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‘Artists generate alternative visions, aspirations to steer country towards progress’

Head, English Department, University of Ibadan, Prof. Ayo Ogunsiji (left); festival chairm an and Emeritus Professor, Ayo Banjo, and honoree, Professor Niyi Osundare at Niyi Osundare’s International Poetry Festival (NOIPFEST) 2018 last week… in Ibadan

Tuesday, June 29, 2018 was a memorable day that sparkled with encomiums, as renowned literary giant and multiple award-winner, Prof. Niyi Osundare, was celebrated for his immeasurable contributions to the development of Nigerian literary industry at Niyi Osundare’s International Poetry Festival (NOIPFEST) 2018 The two-day festival, which made its debut in 2015, aims at celebrating the numerous achievements of Osundare, who many describe as “prophet, reformer, patriot, humanitarian and world acclaimed poet.”
  
The festival affords those in the literary industry a rare moment to reflect on his powerful poems as they relate to the harsh realities afflicting Nigeria and humanity at large and possible ways out of them for a humane society.

The festival also serves as a platform for upcoming poets to showcase their talent and ingenuity.

The event, which took place at the Lead City University, Ibadan, had as theme ‘Literature and Governance: Finding the Convergence for National Development,’ and had Osundare’s large body of works as a case study in the analysis of the role of literature in the promotion of good governance for national development.
 
Dignitaries who graced the event were Prof. Emeritus Ayo Banjo (Chair), Head, English Department, University of Ibadan, Prof. Ayo Ogunsiji, Dr. Tunji Olaopa, former Chairman ANA Oyo chapter, Mr. Funso Omotosho, Pro-Chancellor, Lead City University, Prof. Jide Owoeye, Vice Chancellor, Lead City University, Prof. Kabiru Adeyemo, Prof. Joe Ushie of University of Uyo, Prof. Toyin Jegede, University of Ibadan, and Dr. Chris Anyokwu of Department of English, University of Lagos among other literary and cultural enthusiasts, who had come to drink from the fountain of the ‘poet of the marketplace lore.’
 
While welcoming guests, Banjo extolled the sterling qualities of Osundare and described him as a “fine poet with a strong patriotic zeal.” He also noted that Osundare’s poems have channelled Nigeria towards sustainable development by creating solutions to issues affecting the country.
 
“In this festival, we recognise the efforts of Niyi Osundare towards the process of civilization,” he said. “His aim in this festival is a to admonish, chastise, reveal and clamour in an entertaining manner the cankerworms hindering the development of Nigeria and humanity at large.”
 
Banjo also urged every participant to make judicious use of the festival to harness its potential in order to become fine poets, and prayed that Osundare gets awarded the world’s ultimate prize for literature.
 
“I welcome every participant to this year’s event and ask you to make great use of this platform to improve your poetic creativity in order to become known in the future. Osundare, as we all know, is a multiple award winner, but he has yet to clinch the ‘ultimate prize,’ which is the Nobel Prize for Literature! I believe that it is only a matter of time before he receives this prize because his works will surely speak for him.”
 
In his keynote address, Olaopa gave a critical analysis of Osundare’s poetic style as he categorised him with the likes of Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark-Bekederemo and Tanure Ojaide. He described him as “a patriotic poet par excellence and the poet of the people.
 
“Professor Niyi Osundare provides us with a species of patriotic poetry, which becomes an arrow in his hand, hurled against all and everything wrong with Nigeria.

With his poems, Osundare is constantly in the consciousness of Nigerians, but more critical is that he constantly calls those who have decided to steal the commonweal and impoverish our collective aspiration to make Nigeria a worthy country to live in.”
 
Olaopa also spoke on the relationship between literature and good governance.

Citing a few example of how great writers had used their works to create change, Olaopa said literature plays a big role in ensuring sustainable development in every country because it reveals the anomalies and excess of those in power and charge both the rulers and the ruled to come together and achieve a strong country.
 
“Sometimes, literature occupies a cross-section between aesthetics and ideology,” he said.

“It is valid to argue that there is really no literary work that is totally bereft of political undertone. Literature has been known from the ancients to anticipate possibilities in the future of their country.

To that extent, the power of storytelling is inestimable – it can comfort, arouse, instigate resistance, inspire and motivate.

Some historical evidences have shown that literature has got the power to change and foment social movement in the same measure that it can preserve the status quo. Therefore, to ask for the relationship between literature and social action is like asking the link between words and deed, between cause and effect.”
 
Furthermore, Olaopa lamented the marginalization of poets in Nigeria as a result of a non- thriving book market and a poor educational system that brings forth more illiterate than truly literate people out of the country’s young ones.
 
“Nigeria does not have a national poet in the shape of Agostinho Neto of Angola, Leopold Sedar of Senegal, or Mohammed Awzal of Morocco.

Niyi Osundare is the closest that we have in Nigeria. The novelists and the dramatists draw more attention than the poets.

In fact, it would seem that the publishing dynamics in a postcolonial context is equally skewed against poetry.

Imagine what would have happened if Niyi Osundare had never published any of these poems. Imagine that he had been frustrated into pursuing another vocation. The consequence is that Nigeria would have been poorer for it.
 
“The arts need nurturing and the government has the responsibility to provide the enabling environment for its poets, novelists, artists, comedians and writers to generate alternative visions and aspirations that can keep the nation on a steady path towards progress.”
 
Ushie described Osundare as an “embodiment of intellectualism and prophecy. Osundare’s poetry follows the pattern of poets, who are embittered about the underperforming or over-corrupt African nations and use extensively their creative ability to create a change in the system of their society.

Every poet is an intellectual but not every intellectual is necessarily a poet.

The combination of intellectualism and poetic inclination is instinctive in Osundare, who views problems in the past, present and future and proffers feasible solutions to them. Osundare’s form of poetry is that of liberalism, regeneration and prophecy.”
 
Jegede spoke on the easy alteration of diction in Osundare’s poetry, and pointed out the patriotic zeal in his poems, noting, “The easiest thing to say about Prof. Osundare is his patriotism, not only to Nigeria, but to every individual around him.

Osundare is not just a poet; he is a prophet, a reformer of cacophonies or anomalies in society. He does not only educate us but also uses his powerful poems to make us aware of happenings oblivious to us.
 
“Osundare’s poems are in such a way that he can ascend or descend to any intellectual level according to that of his target audience.

He could at one time write in abstruse sentences and, on the other hand, write in simple, clear and concise language so as to make the so-called illiterate to get his message, see life in a new dimension and effect the change he clamours for.

His choice of words is also meticulous as he chooses words that do not hurt anyone or seem tribalistic, yet he hits his messages hard on the audience and provoke them to a new feeling of remorse, agility, truthfulness and hope.
 
“Therefore, when you look at his poetry, you discover universal and cultural patriotism. Osundare is a patriot to the core as he is not ashamed to portray his cultural heritage in his numerous poems.”
  
On his part, Prof. Bayo Okunade highlighted the importance of poets in nation building, as he extolled the literary qualities of Osundare, noting his patriotism and infusion of ancient form of oral poetry in his poems.
 
“Beyond being a political poet, Osundare is an intermediary between the government and the masses. He serves as a link for utmost co-operation between the rulers and the ruled towards national development.

Creative artists have a special role to play in society because they serve as prophets, talebearers and harbingers of hope to the masses. Literature and governance are inter-related and each needs the other to build a strong and formidable nation.
 
“If every poet tows the footsteps of Osundare, who writes in simple and clear language, then literature would be more effective in achieving good governance, as it will serve as a catalyst to the common man to stand up and make a change in his nation.

Otherwise, it would only be an instrument understood only by the elites and the educated, thereby creating little or no impact of good governance in the nation.

Osundare’s poetry is also a conflation of the oral poetry of the past and the spoken words used in present-day society.

He didn’t abandon the ancient methodology of poetry. Rather, he combines both for an unrestricted flow of message to his large and diversified audience.

Osundare, therefore, is a conservative, progressive poet!”
 
And what is poetry festival without performance? Nine-year old Azeez Abubakar performed an ode in Yoruba, the trio of Akeem Lasisi, Funmi Aluko and guitarist Edaoto did folk performance and music while Soji Gbelekale and Jumoke Siyanbola also rendered poetry that excited and put the audience in true celebratory mood.

Source: G Entertainment

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