When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heaven themselves blaze for the death of princes. The world is a stage and the people in it are merely players. If a child washes his hands clean, he can eat with kings and elders.
These three aphorisms popularized by William Shakespeare and Chinua Achebe received fulfilment recently with a publication of a festschrift in the honour of Denja Abdullahi, an Abuja-based culture technocrat, playwright,
literary critic and poet. The festschrift, published by Kraft Books, a publishing Company resident in Ibadan, Nigeria, is a collection of learned papers written by culture experts and erudite scholars and packaged to
mark the 50th birthday anniversary of the cultural and literary icon, Denja Abdullahi, which came up in 2019.
Titled in the iconographic mode, Of foot-soldiers and Hybrid Visions: A Festschrift in Honor of Denja Yahaya Abdullahi, and in 721 pages, it x-rays in the broadest sense critical issues concerning Nigerian cultural heritage
and its limits in the attempt to tackle national questions of corporate existence and unity. It also beams light on Denja’s literary reputation and artistic works before zeroing in on the aesthetic and socio-political considerations under-girding his cultural and artistic productions.
The festschrift is packed in nine sections, each of which represents a cognate mode of cultural, literary and artistic discourse.
Section one sub-titled “Art, Culture and Gender Advocacy” comprises five essays perfected by notable Naija cultural egg-heads, such as Ahmed Yerima, former director of National Troupe, Lagos and Sunday Enessi Adodo, renowned theatre academic. The section examines the contours of Nigerian literature and culture and their potentials in the development and prosperity of the country, and the inadequacy in the efforts so far made in exploiting or harnessing that potentials for optimum performance and utilization to promote the nation’s national interests. What echoes here is the in-depth excavation of the enormous possibilities of Nigerian arts and cultural heritage as well as a veiled scathing indictment of the Nigerian governments for not doing enough of the needful to galvanize its arts and culture agencies and platforms towards a realized optimal results in the nation’s art and culture sub-sectors.
Section two sub-titled “Popular Culture and Social Media” consists of three essays written by culture experts of the professorial acme reflects the importance of cultural awareness and adjustment in mitigating culture shocks among Nigerians, negative cultural attitudes that trigger conflicts and violence and how to stem the tide, and also the burgeoning stand-up comedy which I termed elsewhere Nigerian laff-laff theatre from its original
miserly cradle to a money-spinning industry. Many of the comedians were singled out for praises or commendations for their creativity and resourcefulness. Some of the essays focus on how culture and arts can
contribute massively to the economic prosperity of Nigeria.
The success story of the social figures is a good hint that the environment fostering cultural awareness can be a source for capacity-building and wealth, even in a highly competitive and diversified economy.
Section three, comprises of fifteen essays hewed mostly by academics, and sub-titled “critical Appraisal of Denja Abdullahi’s works”, particularly his dramatic and poetical writings, Abuja Nunyi, Death and the King’s Grey hair, A Thousand Years of Thirst and Mairogo. The essays appraise the works as literary texts steeped in the appropriate literary traditions. All the critics return a verdict that in Denja’s works, the trend had been to comment on cultural and social issues in terms that handle his sensitive material skillfully to balance between the demands of social commitment and artistic objectivity. Furthermore, his plays and poems are shown to derive of myths, his characters are life-like and his themes are based on human dispossession or abandonment receive expression in wide-ranging theatrical and figurative language.
Section five consists of five essays on contemporary Nigerian literature covering historiography, feminist responses to Nigerian civil war, 1966–1970, Elechi Amadi’ contribution to Nigerian literary heritage, Ojaide’s poetic evocations on Nigeria’s colonial and post-colonial experiences, and Zainab Alkali and Timothy-Asobele’s forays into using literature as a means to peace-building and closure of the gaps issuing from ethnic plurality in Northern Nigeria.
The discourse here is dialectical cum didactic enough to enable the reader to grasp the relationship between culture, history and literature, state of Nigerian literature and the importance of literature in facilitating unity in a heterogeneous society.
Section six comprises five essays based on Denja Abdullahi’s literary works and done by different reviewers. The reviewers, themselves literature teachers and critics focusing on thematic trusts as well as stylistic, literary and linguistic resources appropriated in his creative writings.
Section seven is personal interviews during which Denja unveils the philosophy under- girding his artistic and literary theory and praxis. Section eight consists of tributes or heartfelt creative apprehensions and expressions of gratitude and praises to Denja Abdullahi by colleagues, contemporaries and mentees.
Finally, section nine comprises poems, crafted in form of lyrical odes, and giving pungent expression to his outlook, mien, acme and amiable personality.
Bigots, like Marxian scholars or other sectarian, self-acclaimed literary behemoths now peeping from fox-holed libraries or study centres might, in envy, impulsively ask: Does Denja Abdullahi deserve the accolade of having
such a robust festschrift packaged in his honour, such that he now ensconces at the foci of Nigerian literary high-table, beside Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark, Ola Rotimi and other literary giants whom such honour
has been bestowed on in the past? The answer to this question is not difficult to proffer. As Chinua Achebe has pontificated in his classic novel Things Fall Apart (1957), a child who washes his hands well can eat with elders.
Denja Abdullahi has indeed washed his hands enough in the realm of literature, culture and arts, and so he eats with kings and elders.
Born 51 years ago at Idah, Kogi State, Nigeria, Denja Abdullahi is a budding poet, playwright, performer, essayist and a culture technocrats” (see Festschrift 683). His journey to stardom and iconography in the culture and art began soon after graduating from the University of Jos in 1993. He taught the English Language in a federal polytechnic for five before transferring his service to the National Council for Arts and Culture in 1998, where he
rose to his current status and position of honor as a director, consequent upon his fruitful engagement in the realm of culture, literature and art.
Besides writing, acting and contributing to state policy on culture and art, he had also been active in culture politics, and this paid off when he was elected as President of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) in 2015.
Besides positioning ANA as a visible organization in Nigeria and even beyond, Denja is on record to have promoted countless literary events and workshops that led to the discovery and nurturing of young promising writers, the immortalization and canonization of past and living writers from Nigeria, like Chinua Achebe, J.P. Clark and Ikeogu Oke, establishing of a platform for publishing of the works written by both established and up-
coming ANA members and the construction of befitting writers’ village in Mpape, Abuja.
Foot-soldiers and Hybrid Visions: A Festschrift in Honor of Denja Yahaya Abdullahi is, therefore, a well-deserved honour for a man whose name is widely regarded as symbolizing the appropriate personage, charisma and
vision required for a result-oriented articulation, production and promotion of Nigerian heritage art and culture in the immediate present or in the future.
Anyone perusing this festschrift anytime or anywhere is bound to confront the perfunctory spiritual and enigmatic aura of Denja masquerading in its grand pages. Its oeuvres tacitly imbue him with an image reminiscent of the mythical lovebird Leandro whose romantic dares across Helensport in search of his true love, Hero was truncated by jealous the breeze which extinguished the candle lighting his way from Hero’s tower
the window across the waters and got drowned. Unlike Leandro, Denja himself remains unrestricted and unperturbed in his pursuits of cultural and literary programs; and he has continued to float on Nigerian cultural and artistic waterways, his passion fanning the bonfires of literary and cultural arts into flames in-extinguishable, flickering unperturbed in simmering heat over the canvas.
As Of foot-soldiers and Hybrid Visions: A Festschrift in Honor of Denja Yahaya Abdullahi goes into global perusal by readers, there is no missing of its essence as an epoch-making document that presents Denja Abdullahi as a literary Protean spirit, making full use of a unique cultural, literary and linguistic arsenal.
Sunday Agollo is a Consulting art researcher, literary editor