned if it is possible to have a grand narrative about Nigeria.
Tade Ipadeola noted that already,pirated copies of the book is fast selling while the publisher smiles to the bank showing that Nigerians read after all. The purpose of a book he pointed out is to clarify and not argue, but “Achebe knows how powerful his prose can be and so he decided to argue the unargueable”.
Professor Ezeigbo who maintained that she does not believe in a grand narrative because people are different and are free to interpret differently, stressed that any one is free to give subjective interpretation of issues. Nigerian civil war according to her, has generated a lot of controversies and many books have been written about it, so, “There is no grand text or narratives”.
She said. Still on Achebe’s book, she corrected that people have been given opportunity to air their opinions and so have expressed their views about the civil war adding that she wrote Roses and Bullets from her own perspective due to what she witnessed as a teenager and emphasised the need for people to interpret their views from a subjective point of view based on fact.
She continued in her objective defence by arguing that why There Was A Country has generated a lot of controversy is because it is written by Prof Achebe adding that so many people have written more than what Achebe has written yet there was no noise about their works. “If you think that Achebe has not done well in his book, write your own after all people have rights to their own opinions”, she explained.
Prof Ezeigbo warned that this generation is beginning to make mistakes of the past, and because of this, maintained that people should have different perspectives and opinions. “We would dialogue till we make it right” She insisted.
At the end of the discourse, the panel agreed to the fact that the problem with Nigeria is failure of the elite to meet at a round table to find a way of restructuring the country.
Coming at a time when the country is faced with overwhelming challenges in form of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North, resurgence of kidnapping in the South East and the Niger Delta, political killings and most recently.