The members of the Abuja branch of the Association of Nigeria Authors, ANA, had the pleasure of receiving one of Nigeria’s greatest poets, Odia Ofeimun, on Thursday, September 4.
As is always the case with Ofeimun, it was a wonderful occasion to be enthralled with rhythmic verses, philosophical musings on the history and, above all, the future of Nigeria and the role of the artist as someone who provides agency for creating a better future.
Maybe his most important message for Nigeria at this difficult time was the question he asked us – if your country were a woman, what poem would you write for her?
For him, and I concur, the response, which would be in verse, would be TO EXIST AND TO PROSPER.
He really inspired us to get out of our despondency in spite of the serious challenges we are facing today. Nigeria he assured us would survive and prosper.
Ofeimun on stage is always a master class on the impact reading poetry and prose makes. He invited all of us to read three key texts about Nigeria’s unfulfilled destiny, three narratives set in different cultural settings but having the same message: We could have handled the colonial encounter in a better way but it’s for the present generation to take the battle forward.
They were Wole Soyinka’s “Death and the Kings Horseman”, Chinua Achebe’s “Arrow of God” and Ibrahim Tahir’s “The Last Imam”. Yes, indeed, these texts are gripping and set us along the pathway of recognising our national challenges and how we can confront them.
I join Ofeimun in urging all Nigerians who have not read these great works to do so as the reward for reading them can only be greater understanding.
Ofeimun is a true African so it is not surprising that he reminds us that those who have not seen the full moon, because they are living permanently in the comfort that electricity and urban life provides, have a lower capacity to dream. Most of us Africans on the other hand, he explained, have had the excellent opportunity to sing and dance under the full moon, thereby unleashing our imaginative capacities. These imaginations have been translated into exceptionally high quality literature, music and dance over the past seventy years. Maybe the point to add is that with bad governance, our urbanisation did not lead to more electricity in our homes, a tragedy, which might have had a positive spin-off of allowing the moon and stars to continue to shine.
That poet lied, Ofeimun told us, when that singular and rather foolish poet said that poets cannot change the world. He was of course reading from the collection affirming the importance of the word, of verse, of narrative in inducing social change. As always, he was uncompromising in castigating those who believe literature is just for pleasure. The thoughts expressed in the narrative of writers create the basis for action that has significant impact on society, he affirmed. It’s true, Odia told us, that different writers say different things in their works. He points out however that all of us Africans know that there are different roads that lead to the same market, which is always at the centre of the community.
As always, Ofeimun made a great pitch for education and capacity building. We must develop a vision of what we want to become in the next century rather than just the next decade, he argued. In this context, all our efforts should be on orienting and inspiring the young generation to take our nation to the ultimate as countries such as China have done. Developing the capacity of the young generation to be truly creative must be a national priority. We must get them to read our great literature. We must get them to believe in and imagine a future of greatness for our country and our people, all of them.
I have always had immense pleasure in listening to Ofeimun because not only is he a great poet; he is also a passionate believer in a great future for Nigeria. He expressed the optimism that Nigeria will resolve the current threat posed by the Boko Haram insurgency. He reminded us that at one time, people believed that the rampaging military in power will never return to the barracks, but they did.
He read poems from his “I will ask questions with stones if they take my voice” and “Go tell the Generals”, exceptionally good diatribes against military misrule. Yes indeed, the poet was effective in using the pen against the sward.
Ofeimun has thrilled Nigeria and the world with his great dance drama about African liberation and the imperative for a greater tomorrow, especially “A Feast of Return” and “Nigeria the Beautiful”.
Great news for the people of Abuja, Ofeimun returns to the capital city on September 30 with his new dance drama about the greater Nigeria of tomorrow – “Because of 1914’. Details about the show will be posted on PREMIUM TIMES and Metropole Magazine. Be there for more immersion in the belief that the future of Nigeria will be great.