‘I decided to try like I had done many times before’ – Samson Abanni | PIN Literary Interviews

Samson Abanni won the second prize in the 2020 edition of the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP). In a discourse with Semilore Kilaso, he shares the background to his winning piece, his passion for poetry and the importance of poetry and poetry competitions.

Samson Abanni is a medical student who has the gift of words. He is a poet who has a way of telling stories and inspiring change through his poetry which he sees as a tool of healing and a call to action. He has won some poetry awards and received high recognition as a poet of the new era. He has a great following in social media where his works are consumed with relish. He also organizes poetry contests to support up-and-coming poets. He loves words and writes as if his life depends on it. He won second prize at the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP) 2020. 

  1. Congratulations on winning second prize of the Nigerian Student Poetry Prize(NSPP) 2020. Can we please meet you?

I am Samson Abanni Ikenna, a final year medical student of Ebonyi State University, South East Nigeria where I am also the SUG president. I was sponsored by YIAGA AFRICA and FORD FOUNDATION in 2018 to organize a town hall meeting to promote youth inclusion in government and was actively involved in pushing for the NOT-TOO-YOUNG-TO-RUN bill which effectively lowered the age required to stand for elective office. I served as the Coordinator of MISSION NEW NIGERIA for 3 years. An NGO which sole aim was to change the orientation of young people into seeing ways to can contribute to making their society better. I was recently chosen and sponsored by JOHNSON&JOHNSON the global pharmaceutical giant for a training at the prestigious Lagos Business school on a $4000 scholarship. There I was trained in leadership and management in the corporate world and the government. This has broadened my understanding of social and economic issues. I was one of the few young people who participated in developing the first government white paper on adolescents and youth reproductive health in Ebonyi state. I was the campus coordinator of Hult Prize EBSU in 2019. As a final year medical student I have volunteered in many free health outreach and other social causes. I am currently the state lead of MANI, a mental awareness advocacy group. I am a poet, photographer and writer and the Chairman Samson Abanni Foundation which runs an annual poetry contest. I ran the only University Book Club in my school for 3 years through which I supported young writers. All my poems are on Facebook where I write to make people think. I have been shortlisted for some poetry prizes and won some.

  1. How did you learn of Poets in Nigeria and the contest?

I saw the advert on Facebook.

3.What gave you the confidence to enter for NSPP 2020?

I just decided to try like I had done many times before.

  1. How long did it take to write the winning poem “Nonso”? What was the writing process like?

I can’t remember how long it took me exactly to complete it, from writing, to editing the poem but I remember that the inspiration came to me while I was in church and it was so strong I had to start writing it right away.

  1. If you are asked to hazard why your poem won, what would you say?

I will think it may be about the palpable feelings or emotions which the poem seems to be imbued with, even now when I read it, I still have the rush of emotions trapped in the poem. Like a friend told me, “I knew Nonso will go far.”

  1. What’s your take on poetry writing competitions? 

I love poetry writing competitions, it is what has improved my art. The rush of adrenaline tends to make me write better.

  1. Tell us how you are feeling since the announcement of your win.

Close to the final announcement, I lost confidence and felt I may go home with nothing so it was a pleasant surprise to win. It has been euphoric because this is my last chance of applying for the competition.

  1. Did you foresee opportunities for winning at the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP)?

    Every mother believes her child will rule the world. I had always entered the competition to win.
  2. Other than the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize (NSPP), have you ever entered for any poetry contest organised by Poets in Nigeria Initiative or other platforms?


  1. Can you vividly recall the title of the first poem you ever wrote? Tell us about it and how you landed into poetry writing.

I wrote my first poem a long time ago. I remember clearly what led to it, prior to that time I never knew I could write poems. I watched a documentary on the genocide in Congo on cable TV and lost my peace after that. The painful experience of the people hung on me like a cloud but to my surprise it was poetry that was forcing itself on me. I had never written a poem before but the lines where gathering. Clearly, the poem was just begging to be born. It’s one of those experiences where you either birth it or you can do nothing else. I remember leaving the bathroom, halfway into my bath, to scribble down that poem so I could breathe.

  1. As poets, some of us tend to look at stylistics. How would you describe poetry in relation to your style?

Firstly, I can’t really say I’m a poet. I don’t understand many of the technical parts. I am here because this thing chose me and it helps me enjoy living. Poetry helps me breathe. So when I write I don’t think about styles but I always aim to be understood by non-poets, so my poems are open, accessible and somewhat prose-like. I realized that it’s not in the style or the rhymes or those other devices. A good poem, an inspiring poem will always appear so to everyone, poet or otherwise. I focus more on capturing the emotions by allowing the readers touch, see and feel the emotions.

  1. As a medical student, how do you balance your academics with your writing?

Like I said poetry helps me breathe. It makes medical school slightly easier. When I see so much stress, pain and suffering I express it through poetry and free my mind of the burden. Poetry takes away my burden and fears. Once I was so exhausted after preparing for a grueling exam and I wrote a poem titled “I’m Tired ” where I poured my frustration out. It’s my catharsis, my lifeline. Poetry is not like a job, like a side hustle that you can say “how do you combine it with medical school? ” poetry for me is an outlet, a place I take my mental vacations, and most times I don’t choose to write, the poems come when they want and I can’t even say no. One of my best poems described the first child birth I witnessed. Poetry helps me go through medical school still retaining my sanity and peace of mind

  1. Do you think poetry has any relation with the sciences?

We must realize that some degree of poetry is a gift and that has nothing to do with course of study. To believe otherwise is to believe that those in art write poetry because they are taught poetry. Writing good poetry benefits from a keen mind, a good observer of the human condition, a questioner, and I have realized that when a poem has come for me to write, the right words come with it, but if I am the one who decides to write one, I struggle to find words. Many of my poems come to me and insist I must write them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t work on them. no, I have edited one poem for months, and each time it got better.  The first draft will always need revisions no matter how inspired you are while writing it.

  1. How do you conclude you are writing a poem, and how do you develop from a word into lines?

Sometimes I see an event and decide that I write a poem about it. I will just stick around and wait for the inspiration to come. Sometimes a poem comes knocking complete with all verses.  Sometimes it comes in parts, I write and wait. Sometimes I start one and repurpose it. The sweetest of them all is when a poem comes knocking and it is so strong that it won’t even let you go to a favorable environment. I have written poems while on a bike, in church, class, everywhere. I just pause what I am doing and start writing. Sometimes after the first few lines you go dry, and return when it returns. Most readers can feel the difference when a poem is written from the heart or from the head. An inspiring piece is a beauty, but it takes more to craft a masterpiece. Edit and keep editing, sometimes I edit only when there’s a muse.

  1. What Nigerian poets or writers can you say have influenced you and your writing?

It’s hard to say because I don’t particularly pick and follow any closely, but Okigbo comes closest. I interact more with contemporary poets, my mates more likely and they better me. Ogwiji Ehi for instance, but to be sincere with you nothing has made me a better poet than my penchant for sharing my works free on Facebook. The feedback has sculpted me and it’s priceless. I write for my audience, that’s where I felt my adrenaline from. It’s my gift to them and I enjoy giving them a good piece so I push myself. Their reactions permit me to experiment, to know what captures people, what makes them fall in love with a poem and the literary devices that sway people. Facebook has been my laboratory, I share all my poems, people think the best should be held back but I think all should be shared so I can write better ones. Please young poet, you are not there yet, share and let the world talk you there. Share your best and then write something better. How do you even know a poem is as great as you think it is if you don’t submit it to a large audience?

  1. What in your opinion is the place of poetry as a genre of literature in our Nigeria? What future? What opportunities for Poets?

One thing I am happy that my poems have done, is to get people who have never loved poetry or known anything about it to fall in love with it. I have friends on Facebook who tell me that I have made them love poetry. I enjoy this. That’s why I make my works accessible to the non-expert. Generally, the interest in poetry is low but for me personally I have benefited more from poetry than from all my other talents combined both financially and otherwise. Sometimes people are so enraptured by my poem that they call me on phone even though we have never met and some even send me money. I feel we have to introduce children early to poetry and make them love it so we can safeguard the future. Poetry doesn’t seem to pay anyone except the established authors but we have to change this. Poets should collaborate to carry out projects. Poets should be invited to national programs like inaugurations and gala nights. It’s up to us to push it. Working together is our best bet. We should discuss national issues in our works and ask for a table, we should start by giving, maybe free presentations at places like the isolation centers, schools and public events.

  1. What’s your opinion about Poets in Nigeria as a vanguard of poetry renaissance in our country?

PIN will be credited with keeping poetry in Nigeria alive. They will be honored with keeping awake the fire of the sublime art among a generation too busy even to breathe. Sincerely PIN has done well and I know this has come through personal sacrifices of some individuals.

  1. Please would you mind leaving us with few lines of poetry (max 10 lines)


Caught between the seas and its sins

Lagos is a patch of air that refused to be exhaled

She sits in the mouth of the sea but won’t go in

Tucked in the hip pocket but can’t be touched by any pickpocket


Lagos is a city that doesn’t sit still

A storm that’s always on call

A city that never sleeps

A sea gull that never settles, a beautiful madness

Deep in her bowels there are parts that smell

But which part of the earth is odor free


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