There is need to place more emphasis on the development of the arts

In a nation where the creative arts are not fully appreciated, the recently concluded Literary and Arts Festival (ALitFest) is testimony to the exceptional young men and women of the Abuja Literary Society (ALS) who organised the three-day event. ALitFest brought together writers, book lovers, academics and civil society members to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the ALS by Mr Victor Anoliefo. The festival thrilled, educated and entertained participants drawn from across Nigeria.

Cultural and creative industries are globally recognised as contributors to economic growth and job creation, as well as important catalysts for social cohesion and nation-building. So it is a shame that Nigeria has largely ignored the sector. That is why the interventions of the ALS and Anoliefo are not only commendable but should be supported by both the public and private sectors in Nigeria. We need to place more emphasis on the development of the arts and their ability to raise awareness and stimulate peace and development.

The choice of the theme, ‘Nigeria to the World’ was strategic in order to showcase the best of our art and literature. Certainly the organisers achieved their set goals, with panel discussions from different facets of Nigerian arts, including theatre conversations, spoken word poetry as a career, adapting Nigerian literature to film, etc. Emerging young talents were also featured, as well as book readings from popular writers who shared their experiences and insights with audiences.

For decades, Abuja has struggled to grow out of an identity primarily defined by political wheeler-dealers. With an explosion of culture and creativity, young city residents from all parts of the country have now found a home in the ALS whose overarching goal is to build and sustain a thriving literary space in the Federal Capital Territory and environs. Activities include open-mic poetry sessions, book readings, book discussions and literary workshops.

Instructively, ALitFest provided all the fun expected when art lovers gather. There were books to be bought, borrowed, read and swapped and artworks were exhibited by the ever resourceful ‘I can draw Africa’ team. Gastronomical delicacies and a festival bar added flavour and verve to a festival that brimmed with the promise to excite. Conversations led by notable bloggers and sessions on the participation of young people in Nigerian politics straddled the art divide, blurring the lines between art and craft.

As fantastic as the festival was, it did not come without challenges. The biggest was funding. The Abuja Literary Society operates an open platform that does not demand registration fees from members. A point of pride to members, it has also limited its capacity. Going forward, the ALS will need to come up with a plan that includes identifying financial benefactors and perhaps the international development community to enable it to grow and attain its potential.

The sheer doggedness of ALS volunteers and young people with drive, vision and tenacity under the leadership of Buchi Onyegbule, are an assurance that ALitFest has come to stay as an important event in the Abuja literary calendar.