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Young people not encouraged to read – Fr Amakeze

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Recently, the Catholic priest of Awka Diocese Rev. Fr. Osita Amakeze is a widely recognised poet, photography enthusiast and writer, who is blazing the trail in his concept of bringing the imaginary to life released a new book. The founder of Young Men, Women Creative Association of Nigeria (YOWAMCA), whose passion for youth and children development and community service is contagious sat for an interview with IJEOMA EKWOWUSI. He bares his love for the pen and paper industry while explaining his developmental programmes for youngsters. He also advocates early exposure of young ones to technovation, among others. Excerpts:

You are a priest and then a poet, what drives you to tap into your creative prowess?

The social media is one, then, media literacy. I teach our youths the need to use the smart phones. I realized that a large crop of the populace do not know what the smart phones are especially our young ones. Linda Ikeji has been on the news for some time now and everybody knows that she started with blogging. While I was in school, my blogs went viral across the globe. I was blogging about renaissance Africa in Enugu. The sage in Africa, how people will be coming to Africa and the passion has not died in me. I have this book, Medley of the Muse while my first poetry book is Blazes and Buzzes of the Muse. Fortunately, this is being read in Anambra State University, Uli. I love photography as well and I take snapshots a lot. I believe that a picture speaks a thousand words. In my poems, I wanted to bring out words through poetry. There are a lot of things we do not see in pictures. I have a passion of seeing beautiful pictures in the wild. A lot of people do not see flowers along the path because they are not planted in homes or in beautiful places; so they overlook them. I take an in-depth look at them by taking shots; I call them royal friends-they are royal, yet, we do not see their royalty. Medley of the Muse is what I call mediation between photography and poetry. The book will come out soon. In this book, I have a lot of pictures like in mediation of speeches. I quoted Helen Hayes who says that, “It is only a Poet that can look beyond the detail and see the pictures”. So I try to see the beauty in the word as an artist through my poetry and like Armit Callantry, “a photograph should not just be a picture but a philosophy” and I say I am a philosopher. I say: I typically keep time motionless as well as in motion in search of the symbiosis that exists between the two houses; photography and poetry. Again, I love Haiku which is a poetry of Japanese origin in three lines: first line should be five, second line should be seven and third line of five syllabuses. It is a total of 17 syllabuses. For instance:

I see in you

All I see in you

Is the all I see in you

Is joy in the pain

This is the joy I see in candles. I appreciate a whole lot of people who do a whole lot of things; the unsung heroes in the society. Sometimes, candles tell about something in the society; about people who make the world go round but yet, are not seen.

Sometimes, I pray for the nurses, I pray for the policemen, the soldiers because I see the pains in their eyes even though I do not know them and I do not have to condemn them. Sometimes, I see the pains in the teacher’s eyes and I pray for them. I do not call them pains per se. I call them sacrifices they give lives. I took the photograph in Poland during a mass celebration where I saw the candles. They spoke to me saying that they give light but yet are dying. Hence, the phrase, “all I see in you is the joy in the pain”. Then, the joy of seeing readers read is soothing. We, the authors write and would want people to read but these young people are not encouraged to read. So I do encourage them and make them appreciate what they read as well. I love sunset a lot. I can take tons of pictures on that; I love the beauty, it is magical. It also assures me that there is going to be sunrise. You see flowers are beautiful but you do not know how beautiful they are because they are in the lawn or in the bush where people do not appreciate them.  Until you come closer before you can see the beauty.

Again the photographs were shots from my phone. I noticed that in this part of the clime, we are not very conversant with the android phones; the smart phones and from my research, you can even use your phones to shoot videos. The difference is just to teach them video editing. I edit my works myself and can edit some of my works on YOUTUBE. I teach blogging as I earlier stated. I have my Google assents. It works like this: for example, I watch someone’s video on YouTube, say advert, people click on it and Google shares the money that comes in and you have your own share. I am also an e-publisher because I have published one of my books with a publishing firm in the United States. They took a lot of money that was due for them though but after that, I said to myself as an ardent believer of Do-It-Yourself (DIY), then I taught myself how to publish. Now, I can publish lots of my work in Amazon and the good thing is that you are paid. I also make out time to teach the youths all those things like the concept of blogging. For example, Linda Ikeji dwells on gossips and you know there are lots of people in the society with itching ears; they want to hear the news first. She is the kind of person who hears it first and shares it exclusively. Blogging is all about what do you like best; then you blog about it. You can blog about food as so many people do not know how to cook delicious soup but they love eating it. You can even in the comfort of your room, with your camera set, you can do a V-blog; so you are taking pictures of what you do or how you cook or you can even write it down and before you know of what is happening, people begins to read your blog and once there is traffic, once people are coming to your blog to read, you begin to have adverts because where there are people, there you have adverts and then you have valid clicking and once people click on your blog, get information and most essentially buy things, because they saw the link from your blog, you  will have a lot of shares. Just bring your ‘madness,’ professionalize it and then you see the influx of people to that link. Again, setting up of blogging site is a very simple thing. All you need do is to have your G-mail account and the account is made in such a way that with one G-mail account, you can access a whole lot of things; you can access a blog, open YOU-TUBE channel, Google+, among others. One good thing about it is that you do not have to pay and every youth should engage in it. I tell you, they will stay away from so many vices. For instance, these youths can blog about agricultural products, where they get to see lots of agriculture enthusiasts coming to them; you read about them and they read about you, they meet you.; the same with sports, among other educational and inspirational information. With blogging, you can even travel a lot and meet like minds, it is a beautiful thing. Then as a poet, every poet should own a blog or a website so that you update and upload your works.

What informs your interest in poetry?

I see poetry in everything. Life is like poetry; it has lines, rhymes, rhythms and it makes you contemplate about the profundity of creature and makes you to care about created things. To that effect, poetry also makes one to express whom he or she is even in motion. That is, sometimes I might see someone suffering; I am going to write down about my pains. For instance, I wrote about a broken pot. I saw this broken pot in a museum of a good friend of mine, Prof Uche Okeke, the illustrator of ‘Things Fall Apart’ in the 1985 edition. He is late now. When he was alive, I used to visit him and we will exchange ideas. So when I saw this broken pot, I began to interact with it. I believe everything is a piece, I animate with things. Sometimes, I dialogue with myself. I call it me, I and myself, we dialogue. Now in this broken pot, I saw a lot of people broken. In fact, I found out that nobody is complete. Some people’s irredeemable predicament is like they are in that pitiable state in their comfort zone and they do not want to come out. I began to interact with this broken pot and it started telling me things like it is not a disconsolate broken pot like we have scars in our bodies. I see resilience in the broken pot that I do not see in people. As a poet, I try to bring those salient issues about the pot that someone can read and say oh! So after all, I have gone through hell but I am still here and because the pot was made from sand; it is talking about the ontological existence (essence) of things. It says that “I was pot and something happened to me accidentally and you think I will die and that I have gone back to what I used to be-sand and right now, if you go to places, you will still see me standing, achieving another bigger form”. It is all about transition because sometimes, people lose a friend or family member and they want to sink. They should remember that the death is all about transition ‘oto tranciendis’ you transcend within you and these are some of the things I feel poetry does for me and inspires me to do.

What kind of poems do you write?

The Shakespearean era wrote more on romance, emotions and the likes. I think I have to talk about Robert Frost, who was a 20th century American poet. He wrote on the mending walls. Similarly, I try to use poetry to fix a lot of things that are dysfunctional in the society. I write basically about the general things because poetry is entertaining. I also write poetry in Igbo, as well as I have a collection of them in my archives. This is in a bid to re-sustain the Igbo language especially as the UNESCO prediction that the language will become extinct in 2050. Then I said to myself that we must not allow it to happen. The Igbo language is beautiful, wonderful and a pride to the country. I must say here that no language is complete. We even thought that the English language is complete but not true as the language stems from languages like Greek, Latin, among others. This is the reason we must not allow our own Igbo to die. This is what inspired me to put these Igbo collections down and essentially ‘Ogazi Amaka’ is an Igbo proverb and it is not complete. It is taken from the full meaning; “ogazi amaka ma ejiya agonmuo,” loosely translated as the ogazi is a beautiful bird but cannot be presented as an offering to the gods. The ogazi is a wild bird with beautiful shinning feathers. It means that beauty is not essentially something outside, it exhumes from the inside and while it comes from the inside, it has a whole lot of characteristics, it has to give value. For a typical traditional Igbo man, you cannot drop ogazi in a shrine and expect it to stay there. That thing that makes it to fly away will always make it to fly away unlike the local fowl, whereby the place you drop it automatically becomes its home and just within a span of some months, you have them lay eggs, you have them hatch the eggs and then, you have the chickens everywhere and you can even sell them and come smiling back with some money. That is, from the egg of the Igbo native fowl to the chicken is money. Again, it revolves around a certain character who thought that with her outward beauty, she can easily get all that she wants without having developed herself; character wise, education, among others. I have another Igbo titled book called ‘Anu Gba Ajo Egbe’ which is yet to be out, it happens to be my first fable in Igbo language.

When did you actually start writing?

I started writing far back while growing as a young boy but professionally, it was during my junior seminary days. I wrote all my works during my exams because seminary training is such that you write what you know. Either you pass honourably or you fail honourably. It is such that once you come into the exam hall, you have to wait until the final whistle is blown, whether you know what to write or not. So it was during this time that I started scribbling things. I wrote a lot during this time.

How many books so far are to your credit?

I have written lots of books which are in my blogs like I have ‘Ogazi Amaka’, ‘The Last Carver’ was launched on the 29th of September, 2018, then, ‘The Teeth of a Snail’ which is being used in study in  Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Unizik), Awka, a novel which was approved by the school authority. It was actually the book that was chosen by NLNG when they chose 20 authors and we converged at the Eko Hotel, Lagos, where we had the privilege of meeting Prof Kim Reynolds, second Professor of Children Literature in UK and our own Akachi Ezeigbo, who was among those that mentored us in a workshop on children. In fact, we were close to winning $100, 000 but somehow, it did not get to us. We were given royal treatments though. It was a very big experience for me. I have two of the best literal pundits in the country review my books: Dazine and Babbus.

The Tooth of a Snail is dedicated to an unknown delinquent. One discovers that the little bad behaviours that one exhibits thinking that it does not matter, only for you to aggregate them and you see that they actually matter. The story revolves on two characters who were always mischievous thinking it does not matter but in the long run, they finally discovered that it actually matters. The Last Carver is actually dedicated to Late Prof Uche Okeke. It is saying that we should not allow our traditions to die.

You are the founder of YOWAMCA. What is it all about?

YOWAMCA is an acronym for Young Men and Women Creative Association of Nigeria whose motto is, ‘creativity without borders’. We believe in sports as a tool for youth development. I think if our country should exploit the sports industry and see what it can offer by engaging the youths meaningfully in sports, you will see that a lot of our youths will be out of the streets and out of crime. This is because sports offer a whole lot of opportunity and employment both for those in active participation and those passively engaging in sports like those who make sports kits, those who treat injuries, those who mark the field, referees and even those who make up the fan base. These can also give opportunities to the young ones. These few things are basically what I am involved in but Team YOWAMCA is basically what I do more. We also run a book club for children called the O’star Book Club that believes in, ‘teach a child to read good books and write right, and save the world tons of troubles’. Here, we do a lot like sometime last year; we rewarded those who excelled in mathematics. I have a friend who paid for each of these children N5000 to serve as an incentive to encourage them to read, love mathematics, among others. We have been able to partner with TECHQUEST which is a technovation company that will train at least 5000 children in Nigeria in Coding, ICT, Gaming, Animation, among others and it is powered by GOOGLE.

More so, they did a lot of touring last year where they toured about seven states in the country and among the states were Abuja, Osun, Ibadan, Enugu and Anambra States. I anchored that of Anambra State with my crew. Basically, we had lots of interactive programmes for our new recruits. It was a big opportunity for us to anchor TECHQUEST.

What other major projects do you undertake apart from these ones?

I feel poets are readers. We use some relatable mental images to mean logical things and a whole lot of other things. On our social media handle, we dwell on books we have read. The idea is to resuscitate the book club which is a platform for book reading especially among children. That comes up annually. Our intention is to breed 1000 readers every year. Then by donation of books, reading aloud, we have our finest reader’s trophy. The finest reader’s trophy is about whoever reads the most number of novels in a month. The winner is given a trophy and N5000 cash gift. We used to give the money to the person but we later found out that it is better we open an account for that child to encourage saving towards the education of that child. We found it worthy to open an early starter account in the person’s name under a guardian. We have class brackets for this. I do it wherever I stay like I started it in Awka, then Ekwulobia. We take these children to the banks, open a bank account for them under the watch of their parents. One of the problems I found in meeting up with our children’s tuition fees is that there is no culture of micro savings among parents for their children. For instance, whenever schools resume, that is when you see parents running helter skelter to pay up their children’s’ school fees. Some are seen trying to pay for the school fees of up to six to seven persons from the same parents without prior arrangement. Sometimes, it is unnerving. What we do now is to make them understand that micro saving is little by little. This is like education trust fund. A lot of parents cue into that and they love the concept.

Again, another thing my children do in the club is that we get to talk a lot about journalism. Journalists do not fall from heaven; they go through professional trainings which I let them know. For instance, during the holiday, they read newspapers and summarize the news, write down the sources like National Light Newspaper; the month, date and year of the edition. If it is on the television, you state the media. Those who do better than others, we put their names in the press club and not only that; we give them brand new school uniforms and shoes and we have people supporting us. For instance, a teacher donated some textbooks. Then, the six persons or thereabout are expected to go on an excursion. There are lots of other gift items we give them. We try to change that school of thought in our society that those who do badly are rewarded. Here, we teach them that those who do good are rewarded. The first person that comes to school when the school reopens has a gift. I encourage the children by rewarding those who are punctual to school to enable them imbibe that act of punctuality. In games, we are working to refurbish that as well. I introduced the basketball game which is a new thing in this area. We all join to mow the field, clean up the field, clean the classrooms. Here, they learn about time management because I do believe we are agents of change.

We have been able to equip the classrooms with computers made possible by the Peter Obi administration. With the support of the parish priest, I was able to put on a solar panel to power the computers.

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