AWF’s Engaging Evening of Films and Poetry

The audeince is enthralledBy Elvis Iyorngurum

There are writers whose works are very in our homes, yet they are neither books nor published materials. They are films. Every film begins from a story concept, evolves into a script and then undergoes the production ritual that makes it a material for the proverbial silver screen.
Since film scriptwriters are also writers, their films can also be celebrated as products in the manner books are recognised.
It is upon this premise that the Abuja Writers’ Forum (AWF) hosted filmmakers, Kasham Keltuma and Ishaya Bako as Guest Writers for its monthly Guest Writer Session, alongside poet and academic, Dr. Idris Okpanachi. All three turned up on Saturday, 27th July, 2013, to entertain and engage literary and art enthusiasts at the Nanet Suites in Abuja’s central business district.
The event began with a rendition of the National Anthem, followed by a musical performance by Tokunboh Edward, an Abuja-based soft rock musician and guitarist. He sang Broken
One, which ironically, did not break the audience but knitted them in a unified composure to enjoy the lineup of events for the night. Tokunboh is a familiar at the Guest Writer Series and when he was introduced the applause from the audience was evidently one of excited anticipation. Tokunboh is an artiste with distinction as he sure knows what songs interact with the hearts of his audience and has been a consistent delight at the Guest
Writer Series.
The poet was the first guest to take his turn as the event entered into full throttle. Dr. Idris Okpanachi, winner of the ANA/Cadbury Poetry Prize and author of The Eaters of
the Living, began his reading with ‘In Praise of the Night,’ the first poem in the new collection, From the Margins of Paradise’ from which he drew all his reading for the night. The poem alongside ‘A Lonely Road to Baghdad’ first featured in the Iraqi Literary Review.
The depth of his thought and craft of his lines registered with the audience.
After the reading, it was the moment for the filmmakers. Kasham Keltuma’s A Spoon and a Dog was the first to screen. The fifteen-minute film which tells the story of
families whose friendship defies their religious differences, showcases the
innocence of childhood and its beauty as shown by the major characters,
boys who commit to being true friends. The film received a resounding applause
and rave commendations from respondents in the audience.
Next was Ishaya Bako’s Fuelling Poverty, a documentary film on the corruption in Nigeria’s oil industry was released in 2012. It was inspired by the crisis that erupted across the nation
arising from the removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government on the 1st of January of the year. Upon the government’s decision which was announced by President Jonathan in a New Year address to the nation, millions of Nigerians had filed out in the streets in cities across the country to protest the government’s action which made the cost of living soar within a day and worsened the dire living condition of the Nigerian people, majority of whom are already impoverished. The documentary captures the wealth the nation earns on a
daily basis through the export of crude oil and the irony of the perpetual struggle of its citizens to survive the onslaught of poverty, hunger, disease and the lack of social infrastructure. The picture it painted is familiar, yet grim and as evidenced by the reaction of the audience, ever-increasingly shocking. There were jeers as faces of government officials came up on the screen. Occasionally, one heard a sigh, an exclamation or some other expression of disgust at the distressing irony of Nigeria’s story as an extremely rich
nation with an extensively poor and impoverished population.
The interaction session with the audience was lively. To many people, the source of inspiration for a creative work is always a subject of curiosity. So in answer to a question from someone in the audience, Okpanachi disclosed that he wrote the collection upon the prompting by a man that appeared to him in a dream in the night. He said he eventually published it when he got tired of making endless changes to the manuscript. He acknowledged that it is a trend with writers that they never get satisfied with their work.
So each time he read the manuscript, he found something to change about ituntil he
got tired and decided to have it published. Asked about his fascination with Baghdad considering that the collection has three poems about the city, including the longest poem in the collection, ‘A Road to Baghdad,’ which is eight pages long, Dr. Okpanachi said
that he wanted to juxtapose Chechnya and the Iraqi capital. He said the destruction both cities witnessed at different points in their history inspired him to write the poem and highlight the ills of war and sympathize with the victims. He deplored the annihilation of a whole civilization under the cover of war against terrorism.
Writers have come to be associated with current issues affecting their societies. This is apparently because they have always been identified with activism and the struggle for social justice. A writer is expected to have a position on every current issue and people are always eager to hear them out. So it wasn’t surprising when a question came to the Guest Writer on his position on capital punishment, which has been a subject of debate in Nigeria and has pitched the government of the country against local and international rights organizations. Although he appreciated the argument of both the proponents and opponents of capital punishment, Okpanachi concluded that he did not want to make a personal judgment on the matter.
The academic and poet did not leave without an advice to writers; ‘writing shouldn’t be done in a hurry,’ he said. ‘A book should take, at least, two years,’ he prescribed. Ms Keltuma, who wrote the story and directed A Spoon and A Dog said she developed the idea for the film when she got tired of the fuss that the Nigerian society has created around religious differences and wanted to show that we can empathize with people across religious lines and foster love and unity with respect for one another’s faith. She said the initial idea was a long film but she had to reduce it into a 15-minute production due to paucity of funds.
Ishaya Bako said he produced the film as a mirror to society and as a record of the events of 2012, which saw the people rise in resistance against corruption and despotism. Asked what efforts he is making to ensure the film is available to all Nigerians, he said they have appealed against the ban and are hopeful for a positive outcome. He said that the film is however, still available on Youtube. The banning of the film, he stated, did more good to it
than harm. It eventually won an AMAA award for documentary film of the year and its popularity soared within a short time after the ban was announced.

Part of the tradition of the monthly Guest Writer Session is the presentation of prizes to winners of the forum’s monthly Writing Challenge. The prizes presented were in the fiction and poetry genres, as there was no entry for drama. The presentation was done by one of the most famous television personalities in Nigeria, the amiable Mrs. Eugenia Abu, who is also a writer and poet. She did not only the winners the prizes but in her charismatic
tradition of warmth and unrelenting urge to inspire, she encouraged the budding writers to keep writing and getting better. She also gave each of the winners a copy of Okpanachi’s From the Margins of Paradise and ten additional copies to undergraduates in the audience.
Aside the monthly Guest Writer Session, the Abuja Writers’ Forum (AWF) also holds a critique session every Sunday at the International Institute of Journalism (IIJ), located at Hamdala Plaza, Asokoro, Abuja.Activities of the forum are open to the general public.
Elvis Iyorngurum is a Writer, Poet and the Secretary of the Abuja Writers’ Forum. He writes from Abuja.

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