TRAVELOGUE: The Journey To The Writers’ Paradise – 2021 HIASFEST

By Salim Yakubu Akko

 

No journey in this world can be quite soothing than my journey to the state where the umbilical cords of veteran Nigerian writers were buried; Niger state, for 2021 Hadiza Ibrahim Aliyu Schools Festival (HIAS FEST).

Photo: HIASFEST

It all began in February 2021, after countless dreams I had had for seeing the comely beard of BM Dzukogi, the father of the young Nigerian writers. You might say his whitish beard is made of wool, unless you see things yourself. I was sleeping so heavenly in my little room like a tired farmer who just finished bringing farm produce home when I heard from underneath my soft pillow the beeping of my phone.

The name I saw appeared on the screen written boldly in capital letters made me opened my sleepy eyes instantly. It was the multi-talented award winning writer, Adamu Usman Garko, the author of ‘When Day Breaks’ , the book which was listed among the 15 best published books in 2018,  reported by the leading Nigerian newspaper, Daily Trust. He informed me that I was selected among the participants to represent Gombe state for the festival.

Unprepared I stood up from my little bed when the news unbarred the doors of my tiny ears. I did not know how I rushed to my mother like a rabbit that saw a hungry dog approaching his burrow, to inform her about the news. We both felt an inexplicable happiness and thanked God.

Day after day, the day for the trip arrived. I dreamt and dreamt all days hoping the day to come; the nights and the days were seemed to me moving slowly like the day would not come. I prepared all my clothes in a beautiful black hand bag and left home at dawn to Gombe Mass Transit; where I will be driven to Niger state. I bade my family
farewell after they escorted me to the transit.

At the transit, I met the other participants from other schools and we both had seats. Before the drive began, a fair, black-haired young man came to the transit looking for us. It was Adamu Usman Garko, he gave us some important notes and we had some photographs with him. Soon after, the driver arrived and the journey started on.

It was a drive of about 6645 kilometers from Gombe to Minna. Like I, that never had a drive of even 1000 kilometers, the drive seemed to me like it was unending; I wondered as if we were going pilgrim to Mecca on bus. It was like in a dream, around 6 O’clock we arrived Minna. The car continued the drive and soon parked us at their bus stop. I felt very relieved for finding my little self in that great city.

As we left the car, we happily called the organizers of the festival to inform them about our arrival. Soon after, in not more than 30minutes they arrived in a beautiful Sienna  with some boldly black written letters on its door; those letters were ‘Northern Nigerian Writers’. As a northerner, I felt very happy to see it. They welcomed us warmly and drove us to one among the state’s big hotels, Nasfah Hotel; where we stayed during all the days for the festival.

At night, around 9 O’clock, we were taken to the founder of the Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation, the founder leading Nigerian literary organisation, Bm Dzukogi. There he also gave us a warmly welcome, and we had some sort of fun with him. For the first time, when I saw him, I doubt and rhetorically questioned myself ‘is this the real BM Dzukogi at my front, or it is a ghost or a doppelganger? I questioned. I would have not believed my eyes, my senses, and my ears if he had not landed his soft poetic hand on my head. 

Our first morning in that great city was Monday, and on that day we would go for the opening ceremony of the festival. So, we woke up earlier and dressed ourselves in uniform, ate our breakfast, and sat at the entrance of the hotel. Soon after, the organizers came with a beautiful car and drove us to the venue.

The venue was very beautiful and majestic, and there was a vast grassland at the foot of the hall, and a shiny blue watered swimming pool near the entrance of the hall. From the outer you could see ‘Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre’ written at the top of the building.

The opening ceremony began around 10 O’clock am, with the recitation of the National anthem from a female participant from Kwara state. She was awarded with 50,000 cash by the sponsor. I was really very amazed by it ‘just reciting the national anthem and awarded with this huge money,’ I jocularly soliloquized.

During the opening ceremony, many speeches for which every well defined being in the world would like to hear were delivered by numerous respected personalities. Also, there was a speech that interested me much, delivered by the sponsor, Alh. Bala Abdullahi Kwatu, where he said that by the will of God the oncoming festival will be celebrated with the students of all the entire continent, Africa, not only Nigeria.

Thereafter, by 2pm, we were taken to Himma International College, Minna, where we did poetry, short story and essay writing. There I saw and marveled on how young Nigerian writers wrote extensively over the themes they were given

Later in the night, we did some performances, ranging from poetry performances, playing karaoke, and spoken word. It was very stunning and wonderful. Especially playing karaoke. You might even say that you are not still in this world for its wonderfulness. The days followed, we did painting, craft, drama, quiz, cultural dance, and spoken word.

The last day was the closing ceremony and awards given day. Students that participated well were awarded with cash prizes and plaques. 

Also, students from each geopolitical zone that arrived first were awarded each with 200, 000 cash prizes. On the same day, the teen Nigerian authors were celebrated; those that emerged first, second and third during ‘Nigerian Prize For Teen Authors’ and the winner for ‘Nigerian Prize For Indigenous Language’ were  awarded with huge cash prizes.

During the festival, I met with many upcoming great Nigerian writers like Hassan Idris, Haneefah Abdulrahman, Mujahid Ameen Lilo, Adepoju Isaih Gbenga, Zakiyya Dzukogi and many of them. I also met some of my respected Facebook friends. Exploring Minna through Hadiza Ibrahim Aliyu Schools Festival (HIAS FEST) it is something great that I will  never forget in my whole life. And my heartfelt thanks to the organizers of that festival, Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation, the sponsors, and all that made it possible.

HIAS FEST was indeed a historic event, and  Minna is exemplary as an earthly paradise.

 

Salim Yakubu Akko is a Nigerian short story writer, a poet and an essayist. He is a member of Gombe Jewel Writers’ Association, Creative Club Gombe State University and Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation.

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