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I’m out to do my bit for arts in Nigeria – Su’eddie Vershima Agema

Su’eddie Vershima Agema is the founder of Benue Book and Arts Festival (BBAAF). He was joint winner, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Poetry Prize 2014

Su’eddie Vershima Agema is the founder of Benue Book and Arts Festival (BBAAF). He was joint winner, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Poetry Prize 2014 and shortlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature 2018 with his collection, ‘Home Equals Holes: Tale of an Exile’. His ‘Once Upon a Village Tale’ was shortlisted for the ANA Children’s Literature Prize 2018. Here, he talks about BBAAF which starts today on Zoom and Facebook, his experiences abroad, and more. Excerpts:


The Benue Book and Arts Festival (BBAAF) is supposed to hold before the end of this year. What is the update?

This is actually the third SEVHAGE festival and second Benue Book and Arts Festival. It has been an interesting journey thus far since we started in 2015 and had the BBAAF last year. This year has been a challenging one with the world changing due to COVID-19. We nearly shelved the idea of the festival but somehow, the show must go on. There are too many things to achieve with this and a commitment to our people that must be met. That said, preparations are in top gear and we are starting Sunday, November 22, by 5pm with a panel to explore protests and literature featuring Richard Ali, Agatha Agema – my wife, and a few others. It will be virtual, on Zoom and Facebook, so it will be open to everyone.

The last edition had a wide range of guests who included writers such as Chuma Nwokolo, Alexander Emmanuel, to mention a few. What fresh faces are going to feature this year?

This year we are having Romeo Oriogun, Richard Ali, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, who was meant to be there last year, but couldn’t make it, Iquo DiabaAbasi Eke, Amara Chimeka, Saddiq Dzukogi, Akumbu Uche, Kukogho Iruesiri Samson, Anointing Biachi, Adedayo Agarau, Eugene Odogwu, Innocence Silas Sharamang, Tine Agernor, to mention a few. We will also have some guests from England, the USA and Kenya who will have their special panels too. There are a few names we need final confirmations from which will leave minds blown. So, loads of new people and new events to look forward to.

Apart from the fact that the coronavirus has affected how we live currently, what would you say is going to be different about this year’s event?

There are a few major changes mainly in terms of the structure of our programmes and their mode of delivery. We are having a longer festival starting from November 22nd all the way to December 12th. Each Sunday within this period, by 5pm we will have virtual sessions with distinguished panels. We will also have the grand finale, which will be a physical event in Makurdi, Benue State on Saturday, 12th December. We believe that with this approach we will have a wider audience and achieve more. At the end of it, we will make a call for some works that will materialise in an anthology and give one or two persons a chance for a short, maybe one-week residency. We will make a proper announcement on that soon.

You founded the Benue Book and Arts Festival in 2018. You’re based in the United Kingdom. What propelled you to make this move?

I am a nomad so I do not have a permanent base. Only COVID-19 seemed to put me in one place for a long time this year. While I do not have a permanent base in any one country, I have only one home country and that is my fatherland, Nigeria. It is my firm belief that no matter how far we go, home is home and you always have to pay your dues. Nigeria is home and I have my legs here firmly so there is no way we can let that go. More than that, if we don’t get to develop our home front, who do we expect to do it for us?

You are a poet, writer, and editor. Kindly share some of your cultural and creative writing experiences in the UK and how this has shaped some of the steps you have taken, particularly in the arts so far.

I could write a book on the experiences because there are just too many of them. I will share a few though. First, I have attended some creative writing workshops, notably two at the Oxford University, facilitated by the phenomenal Kwame Dawes and Nick Makoha. We had the Robert Burns night in honour of the poet in Glasgow, Scotland earlier in the year and there was one last year too.

On another note, I just completed my term as Black History Month/Project curator at the University of Sussex where I had earlier on earned an MA in International Education under the esteemed Chevening scholarship. In that role, we had several events, which included movie screenings, author talks and workshops. For instance, we screened the movie ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ starring Idris Elba, Naomie Harris and Tony Kgoroge. We had the award-winning screenwriter, William Nicholson in attendance and did a Q and A with him. It was an awesome experience. In collaboration with the Writing Our Legacy group and the wider Brighton and Hove Black History team, we had workshops on songs of the Wind Rush generation. I also curated a creative writing workshop titled ‘Writing History in Colour: Creative Writing Workshop.’

In addition to these, we had the chance to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and do some excursions. All these events have inspired me to work towards having similar events back home in Nigeria in different places. I am in talks with a few friends and we are trying to see what we can do to actualise such dreams in the short term and long term. It is sad that the arts do not get the needed support to thrive in our country but we are doing what we can to see how to actualise what we can in a systematic and sustainable fashion. At least to what levels we can, so help us God.

What are you working on at the moment?

I had a book out last year titled ‘Once Upon a Village Tale’, a children’s book which was shortlisted for the ANA Children’s Literature Prize. The book has done fairly well and has sold quite considerable number of copies. I am currently working on another short story collection that is set to be released in the first quarter of 2021. There is a poetry collection in the works too. Other than that, there are a few other projects like an anthology that we will be making calls for soon. So, yes, I believe there are quite a lot to expect and soon.

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