Hilltop Arts C entre, Minna: The place where future titans are situated

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Arguably, over the years there have been challenges on the suitable methods to be adopted for teaching and enhancing creativity of the child in the school. However, mentoring has become an effective strategy for achieving excellence in creative writing, especially on children. IBRAHIM RAMALAN writes on the Hill-Top Arts Centre, Minna and its mentoring programmes that have so far given meaning to the lives of its mentees and their societies through creative endevours.   

The Hill-Top Arts Centre is situated in Hill-Top Model School, Minna, Nigeria and was founded by BM Dzukogi; a Physical and Health Educator and a writer, in 2004. It is a centre where students of secondary schools and universities horn their artistic potentials at school age for a meaningful life engagement and striving to achieve excellence and professionalism in creative writing.
Also, it is a unique environment for interdisciplinary collaboration and creativity, where students use various forms of artistic expressions to showcase their inherent talents.

Similarly, the Hill-Top Arts Centre has as primary objective “to train members to develop their creative abilities in the arts ( Teen Authorship- Poetry, Novel, Play writing, Song, Craft, Painting, Performance, Public Speaking and Language competence, Reading, Photography and socials) so that they aim at becoming professionals from school age.
Also, the centre publishes teen authors as well as adults who are mentors at the centre, provide uncommon reading texts for members, develop role models among students for their peers to appreciate and aim at becoming functional members of the society.
The centre also provide leadership training for members and help them develop spirit of nationalism and patriotism for their country, enhance social relations, provoke debates, discussions, and new thinking by various children of different cultures converging on the art centre in the spirit of humanity to foster unity and co-existence through understanding, cooperation and accommodation.

Mentees can relate with other cultures around the world through arts, bring nearer to the members and the immediate community established writers, artists and leaders to listen to them speak in their renowned areas of specialization.
Provision of workshops, conferences for young writers and artists as a continuous platform for training and development, organise competitions of local, state, national and international status and to pursue the goal of making Niger State a centre of literary production in Nigeria.
The facilities found at the centre include the main theatre, a library called library literati, computer room, an Art Studio (Sakiwa Muse Dome), and a creativity garden called Yard 90.

Programmes lined up for 2016
Twelve books have been proposed for 2016; one per month which shall come about after the monthly guest teen authors’ flash. Two of the twelve books have been published by Polarsphere Books, Minna, so far, while two are in the works.
The published ones are: Mustapha Gimba (Student of Physics Education, Federal University of Technology, Minna), Peter Kwange (Semiat School of Remedial Studies, Minna) while those of Anas Dubanni and Priscilla are in the process of being published. Away from the Art Centre is Zakiyyah M. Dzukogi’s published book of poems. Zakiyyah is in JSS I, Himma International College, Minna and Hassana Etsu’s book which is also being published. She is in SS 2 at Himma International College, Minna.

Method of selecting mentees      
The method of selecting members is largely informal but organised. In the beginning (2004 to 2006), the founder was going to the classes in Hill-Top Model School, Minna to identify and pick students who have already established a reputation for literary and debating activities and enlisted them as members.
Another method of enlisting mentees is through the Annual Schools Carnival of Arts and Festival of Songs (ASCAFS) organised by the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Niger State Chapter.

This literary carnival which was first designed by the founder of Hil-Top centre in 1995 is in its 21st edition this year. Under ASCAFS which later grew to comprise nine categories of On-the-spot writing, quiz, painting, songs, craft, cultural display, folk song, drama, photography, Hill-Top Art Centre form for registration is usually distributed to prize-winners free to attract them there.
So in time, the Art Centre has become a state centre where students from any school can come as a mentee with the purpose of becoming a writer, painter etc.
A typical example of using ASCAFS as discovery ground is Deborah Oluniran, an eighteen years old girl who is the author of ‘Ewa’ from Niger Baptist College, Minna.
Similarly, parents who are aware of the existence of the centre bring their children on Saturdays to enroll as members. Teachers do the same too.
Multi-mentoring modules of the Hill-Top Art Centre
Face-to-face mentorship

The stream of progression in the activities of teen writers at the art centre is tailored, wholly, towards a creative product (poetry collection, novel, short story collection, quotations, play etc) which must come in book form. To achieve this, mentees spend a minimum of one year going through series of activities and experiences like the Saturday training session, which is a session with the mentor ( a mentor takes a maximum of five mentees until each has realized a mini-book of not less than fifty pages depending on the age or level of education and genre).

Online mentorship
While the first tier of engagement above continues, activities are extended online on non-Saturdays or off the Art Centre periods. The online version is about exchange of pieces of works between mentors and their mentees or other mentees who belong to the same social media platforms. Once a mentor approves of a piece of work, a mentee can post it online to a social media group for his peers to discuss. In fact, they are encouraged to post it to a wider platform where masters or established writers are subscribers, especially facebook. A mentee is tested by such adventure through the number of ‘likes’ such work generates.

Critical discourse mentorship
The excellent creative writing output of the mentees is aided and acquired over a long period of training and association with established writers across the country and around Africa. The Hill-Top Art Centre, consciously, seeks to indoctrinate and solidify into concrete philosophy of art as a noble activity and a larger than life phenomenon by exposing the mentees (face-to-face) with iconic and established writers from the local environment, to the national arena and the world at large. This is achieved through attending local, national and international conferences on creative writing and critical discourses on national and human questions.

Visit system mentorship   
The visit system mentorship is a voluntary activity used as fillers within the week days before the Saturday training. Mentees have, over the years, develop a culture of visiting the established writers within the community at offices, houses or elsewhere whether as impromptu or arranged to further mentoring sessions on a work in progress or general art discussions. Similarly, the mentees exchange visits among themselves as a means of enhancing their art and competence. A primary feature of these visits is exchange of reading texts like books, journals, newspapers with art columns and pull-outs including films and documentaries. All of these have added quality and frequency of creative writing output of the mentees as well as the mentors in many instances.

Saddiq Dzukogi, whose dedication to poetry appears irredeemable is a twenty six year old with three collections of poetry. ‘Canvas’is second, andwas the2nd runners up in the ANA Poetry prize for 2012 while his third collection Sunbeams and Shadows was also on the shortlist of the same prize in 2013. By 2015, he was onnomination list for the Pushcart Prize for 2016. The young man’s poems have been published in not less than thirty international journals of arts as well as many anthologies in Nigeria. Halima Aliyu has two books, one which has earned her a shortlist on ANA/Abubakar Gimba Prize for short stories 2015.

Recently too, she was announced alongside Abubakar Adams Ibrahim, Elnathan John, Maryam Bobi (another member of the Arts Centre) as winners of N200, 000 grant each from Marine Platform to aid their writings from Northern Nigeria. Maryam Bobi, the author of Bongel, is the winner of the 2015 ANA Prize for prose along with Udenwe. Paul Liam is fast establishing himself as a new fearless critic and a strong essayiston the Nigerian literary map being redrawn by young writers across the country. He is from the Hill-Top Art Centre too.

No doubt, where critical discussions are being made on the social media especially facebook, you will find Hauwa Shafi’i, Zainab Manko, Mercy Adams, Deborah Oluniran, Fodio Ahmed, Awal Abdullahi, Musa MC Yunusa and a whole lot of members of the art centre making meaningful contributions. Therefore, this trend of incursion into the Nigerian and international scene by our members, is a pointer as to what progress is being made by the Hill-Top Arts Centre.