Joshua Macdell Koffi Sackey is the manager of Ebedi International Writers Residency in Iseyin, Oyo State. In this interview with Adewale Oshodi, he speaks on how the residency has been faring and its expectation from the government. Excerpt:
Despite all challenges, Ebedi International Writers Residency is still thriving, what is the secret?
There is no secret other than the support and commitment of its founder, Dr Wale Okediran, to the cause of literature in the country. The founder, being a writer himself, knows the importance of quality time to the development of literature, and that is why he is passionate about Ebedi. This is his contribution to literature in Africa, as we have been hosting writers from different parts of Africa. A lot of writers have passed through Ebedi and they admitted that they were able to achieve a lot with their works while here.
Coming to the issue of hosting writers from all over Africa, is it a policy of Ebedi or what?
The news of what we are doing here has travelled all over Africa and the world, and that is why we keep getting requests from writers from all over Africa who want to come to Ebedi for their residency. One good thing for African writers is that, apart from having a conducive environment to work in, they also have the opportunity of visiting a new country, and that is also a draw for many writers. We have had writers from Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and recently, we had a writer from The Gambia. These people also used the opportunity to enjoy a new country and culture. In fact, what many of them experience in Nigeria is usually different from what they hear about the country on news and social media in their various countries. It is when they get to Nigeria that they realise how peaceful and loving the people are, and it can be said that Ebedi is also involved in image laundering for the country. We hope very soon, we will have writers from other parts of the world as well, not just African writers.
With the good things coming from Ebedi, you have not had a major sponsor to assist the founder, why is this so?
First, let me say we just don’t allow writers come here and do their works and then return to their bases like that, we also provide stipends for them and also take them on sightseeing to different parts of the country. So apart from just giving them the space to sleep and work, we also spend a lot of money making them comfortable and experiencing the Nigerian culture. However, it is true we have not had a major sponsor as all the funds come from the pocket of the founder. Most corporate organisations focus on the entertainment sector, but the literary sector is more important than the entertaining sector. The reason for this is that when a literary work is produced, it lives for ever. I, therefore, hope corporate organisations can focus more on supporting literature, and organisations like Ebedi that promote literature.
Part of the assignment of the writers is for the residents to engage students in selected schools across Iseyin on certain areas of the arts, how is this improving the students?
Before Ebedi started several years ago, there was nothing of such opportunity for the student. Through this programme, we allow our residents to teach the students on their areas of specialisation, and today, we have students who are now poets, short story writers, dramatists, among others. In fact, through their interaction with the residents, some of them from other African countries, most of these students now have a different worldview, as most of them rarely leave Iseyin, but interacting with the residents has given them a broader view of life. We now have many of them who want to pursue writing with whatever professions they want to go into. Most of them are now finding it easier to communicate in English, unlike in the past. So Ebedi has done a lot and I expect the government, especially the Oyo State government, through the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to partner with Ebedi to expose the writers, especially the foreign ones to students in the state. This can also be replicated at the federal level. The truth is that students in Iseyin have benefited a lot from the Ebedi initiative and it is the government that has the power to make such programme bigger for the benefit of students from other parts of the state. Ebedi is open to this partnership anytime, since this is part of the vision of the founder.
So you want to say Ebedi is open to any kind of partnership with the federal or state government?
Definitely, we are ready for such partnership. This will go a long way in helping the younger ones in the country. I know how much students in Iseyin have benefited. Some of them, through the writers/students programme, now speak French and some African languages, though not fluently, and they have learnt about the way of life in some other parts of Africa. Some of them also believe that they will also get the opportunity to see the other parts of the world if they remain steadfast in their academics. The benefit of this programme is immense and it will be a good thing is something can be done for students from other parts of the state and country can benefit.