By Ismail Omipidan
Kenn Ameachi Jnr. is a lawyer by training, a banker by pr‑ofession and a poet by vocation. In this interview, he spoke about his collection of poems, The Quest and Echoes of Conscience, set for public presentation soon. For him, Nigerians have always been docile followers, hence he believes they could redeem themselves from irresponsible leadership through writings and advocacy.
I know you are a lawyer-turned banker, now a poet. What else are you?
(Smiles) I am me. But, frankly, both attributes make up my personality, my moments and experiences in life. They are the day-to-day activities that drive my passion and the means through which I express myself and pathways to fulfillment of some set goals and life objectives. What else I am? For now, I think am just these three things: poet, lawyer and a banker vocationally. Within these three vocations, there are so many other things I do to fulfill purpose and impact on my society, like social advocacy for a just and equitable Nigerian nation where people are judged not by their tribe, state of origin, religion class or paternity but by their abilities and the true content of their character. I do a little bite of life coaching whenever and whereever I find a platform or a listening ear to hear me out. I wish I can do more but for now these are what I do.
You seem to have re- arranged them, so which come first?
(Smiles Again) Poetry comes first sir. It’s what I breathe; playing with words is a game I enjoyed right from adolescent. I think it’s also part of my psychological makeup. For instance, I can hardly keep up with aimless conversations right from childhood. So in its place, I find solace in writing and expounding my feelings through poetry which makes up my conversation with my environment. I read law and was trained as a lawyer and practiced for some years with the law firm of Falana and Falana Chambers, so, naturally, law comes second. I would have continued with the legal practice because I actually love advocacy, but for some reasons I had to leave. But that’s a story for another day. Banking is next, which unlike the poetry and law that are more or less my vocations is more of a career path, a professional calling that task my energy, brain and time and requires constant training. Banking is the love I cultivated and so far it has become a resilient path of my trajectory in life.
What motivates your kind of poetry?
Retrospectively, my first published poem was entitled “Bakassi”. It was published on notice boards and walls in University of Maiduguri some times in 1997 or thereabout while I was there as a student, though without my name on it for fear of sanction. The poem condemned the slum like, make shift accommodation hall in the university of Maiduguri (called Bakassi) then, which was originally a common room for viewing television and other hostel activities before it was turned to an accommodation room by default due to lack of enough room spaces. More than 100 students get themselves stuffed like chickens in that hall just because they cannot afford to pay for a room space or that they are not eligible for it. The publication attracted a lot of attention and further conversations within the university community then. But honestly the authorities couldn’t do anything about it because the room spaces wasn’t enough and naturally any empty space becomes a room space except that it was not conducive for learning, unhealthy and really disgusting. I don’t know if it is still there today. The aim of the poem and its publication was to draw the attention of the university authorities to do something about the unhealthy common room accommodation called Bakassi. So, basically, my motivations come from the needs to correct situations, custom and activities that are at odds with norms and inappropriate, hence many see my collections especially echoes of conscience as a social lamentation.
The collections, Echoes of Conscience is like a narrative of past and recent political experiences in Nigeria, are you a political poet?
No, oh. Am not a political poet. As I said earlier, my motivation to write often comes out of the passion to correct social ills and you can agree with me that our political space and experiences both past and present is bedeviled with a whole lot of cankerworms that needs expelling from our society. For instance, I came into awareness when the military was in power, led by Sani Abacha and out of the event of that period came the inspiration to write several poems condemning military regimes and their activities. The first poem in echoes of conscience is titled (Reign of Vampires). It’s a satire that castigates the tyrannical nature of that regime. Then there are other poems in that order that chastised politicians and political leaders.
There are also others that celebrate virtuous actions like (Ngige) which is a celebration of the Supreme Court valid judgment restoring the election of the then Governor Chris Ngige to power. They are poems in echoes of conscience that are more like a clarion call to Nigerians as can be seen in (To You), the poem called out Nigerians to stand up and speak out against misgovernance, injustice and corruption irrespective of who is in power, and it’s only by so doing that we can redeem ourselves from irresponsible leadership, and I warned that failure to do so will mean that all of us will continue to pay the price of the tragedy of our silence which is continued corruption and unaccountable leadership as can be seen today, so my poems of years back are still very much relevant today so as long as our society remain in socio-economic and political disequilibria, moral dislocations and primordial sentiments reigning supreme in the minds of Nigerians. My songs will continue to laments our wilderness until the land is healed and our dignity as a people and a nation is restored.
In my writings, I relate with my immediate environment, my lamentations on the Almajiri system in the northern part of the country readily come to mind. I have several poems exposing the baseness of that system and its inherent dangers, I was born and breed in the north, so seeing those young children most often barefooted, with tattered clothes and going from house to house begging for food stirred compassion in me and then the passion to write and denounce the practice. I’m glad today great men like the indefatigable Emir of Kano, Alh. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has taken the gauntlet to advocate against the practice and people are coming to awareness of the immorality of the system. To my mind, the almajiri system was the manure that gave feed to the Boko Haram insurgency in the north eastern part of the country because I contended in my poems that unless they are restituted they will become a loose cannon in some days to come and the day eventually came and today we are tormented and haunted by the consequences of our moral neglect of the Almajiri boy.
The same goes to the area boys syndrome in the South West and a whole lot of ill trained youths in the South East that are unemployed and willing tools for social misadventures. The titles, “If They Know”, “Bound to Bondage”, “There are not Shadow”, “Born Trowey”, “Lords of the Manor”, “Hunger”, “Pain and Misery” and “Gidan Video”) all spoke about the above social ills and the need to correct them. So in essence, I see myself more as a prophetic poet or An advocate for social change than a political poet.
So tell us more about The Quest, your other collection of poems?
The Quest, unlike the Echoes of Conscience, mirrors the society as it is, with themes that explores the daily vicissitude of life and man’s craving to make meanings out of the issues of life and at the same time have it all good. The Quest is a condiment of love poems, satires on religion and traditions. It also has elements of my faith in God as an expression of thanksgiving to the almighty for the things I passed through and overcome.
When I say faith here, I do not mean religion strictly, religion as being practiced in some quarters put universal human love in fetters and bondage and redefines our shared humanity, so instead of religion I apply faith in God. It also talked about issues relating to health matters like HIV/AIDS, and it has tributes to people and events that deserve commendation as it were then. The quest is a handbook of our daily encounters in life and a little bit of my kind of philosophy. It is a book for everyone, children, adults, life coaches, and people looking for inspiration and maybe little laughters the quest is also a little bite of my essence as a person from which others can relate with and gain insights.
What do you intend to achieve with your book publication?
First of all, I see my writings as a gift so being a gift it should be a gift to the society. In other words, the output of that gift should be used to add value to the society. The poems are meant to correct identified ills in the society like irresponsible leadership and inactive followership in our country, promotion of a free and fair society where human life is precious, where people can aim for the highest ideals and living is without guile. In essence I would like my collections to reach the ordinary man on the street and for him to make meaning out of it.
Your poems seem to be easily comprehensible, who amongst the great poets influence your writing styles?
The flow and manner of my writings are intentional. It’s the style I choose so that I can be able to communicate to the average person that can read and write. I didn’t intend my poems to be esoteric as to require interpretations. To me it does not make sense if while writing for the public you write in manners that burden your readers with interpretations, this is 21st century , no one has that time. When I set out to write, I studied many poets and poetry and concluded that if I need a dictionary to understand Wole Soyinka’s or Lord Alfred Tennyson poems I will not subject my readers to such hassles. Poetry like any other art should be enjoyed and not endured. As regard my influencers, I guess like many others of my generation Wole Soyinka’s writing were a constant accessory for me at my earlier love relationship with prose and poems. I read a whole lot of his books and poems basically because they also stir emotions within me. Later I met a poet and lecturer by name Tanure Ojaide who not only appraised my works then but also gave me some prompts. I studied his writings and gained inspirations. I can say Tanure Ojaide has the greatest influence on my writings, and I will remain eternally grateful to him.