PHOTO CREDIT: TJ Benson/Sevhage Literary Festival
THE SEVHAGE EXPERIENCE: MEMORIES OF A FESTIVAL
Makurdi has always been some sort of a drive through for me, it has never been a destination, so when I got invited to the maiden edition of the SEVHAGE Literary Festival I was a bit apprehensive. I geared up though and on October 15 I left the comforts of my Taraba domicile for the famed river town. There aren’t too many art festivals in these parts, and yup, I wasn’t going to miss this one.
My apprehension grew when I arrived at the conference hall of Ejja Suites Hotel on the 16th (the official start date of the festival) where the sessions were to take place at ten and found the organizers still setting up props. It turned out to be a good thing, this delay, for it allowed me a reunion with some Facebook friends I’d never met like the poet Innocence Silas and the ones I’d met only once like Momoh Enojo of momohslaw.com.
For the maiden edition of an arts festival in north-central Nigeria, the turn up was impressive, growing each hour with arrivals of artistes from all over the country. The presence of veteran multi award-winning poet Chijioke Amu-Nnadi from Port Harcourt, Servio Gbadamosi, Tope Adegoke Mark and Ogun Da Silva (Romeo Oriogun) from Ibadan; Bash Amuneni from Abuja, Kukugho Iruesiri Samson (KIS) from Lagos and others spiced up the event. The morning session opened with a panel discussion on rape followed by a spoken word playlet with dazzling performances from the gypsy-hearted Ene Odaba and the lead Ciara, then a spoken word performance by the Makurdi ‘Queen of Spoken Word’ and Purple Silver Slam Champion 2014, Celina Kile, a heart-wrenching piece on rape.
The discussions moderated by Otene Ogwuche and chaired by Mrs. Victoria Daaor, Oryinashater Gaai, Lazarus Mom and Tersoo Ayede treated rape; its stigma in the society, the long-term effects of silence and the Nigerian constitution. This session turned out to be surprisingly engaging as almost all participants on the floor contributed and asked questions especially on less-discussed aspects like male rape. The hall started filling up during the afternoon sessions and by evening, some people were standing at the back, everyone dazzled by and lapping up the comical chemistry between Ocho Afrika and Ene Odaba. If we had fun in the day, then the night sure showed an increase in the tempo of things. There were readings and performances by several people, each person trying to outdo the last. Pever X, author of Cat Eyes read an impressive piece that had us smiling. Chijioke Amu-Nnadi read out some poems from his phone, deep lines of love and emotions. Some people asked for an encore but there were other people who were meant to perform and we had to give them room. Sibbyl Whyte’s monologue kept the participants on their seats and Celine Kile brought more awesomeness. I even got an applause after reading my short story and the other writers and poets were warmly received. When it was finally time to bid Day One goodnight, there were groans and protests at the truncation of the day’s enjoyment.
I woke up before the chickens on the 17th October 2015, Day 2 of the festival. I got to the hotel and discovered events were to start by 10 o’clock. There was no dull moment though, as a group of us; Su’eddie, Debbie, Innocence Silas, Romeo Oriogun and the like went hunting local breakfast which wasn’t available in the hotel. We found it in the form of local gruel and akpukpa (our local moinmoin). Our host, Su’eddie, covered the expense and we dug in till we finished the woman’s food. We found out soon that time flies when you are having good food! We rushed back to the hotel and after a while, Day 2 started in earnest.
I moderated a panel discussion on publishing and the fate of the Nigerian writer where issues like rejection and marketability of work were discussed. Servio Gbadamosi of WriteHouse publishing mentioned poor formatting as one of the general reasons publishing houses reject works from writers. His contributions were particularly stimulating. Chijioke Amu-Nnadi concluded the discussion with a talk on ‘Making Words Count’ where he advised writers to stay humble and concentrate on the long-term quality of their work rather than acquiring money and to not be distracted by praise from well-wishers. He also mentioned at some point that he had been a fuel seller! This left a lot of people shocked. There were more revelations and lessons.
Afternoon witnessed an open critique session where poetry was shared by Swem Peter Abayol, Innocence Silas, Romeo Oriogun Terna Ortese, Sam Ogabidu, yours truly and others. Romeo read a number of sad poems which prompted Amu-Nnadi to beg him to rather read a love poem. This drew laughter from everyone. After the reading session, we had to retire for lunch. We went different ways and had some arrangement from the organizers too.
As part of the festival activities, there was a tour which was to stop at the River Benue. A lot of people were tired and couldn’t make it but I couldn’t miss the opportunity. I left with those interested. We had a camera with us and a group of us took magical pictures. We had to write another story.
The evening session was chuck-full of more amazing performances moderated by Ocho Afrika, Terna Ortese and the Festival Director, Su’eddie Agema featuring performances from the likes of Anselm Ngustav, Felicia Okpo, Bash Amuneni, Debbie Iorliam, Sam Terseer Baki, Gabriel Agema and others. The programme continued long after the official closing time, to midnight for the crowd had divided into groups excitedly discussing on everything from prose to spirituality. When pulled into a circle where the poets and writers were eating I refused ‘I have lost my center’ I explained and they all laughed. We had more guests coming in up to the very last minute of the day. I had to leave by midnight.
Sunday morning, 18th October, still didn’t bring an end to the festival; panel discussions were still being held in hotel rooms, over breakfast on issues like the representation of women in Nigerian music videos. There were critique sessions; we also decided that we wanted to make more memories with pictures. Led by Su’eddie, we went out and had our photoshoot.
Only few of the guests, myself included, left that Sunday. A great number of guests checked out to the festival director’s house that I hear is a writers’ hub of sorts in Makurdi. I had to report at work on Monday. So it was with a sort of joy mixed with longing that I left Makurdi, this drive through that had for a few days become a home.
Sevhage Literary Festival 16th – 17th October 2015