‘How Yusuf Ali literary grant promotes reading awareness’

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Mallam Yusuf Ali

Grant for fellowships or other donations that promote intellectual matters are grossly lacking in this part of the world. The few foundations operating erect boreholes and engage in other less ennobling ventures and leave the minds of the majority desperately famished for knowledge. But YUSUF ALI, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria based in Ilorin, Kwara State, has taken literary philanthropy to an enviable level with his yearly N3 million grant to the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) designed to promote reading awareness among Nigeria’s young people in schools. Chairman, ANA Benue State Chapter of the association, Mr. IORNUMBE CHARLES, gives insight into what the association has achieved with the grant since its inception seven years ago. He spoke with FLORENCE UTOR

In the last seven years, a patron of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Mr. Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, has been giving N3 million yearly grant to ANA to promote literary awareness across Nigeria. In what ways has the grant impacted the association members in Benue State, where you preside as chairman?
The Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) is vested with the responsibility of promoting reading and writing among Nigerians. The association has taken into cognisance the fact that reading culture is gradually dying. Those with the responsibility of seeing that our children begin to get it right in the home front – that is, the parents – have abdicated such duties. There is delight at helping children to get addicted to watching of TV channels like Zee World and Telemundo instead of being guided to read their books. Students at almost all levels of Nigeria’s tertiary Institutions read only when they have exams to write or job interviews to attend.

ANA, realising this anomaly, has quickly waded in by deploying its arsenal to salvaging the sector. As a voluntary body, ANA, most times, depends on the support of government and public-spirited organisations and individuals to promote reading and its other activities. One Nigerian who has, in the past seven years, been releasing financial grant to ANA to carry out literary awareness campaign is Yusuf Ali. Now, ANA Benue has tremendously benefitted from the legal luminary’s financial grant. I recall that out of the seven years of the grant, ANA Benue has received up to three years. I am confidently aware of that, but let me talk about 2016, which was when I became ANA Benue Chapter Chairman.

Yes, we got our grant in 2016 and we merged it with the financial support we solicited for from Benue State Government and other bodies as well as individuals. We launched the awareness campaign at Akawe Torkula College of Advanced and Professional Studies, Makurdi. The focus of that year was on students in tertiary institutions. We took the campaign to the nooks and crannies of Benue State. The schools we visited were College of Education, Oju, Gboko College of Education, Gboko, College of Education, Katsina Ala, and Benue State University, Makurdi. In all the schools, we read literary works and presented books, as gifts to students who could answer our questions correctly.

The 2017 grant came in the form of books. What this meant was that ANA took the usual N3 million, which was channelled into the production of multiple children’s literature books. These were distributed to ANA chapters at the 2017 annual international convention of the Association, which was held in Makurdi. The decision not to disburse the Yusuf Ali SAN grant for the year under review was communicated to ANA chapters by the National Executive. The association called for works on children’s literature from ANA members all over the country. The idea was to come up with the ‘A-Book-A-Child’ project.

By May 2017, at ANA Congress in Ilorin, Kwara State, ANA president announced how far work on the books had reached. At the congress, there was in attendance a representative from the Nigerian Writers Series (NWS), who was working assiduously to see that the books were ready before the last convention. That was done and during the convention, the books were distributed and ANA Benue Chapter took delivery of over 200 copies. Three months after the Makurdi convention, we commenced the ‘A-Book-A-Child’ project with the launch at Lady Victoria Academy, Makurdi. A former President of ANA, Professor Jerry Agada, was on hand to perform the launch of the project that attracted many ANA members. Shortly after that, we continued the reading campaign with Temple Gate Academy, Makurdi, where the pupils were excited about the programme.

Benue is, no doubt, one of the states that have benefitted from the Yusuf Ali’s grant. First and foremost, through the grant, ANA Benue has been able to convince the state government and other partners why it needs support to carry out such a laudable project. When we go on advocacy visits, we are proud to say that we have received grant of so so amount, courtesy Yusuf Ali and we only needed something to complement what we have. It is very convincing to our partners, who would always support.

Secondly, through the grant, we are able to showcase ANA Benue in an unimaginable level. Anywhere we go, we tell people that ANA is in partnership with Yusuf Ali to promote literary awareness campaign. This has helped in raising awareness among our people. This has also developed consciousness about reading and writing. The mention of ANA is a reminder to the people of Benue that they need to read and write. Through the same platform, the 2017 annual international convention was projected. When we went on the literary awareness campaign in 2016,we used the opportunity to tell the people that ANA Benue was going to host the 2017 convention. So, it was everywhere that Benue State was going to host writers across Africa and the preparations were easier.

Our judicious application of the Yusuf Ali grant had made Benue people believe in the leadership of ANA at the state and national levels. This is because Yusuf Ali is a household name. He is one of the most respected legal minds in the country. To my mind, this is the type of man Nigerians need in positions of trust. You can imagine one Nigerian releasing N3 million yearly for seven years! You ask, what does he do? Why has he chosen to give away such huge amount of money to an association many Nigerians have turned their back on despite having people like the late Professor Chinua Achebe, Odia Ofeimun and Elechi Amadi, among others.

Similarly, through the ANA-Yusuf Ali Literary Awareness Campaign, ANA Benue Chapter has been able to register over 40 members between 2016 -2018.This is a great milestone and we are extremely grateful to God and all our supporters.

In your view, how has the grant been managed by the national body
To the best of my knowledge, the Denja Abdullahi executive of ANA has tried just like other former presidents of the association had done. Sustaining a grant from an individual is not an easy task. If the past ANA presidents from Dr. Wale Okediran, Prof. Remi Raji, Prof. Jerry Agagda and Denja Abdullahi had not been prudent in the disbursement of the grant, it could not have been sustainable up to this point in time. Kudos to the current ANA president because the association has grown in number and members are now aware that the Yusuf Ali grant is available and chapters have to struggle in order to benefit from it. There is more competition now than ever. Now, the disbursement processes are such that no chapter just gets it and does nothing with it.

You have to send in a proposal of how you want to carry out your literary awareness campaign, attached with a realistic budget, schools scheduled to visit, and above all, other sources of funding for the project. This is what ANA Benue has been doing diligently. Any chapter whose proposal fails to meet these basic requirements stands to lose out. I remember in a particular year, ANA Benue couldn’t access the grant due to some shortcomings. In 2016, our chapter received huge support from the Benue State Governor, Mr. Samuel Ortom. The governor sponsored 10 ANA members to the 2016 convention. We got other institutions to sponsor ANA Benue to go on with the campaign.

Beyond these basic conditions that have qualified our chapter for the grant, I also think the national executive of ANA has its own ways of monitoring activities of state chapters, which they also march with the proposal submitted for necessary action. This year, all chapters had been mandated to submit report on the 2018 ‘A-Book-A-Child’ project before the end of March. We are on course doing exactly what is expected of us as a chapter to continue to qualify for the grant. Our prayer is that other Nigerians also see the need to emulate Yusuf Ali in contributing their quota to promote reading among Nigerians. By his gesture, I see in him a man imbued with leadership qualities. It is my prayer that God elevates the legal luminary to a level where he would not only sustain the grant but also increase it. It takes discipline to ensure disbursements of such grants without acrimonies. So huge commendation to ANA president, Mallam Abdullahi. It is my prayer that he continues to be prudent and transparent in handling the grant for the good of the association!