“I am a ‘Connoisseur of Poetry’” CONVERSATION WITH ERIATA ORIBHABOR (DI POET)
By Ojo, Olumide Emmanuel (Literature Voices)
(Eriata Oribhabor is a notable Nigerian Poet, editor, social commentator, literary activist/administrator and publisher. He is the President, Poets in Nigeria Initiatives (PIN) and former Chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Chapter. Eriata has several books to his name, notable among them are ‘Crossroads & The Rubicon,’ ‘Beautiful Poisons,’ ‘Eriata on Marble’ and ‘Shifting Rides of Poetikness.’ He is a foremost promoter of Naija Pidgin and other artistic activities. Through his Poets in Nigeria, he has been able to establish over twenty-seven (27) different literary initiatives including the popular Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP)).
Ojo: Good day Sir, it’s an honour having a conversation with you. Why do you pride yourself as the Merchant of Poetry? Poetry and merchandise do not connect for me. So, what is this merchant thing doing with the subliming and nobleness of poetry? There is a sense of dilution of sanctity and essence of poetry. Isn’t there?
Eriata: To be identified as worthy of being interviewed by Literature Voice says a lot. It means I am a voice to be reckoned with on our nation’s literary space. For this, I am most honoured. That you are more of a mentee of the platform you represent is heart-warming.
It was Dr. Lizi Ben-Iheanacho a Director, with the National Council of Arts & Culture (NCAC) that nicknamed me ‘Merchant of Poetry.’ For the best of reasons behind the name, it can only be offered by her. However, as it has to do with this unique sobriquet and its relationship with poetry and merchandise, let me attempt at dousing your fears which will explain why I accepted it.
According to Godstime Adirimo, winner Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2018, I am a ‘Connoisseur of Poetry.’ Going by my passion for the writing and promotion of poetry, it is possible for anyone to assume that I make a lot of money via my works. So, it won’t be out of place to posit that the title ‘Merchant of Poetry’ syncs with being a passionate lover of poetry who continually seeks to know more about the craft; enjoys what he does and looks forward to reaping financial fortunes from poetry without being deliberately out for it. Thus, it is a title that should be likened to a prayer for the bearer. Merchandise is totally out of it because selflessness is a way of life for me and I know this since I started writing and promoting poetry.
Ojo: Your activities within the Literary circle in Nigeria is laudable. You are causing a stir. What is the inspiration behind all your tireless efforts? Did you study literature? Why choose literature as your primary focus of community development?
Eriata: Thanks for lauding my activities within our literary space. I take this as an appreciation of the activities of ‘Poets in Nigeria Initiative’ driven by poets who are selflessly committed to poetry for service. I am only a curator of various programs of the PIN Initiative. If our activities in Poets in Nigeria would be causing a stir, it is for positive reasons.
I hold a BSc. in Political Science from the University of Abuja. Like most of my contemporaries, Literature as a subject was almost compulsory in the secondary school irrespective of whether one was a science inclined student or not. You may also have noticed that individual interest for Literature and writing has nothing to do with one’s chosen course of study. In cognizance of this, whoever loves literature may want to take a step in promoting it. Moreover, one needs to write well to deliver on every other subject. Further put, literature is central in all.
Ojo: Poets in Nigeria (PIN), which you founded and preside over, would be celebrating her five years of Poetry for Service. Can you share with me the fundamental ideologies upon which PIN was established?
Eriata: The fundamental ideology upon which PIN was established is poetry for service while the aims & objectives are:
- Create a holistic online directory for Poets in Nigeria
- Create unlimited opportunities for poets to showcase their poetic crafts
- Serve as a veritable ground for poets to hone their reading, writing and performance skills via literary projects like poetry workshops and residences to be organised by PIN.
- Protect and promote registered poets and their works, showcased beyond borders
- Give poets recognisable voices in the scheme of things in Nigeria and across our shores
- Guide poets in areas of editing and publishing
Vision: To be Nigeria’s foremost literary hub driven by poetry.
Ojo: PIN is driven by a collage of young people. What is the philosophy behind this and what advantage does it portend for the future in terms of literary, socio-political cum educational development of the society?
Eriata: The content, colour and character of every society rest on how the future of her youth is prepared and routinely worked at. This explains the tomorrow of our sense of creativity cum educational development.
Ojo: You have organised several programmes through PIN and NSPP which seem to be the biggest. How do you finance it considering the Prize and the events that come with it? Please, could you list other PIN initiatives?
Eriata: PIN activities are being financed by members of Poets in Nigeria (PIN) and friends of PIN. Other initiatives of PIN are: ‘Nigerian Students Poetry Prize’ (NSPP), ‘CHAP BOOK Series’, ‘Punchy Poetry’, ‘The Arthub Lagos’, ‘Festival Poetry Calabar’, ‘The Glass Door’, ‘PIN 10-day Poetry Challenge’ , ‘Poetourism’, etc.
Ojo: This brings me to another question. What can you say about funding of Art in Nigeria and what is the way forward? What kind of reception is given to arts by government, citizens, organisations and homes in Nigeria? Is it adequate?
Eriata: Funding of arts in Nigeria is not encouraging. This is why several interventionist initiatives are being birthed to help fill in the yawning gaps. The way forward is first and foremost for the government to show genuine will and commitment. This will encourage corporate and individual dispositions to promoting and supporting in this regard.
Ojo: What is the idea behind your ‘Poetourism?’ What is it about?
Eriata: Poetourism is the promotion of tours and travels via the tool of poetry and viz-a-viz. It is fundamentally to boost creativity via poetry and tourism.
Ojo: PIN also has a Chapbook Series. Do writers pay to be featured or is it free? Even some premier writers’ organisations do not do this. Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation does not. Why are you doing this? Any noticeable result in what you set out to achieve in the production of chapbooks?
Eriata: The idea is to encourage writing alongside supporting publication of our writings. Please, I will recommend readers to PIN website: www.poetsinnigeria.org.ng
Ojo: As a former chairman of ANA Abuja, in the light of the present crisis that is bedevilling the National body of the Association, what had become of your mediation role? What do you think other literary bodies should do to help resolve this impasse? Any hope of a resolution?
Eriata: It is unfortunate that ANA is in crisis because the negative impacts are innumerable. A peace initiative put together by my humble self and Daggr Tolar of ANA Lagos didn’t succeed. Other literary groups should go ahead with their interventionist activities because they have their own reasons for being formed just like ANA.
Ojo: What should literary bodies do so as to encourage Government’s participation and support for their activities?
Eriata: Literary bodies should keep doing whatever they are doing with dignity and be consistently driven. Meanwhile, they should learn to collaborate and present viable common fronts that will not only attract government and corporate attention but enhance people’s interest in reading and writing.
Ojo: As an adult author, what can you say about the surge of Young Nigerian writers pursuing their art abroad?
Eriata: I don’t agree that there is a surge of writers pursuing their art abroad and nothing is wrong with that because writers are human beings. If others travel abroad for whatever reasons, that of writers shouldn’t be differently appraised. What I loathe is the warped perspective of some writers who feel that going abroad guarantees success in whatever one does. Writers, young or old, are free to pursue their dreams anywhere but must note that success is everywhere domiciled.
Ojo: What do you consider as the major challenges Art face in Nigeria and how have you been able to surmount some of them as an Art Administrator?
Eriata: The major challenge facing the growth and development of various art forms is poor attention from government and corporate entities. We are able to keep doing what we are doing because we are passionate and selfless.
Ojo: What more should the literary community in Nigeria be expecting from your initiative anytime soon?
Eriata: The National Poetry Slam
Ojo: Congratulations on your five (5) years anniversary and I hope we will keep hearing of the greatness of your initiatives. How many books have you written? How many more will you write?
Eriata: Thank you for following my activities which is that of ‘Poets in Nigeria.’ As a body of Poets committed to using poetry in positively impacting people and society, we have hardly scratched the surface of things. More of our collective activities will be unveiled over time.
I have written more than 15 books and cannot hazard how many I will write. By the grace of God, I will write and speak more. In good health, I hope to reach the skies.
Ojo: Thank you so much for your thoughtful revelations
Eriata: I wish you well. Thank you too
Ojo Olumide Emmanuel is a Nigerian poet, playwright and book editor. His works have appeared and forthcoming at Boll Man Bridge Review, Writers Egg Magazine, INNSAEI Journal, Feral, Quills, Poets in Nigeria (PIN), WRR, The Nigeria Review (TNR) and elsewhere. He is an Assistant Editor at The Nigerian Review (Teen/interview section). He was a judge for the Splendour of Dawn Poetry Competition (February edition, 2020). He was longlisted for the Poet in Nigeria Student Poetry Prize (2020) and was shortlisted for the Arojah Student Playwriting Prize. He is an Alumnus of the SprinNG Writers Fellowship. Email – firstname.lastname@example.org, Instagram- @emmanuelolumideojo, Facebook- Ojo Olumide Emmanuel, Twitter- @ojoolumideEmma2