Eriata Oribhabor is a prominent Nigerian poet, essayist, editor, social commentator, literary activist, and publisher at Something For Everybody Ventures (SFEV). A former chairman of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Chapter, he is the President, Poets in Nigeria (PIN) Initiative. Oribhabor has authored several poetry collections, including; Crossroads and the Rubicon, Beautiful Poisons, Eriata on Marble, Shifting Rides of Poetikness, Random Thoughts on Poetry, Walking Truths, That Beautiful Picture, and Colours and Borders. His forthcoming titles include Twenty Eighteen, Gud Old Naija, Under Construction, UnUnited Nations of Nigeria (White man, black hearts), You Have the Stage, and Spoken Call, respectively. He has edited and co-edited dozens of books and administers over 25 art through the Poets in Nigeria (PIN) Initiative, Words Rhymes & Rhythm, which runs the annual Eriata Oribhabor Poetry Prize (EOPP), Simply Poetry, and several others. He also supports several other literary organizations, poetry programmes, and publications within and outside Nigeria. Aside from his literary activism, which has earned him the title of ‘Merchant of Poetry’, Oribhabor also manages Something for Everybody Ventures, a publishing outfit based in Lagos, Nigeria. He encourages young writers to develop their potential towards achieving their dreams and enjoys discussions on topical issues, travel, tours, and adventures. In this profile by Ugochukwu Anadi for CỌ́N-SCÌÒ Magazine’s special edition, Eriata discusses his origins, motivations, successes, and aspirations for art in Nigeria.
“I have always wanted to use the tool of poetry as a vehicle for imparting people and society—a theme dominating my poetry.”
Eriata Oribhabor said this to me in a recent conversation we had.
It was his commitment to poetry for social change that led him to become the pioneer convener of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC) in Abuja, Nigeria, where he once chaired the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). But he wasn’t born in that part of Nigeria. Eriata Oribhabor was born, raised, and, as he would be quick to add, “kpakod” in Warri, a city in Southern Nigeria. When he was a secondary school student, he was the president of his school’s Literary and Debating Society, a position he believes came from his love for poetry, writing, reading, and performance, a love planted in him by his dad, Prince Eriata Idoni Oribhabor, “who routinely poured on me words of wisdom, making me have a strong affection for words on marble and wanting to couch lasting brevities.”
That love of literature, and the determination to see that he and his siblings were educated, were the most precious gifts Eriata got from his dad. Despite his royal bloodline, Prince Eriata Idoni Oribhabor was not very wealthy in material terms. He did petty jobs, including being a night watchman and a labourer at the then Warri Urban District Council (WUDC) where he and the other labourers saw to the cleanliness of the city of Warri. Eriata Oribhabor hawked different items on the streets of Warri on behalf of his mother in support of general family upkeep. Notwithstanding this humble family background, the couple ensured that their children received education up to the tertiary level. Their determination and Eriata Oribhabor’s passion for reading and writing saw him through his university days. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science.
While working as a civil servant, Eriata never stopped reading and writing. The Warri-born poet, essayist, and literary curator, however, had also found the English language insufficient for capturing his experiences while growing up in Warri, a city where Naija Pidgin was the “first language anyone in Warri would functionally connect with and relate to, irrespective of tribe.” In the Naija Pidgin Language, understood by almost every Nigerian, Oribhabor saw a uniqueness that could be deployed as a natural bridge for uniting Nigerians, irrespective of tribal affiliation. Thus, his exploration of the language began.
On Facebook, he would write and share his poems, most of them written in Naija Pidgin for others to read. This way, he not only formed a community of young Nigerian poets writing in the English language and Naija Pidgin. He also established himself as an authority on the use of the language in poetry. When, in 2009, the Institut Francais de Recherche-Nigeria (IFRA-Ng) organized its first conference on Nigerian Pidgin at the University of Ibadan, he presented a paper titled “The Use of Nigerian Pidgin in the Media, Arts and Entertainment in Nigeria.” He would there become a member of the Naija Languej Akademi, a membership that birthed his first published book, Abuja Na Kpangba an Oda Puem Dem (FRA-NG, 2011). He would go on to edit If Yu Hia Se A De Prizin–Antoloji Of Puem-Dem For Naija Langwej (2012). He has written many more books in Naija Pidgin, and more—like One For The Road, which he has described as a book of “poetry. prose. plenty other things”—are forthcoming from his stable of creativity.
Following the trends from his previous collections, where Oribhabor discusses the mundane and everyday life of an average Nigerian: the gossip we trade in the commercial buses; the things we find for our security and traffic personnel; the fights we engage in on the streets over silly reasons, one would expect to see in One For The Road, hilarious accounts of what the alcohol bottles we take away from generous givers, or the ones we purchase from the bar parlours after consuming many others “for the road home” (thus the expression, “one for the road”), one expects to find a gloomy narrative of the death traps our roads have become recently because Oribhabor is that socially conscious poet of the streets. Today, he still shares his poems on Facebook, because he believes they should be accessible to all, including those who may not have a very deep understanding of poetry; those unlikely to go to journals and magazines looking for poetry.
His use of Facebook to share his poems has inspired many young poets, who are today reading, writing, and critiquing one another’s poems on Facebook. There is now a community of budding Nigerian poets on Facebook, commonly referred to as “Facebook poets.” This community has nurtured talents like Romeo Oriogun, Saddiq Dzukogi (both of whom are on the Nigerian Prize for Literature, 2022 shortlist), and Adedayo Agarau (who was once shortlisted for the Brunel) and continues to produce more literary stars. It is in relating to the younger poets, in establishing literary prizes, and in curating events to promote poetry that we see the selflessness of Eriata Oribhabor.
This partial denial of the self by Eriata Oribhabor is epitomized in his decision to de-emphasize his name, Edwin, making it a middle name, a name he doesn’t publish his works under. In appreciation of his dad’s contribution to his growth, his dad’s name, Eriata, was made a first name—an act of gratitude to his dad. Gratitude reaches beyond the individual to the public and to the society in which he exists.
“The idea of participating in literary events and their curation is to support society in my own small ways. The most effective way of achieving this, in my opinion, was through younger people. That’s why the activities of Poets in Nigeria are being carried out by selfless poet-workers dedicated to poetry for service.”
There have been many successes in Eriata’s journey of literary advocacy. This year, the Poets in Nigeria (PIN) Initiative, which has Connect Centers on different campuses—one of which I am a member (the University of Nigeria Connect Center)—celebrates its seventh year of existence. Themed “Role of Creatives in the Face of Religious Extremism,” the celebration will be held at the Creative Book Space at Eriata Heights, Ikorodu, a brand-new literary hub he says is dedicated to “creative books, book reading, and more.” During the celebration, participants and PIN members will be called to the service of using poetry to fight religious extremism. Even more notably, the Eriata Oribhabor Poetry Prize (EOPP), established in 2012 in collaboration with Words Rhymes & Rhythm to reward poetry for social advancement, will mark a decade of its existence, a decade since it was first won by Nwakanma Chika.
The most popular of all the prizes he is associated with is the Nigerian Student Poetry Prize (NSPP), an initiative of Poets in Nigeria that he curates. The initiative began in 2016 and is open to students at Nigerian tertiary institutions. Many of the winners have gone on to achieve remarkable feats in poetry, with its latest winner being the fast-rising poet, Samuel Adeyemi.
For Oribhabor, “everyone is an opportunity requiring opportunities to blossom,” and he’s ready to provide these opportunities even when funding and support are not there. He doesn’t mind taking from his personal pockets to encourage young poets, who he believes still have the energy and can afford the selflessness required to use poetry for social change, and he has been doing just that, always thinking of innovative ways to support young and aspiring poets.
Today, more of our Nigerian writers are beginning to take seriously Naija Pidgin, a language once derided as being for the illiterates. From incorporating Pidgin into their characters’ dialogues to writing a full book in the language, Naija Pidgin has continued to rise to the heights Oribhabor dreams it should attain. The Eagles Nest Bookclub at Awka, Anambra State, celebrated the genre with Jindu Enugbe’s stellar collection of short stories written in Pidgin English, “Street OT.” This indicates that efforts by people like Oribhabor towards promoting it are yielding results.
Eriata Oribhabor is happy to see more and more people beginning to appreciate poetry and the spoken word (and he has written guides for people wishing to enter the spoken word stage), but still laments the scant support poets get, especially when they publish their books of poetry. He is saddened that some poets have refused to support their fellow poets, thinking of them as competitors instead of colleagues. But he will continue to do that which gives him joy, he says, because “happiness is the sum total of whatever positive steps taken personally or in concert with the mentioned collective [poets in the family of Poets in Nigeria]; encountering passion for writing and promoting poetry as an art form.”
All of these, and many more, single out Eriata Oribhabor as a literary stalwart showing exemplary selflessness and dedication to the cause of social change. He has proven his belief that writers and lovers of literature must unite to promote poetry, and collaboration, not competition, should be at the center of all dealings. He leads by example by collaborating with many individuals and organisations. He deserves his flowers!
Ugochukwu Anadị, a student at the University of Nigeria, is a reader who sometimes writes. His fiction, poetry and non-fiction pieces have been published by: Brittle Paper, Afapinen, Afrocritik, ANA Review, Black Boy Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Afritondo, Kalahari Review, among other online and print journals and literary magazines. He is also a winner of the Nelson Mandela Peace Prize awarded by the International Human Rights Art Festival, USA for the best essay written on human rights issues in Africa. He has been on the longlist of the Africa@2050 Climate Fiction Prize and on the shortlist of the Ikéngà Prize for Short Story. Anadị is highly interested in religion, gender and sexual orientation and literary criticism. When he’s not reading, he’s trying to make sense of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.