The President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Denja Abdullahi, has given his final word on the association’s inability to pay the current winner of the NECO/Teen Authorship Prize for Prose, Ernest Ogunyemi, his prize money.
Abdullahi, in an interview with our correspondent on Monday, said ANA was still waiting for the sponsors of the prize, the National Examination Council, to provide funds for the payment of the winning teen author.
“ANA will pay Ogunyemi his prize money as soon as NECO gives us money. If the council does not provide the fund, we cannot pay him. That is the simple truth,” he said.
A few days ago and eight months after he emerged winner of the literary prize, 18-year-old Ogunyemi announced on Twitter that he had not yet been paid the prize money, which is valued at N100,000. He added that the ANA President had, on one occasion, told him that the writers’ body had no money to pay him.
The teen author’s tweet unexpectedly ignited an uproar on social media. Many Nigerians kicked against the delay in paying him his due, even criticising the association for not living up to its image as the umbrella body for writers in the country.
Reacting to the criticism, Abdullahi, in a statement posted on his Facebook page, had explained that the problem was caused by NECO’s delay in redeeming its sponsorship pledge.
Apparently angered by Ogunyemi’s ‘audacity’, the ANA helmsman had gone on to ask the teen author to tender an apology to the association or risk having his prize money withheld.
Fortunately, U.S-based writer and social critic, Ikhide R. Ikheloa and lawyer, Anthony Omokhodion, intervened in the matter and paid the money owed Ogunyemi.
“My friend Anthony Omokhodion and I just made good on the Association of Nigerian Authors’ debt to ErnestOgunyemi on the N100,000 owed him. This was a conversation about holding writers and leaders accountable,” Ikheloa had announced in a tweet.
But Abdullahi dismissed Ikheloa and Omokhodion’s gesture as uncalled for, saying, “Those people were not asked to pay the boy on our behalf. We don’t even care about what they have done. It does not concern us at all. Since ANA did not give them the mandate to do what they did, we have no business with them.” Wondering why people were attacking ANA and not NECO for the delay in payment of Ogunyemi’s prize money, he added, “This matter is very simple. A big organisation endowed the prize and it refused to redeem its pledge. NECO couldn’t even pay us ordinary N300, despite that it makes millions of naira every year. Just imagine that.”
Abdullahi pointed out that it was NECO that approached the writers’ body with a request to restore the Teen Authorship Prize, not the other way around. “ANA did not go to NECO to ask for anything. They wrote to us on their own. So why are people so biased? The same NECO has refused to provide the money for the prize. Where else does the young man expect me to get money to pay him?”
Thereafter, slipping into a lamentation of the challenges facing ANA, he said that the association had had to go cap-in-hand begging state governments, corporate bodies and individuals for financial support on many occasions without positive results.
He said, “Nobody, not even government, wants to give ANA money to run its programmes. Even the so-called corporate organisations don’t give us anything. Every year, we write to them to request sponsorship for our programmes, but they don’t give us anything. ANA has been surviving without assistance from these institutions for many years.
“The only person who has consistently given us financial support is Alhaji Yusuf Ali and he has never heard that we misappropriated the funds that he has been giving us. The last time we went to see him, he told us that he was happy with the way we had been spending the funds he gave to us.”
Efforts made by our correspondent to reach NECO’s spokesman, Alhaji Azeez Sani, for ihis reaction, as of the time of filing this report, did not yield positive results.