* As Quramo Festival of Words 2021 ends tomorrow with prize award, Odugbemi conversation
By Godwin Okondo
AFTER two days of intense artistic engagements directed by performance poet, Iquo Diana-Abasi, Quramo Festival of Words (QFest 2021) comes to an end tomorrow, Sunday, October 2021 and provides the opener for the end of year season of feverish book and art festivals in Lagos and Abuja. These include Lagos International Poetry Festival 2021 (October 21 – 24), Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Convention 2021 at Mamman Vatsa Writers Village, Mpape, Abuja (November 3 -6), The Lagos Fringe Festival (November 23-28), Ake Arts and Book Festival (October 28 – 30), and Lagos Book and Arts Festival (November 15 – 21).
After the Masterclass on ‘The Fine Art of Creative Non-Fiction’ at the opening on Saturday, a panel of four writers: U.S.-based Helon Habila (Travellers), Silva Nze Ifedigbo (My Mind Is No Longer Here), Samuel Monye (Give Us Each Day), and Olusegun Adeniyi (From Frying Pan to Fire: How African Migrants Risk Everything in their Futile Search for a Better Life in Europe) then took on ‘The Art of Exit: Migration, Human Trafficking and Africa’s Brain Drain’, an ambivalent issue that has Nigeria at its intense grip at the moment. This is largely on account of a poorly managed economic space that is forcing both skilled (brain drain/regular migration which category Habila falls into) and unskilled (human trafficking/irregular migration) to leave in droves. All books by four writers focus on the negative aspects of human trafficking/irregular migration, the risk and trauma associated with the dare-devil means of leaving one’s homeland in search of greener pastures abroad and the often grim outcomes, but still stubborn determination to believe that there’s a harvest of hope on the other side if one were lucky to survive the peril and arrive Europe.
However, all four writers were agreed on the fact that migration is as much a human right as any other right and that people have always moved from time immemorial and will continue to move. Adeniyi reeled statistics about migrations in millions that happened centuries ago in the U.K. that led to the presence of Europeans in such nations as the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some South American nations. He even gave an anecdote the late Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings gave in emphasizing the brashness and assertiveness often associated with Nigerians as they sojourn abroad. Adeniyi quoted him as saying that a Ghanaian whose visa had expired by only one month in the U.K. presented a pathetic sight when he resorted to begging the officials about the infraction. But the Nigerian whose visa had expired for over a year would not allow himself to be reduced himself to such beggarly status. He demanded from the officials which Nigerian gave Luggard and all British officials who plundered Nigeria visas to come to Nigeria. In effect, Adeniyi was saying that while there was nothing wrong with migration as inalienable rights of people to cross borders, what was at issue is the mode of such migration and the attendant economic implications for countries of origin.
But Habila chose to see things differently, saying that in spite of what the means or mode of migration, whether regular or irregular, the economic impact on the originating country is enormous in terms of financial remittances that literally sustain most countries. Adeniyi, Ifedigbo and Monye were concerned about the dangers irregular migrants continue to expose themselves in spite of how widely exposed stories of such dangers continue to make the rounds either in literature like theirs or on social media. They blamed it on festering economic crisis in Nigeria and what most young men and women see the wealth those who managed to make it through the perilous desert and sea routes flaunt when they returned home. The writers charged the country’s economic managers to do more to stem the tide of irregular migration, so as to save lives being lost daily through the perilous routes.
Although an interesting topic for conversation that the four writers explored thoroughly, the writers however lost a precious moment to engage with their books and get the audience immersed in them, as the moderator Jesusegun Alagbe failed to make the books focus of the conversation, dwelling instead on the bare issues of migration that excluded the texts.
The session was followed by a panel on ‘The Power of Words’, then “Writing to the Future, today’ that focused on children’s writing. It had children’s writers, Erumena Amata (Dimpsey Chronicles) and Dickson Ekhaguere (Nigerian Superheroes), with the Green Queen, Sola Alamatu, moderating. This was followed by ‘Open Mic Challenge’ which featured young spoken word artists. At the end, vibrant performance poet, Solutionist Clementina of Poets In Nigeria (PIN) emerged winner of Quramo Festival of Words Slam and took home the star prize of N100,000 cash, handed her by CEO/Executive Publisher, Quramo Publishing Ltd and festival organiser, Mrs. Gbami Shasore.
Thereafter, the official opening ceremony kicked off with Shasore sharing her thoughts about the power of festivals in fostering a convergence of content creators and the origin and evolution of the word ‘Quramo’ from which the festival derives its name.
According Shasore, “We all know that ‘words’ make ‘books,’ and with other art forms together, they are ‘content’. Content that brings entertainment, education, support, joy, happiness, solace, hope, courage, and much more, to the world. As I have said before… we are Quramo, and in these times, we are dedicated to hosting you at this ancient place known as ‘Kuramo,’ a name whose origin, we are told, is approximately Eko loriomi or ‘camp on waterfronts,’ which later became Icorami. Through the accident of early Dutch influence, ‘Icorami’ became ‘Curami,’ and later, ‘Kuramo.’
“This morphed into ‘Rio de Lago’ or ‘Lagua da Curamo,’ and ultimately, ‘Lagos’ which is named after the Southern Portuguese town of similar physical features. This is where we are — Lagos! And this is a Lagos festival, a Nigerian festival, and an African festival, in name, outlook and intention.
“When we gather for ‘QFEST,’ as we have been doing for five years and counting, we do all this for each other and for our community. This is enough reason to celebrate, and I celebrate with each and every one of you today. Last year, at a difficult time due to the pandemic, we persevered like everyone else, and held the festival against all odds — to much acclaim. The pandemic remains with us today, only we are learning more and more to cope with it. Last year and till today, words have been, and still are, our comfort. When alone, we turn to words; when we yearn to socialise and meet others, we turn to words; when we wish to express ourselves beyond what we can see, we turn to words. So, let’s celebrate words!
“We have consistently held a Quramo event focused on delivering thought-provoking content to Africa and Nigerians in particular. QFest is a continuation of that tradition. As always, one of the highlights of this annual event is the “Quramo Writers’ Prize,” a literary award dedicated to selecting unpublished authors whose manuscripts are found deserving after three stages of evaluation over six months, by our independent panel of judges, great literary minds in their own right, individuals known for their integrity and critical thinking.
“This year, our distinguished judges are decorated and renowned authors: head of the panel is an award-winning author, playwright, screenwriter, and filmmaker, Jude Idada,. The other judges are writer, editor, and convener of the Reading Café at the University of Lagos, Lechi Eke, and multiple-award-winning author, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.
“At Quramo, the QWP is very close to our hearts because we believe that everyone has a story inside them and the opportunity the platform provides for recognising talent and content is our gift to society and the future of the reading culture in Nigeria and Africa. We look forward to finding out the winner of this year’s prize from the published shortlist of excellent manuscripts, and to celebrate ‘words’ together! At a time like this, let’s celebrate ‘words’ by ensuring that our copyrights and intellectual property rights are respected as our valuable capital.
“We are proud to announce our strategic partnership with Platform Capital, led by the ebullient Dr. Akintoye Akinyele, as we spread our wings across the media landscape. This partnership will enable Quramo Media quickly become a market leader in the content industry. We have already worked on the forthcoming four-part documentary on Lost Kingdoms in Africa, to be released soon.”
Shasore took the opportunity to harp on the currency of African content on a global demand, the need to leverage on it for the benefits of all content creators and how the QFest fits into the nexus of harnessing content as capital of economic power. She also stated the need to keep content thieves at bay so creators of content could truly be king and take delight in the creations
“At no other time like now has African, and in particular, Nigerian content, been so impactful and sought after,” she enthused. “Africa is increasingly becoming the ‘content capital’ of the world! For instance, the book industry alone is said to be valued at $1 billion and growing at 6% per annum. But piracy, copyright theft, and lack of trust hinder us from capturing that value, letting foreign parties gain. We continue to commercially exploit and launch the bulk of our content abroad thereby weakening the competitiveness of all parts of our value chain. We can change this and convert this global adoption of ‘African content’ into Power.
“For this, we need leaders. Yes, leaders. And we are ALL leaders in the content industry. I mean ALL of you are leaders, because leadership is not a rank, it is a choice. I charge everyone to lead in Africa’s desire to give economic power to content creators and others on the value chain. This starts from respecting ourselves, and the services we provide, as professionals. Respect the songwriters’ rights, respect the performers’ rights, respect the book author, the playwright, the spoken word artist, the filmmaker, the publisher, so that they can grow in economic power, and globally protect Africa’s intellectual property.”
Thereafter, professor of theatre arts at Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State, Ahmed Yerima, gave a lecture on the power of words captured in the festival theme ‘Transcendence: Words Defying’ and how writers of all hues (poets, dramatists and novelists) deploy them to create evocative pictures in the minds of readers and audiences and how and why he chose historical drama as his special niche.
When he finished, Abuja-based spoken word artist Dike Chukwumerije (who wore a t-shirt with ‘naira has no tribe’ legend) took the audience through the unconscionable contradictions that pepper the Nigerian polity and how Nigerians cling to such primordial sentiments like tribe, indigene and non-indegene/settler dichotomy, quota system and such national fooleries that are perhaps worse than a white man’s racist slurs against blacks that often spark global outrage. Chukwumerije’s t-shirt ‘naira has no tribe’ legend is an example of the Nigerian ideal and ethos that still are still sorely missing from the national psyche which he seeks a restoration for a true nation to emerge from the tribal cocoons that is often invoked to polarize Nigerians and take farther away from the ideal of nationhood. His scathing poetry at Nigeria’s collective foolery that knows no bound is the chastising whip Chukwumerije wields to devastating effect and he got a standing ovation for his poetic effort after he finished.
Other writers present at the event were Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Jude Idada (award-winning Bombom), Olukorede Yishau (In the Name of Our Father), Samuel Osaze (The Strange Moon of Yenagoa – forthcoming with German translation) and Anote Ajeluorou (Igho Goes to Farm).
Tomorrow from 1.30pm–3.30pm, filmmaker and documentarist, Mr. Femi Odugbemi, will be in conversation with the actress, Bikiya Graham-Douglas, while Quramo Writer’s Prize will be usher in QFest 2021 Grand Finale to bring the festival to an end.