By NBF News

A performance by GGSS, Minna
They thronged to Minna from all parts of the country, and the buzz went beyond the telling. It was a potpourri of drama, songs, poems and literary discourses. The 1st MBA National Literary Colloquium was a different kind of birthday celebration for the Chief Servant of Niger State.

Since he became the governor of the state, the Chief Servant of Niger State, Muazu Babangida Aliyu, had always used book-related activities to mark his birthdays. Last year, he entertained a select group of students, writers and politicians from the state in a reading session in Minna. This year, he upped the ante with the 1st MBA National Literary Colloquium, which fell in line with his dream of making Minna the new intellectual capital of Nigeria. The event took place last Saturday.

On the eve of the event at the new Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre, Minna, the hype could be felt, with NTA Minna reeling out notable names of Nigerian writers and scholars participating in the programme on air: Odia Ofeimun, Wale Okediran, Karen-King Aribisala, Akeem Lasisi, Prof Tanimu Abubarka, Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Ahmed Maiwada, Jude Dibia, Yahaya Dangana, among others.

Little wonder, the hall was filled to capacity before the state governor entered the hall at 11 am. Aside the high profile writers in attendance, the event was graced by top politicians from the state, including the Deputy Chief Servant, Dr. Ahmed Musa Ibeto; Alhaji Mohammed Tsowa Gamunu, Speaker Niger State House of Assembly; Mr. Daniel Shashare, SSG, Niger State; Prof Mohammed Kuta Yahaya, Chief of Staff to the Governor; Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta, Abuja; Ahmed Ibrahim Matane, Head of Service, Niger State, among dignitaries.

Compered by ace Abuja emcee and journalist, Ben Ubiri, the occasion was chaired by the Vice Chancellor of Bayero University, Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, Kano. In his opening remarks, the university administrator expressed delight that such an important national literary event was taking place in Minna, 'the new intellectual capital of Nigeria.'

He affirmed that 'in today's globalized world, building intellectual power is the surest way to genuine development'. The richest countries, he said, draw their wealth not in their natural resources but in the impair of the mind.' By initiating the literary colloquium, he said that 'the chief Servant has scored another first.'

Celebrated Niger State writer, Alhaji Gimba Abubakar, in his remarks, lauded the unprecedented support given by the state governor to the literary community in the state. 'My first love is writing, and anybody who supports is my brother and friend,' he said. In appreciation of that support to Niger writers, Alhaji Gimba, on behalf of the Niger State ANA, renamed the new writers' village, Minna, completed by the Chief Servant as The Babangida Aliyu's Writers' Resort.

Thereafter, acclaimed poet, Odia Ofeimun, enlivened the audience with a keynote speech entitled 'Building Intellectual Power to Fix Nigeria.' In his introductory remarks, Ofeimun said, since the emergence of Babangida Aliyu as the state governor, he has elevated the state chapter of ANA as the most vibrant in Nigeria with the best infrastructure on ground, describing him as 'the first advertisement of intellectual commitment.'

The poet noted that, for him to make headway in societal transformation, the first thing the intellect had to do was to establish reason as a weapon of inquiry. Odia lamented the scant attention accorded to the development of Nigeria's language policy, saying 'part of the problems we have as a people is that we don't develop the language of the people.' While Achebe's classic, Things Fall Apart, has been translated into many world languages, he regretted that it was yet to be translated into the mother tongue of the author, Igbo.

Though Soyinka's classic, Death and the King's Horseman, has been translated into Yoruba, Odia said many Yorubas are not aware of the translation, neither have they read it. He stated that, if you use the language of the colonialists and forget yours, you become a half person. He made a case for Nigeria to have more than one language policy. 'Any language that has no Shakespeare in it has not arrived,' he said. Besides, he commended the commitment of the Chief Servant to free education in the state.

Sequel to his speech a panel of discussants, including Prof. Tanimu Abubakar, Dr. Salihu Bappa, Dr Egya Sule and Dr Vicky Sylvester, shed light on the keynote speech by Odia, with all praying for Nigerians to look inward at out potentials and build on them.

Governor Aliyu, in his remarks, said because of his ambition to develop in the state, he had paid more attention to educational development in Niger State. 'When we took over, the school enrolment in Niger State was 600,000; but, today, it is over 1.7 million students,' he said.

The governor was dismayed that, while northern Nigerian has produced the richest man in Nigeria and Africa, the region has the poorest people in Nigeria and the world, urging the north and Hausas, in particular, to embrace education.

In between speeches, there were different performances by artistes from across the country. First was a rendition by the Great Kids Musical Performers based in Minna, then an exciting musical performance by the Abuja crooner, Danjuma Terfa. That was followed by a cultural display entitled 'Zulu in Kebbi' by Government Girls Secondary School, Minna. The first set of performances was wrapped up by the duo of Saddiq Dzukogi and Jimoh Olawale, who performed a long poem 'A Gentle Whisper to my Missing Heart'.

Thereafter, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Prof. Mohammed Kuta, made a brief speech in which he rested the determination of Niger State Government to intellectual advancement. After the interlude, there were further performances by Sage Hasson on 'Talban Revolution' and the Lagos poet, Jumoke Verismo. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka poet and playwright, Greg Mbajiogu, also thrilled the audience with a pidgin poem 'Water na Water'. The University of Lagos lecturer and award-winning creative writer, Prof. Karen King-Aribisala, brought the performances to a climax with a poem dedicated to God's Kingdom, which drew wide plaudits.

The opening ceremony was preceded with more rigorous intellectual sessions involving scholars and writers. The second session involved centred on 'Defining Poetry: The Chaos of Perceptions in the Nigerian Literature'. Moderated by Alkasim Abdulkadir, the panelists included the poets, Ahmed Maiwada, Jumoke verismo, Egya Sule and Akeem Lasisi.

For Sule, poetry is basically language craft, that is, having language and putting it in an imaginative way. He, however, noted that poetry is the most abused genre in Nigerian literature, with many pretenders parading themselves as poets even when what they write are chiefly doggerels.

Unlike Sule, Akeem Lasisi placed emphasis on performance. 'I define poetry as performance, that is, how performable is what you have on paper as a poem. For Ahmed Maiwada, poetry is a piece of writing where words are selected by virtue of their sound and imagery. Above all, 'You can't be a poet, for me, if you can't bring fresh materials.' He, therefore, pleaded with judges of ANA Prizes, especially poetry, to stop rewarding lazy poetry. Jumoke Verismo, in contrast, saw poetry as 'purpose rounded by emotion; basically, poetry is about beauty.'

The third session was on 'Fiction and the Philistines: Revisiting the Arts for Art's Sake Proposition'. Moderated by Omale Abdul-jabbar, the writers -Jude Dibia, Dr. Wale Okediran, Dr Vicky Sylvester and Abdulahi Ismail Ahmed -participated in the discourse.

For Okediran, the first role of the writer is to write and whatever gives him inspiration to write is a personal decision. 'As long as a writer is sincere to his art, he is at liberty to choose any path,' he said, even as he dismissed the categorization of writers like him as members of the Fleshly School by Prof. Charles Nnolim, saying that contemporary Nigerian writers are conditioned by their peculiar experiences.

In his contribution, Dr. Ismail said a writer has a burden to use his imaginations and talents to represent the society in which he lives and also tell his own story. The novelist, Jude Dibia, in his comments, said when he sets out to write any work, he has no agenda. 'I just write to tell a story or an experience,' he said, adding that his works mainly border on human emotion.

The third session was focused on 'The Babel of a Nation: the Future of Writing in Indigenous Languages'. Moderated by Diyego Okenyodo, the panelists included Zaharadeen Kano and Ndagi Ibrahim, who write in Hausa and Nupe, and Sumaila Umaisha and Maria Okediran, who write in English. All the panelists agreed that while it was good to write in English, for the sake of reaching a wide audience, it was necessary to develop writings in indigenous languages.

There were also sessions on literary criticism, drama and publishing. The exciting colloquium culminated in the evening with a buffet and presentation of certificates of participation to participants by the CSO, Prof. Mohammed Kuta Yahaya, and the SSG, Mr Daniel Sashere.

Baba Dzukogi, coordinator of the colloquium, who is also running for the position of ANA general election at the Abuja Convention next week, told Saturday Sun after the event: 'The 1st MBA Literary Colloquium is another addition to the ever growing list of what we have been doing in ANA, of course with the active support of the state government. Gathering writers from across the country to discuss literature is a contribution to the ideals of opening up the state for development through idea generation. That I was asked to design and implement it, which turned out successful, is a signal of what we will do once elected. However, let me note that we have done even bigger events before. Remember the 1st Northern Nigerian Writers' Summit. But, even if we are not elected, we won't stop initiating literary events here.'