At the fourth edition of the Benue Books and Arts Festival (BBAAF), although attendance seemed thinner than usual and half of the guest artists were absent, the conversations, which are relevant to contemporary times, flowed freely and intelligently, alongside the inclusion of the younger generation.
With a focus on the theme “Art and Convergence”, the festival explored the impact of the convergence of the arts in a society and the quest for a more inclusive literary art space to accommodate the practice and performing arts practitioners in Nigeria.
The highlights of the conversations were manifold and included the forum with the two professors and authors, Dul Johnson and EE Sule, with young writers and poets as they shared their thoughts and ideas on the challenges of contemporary Nigerian literature.
Contemporary literary challenges faced by young writers included the misperception of performance poetry and spoken word as a lesser form of literary arts, leading to their exclusion from major literary competitions like the NLNG Prize for Literature and the of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA).
There is also the inflexible and inefficient curriculum of tertiary institutes which limits literary studies to modern and first generation literary writers like Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Niyi Osundare while neglecting younger authors like Chimamanda Adichie, Chuma Nwokolo whose works have a lot of influence in today’s society. .
On the other hand, there is the case of lazy millennial artists and lecturers who, Professor Sule noted, were too eager to publish, or the latter who were too lazy to explore institutional gaps to design course work. that update literary studies. texts to present literature dating from less than a decade after its publication.
The conversation also looked at the impact of art and art convergence spaces such as BBAAF in society, from where it was established that while art could not bring about radical changes like the one of a revolution, but thrived in small changes that impact lives all the same.
Likewise, literature and activism, Professor Sule added, could only effect a political revolution when a critical perspective and pockets of physical movement were carried out to transfer electronic advocacy to real campaigns.
As a forum for the convergence of the arts, “BBAAF is a very welcome development. I think that despite the numbers this year, it was as successful as the first edition. The purpose for which we are gathered here has been achieved.
“Look at the energy of the young people at the festival. I didn’t think they would follow my thoughts, but at the end of the keynote, the questions they threw at me made me realize that this was some kind of clever convergence. You see, the workforce of the country comes from these kinds of people. The future of Nigeria depends on such people. The more positively their minds are shaped, the better off we will be. I feel very good about growing young people’s awareness of the arts, and that’s something that I think will also bring change,” the don said.
The festival has further seen the inclusion of not only young writers and poets via its N110,000 Prize Poetry Slam, but also the attraction and development of budding talent in the literary arts with the inclusion of high school students in a theater presentation competition.
The 15-minute performance focusing on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) which saw six schools battle it out for first, second and third positions, tested their acting skills, vocal projection, enunciation and application of questions theater themes.
As mundane as the presentations were, the efforts of some schools like Girls Government College GGC, Makurdi, Peniel College and Government Secondary School, to show better acting, stage management and projection were quite promising. The festival’s recognition of the awards for the best actors and actresses was also gratifying, much to the surprise of the young people. The happiness of the awarded students at the recognition of their budding talents has been worth the time and effort invested by the jury and in the planning of the festival.
To double its impact, BBAAF needs dedicated support and funding. Fans of the festival testified to a lower attendance this year compared to previous editions. Meanwhile, local awareness of the festival is nil or low, with the absence of half of the guest artists expected to participate in the festival, and the lack of a virtual festival setting, which has limited local and international participation.
Although there is no empirical data to support its impact, the festival’s original partners, Eunice Spring Life Foundation (ESLF), whose primary goal of promoting literacy parallels that of BBAAF, noted “Qualitatively, I’ve heard testimonials and reviews of how BBAAF has given aspiring young writers the opportunity to showcase and hone their writing skills. It gave young performers, poets and spoken word artists the platform to showcase their work and opportunities for promotion. I see the BBAF as this hub where those with experience impact the less experienced, and the less experienced also benefit to improve their skills and reach their potential,” said Tine Aghenor, ESLF Program Director .
Hence support in kind like that of the foundation, through the support of personnel, logistics and transport; in addition to financial support, even technical support should be channeled to such a platform that impacting young Nigerians, while simultaneously empowering the critical thinking of future leaders of our nation cannot be overemphasized.
Founded in 2019 by Sevhage Publishers and Sevhage Literary & Development Initiative, Benue Book and Arts Festival (BBAAF) is one of the few popular literary festivals in Nigeria such as Ake Book and Arts Festival, Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF) , Kaduna Book and Arts Fest (KADAFEST) which examines the relevance of literary arts in contemporary Africa and Nigeria and charts literary trends and practices nationally and internationally. In addition to literary workshops, keynote speeches and panel discussions, the festival organizes several art competitions that have a positive impact on the literary arts.