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Idahor, Idada, Ajayi, Ehikhamenor’s personal stories inspire youths at Edo Int’l Book and Art Festival

‘Creativity is a tool, a weapon, it can open doors, liberate you

Edo Education Week 1
Idahor, Idada, Ajayi, Ehikhamenor’s personal stories inspire youths at Edo Int’l Book and Art Festival 3

By Anote Ajeluorou

THE line up of artists for the first panel session for the maiden edition of Edo International Book and Art Festival 2023 was impressive. From award-winning writer, Jude Idada to internationally trailblazing artists like Victor Ehikhamenor, Olu Ajayi to Taiye Idahor (all four hail from Edo State), with moderation from inimitable culture communicator Jahman Anikulapo, the session provided pupils, students, parents, educators and officials of Edo State Government in the 1,000 packed capacity hall of Sir Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub on Airport Road in the ancient Benin City something they will chew upon in the weeks and months ahead.

The session dwelt on ‘The Role of Creative Art in Quality Education’. Creativity was not limited to ‘art’ alone, but essentially how it transcends to scientific and other interests that help pupils and students to explore and expand on ideas.

The book festival, which has ‘Every Child a Reading Champion’ as theme, is part of Edo Education Week 2023 and has as theme ‘Education for Alaghodaro (Progress): Investing in Quality Education and Access for Our Children and Youth’. Governor Godwin Obaseki declared it open and was treated to impressive students’ performances and debates.

South African writer and spoken word poet Lebo Mashile delivered the keynote on why everyone in media and technology is contesting for the attention and minds of young people, saying they hold the key to the future and whoever grabs young people own the future.

But in order to make the session more impactful, the four panel members, rather than dwell on abstractions, used their own personal stories on how they arrived at their current positions in creative innovations. First to speak on his own story as a way of motivating young people and also task parents and school administrators on being open-minded about the career choice of their wards and students was the winner of The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2019 Jude Idada. He is the author of a children’s book, Boom Boom, which Edo State Government bought copies it distributed to pupils and students that attended the event. Idada narrated how he escaped being forced into the sciences to be a writer even while he was in the junior class.

After writing a novel on notebooks as a student in the junior class, Idada said he took it to the school counsellor to look at as a dutiful student. But more than four long years till he finished secondary school, he said the school counsellor didn’t give him feedback on his inaugural literary efforts. What was worse, he was put in pure science class, which he said was at variance with his talent that the school failed to recognise, much less encourage. He said he would rebel against both the school and his parents at their choice of course he should study, but settled for what his mind genuinely told him to do. He said today he’s a better man for standing up to his career conviction against what his school and parents thought best for him. He enjoined school administrators and parents to eschew coercing students into particular career paths, but to be sensitive to their innate talents that would bring out the creativity in them.

“There’s creativity in quality education,” Idada told the audience. “We know quality education by feedback. Creativity is the application of education to enable learners give feedback. Teachers who say give it to me the way I gave it to you are not creative and do not encourage creativity in students. Students should be allowed to explore the range of their creativity and imagination. Students in such environments do far better.

“We have to teach teachers how to teach creativity in schools. I wrote a novel in JSS2 and gave it to my Guidance and Counsellor, but she never came back to me till I left school. I was put in the purest sciences. I had to fight for my creativity. Five years ago, with my creativity that I was almost denied, I won the biggest literary prize in Africa worth USD$100,000! Creativity is a tool, a weapon, it can open doors. So embrace it, employ it. It can liberate you!”

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Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki; Head of Service, Mr. Anthony Okumgbowa; Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Osarodion Ogie and Commissioner for Education, Dr. Joan Osa-Oviawe at the opening of Edo Int’l Book and Art Festival 2023

Idahor, the only unassuming female member of the panel, literally blundered her way into fine art, which she’d shown immense talent but didn’t know how to find her path to it. Computer Science was what seemed so obvious a course of study, but as her quest for admission at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, progressed, she blundered her way into the fine arts department, and that was when it hit her as where her natural inclination tended. She made enquiries with the help of someone in the department. The rest, as they say, is history, as she continues to blaze her artistic trail as one of the finest sculptors of her generation.

“It’s important for teachers to encourage creativity in students,” she wisely counselled educators in the hall, adding, “Students should be allowed to express themselves creatively in all subjects. Young people should appreciate their own creativity. A teacher guided me in school to what I do today. I’m from here (Benin City), but I have done things (artistically) locally and internationally. You cannot separate education and books from creativity.”

Although while it is appealling to ask government to make policies that enforce creativity in schools, Idahor said creativity isn’t something that can be decreed into existence by fiat: “We don’t need policy to enhance creativity,” she said. “Rather, teachers should just initiate creativity among students and pupils. Teachers don’t seem to have time and initiative to do so. We should encourage them though, because it benefits those we put in their care and helps them to be better citizens.”

Self-taught artist Ehikhamenor took the young audience on his fascinating artistic trajectory. With no arts teacher in his rural school in his native Esan to nudge him on, he was more or less on his own. But he knew he had innate artistic talent. But even without a guide, he began to express himself early by drawing, something he excelled in, and soon his classmates and those around him became the first clients, who admired and bought his works. At Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, he studied English, but still continued to exhibit in his artistic talent until he graduated and left for the US, where he undertook courses and programmes that honed his artistic skills. Today, Ehikhamenor is one of the most sought-after artists on the African continent, who rose from a non-artistic tutelage background but who relied only on the talent he refused to let die thrive.

“In every sphere of life, you will need creativity,” he told his audience, adding, “in education, it’s very necessary. When it comes to the arts, you do need education to be creative. Yes, creativity is one thing that comes into play. It’s sad that schools don’t teach arts and crafts any more, but it helps in the educational system.”

However, Ehikhamenor expressed sadness at the seemingly unfair advantage urban school pupils and students enjoy over rural ones as exemplified by the composition of the young audience members. He noted that all the schools present were from metropolitan Benin City, as no primary and secondary school from rural communities like the one he attended years back was in attendance to also benefit from the wealth of knowledge and exposure the event gave the urban young people ones. Indeed, his was a reminder that government should always make efforts to bring pupils and students from rural communities to participate in educationally enriching programmes and projects like Edo Education Week and the stimulating festival that accompanied it.

Olu Ajayi also shared his art career path that was at variance with the choice of his educated father – a school principal; and how he rebelled, and why he’s vindicated today. Ajayi is a globally recognised artist, whose artistic voice resonates across continents. He canvassed the need for teachers to infuse creativity in their teaching, so pupils and students could express themselves and also apply their creativity in various educational spheres and not just in art.

“You have to infuse creativity in education, and we need to encourage young ones to be creative in their thinking,” he said. “We should encourage students on the freedom to also grow or develop a counter opinion on a topic. Sadly, what we have is that teachers don’t want to be challenged. There shouldn’t only be moribund conversation, but opportunity to expand the level of creativity of our students. So creativity should be infused in schools to help students to explore ideas and become better persons.”

There a deafening ‘NO’ when panel session moderator, Anikulapo, asked the pupil and student audience members if there were book clubs, debating societies, Boys Scout, Girls Guides or such extra curricula activities in their schools. Depressing as such admission was, Anikulapo entreated teachers, school education administrators to think in that direction, saying such bodies help pupils and students to be better personalities in society. He therefore canvassed four engagement levels to focus on, so as to achieve desired objectives of having all-round young people.

Anikulapo said there should be government policy initiatives to drive processes while also tasking government on the need for sustainability of pupil-and student-centred programmes such as Edo Education Week and its Book and Art Festival offshoot. He also canvassed community engagement, as key in encouraging creativity among young people, and that things should not be left only in the hands of government, with parents and guardians actively participating. Community participation in the affairs of schools around them could also help leverage the performance of pupils and students. He also canvassed public-private partnership in managing policy initiatives, with corporate bodies coming to the aid of government to implement programmes that lift young people and help them in areas of lack.

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