…Prize administrators keep enriching Nigeria’s cultural calendar
…The aesthetics of art cannot be replaced with the decibel of politics
Obari Gomba (an Associate Dean, Faculty of Humanities, University of Port Harcourt) is a teacher and writer whose works resonate. His poetry collecton for this year’s edition of The Nigeria Prize for Lieterature is The Lilt of the Rebel which won Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA) Poetry Prize last March. In this interview with Anote Ajeluorou, Gomba praises the longevity of the prize and expresses excitement at being longlisted for the fourth time
Congrats on making the longlist. Having won PAWA Prize for African Poetry earlier in the year, you were not surprised The Lilt of the Rebel made the longlist, did you? But how did it make you feel, all the same?
The Nigeria Prize for Literature is the biggest of its kind in the country. I am glad that the jury has counted my work worthy of the longlist. I am glad that the Nigeria LNG Limited has continued to administer the prize. This is the fourth time I have been listed for this prize, and each has come with its own excitement, validation, and expectation.
Your title seems overtly political. Is Nigeria ripe for the rebellion that seems inevitable with the crazy times we live in?
There are 108 poems, divided into eight parts, in The Lilt of the Rebel. Of course, there are poems about national and global politics, but the collection is not entirely about politics. Political rebellion is not a central theme in the collection. In poem after poem, the personae radically re-think their existence and offer positions against shopworn orthodoxy or calcification of thought. Art and creativity, life and mortality, faith and divinity, power and pestilence, resistance and social engagement are all themes that I hope will resonate with readers everywhere in the globe.
Your political sensitivity couldn’t have come at a better time especially with your posts on Twitter. How much of that spilled over into your poetry in this collection?
My life is not partitioned. I am always engaged. I am involved in my social space. However, I understand that the aesthetics of art cannot be replaced with the decibel of politics. Every medium has its form and purpose. Every medium has its measure.
Do you think Nigerian literature is capturing enough of the seeming ahistorical, nihistiic times we live in? Is Nigerian literature responding enough to the politics?
Yes. Our writers depict the society they live in. A great deal of work is done daily to capture the realities of Nigeria. Is it enough? Well, nothing is enough where problems still persist. Even if you do not give writers credit for the adequacy of their arts, you cannot deny them credit for insight and tenacity.
Over 250 poets entered for the prize in a country where reading is challenged and universities are shut for over five months? This seems unusual. Who are you as a poet then writing for?
Our readership is not limited to the classrooms. There is always an audience for poetry regardless of the challenges of the society. In fact, more persons are enjoying poetry today. The rise of spokenword poetry has further opened the space.
What possibly explains the boom poetry is experiencing even when the political and economic spheres are falling apart? What gives writers like you motivation to still write?
Nigerian writers are unstoppable and they are good at what they do. The passion to create good literature can be tested by difficulties, but it cannot be defeated.
You have travelled this lane before as a longlisted writer. What are your expectations?
I am hopeful for the best. I am always hopeful.
Why have you not given up, not having won after trying more than once?
I never give up on good things. I will never give up.
Some poets on the longlist are familiar names to you on this prize quest. Is this a good space to do literary combat again?
Combat is a strong word. Each time I am invited to the book party, I go there for fraternal bonding. The prize administrators have enriched Nigeria’s cultural calendar by calling on writers and book lovers to convoke every year. It is exciting.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature is 18. What do you say for its longevity so far in lifting the country’s literature?
I thank the administrators of the prize for sustaining it. Their commitment is praiseworthy. I pray that they should keep doing the good job. I also urge other institutions and organizations to emulate the Nigeria LNG Limited. We need more prizes and awards. One of the best ways to promote a healthy cultural climate is to have a reward system for creative people.
Only one female writer made the poetry longlist, the second in the prize’s history. As a teacher, is that a poor testimonial about female writers in the poetry genre?
You cannot reach that conclusion without being properly statistical. I have read many female poets in Nigeria. And they are great at what they do.
You’re four poets from the Niger Delta alone vying for the prize out of 11. That seems significant. What would you say accounts for this seeming dominance?
Dominance is a problematic word; I will not use it. I’d rather say that Nigerian poetry has been enriched by the totality of the Nigerian experience. There are diverse textures, tenors, and tonalities that shape our poetry. It is not dependent on one form or one regional ferment. Poets of Niger Delta extraction share Nigeria’s literary culture with those from other regions and ethnicities.
However, in spite of this none of your works seems to address the problems of the Niger Delta as would have been the case in previous works or editions. Is there a fatigue in writing about the perennial issues, since such writing has gone largely unheeded by government over the years to effect remediation in terms of environmental justice and good life for the marginalized people?
I cannot speak for Joe Ushie, Ogaga Ifowodo, and Iquo DianaAbasi. They are better positioned to speak for their motivations and subject matters. I have always written about the Niger Delta, and you will find that in some parts of The Lilt of the Rebel. However, I write about other peoples and things too. I have published many poems in my career; wouldn’t they be monotonous if they were all about the Niger Delta environment? I am not the kind of writer that will be squeezed into a regional box.
How can budding writers in the region be engaged more critically about environmental justice in the Niger Delta to continue from where writers like you have carried the crusade?
Budding writers should be encouraged to be sensitive to their environment. They should be courageous to speak about their lives and their ethnicities. But they must not limit their art to the pigeonhole of a single topic.