By AUSTYN NJOKU
It was May, 2010. I received a text message inviting me to a poetry reading at Maryland Crescent, being May Day. I had ignored an earlier invitation from the same source, to the same venue. So this time around, I gave an excuse saying via text message, that as a comrade, I would spend that day with fellow comrades. The reply came, full of understanding, yet insisted to know when I would have the time to drop by. All this while, I had wondered who it was, that wanted my miserable company!
Then another text invitation came. And the name of the sender tingled my ears. Omo Uwaifo! I remembered the name then, but I could not fix a face to it. This is a two- time victim of NLNG Literature Award fiasco. I remembered that I bought his short-listed entry, Fattening House, about five years ago, which I had not read. I felt challenged. I sent him a reply saying that I would be with him in a week’s time, and pronto, I began to read Fattening House which turned out to be quite an interesting read. I read the novel because I did not want to appear before him, without an idea of his creative efforts.
Come the d-day, I convinced an Avionics Engineer-turned musician friend of mine, Ocheme Aba, to accompany me. He grudgingly obliged, and later thanked me for taking him along. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves listening to the Octogenarian Omo Uwaifo read his poetry to us. He also autographed his other non-creative works and the second NLNG short-listed literary work, Litany, for both of us. He is so resonant and passionate that there can be no dull moment with him. Full of ideas and dreams, with more and more stories to tell, it was during my subsequent visits to him that he mooted the idea of, The Foxhole.
I straight away keyed into his vision, having been desirous of a place on the mainland, where writers and lovers of literary arts could gather to do their thing, other than the National Theatre or the Island. We dreamt and shared the vision with other writers like Jumoke Verissimmo, Maxim Uzoatu, Akeem Lasisi. They all agreed that it is a laudable fantasy. The next time I heard from the old man, author of Just Before the Golden Jubilee, he was asking me to “come and see The Foxhole”.
Today, The Foxhole which has already been graced by literary greats such as J.P. Clark Bekeredemo, Odia Ofeimun; renowned writers Akachi Adimora Ezeigbo, Toni Kan and the recent author of The Ant eaters, Kufre Ekanem, is a pleasant reality. Omo Uwaifo, a late and worthy entrant into the Nigerian literary geography, unlike many accomplished, even institutionalized writers, is giving back to society, by providing a serene and conducive garden where publishers, booksellers, authors and book lovers can transact all forms of book business. And this venue is virtually gratis.