The maiden edition of NIFESTEENA (Nigerian Festival of Teen Authors), a literary festival for teen authors/artists from all the states of the federation and Abuja took place recently in Niger State. Competitors, who converged on the Niger State College of Education, Minna, left with smiles and moments to relish.

The four-day event, which took place from 20th – 23rd April, 2017, was attended by participants from Kebbi, Bayelsa, Sokoto, Abuja, Taraba, Lagos, Nassarawa and Niger states. It 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 been 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 commenced in January 2016. The first stage targeted 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, said organisers, was to encourage reading on a day the UN declares as the World Book Day. A total of twenty-one schools benefited from the scheme. The third stage, which comprised of contests in poetry writing, short story writing, play writing, painting, photography, spoken word, performance poetry, was the culmination.

The founder of the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation, BM Dzukogi, told journalists the reason behind NIFESTEENA at the opening ceremony, “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.”

The idea, he said, was “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.”

He added that it was meant to 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 said that the determination of the members of the foundation and trustees, as well as support of the state government, College of Education, Minna, writers and individuals led to the materialisation of the event in times of recession. He paid glowing tribute to the teams from Bayelsa, Kebbi, Taraba, Katsina, Sokoto for travelling far to attend the maiden edition.

Dzukogi, who said NIFESTEENA was only one of their latest adventures to create an institutionalised platform for teen artists in Nigeria, affirmed that the successes of some of the pioneer graduates of the Hill-Top Arts Centre, Minna, such as Saddiq Dzukogi, Halima Aliyu, Maryam Bobi, and the later-graduates – Paul Liam, Hauwa Shafii, Deborah Oluniran, Peter Kwange, Victor Ugwu, Mustapha Gimba, Amina Umar, Yusuf BM and many others –the trustees became convinced that mentoring was the sure way to raising new master craftsmen and women in Nigeria.

He stated further that “the primary philosophy of the Nigerian Teen Authorship Scheme and NIFESTEENA is to tune and retune the mind of the student-writer (teen author) towards becoming a wholesome individual/thinker in the society through literary art,” adding that, “We also want them to become excellent writers of tomorrow. Prior to the escalation of this genre by us, adults were the ones writing for children under the auspices of children’s literature.”

Reiterating that teen authorship was more functional than literature written by adults for children called children’s literature, Dzukogi, who writes for children, too, said in teen authorship, the child-writer is “free to paint, exactly, what he sees around him without cloaking it with the utopia of an ideal society. Therefore, we must discuss teen authorship anytime we discuss children’s literature in academic circles.” He called on the Niger state government to seize the opportunity to use NIFESTEENA as a brand to promote creativity.

The eve of the event, on 20th April, 2017, witnessed a reception at the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation for participants from eight states of Nigeria. Teeing off   with high spirit and camaraderie, poetry chants, spoken word, banters and fellowship were a given. With drinks, pop-corn, meat and music, NIFESTEENA showed a sign of success on the eve of the opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony took place on 21st April, 2017. Guests, schools, parents turned out in numbers with a keynote paper by Prof. E. E Sule; Writer and  Professor of African Literature and Cultural Studies, Department of English, IBB University, Lapai, Niger State. The Deputy Provost of the Niger State College of Education, Hon. Commissioner of Education, Niger State, Engr. Yahaya D. Dauda, were part of the dignitaries. Officials of Katsina, Kebbi and Sokoto States Ministries of Education were also around with their delegations.

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Prof. E. E. Sule, in his keynote speech, acknowledged the contribution of Niger State, especially the Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation in the development of literature in Nigeria: “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.”

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 4-day event saw a mentoring session and workshop organised for the teen artists for the production of the maiden edition of the Nigerian Anthology of Teen Authors. The young artists also paid a visit to Cyprian Ekwensi Library and the Niger State Book Development Agency. There was also a book chat session with established writers and publishers. The nights of performances were electrifying with teenagers doing exactly what adult-artists do, perhaps, better.

The closing ceremony had Ahmed Maiwada as the Guest Speaker, while Prof. Faruk R. Haruna was the special guest of honour. Maiwada commended the foundation for weathering the storm of recession to organise a big event, saying, “Hosting and catering for such number of teenagers for three or so days is no mean task by all standards. But you did it. It is my hope, therefore, that history (if not anyone else) shall remember this and do justice where the need arises.

Calling for more sponsorship of the event, he said, “I would expect to see more sponsors as well, especially sponsors from the organised private sectors of the economy. I would expect to see government sponsorships. In organising this event, the Hill-Top Art Foundation has shown that Nigerian youth – in addition to music, film and sports, are also interested in matters concerning creativity; this Festival is a proof beyond all reasonable doubt.

“Therefore, it is more than high time that the various Ministries and Departments of Youth, Sport and Culture at all levels stopped this vexing attitude of staying aloof and away from a noble attempt such as this one by a passionate body called Hill-Top Arts Foundation, towards developing the young human resources of this country. Necessary corporate and State sponsorships for the successful hosting of creative events, particularly in favour of the youth, must not be lacking.” Prof Faruk agreed and offered to do more for the foundation.

At the end of the festival, Ibrahim Ahmed (High Standard Academy, Kebbi), Hafsat Abdullahi (Army Day Secondary School, Minna) and Akpouta Ufuoma Peace John ( Bayelsa State) came first, second and third respectively in the Poetry Performance.

In Painting, the three winners included Khadija Aminu Yusuf (El-Amin International School, Minna), Alhassan Hussaini Wali (High Standard Academy, Kebbi), and Hussaina Abubakar (GGUSS, Bodinga, Sokoto State).

While Alagba Favour of the Community Secondary School, Bayelsa, won the Spoken Word contest, Hafsat Abdullahi of Army Day Secondary School, Minna, and Akpouveta Ufuoma Peace John from Bayelsa State came second and third respectively.

In the On-The-Spot Poetry Writing, Khadija Aminu Yusuf (El-Amin International School, Minna), Hafsat Abdullahi (Army Day Secondary School, Minna), and

Gloria Cewo Zhiri (Hill-Top Model School, Minna) came first, second and third respectively.

Likewise, the Photography contest provided Bianca A. Ogbonna (High Standard Academy, Kebbi), Charity Lawal (Day Secondary School, Tunga, Minna) and Yusuf Baba Mohammed (Fema School, Bosso, Minna) as the winner, first runner-up and second runner-up respectively.

The overall winners were Army Say Secondary School, Minna; Ek-Amin International School, Minna, and High Standard Academy, Kebbi, in that order. NIFESTEENA promises to be an annual event for Nigerian teen artists from around the states of the federation. The 2nd edition is expected to be hosted by any state in North-west or South-south in February, 2018, informed Dzukogi.