By Sa’id Sa’ad
As a people of oral tradition such as folklores, stories and songs, modern poetry today – or what is otherwise called contemporary poetry – could still be traced back to the oral literary traditions which have, over centuries, served the purpose of cultural entertainment and preservation in Nigeria.
However, even with the consistent growth of poetry in some parts of Nigeria – mainly because of the existence of some of the most celebrated African literary giants in those parts: Wole Soyinka, Niyi Osundare, Gabriel Okara, Christopher Okigbo – poetry in northern Nigeria has continued to suffer significantly amongst the wanna-be-poets and growing poets, who are thirsty of platforms to put their arts out for the right audience. With no or few consistent literary communities, inaccessibility of literary mentors and workshops or festivals, this category of young people genuinely interested in the art has been in a dilemma between giving up their dream or continuing to breathe in water.
Six years ago, Poetic Wednesdays was built—a rescue mission run by young people for young people. Of course, they understood the challenges of their fellow youths so well. However, It is not surprising that a small team of young people from the under-represented communities in this part of the world would give birth to a literary community of sorts. But what is exciting is how – in six years – these young people Poetified most of Northern Nigeria. It was surprising how, in six years, they were able to achieve what will take others a decade-plus to achieve. This is a product of genuine passion for the course.
Thus, these are young people who – when they began – were never given a seat at any literary or poetry workshop, of any sort, as a way to propel or guide their growth as future literary stars. And this is, sadly, a coat-of-arm that Northern Nigeria, in almost all industries, has cursed itself with, which is ‘intentionally’ refusing to tap on the shoulders of their growing talents. Relatively, most of the young talents in this part who have grown to horn their talents were able to do that without mentorship. Accordingly, they are used to thorns.
However, against all odds, with Salim Yunusa, a young writer from the narrow streets of Zaria, to Nasiba Babale, a noble lab scientist with poetry all over her syringe and test tubes, to Abdulbasit Adamu, a passionate poet and spoken word artist wobbling on the highway between Kaduna and Kano, to Maryam Gatawa, a Kano poet turned entrepreneur, to Abduljalal Musa (AJ) and scores of others who pushed the lorry behind the camera, these passionate and talented people stood and birthed a poetry community run by young people – solely to promote literary arts, to give a platform to other young people especially the wanna-be-poets who are ‘only’ interested in seeing their forced-rhymed poems read by others, and the growing poets who have the dying needs to hear feedback about their art.
Excitedly, with fewer resources, Poetic Wednesdays has grown to do beyond a toddler literary organisation. Especially using digital media/social media platforms like Facebook, hundreds and thousands of young poets have access to sharing their poems with global audiences every Wednesday. With Poetic Wednesdays, in the last six years, one can say that the recent robust revitalisation of poetry, especially in parts of Northern Nigeria, can be directly attributed to literary organisations like Poetic Wednesdays. Now, the north is ‘poetified’ with excellent poets who have and are capable of creating some of the best poems in the country.
Accordingly, with these bold decisions, numerous literary communities have sprouted from some of the most unexpected parts of Northern Nigeria, which have continued to host literary functions and promote their local artistic prowess. From Borno Literary Society in Borno, Yobe Literary Society in Yobe, Sunshine Literary Society and in Adamawa State, literary communities in other northern states such as Taraba State, Sokoto State and Kebbi State sprouted as well. This occurs due to the hard work of a few young people who dared to take up the challenge and push beyond boundaries.
This doesn’t contextualise Nigerian literature based on geographical lines; I am solely a Pro-Nigerian-Literature irrespective of where it comes from. However, it is also essential to acknowledge the growth of particular people or at least point a green mark on an honest, passionate move. Moreover, Poetic Wednesdays or any literary community doesn’t only speak for the people of the north but speaks for every Nigerian artist. Whereas some are even growing to go beyond Nigeria to a broader African space, which is commendable in a way as well.
Today, northern Nigeria is Poetified. From Sabon Gari in Kano to Bulunkutu in Maiduguri, to Ribado Square in Adamawa, to Tudun Wada in Zaria, to Unguwan Dosa in Kaduna, Gidan Kaya in Sokoto, to Bunza in Kebbi, to Madobi in Jigawa, to Sardauna in Taraba, these and more thousands of streets in the north now breath poetry and are giving birth to the most talented literary giants in the country.
If they ask you about the north, tell them that the north is poetified.
Sa’id Sa’ad is a Nigerian writer and performance poet from Maiduguri. He won the Peace Panel Short Story Prize, 2018 and NFC Essay Prize, 2018.