By Anote Ajeluorou and Femi Morgan
IT was not the usual ‘Artmosphere’ for the regulars of the recent literature, culture and performance event in Ibadan. The November edition of the Ibadan foremost culture event was organised to celebrate Tade Ipadeola, one of Nigeria's prolific poets and winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2013 in the city he has made home and from where he writes. It was, therefore, a gathering of friends, family, art lovers and writers, who came to give encomiums to their own for the profundity of his prize-winning work, The Sahara Testament.
There were also live music performances by Wemimo Ayo David, known for his recent Good Morning video and then solo duets with Michael Obot, another solo vocalist who both spiced the event with jazz, blues, Afrocalypso and some celebratory songs for Ipadeola.
There were writers, artistes and scholars like Peter Akinlabi, 2013 shortlist of the Brunel University Prize for Poetry; Nwachukwu Egbunike of Global Voices and author of Dyed Thoughts; Dami Ajayi, author of Chapbook, Daybreak and Other Poems; Tobi Sotanmide, poetry editor for renowned online literary magazine, Saraba Magazine; and Adebiyi Olusolape.
They were all unanimous about Ipadeola’s prodigious talent, describing him as a rare breed whose humility finds a balance with his profound sense of creativity and critical observation.
Curators of Artmosphere presented a portrait of Ipadeola to him, a painting of youthful days, when he just graduated from Law School in 1990. The year marked a threshold in Ipadeola's journey in his collaboration with human rights activities and writers. Ipadeola’s other works include The Rain Fardel and In the Sign of Times. The portrait was presented as the First Sankofa Recognition Award, a WriteHouse Collective awards for writers who have not only distinguished themselves in their genre, but have also played an important role in providing intellectual infrastructure, encouragement and fostering credible relationships with generations of younger writers.
Appreciating WriteHouse Collective, curators of Artmosphere, friends and family members, Ipadeola, who is also the 2008 Winner of the Delphic Poetry Prize for Poetry and President of PEN Nigeria noted that his writing would have met the brick walls of discouragement without the encouragement of friends and family members who encouraged him.
The award winner said he was ecstatic about his work clinching the top prize worth $100,000. Who wouldn’t be? “I am glad, really glad that The Sahara Testaments won the Nigeria Prize this year. It still feels a little surreal, but I am glad to share this moment in the life of the prize,” he enthused.
When entries were called for the prize in March, Ipadeola was one of the first writers to lend his voice to what the contest, when he said, “the one safe prediction that can be made is that whoever wins this year would be a poet with a strong vision. There is just no room for the poetaster or for jejune juvenilia. It is a strong field and the strongest contenders will be from home and exile. It will be interesting to see how the vision of the poets intersect, how their craft carries their message. It will be really interesting to see how the long list crystalises into the shortlist. It will be a great year for poetry, no doubt.”
On what would change about him and his writing, the poet laureate simply said, “I will continue to write and to publish. Nothing will change that. I'm going to have a better library and better coffee at work; that will change.”
Ipadeola’s concerns in his new work dwells on issues that cut across the African continent, as he said Africa’s problems have common root. According to him, “I think I have always been drawn to the conundrum of the continent. My first prize-winning poem way back in 1999, Facing Kilimanjaro, treated issues about Africa. The problems of the continent are not local. They are more often than not common to the entire continent and have their origins outside the continent. Child soldiers, corruption, endemic diseases, poverty, nepotism, desertification, coastal erosion, failed states and a crumbling educational infrastructure are things you’ll find, sadly, everywhere on the continent.
“It is about time the elite in Africa come to realise that a failure of constitutional rule in Mauritania has direct repercussions in Nigeria; that failure of policy in South Africa has resultant effect in the Congo and that the Nile touches Ethiopia as well as Egypt. There is no serious way to frame solutions for Africa without seeing the entire continent as a whole in the mind’s eye. By the way, radical transformational entrepreneurs and writers like Sefi Atta and Wale Ajadi also share the continent-wide view”.
As a top three finalist before winning the prize, Ipadeola had pledged to build a library in honour of slain Ghanaian poet, Prof. Kofi Awoonor, with part of the money, saying, “it isn't a good idea to count chicken before they are hatched? But it will be really nice to have that library for poetry from all over the world. It will be nice to have it named after the poet Kofi Awoonor, who was killed so cruelly by terrorists in Kenya while engaged in a literary festival.
“It cannot be too soon to honour great Africans like that. No gesture would be too small or too great toward telling the stories of Africans, who gave their all. If you go to our public libraries, today, you will leave heartbroken every time. A country with the kind of literary outpouring that we have had in Nigeria needs good libraries.
“Kofi Awoonor was dear to me in life, so, I will begin work immediately on that memorial library. What I know at the moment is that it will be in Ibadan. My publisher, Hornbill House of the Arts, will soon make further statements on how we proceed.”