The Niger Delta and its contemporary issues came under focus recently when literary connoisseurs in Port Harcourt came together at Alliance Francais to review the works of two literary giants, Greg Mbarjiorgu, an associate professor of Film Studies and Theatre Arts at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Ted Elemeforo, a member of Bayelsa State House of Assembly.
The event was hosted by Nigerian Literary Society in collaboration with English Language Teachers Association (ELTA), Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN) and African Culture Club Writers Series.
Elemeforo, who was donned in the Eastern Niger Delta traditional etibo jumper with a black hat to match, took questions and readings on his latest work, Child of Destiny, a story of Ebika, an intelligent but indigent girl from a rural community in the Niger Delta, who ran away from home to escape being forced into marriage by his stepfather after they failed to enrol her into secondary school.
Her escape took her to Port Harcourt, the big city in the Niger Delta, where after a period of forced labour and abuse by the people she first met, ran into a privileged family that adopted her as a daughter and undertook to sponsor her education.
She eventually became a medical doctor and was set to get married when fate played a quick one on everyone. Her stepfather, whose identity she had lost, was rushed into hospital as an emergency case and she was the one that stepped in to save his life. In the process of being appreciated for her rare kindness, her mother that came with the family identified her and then went on to identify her foster father as her brother who went missing from the village when he was only 10 years old and found himself in Ilesa in the Yoruba country where he grew up as a Lokun.
The family was reunited afterwards as the story came to a happy end.
While taking questions, Elemeforo admitted that the story of Ebika was a replication of a real life story he had witnessed, where an intelligent girl in his class could not further her education because of poverty and was forced into early marriage.
The legislator who said he was personally touched by the abuse children go through, particularly the girl child in poor homes that are sent out to hawk and give strict account of what they sold, disclosed that Bayelsa State House of Assembly had just passed a law against child labour.
Elemeforo also discussed his other work, Fountain of Betrayal, a book he wrote about the Presidential Amnesty programme in the Niger Delta. In the book, he exposes how the amnesty programme truncated the cause for which Niger Delta militants took up arms.
He said the story of the Niger Delta is akin to the story of Africa. “I wanted to show that the problem of Africa is Africa. We created the humiliation for ourselves. When we start to respect ourselves, we will become different,” Elemeforo said.
Mbarjiogu, who grew up as a Port Harcourt boy, when his father was a principal officer of the University of Port Harcourt in the 1970s, told of how his poetry performance about climate change at a conference of African central bank governors in Enugu when Prof. Charles Soludo was Nigeria’s central bank governor opened the doors for him to explore writing about climate change.
At the Alliance Francais event, he performed one of his poetry works, Water Testament with some of his former students at UNN. He said the situation in the Niger Delta exposes how the owners of the land were living like slaves. In Children of Pure water generation, he painted a picture of an environment where plastics that are not degradable were everywhere causing hazards to the environment and to life.
“We just dey chop dey go
“We no know wetin we dey chop”
Mbajiorgu, who said he was concerned about lack of environmental education in schools, lamented, “Plastics spun a lot of diseases and mosquitoes breed in them. We can develop programmes that school children can sing like a song. We can write rhymes that children can perform; plays and drama to domesticate eco-critical literature.”
The performance artist said government can take a step forward by banning the use of polymer and find alternatives to polymer. “We don’t have laws to discipline the way we do things. Environmental activists cannot do it alone. Government people should not just go to climate change conferences alone. They should bring together all stakeholders – authors, activists, writers, performers and others to put their pieces together and exhibit,” he said.
The occasion also featured performances by some artists present. Poet Agbeye, who presented The Rant, said, “We do not kill ourselves when we can be our brother’s keepers. A matchstick strike does not stay for long but the fire it ignites can stay forever. The ballot remains our bailout.”
The audience was well appointed, Dr Scholastica Amadi, the Vice-President of English Language Teachers Association, who spoke on behalf of the hosts said it was a rare privilege for them to host the two authors. The audience included the Curator of Nigerian Literary Society, Dave Chukwueke, Christy Elekima, the Treasurer of Rivers State chapter of Reading Association of Nigeria, Dr. Joel Leeba, who was the moderator and Salome Ikokoyo.
On a lighter note, Prof. Mbajiorgu had forgotten his box of books in the taxi that brought him to the venue. The taximan after going a distance and discovering that the author did not go with his box, drove back to Alliance Francais and called for the author.
“That’s why it’s good to be nice to people we meet. The taxi driver asked me to to give him extra money for the job he did and I did. If it was a box of money I would probably not have forgotten it,” Mbajiorgu said.