At SOMAFEST 2017, students show poetic promise, blast leaders for failing state

Sam Omatseye addressing the students after their performances

For his 30 years of journalistic practice and a few years into creative writing that has produced two novels, one play and three poetry collections, Mr. Sam Omatseye has had a festival named after him, as a grooming ground for youngsters, who desire to write and excel in the performance arts. The maiden edition of Sam Omatseye Poetry Festival (SOMAFEST 2017) was held recently under leafy trees at the open courtyard of Alliance Francaise, Iyaganku, Ibadan. It was organised by the Ebika Anthony-led Poetry Enclave (POEN), Ibadan.

Clad in sparkling white apparel, Omatseye sat in front and watched the students perform from their poetic responses to the theme of the festival, ‘Poetry and the State of the Nation.’ A contest based on the theme had been held for the students weeks before and both boys and girls had their say of what has become of their country.

One after the other, they showed deft understanding of the issues that plague their country and characterise her stunted growth. They spoke of a leadership consumed in political chicanery, its lack of direction, how it has mortgaged their own future as soon-to-be adults, how hollow stories of yester-years their mothers and fathers tell them now sound, of a country that once wallowed in abundance, but which is now a shadow of itself. These teenagers scolded their elders for being such wasteful and failed adults, who after suckling the milk of the land dry, decided to desecrate the breast thereby starving future generations of sweetness.

In each of the pieces read, the young ones lamented lost and wasted opportunities and how hunger now stalks the land. But they also sang of defiant hope for a future that will be better than now, a future in which they will play a part and make reparations for the errors of their parents, who continue to mismanage the vast resources of the land on account of greed and other vices. They also performed skits of the

However, the pieces read were still raw with errors. The festival director, Mr. Ebika Anthony, and his team should have done an edit job of the students’ poetic pieces before finally exposing them to the pubic. But in spite this obvious lapse, the students showed promise, both in understanding the issues of the day and articulating them. This is where the maiden edition of SOMAFEST scores high in providing a platform for young ones to articulate a vision for their country through looking back at what has gone before, that is largely wrong, and projecting a better future for themselves.

An obviously impressed Omatseye noted, “They know the predators and the owls in society; they know the vultures hovering over society. They see the putrescence that comes out of the hawks. So, they understand the society they live in; there is rage among the upcoming generation and society has to be very careful what it does. My generation has failed.

“Wole Soyinka said many years ago that his generation was a failed one. I think my generation has been woefully bad, too. My generation has not been very good. It is my hope that the generation of the poets that read today will be better. The generation just before them, that is the ‘Yahoo-yahoo’ generation, has proved not to be good either.

“So, people should take responsibility. A few days ago, a young lady in my office was angry with my generation. I told her that her generation too is a failure; they gave us ‘Yahoo-yahoo.’ And that is part of the joke on us, a lack of responsibility in our society. We are in a society where nobody wants to take responsibility for anything.

“I want to thank everyone for celebrating 30 years of journalism with me. Let us enjoy poetry. It has not been easy; I have been hounded by the DSS. I have also provoked policy discussions. Best of all, I have also survived!”

Festival Director and thespian, Anthony, thrilled the audience with his performances, especially when he would burst forth and part read and part perform poems like ‘Africa my Africa’ by David Diop and ‘Abiku’ by Wole Soyinka. But this was besides addressing his audience on the reason for the festival that is dedicated to a writer in the two worlds of journalism and fiction.

According to Anthony, “This celebration of poetry and life is in honour of Sam Omatseye, a poet, novelist, playwright, essayist and journalist of international repute. In fact, SOMAFEST 2017 is in commemoration of Omatseye’s 30th year in the practice of journalism… Today, poetry will look at us and address our state as hunters of diverse dreams in the thick forest of life.”

Anthony commended the director of the French Cultural Centre, Alliance Francaise, for use of the facility to flag off SOMAFEST.

On his part, the centre’s director, Nicolas Michelland, embraced guests to his facility as host. He commended POEN for always organising poetic events and highlighted the importance of poetry in society and how it should be harnessed for its harmonious tendency.

“As a matter of fact, poetry is one of the beauties of life that we live for,” Michelland said. “Therefore, poetry is our collective life that we daily express everywhere. In Alliance Francaise, a French language and cultural centre, we teach French in the French way and promote the arts the French way and promote the arts and cultural heritages of the Nigerian people through poetry, music, dance and visual arts. That is why, as Director of Alliance Francaise, Ibadan, I am delighted to host Sam Omatseye Poetry Festival, organised by Poetry Enclave, Ibadan.

“With the theme ‘Poetry and the State of the Nation,’ poetry, in this celebration, will mirror and reflect the happenings in the society and tell us where we were, where we are and where we are moving to. I must thank Ebika Anthony and his organisation for regularly organising poetry festivals to discover, nurture and promote talents in the society. We in Alliance Francaise will continue to support him to make progress.”

Keynote speaker, who is the founder and director of African Heritage Research Library, Adeyipo Village, Dr. Bayo Adebowale, spoke on the role of poetry and nation building. He traced the works of earlier poets, both locally and internationally, (Willam Blake, Shakespeare, Whitman, Coleridge, Elliot, Yeats, Donne, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, etc) and how they tackled society in their times and climes with their poetry and concluded that such interface between poets and country was a continuing one so long poets remain true to their calling. He, however, called for a revolutionary, poetic fervour since organs of state would always resist efforts to push them in the direction of progress.

According to Adebowale, “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.”

Adebowale commended what he called “the dialectics of revolution,” which “has found habitation in the poetry of Niyi Osundare, Augustinho Neto and David Diop”and which “has found depth and passion and lyricism in solidarity with the oppressed, the downtrodden and the dispossessed.”

Adebowale was not unmindful how current poets could sufficiently tackle the myriads of daily realities confronting Nigerians and make meaning out of them in their works, noting, “The problem now threatening to strangulate Nigeria are in myriads. The Boko Haram insurgence, the menace of cattle rearers, the restiveness of militant groups, cultism in secret shrines, religious intolerance, subjugation and marginalization of the masses, political oppression of minority groups, Okija-soka forest horrors, the Sambisa forest saga, kidnappings, ritual killings, armed robberies, economic downturn, rape, rampant fear, suspicion and mistrust, get-quick-rich syndrome, defective class structure, ethnicity, etc.

“Certainly, the present fraternity of Nigerian poets has before it the daunting task of addressing the country’s monstrous challenges and problems and fostering a more aggressive poetic tradition, which would properly enhance and restore the dignity of genuine nationhood to the motherland.

“Revolutionary poetry is hereby strongly advocated… Let poems now begin to scream poisonous gas-allusions on ‘beasts in green berets’ and on ‘octopuses in voluminous agbada.’ Let Nigerian poets begin to create a distinct identity, a new poetic model and a new creative dynamics, which will convincingly reflect the state of their nation. Ley revolutionary textures now begin to pervade new Nigerian poetry. Poetic diction now should ‘free-darts’: words of iron and words of thunder.”

Adebowale strongly proposed that Nigerian poets “must remember that they are not mere ‘griots in the courtyards of transient power,’ but active parts of the propelling and vibrant engine of their age. I know that many of our poets are resolved to stand up… with their armour and battle axe properly lubricated to fight tyranny and oppression, to combat miscarriage of governance, and the betrayal of political leadership.”

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