Tormenting tides would wane
the storms shall cease
the floods finally fade
Our rainbow would spread
Abuja is today not what it was yesterday. I could start my tale some twenty-three or so odd years ago when my nimble feet kissed the brown terrain of the young town. You see, it was virgin, a bit older than me but we became aware of ourselves in a conjoined state similar to Siamese twins.
But forget the betrayal I feel at the rape of this town – my love – in so-called development that has people who don’t even say ‘Hi’ to each other. Gone are those days that we knew everyone in the neighbourhood and could trek from Wuse to Garki and the like. Every parent was every parent’s friend and the children all part of one community. Reminds me of a day, a few years now, went to say ‘Welcome’ to a newly arrived neighbour. The man sneered at him. Turns out later the man needed a big favour from dada in official capacity. Well, all I can say is the Abuja bug is infectious.
But if it stopped at the development, perhaps one would smile at my nostalgic stupidity. Think now of all the looting of a town done by certain elite, the total corruption and increasing sicknesses that make this land for all a land of the few. With more stringent measures that are obviously targeted at the common man, continual ropes stretched to make him gaunt, you wonder, what really is happening? Bans, taxes, restrictions, carelessness of government in taking care/providing certain amenities… Ouch!
These days everyone goes into buses with an outward nonchalance and eyes that tell a different tale. There’s suspicion of every bag holder and even a polythene bag could portend danger. Every bus ride could be a last journey and a visa to eternity.
The TV boasts lies of propaganda of what the government is doing. But we see the truth live for the news they don’t say lives with us in Abuja more than anywhere else. No place is sacrosanct – from Utako to Asokoro, Wuse, the Central Business District to even distant outskirts, Suleija and Nyanya. Every patch of representative earth has soaked its amount of Abel’s avenging soul. One wonders what more it would take for the heavens to hear the cries of the blood.
But jump a bit away from Abuja to Borno and other states of the Northern region. Think of increased invaders in the name of whatever new group they want – herdsmen, terrorists? Think of students trying to write a paper and taken away. Think of girls who we might get back – introduced to life as full women… #bringbackourgirls.
We raise our hopes to the skies for the ground has betrayed us. Life calls even as death shouts louder. We are Nigerians and keep our hustle, smiling in a happiness that the wickedness of our evil lords can never suppress. But there’s always that elastic limit.
The Vampires stay forth
till they feel it’s scathing burn
as times fries them in that morn…
In the pitch of our enduring night
we raise hopes to the light
in vigils believing the promise of the sun:
There would always be dawn.
NOTE: End poem is from ‘New Year Tales of Subsidy’ by Su’eddie Vershima Agema in the collection, Bring our casket home: tales one shouldn’t tell.
DISCUSSION BUZZ: The Symbols Cuisine Gallery. 7pm.
We walked in, Maik Ortserga (Executive Editor with Aboki Publishers and Secretary of Benue Association of Nigerian Authors) and I. There was Anselm Ngutsav, Apine Kenneth and Stephen Aba. I was still wondering if I had made the right choice of forfeiting my Abuja trip for this session – and something else ;). Well, seeing the guys made me know that I was in the right place – home. Purple Silver, the growing voice of literary flow and camaraderie in Makurdi, Benue that I am proud to be part of… Okay, to the point.
The event started with the discussion aspect and after some debate, we agreed to discuss Wole Soyinka’s interview with the Daily Post that Achebe is not the father of Modern African Literature. A few of us had not heard about it so it was nice that it came. I moderated the session and we all had a swell time. There were two primary voices that took the debate, Stephen Aba who supported Soyinka’s stance citing history as his strong point to show Achebe wasn’t really the father of modern African literature and Maik on the other hand who said that Achebe truly was through the validation and reinvention of African literature that had come through Achebe. The argument for was that though there were other people afore, Achebe had deeper vision and caused a revolution in African writing. He made English to speak Igbo, brought new styles and invented a new course that a lot of people followed. Through him finally, a new African literature was born. People started paying proper attention to the literature due to Achebe’s intervention. The argument against still continued that one couldn’t really say the Wright brothers were the fathers of aviation. It would be more appropriate to say it was Da Vinci… At various points, we had to define what African literature was, where Achebe was given the title first e.t.c. Wow! It wasn’t some small argument to and fro. Fortunately, the two chief proponents were cool speaking people so there were no flairs in the air. Just lots of not letting go. Kenneth, Anselm and Ode Attah put in their contributions too but there was no agreement. Well, we put it to the vote – a casual vote, and several people present decided not to cast their ballot. Achebe won though 🙂 Someone asked why Soyinka hadn’t said so when Achebe was alive. The reply was simple: ‘Blame the journalists! Why didn’t they ask Soyinka when Achebe was alive?’ 🙂
We disagreed on some points but we agreed that Soyinka wasn’t being sentimental. Achebe had contributed a lot and changed the course of African literature forever. The debate of fatherhood is one that has too many factors involved that we need to properly work and debate to make a proper conclusion.
Next, we moved to discussing Northern Nigerian Literature in a broad sense. We made it clear that we weren’t politicizing the term or brand and were only using the name for convenience to cover the literature from this side of the country. With two of the shortlisted writers from this side, Elnathan John and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim being shortlisted for the Caine Prize, what does that portend for the literature of these parts? Furthermore, why has the literature from these parts being silent for so long? What can we do to enhance our literatures here? All these with thoughts of how we can reinvent ourselves so that someday perhaps we might be called the mothers or fathers of Modern Northern Literature…
The consensus was there is a thriving Northern Nigerian literature that hasn’t been promoted enough or exploited. There is more tugging towards the established voices – voices established by other critics and/or media. The literatures of our part need to be given more attention. We have to learn to read far more of ourselves as of others to be more rounded. There’s a need to celebrate ourselves too through prizes, criticisms and the like. We need to believe in our own.
There was a performance session and we just had to cut the talk though there was far more to say…
It was the Open Mic session of the Abuja Literary Society and yup, I had to be there. First people I noticed coming in were ElNathan John and Dike Chukwumerije. Okay, this was going to be fun. Usual hi’s to friends and acquaintances and I got to my seat. Smiling. This was going to be fun. The last time I had been at any ALS event was with Chuma Nwokolo Jnr when he had had his reading. That had proved a most entertaining evening.
After some time we got started with general introductions. I noticed immediately that there were lots of fine voices – trust me to catch that. Also noticed that there was this fine lady beside me who said something about being here in the country for one thing or the other. The MC (the Bookman) started the discussion session. We settled to discuss the topic ‘Excessive Force of the Military in Fighting Boko Haram‘. The talk went far beyond that o… Of course, I wouldn’t be boring you with that, so cool! I can only say that if you want a deep flow on the topic, you can still make out time (if you are in Abuja) to come for the ALS open mic session on 14th June 2013, same venue. We were promised that military experts would come to give their thoughts too so that we don’t keep moving about with our professionally unprofessional analysis… Hee hee hee. Oh well.
The performances started with two performance poets, Alfa and Bolaji who read ‘Black Gold Biva’ and ‘My Pain’ respectively. They were well received with little admonition on how to make their art better. Bolaji was notably more impressive in his ending than start. He seemed to be a poet who gathered air with time. He introduced his poem by saying ‘He was a virgin’… Okay… Now, he stopped there. Had some of us wondering the virginity angle he was coming from: metaphoric? Unlearned in the art of eating the bearded meat? As a performer? 😉 Oh well. Except for some ugly cliches here and there, his delivery was good:
‘Once I befriended fantasy
It was beautiful but I met reality
she defied me and became my pain
pain is gain/no pain no gain
so I rise from this cold floor stronger
to pick my gain’
Next, Azeezat read a short story ‘Apprehension’, set in a town near similar to Jos. Well, Jos came to mind. It was about someone running in a time of crisis, hiding, noticing evils and falling… First draft. Most of us agreed that it could have been better. Adeyemi read ‘Cheeter‘s buzz’, a poem which some people had some time fitting into the right genre. He wasn’t conversant with the poem and it could have been written better, and performed more beautifully. I have a feeling there’s more to that particular piece… Removing some forced rhymes, overt biblical allusions that were plain and the like. Elnathan John commented of the poem that the poet took the name of the Lord in vain! Hee hee hee. Oh well. Enough said.
I read a poem next, ‘Life’. Taken from Bring our casket home, a 9 lined poem that ends (minus one line) thus:
I stayed an eternity with you
But just as my heart counted a second
The night rolled its mat
Before the audience or I knew it, I was sitting again. Wow! Felt good reading that. Some people mentioned that I should join the slammers (performance Kings). I smiled. Well, compliments that would leave anyone fulfilled. The reading continued. A hip-hop poetic performer, Ogo, read ‘Pure’. The banker rhymed on like Jay Z and not a few ladies made catcalls… Na wa o! I need to learn some romantic rhymes too!
The Musicians took over. Afolabi and Isaac came on stage. Isaac was on the guitar, while Afolabi breathed lyrics into the air that had me change my camera from still shots to video mode. The song was ‘Trueness’ and the rendition truly from the soul. It came out lovely. Some people noted that Afolabi held back and could have done better. Left a few people behind me and myself too wondering what they meant… This guy was sooooo it. Wow! You should have heard him. It was fluid and to think it was without effects or anything? C’mon!!
A lady, Kelechi read ‘Sweet Seeder’ (a story/article/narrative/instruction). Suggested that she work on making it one. Material there but too undefined. There was a poem read by Banji and Egbuche Pope read a long undefined piece too, titled ‘Its 4pm’. He was told to rework it. There was a short story read by … Another musical presentation was done by Afolabi and three other friends. Hmm. Need I say more? I respect the guy jare!
The final presentation was a lovely poem ‘Battlefields of the Mind’ written by Busola Sosannya. For some reason she didn’t perform it (shyness abi? 🙂 )… It was performed by ace performer, Dike Chukwumerije. As it moved to closing, I remembered our Makurdi ‘Purple Silver’ group hosted by Anselm Ngutsav. Miss those readings…
It was real late, some long minutes past 21:00hrs or was it closer to 22:00? Several of the people had left. There were talks, catching up and making of new acquaintances. I did some on the spot editing of Busola’s poem and asked a few questions of why the poet had not performed her piece. Lots of more talk and in the end, there was a walk…
Ask me not where to… 😉
Meanwhile, there was a journey of some two hours to get to. Home called and more activities. Oh well.
I remember the call for the workshop. I jumped at it and was about to send my piece when I discovered a clause: it was for people of about 15-twenty-something. Well, that means I was out of the range. Age!! Grrrr!!
Well, I called Tunji Ajibade, President of ExodusForArt (E4Art) to discuss my book launch and he invited me for this. Was shocked. Didn’t even know he had anything to do with it. Well, considered not going or anything of the like. Had some issues to contend with. I am meant to launch my book on the 8th of June at the same venue and I love literature. But I have other things to attend to… Then, I heard some news: my cousin was having her baby’s naming ceremony on the very Sunday! What? Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t miss that for the world! Debate ended but on Saturday night. It was 9pm. The journey to Abuja from the wandering ground where I was started. It was an extempore decision, so that meant on that bright Sunday, I woke up and muscled by the thoughts of my smiling cousin, and took a vehicle to Abuja…
I was deeply touched by the whole event and I bring you near minute details of what I could catch. If you are busy, skim through. For me, I reflect again on it all and bless the memory of that lady. Yasmin was 25 years old and the daughter of the former Minister of the FCT, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. She passed on in London in November, 2011. Wherever she is, may the Almighty keep her right.
THE YASMIN EL-RUFAI WORKSHOP LITERARY EVENING AND LECTURE (April 14th, 2013)
Introductions. All protocols observed…
The Chairman of the occasion, Hakeem Belo-Osagie didn’t joke about his knowledge of literature which he admitted was little. Well, actually, he did! He said when he was invited by Mrs. Hadiza Isma El-Rufai to attend the event, he thought he was meant to be one of the participants ‘Which wouldn’t have been out of place’ he joked. ‘Literature is important in our lives as it has a way of making us understand the ambiguities of life. Some touch you. [Paraphrasing now] Sometimes, it’s something simple like two lines in a poem I read: ‘I saw you on a cold winter day/and suddenly winter became summer’… Literature sometimes makes life easier. Hadiza has done well. I thank you all for attending and hope that we make this reading/lecture as simple as possible’
We laughed and at that moment, Justice Uwais came in. Nasir El-Rufai left his place at the high table for the Justice and took a plastic seat to sit at the edge of the table. Former Minister of Information and National Orientation, Chukwuemeka Chikelu was there too…
Mrs. Eugenia Abu took the stage to deliver her ‘paper.’ She had just come in from another engagement – amazing woman. Well, she spoke on the power of Literature and its impact in a nation. Literature and National Building. Mrs. Abu spoke of Literature in various dimensions: ‘as important for national pride; for healing; for entertainment; for education; for cultural integration; for respect; for love; and so much more’. ‘A nation goes to its knees when literature loses ground. Literature is about entering into other people’s cultures and letting them get into yours’ she continued. And I agreed with her totally on that, adding mentally that it gives us the chance to live lives we never really might get the opportunity to. She spoke of how she travelled with Tutuola, Russian writers and so many other people on literary roads. Not on one occasion, her mum had to go fetch her back from those lovely travels. But she grew and grow she (Mrs. Abu) did. ‘I would want to teach in future, to show that there’s a reason for finding that word at late at night. Waking up at 2:00am to put a word to paper is worth it.’ She read a poem ‘Yasmin’ in honour of the departed ‘Yasmin’ and took a bow to a standing ovation.
After the lecture, the presentation of the literary journal, ‘Abuja Review’ was done. Yasmin’s face graces the front page.
It was time for the presentation of certificates, which was done by Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. He took the time to thank people for coming, joking about the number of male participants in the workshop. It supported something he read recently that in a few years, men would be extinct (Yikes!). Next, was the time for ‘Words from Yasmin’s parents’. El-Rufai made it clear that the role wasn’t for him but his very own Oga at the top, Mrs. Hadiza, to some general laughter. Immediately Mrs. Hadiza Isma El-Rufai, Yasmin’s mother took the podium, there was silence. Dressed simply in traditional Hausa attire, her face wore a soberness that more than bore the nature of the event. She read an article ‘Serendipity‘ in a voice laden with deep emotion that wasn’t totally of sadness. Yes, the tears were there and the former Minister of the FCT, Mallam El-Rufai dabbed his eyes a bit too. But it was more. There was this other thing in her voice – of a mother talking of a child not gone. Of a child in whose thoughts she still basked. And her prepared note expressed it more. IT was the high point of the evening and the true celebration of the young lady, Yasmin, departed to higher realms. She spoke of their connection and her affection for that lovely daughter of hers. Mrs. Hadiza had also written a sonnet for her daughter, which praised the soul of that young one in a joyful celebration that this daughter was all she (the mother) should rather have been. A mother’s thoughts of/to her child in various coincidences not originally sought: Serendipity.
People gave their various thoughts on Yasmin, from family to friends. They spoke of her in warm words that celebrated her more than mourn her. One might have been excused for thinking that the lady spoken about was still alive for there was a glow in the expressions of those talking. And you could just feel it that this lady must have been really special and loving. Indeed, a loving lady loved. Someone whispered by my side: ‘It’s good to have a rich father.’ I thought about this for a while. Well, no doubt. It is. More than that, it is better to live a worthy life whether of humble or great parentage for eventually it doesn’t matter which spoon we are born with. Life finds a way to pay our memory with what it deserves. If not now, later. If not here, in the here-after.
Tunji Ajibade gave the vote of thanks. The MC, poet Oke Ikeogu called for the National Anthem which we recited.
I said my hellos to several people and had some chat with Tunji and the former Minister. It was time to run and catch up with my main event. My cousin’s daughter needed a name and though I wasn’t going to name her Yasmin, I wondered what life lay ahead of that young one.
This comes in three parts: The first which is the personal experience and events leading to the workshop, then the second, the workshop itself and finally, the aftermath. Of course, you can jump to whichever part suits you best or just go to the full article. But here we go…
You can imagine the surprise when I was approached by a colleague, the Secretary of the Benue Association of Nigerian Authors, Mr. Maik Ortserga (who is also the Executive Editor of Aboki Publishers) to facilitate a workshop for young writers in Loyola Jesuit College, Gidan Mangoro. I was to go as an author, teach and share my work. The last time I had taught any literary class professionally two years ago. It wasn’t a funny experience. I was teaching great students who hadn’t been exposed to proper English two subjects: English – which like I mentioned they had little knowledge from, and to make matters worse, Literature in English. Wow! It was in Bantaje, Wukari Local Government and there had to be many sleepless nights to get to prepare lesson notes, improvise and do lots of things to make my students learn. I wondered what the Loyola trip would be like. We had had issues as somehow, we got to infer from a message that there would be no need for any facilitation of creative writing. I would simply have to go and read my work to the participants. I quickly closed my system and forgot all preparations of the paper I would share with the students the next day.
We drove into Abuja at night and lodged into a hotel.With nothing to do, I had a long walk with Maik and discussed much. Had some a meal to wish for but don’t worry, not telling. Can only say suya was part of it.
The next day awakened to another literary class in a different school: the Loyola Jesuit College, Gidan Mangoro en route Orozo, and Karshi [where I found myself schooling at some point]. I wondered what to expect.
I was with the Manager of Aboki Publishers, Mr. Benjamin Yio and the Executive Editor, Maik Ortserga. Somehow we found our way to the school with some adventure. Well, we finally got there and were kept at the gate to await confirmation of our status as guest facilitators. Men, those guards sure stood out like some Americans in some big facility. The Principal, Fr. Ugo Nweke (SJ) came by somehow, and later the tutor we had been talking with, Mr. Wilson Ikwebe. It turns out he was one of those guys who had been a force to reckon with in the Benue State University back then. He showed us around as we headed for the hall where we were to meet the students.
We opened the door and there were those students – prim and proper. Then Mr. Ikwebe told us we had to facilitate. Ouch! I knew I was very far from Bantaje. There was a projector and I had to smile that the burden of my laptop was going to be rewarded. The regret was I had not finished the tutorial I was writing in the thought that there would be a different facilitator. Phew! I prayed and after all, we found a way to know each of ourselves. We wrote our names – participants, teachers, and us. We had our names written on a paper and tagged to our shirts. Well, the participants and staff did. With the imposing yet benign figure of Mrs. Omotayo Smith, we were assured it would be well. We had Mr. Togo Matthew and Chukwuemeka Nwaoha close by to aid. Mr. Ikwebe introduced us and said the programme was in organised by the Aboki Publishers in collaboration with the Association of Nigerian Authors (Benue Chapter) – plus SEVHAGE, I had to add. As we got around, I moved about, noting the names of the students and chatting with a few. They all seemed pleasant and best of all, their English was near perfect. Nice! At least, there wouldn’t be mixing Hausa with Turanci (English)! We were set. We prayed led by Mrs. Smith…
Now, what really is the difference between the two? You might not have paid attention to it but trust me, there is a big one.
Ever been in charge of any literary organisation anywhere? I have. That is literary administration. The thing about literary administration especially when you are truly committed to the cause of literary promotion is that you find out that you do not have so much time to focus on building your career. Trust me, I should know.
Many writers in the spirit of literary evangelisation have tried their best and found out that one has suffered – your writing or your organisation. It is particularly worse in a country like Nigeria where we are only learning to promote our writings.
Literature is one of the most neglected aspect of the Nigerian entertainment scene and why not? Most writers would rather not entertain but write in the usual style of commitment that many African write-ups have come to embody. Do we need to mention the Achebe, Aidoo, Ngugi, Soyinka and other calls that literature should be in the service of humanity and the society afore anything else? Yes, yet, they had a way of writing that would catch a reader’s interest. Most of our writers these days have turned their focus to writing pamphlets and booked journals that can easily pass for newspapers if read to you with your eyes closed. Whether it is in poetry or in prose and yes, plays, you find the same thing. When the average Nigerian has had his/her fill of that on NTA and the newspapers or the reality of time that stares them in the face, why would they want to patronise that? Again, when the writers would have most of their publications done shoddily with either covers that are not attractive or jobs that are badly edited, who would want to read such?
Sadly, even those who do the job well have to contend with the issue of prices made exorbitant due to production costs. This leaves the reader going for the easiest or cheap pick… Many times too the reader would rather go for a renown name to one unknown…
Literary administrators come in here. No matter the forum they head or the medium through which they do their administration, they have the chance to correct most of these wrongs. They have the chance to bring some publicity to writers and introduce them to a wider readership. Through membership of their groups or magazines, or whatever, they can create some serious fellowships that writers would key into. These administrators can also hype the literary field and make it bigger. How? Celebrate writers more. Make events elaborate. Colour them and make writers and writings to look like it is the best thing in the world. Seriously, if you don’t make yourself look real good or take yourself and what you profess seriously, who would?
There was a time when literary associations especially had their administrators come in to change such bodies into new political parties. It would seem that most of these organisations were created because most of the members had decided that it would be safer to come together and create such a forum than run to those violent parties. By the way, writers are easily bullied than the real politicians – especially if you are a Nigerian. J This would be the reason why most literary organisations would have many members not attend readings, critiques or other literary events for a long time and only appear when the election bells are ringing… Reminds me of the story of a certain man who lost out in a contest for leadership of a certain organisation. HE lost and left with most of his friends. He never attended any events of the organisation till the next election when he came to recontest the leadership of the same organisation. Interesting part? He was the crown prince anointed to take over. Hmm…
There is a whole lot to all of these and a certain fusion can be brought to create better writings and fellowships all over. Passion and a mind to create literary growth should be underlining any single writer or administrator. Sure, in better places the writer has the chance to be aloof and all. We really do not have that ‘luxury’. We have to ensure we all do some literary missionary work. One way or the other, we need to encourage people around us to read more literary works. We need to ‘up our game’. We need to meet up and strategise on how to make literature work. That is the only way we can do it.
Better days call to us all. Then, even the literary administrators would be able to relax a bit and write their works more comfortably. Till then, it’s back to work. Which reminds me that I have to go back to organisation of an election. Phew!
PS: for all those who asked for a few links to literary sites and associations, I drop three each from Nigeria