Shedding Light on the Challenge of Brain Drain in Nigerian Poetry Today
By Nwuguru Chidiebere Sullivan
Recently, there have been many questions on whether the Nigerian contemporary poetry is really Nigerian. Further claims have been made on how our today’s poetry has enjoyed more westernisation than it has allowed Nigerianess into its exigencies. While there has also always been an argument on what really makes a poem Nigerian since in the real sense, there is no form of poetry that is traditionally Nigerian. In all of these, not so many have questioned or considered the adverse effects of the outright failure to play the supposed role the Nigerian government and its institutions owe to contemporary Nigerian poetry, and how such effects have impacted on all of us as poets in this country.
Sometime ago towards the ending of 2020, when I first learned about fully funded MFA programs through a friend who sought my help, in retweeting his GoFundMe campaign that would see him garner enough financial support, to process his flight ticket to America, I was moved to ask if there are no fully funded MFA program in Nigeria as well? Guess you already know what the answer is — surprisingly not, there is no single Nigerian institution that offers a fully funded MFA program. But over there, many of our Nigerian poets are having the life that our society could never have offered them, through a fully funded MFA program with so many benefits attached from the American and Western institutions. Between last year and this year alone, I can count more than fifteen renowned Nigerian contemporary poets who have all moved out of the country through an MFA program from different American institutions, and many will still move out before the year runs down. I’m certain you already know the implication of this in the nearest years to come, maybe by then, we may not only be arguing what makes a poem Nigerian but also if the teeming Nigerian poets who would have all moved out of the country are still Nigerian poets, or whether a poem written by a Nigerian in diaspora is still a poem with enough Nigerianess in it. Perhaps, such frivolous discussion will propel us forward as a concerned contemporary poetry society.
I’d have been less bothered if the banes behind the looming brain drain in our poetry society today ends with the lack of fully funded and well structured MFA programs in our institutions, but whenever I remember that the only notable local poetry prize that has connection with the Nigerian government is the NLNG poetry prize, I’m tempted to believe that if anyone at all is taking Nigerianess out of the Nigerian poetry, it should be the Nigerian government and its institutions with their lack of support towards the development and propagation of poetry in our society. According to Percy Bysshe Shelle, “the great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting on the cause." The importance of poetry can never be over emphasised, which leaves one to wonder why our government as an institution has comfortably not invested enough in promoting this aspect of our society? As of 9th November, 2022, the Canadian government budgeted $12 million to help in funding and supporting online booksellers across Canada. Here, such a gesture coming from the government is something we can not even imagine yet.
Moreover, the NGOs, publishing magazines and journals in Nigeria are not doing enough to instil Nigerianess evidenced by goodwill and support towards our poets and their poetry. As large as our country is, only a handful of magazines and journals -just very few- pay a token as honorarium to poets for the publication of their works. This is very infinitesimal compared to the magnitude of gesture the same poet receives on publishing with foreign magazines and journals. A hungry poet is an inch away from depression; between 2020 to 2021, we recorded quiet a number of poets who committed suicide out of frustrations borne from the high level of the government’s insensitivities towards her citizens’ plight, which is still happening up till today. These are the issues that we should be bothered with because until we get it right, we may end up losing our best to foreign countries.
In a nutshell, before we start dictating what a poem should contain to be regarded as a Nigerian poem, we should first task Nigeria as a country to make a fertile land for cultivating poetry. That way, we inspire poets to create works that reflect every spectrum of everything we are looking out for from a poem written by a Nigerian. This is not to say that the Nigerian contemporary poets are not doing a whole lot in putting our country forward as long as poetry is concerned in the world, even when they have little or no support from the government. However, we can do much more in the presence of an enabling environment.
Nwuguru Chidiebere Sullivan (he/him/his) is a speculative writer of Izzi, Abakaliki ancestry; a finalist for the SPFA Rhysling Award, a nominee for the Forward Prize, a data science techie and a medical laboratory scientist. He was the winner of the 2021 Write About Now’s Cookout Literary Prize. He has works at Strange Horizon, Nightmare Mag, Augur Mag, Filednotes Journal, Kernel Magazine, Mizna, and elsewhere. He tweets @wordpottersul1.