By Hassana Dy
When Hamzat Lawal was called on stage, I had no idea who he was. But by the time he was off the stage, he had painted a vivid picture of how he had started Africa’s largest social accountability movement, FollowTheMoney. The story of Bagega community in Zamafara State left me emotional.
I remember immediately recognising how inspirational he was. His speech had sparked a light in me and so by the time he was off the stage, I was grateful for the encounter and mustered up strength to thank him for his brilliant speech.
I was later opportuned to perform a poetry piece on the same stage Hamzat had given his speech. In short, I realized I had big shoes to fill. After my performance, my new source of inspiration; Hamzat Lawal, informed me how amazing my performance was and asked that I perform at his birthday symposium in March at Abuja. Without giving it a second thought, I accepted the invitation.
Preparing for the performance was like walking through unknown terrain. This is where the real work is.
Days were drawing nearer but I was yet to write something for the event. Remember that duckling in Tom and Jerry cartoon who was like… “I tried and tried and tried but I cannot swim! And it almost ended up in Tom’s boiling soup??” That was me.
The boiling soup was that of my manager who kept asking “Have you written anything?” And I’ll be like “I still have time. Don’t worry” and he’ll say “I trust you” and I’ll say “Don’t trust me please.”
At first, I wasn’t worrying. I had other background crises to worry about. But then I was worrying and panicking when I’ll spend the whole day trying to jot something down but nothing would come up.
One afternoon, after spending hours cracking my brain yet it wasn’t cooperating, I just went to my manager’s whatsApp page and released my bottled screams.
Usually, I write from my emotions and this helps me flow in whatever direction but this is a writing that has a theme; a constriction. So it was like I had to write within a designated cage.
Days later when we talked with Hamzat Lawal over the phone, he said he’d like me to do what I did at TedxShehuri -Alhamdulillah- and another piece of like three mins about his vision and mission.
That call served as all the motivation I needed until I took my pen, opened my book, tried to write and my brain went blank. I can tell how great of a man Hamzy is, from his TedxShehuri speech to the phone call we had, but I was finding it difficult to write. I had never felt more betrayed.
I was counting down the days, as the birthday symposium drew closer and looking forward to the piece I eventually came up with.
The first original stanza of the piece was…
‘This is for the girl who wakes up crying at night
Praying for all the pain to go away
Wanting to move on but not knowing how
Clutching her heart that’s shrieking with pain
Wanting to know what she did wrong
Where she failed
Building brick by brick every day
To protect herself from being broken again’
…That at the last minute had to be scraped out. First Five stanzas had to be scrapped out Including
‘This is for those listening
Wanting to be heard
For those laughing
Creating a sound to indicate happiness
That didn’t make it to their hearts
Coz all they do is drip tears from within
This is for the confused and lost
Seeking for a sign
Praying for ease
Searching for a way’
But I knew it had to go because I had written from a place of pain and heartache.
I was working on the piece as much as I was working on myself (which wasn’t working). I was asking for opinions from non-poets (my brother and sister), and consulting my poetic friends for corrections. I knew something was wrong somewhere but I couldn’t locate or fix it.
At last, two days before the symposium, I just gave up and decided to do it MY WAY. I wrote in my notebook, “Okay Janaan, this is what we will do. At such a short notice, you can’t make it ‘better’ you’ll only confuse yourself and have it all wrong. So what we will do is, you’ll just go, do what you do and let’s see how it works. Panicking, worrying and whatever won’t help. Do your best and let’s just see, okay?”
And yes! I always talk to myself.
On 10th March, after I waved goodbye to my family, I went and bought this legendary hat at a price I wouldn’t ordinarily have bought. My nerves were in full control but I knew I needed it for solace more than to shield me against the sun.
On 11th March, the dress I was planning to wear on stage was brought. For the first time, my tailor didn’t get it. I gave him a sample of Annah Hariri’s dress but he didn’t get the proportions right.
Our flight was delayed due to the weather. I had so many reels I’d wanted to create but part of our deal with my brother was he’ll accompany me there only if I don’t bombard him with snapping pics and videos and writing stories on them. I could only break the deal when I knew we’d left Maiduguri.
By 9pm, we had arrived at the nation’s capital and we met with the manager of Hamzy. Part of the highlight of the trip for me was that my brother and I were assigned two bodyguards I was also given a tag to grant me access to three of the platforms at the event venue plus some other VIP treatments. Man! The way I later laughed while narrating it to my manager? I was just imagining me fighting for Napep in Maiduguri yet here are Abuja people treating me like an asset. It felt nice.
I was informed that I would be the one to welcome Hamzat Lawal to the stage and I panicked but thought it was a great way to end my piece.
The day of the event finally came and the opening statement was rendered by Amina J Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.
“Together, let’s build a world where everyone can live in dignity, prosperity and peace on a safe and happy planet,” she ended her speech with words I resonated with.
I particularly enjoyed the keynote speech delivered by Governor of Ekiti state, Dr Kayode Fayemi
One thing he said stood out for me: “Leaders are made from the principle of experience, of passion, and the readiness to sacrifice. Doors will not be opened for you. You’ve got to keep knocking and possibly break down those doors, “ the governor remarked.
After a series of presentations and more speeches, I was invited upstage for my performance. and told me I had only three minutes. I felt the wall caving it but I knew I had to deliver. It wasn’t as perfect as I’d wanted it to be. Several people in the room were telling me how incredible it was but all I could hear was “You made mistakes. It wasn’t as flawless as it should have been. It wasn’t perfect” And I was still shaking while Hamzy was on stage.
I don’t even know whether it was imposter syndrome, the voices in my head or the high expectations I have for myself but it took me at-least 12hours later, to convince myself that it was perfect.
The rest of the event moved on fast and I would never forget the amazing experience of being part of such an important occasion. I will call it a privilege and a great opportunity because I believe poetry is a divine language.