Abuja: 28th September, 2013 Nanet Suites
It was Saturday and four o’clock. I was already shivering in literary thrill as over just the span of two days I had been in three exciting literary events including a book presentation I anchored; a Book Jam at the Silverbird galleria featuring Iquo Abasi et al; attended and had my poem read at the much talked about 2013 edition of Abuja’s 100,000 poets for change. There was the last to crown it all: the Abuja Writers’ Forum monthly Guest Writer session. I have made it a habit not to miss any of these and have been present at the last five or so ones that have included amazing award winners and outstanding artistes from the poet, Musa Idris Okpanachi; the photographer Numero Unoma; the economist Tope Fasua, (I actually read with the last two); the film directors and producers, Ishaya Bako and Kasham Keltuma; Obari Gamba… The audience is always a rich selection of the literati with regulars like the regular Dr. Kabura Zakama, Mike Ekunno.
As I hurried on to Nanet Suites, the festivities started with an unscheduled tribute session to Kofi Awoonor, the slain Ghanaian poet who slumped to Somali terrorist bullets in Kenya in the Westgate shopping mall attack – a true diplomat up to his very last breath. Copies of his poems were shared to the audience. The poet/actor, ALS Book Jam moderator, Jide Attah took the next turn to perform some of Kofi’s amazing famous works, ‘The Cathedral’, ‘Across a New Dawn’ and ‘Songs of Sorrow.‘ I am particularly fond of ‘The Cathedral’ and the thought of it later, the rendition not met, brought memories but as they say, that’s a post for another time. So, Jide went on to speak on Kofi’s life and times. It was a solemn moment and no one who came in there at that second would have missed the atmosphere declaring a mourning of one of Africa’s versed monarch. He was supported at some point by Tokunbo Edward’s strumming strings.
Jide’s talk on Kofi was deep and heartfelt. Elvis Iyorngurum describes the talk as one that made even one who might not have known Kofi feel very familiar with him. It was like the talk of one on the demise of an old friend. Yes, Kofi was old, 78, but a friend that we wish might have stayed longer with us all. Award winning poet, Kabura Zakama and one the guest writers for the day, Obemata read their tributes to the slain poet. It was now time for the scheduled business of the moment: the Guest Writer Session.
Like is becoming usual of the sessions, there were three artistes billed for the day; Temi Sode, founder of the fashion label, Veronica’s Closet (VC) – and nope, not related to Victoria’s Secret in anyway; Abdul Mahmud (who writes under the pseudonym Obemata – which we shall refer him to in this piece), poet and activist who was once National Association of Nigerian Students President, an ex housemate of the famous Kirikiri prison; and Peter Michael Egwudah, a member of civil society who was around to make a presentation on efforts done by civil society after the floods of last year in Ibaji, Kogi state. Temi Sode’s did not make the appointment and so, the fashion flavor was not to be had. Sorry ladies! The two others however were set and Obemata took the first swing.
He read from his collection of poems, Triptych published by Sentinel Poetry Movement in the United Kingdom. The lovely poems without titles and with few or no punctuation read with interruptions – sorry, explanations – and notes from the author kept the audience held. After every few lines, Obemata explained the meanings behind certain lines, allusions, metaphors and influences. He drew a connection calling on certain poets in the house including Richard Ali, Gimba Kakanda, Kabura Zakama who shared certain aspects of his work. The style was that of a teacher/philosopher hoping to pass as much information to everyone in as short a period. Well, it would seem Obemata had also been part of the resource people for the just concluded AWF Student course so it made sense. Poem and poem passed on, recited in a very calm and silent voice that was lost on a lot of people behind because of the quietness of the poet. I got a bit impatient with his interruptions and missed certain explanations which mercifully, Elvis got to capture thus:
Obemata’s recollection of the history that inspired his writing of Triptych revealed the travails of a young man who as the president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), organized the largest students protest in the history of Nigeria, against the plans of the Babangida regime to remove government subsidy for petroleum products. Obemata was arrested and detained in 1991 at the Kirikiri Prisons under the dreaded State Security and Detention of Persons Decree Number 2 of 1984, on account of his opposition to the military dictatorship led by General Ibrahim Babaginda. He was again arrested in 1996 and detained by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and the State Security Services (SSS), following claims that he knew or participated in the killing of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, the wife of the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, Chief Moshood Abiola.
Everyone tried to get a copy of the book which is also finely produced with off-white pages. The copies were limited and so most of the audience had to get to write their names so that as soon as copies come in, they would have them sent. I couldn’t wait. I collected a copy from Kabura Zakama and read as many of the poems that I could. I was instantly caught up almost forgetting the presence of the reciting poet in front. I wrote two of the poems on a page (the author graciously signed them later). The poems in Triptych have a certain sadness and longing to them. Well, naturally, that should be as they are of exile and as the poet explained, inspired by his travails fighting for his country in several ways, his frustrations, deep love, never ending faith and hope in his fatherland – Nigeria.
Obemata had to give way. There was a brief musical interlude by David Adzer who with strung tunes with his guitar in praise to Aondo in a Tiv song that found translation much later in a different verse. He sang another and had Dr. Emman Shehu do
backup singing in a feminine role that saw the latter both dancing and dropping backup notes to the amusement of the audience. You couldn’t have missed the voice even if it was funny. I looked around and took in buddies and fellow writers: Kukogho Iruesiri Samson (author of What can words do? and curator, Word Rhymes and Rhythm) Gimba Kakanda, Richard Ali, Kabura Zakama, my companion, the lovely Dr. Agatha Aduro, the grey Jim Pressman, the musician Tokunbo Edwards (who performed at some point with a violinist and David Adzer), Dr. Emman Shehu (of course, AWF President and organizer – who would be there if not him?), Elvis Iorngurum… wow! Okay, back to the business of the day…
Peter Michael Egwudah lit the room that had its light switched off after David’s singing with a short documentary on efforts of the Civil Society Coalition for Poverty Eradication (CISCOPE) and the United States of America based International Rescue Commission (IRC) in Ibaji local government of Kogi state to bring succor to that community after the floods. The latter had invested a huge sum for the project – One Million Euros – partnering with CISCOPE and the results were evident. The government of Kogi weren’t too happy about the development wondering why the intervention had not come through them. Well, who cared? The
results were showing. The documentary and explanations later by Egwudah highlighted the Nigerian Meteorological Agency 2011 warning of the floods. The government at all levels did nothing to avert the floods. The floods came eventually and we are all witnesses to the devastation. The government once more did little or nothing in the aftermath. There were broadcasts here and there, relief talk and all but what was on ground amounted to little. CISCOPE got the grant from IRC after sending a proposal and set to work immediately. Government were reluctant to work with the organization at first but eventually … The testimonies were evident and it was lovely to see the appreciation all written on the faces of the people of Ibaji.
Yup, there was the question and answer session… we have spoken much already and included the talk in the spirit of the piece so mind we jump? Certificates were presented to students of the AWF Creative Writing Workshop. Obemata, Jide Atta and previous Guest at the AWF monthly session, film maker, Kasham Keltuma were on hand to present these. Oluchi Agbanyim, an AWF member and alumni of the just ended AWF September creative writing workshop thanked the forum for her efforts which have been nothing short of great, creating platforms for the honing of skills of writers and giving them a chance to be far better.
Next there were the prizes for winners of the AWF monthly writing challenge. A prompt is given for writers to work on. The best in the different genres get different awards. The general aim is to exercise the brains of the writers and give them more to add to their writing vault as well as sharpen their skills to respond to prompts more easily in future.
Need I mention that there was the photograph session…
Before the prize session, I had had to find space to sneak out. The event had lived up to its beat. It was time to think soberly on all the happenings especially the documentary. Come to think of it, with the inclusion of more of other artistes – musicians, film makers, development practitioners, economists and the rest, isn’t it about time the AWF stopped limiting the extent of the beauty of the event to just a ‘Guest WRITER Session’? Is October knocking already? Who’s next on the list AWF? For those of you who haven’t had the chance, the AWF Guest Writer Session is a monthly event that hold on the last Saturday of every month at Nanet Suites (beside the Federal Secretariat), Central Business Area, Abuja. Start time is always 1600 hrs (4:00 pm). Well, as I rounded my sneaking, these weren’t the thoughts on my mind. That too is a post…for another day 🙂 Cheerio!
All pictures courtesy Kabura Zakama. Find full collection here…
With additional notes from Elvis Iyorngurum’s Thrilling Awoonor Tribute as AWF Hosts Obemata and Egwuda
- Good Poetry should evoke feelings – Su’eddie (sueddie.wordpress.com)
- Introduction to Kofi Awoonor’s new book The Promise of Hope: New and selected poems (modernghana.com)
- The Third Shore and Poet to Poet (pollyclark.wordpress.com)
- Kofi Awoonor Memorial Reading (themillions.com)
- VIDEO: Ghana memorial for Kofi Awoonor (bbc.co.uk)
- Ghana President cClebrates Professor Kofi Awoonor (spyghana.com)
- AWF READING FOR 31st AUGUST 2013: HOMECOMING with Tope Fasua and Numero Unọma (PERSONAL THOUGHTS) (sueddie.wordpress.com)
- A Mixed-Grill For AWF’s September Guest Writer Session (abujawritersforum.wordpress.com)
- Thrilling Awoonor Tribute As AWF Hosts Obemata and Egwudah (elvisharmony.wordpress.com)
- Thrilling Tribute to Awoonor and AWF Hosts Obemata and Egwudah (abujawritersforum.wordpress.com)