NIFESTEENA: Setting the right path for teenage writing talents

THE Nigerian Festival of Teen Authors (NIFESTEENA) is a new literary festival for teen authors/artists from all the states of the federation and Abuja, where schools send in participants to compete among themselves in different events for laurels. The maiden edition recently took place in Niger State from April 20-23, 2017. It was a four-day event held at the Niger State College of Education, Minna. The following states attended the maiden edition: Kebbi, Bayelsa, Sokoto, Abuja, Taraba, Lagos, Nassarawa and Niger states.

The festival was organised by the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation with its headquarters in Minna, Niger State. Since 1997, the foundation which has a mentoring facility in Niger state has being in the vanguard of promoting teen authorship in primary and secondary schools in Nigeria.

NIFESTEENA is subsumed into three stages spread over a year.  The maiden edition commence in January 2016. The first stage targets publishing twelve teen authors in 2016 in readiness for the festival. The second stage sought to gather books from communities in a programme called Naija Book Hunt and Harvest for redistribution to schools at the finals of the event. Over 2,000 books were gathered and distributed. The essence is to encourage reading on a day the UN declares as the World Book Day. A total of 21 schools benefited from the scheme. The stage three is the main festival. It is the main event comprising of contests in poetry writing, short story writing, play writing, painting, photography, spoken word, performance poetry.

The founder of the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation, BM Dzukogi, explained the reason behind NIFESTEENA at the opening ceremony thus: “After decades of promoting the idea of teen authorship around the country, NIFESTEENA becomes a national platform where products are to be showcased annually from all the states of the federation through contests, exhibitions and discourses.”

Dzukogi said that the “idea is to inculcate in the child from school age the internalisation of the creative spirit as the primary element for developing the society; to proliferate the society with quality thinkers; provide a national platform for unifying the Nigerian child through creativity; bring the attention of the society to understand the high significance and values inherent in institutionalising mentoring of young ones; share creative, educational and cultural experiences among students for enhanced academic programmes and functional life in the community; provide a platform for showcasing quality creative products as well as their creators; induce and encourage professionalism in their arts from school age; provide an avenue for the creative child to dissipate his creative energy and intellect that takes him away from vices; teach quality citizen and leadership ideals; promote friendship among the Nigerian children of different backgrounds; identify tomorrow’s creative geniuses and announce them to the society for proper care, training, scholarship and support, and make them happy with stable psychology.”

He stated further that “the primary philosophy of the scheme was to tune and retune the mind of the student-writer (teen author) towards becoming a wholesome individual/thinker in the society through literary art.

“The major departure from the ‘false assumption’ of writing for children and the new genre we are propagating is that, under the teen authorship scheme, the child-writer speaks perfectly to his mates, as well as to adults. He speaks to the society about his conditions; dysfunctionalities of wars, rape, malnutrition, hunger, lack of shelter, lack of education, irregular upbringing, poor leadership, and environment. He speaks about his rights blocked by adults who largely think that he has little to contribute to decision-making at home and in school. He speaks not just about his well-being but about his environment as a whole and his desires for the future as an adult, and of the present. The child, before now, does little or no contribution to policies of government, homes, organisations, schools, orphanages, hospitals, infrastructure, sports and all. Teen authorship scheme annuls all these hindrances to give the child-writer the opportunity to speak loudly in his story or poetry book for example.

“He can espouse the beauty of life and living concerning the life around him using his tenderly perspectives. This makes his literature original. Therefore, teen authorship is more functional than literature written by adults for children called children’s literature,” Dzukogi said, while calling on the Niger State government to seize the opportunity to use NIFESTEENA as a brand to promote creativity.

On the opening day of the festival, renown author and academic, Professor E. E. Sule, acknowledged the contribution of Niger State, especially the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation in the development of literature in Nigeria, saying “Teenage authorship must be understood as a manifestation of talents. There is no writer who is not talented. There is no writer who did not show the talent to write in her childhood, in her teenage. It, therefore, follows that teenage authorship is a talent-manifesting, talent-recognising and talent-producing process that ensures writers are identified early, given a special guide and set on the right path towards becoming great writers of their time.

However, in his remarks on the occasion, the Niger State Commissioner for Education, Hajiya Madugu, promised to get the state government to help upgrade the foundation’s mentoring facility situated in one of the public schools in Minna, the state capital.