For the third year running, the Efe Paul Azino-inspired Lagos International Poetry Festival became the rendezvous for poets from around the world to strut their poetic stuff. And so from the U.K, the U.S., South Africa, Ghana, Egypt to Nigeria, they all converged on a feast that promised to build ‘Bridges from Walls,’ as theme. Which is apt in a world largely going apart at the seams and in dire need of the healing balm only the effective wielding of words can make happen.
And as the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the festival’s title sponsor, Nigerian Breweries Plc, Mr. Johan Doyer, noted in aid of ‘Bridges from Walls’ theme, while welcoming guests at the opening, “With the Lagos International Poetry Festival, we support the effort to project the role of poetry as a tool for the reengineering of society. Poetry does not only interpret society, or serve as a mirror; it helps us imagine better ways of being and living. Poetry has always had the capacity to delight the reader or listener, while at once heightening their sense of consciousness about the world they live in.
“This year’s theme, ‘Bridges from Walls,’ explores arts capacity to unite us around our common humanity. The series of events lined up for the festival express the universal desire for love, joy and fulfillment. You will agree with me that there is no better time than now to sound the message bridges for unity across racial, geographical, ethnic and religious diversity in Nigeria, Africa and indeed the world at large.”
Festival Director, Founder and performance poet, Azino, also noted, “This year the festival brought together a diverse guest list of poets from North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and across Africa. In keeping with the theme, ‘Bridges From Walls,’ an attempt to explore arts capacity to unite us around our common humanity, and it also put together a series of events that express the universal desire for love, joy and the fulfillment that comes from engaging our talents.”
Representing Doyer at the festival opening was the Corporate Communications Adviser, Mr. Kufre Ekanem, also a poet with a 2010 published collection of poems titled The Ant Eaters. He said the challenge of supporting the festival from its first year was how worthwhile it would be for all stakeholders in the poetry value chain, but expressed satisfaction with the progress the festival has made so far and said the brewing giant would continue to support it. Ekanem said the theme this year seemed ‘ordained,’ as Nigeria Breweries is focused on its philosophy of ‘winning with Nigeria.’
Ekanem also read from his collection pieces that flowed with the poetic template set by Nigeria’s Chika Jones and Nigeria’s Dike Chukwumerije and South Africa’s Koleka Putuma on the dilemma plaguing Africa and its peoples, who are forever seeking a footing in a world that seems to wrong foot them on their historical evolution. Ekanem’s ‘Migrants at shore’ dwells on the mad quest for Africa’s youth to travel to the west in search of greener pastures through the perilous desert and Mediterranean seas and the unsavoury story of thousands of them washing ashore dead along with their unrealised dreams.
To open the evening of performances was Jones, who roused the house with his offerings on the gore of Ogbesuwa, Asaba massacre of October 1967. Indeed, Jones’ poetry has an imprint of blood in it, but it is moving poetry superbly delivered. Putuma also performed in the same vein of mournfulness so characteristic of the elegiac poetry of Africa. Raised in South Africa just emerging from its brutal Apartheid regime, where the blacks had no voice until 1994, Putuma knows the sad history of her continent so well and has versified it so eloquently. Her collection, Collective Amnesia, is a grim representation of Africa’s confrontation with the rest of the world and how Africa her peoples came out bruised and battered.
Chukwumerije continued on his strain of national woe that his dear country Nigerian has become through her own making. His is revolutionary, political poetry that seeks to rouse the soul of gullible Nigerians to the senseless bigotries of religion and tribe and all such base propositions they are prompted to by those who purport to lead them for their selfish gains. His classic rhetoric to defeat the illogic so ingrained in Nigeria’s psyche is: what decides the quota of the pilot flying an aero plane except excellence in piloting? And why is such insistence on excellence not part of the daily, official way of doing the business of governance in Nigeria?
The Abuja-based poet continues to wonder why ordinary Nigerians, who are made to suffer the same maladies of bad roads, lack of electricity, poor education and poor governance seem so docile to act and overthrow the needless yokes leaders make them bear. Chukwumerije’s political poetry is of such revolutionary fervour that cuts deep and he says the revolution has no tribe, as the avalanche of deprivations ordinary Nigerians suffer are tribe-less and ought to form a bulwark of resistance in them.
Onuoha Ndukwe also performed and engaged the audience in song and response; Jeff Akor performed ‘magic love’ from his CD titled Lokoja just as Femi Taye and his band thrilled, with him strumming intensely on the guitar.
Poetry workshops and discussions were held all through the duration of the festival with some of the finest poets leading the way. The festival did not end, without yet another feast of performances from Sophia Walker, Wana Udobang, Dami Ajayi, Ruth Sutoye, Yomi Sode, Titi Sonuga, Theresa Lola, Romeo Oriogun, REZThapoet, Katie Bon, Aduke Gomez, and Ndukwe Onuoha. Festival Director, Azino, brought the evening to a rousing end.