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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Of Literary Cabalism

Fed up...

Guest-blogged:  Chika Nwakanma

There seems to be a poisonous gas circulating the lungs of the Nigerian literati. There is also a bad blood flowing through its veins, which if left unchecked would result in a heart attack, a literary anomie. This vice is called Cabalism. In whatever word or concept; cabal, faction, group or section, has been a direct natural consequence of the aggregation of humans. Wherever humans have co-existed as a group, bound together by a common sense of identity and destiny, hierarchical formations are put up to maintain law and order in such society. Classes, groups and hierarchical formations are the food chain of society, as one cannot do without the other, like the way a cow cannot do without an egret or an urban city cannot do without the slums on its boundary. Each exists to meet the needs of the other.

However, classes, groups, cabals et al, have been known to be the root cause of agitation in society. Splinter groups break-up as a result of deprivation, oppression and marginalization. This inability to sum up interests into a common bowl, results in a fragmentation of the whole group. Marx in his 'Communist Manifesto' buttresses this assertion with an opening statement;

"The history of all societies is the history of class struggles."

This implies that class struggles are the catalyst for elevating and destroying societies. Cabalism occurs when certain individuals within a group decide to bestow on themselves, a higher status than other members of the group. This ascriptive status is borne out of the selfish desire to control and dominate the group. Such exclusivity is exemplified in royalty, secret societies, exclusive clubs etc. Cabalism is the personification of the Orwellian dogma where;

“All animals are equal, but some are more
equal than others”

One would have thought that the Nigerian literati which draw intelligentsia from different spheres of the society would be immune to this social pathogen; that writers would be able to enshrine the virtues of equality in the literary world. Alas, the contrast is the obvious reality, as writers like mirrors, are reflecting the image of the wider society. Nigerian writers have now factionalized their pens, each group struggling for a utopic supremacy.

Recently, a writer who was scheduled for a book reading in Ibadan was later dropped because he held an opposing view with another author, who was in the same “camp” with the organizers. The organizers in their blind “wisdom” thought it good not to allow the writer come to “their” book event. We have also seen workshops which should be promoting raw, undiscovered talents evolve into a circus for established (some, award winning) writers. The Association of Nigerian Authors - ANA - is also trapped in the same murky waters of cabalism. Some have even established literary cults in the guise of groups, yet barring other writers from being members.

The imperative question to ask now is; what would be the aftereffect of such cabalism? As earlier pointed out, groups have been the root causes of social agitations and unrests. Each group fights for its interests. Cabalism is a potential destructive force of Nigerian literature, nibbling slowly but surely at the fragile fabric which binds writers. It erodes literary cohesion, blinds vision with sentiments and defeats the spirit of altruism. The statements of writers and critics would not be interpreted from a literary standpoint, but from a jingoistic one.

In Nigeria, we have all been witnesses to what groups in whatever form (tribal, political, linguistic and religious) have done to the functionality of society. Is this the same fate that awaits Nigerian literature? Writers should complement rather than compete with each other. Durkheim's orgamismic analogy which compared society to the human body, stressed on the interrelatedness of all parts for the survival of the whole. Each part of the society, just like the body, though unique, functions for the survival of the whole. Such interrelatedness is necessary for the survival of Nigerian literature. If we form cabals and sectionalize our pens, then as someone rightly asked, how do we get Nigerians to read?


Chika Nwakanma is a poet, writer and literary enthusiast who resides in Lagos. He currently writes for Baobab Magazine. He sees his articles and poems as a prism which reflects the social realities of his society. He could be reached via;  


  1. Interesting points raised in there but the issue transcends that. Even those literati in academia practice this. Each wants the whole for itself.

  2. No doubt the issues raised here are germane,but you ignore the reality that writing,most times is a reflection of the complex architectonics and faultlines of the societies we all belong to. This is already evident from the manner of criticism and wishful analysis on Achebe's 'There was a country' now evident within our literary spa

  3. A lecturer once said wherever you find a group of people, you will always find politics. It is the nature of man. So I doubt anything can be done about it

  4. This story keeps changing. The other day, it was that Richard Ali was 'censored' in Ibadan and his life threatened because of his innocent friendship with Ahmed Maiwada whose imputation of plagiarism against Rotimi Babatunde Richard Ali was indifferent to, neither supporting nor debunking it. Now it is that Richard Ali's invitation to a book reading in Ibadan was revoked because he held a view different from the one held by whoever. One wonders what will be the story next time. A circus of clowns and crybabies.

  5. @Nana. Rightly said. This thing does not only happen on the literary scene alone. I totally agree with you.

    @Shittu. Uhmmm... You both are right. But what I observed Chika meant was that the literati shouldn't also succumb to the same malaise they ought to always fight with their pens. Cabalism is one of them.

    @ilola. That's the bitter truth, sis. Humans have this innate tendency to create territories and border-bound supremacies. I just hope Nigerian literary world wouldn't become a victim of this.

    @Anonymous. I don't think the story has been changing in telling and retelling, it still remains the same. What you consider as change may be the different manners (in words differences) the story has been told with. Read this interview Richard Ali granted immediately this incident happened;

  6. I mirror what @ilola said, indeed such is the nature if man everywhere one finds groups of people. Everyone wants to create or be part of the assumed supreme sector or group.

    "The history of all societies is the history of class struggles." - That line summarizes it all really.

    Really nice post.

  7. @Hannahs Haven. I agree with @ilola too. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  8. Be you
    Do you
    If you are convinced of where you are going
    You become unstoppable.

  9. @Tessa. Nicely said in those poetic words. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I am going to yours now.

  10. Of literay cabalism: I like this title. I can relate well to how @ilola said.hmmm

  11. @Dayor. Many thanks to you for reading and commenting.


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