‘The society will always be at the epicentre of my writings’, Eriata Oribhabor

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It’s a common phenomenon for people to do things for different reasons. That one reason that works wonders for ‘A’ may be the why ‘B’ would never dare trying the same thing at all. These days, you’ll quite agree with me that literary activities involving stage plays and a handful of other artistic performances are being revived. However, there is an entirely new industry that is breaking forth and that is the spoken word or performance poetry industry. Now, you wonder what that is right?

If we should take a cue from the industries that have become money-spinning industries today (like comedy,movie, music/entertainment), the spoken word or performance poetry only needs to pay her dues through her wobbles, struggles, societal acceptance and what have you, before becoming a money-spinning venture like her counterparts. But whether it eventually grows into a full-fledged industry capable of attracting investors or not, some passionate individuals have already decided to continually pump in their time, talent and money. This decision has birthed varying quantum of efforts from different individuals, groups or bodies that have started organizing big and small spoken word events in every corner.

Sir Eriata Oribhabor is one of these passionate individuals. He is a civil servant, a two-time president of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Chapter, an excellent writer and a promoter extraordinaire. His passion for poetry is so much that he decided to, through his poetry, coin a national language for Nigeria which he calls Naija languej–a blend of pidgin English and local flavour. With this, he authored ‘Abuja na kpangba and Oda puem-dem’ (2011), ‘If Yu Hie Se A De Prizin’ (a collection of poems) and ‘Amebo Yad’ (a volume of plays). Other works of his include ‘Waters and Answers’, ‘Crossroads and The Rubicon’ ‘Who Shall I Make My Wife’ (an anthology) and a host of others. As the PIN (Poets in Nigeria) boss, he also organizes numerous poetry contests including Food Poetry Contest/Prize, Eriata Oribhabor Poetry Prize, Nigerian Students Poetry Prize among others.

In this short time-out with Yami Bamgboye, he reveals his unending passion for poetry and why the society will always be at the epicentre of his writings. Have fun.

You organize a lot of poetry contests and events like Festival Poetry Calabar for young writers and lovers of art. What motivates that undying passion?

Thanks for having me interviewed. I am not the organizer of Festival Poetry Calabar. The event is an initiative of Poets in Nigeria (PIN) but organised by Festival Poetry Foundation a body that metamorphosed via a fission of PIN , Calabar Literary Society and Nka Literary Club after the maiden edition of the festival in 2015. What motivates my undying passion for doing what I do for younger writers is to help to reorient them for individual and societal good. Especially, to encourage the reading culture.

Everyone knows that events and contests don’t come cheap. Do you get corporate sponsorship to pull them off?

You are right. I have never gotten any corporate sponsorship. I use my personal resources. I am hopeful of sponsorships this year. In fact, I told close friends that this is a year of sponsorships. I see sponsorships and credible collaborations coming.

So many young people, basically, now have the passion and nerves to take creative writing to the streets in different forms. Do you consider that a good development?

Taking creative writing to the streets as you stated, is a welcome development and the best thing that will happen to poetry, a hitherto forgotten genre of literature. Whatever is done in taking lines on a page to the streets, leaves lasting positive statements for majority.

They say Nigerians don’t have good reading culture. In your own opinion, do you really think that it’s true and the success of this new development(taking creative writing to the street) is dependent on this reading culture?

The reading culture of Nigerians keep nosediving because lots of unsavory things happen in the political sphere and politics has a way of impacting all sectors of life of any country. We are not essentially non readers if I may put it this way. However, with various interventions like poetry reading events etc, people are beginning to go back to the books. And taking poetry reading as it were to the streets, is a booster.

Most Nigerian investors are wont to making quick money on their investments and as it really appears, this new development (taking creativity to the streets) is gradually and systematically turning things around. What future do you see in this development from both ends…investments and creativity?

Investment and expected rate of return of investment may not perfectly fit for the promotion of literary matters. In the first place, and as earlier mentioned, awareness for reading is low and is still being stimulated. Therefore, investing here requires perseverance especially when it is supposed to be a social service to the society.

Is it then right to refer to this new development as an industry, a growing one at that?

I wouldn’t want to see it as an industry. Going by popular dictates, an industry can come out of it. Whether it is called an industry or not, what is important is that reading and its benefits should be put as front burners. Why an industry at an auspicious time when much are being done to correct a faulty past affecting today and our tomorrow? If an industry would come, let it come slowly. Let passion and social service lead.

Like so many singers who sing for commercial reasons today, do you see the same happening to spoken word artistes?

Yes. It requires packaging.

As a popular writer do you self-publish? 

I am a publisher. I manage Something for Everybody Ventures (SFBV)

Considering the number of books you’ve authored, would you say you’ve gotten something commensurate to your time and investment?

Passion drives my writing and all I do around it. If financial gains would directly come to me in future, it is not because I deliberately went after it. By God’s grace, I am a privileged writer passionate about connecting people for greatness.

So many academicians have long agitated for the official recognition and use of Nigerian English.So far, it’s only being taught as a course in the university. Don’t you think that if Nigeria would ever adopt an indigenous English, it should be internationally intelligible? Plus, do you see any legislation backing it up?

I have said so much on this and choose to direct any one to google and read more or Naija languej. A legislation backing this up will only come when many become aware of its relevance to the people. And government’s hand in this is key.

On a second thought, can’t we have any of the indigenous languages like Efik,Igbo etc. adopted as our official language?

Nothing is impossible.

Away from pidgin. You aren’t just a poet, you’re also a social commentator and the political undertone in most of your poems really reveals your dissatisfaction with leadership. Why is that?

Happenings in my environment colour my writings and explain all.

Away from pidgin. You aren’t just a poet, you’re also a social commentator and the political undertone in most of your poems really reveals your dissatisfaction with leadership. Why is that?

Happenings in my environment colour my writings and explain all.

Do you see this changing anytime soon?

Like any thing in life, writings change.

Writers are perceived prophets. Can you project into Nigeria’s future in 2019?

Creatively bright (laughs).

You do have a good sense of dressing unlike some bookworm. So, what’s up with your fashion sense?

If one is most likely addressed by how one is dressed, why not?

A lot of people in Nigeria go into teaching just because. You say you love teaching but never had the opportunity to teach. If you had the opportunity, what would you change?

I have always loved teaching. Teaching after retirement from civil service is a dream.

Have you ever tried your hands on any other genre? 

Yes. Prose and drama.

I saw a comic video that portrayed you in a different light. How do you balance that part of you with your serious look (forgive me if I’m wrong)?

People always say I have a serious look but are disappointed whenever they meet me one on one. If looks are all about a person, many who should have a feel of heaven’s gate. I would be authorizing signatories for heaven bound people.

What is your philosophy about life?

Living simple without being simplistic.

As a civil servant, how do you balance your work with writing?

Passion, cooperation and understanding of my colleagues at work is key.

Tell us about the awards you’ve won.

Honestly, I can’t vividly remember. Sorry about that.

You got married quite early and you’ve remained married–maybe it’s destiny. These days,most lettered young people shy away from it. What advice would you give?

Destiny rules in all. Early marriage is a very risky venture but beneficial to parties involved. Maturity, understanding and perseverance are fundamental.

As it really is, no Nigerian writer survives solely on writing. Everyone does something by the side. Do you see this trend changing?

No.

 

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