Tanure Ojaide’s literary groove gives birth to regional body of writers, scholars
This 2017 edition of the yearly literary get-together of writers and scholars of the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, hosted by Professor Tanure Ojaide, turned out to be an extraordinary feast of literature and creativity. The literary feast, which was chaired by Professor Union Edebiri, had the crème de la crème of creative writers and scholars of the South-South and South East geopolitical zones.
In his opening remarks, the host, Prof. Ojaide, who recently bagged the ultimate diadem and highly coveted Nigerian National Order of Merit award (NNOM) for Humanities, thanked the writers, scholars, and students of literature present for honouring the invitation. He further enunciated the raison d’être of the gathering, which he said is anchored on rejuvenating the creative and scholarly spirit in the Niger Delta, as well as assisting the region’s creative writers and scholars to chart a way forward. Ojaide, who is also the recipient of the reputed Fonlon/Nichols Award in 2016, announced that the first edition of Niger Delta Literary Review, a scholarly journal that will concentrate on the interpretation of the creative works from the Niger Delta, would soon be out. He, therefore, called for entries.
In his remarks, the chairman, Prof. Edebiri, a former Director-General of Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), delivered a citation of Professor Ojaide that was punctuated with applause from the audience. He, thereafter, thanked the host for the privilege of chairing the august literary gathering, and applauded him for giving room for young people to express their creative ideas.
The towering Professor Chinalum Nwankwo, a scholar-poet, fondly referred to as the Spirit, who came from the U.S. to attend the event, gave glowing tribute to Prof. Ojaide, who he said is a great inspirer and indefatigable encourager.
The highpoint of the occasion was the reading from both old and young writers. The first to take the stage was Okeme Jerome, a student of Department of Geology, Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka. Jerome held the audience spellbound with his enchanting poems ‘My Testimony’ and ‘I Am Here.’ Next was, Ruvia Odiase, whose poem ‘Betrayed by Unpatriotic Blood,’ laments the current harsh situation Nigerians were faced with. Mrs. Florence Ovweriavwose, a lecturer at the College of Education, Warri, rendered a narrative poem titled, ‘Who will stop them?’ in which she condemned those ruling the country and challenged the citizenry to be wary on the platitudes of their political leaders.
Others who also read from their works were Prof. Nwankwo, Mathias Orhero, Fortune Aganbi, Fakrogha Dorothy, Edafe Phylix, Evans Nwene, Karo Enajemo, Ifeoma Ojeifo, and Edevwie Alex. Others included Ikeke Richards, Dr. Chukwuma Anyanwu and Dr. Chike Okoye. There were scintillating performances, which included both poetry renditions and short story narratives, thrilled the audience. The works also generated rewarding critical comments from the renowned scholars and critics present. Mr. Richard Maledo and Mr. Emmanuel Emama, both lecturers at Department of English and Literary Studies, DELSU, engaged the works from the perspective of language. There were also pieces of advice from the literary gurus for the young and budding writers to help hone their artistic skills.
Other highlights of the event were the robust and fierce discussion on the issue or the emerging literary tradition called Niger Delta Literature that erupted and set the writer-critic’s house ablaze. The warriors of the intellectual warfare were Africa’s radical folklorist, Professors G.G. Darah, Simon Umukoro, winner of the prestigious The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2014, Sam Ukala, Tony Afejuku, and Dr. Ogaga Okuyade. The fury and contradictions the discussion engendered was a delight for the students of literature, who came to quaff from the fountains of knowledge of the region’s literary elder statesmen.
Prof. Umukoro was of the opinion that there are no clear distinctions between Niger Delta Literature and mainstream Nigerian Literature. This position was quickly contested by Dr. Okuyade who maintained that Niger Delta Literature is a unique tradition inspired by the Niger Delta experience. Prof. Ukala waded into the argument by emphasising the peculiarity of the history and experience of the Niger Delta and its literature.
Prof. Afejuku rested his oars on the power of the Niger Delta writer, anchoring it on the writer’s power in activism, rather than artistry and Ken Saro Wiwa’s activism was used to justify his stance. Prof. Afejuku’s position also generated comments from Professors Umukoro, Ukala, Darah, and Dr. Martins Tugbokorowei, all emphasising the power of artistry of the writer in the Niger Delta struggle and Nigerian literature at large. The fury and contradictions the discussions engendered were a delight for young scholars, students and enthusiasts of literature, who came to quaff from the fountains of knowledge of the region’s literary elder statesmen.
Again, it was also in this engagement that the yearly Professor Ojaide’s literary event was given a proposed nomenclature of ‘Association of Niger Delta Artists and Scholars (ANDAS),’ and resolutions were taken. Also present at the event were the publisher of Sapele Times, Professor Nyerhovwo Tonukari and Drs. Sunny Awhefeada, Enajite E. Ojaruega, Benjamin Okpevra, Martins Tugbokorowei, Mrs. Karoh Ativie, all lecturers at DELSU, Abraka. Others included Mr. Peter Omoko, Mr. Stephen Kekeghe, Mr. Ben Omonode, author of the popular Shattered Dreams, Miss Joy Iwezu, Panama Emmmanuel, Sebe Akpobome, Tega Oghenechovwen, Runor Oru, and Miss Akpevwe Ojaruega, a historian.
The current Head of DELSU’s English and Literary Studies Department, Dr. Awhefeada, gave the vote of thanks before the chairman made his closing remarks. The event ended with a group photograph of dignitaries present. The new cultural group, ‘Association of Niger Delta Artists and Scholars’ was edifying for students and scholars alike; it was a truly a robust event.
* Comrade Oreh is a student of the Department of English and Literary Studies, DELSU, Abraka