BM Dzukogi is former general secretary Association of Nigerian Authors and founder of the Hill-Tops Art Centre based in Minna, Niger state. He is also a facilitator of numerous literary initiatives. In this interview with IBRAHIM RAMALAN, he discusses his new initiative, Nigerian Festival of Teen Artists (NIFESTEENA), scheduled to hold in Kaduna state.
You are associated with many ambitious literary projects and now NIFESTEENA. What is the inspiration behind it?
Modern world demands that your thoughts and initiatives must not only be big but it should be sophisticated because the world has grown simpler but more delicate. So, you go for the big. Our ‘big’ is to cover Nigeria with our creative programmes.
Also, we are to prove that we can do the big ones from this part of Nigeria, not to prove to other parts of the country but to our people in northern Nigeria that with adequate facilitation, there are big time thinkers here who could bring about development or trigger it in the child who could grow to become an inventor, an innovator and a creator.
People perceive the Nigerian youth as unserious but you seem to be comfortable with them. Why?
First of all, I am a teacher then a father then a grandfather then an artist. Therefore, my life is about children. I mean, my life is primarily about human beings.
The future is got from the child. Therefore, when the child is good, the future becomes healthy. For the operations to be clean and beautiful for the well-being of society, the child must be taught things.
So, we are concentrating on the young ones for mentoring towards excellence and by extension, towards the overall good of the society. Adults are difficult to modify. They hardly change their habits.
What is Nifesteena all about?
It is Nigerian Festival of Teen Artists. It was Nigerian Festival of Teen Authors, last year. It is a platform for teen artists from around the country to showcase their creative abilities, professionally, in creative writing, folksong, painting, photography, spoken word, poetry performance, cultural display and other areas in an atmosphere of competition.
Why did you change it to teen artists?
We changed it because boys and girls who participated in the last edition complained and clamoured for it. We had categories for painting, photography, spoken word, poetry performance. So, they said the name should be all-encompassing. They were right because, this year, we have added contemporary song in English, folksong and cultural display. So, it is truly teen artists.
How many states participated in the maiden edition?
About nine states. We had Kebbi, Sokoto, Bayelsa, Kaduna, Niger, of course the event took place in Minna. So, we were natural participants.
We had Abuja, Taraba, Lagos, Nasarawa. Kaduna and Abuja came as observers. Katsina state came with three schools. We were happy when they arrived, supported by their ministries of education and individuals.
All your previous projects were domiciled in Niger state, why Kaduna this time?
Most of our projects have always had Nigeria as their primary consideration. Both the Nigerian Teen Authorship, Nigerian Writers Series we exported to the Association of Nigerian Authors, were not necessarily for Niger.
We are holding 2018 NIFESTEENA in Kaduna because we want to take the message of mentoring in art round Nigeria; we are in Kaduna because of the Artistic enthusiasm shown by governor El-Rufai; we are in Kaduna because Hajiya Hadiza Isma, the first lady of Kaduna is a writer and an art administrator.
We are in Kaduna because Gov El-Rufai spoke about art as a tool for empowerment.
So, we have seen like minds and we have come to forge a common front. More so, Gov El-Rufai is about the only one who has become adventurous about fixing education from the basics.
So, what is the funding like?
For this year’s edition, we have requested Kaduna state government to sponsor the event. Their responses so far have been favourable. Similarly, we have a sister organisation in Kaduna, Yasmin Literary Foundation founded by the wife of the state governor, who has agreed to join us in the organisation of Nifesteena in the years ahead.
Our programmes are similar with Yasmin in terms of literary development of young Nigerians. I must confess, our whole hope is in the Kaduna state government to fund the 2018 edition.
If a teen artist is discovered during Nifesteena, what happens to him or her after the programme?
Many things, we have chapters in about 27 states where our state coordinators run mentoring programmes for teen artists. So, the project continues at those points.
We are also going to publish an anthology of Nigerian Teen Authors for the current edition. Teen writers from these states shall be featured in the anthology. It is an annual project too. Nifesteena is going to be rotated among the states of the federation. Next year, the festival moves to another state.
Meanwhile, we have online mentoring where we keep our members together. In creative writing for example, we intend to get a sponsor that will publish 10 teen authors in each state annually. Once we get the sponsor, you can imagine what happens in five years’ time, producing three hundred and seventy teen authors in Nigeria every year. This is the focus.
With all these projects, are you still interested in the ANA presidency?
ANA presidency is not the primary focus in my artistic journey. Is it not after I lost at the ANA presidential election that we introduced Nifesteena? Is it not after I lost the election that we published 11 single teen authors? Is it not after the loss of the election that we opened chapters of Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation in Kebbi, Sokoto and other states?
My quest for the presidency of ANA is to cause a dramatic revolution in book publishing by young writers in Nigeria. The projects created by our literary foundation shall endure because they are not in my hands as the founder.
You are the president of northern writers, what does the Northern Nigeria Writers Summit set to achieve when we have ANA?
Northern writers resolved in 2008 to create a platform that will look at the peculiarities of the North in education and literary efforts, and to articulate programmes that will accelerate book production. The more, the better.
Nigerian literature started from Northern Nigeria with efforts from the likes of Nana Asmau and Abubakar Imam. We have lost that prestige over the years. This is what we should reclaim.
Similarly, ANA concentrates on writings in English language, in the Northern Writers’ platform, we have the full leverage to develop literature in indigenous languages of northern Nigeria.
We need to develop other languages that are not Hausa through conscious efforts. These conscious efforts have to be through organised platforms.
That it is Northern Writers’ platform does not mean you must be a northerner. A writer from other regions residing in the region are members too. Any writer who will assist in the realisation of the goals of the summit and resident here could subscribe to the association through financial commitment and registration.
When will the organisation’s activities kick off?
We shall be celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the association this year. We hope to have it in Kaduna in October.
Kaduna again, why?
Yes, Kaduna! That’s the new attractive spot for literature in Nigeria. We shall seize any opportunity offered by the government of Kaduna state. Moreover, Kaduna is the centre of northern Nigeria. Meanwhile, it is not only the anniversary we hope to execute in 2018.
We have written to nine other state governments for programmes. We hope to be in Damaturu on a conference to articulate a blueprint for creative writing in northern Nigeria. Sokoto, Niger, Kogi, Borno, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Abuja, Kano have all received our letters for programmes. As soon as we get green light, we shall move.
So, do you still aspire to lead Nigerian writers under ANA?
It is forever alive. My going into the contest is out of a conviction that I can make a huge difference from what my predecessors have done. The programmes are contained in my 2011 and 2015 manifesto booklets.
You want to combine leading both northern writers and ANA?
No! I am not used to doing that. When I was the general secretary of ANA and Niger state government made me the Director General of Book Development Agency, I relinquished being the secretary. Well, time will prove if it is Northern Nigeria Writers Summit or ANA that is more desirous of my service.