By HENRY AKUBUIRO
It isn’t only Oliver Twist who asks for more all the time. Sometimes literary aficionados are caught hands down. The idyllic ambience of Alliance Francaise, Iyaganku, Ibadan, lent itself to poetic renditions seeking to address our state as hunters of diverse dreams. Schoolchildren raised the falsetto of their voices as they rendered poems on the state of the nation. Adult bards made the birds flee as their verses resonated to the sky. Really, the maiden edition of SOMAFEST (Sam Omatseye Poetry Festival), organised by Poetry Enclave, Ibadan, got all asking for more.
The participating kid poets had excused themselves from exams to participate in the festival, and their voices betrayed no lethargy as soon as the President of Poetry Enclave, Anthony Ebika, set the ball rolling at Iyaganku.
He reminded the audience that the event was a celebration of poetry and life in honour of Omatseye, a poet, novelist, playwright, essayist and journalist of international repute, adding that it was also in commemoration of his thirtieth year in practice of journalism
“Without any iota of doubt, Sam Omatseye is a highly respected and honoured journalist who has made a great impact by contributing an inestimable quota to the progress of journalism in Nigeria,” he said. He hoped that it would reach out to the world with a baggage of good and glad stories. He minced no words in mentioning the support of the frontline journalist, who made the dream of the festival feasible.
Adebola Runke, Awo James and Oyebanjo Ibukun were among the pacesetters on stage, and their voices themed with angst, bewailing lost beauty of their nation and social dysfunction. Yinka Ola showed he was a seasoned voice goon when the spoken word artist mounted the stage to perform. Bliss, a student of Alliance Francaise, performed “Why Is it That We ….” Muyiwa Ojo read a poem, too.
It wasn’t all about poetry. A drama presentation, Ambassador of Poverty, was performed by a student cast. There were subsequent performances by Pathfinder College, Ibadan, and Samanda College, Ibadan, before Ebika Anthony brought the roof down with his own performance, including Sam Omatseye’s “Vulture”, rendered with a duet.
Babatunde Owolabi, director of the soap, Koko Close, and Abiodun Oloyode, former Chairman, Oyo ANA, were present. So was the journalist and publisher, Taiwo Ogundipe, who, encouraged by the turnout, commended Anthony for putting up such an exciting event together in Ibadan in honour of Sam Omatseye, who was marking his thirtieth year in journalism, describing him as a “a thorn in the flesh of politicians”.
Dr. Bayo Adebowale, an associate professor of Creative Writing in English and Founder/Director of the African Heritage Research Library, Adeyipo Village, Ibadan, gave a keynote speech on “Poetry and the State of the Nation”, in which he stated that, like their American and European counterparts, African poets had impacted on society.
He said, “Poets in Africa and Nigeria are not left out in creating verses which interpret national life and character. Most of the poets have succeeded in bringing out poems of enduring qualities to shape African/Nigerian identity and personality. They have fashioned poems which engender total transformation of national consciousness and nationhood.”
A good number of them, he said, “seem to have put aside the pioneering subjects of culture conflicts, segregation and apartheid, colonialism, neocolonialism, gender imbalance, female empowerment, post-modernism and negritude –to now face the reality of embracing contemporary issues; issues of national interest, of concern and of relevance to the masses and growth of nationhood.”
He encouraged Nigerian poets to be more combative in their writings. “Let revolutionary texture now begin to pervade new Nigerian poetry. Poetic diction now should be ‘fire-darts’: words of iron and words of thunder! Our poets must remember that they are mere ‘griots in the courtyard of transient power’, but active parts of the propelling and vibrant engine of their age!” he declared.
Echoing the myriad of problems besetting the nation, he called on poets to produce works reflecting the Boko Haram insurgence, the menace of cattle rustlers, the restiveness of militant groups, cultism in secret shrines, religious intolerance, subjugation and marginalisation of the masses, political oppression of minority groups, ritual killings, economic downturn, and the like.
Sam Omatseye was impressed with the day’s performances, especially those of the schoolchildren, “I am humbled by the presence of, especially, the children. I am impressed that they understand the society they are living in. I mean, they didn’t take the society for granted. My generation has been woefully bad. The generation that read poetry today, I believe, will bring a new way of doing things.”
Students and schools were rewarded in the Sam Omatseye Poetry Contest held in the run-up to the festival. In the individual category, Olanipekun Ajiboye and Tijani Abdulrasheed came 3rd and 2nd respectively, while the star prize went to Oyekunle Busayo.
Three schools –Glory Academy, Ibadan; Pathfinder College, Ibadan; and Mark Comprehensive High School, Ibadan –came 3rd, 2nd and 1st respectively. The winners were congratulated by the endower of the prizes, Sam Omatseye, who shook their hands. Cash prizes were awarded to the winners, as everybody hoped that SOMAFEST would survive many seasons.