It could have passed for just another literary event. The 61stbirthday ceremony of author, poet and environmental activist, Nnimmo Bassey was a beehive of creative thinkers, humanists and writers in Lagos last week as the keynote address had as theme, “Art, Humanity and the Search for Social Justice’’ which was delivered by the poet and social activist, Odia Ofeimun.
The colloquium which was inaugurated last year as a surprise birthday gift for Bassey at 60 had as compere, the Deputy Sunday Editor, The Nation Newspaper, Mr. Yinka Oyagbile. A rousing start it was as the veteran arts journalist and poet, Mr. Akeem Lasisi kicked off the event with a performance poetry titled, “This is not a time to grow old”, with a first verse that was an ode to the slain playwright and environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa.
In his opening remarks, the Deputy Director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Environment, Mr. Akinbode Olufemi highlighted the objectives of the colloquium as the celebration of Nnimmo Bassey’s art, his poetry, the things he represents – environmental campaign being the core issue.
Essentially, the programme is geared towards creating an environmental campaign with reference to Nnimmo’s work of arts as a tool for social justice.
Next, the elegant female performance poet, Evelyn Osagie performed a poetry titled, “Imagine Niger Delta” followed by another titled, “Eko Dance, I dance”. It was a homecoming of sorts for Evelyn who once as an aspiring poet and a student at the University of Benin, had recited poems at the office of Nnimmo Bassey.
For Ofeimun, a long-time associate of the celebrant, being a socially-committed writer was the path they had both trailed in the military rule years in Nigeria. He spoke on how he became a comrade in struggle for democracy with the celebrant; how they were elected as Executives of the Association of Authors on the eve of Abacha’s coup and how all literary organizations became a coalition for activism under the then Military Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha.
He added that artists achieve a commonality which defines a world of order. A basic commonality he stated is language which he defined as the building block for social justice and change.
His advocacy is for the society to ensure that everyone especially those within certain age bracket be educated as this would prompt them to hold their leaders accountable for bad governance.
Once again, Mr. Lasisi performed another poetry at this point titled, “Udeme” which preceded an extemporaneous performance with Evelyn as his co-performer. Mr Kunle Ajibade, the “Jailed for Life” journalist and writer who also paid tribute to the celebrant called for a minute of silence for a mutual friend of theirs, Prof. Festus Iyayi. He went on to read a poem titled, “Don’t stones count for nothing for Tai Solarin” by Nnimmo. The culture activist and seasoned journalist, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo also paid tributes to Bassey.
Asides the celebrant and his wife, Mrs. Evelyn Bassey, other guests at the event include Prof Leke Adeeko, Steve Shaba, CEO of Craft Books and Mr. Chike Tude of the Young Action Front amongst others. Mr. Shaba described Mr. Nnimmo as an extraordinarily talented individual whose literary talent is reflected in his publications such as Intercepted and Poems on the run. He urged that some of his collections of poems that are out-of-print be brought back to the bookstores.