By Elvis Iyorngurum
Set against the background of the ongoing National Conference, it was more than a coincidence that the March 29 edition of the Guest Writer Session, the flagship event of the Abuja Writers’ Forum (AWF), took on touchy Nigerian issues.
Zainab Sule got proceedings going with one of her new singles, “Fire Down Below”. It was a good teaser to set the mood for an encounter with fun and excitement and it was evident her performance was enthralling as the audience sat transfixed, gazes locked at her
like the future depended on their picking out every word of her lines and guitar strumming. A situation that would repeat itself when she came back in between the writers to run through a couple of her songs.
The sobering highpoint of the evening came when Lagos-based Olayinka Oyegbile, a widely travelled and multiple award-winning journalist, read from his book, Home Away From Home. He described the book in a recent interview as “my offering to making Nigeria a great nation as some of the ones I have visited”.Though the book is solely about the history of the Ogbomosho people in Jos, the scope turns out to be far beyond that. It actually tells the sorry story of the collapse of the inter-ethnic harmony that existed among Nigerians who had lived together in peace for so many years. The book chronicles the arrival of Ogbomosho people in Jos, their settlement there over the centuries, the peace, love and unity they enjoyed as they lived with, did business and mingled with the indigenes other settler-tribes.
However tribal and religious differences suddenly crept into the picture and turned erstwhile friends, neighbours and brothers into sworn enemies. He recalled that in his days as a little child in Jos, his family, a Christian family bonded so well with their Muslim neighbours that they’d sometimes follow them to the mosque and the friends would also follow them to church. Oyegbile decried that such a scenario is impossible in the city today, with the incessant religious and tribal fights that have erupted over the years, claiming thousands of lives and reducing the city into a theatre of violence.
According to Oyegbile,his father got to Jos before the amalgamation in 1914 that gave birth to Nigeria. At the time he left Ogbomosho, the father, he said, was too young to pay tax. He settled in Jos, worked there for decades and paid his taxes to the Plateau state government. By the time he returned to Ogbomosho, he was too old to pay any taxes. In spite of his father’s loyalty to Plateau state however,Oyegbile said if he wants a scholarship, he’d have to go and apply for it in Oyo state. This, he said, often makes him winder if indeed we are ready to live as one nation.
Oyegbile did not only paint a picture of the grim situation, he also proffered solutions to the
strained relations between Nigeria’s ethnic and religious groups. He advised that citizens be educated on the gains of peaceful co-existence; recommended the prosecution of criminals who are caught in the act of sectional aggression and the development of the right political will by our leaders, towards mending the broken relations among the various divides of the Nigerian people.
The audience had earlier savoured poems from Iruesiri Samson Kukogho’s debut collection What Can Words Do?. Samson said of the title of his collection, that he derived it from the importance that words play in our daily lives as humans. “I have seen words start and also end war; words have broken marriages and mended broken hearts,” he said. The question of what words can do, he said, is to bring to the consciousness of the reader, the importance of the words we speak and is one that everyone should ask themself often so as to guard their choice of words when they speak to others as they have the potential to hurt and heal, give life and also kill.
From the themes Samson explores in the poems in his collection, it is obvious that he is motivated by true-life experiences and is also driven to add his voice to issues of social justice and the general enhancement of society. His voice rails against rape, violence against women and social disorders. His passion for the family institution is also clearly depicted. “Society is being torn apart because families are collapsing,” he lamented. The poet emphasized that the more we lose the family, the more we lose our society and
called for a show of concern by all citizens and especially parents whom he advised not to let the proper upbringing of their children and the responsibility to show them love and care, suffer because of the search for daily bread.
Later while responding to questions, Samson expressed his gratitude to his father whom he
said had a tremendous positive influence on his reading culture. He said his father was a very rigid man and forced him to read a lot of books from his well-stocked library and though it was quite a burden for him as a child, he is grateful today because it laid the foundation for his present appreciation for the literary arts, his writing prowess and the quality of his intellect.
After the writers did their bit, Zainab Sule took her turn with a set of enthralling songs.
The Unijos graduate of Mathematics and web designer proved why she is referred to as Nigeria’s queen of soft rock. After he performance, a member of the audience sought to know how long she took to perfect her handling of the guitar. She said she started playing the instrument in 2001 when she was a student at the University of Jos. She said she did a lot of online study on how to play the guitar which has paid off with her ability today.
Zainab’s sounds have been referred to as a “mixture of Tracy Chapman and Avril Lavigne, mixed with a touch of soul”. A collection of beauty and talent,when she is not writing songs, or on some musical tour somewhere, she works as a consultant to some major companies under her company name and alter ego,Pishon Designs.Maiden graduates of the AWF Creative Writing Workshop Advanced Set collected their certificates, while some members of the audience won free books from a raffle-draw, and the three guests were given mementoes. The Guest Writer Session, which started in June 2008, holds at the prestigious Nanet Suites located at the Central Business District in Abuja, and runs from 4-7pm on the last Saturday of every month. The Abuja Writers’ Forum is a community of writers and book lovers. The forum creates opportunities for writers to develop their skills, helps in promoting and celebrating established and upcoming writers and also developing the book culture among Nigerians. Activities of the forum are free and open to members of the public.
Iyorngurum is a Poet, Writer, Editor and the Secretary of the Abuja Writers’ Forum. He writes from Abuja.