Friday John Abba, playwright and former Vice Chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) is on the shortlist for this year’s NLNG sponsored Nigerian Prize for Literature. He spoke to Toni Kan about being nominated for the $100,000 prize for what is his first ever published work of literature. Excerpts.
SABINEWS: Why did you call your book Alekwu Night Dance?
Friday John Abba: First, let me say that at the conception of the story, I didn’t know it was going to be a play. I didn’t know what the setting would be; I just had a story to tell. And when the characters began to speak to me I realized they had very little opportunity to use my own voice, so the narrator was kind of silent. Then I realised again that it drifted towards rural Idomaland. So let’s say that I did not conceive it, the characters forced it on me.
SABINEWS: What’s the meaning of Alekwu in Idoma?
Lots of people see Alekwu and begin to think of Alekwu as a historical legend. But it is not true. If you know the Idoma culture very well, Alekwu is like a recompensing spirit. It’s still holding sway in Idomaland. Alekwu ensures social justice. So because the play is around that theme, Alekwu had to come in.
FJB: How does it feel, this play that forced itself on you, how does it feel to be shortlisted for it?
FJB: First let me say that I feel blessed that it has come this far. It is actually my first published work. Like I said I set out to write a story and it became a play. I had this theme running through my mind over time. Unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to sit down and pen it down until I had an accident last year. I was completely immobile so I wrote it while I was down. Fortunately for me, the writers’ block left me at a time for two weeks and I just poured out the first draft.
Prof. Ukala and Jude Idada are more known as writers of plays and screen plays, have you read their own books on the shortlist?
FJB: Well, I have not had the opportunity.
SABINEWS: Now you’ve started writing plays, what is your favourite play of all time?
FJB: Let me say that the plays that have made remarkable impressions on me are those that I read in my childhood out of school, and they were all Shakespearean plays.
SABINEWS: What playwrights inspire you?
FJB: I have had great writers inspire me as a writer but I do think I want to be specific about plays or playwrights. What I have tried to do over time is to do something unconventional, to separate the writers from their works and I tried to reflect that in my work too. There’s nothing about me in this book. Aside from Friday John Abba I doubt if you’ll find any other thing talking about me. And that’s because I believe that as much as possible the author should leave the audience to make their own judgments without bombarding them.
SABINEWS: Do you write fiction or poetry?
FJB: I do particularly prose fiction.
SABINEWS: How does it feel, your first work getting this far?
FJB: I just feel blessed. I think that the work has come at the right time. I do not think that I’m one of the three best playwrights in Nigeria; it’d be presumptuous to think that way. But I think that the play, the theme, probably the language and some other stuff came at the right time and it has struck a chord with the judges.
SABINEWS: Is there any plan to put it on stage?
FJB: Yes, we are already planning to put it on stage. Initially we were planning towards the first of October but that has changed because of other schedules but we hope that before the end of October we’ll have the premiere. We hope to have a tour beginning from Zaria and move to Kaduna and Abuja and in December we hope to take it home.
SABINEWS: You write one book and it goes so high, what are you going to do next? Are you making plans for your next book?
FJB: I always believe that it is more difficult staying on at the top. Now that this work is coming this far, the big challenge is to try to maintain it. I’m hoping that a novel will be out before the end of the year. It’s a novel I’ve been working on. I took a break to get this play out.
SABINEWS: Can you describe this play in two sentences?
FJB: I want to think of it as an allegorical play that reflects the rape of society and how conspiracy theories develop to make the situation even worse. I tried to show that the voice of the majority is not always necessarily true; it is possible to have the tyranny of the majority and that sometimes the still small voice of the few carry so much wisdom that it is worth listening to. Basically I told the story of a young girl who was raped and then how emotions took charge and how because of our subjective nature as human beings people began to take sides and how that allowed conspiracy theories to grow and how the community was thrown into chaos.