Reflecting on KABAFEST Literary, Arts Fiesta

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As the curtains fall on the 2018 Kaduna Book and Arts Festival, Peter Uzoho reports that it was an enriching moment of interesting booklogues, film screenings, poetic renditions, and informative networking with literary artists from Nigeria, Africa and beyond

It was an exciting experience returning to Kaduna a year after, for the second edition of the all-enriching Kaduna Book and Arts Festival (KABAFEST). From September 5 to 8, over 70 literary artists from Nigeria, Africa and beyond, comprising writers, filmmakers, actors, poets, musicians, onstage-storytellers, visual artists, journalists, and lovers of arts were in Kaduna for the literary banquet.

The four days arts and book feast was organised by the Lagos-based Book Buzz Foundation in partnership with the Kaduna State Government, and some interested private sector organisations, and embassies. Of note is that KABAFEST remains the first and only literary fête of this magnitude in northern Nigeria and aims at changing the perception of the world about the region.

It was also intended to boost access to literacy and reading, reignite a passion for arts and culture in the state, and to create safer spaces where cultural and literary enthusiasts can gather to dialogue on books, culture and ideas.

About KABAFEST

KABAFESTis a four-day programme of arts and book-focused events featuring ‘booklogues’, panel sessions, workshops, art/book exhibitions, a stage play, a film screening, onstage storytelling, poetic renditions and music, with Nigerian and international writers and creatives.

Like the maiden edition held last year, KABAFEST 2018 did not fail to meet the expectations of attendees as the booklogues and panel discussions on important issues, covering arts, politics, health, economy, culture, security, gender, amongst others, were thought-provoking, enriching and fun-filled.

Also, food-lovers yearning to try something new availed themselves of desserts from the North, while tasting flavours from outside Nigeria.

Opening Ceremony

The festival began with a grand opening ceremony where some of the artists entertained the audience with brief but heart-rending performances. The event was held at the SilverSand Hotel, Kaduna. Members of the Kaduna State Executive Council, led by the Deputy Governor, Mr. Barnabas Bala Bantex, graced the occasion.

Sponsors, students of higher institution in Kaduna, and many art enthusiasts were also in attendance in the colourful ceremony. With the guests glued to their seats, waiting for the progrmme to commence, the Festival Director and Founder, Book Buzz Foundation, Lola Shoneyin, glowingly welcome them with her address, assuring all present of fulfilling experience throughout the duration of the programme.

There were thrilling poetry performances by one of Nigeria’s finest poets, Efe Paul Azino, whose story captured the huge potentials in Nigeria and queried why the so-called super-powers should be undermining Nigeria and Africa. An award-wining South African poet, KolekaPutuma, also performed for the audience.

The audience also savoured Ogaba Ochai’s acrobatic dance, and a superb music rendition by renowned Jeremiah Gyang, who carressed his guitar like a lover would. The hall lit up the more with a fascinating story from a Kenya-Scottish storyteller, Mara Menzies, who told a story of a Gikuyu woman who dared an age-long custom that allowed women to cook meat but forbade them from eating it, whether in their homes or elsewhere.

The opening ceremony also featured the presentation of a Lifetime Achievement Award to a renowned novelist and professor at the Nasarawa State University, Zaynab Alkali, for her immense contributions to the society through her creative works. The festival was thereafter declared open by the deputy governor on behalf of his principal, Governor Nasir el-Rufai. Bantex restated the commitment of the administration to the creative industry.

Sessions and Discussions

One caveat that assured participants of unfettered safety during comments in session was: “What happens at Kabafest, ends at Kabafest.” With such rule, everyone had due coverage to air one’s view on issues raised. This was only established to avoid the temptation of keeping malice with someone as a result of clash of opinion during each discourse. It was to remind attendees, speakers and contributors that Kabafest was a safe space for their contributions: with no judgment of any sort.

However, the caveat did not extend to limitations on getting quality suggestions and resolutions emanating from the event on burning societal issues, from getting to the appropriate authorities. Even with that, you could see freedom of speech and expression in action as all bottled-up emotions on issues at stake were let loose in constructive manners. After all, the common objective was a better society for all.

Why African Literatures Matter

The first panel was hosted by Abubakar Ibrahim, winner of Michael Elliot Award for Excellent African Storytelling and author of “Season of Crimson Blossoms.”

On “Why African Literatures Matter”, Ibrahim interrogated Kenyan novelist and professor, Mukoma wa Ngugi; Ghanaian writer and blogger, Kinna Likimani, and Nigerian novelist, Safiya Ismaila Yero.

Ngugi who is also the son of popular Kenyan writer, Ngugu wa Thiongo, concurred that Africa literatures does matter, adding that it could be proven by the tendency of many African dictators to jail and kill writers for their work. But Likimani was not comfortable having such question come up. “Look, African literature is not a new genre and we cannot forever continue to respond to the ancient query on whether Africans have culture and literature; we should just continue to live our cultural lives and tell our stories,” he opined.

Trying also to determine what an African story should be, Ngugi suggested that the use of the concept “Afropolitan” to describe today’s African writer. To him, the concept “African story” was limiting.

Ngugi said, “Whether or not they live in Africa, global issues and events mould their narratives. They are African and they are cosmopolitan. The important thing is that they write what they want to and resist the pressure to conform to addressing ‘African themes’.

“I find terms like poverty porn dangerous because it silences books. Rather than constant criticism of poverty porn themes associated with mainly Nigerian writers, why can’t we just appreciate where they are coming from? We cannot close ourselves to other voices.”

For Likimani, African writers should care less about what the West says about their stories, as they should not determine what they should write.

Likimani said, “African writers should be mindful of who is critiquing African literature, most are just out to dehumanise us. They know nothing about us and want to be experts on who we are. Some critics, you just learn to do away with.

“I hate the word global, I think that is where African things go and die. We should be far more concerned about what we think of each other. Global is done to us, we don’t need global, we just want good stories that make you feel good and make you think.”

Contributing from the audience, Nigerian poet and filmmaker, Wana Udobang, said: “We must be careful to expand and free people to write. We must stop this thing about being an African writer, worrying so much about what is an African story, which silences a lot of people.”

Booklogue

In one of the booklogues, Kaduna State First Lady and author of “An Abundance of Scorpions,” Hadiza el-Rufai, and Ayobami Adebayo, author of “Stay With Me,” discussed their fictional works. Their works represent the emerging writers known as “new voices”, whose works engage new themes hitherto not found in African fictions.

Such themes like sex, pains in marriage, and inhuman treatment meted out to women which were usually not spoken about. They also addressed difficult questions concerning religious practices and tensions, as fundamentalism takes root in Nigeria and other African countries.

Fielding questions after reading a portion of her book, el-Rufai frowned at some African cultures which inhibit people’s rights. “I believe everyone has the right to practice whatever they want as long as they are not infringing on the rights of others,” she said. “Sex is something all of us know and enjoy so long as you are an adult but people don’t want us to talk about it,” she added.

She called for more women, especially from the north to engage in writing, asking that was the only way they could express things that bother them.

Likimani said Feminism

In another highly charged panel session, women who profess and stand for feminism talked about the face of feminism in the future, its importance; and why it is critical to the development of any modern society. The panel moderated by Wana Udobang, composed of author and Co-founder of Women Leading Africa, Nana Dakoa; lawyer and writer, Fatima Zahra Danejo; and Senior Programme Officer, MacArthur Foundation, Amina Salihu. They challenged the socio-cultural order, which they argued placed women at a disadvantaged position against the men folks.

According to them, Nigeria’s patriarchal nature has never been kind to women. “At the foundation of patriarchy is the visceral need to control a woman, her needs and her desires,” Danejo said, adding, “There is a rich Northern feminist history and a rich Muslim feminist history. As a Northern woman, just surviving is a feminist issue. Northern men are a peculiar brand of men. What they desire inside is what they frown upon outside.”

Salihu urged her fellow women to rise and challenge the societal treatment of women as a reproductive vessel. “When we begin to ignore the little, the little becomes bigger and the bigger becomes the biggest. It took Nigeria 18 years to pass a bill on violence against women, it had to be changed to violence against persons and it took a very slim majority to have it passed,” she said.

The moderator, Udobong, frowned on the politicisation of women’s body, noting, “one of the things about being a woman is that our body is politicised.”

Contributing from the audience, journalist and media entrepreneur, Kadaria Ahmed said: “There is a hijacking of the Abrahamic religions to give men the superiority and power they need to oppress women.”

Uncovering the Politics of Boko Haram

This panel moderated by a lecturer at the University of Maiduguri, Mr. Abubakar Othman, comprised Chairman of the abducted Chibok Girls, Yakubu Nkeki; Chief Executive Officer, 555 Consulting Limited, Bukky Shonibare; Author and Doctoral Student, Abdulbasit Kassim. They shared the true plight of people living in the insurgent areas in the North-east and the pains of parents of the girls still in Boko Haram captivity. They said the claims by the Nigerian government that the insurgents had been degraded were all false. According to them, government had not found it needful to go and meet with the parents of the abducted Chibok girls.

“We want you writers, educated and influential people to call on the government to meet with the parents of the Chibok girls still missing; government is not meeting with them. Most of the parents are traumatised, and we are helpless. Don’t forget us, please!,” Nkeki, pleaded. Also speaking, Shonibare, said, “We do not need anything from government, we do not ask for favour; all we want is our girls. We are farmers; we can till our lands as we have been doing for thousands of years. We only need peace to farm and safety for our community; 112 girls are still missing. Boko Haram plays hugely not just to the ignorance but the innocence of young ones. I’ve heard young people in North-east say they like the way Boko Haram dress. We need early intervention.”

Night of Poetry

The festival ended with the poetry night. It was all fun and funfair going into the night, as poets took control of the stage, thrilling and entertaining the audience with their mesmerising renditions. The likes of Nigeria’s Efe Paul Azino, Chika Jones, Dami Ajayi, Wana Udobang, Femi Oyebode; and South Africa’s KolekaPutuma, all performed. Kaduna State Governor ​Nasir el-Rufai and his wife, Hadiza, were present during the night of bliss. It was indeed a worthwhile experience being at the Kabafest 2018.