Scholars Discuss Ways To Improve Problems In Nigeria

Elise Foley

By Elise FoleyContributing Writer

Academics from around the world met in Norris Thursday for a panel focused on the relationship and parallels between the political and literary problems in Nigeria.

This panel, which featured Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, was part of a weekend-long conference titled Nigeria 2007: Political, Social, and Economic Transitions Conference. It’s sponsored by the Program of African Studies at Northwestern University and lasts Nov. 2-4. The conference brings together experts to discuss various issues facing present day Nigeria, including HIV/AIDS research, poverty reduction, and the upcoming April 2007 elections.

Thursday’s 9 a.m. panel,”Politics and Literature in Nigeria,” involved a discussion of the various mediums in Nigerian literature, including oral performance, writing, and documentary.

“We are trying to look at the role of the writer in contemporary Nigeria,” said speaker Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, a Western Illinois University professor.

Harvard professor and panel speaker Biodun Jeyifo drew a parallel between the alleged corruption of the Association of Nigerian Authors, which has recently been criticized for its prize policy, to the corruption of government officials.

“(Nigeria’s system of publishing books) can transform literary hacks into literary heroes,” Jeyifo said, a practice that mirrors the rise of corrupt politicians.

Nigeria is at a critical junction right now, according to Rebecca Shereikis of the Program of African Studies. The April elections will be the first transfer of power from a civilian president to another civilian president. The conference discussed what problems Nigeria must face at this important point in its history.

“It is good that we are gathered here today. Nothing less than the survival of our country is at stake,” Jeyifo said.

Fifty people attended the panel. Universities from around the country were represented, as well as some universities from Nigeria. Some audience members were speakers from the ten other discussions at the conference, such as Dr. Emmanuel Nnadozie of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

“I found the talk very informative,” Nnadozie said. “It is not often that we can see the relationship between nation-building and literature. Literature can, or has, played a strong role in Nigeria.”

The panel chair, Northwestern sociology professor Wendy Griswold, also said she saw the panel as a success.

“I was pleased that (the panelists) all addressed each other,” Griswold said. “Soyinka is a major world figure; he occupies a different position than the other two panelists, who are academics.”

Soyinka spoke Wednesday at the Othello Project Public Lecture, and will give a keynote address Friday at 4 p.m in the Rebecca Crown Center.

Reach Elise Foley at [email protected]