Writers must stand up as creative nationalists for a nation at crossroads, Says Oribhabor

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We need our poetry to speak out loud for us, deliver positivity to society

Winners emerge at PIN’s NSPP contest in ‘Feast of Words’ ’22

By Godwin Okondo

WITH the sole objective of promoting and engaging Nigerians in literary creativity in poetry and spoken word formats, a ‘Feast of Words’ held its 22nd edition, where the winners of Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP), an initiative of Poets in Nigeria (PIN), were announced at an awards ceremony on December 10, 2022 at Eriata Heights, Ikorodu, Lagos. This year’s edition had as theme ‘Words for a Nation at Crossroads,’ and it featured activities such as music, reading, spoken word, panel discussion, contests and awards, with guests also receiving a free copy of poetry collection.

In his remarks while declaring the event open, founder of PIN and programme chairman, Sir Eriata Oribhabor, said, “I am deeply honoured to welcome you to the 2022 edition of ‘Feast of Words,’ one of our nation’s most anticipated literary festivals. I am particularly pleased by the fact that I am associated with creative minds who are behind these programmes and events dating back to 2015. If I am to add that this event is holding at a venue of our collective dream years back, I won’t be searching in vain for a fitting colour to my happiness epitomized in creative personalities like Samson Iruesiri Kukogho and Kolade Olanrewaju Freedom, respectively. Both have been pillars of ideas and physical support to me since I started writing poetry for public consumption in Abuja.

Ayoade Olamide (Olabisi Onabanjo University – left); 1st prize winner, Chinialumogu Ofodile Godsent (Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka); Deborah Joshua (Onabisi Onabanjo University – one of top 50 selected entrants) and 2nd prize, Mahbubat Kanyinsola Salahudeen (University of Ibadan)

“No doubt, my excitement is boundless. Interestingly, it’s not easy to ascertain the end from the beginning that might open into miles of words and pages and sometimes volumes of reference-worthy deliveries. However, please join me on a reflective journey in history in the establishment of ‘Feast of Words’ by Words Rhymes & Rhythms (WRR) Limited, a literary hub for young writers across Nigeria. The Chief Executive Officer of WRR Ltd is Kukogho while Freedom is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Publishing/Festival Director. Both have been part and parcel of Poets in Nigeria initiative from inception in 2015. Being privy to the founding of WRR Ltd, I have always admired what the company does, especially with her Authorpedia Initiative that supports young authors in publishing their works that are all-year round promoted.”

“Interestingly, proceeds from Authorpedia publishing are routinely ploughed back for the sponsorship of different literary activities and initiatives that are geared towards supporting as mentioned. By their commendable activities in the literary space, some writers/poets who have, one way or the other, associated with WRR/Authorpedia had won and are still winning local and international literary laurels and more wins are on the way. Even though I won’t be mentioning names here, when photos or videos of past participants and volunteers of WRR Ltd’s ‘Feast of Words and contests are shared, we will easily find this out.”

Oribhabor said the theme for this year’s ‘Feast of Words’ tagged ‘Words for a Nation at Crossroads’ aptly reflects the ‘content and character’ of the Nigerian state, “as our nation is at the ‘crossroads.’ Today, let’s speak up and let the world know how much we love our nation. Let’s, via our words and actions, stand out as creative nationalists proffering solutions to our nation at a critical crossroad. I thank everyone for making it here, and special thanks to WRR for choosing Ikorodu, Lagos, for this year’s edition, as well as hosting it. May our nation experience greatness in our time.”

Then followed a panel discussion on ‘Art for Art’s Sake or Art for Social Growth?’ with a focus on the impact of art in society. The session featured notable poet, AJ Daggar Tolar, Kukogho, and poet and author of Farmer’s Daughter, Funke Awodiya, with Freedom moderating the session.

Tolar spoke on ways the arts should be deployed to educate Nigerians on the right path, adding, “Art wasn’t something that people would encourage you to venture into at the beginning. It was a form of entertainment meant for a particular class and it had to be paid for. Now, poetry is something that anyone can learn and use to educate society and change the system. Millions of us are condemned to work and we don’t have time for ourselves. We are bothered about our bills and how to take care of our families. How do we explain the fact that universities were closed for eight months and the education of Nigerian students was on hold for such a long period? No doubt, people want to dance and enjoy themselves, but our basic necessities of life have to be guaranteed. We should be willing to take a step forward for ourselves.

“Religion also constitutes a lot of problems in our lives and that is one issue we need to address. You hear people talk about having faith and waiting for the son of God to come and liberate them from these problems. So, a lot of people just sit back and keep waiting for this divine intervention. How do we get help when we aren’t ready to help ourselves? The religious leaders who keep telling us to have faith are making millions in the name of tithes from us, and politicians as well, and people are suffering. People need to be liberated from this way of thinking and mindset (through the education that art brings).”

Awodiya said writing gives her therapeutic feeling, and noted “Writing is a subject satisfaction, because you enjoy it and you’re passing a message, and also you’re helping yourself and others. Life without entertainment is boring. If I have the power to write, do I write for myself, or do I write to educate people? What kind of help does my writing render to society? I would like to enjoy the aesthetic value of any poetry I read, because a beautiful poem should be enjoyed. So poets shouldn’t put themselves in a box when they write.”

For Kukogho, “You can’t be an artist without having a particular form of art. What you need to think about is if your art is sending a message, and the kind of message your art is sending. Art has a social element. It is not always deliberate or against politicians. Art helps us live our lives naturally. If we’re going to write a poem, it should be something that would have a lasting impact in people. There are different levels for activity. I look out for things that strike me in people’s works. We need our poetry to speak out loud for us, and it needs to be striking, because arts is supposed to deliver positivity to society.”

A string of poetry performances, spoken word and music followed after which came the announcement of the winners of the 2022 NSPP. Chinualumogu Godsent Ofodile, Mahbubat Kanyinsola Salahudeen and Joshua Okon Effiong were announced as winners of the seventh edition of the prize out of a submission of 538 poems from students representing 94 tertiary institutions, including universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, schools of nursing, seminary schools and Airforce Institute of Technology.

Ofodile, a 200-level student of English and Literary Studies, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, clinched the first prize with his poem ‘The Voyage’ while Salahudeen, a 100-level student of Communication and Language Arts, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, came second with her poem ‘I Really Am a Metaphor for Grief’ and ‘Resurrection, written by Effiong, a 300-level student of Science Laboratory Technology, University of Calabar, Calabar, won the third position. The three top prize winners received a total cash prize of N425,000 while the consolation prize winners – Younglan Talyoung of University of Jos, Ayoade Olamide of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye and Olowonjoyin Muhammed Sanni of University of Ilorin, Ilorin, will share N75,000.

The panel of judges for the contest included a professor of African literature, Sunny Awhefeada of Delta State University, Abraka, a performance poet, Iquo DianaAbasi, a literary entrepreneur, Kukogho, a Puerto Rican poet and editor, Luz María López and Adekunle Oguntoyinbo Shola Phebian, a performance poet and creative director, who reviewed the entries to select the top 50 poems for inclusion in NSPP 2022 Anthology.

With Kolade Freedom (left) moderating the panel session; Aj. Dagga Tolar; Funke Awodiya and Samson Kukogho at Eriata Heights, Ikorodu, Lagos

In summing up the judges’ experience reading the poems submitted, DianaAbasi said, “PIN’s Nigerian Students Poetry Prize is a laudable initiative, helping to unearth and celebrate some of Nigeria’s finest young poets. This year’s call for entries went out during the needlessly prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU). Not surprisingly, this unfortunate event featured in a few of the entries. But what struck me most about these poems is the fact that many of the young poets captured the desolation, frustration and palpable tension in the land.”

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