As Nigeria struggles with difficult times – no thanks to insurgency, senseless killings, mind-boggling corruption, hunger and poverty and so on – some citizens may have well decided to turn to poetry as their own weapon of protest.
And really, the people who gathered recently in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, for Poetry Un-Plugged, had their emotions stirred, while watching the reading and performance of poems that tell of the very things that have continued to hold down or haunt the black race.
Issues like the curse of English as a second language in Nigeria was skilfully and artistically examined in Ogaga Ifowodo’s poem – “God Punish You Lord Luggard” – as read by Adokiye Ekine, an entrepreneur and the CEO of Celebrity Production.
The poem uses a “blind and battered” street beggar to demonstrate how the struggle for survival by ordinary Nigerians was compounded by the difficulty to communicate in English language.
Blind and battered, with a withered left arm,
not for him the plain and unlearned
“Help me for chop, I beg. God go bless you.”
…. “Good day, brodas and sistas.
Half massy on me, please half sampaty.
Allah’s piss for you.”
Or Emmanuel Ephraim’s “The Dearth of Literacy” which tells of how the youth of today have indeed abandoned learning, and how “From their conversation/ You could really tell/ That our ailing nation/ Was already in hell!”
Another of Ifowodo’s poem “Fela: In Memoriam” was also read.
The poem casts the legendary Afrobeat musician, Fela Kuti, and rightly so, as a symbol of resistance and revolt.
Of the late Mr. Kuti, the poem says:
So he stood straight
in hurricanes, in thunderblast –
till death, nothing they could throw
at him would break his back. Nothing.
He walked forbidden streets, walked the row
of set traps and sprung them all. Lifting
up his eyes, he claimed for his art everything.
‘Democracy’ – a poem by the late African-American poet, Langston Hughes – could be regarded as the poem of the moment, for it best captured the current mood of the Nigerian nation.
In a country like Nigeria where only a few seems to be doing the talking, and taking positive actions, for the common good, Mr. Hughes’ words “Democracy will not come/ Today, this year/ Not ever/ Through compromise and fear” may just be the right message in a time like this.
Also, “I have as much right/ As the other fellow has/ To stand/ On my own two feet/ And own the land” could very well be a perfect message against promoters of ethnic tension in the country.
Finally, the poem nailed it with this line: “I do not need my freedom when I’m dead/ I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”
Mr. Hughes, who was also a social activist, novelist, playwright and a columnist, wrote ‘Democracy’ in 1949 during the era of civil rights movement in the U.S.
The poem, so relevant to contemporary Nigeria, is a clarion call on the people to wake up and demand for true change.
‘Not Again’, written and performed by Ibe Chimezie Mex, ‘Voices In My Head’, written and performed by Amarachi Ochioma, and ‘I’m Not The Chibok Girls’ written and performed by the award- winning poet, Ihuoma Anaele were among the poetry and spoken word performances.
Altogether, six poems were read, while 21 were performed during the event organised by Africart Publishing House to celebrate this year’s World Poetry Day.
The Rivers State Tourism Development Agency co-hosted the event which had as its theme, “Poetry and Protest; Exploring the Trans-generational Impact of Root African Poetry.”
The audience, made up of people of diverse callings, from publishers, creative artists, poets, poetry enthusiasts, and writers, to entertainers, musicians, teachers and students, were treated to live Neo/Afro soul music by Leroy Okonny and his R-Tunes Group, and root rock reggae vibes performed by Port Harcourt jazz maestro, Amby Jnr. and his live band.
Famous Nollywood actor and theatre arts scholar, who is now the Director-General, Rivers State Tourism Development Agency, Sam Dede, was there to grace the event.
Another Nollywood actor, Ovunda Ihunwo, who is also a lecturer in theatre and film studies, University of Port Harcourt, was also among the audience.
Emmanuel Ephraim, the Director, Poetry Un-Plugged Project, said Root African Poetry was predominantly infused with themes of protest by virtue of cultural and other experiences.
“However, that does not mean that all Root African Poetry must be confrontational in ideology,” he said.
The audience, full of praises for the event and it organisers, said they were looking forward to another edition of Poetry Un-Plugged.
Edwina Aleme said the event was a perfect way to engage people positively.
“I enjoyed this event because it took me out of my everyday life. This event can be promoted further by ensuring that lovers of poetry and culture are invited more often,” said Akudolu Chiamaka.