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Drum Beats for Nduka Otiono in the Delta

 

The literary environment in Asaba, the capital city of Delta state was agog on Thursday 30th July 2009, with a new and novel initiative which had just come to town. Like the legendary People of Abame in Chinua Achebe’s famous novel, a new adage had come to the town and the entire place was literally buzzing with a certain literary excitement, the kind of which had not been witnessed since Asaba hosted the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) national convention in the city in 2002.

The new thing that had come into town was The Delta Literary Forum (DLF), a new literary association formed specifically with the objective of opening up the literary space in Delta state, enhancing the advancement of literacy and the literary culture and giving literature and the literati a visible place as important stake holders in the cultural and democratic development of the state.

In the words of the Chairman of DLF David Diai, “The Delta Literary Forum (DLF) is a literary movement whose main objective is to contribute towards the promotion of literature and the literary culture and also open up the literary space and reposition the literary comity in an articulate and intellectual regard as key stakeholders for social development in Delta state”.

As part of its comprehensive agenda, the DLF had initiated The International Guest Writer series as its signature event; a quarterly literary event which is expected to feature prominent writers of Delta state extraction who are either in the Diaspora or have achieved international recognition through their literary efforts.

And to announce its arrival the DLF choose Nduka Otiono as its first Guest on the international writers series. Nduka Otiono is an Award winning writer, renowned Journalist, International Scholar and a son of Delta state, Nduka Otiono. The venue of the event was the Lander Brothers Anchorage, Asaba, a venue specifically selected for the historical symbolism of The Lander Brothers Anchorage as an imperial watershed in the Colonial narrative of the Nigerian nation, which provided the apt backdrop for a literary communion with an international flavor like the hosting of Nduka Otiono, who himself is a renowned International literary scholar of Oral and historical literature. It turned out to be an evening to remember.

The achievement, on Thursday, July 30, by the Delta Literary Forum (DLF) was accomplished with the critical support from the Delta state Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Ministry of Information, especially with the personal interventions of the two Commissioners, Richard Mofe-Damijo and Oma Djebah, who are not only recognized members of the global literati, but indeed bosom friends and past colleagues of the Guest writer Nduka Otiono, in several high profile national media establishments.

The evening started with peripheral readings by some members of the DLF including Beatrice Ozowa and Delta state Director of Culture Mr. Akpobesah. But things really started swinging when the two Commissioners, Oma Djebah of Information and Richard Mofe-Damijo of Culture and Tourism arrived together.

After introductory formalities including an opening prayer by the Permanent Secretary Cabinet Office Sir Emman Okafor and the opening comments by Chairman of DLF David Diai, the literary evening swung into full gear.

In the words of the Chairman of DLF, David Diai, “The Delta Literary Forum (DLF) is a literary movement whose main objective is to contribute towards the promotion of literature and the literary culture and also open up the literary space and reposition the literary comity in an articulate and intellectual regard as key stakeholders for social development in Delta state”.

As part of its comprehensive agenda, the DLF had initiated The International Guest Writer series as its signature event; a quarterly literary event which is expected to feature prominent writers of Delta state extraction who are either in the Diaspora or have achieved international recognition through their literary efforts.

In his commentary titled “Literature and Tourism Development in Delta State: Writers as Cultural Ambassadors”, Barr. Richard Mofe-Damijo, Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Delta state, noted that writers and indeed members of the literary arts have always been recognized as important cultural ambassadors especially given their symbolic recognition and roles as the personifications and embodiments of their ethnic and cultural ethos.

He recalled how he had himself gradually become a symbol of the entity of his Delta state as a result of the visibility and popularity he had achieved in the Nollywood film industry and how his ambassadorial status had contributed to his transcending from that space of role interpretation to the space of role actualization. He added that Delta state was richly blessed with a plethora of writers, like Tanure Ojaide, Isidore Okpewho, E.C Osondu, Nduka Otiono himself and a host of others, who have become icons and thus were rightly qualified to be addressed as cultural ambassadors in their own right.

Mofe-Damijo was also quick to point out the sharp constrains which public office imposed on the actualization of cultural initiatives as a result of the harsh realities between contending monumental capital projects which are seen as the ‘real’ dividends of democracy and thus require administrative funding at the expense of the more pro-social activities like the sponsorship of things Literary and Artistic, which have often been  regarded as mere cosmetisms by the establishment types who constitute the budget and appropriation commissions.

He, however, noted that writers and indeed the entire arts community, especially those who have found themselves in the ambassadorial role, were in a unique position to help propagate the positive initiatives of progressive democratic administrations, while also positioning themselves at the same time to become key drivers in the formulation and implementation of policies as public office holders, hinting that there was perhaps the need for more literary personae to be engaged in the administrative process, not only to enable them achieve a clearer understanding of how the wheels of government grinds but indeed to offer governments the privilege of having alternative approaches to social development outside political solutions.

Speaking on the second commentary titled “The Literati as stakeholders in the advancement of Democratic culture in Delta State”, Hon. Oma Djabah, Commissioner for Information pointed out the relevance of the media as a crucial constituent of Literature, considering its strategic place in the dissemination of information.

Djebah mentioned that Art (Literature), which is very central to life has meaningfully affected the democratic tradition in the country through purposeful discourse and agenda setting as envisioned by literary works of Arts, such as that of Nduka Otiono and other celebrated Deltans.

The information Commissioner also expressed the determination of the Delta state government to reposition the state electronic and print media organs, Delta Broadcasting Service (DBS) and The Pointer Newspapers to serve as boost in repositioning the literary comity in an articulate and intellectual regard as key stakeholders for social development in Delta state.

And then it was time to unveil the big masquerade, Nduka Otiono to appear on stage. Dressed in traditional ox-blood ‘print up and down’ caftan, patterned with gold embroidery circles, he took the microphone and in his now legendary baritone voice, regaled the audience with fond recollections of the exciting days he had shared with both Oma Djebah and Richard Mofe-Damijo in several newsrooms including the now rested Classique Magazine all of which prompted him to read his first poem of the evening, ‘I know a place’; a piece from his first collection Voices in the Rainbow dedicated to RMD after reading one of his  articles of the same title in the then popular column Ad-Lib of the Classique Magazine. Otiono later inherited the Ad-Lib column from RMD, when the latter moved on to start Mister Magazine.

Commenting on the literary evening, Nduka Otiono himself described the memorable event as the beginning of a more vibrant literary forum in Delta state. He said that although he had earlier been hosted in Abuja and Lagos, this event was more important to him because he was being hosted at home by his colleagues and his own folks of the literary community, thus laying to rest the maxim that a prophet is never at home.

He lamented the unfortunate claims that the people in Niger Delta region, his home place, are presently caught in a vortex of youth restiveness and militant activities and enjoined writers and the literati to ensure that literature and the literati are celebrated as a way of representing the Niger Delta in better light.

Otiono, however, expressed delight that the duo of Oma Djebah and Mofe-Damijo in government has critically bridged the gap of the metaphoric “We and Them” mindset that existed between people who hold political offices and those regarded as intellectual elites, especially, the literati.

He praised their appointment (and also that of Paul Odili and Dr. Hope Eghagha) by Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan as recognition of the breaking down of such “we and them” boundaries and barriers and enjoined government to involve more literary people in their cabinets in future, adding that they were the arrowheads and represented the key sectors in the efforts to re-brand Delta State and the Niger Delta region through Information dissemination, Culture and Tourism.

The readings then continued with poems from Otiono’s newly published collection Love in a time of Nightmares, including the popular poem Grandma’s Pipe, some which were performed with saxophone accompaniment by the talented indigenous multi-instrumentalist called Goodies (Goodluck Egwuenu) whose deft sax play was appreciated by all.

In the interlude that followed the first reading session, Commissioner for Project Monitoring, Delta state, Barr. Ejaife Omizu Odebala commended the Delta Literary Forum and indeed Nduka Otiono for providing a refreshing alternative to the routine evenings in Asaba and confessed that his literary buds which had been almost been dormant before the evening would now be harnessed with regular attendances of the DLF’s monthly readings.

In his own comments, the Permanent secretary, Cabinet office, Sir Emma Okafor, advocated for a paradigm shift from the elitist and seeming intellectual complexion of such literary events to also accommodate village square and market place sessions as a way of involving not only the very traditional songs and narrative forms but indeed accommodating the less literate and grassroots folks in the enjoyment of literature. He buttressed his position with the rendition of a popular igbo traditional folk ditty: Udala mu tooo; Chorus: Nda…which was well received by the audience.

The second session commenced with readings by Barr. Mofe-Damijo and David Diai, from the collection Love in a time of Nightmares, before Nduka Otiono then returned for the concluding session of his reading with poems from the same collections. His final poem, Dirty was taken from Camoflage the Anthology of contemporary Nigerian writing, which was cheered by the audience and the session was rounded off nicely with a long saxophone solo by the mercurial Goddies.

Other guests at the event included the Commissioner for Local Government, Ide Tony Nwaka, Special Adviser to the Delta state Gov. on Local Govt. Chief Uzor Idabor (Nelrose), Director of Culture Mr. Friday Anaziah, the General Manager of Pointer Newspapers, Mr. Bosah Iwobi, Mr. Dick Willie from Port Harcourt, renowned journalists in Delta state and siblings of Nduka Otiono Val, Fabian and Mike Otiono amongst others.

This was the inaugural event of the Delta Literary Forum (DLF) and the next Guest Writer Series which will hold Quarterly, is billed for October 2009. The regular DLF reading sessions will however hold every month and the next is billed for August 27, 2009.

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