Dike Chukwumerije Night of Spoken Word

Dike has proved himself time and time again, beyond reasonable doubt, that he is not your ordinary kind of poet, that his poetry can reach out to anyone and everyone on the globe. That is what 30th September to 2nd October 2016 was about – reaching out and touching the hearts of Nigerians, and everyone who cares about her or is conversant with her history. This is why the people of Abuja and cities far and near gathered (and kept gathering) at the National Merit Award House, Maitama Abuja, for the three days duration of the show. It was Independence weekend, and there was no better way to relax than to be glued to one of those 700 seats in that dim-lit auditorium, to let Dike treat you to a glorious, rough, tough, bloody and funny past and present that is Nigeria’s story. Watching the poet repackage Nigeria’s 102 years and present it in 120 minutes was not only exciting, but also reflective and heart-melting. Dike has mastered the art of touching the heart.

6pm is 6pm. There is no African time in Dike’s shows. There is hardly any holdup in the city of lights (as Dike likes to call Abuja sometimes), so the hall is 75% full when the show kicks off and is filled to the brim 30 minutes later. The lighting, sound, stage management, music, drama, dance, and costume all blended to render a show that is a total success. It is a night of the conglomeration of poetry and other forms of performance art. Naija songs, both old and new, hung in the air for ready ‘hummers’ and ‘swayers’ to act on. Twenty poems are all it takes him to make our past and present realities as a nation play before us. The show is divided into seven parts – an intro, chapters 1-5 and an outro – which represent different phases of Nigerian history from Amalgamation to the present.

A performer at Dike Chukwumerije Night of Spoken Word

He starts by reading a short except from his novel Urichindere (you should read that amazing work of art!) that talks about how the name ‘Nigeria’ came to exist. This reading smoothly transits into Dike performing acting as a great grand father who tries to explain to his great grandson the happenings during the period he (the old man) was born (between 1914 – 1918). This old man is a symbol of Nigeria. In this performance we see references to the historic ntiji egbe (the breaking of guns), the spreading dominance of the European missionaries that took place around that period. This performance leads us to the long struggle for Nigerian Independence where the poet quotes the speeches of Awo, Zik, Balewa and many others. “That Day” is the poem he dedicates to Independence; ‘That day, the sun up in the sky/and hope and faith in every eye/Even the gods came down to earth/To ask: What’s all this noise about?”. Dike’s rendition captures the jubilation and vigour that accompanied Nigeria’s Independence. The citizens’ glittering hopes and aspirations that have gone dim today.

The first chapter of the performance represents the 1960s. We see the poems ‘When You Send For Me…’ and ‘Notes to My Darling’ — a string of poetry and mime that tells the story of the first two coups succeeded by the pogrom with the key focus being the innocent people who lived happily in different parts of the country and had to be killed for coming from ‘a tribe’. The performance of ‘I Did not Kill the Sardauna’ bears the intense lamentations of the ordinary Igbo individual who suffers day to day persecution and discrimination for the sins of the five Igbo generals who planned the first coup. Dike calls them out, asking them: “How long, will we stand in your place? How long will we serve your sentence? How long will we sit in your dock? How long will we carry your charge?” These apostrophes elicit deep sighs from the audience, for the poetry of NSW is meant to reach the heart.

Filmmaker Ishaya Bako covered Dike Chukwumerije Night of Spoken Word

Chapter two (1970s) of the show begins with the poem “Correct People” where Dike is dressed in the typical Nigerian old skool manner. The kind my generation only saw in pictures — afro hair, Fela trousers and the befitting shoes. He says “My mother is a Chikito! she likes to cause commotion in traffic…” This performance is heavily accompanied by oldskool songs from Rex Lawson, Alex Uwaifo, Victor Olaiya and the likes. The dancers are equally hilarious in their imitation of oldskool dance steps. The crowd cheered and laughed; the poet knows what to do, and how to do them. “Questions for the Young African” follows: “Did you know that the streets of Benin were wide and straight when the first Portuguese came walking down them in search of that Oba, Ewuare the great whose name will echo, still echoes through time?” Here, Dike shows that he knows so much about African history. He asks us whether we know. The truth is, we hardly know that much. He tells us of how great the African past is, telling us how much we can do for ourselves to be great again without being dependent. He ends it with the following lines: “So, look to the West for Twitter and Facebook, but not for the road to our own destinies. For this sun will not rise from London or New York, to reclaim redemption look to yourselves.” The poem “The Soldier’s Wife” addresses the ruins and calamities of the Civil War and the mismanagement, corruption, and waste that came afterwards. Another poem, “The Nigerian Dream”, was rendered by a young girl. “It is because the land is lush/and yields its wealth to those who touch/its heart with love and discipline/that is why our flag is green”. It once again reminds us of the dreams of our national heroes when they fought for our Independence.

The poems “Development Is…”, “Aluta”, and “The Game” are about the Nigerian problem, the infrastructural decay, corruption and unaccountability that plagues the entire Nigerian system. He does not leave anybody out. The government, as well as the citizens have contributed to this dysfunction either by participation or condonation. “Development is buses that run every five minutes. It is a telephone in a Local Government office that is answered anytime it rings…it is civil servants who are civil, public servants who are servants…” “Aluta” as the title implies, mirrors the Nigerian university students’ protest against school fees increase and lack of basic educational facilities: “We hear the VC is there ovulating outlandish ideas! We hear the VC is there considering incredible ideas! In fact! We hear the VC is plotting to increase school fees! We say no to this autocratic authoritarianism..’ “The Game” addresses the Nigerian plight. The disregard for rules and laws and the general complacence with the citizens swallow them. “Every queue is jumpable, everything is possible, everyone is bribeable, every law is breakable… no one is too big kiss your boss’s behind..”.

“Mothering Sunday”, “Naija Lovin”, and “Nigeria, Na wa!” are extremely hilarious poems that portray the typical Nigerian sensibilities — the way our mothers pray for us, the way we show affection for one another and the way we express surprise, discontent or disillusionment about the things around us. “Coconut head is what you call your dearest/ ‘leave me joor’ is how to say it best/if you touch me again the language of lovers…/for this is the place where the language of affection is rough as seas and rugged as mountains but our pillars are strong and our children still stand for in spite of it all, the heart knows when it is loved”. The three poems had the crowd screaming, cheering and clapping in laughter and excitement, almost to the point where one could not hear what the poet was saying.

“So, Where is Jos?” and “Why Do the Innocent Die?” are poems that ask questions that make one sober, questions that make us wonder how we all got here. They are poems about our lost glory and our current state of mindless killings and bombings, of corrupt religious leaders and ethno-religious discriminations. They made the crowd sigh and reflect, and want to cry. But is this not what NSW is about? Touching the heart in order to trigger thoughts?

There was laughter at Dike Chukwumerije Night of Spoken Word

The night comes to an end with the performance of the poem, “Keep Marching On” accompanied by two melodious singers. He dedicates it to Herbert Macaulay, the father of Nigerian nationalism. Dike borrows the words of the national hero and tells the crowd to keep marching on.

And so, the people of Abuja marched home, but not before they got to shake, hug, thank, and take pictures with this poet who has made their Independence weekend a wonderful one. They are enlightened, entertained and above all, inspired. They go home feeling sorry for our dear nation, nurturing the hope that the great performance has offered them. They feel hopeful because the show helped them realize how much greatness Nigeria mustered and can still muster. They are happy, and inspired. They left hopeful that good things can still come to us.

Prizes were won at Dike Chukwumerije Night of Spoken Word

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