By Elvis Iyorngurum
How do you combine the cerebral and gaiety in a celebration? It seemed a tall order when the organising committee received the brief for the Abuja Writers’ Forum’s (AWF) fifth anniversary. But the Segun Ozique-led committee delivered without losing sight of the essentials.
Someone who had merely wandered into Nanet Suites, venue of the event on June 29, would not have needed to be told that it was a very special one. Indeed it was. It wasn’t just a book-reading event and neither was the celebration just for the writers. Members, who have been away for a long time returned, some from as far as Ghana and the United States. Invited guests turned up in numbers, gaily dressed and wearing bold smiles like they were the means of admission into the event.
There was every reason for the celebration. For a literary organisation in Nigeria, attaining five years of consistent pursuit of the set goals of promoting writers and their writing is not a mean achievement. “It has been five years of sweating blood and endless struggles, but we made it and we are more than ever before, ready to break new grounds,” the forum’s President and host of the event, Dr. Emman Usman Shehu declared as he set off the proceedings for the day.
In spite of the immense contribution of literary arts to the social, political and economic fortunes of Nigeria, right from the pre-independence era, the sector has suffered total neglect by government, most private sector players and wealthy individuals in the country. Literary events, therefore, rarely attract any funding from these bodies and the promoters have to bankroll them from their own pockets. This he said, has been the storm the forum has had to weather over the past five years.
Dr. Shehu recounted that text messages went out to people inviting them to a book reading event on June 21, 2008 at Pen and Pages Bookshop in Wuse II, Abuja. On the set date, the gathering was told they had been invited at the behest of the Abuja Writers’ Forum and it signalled the birth of what is today the foremost literary organization in Nigeria. Writer, Uche Peter Umez was invited from Owerri as the first Guest Writer, and the even has held non-stop since then.
After the opening remarks, David Adzer, a guitarist, took the stage and thrilled the audience with tunes that only heightened the celebration mood. The audience would not let him go after the presentation, without answering a question or two. Adzer said he draws the inspiration for his music from his circumstances and pre-occupation in life. Adzer, who in the course of his music career, has worked with prominent artistes like Age Beeka, Bem Sar among others, pioneered the Playlist Group, based in Jos, Plateau state. He also co-wrote a movie, The Bond which was produced by Papel Image Tech.
Other acts that featured on the night were another soft-rock artiste, Tokunboh Edwards and Abiodun Okewoye, a saxophonist who got the audience singing along with him as he rendered Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. Many could not stay in their seats as they rose to dance and sing their hearts out.
There was also a mini-photo exhibition by Kemi Akin-Nibosun who has been involved in the Invisible Borders project, an initiative to tell Africa’s stories by Africans through photography and inspiring artistic interventions.
The first guest writer was Ikeogu Oke, who read from his latest collection of poems, In the Wings of Waiting. Oke holds a BA in English from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and is writings have appeared in various publications in Asia and both sides of the Atlantic. In 2010, Nadine Gordimer, a Nobel laureate, selected his book, Salutes without Guns as one of the books of the year for the Times Literary Supplement (TLS). Oke’s The Lion and the Monkey, recently premiered as a reading performance by him at the 2012 South African Literary Awards (SALA) that held in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He also performed a premiere of his poem, Dirge for Achebe, as a stage performance at the inaugural Ola Ndi Igbo celebration that held at the Civic Centre, Lagos. That was in April.
Oke left no one in doubt of his talent as a writer, performer and musician in his presentation. He sang I can’t reach you, which he said is not just a poem but a song as well. Many of his poems, he said, are lyrical and will best be enjoyed if read alongside a musical rendition. Later in the interactive session with the audience, he described his writings as a creative deviation from convention and said he draws his inspiration from the joy, agony and disappointments.
Victor Oluwasegun, a political correspondent with The Nation Newspapers was next on the queue. Oluwasegun read from his book, In the Shadow, which is his debut collection of short stories. Born in Sagamu, Ogun State, Oluwasegun attended Ogun State University where he bagged a BA degree in English. At various times, he worked as a lecturer at the Advanced Teachers’ College, Kano, the defunct Mutual Trust Savings, Lagos, Lifeline Children’s Hospital in Lagos and Ayida Communications, Lagos. He began his journalism career with Encomium Magazine in Lagos before settling with The Nation Newspapers.
In the interactive phase of his presentation, the journalist responded to the question of if any of his works was written out of a personal experience by disclosing that one of the stories in the collection, “Favour Gone Sour” was indeed inspired by a true story that he witnessed. He said he was even sued to court on account of writing the story.
The ambience of the evening night increased as seven members of the forum were applauded as they were presented with prizes as winners of the May edition of the forum’s monthly writing challenge. The Forum instituted the challenge as an in-house effort to regularly encourage members to honing their skills in writing and also help them build a portfolio of manuscripts that could serve them various purposes in future.
The monthly challenge covers the fiction, poetry and drama genres and the winners were, for the fiction category, Amina Aboje, who won the first prize with her story, “Double Face”; Abigail Abenu, who came second with her story, “The Hills” and Rahamat Zakari who wrote, “I Thought I knew Her” and got the third prize. The only winner for the drama category was Didi Nwala, who wrote, “The Iykes”. The poetry prizes were clinched by Elvis Iyorngurum in the first position, with “Age-long Wisdom”; Amina Aboje, the first runner-up with “Agonies of a Mackerel” and the second runner-up and writer of “The Worth of World”, Kattab Salami.
Traditionally, an anniversary celebration is incomplete without a special cake for the occasion. Thus film producer and director, Kasham Keltuma anchored the cake-cutting flanked by Lady Gesiere Brisibe Dorgu (Special Adviser on Ethics to the Bayelsa State Governor), Bishop Benjami Fuduta, Dr Omokhogie Adams, Edith Yassin and Abubakar Inaboya.
The high point of the night was a raffle draw that was conducted for the audience to win book prizes. Attendees had been given a raffle ticket bearing a unique number on arrival at the venue. Ten lucky winners went away with a book each.
In a goodwill message, the Assistant Director, Media and Public Affairs of the National Lottery Commission, Mrs. Rekiya Ibrahim-Atta, congratulated the forum on its fifth anniversary and said her presence was to honour the event and also support the vision for which the forum was established. She encouraged writers to base their work on adequate research as it will serve as a reference point for history, describing them as custodians of information that the world relies on. Mrs. Ibrahim-Atta also encouraged the writing community to strive higher and remain resilient so that eventually it will attract government support in achieving its purposes.
Activities for the anniversary celebration had started on Friday the 28th with a Creative Writing Workshop for students of selected secondary schools in the FCT. The workshop was facilitated by Caine 2013 Prize nominee, Elnathan John and had in attendance, 15 students from five secondary schools. The event held at the City Library, Zone 4, Abuja. The students were taken through five hours of tutoring on the basics of story-writing and showed commendable grasp of what they were taught. The schools that took part were, Government Secondary School, Wuse Zone 3, Cherryfield College, Jikwoyi, Anglican Girls Grammar School and Government Secondary School, Gwarimpa and Government Secondary School Tudun Wada, Abuja.
The Abuja Writers’ Forum, apart from the monthly Guest Writer Session, holds a critique session every Sunday at the International Insitute of Journalism (IIJ), Hamdala Plaza, Asokoro, Abuja. The Forum recently pioneered a Creative Writing Course leading to the award of a certificate in Creative Writing, in conjunction with the International Institute of Journalism. All the activities of the Forum are open to members of the public.
– Iyorngurum is a writer, poet and the secretary of the Abuja Writers’ Forum. He writes from Abuja