A DELSU Valentine Experience


By Sunny Awhefeada,

For many years, until this year, St. Valentine’s Day represented for some of us a day set aside to observe a myth tied to Western tendency of indoctrination. It was never on the card for some of us. Our consciousness of it began from our secondary school days and it peaked during our university years. The day always came and went for us without any fuss. I recall the St. Valentine’s Day of 1996 fell into one of the two days we hosted the inimitable poet, Niyi Osundare at the University of Benin as part of the activities to memorialize the late Esiri Dafiewhare, who died in 1987.

All roads led to the B1 Lecture Hall in the Faculty of Arts the venue for the event. Many male students took refuge in the venue listening to riveting poetry recitation and other acts, while their girlfriends seethed in anger in their rooms far away from the thrills and spills of performance poetry. Our male friends were to thank us later for saving them from the expenses of taking out their “vals” on St. Valentine’s Day! The typical St. Valentine’s Day was marked by a certain frenzy that derailed it from its original avowed commitment. The prevailing ethos of the Valentine celebration has for so long revolved around unacceptable and immoral behaviours. The colour red always dominated the landscape. And many have interpreted the dominance of the colour to represent the idea of the red rose as a symbol of love. That love has since cascaded on the lane of profanity.
Some days to this year’s St. Valentine’s Day, I got an unusual invitation to a “Valentine Day’s Performance Poetry” event to be performed by students offering two Creative Writing courses, ELS 303 AND ELS 426, .in the Department of English and Literary Studies of the Delta State University, Abraka. The course lecturer, the constructively critical, unpretentiously versatile and infectiously creative Aghogho Agbamu and the cerebrally endowed and energetic Head of Department, Dr. Richard Maledo, were on hand to convince me to attend and by so doing encourage the students. I was further prodded to “come with Madam ooo”. The motifs that dominated my thoughts were the ones woven around adolescent love and its ancillaries. And of course it was going to be cloyed with moral lessons directed at a generation now held in near absolute suspicion of everything bad by older folks. But this was not to be. The event of that 14th February concretized for many of us who were in the Arts Theatre of DELSU the thinking “don’t judge a book by its cover”. It was a similar experience we had in my university days. Going through the departmental handbook, we encountered a course titled English Romantic Poetry and we got overcome by excitement that we would become experts in writing romantic poems after taking that course. Our bubble got burst the day the course was introduced and we found out that it was about nature: rivers, valleys, hills, insects, birds with the motifs of childhood, nostalgia, the past and loneliness framing its essence.

And what was more? The course was taught by an old and conservative professor who made it really “dry”! So, instead of composing love rhymes at the end of the semester, we found our brains suffused with lines that we must quote in order to pass the course.

What Agbamu and his Creative Writing classes offered the DELSU community for the 2024 St. Valentine’s Day was an unusual engagement. Enchanting and seductive, realistic and lived, visible and concrete, familiar, but exciting, the rapturous audience was offered a potpourri of motifs enabled by our history, Nigerian history. Instead of lurid lyrics, ludicrous lines and lachrymal testaments which such occasions offered, we were treated to a performance menu that was prepared in the cauldron of history and seasoned with aesthetic spices only literature and music can offer. In keeping with its allegiance to Nigerian history, the performance began with the 1914 amalgamation with Lord Lugard as the officiating agent. Thus Lugard was put on stage. He was also excoriated with the harsh words “God punish you Lord Lugard” a corruption of Ogaga Ifowodo’s acerbic line. Through mimes, choreography, inscribed statements and recitations, the actors took the audience through the colonial period and the monumental struggle at evolving a new nation which culminated in the nostalgic rendering of Nigeria’s independent national anthem, “Nigeria, we Hail Thee”.

Our history has been unsavoury and it has been unrelentingly bloody. But Agbamu dexterously recreates it in a manner that one embraces it as one would embrace a loved one. In doing this, Agbamu has ensured a commitment between citizens and a country that has hurt them so much and also inversely between a country and the citizens that have hurt her. The gamut from Lugard to Tinubu offered the audience a tapestry of our national destiny and how the fluctuating fortunes of history has become the preoccupation of popular culture. The performance peaked in the present which is afflicted by insecurity, corruption, divisiveness, poverty, death and the many oddities that brought Nigeria to her knees. The performance, put together, depicts an artistic splendor constituting of robust dialogues, enchanting narratives and remarkable verses acted out by polyvalent youths under the inspiration of their teacher and director. The sublimity of thought, the effulgence of expression and the ensuing audience appreciation that manifested in recurring applauses attest to the success of the outing and how well the audience enjoyed every bit of it.

The climax of the event was the performance anchored on a South African motif which transported the audience to Madiba’s country. For the time the performance lasted, the Muse that inspired Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba, Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Brenda Fassie was on all fours on the stage at Abraka. What the ELS 305 and ELS 426 Classes put on stage was symbolically beyond performance. It was talent which manifested in the dainty dance steps and the mellifluous tunes, the drums that throbbed under dexterous fingers, the apt gestures and the many maneuverings that accentuated the performance as masterclass. Also on display was diligence and discipline, the type that we thought was rare among this woke generation of millennials. Brilliance, yes sparkling brilliance was also on display. The actors effortlessly recited long lines as if they were ABC…. The students deserve applause for putting in their all. What is even more significant for some of us older folks in the audience was that the students acquitted themselves of the generational suspicion that has profiled their generation as indolent, unserious and unmotivated. The students burst that myth. They presented their generation in a new light and they earned their stripes. Hence, when they chorused, “Agbamu, we no go fail ooo”, many of us thumbed up and joined in the chorus.

We did pray and wish that the evening and night would tarry in order for the event to go on. But nature, slow and steady, stole in upon us. It was time to leave albeit, reluctantly. But leave we must. The poetry performance climaxed and the good actors that the students were, they quit the stage when the ovation was loudest. The show ended. Outside the arts theatre, the evening wore on. The setting sun looked dull and unexciting in the dusty haze of the hot February. The birds were chirping and bound in their nest-ward flight. Hand in hand with “Madam”, we were seen off to the car and soon we were homebound. That was my DELSU Valentine experience. We should be glad of another one. Pardon me, T. S. Eliot!

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