Thursday, July 26, 2007

Arts Writing: A Journey

A Bio-Sketch Of Arts Writing In Nigeria
By Jahman Anikulapo
(Delivered as a Keynote at a seminar on Arts Journalism at the Goethe Institut, Lagos; 2003)

No one should pretend that the story of arts writing in Nigeria’s popular media has ever been formally articulated. The chequered history has never been written in any form. What exist are faint, sometimes, vague ideas of what had been and what is. Albeit the various recorded comments about the origin of arts writing in the country have been largely a function of the personal interest of the person doing the chronicling.
Thus we shall crave the indulgence of this house, if the little story we shall tell today about the origin nay the story of the Nigerian arts writing is largely from very personal perspective.
But we could proceed that the story of arts writing in the media is as informal as the way the vocation itself came into being. Those who have said that the vocation of the arts writer was parasitic of then larger body of Journalism profession have a good point.
The fact from one’s study is that at the initial stage, arts writing in any form served only as an appurtenance of the other desk functions in the newsroom. That was prior the early eighties when the very first attempt was made to set up a formal Department of art or the Arts Desk as we have now come to know it.
Early record of formal writing on the arts had to do with some journalists or academics -- who were themselves artists or merely have the interest of the arts at heart and went ahead to do some reviews of the play they saw the other night or a review of the book they had just finished reading, particularly if such are considered relevant to the situation in the country at the time. Such writings are not necessarily engaging the set canons of evaluating such a particular piece of art; it was mostly free commentaries, which however, would end with pointing out certain perceived shortcomings in the book or the piece of painting or the theatre. Some of the articles are theoretical in tenor and character, particularly if written by an academic.
This point shall be stressed later.

THE vocation of the arts writer as stated above started on an informal note. But remarkably it could be said to have started as early as when the very first Nigerian newspaper, Iwe Ironyin, was published in 1804 by Henry Townsend.
In those days, consumption of artistic productions particularly in formal setting was an elitist venture. The colonial lords and their emerging black bourgeoisie would attend stage concerts or cantata, or recitals and one or two of them would end up writing an individual impression of such a performance.
Most of these writings appeared in the Teacher -- which could be said to be the first journal to appear in Nigeria; published in 1927. The journal was a product of the cultural intelligentsia of those early days, who were mostly expatriates; and a few Lagos elite who had returned from overseas after their studies. It was in The Teacher that impression of the show last night at the various social clubs and halls of performances such as Glover memorial hall would be recorded.
Later, The Teacher became the Nigeria Teacher in 1933, taking on a more local flavour and thus consciously including more writings on artistic and cultural events in the country.
In same early 30s, the Nigerian Field Society was founded. This is an association of, again, the expatriates, mostly staff of multinational companies and their counterparts in the academics, especially in the various Missionary schools.
The Field Society also included a new set of expatriates who had been drawn to the country following archaeological excavations activities, discovery of vast deposits of mineral resources, and general interest in the environment in various parts of the country. They were the officials working on the exploration of coal in the east, iron ore in the Benue trough, cocoa in the West, Oil in what is now known as the Niger Delta. It also included archaeologists and museologists — who had read the various reports by Leo Frobenius about the Terra Cotta findings in the Middle Belt area, the bronze cast heads in Ile Ife and Bini areas as well as the Igbo ukwu in the eastern part.
The members of the Field Society were always on the move, combing the entire soul of the country for these various economic and cultural resources; and in their various journeys they were encountering various aspects of the Nigerian cultural expressions. They could, for instance, walked into a wedding ceremony or a naming or a festival or just about any cultural ritual or purely social functions, and would come back to base to write on their experience(s), just as a matter of sharing with their colleagues or just merely documenting or diarising.
These forms of writing although were far and in between, and sometimes not journalistic in approach, could be said to have been the precursors of Arts writing in Nigeria. Most of the materials recorded from those experiences form part of the resource material that Arts journalism thrive on today.
When the Nigerian Teachers eventually assumed a nationalistic dimension and just as there were political nationalists, there were cultural nationalists who were equally making their own contribution to the demand for autonomy for the colony of the British empire.
Names that came up at this time included that of Frank-Aig-Imoukhuede, who was the first Nigerian secretary of culture under the colonial regime and had inherited the production of the Nigeria magazine as a function; John Pepper Clark, a poet and teacher, ABC Nwosu a military man who, however, wrote profusely on the arts.
There were later Segun Olusola, a broadcaster, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Charles Nnolim, John Munonye and quite a host of others.
Interestingly majority of these writers on the arts were themselves producers of artistic products, thus what they engaged in was not necessarily arts journalism in the sense that it is known today. They were writing, it seems as an extension of their creative ventures.
In particular, the set of Olusola, Soyinka, Ben Obumzelu, Theo Vincent, Dapo Adelugba and the others in their leagues were coming from the Mbari Club and similar other bodies formed then, whose birth had been inspired by the famous German researcher, writer, Ulli Biere. Biere himself had been working with a group of artists in Osobgbo, Ede, Ilobu and Ode Omu areas of today’s Osun State. He had also been part of the artistic renaissance witnessed in Ibadan, which was home to the very first university facility in the country.
Biere wrote extensively on the works of the artists he was working on. Mostly he exposed such works through the Nigeria Magazine and the Nigerian Field Study journals as well as other newspapers that were in existence then.
But later he founded the Black Orpheus, which was like the journalistic arm of the Mbari. The Orpheus was edited from the beginning by J. P. Clark, and it featured a lot of the poetry of the emerging class of Nigerian writers as well as critiques of their works.
As stated earlier, the nature of the writings was not necessarily journalistic. At best they were intuitive reflections on the art work, performance, the piece of literature or even the artist.
This kind or writing later was dominated by the academics, who had since then dominated the world of Nigeria’s artistic productions or were at the forefront of managing the many talents or practitioners.
It was natural; for graduate of humanities to gravitate towards writing in the media… although they had a high bias for literature except for occasional exposure of the theatre and the Fine Arts if and when such events did occur. This was the event that threw up such names as Femi Osofisan, Yemi Ogunbiyi, Ossie Enekwe, Gordini Darah, Odia Ofeimun among others.
A significant event in the history of the development of arts writing in Nigeria however, was the advent of the Nigerian Civil War, especially its conclusion.
The war, which began in 1967, ended in January 1970 and while the federal government in the spirit of its ‘No Victor No Vanquished’ verdict on the war had launched a schematic process of Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation, it was exploring divergent ways of realising these policies such that the wounds unleashed by the war would be healed soonest.
A corp of cultural intelligentsia drawn from different parts of the country had then thought of how to contribute to the scheme. They resolved on forming a body that would explore the country’s vast cultural resources as a means of reuniting the polarised people. This was how the Nigerian Arts Society was founded in the seventies.
Its major project was the Nigerian Arts Festival, which, however, was inspired by the First World Black Festival of Arts otherwise known as the Negro Festival held in Dakar Senegal in 1966. Majority of members of the Nigeria Arts Society had been to the Dakar festival as artists-participants and had experienced the power of culture and the arts in the process of civilising human beings as well as uniting diverse interests.
They thus staged the first festival of the arts, which brought participants from across the various parts of the country.
The advent of the festival brought an intensity into cultural production as well as activities. With such increased activities came naturally increased public enthusiasm in artistic products as well as cultural affairs of the country. Part of the dividend too was the increased enthusiasm in writing about the various activities.
This can be said to be the turning point in the fortune of arts writing in the country.
The national festival of the arts was like a testing ground for the hosting of the second edition of the Festival of World Black and African Arts and Culture, FESTAC, which Nigeria hosted in 1977.
Festac 77 brought thousands of participants from as many as 52 countries of the world including from Latin America, South America, Asia, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States apart from all over Africa.
This convergence of cultures from all over the world opened up the vista of arts writing in the country. There were writers who also functioned as writer on the arts and cultural products, who came in and interacted with Nigerian commentators on the arts.
There was so much to write about in all the disciplines of the arts.
This is another major turning point in the history of arts writing. And coming so soon after the Nigerian Arts Festival was itself a boost.
The resultant feast of writings filtered into newspapers and other popular mediums including the radio and television.
After the festival, there was no longer any excuse for most publishers not to take up coverage of the arts and cultural affairs seriously.
Particularly, many of the papers and electronic mediums spared space(s) for such; but much of these writings was however, still very academic i.e. review of a play, a concert; a book, an exhibition. They were not journalistic, in the sense of going out and reporting events as they occurred. If they did it was too infrequent albeit accidental.
Quite fundamental to this was the thriving of the Daily Times, which was the nation’s first national newspaper wit vast interest in the humanities.
The coming of the Punch Newspaper in the late seventies served as a rallying point for this emerging trend of arts writing. However, the nature of the paper as a popular mid-course intellectual medium soon made it unattractive to the corps of intellectuals who wanted to engage the spaces of the popular newspapers to express their thoughts about creative works.
Nevertheless, the Punch became a watering hole for writings on music as well as the theatre. Names that became popular on the medium included Dean Disi, John Chukwu, Laolu Akins among others who were, however, music practitioners of different hues but who were equally writing on musical activities; particularly the career of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was shaped through this writings.
There was also the National Interest, where Eddy Aderinokun made a mark as a popular writer on music. He was managing the affairs of some musicians including the BLO, Monomono and partly Osibisa, which at that time had been making significant impact in the course of their foreign tours.
Names like Benson Idonije, a major music presenter on the national radio was also managing the fledgling career of Afrobeat creator, Fela Kuti and he made it a duty to write on the activities of his ward. Then Fela was doing a lot of international tours. Idonije also wrote on the activities of musicians such as Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Ayinla Omowura, Victor Olaiya, Rex Lawson, Sonny Okosuns, Victor Uwaifo and a host of other musicians who were just beginning to build their career.
An important contribution to music writing was the weekly Top Ten Chart through which the most selling or most popular music for the particular week was being exposed and rewarded on air. Many of the critiques of the particular album or artist that made it to the Top Ten were eventually published in the newspapers and this helped a lot to kick start the music writing leg of arts writing.
The Concord Newspapers came to join the league of music-friendly mediums which also included the Spears (published by he Punch), the Drums (from South Africa with a franchise in Lagos) and the Lagos Weekend of the Daily Times.
Ladi Ayodeji was the one who, however, consolidated the foundation already laid at the Punch. He was later joined by Azuka Jebose Molokwu among others.
As for other disciplines of the arts, the school-based arts professionals or enthusiasts continued to hold the forte. But the medium available to them was very limited.

This was what The Guardian galvanised in 1984 when it came on board. Signing in as a liberal intellectual paper it hunted out the intellectuals who had been writing on the arts to form parts of the vanguard of its beginning. they included Yemi Ogunbiyi, Femi Osofisan, Odia Ofeimun, Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, among others.
They were in the Editorial Board of the new newspaper but they extended their briefs to include writing on the arts. They launched the Guardian literary series after the famous Times Literary Supplement of London. Aside these staff of The Guardian, they also mobilised materials from their colleagues — mostly academics in the humanities of the various universities
And this was the renaissance of Arts writing in the country. But is still concentrated on Literature mainly. The result of that initial work has yielded two publications Perspectives on Nigerian Literature 1 and 2.

BIRTH OF A FORMAL ART DESK
The concept of a formal Arts Desk as currently preponderant in Nigerian newsrooms could be traced to the foresight of Benson Tomoloju, a man whom Afam Akeh (ex-Review Editor Daily Times), in his essay, Nigerian Arts Writing (written to mark Tomoloju’s 50th birhday) referred as the ‘father’ of Nigerian Culture reporting. Tomoloju had joined The Punch Newspapers about 1979 -- shortly after his Youth Service with the television station in Markurdi -- as a Leader Writer with extended interest in editorial cartooning. A man of boundless talents and resourcefulness, he also began writing about the arts in the paper. And being a practitioner himself with good reputation among the culture intelligentsia he had also attracted a couple of his friends to write on the arts for the paper. But unlike what had obtained, Tomoloju concentrated not just on reviews and critiques, he also reported on events as they were happening in the environment of creative enterprise. The effort gained quick public attention.
When the Weekly Democrat was to debut in 1983, the arts and culture was a major consideration. It launched a Review Desk and Tomoloju was the one asked to manage the desk. This was almost like asking him to continue the crusade he had started at the Punch.
The Review desk of The Democrat was a revolution in the annals of Nigerian Arts Writing. Its pages bristled with living arts… that is artistic activities as they were happening. They would go on tour with a performing troupe and then come back to give a full account of what transpired on that assignment. They would sit in a studio with a musician and observe him pour his soul on the vinyl.
These were refreshing reporting. And they spared energy to peep into what the government was doing to better the lot of the artists.
In that team at the Democrat, though many of them were mere contributors were Chuzzy Onuorah, Emmanuel Ibeziakor, Longinus Chukwudike, Jossy Ogbuanoh, Toyin Akinosho, Kole Ade-Odutola among many others.
One recall, that as a student of Dramatic Theory and Literary Criticisms in the early eighties at the University of Ibadan, these were the names that we were compelled to read every Saturday when the paper came out on the stand. And some of us were also lucky to have our articles exposed in the same paper.
From the Democrat, Tomoloju was invited in 1986 to set up perhaps Nigeria’s first full and formal Arts Desk with its own separate set of reporters who are never bothered to double on some other beats as was then the practice in other papers.
Of importance however, was the fact that Tomoloju himself being an activist on the cultural, ideological turf, unconsciously indoctrinated his reporters to be more than just journalists. They had to see themselves as being involved in a struggle to put the arts at the centre of national discourse. As he always suggested then: "A nation that neglects cultural dimension in its thought processes and actions, will only end up being counter productive"
This maxim runs deep in the skin of the arts desk of The Guardian and perhaps still runs as those who are graduates of the desk and who are here today would probably testify.
In a paper CULTURE AND DEVELOPMENT: CHALLENGES FACING THE NIGERIAN ARTS JOURNALIST, which he delivered two years ago at a similar seminar such as we are engaged in today, Tomoloju recollect the names of those who formed the vanguard of his Arts and Culture desk while suggesting the inevitable garb of activism that arts journalism in an environment as impervious to progressive ideals such as Nigeria’s, must adorn:
"It is heartening, at least that in the last two decades, a certain section of the Nigeria mass media has evolved and sustained a consistent and forward-looking tradition of arts journalism practice in both the print and electronic media. Indeed, it is the sheer commitment to the noble ideals of culture, buoyed on a sound intellectual base that made the leading light of arts journalism to plunge head-long in the late 1970s into a vocation that they felt needed to be professionalized in accordance with the demands of journalism .
"And it was reinforced in 1988 when the Cultural Policy for Nigeria was promulgated into law. Article 8, sub-section 1.2 duly acknowledges the importance of the press, stating, among others, that the state shall ensure.
"The spirit of the document was as prescriptive as it was contemporaneous. It truly reflected the breakthrough already recorded by the Nigerian arts journalists of that period in history, such that policy-makers could hardly ignore them. Some of them were even in the vanguard of its formulation, notably respected culture essayist and dramatist Femi Osofisan, poet Odia Ofeimun and folklorist G.G. Darah. Others like this writer participated in the drafting of its implementation strategies.
"To prove a point beyond the rapport between arts journalists and the officialdom, the practitioners went ahead in 1990 to establish the Arts Writers Organization of organization was established to promote professionalism among all its writers and cultural information officers at both governmental and non-governmental levels.
"With their high level commitment, this corps of journalists — among whom are Fola Arogundade of the Punch, Dili Ezugha, Andy Ezeani, Toyin Akinosho, Kole Ade-Odutola in various free-lace and full-time capacities were boldly supportive of the realisation of milestones in a period referred to as the "golden age" of Nigerian culture.
"In this connection, they worked assiduously for the establishment of the National Troupe of Nigeria in 1986 and the revival of the National Festival of Arts and Culture in 1988. They gave reportorial prominence and in-depth analysis to the struggles of artists and other culture producers, especially the roles of Tony Okoroji, Onyeka Onwenu, and Charles (Charly Boy) Oputa in staging public demonstrations for a review of the Nigerian copyright law. They actively participated in workshops and seminars ensuring by their persistence that the law was not only reviewed, but the Nigerian Copyright Council (now a Commission) was established.
Today, one of the arts journalists who were
Particularly active in the copyright campaign, Lanre Adebayo, has since studied and graduated in law and has a column in the Daily Times on copyright. The pursuit of the arts journalists of the 80s - who also include television and radio producers like Tokunbo Ojekunle, Radio Lagos and, Kehinde Young-Harry and the late Abdulkadir Ayomaya of the Nigerian Television Authority - did not ignore the financing of culture. They kept the beam of their reportorial eyes on the propspects of the National Endowment for the Arts, which have, since been established by law, but it yet to be formally launched ten years after.
"We may go on with this catalogue of achievements. It would not be merely to entertain a triumphal sense in the practice of arts journalism in Nigeria. Rather, it is to bring to public knowledge that the profile of arts and culture in the media is not really as bad as generally touted. A number of young, dynamic and highly committed professionals are out there in the field who, given the right incentive via an enabling environment of work, could turn things around for the better.
"This entails squaring themselves up to micro-cultural and macro-cultural realities on ground, facing the anatomical details of culture and the media needs of Nigeria in disequilibria. The world information order in this age of globalisation".
It is this doctrine of working for the environment of the arts which has informed our own vision of arts journalism: that it is not enough to write bogus critiques and reviews, which only talk to no other person but the artists themselves.
The purposeful arts journalism like a functional art is that which is conscious of creating a viable environment for creativity to flourish. When such an environment has been created or at least 70 per cent realised then the arts journalist can indulge in the lavish display of big words of canons and critical theories, which are only meaningful to the artists but meaningless to his audience.
As a matter of fact, below is a thought we recently shared with a TV journalist on why we made the choice that we have had to painfully make as concerns Arts Journalism and our intervention.

When People talk about the absence of Criticism in the culture sector, you intend to ask yourself: what are they expecting?
Criticism can only thrive in an environment where there is room for creativity. But when you live in an environment that stifles creativity, you cannot expect criticism to thrive. You want to look at the work of art, you want to talk about somebody’s performance -- a dancer or a visual artist -- you must look at the environment of performance. What has the state or the society provided for Norbert Young not just to produce his film but to produce effectively; or to produce a quality work? what has the environment provided for Olu Ajayi who is a quality painter to produce a qualitative work of art? What has the environment given to ‘Alariwo of Africa’ to strive to produce his songs to the best of his ability ..
When you put all these things together you'll see that the environment is not even prepared for the artist to perform effectively or optimally.
Why are you expecting the artist to live above that environment?
Then you sit down and you say you are a critic, you are observing trend of performances and making comments on them, and pointing a way for the future! What future are you pointing to, when the people that consume the art works are not even prepared for qualitative ones.
That is why you find out that most critics… let me use myself as an example… I took a decision; I said the era of just sitting down in my newsroom and writing critiques about somebody’s work has to be postponed for sometime! I resolved that I wanted to be more involved in crating the necessary environment for the artists to be able to, a t least produce qualitative works. If I succeeded in that conscientious activism, then I can sit down and write comments.
I don’t want to go through the exasperating experience of writing comments on works that are by all the parameters for critical discourse are substandard; especially works I know that given the right environment, the artist could have accomplished better.
Perhaps, if I am myself not one who engage in creative enterprises all the time, it wouldn’t have mattered; but I am an artiste first; the critical vocation is only a gift of talent and a bonus acquired through my training in Dramatic Theories and Literary Criticisms; and years of practice as a writer on the arts and cultural productions.
I am not just an observer of the trends in culture production; I am an active participant; just as any producer could be. I cannot afford the luxury of a mere journalistic interrogation of artistic experiences. The journalist can do that, I have no qualms. I am informed in my practice by something deeper than journalistic inclination and expertise.
By my training and antecedent, I cannot continue to be saying: "that theatre performance is not good enough.' That painting is not good.’ Etc. do I know how much of Norbert’s wife’s money, Norbert has stolen to be able to produce that film? Do I know much of his properties he had to sell; or the dirty thing that people had to go into to raise money to produce a play I have once been a witness to a lady theatre producer having to befriend a banker just so to be able to pay the balance of his cast and crew fees, when the supposed sponsors ditched her at the last minute. She got a loan through that means but the cast needed not know where the money came from. There are uglier stories that I heard from artistes themselves… many of them are big stars today… on what they did to get their first album off the demo state…
Then, I sat down and reviewed my intervention in the institution of critical discourses and I resolved that I’d better off, conscience-wise, if I diverted my critical sensibility to culture activism. We try to create the right environment for quality creativity to flower, then nobody will have an excuse for under-performance or perfunctory production. And this is why I am very compassionate when it comes to matters concerning the arts I insist that if you are a Minister for culture or minister in charge of entertainment, Minister in charge of Tourism, you must do what the Minister of Aviation is doing in terms of envisioning for the wholesome uplifting of the sector; you must initiate good policies and carry out necessary reforms with a view to making the vocations and the practitioners have hope and perform optimally. You must do what the Minister of Transport is ready to do in terms of providing the necessary infrastructure for that vital sector of the national economy…
The culture sector is the fundament of our nation building. You take of technology transfer, how can you transfer technology, when you don’t even know the basic farm impliments that we have; you don’t even know them, so, you cant improve on them. then you want to talk about technology transfer! You can only transfer ignorance and incompetence at handling such transferred knowledge. It is all-laughable.
So, instead of jumping on the bandwagon, and jumping the gun, I decided to stay on one spot and use my talent and a little link that God has helped me to gather these years in the course of the job, in ensuring that the right environment; the appropriate visions; functional policies and beneficial action are taken by whoever the political process throws into the leadership of the culture sector of the economy.
That is more important to me than writing reviews and critiques that don’t even get read by the public but the artists themselves and their colleagues. Even at that, how many of those can afford to buy the papers to read up what you have written about them. Most times, you -- the writer-- still has to take paper to the artists and say, ‘look what I have written about your work’.. Haba, the burden that the so-called arts writer carries is enormous; painful at times.
So, I reviewed my career and I said since, God has been kind to me, I have a voice, when I write and when I talk people listen, I should use that to make the right noise, the right statement, so that we can challenge the polity to give recognition to the labour of the artists and culture workers; so that we can begin to create room for quality intellect that would produce qualitative art.
That is why I have been so engrossed in what ha come to be termed ‘Culture Activism"… I am sure the sobriquet is in the context of a civil activist, human rightist or social activist. But really, it does not really matter what it is called. I only know I have a missionary zeal to the cause of the art and culture.
That is why I am deeply involved in cultural activism structures such as the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), which also incorporates such other bodies as Culture Enthusiasts Club; Lagos Circle of Critics; Friends of the Arts; Culture Working Committee etc. of course, the more fundamental of such structures is the Coalition of Nigeria Artists, CONA, a fraternity of all the artists professional associations, which primary aim is to protect the interest of all the artists whatever their callings; and especially to give some kind of assistance to the artists when they are distressed. Unfortunately, the coalition has been crippled by unnecessary politics by a certain section of the artiste community. But I assure you, the vision can never be eclipsed.
I believe that it is when I have succeeded in helping get the right environment, that is the point at which the critic in me will come out. And I don’t have to still be a practising journalist when that time will manifest.
That is my position and I have no apology about it; not even to myself. Even a critic has a choice to criticise or remain silent’!
What I have done is to do an overview of our entertainment sector in the context of my own experience in a time capsule of my years on the job as an arts writer.
But I insist that, though we may complain about quality of what we produce and the attitude of the artists, we have to bear one point in mind: that the artist cannot live outside of his own environment. He must operate within his environment. To expect him to live in a pure world, the world that is not corrupt, is to construct a Utopia; an unreal world, totally antithetical to his environment that is corrupt.
Even if the artist doesn’t want to be corrupt, remember that in an environment like this, he’s coming from a family, and this family members are going to ask him: "We are not interested in how many times you appeared on the television, we are interested in what you have made for yourself; what are you going to give to your brothers and sisters; what have you made for your parents; what have you made for the community that nurtures your being.
In the West, some of these questions may not apply because of their socialisation process and the way the society is constructed, which is why an artist will make a single hit, and he becomes an international star, money wise, influence wise, and so on; he could go and buy the most expensive house in the costliest area of town and spend so much money on it. That is the way he wants to spend his fortune. No extended or expanded family to ask him to take in his cousin and his cousin’s cousin or to offer scholarship to other youths in the community as a matter of compulsion, since the community had contributed to his school or whatever.
But an artist here… I have one actor on my street, you imagine the pressure that the man goes through to be able to live to a standard that is expected of him by people in the neighbourhood. I have seen him done one or two things on the street, and I just know that this was not what he wanted to do, but he has to do it, because of the expectation of his neighbours.
So we cannot expect the art, the entertainment produced by artists living and functioning in this stifling environment to be well rounded in all creative departments as that produced in other societies where there are, at least, the basic infrastructures that enable creativity to flower; that encourages clean, clear thought, and make provision for facilities, including social respect and understanding; and thus assist the artist to concentrate on the business of thinking and creating.
We have to first create the right, functional environment; and that is what I have dedicated my intervention through the media, especially after 13 solid years as arts reporter and so-called critic. And when I say creating the environment; it does not just stop at creating Endowment Fund or launching the Cultural Policy or establishing an Art Academy — all vital institution to culture management that other societies take for granted but which we don’t even have after 40 years of Independence and clamour for same instruments- the saner environment also includes re-orientating the society and the people consuming the artwork to begin to see the artist as a professional who deserves to eat from his toil; his talent and his skill just as the medical doctor, the lawyer or the engineer. In fact, the appropriate social respect for the vocation of the artist or culture worker is the first essential infrastructure to be created.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Taken from EyinOdu

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Prize and The Truth (Odia)

THE NLNG LITERATURE PRIZE CONTROVERSYBefore The Nigerian Prize 
BY ODIA OFEIMUN 


Unlike Professor Olu Obafemi, President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, I do not take the Word as an egg which cannot be reassembled once it is broken. The truth is that the word, if it is an egg, was already broken. All that we do as writers is to train it in support of life, scooping it, beating it, refining and spicing it, to educate taste, thus making and adding meaning, nutritious meaning, to existence. How well we do this is dependent on how we use imagination — the heart, mind and will, that is part of our being homo sapiens. Those who do not care about the meaning that they make, who therefore think of deconstructing before they have learnt to construct, are the ones who tend to put the world in trouble. They tell the rest of us that we can always leap before we think. They seek to, and because they fail to assemble the egg that is already broken, they see the world as a free-wheeling place where anything goes. Hence, they assume that every use of the mind is thinking. But it is not.  I do believe that if Nigeria is to survive and thrive, there must be men and women who are prepared to undergo the self-punishment of learning how to think for her and to put dreams to work with transparent moral courage. This must be done on the basis of a well-primed knowledge industry. And, the men and women must be willing to test reality, allowing contending positions to engage that reality, before jumping into the boil of things to act with finality. Otherwise, even with the best of intentions, their supposed reforms will always end up deforming the society.   On the matter of the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Prize For Nigerian Literature, which has, unwisely, been changed to The Nigerian Prize For Literature, my grouse is that those who were elected to, and are supposed to think for us, abandoned their duties, capitulated to wonky personal agendas, and are now blaming the rest of us for the mistakes which they even admit that they made. Rather than take responsibility for their errors, that is, if they were indeed errors rather than willed acts, they seem to think that the virulence with which they assault and heap abuses on their critics will frighten the rest of us into silence. They want us to accept the good the bad and the ugly as equal in status. Again, I do not agree. On the contrary, I am amused that Professor Obafemi and his General Secretary, Nduka Otiono, are charging me with being a dictator because I demand their adherence to rules and conventions that are the common property of the Nigerian writers who elected them.   Even if it is true that I helped to frame some of the rules and conventions during my time as General Secretary and President, I cannot be accused of dictatorship because I insist that the rules must be followed. The rules do not belong to me. They were designed for the maintenance of literary standards and the embossment of excellence. I insist that those who do not believe in them and who therefore imagine that they can ride roughshod over them ought to be made to see how they endanger our literature. Well, what I have done and would do here is to show that their abandonment of the rules in the process of designing the NLNG Prize is a departure from associational propriety and a mark of escape from civilized norms that continue to sustain all successful vocational, occupational and professional associations. If we are not to spend the next so many decades recriminating over the imposition of a Prize that mis-defines and misdirects Nigerian literature, I think this is the time to set aside the feckless approach so grossly displayed in ‘their’ NLNG “fiasco”.  Let me note that I am responding mainly to the issues raised on the pages of the November 2004 edition of ANA Review, the New Age (November 17, 2004) and The Guardian (Sunday, November 21, 2004) where the General Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors and his President, spent 8o percent of their write-ups heaping abuses on me for pointing out, among other things, errors in their approach to the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Prize for Nigerian Literature. The intriguing part, which amuses me a mighty lot, is that after agreeing with me on all the salient points, they remain unprepared to face up to the implications of their admission of error. Take the simple case of the invitation extended to them by the NLNG to help in designing a Prize for Nigerian Literature. The General Secretary claims to have initiated it. Lets take him on his word. He writes: “The first hint that “the fastest growing gas company in the world” may be interested in supporting the development of Nigerian Literature emerged from a casual meeting I had in 2002 with Mrs Olamide Olusanya, President of WRITA(Women Writers of Nigeria) and Head of Procurement at the NLNG. At the meeting we discussed possibilities of the gas company making a difference in the sponsorship of the literary arts through the Association of Nigerian Authors” (my emphasis). Otiono, our General Secretary, is careful not to tell us whether the Gas company, following the Angolan example, sent Mrs Olusanya to sound him out or whether he was the one who invited her to the meeting. Was it just informal? This was one year before the Company decided. And, we are not told that he thereafter sent a proposal to the Company. He does not say that he made a representation to the Company. Until another “former colleague at The Guardian and now Head, Public Relations and Communications at the gas company, Mr. Ifeanyi Mbanefo surprised” him “with a phone call”. Otiono is categoric that because of his zeal to make a difference, he obliged by playing the role of unofficial consultant, supplying contact addresses and phone numbers of intellectuals, scholars and writers who would be members of a proposed Advisory Committee. They contacted well-known members of ANA including two former Presidents and past judges of the Association.  Professor Olu Obafemi takes on the narrative from there. He writes some of the most preposterous non-arguments that I have ever read from a teacher of literature. He begins by making it seem as if our differences lie in the fact that he became a writer by studying literature in the University while I, he assumes, stumbled into poetry “from the roadside”. Even the worst of his students could have showed him how laughable his distinction is especially as it does not and cannot tell us about the quality of his own poetry. Or may be I should add to his woes by letting him know that I wrote publishable poetry while I was a mere 19-year old petrol attendant at Yaba and later factory labourer at Apapa before I even dreamt of going to the University to study Political science. But this is not the issue. The real problem lies in having an elected President of a reputable writers’ association who can write that “ANA was never invited as an Association to partner with NNLG (sic). Individuals, who are credible and enduring members of ANA were invited, in their own individual capacities, to consider the desirability and viability of a major Prize for Literature. They were invited also to work out a framework and possible guidelines for its structuration, appoint a panel of judges and, they (sic) may be asked to stay on as an Advisory Committee”. I have quoted this passage in full to show that between Nduka Otiono and his President, Olu Obafemi, they did not work as a team, did not intend to work as a team, and frankly do not know what it means to talk about working as a team. They lacked a sense of the logic of office. Even the unlearned can see from Obafemi’s rendering of their job-description that the Gas company gave them every format to turn the tables, every table, into an ANA table, if they so wished. The NLNG virtually handed ANA all the grounds for doing what ANA had been doing with other non-members who endow or propose prizes. They could have drawn up a format that would provide sustenance for ANA during the life-time of the Prize. They could have followed the pattern already in existence of allowing the association to take the fees for administering a prize sponsored by a non-ANA member. They did not think of it. Obafemi and Otiono were quite together in seeing the invitation by the Gas Company purely as a matter requiring ANA to behave like a mendicant in its own business. The question is: even if they were invited as mere individuals, atomized consultants, which was not the case, couldn’t they summon the gumption to act in accordance with the mandate given to them by all Nigerian writers? And, before or after bringing out all the big shots in ANA why couldn’t they work-out a common ANA position? Why would an ANA President and General Secretary go into a negotiation with another organization and be seen to be arguing, having unseemly altercations, with other ANA members in the presence of the “other party”? This I call mixing individual grapes and organizational apples. Quite in evidence is that, faced with the largesse from the NLNG, their self-definition became personalist, rather than collective. So it may well be asked: what kind of cultural literacy or learnedness is that which allows a Professor to admit to such abdication of responsibility in public without feeling ashamed? Or, how could the President of ANA claim that in the matter which all Nigerian writers elected him to pursue, he allowed himself to be wheedled into the position of an ordinary stool pigeon!   The truth of the matter is that once they decided to go to the Gas Company as atomized mendicants, they lost the power to think as ANA members. Personal agendas overrode associational ones. The unspoken issue is that they were bidding to have power over their fellow writers beyond their stay in office. So they preferred to create or capitulate into an Advisory Committee that ANA would not have any control over. Quite a brazen display of self-interest at the expense of the very organization that gave them a place to stand. (If only to give Otiono his own medicine by quoting from a private conversation: he used to tell me while I was ANA President, that I did not know how to use power. So this is what he meant? — using a mandate granted by others to spoil or take over their business?). I dare say that the Gas Company may have done better by going to the Carpenters’ Brigade or some such body, to think through a Prize for writers. They may have gotten a better deal than doing business with writers who have reasons for not wanting to be identified with their own Association. Engineers, medical and legal practitioners, accountants and public relations people stand by their Associations and societies. In the past, ANA, although poor in financial terms, used to stand tall by its own. Now the association is not only too poor to have a secretariat, even the moral scruples have gone to the wind. For the first time in the history of the Association of Nigerian Authors, a non-member, an official of the NLNG could walk into a meeting of the Lagos branch of ANA to insist that ANA’s representatives signed for their pay and therefore had no moral right to point their noses in the sky. In umbrage, both President and General Secretary have expended a good deal of the wood in the forest arguing that they did not lobby for or negotiate honoraria. As I claim that they did. What they have not said is that they did not receive any. Having acquiesced as mere individuals to what was proposed, they did not need to negotiate. Their acquiescence was negotiation.  You reckon that anyone who is a member of such an Association would be embarrassed to hear of the goings-on as I have been. Interestingly, the culprits are not embarrassed. It reminds me that Olu Obafemi was the judge and Nduka Otiono was the recipient of that notorious ANA award which had to be withdrawn because it was simply not in order. May be, as President and General Secretary, they want to reduce ANA to the level of that amoral approach to standards that allows no rules and no conventions to stand. And I suppose they are responding to me with so much vehemence and virulence because they think that we should keep our secrets secret in the manner of those who hide every crime against the nation as a “family affair” in the mainstream of national party politics. Fortunately, I am not good at such family affairs. If someone truly belongs to my family he and she should not burn down the family hearth and barn as a way of proving it. And if those who “commit” errors continue to insist on being lionized for it, they leave the rest of us no choice but to constantly remind them of what is right so that they don’t turn miscreance into norm for the whole society.   I suppose part of the price I have to pay for insisting is Olu Obafemi’s misuse of English at my expense: He writes: “Odia is wanton, prodigal, and indiscretionary (sic). He tramples and suffocates both the sapling and the aged; the young lamb and the old sheep, in the literary guild, with recklessness and sickening superciliousness”. Of course, he knows that even those who see themselves as my antagonists in ANA would not agree with him. My battles are fought in the open in pursuit of common advantages, in the interest of the collective. I believe that people who do unto others what they don’t allow anyone to do them, should not be allowed to go on the rampage. I don’t see why, for instance, I should take sides with a class of young writers who want to be members of an Association whose rules they assault or who hold strong opinions about authors they have not read. I call them clap-trappers. Nor do I see why I should humour so-called older writers who swindle the young by setting unwholesome examples for them to emulate. I have no reason to apologize for the many battles I have won in this regard. If those who championed wrong causes are still trying to turn their shame into perennial standards, why should I who won the battles be hiding! Or feel awkward because time and circumstance uphold my positions as right.  In the current matter of the NLNG Prize, it is morning yet on creation day. But see how Nduka Otiono is proving me right even before the sun begins to make shadows. In one breath, on the pages of ANA Review, he claims that members of the NLNG Literature Panel were influenced “to yield regrettable grounds” by the “subtle threat by one of the NLNG officials that the gas company’s management could easily lose interest in instituting the Prize if the Advisory Panel proved too rigid”. What he does not say is that only an Association which has been completely atomized into fractious individualism could be so easily threatened. Wouldn’t it have been better to forego the establishment of the Prize than destroy what makes your Association worthy of the name? Or do I have to narrate the stories of what ANA lost in the past because we preferred to be a poor Association rather than become the handmaiden of either military autocrats in our midst or foreign donors trying to tell us who to appoint in our Secretariat? The odd part is that after capitulating to the subtle threat, Otiono goes on to blame the peculiar “liberalism” of artists for what he himself calls the “costly error”. Why blame all artists and all writers for a clear incapacity that he is directly responsible for? Let’s catch his own words as he regrets the Literature Panel’s failure to keep the names of the judges secret. He writes: “Again, the liberalism of artists had lured them into leaving loopholes which the NLNG officials exploited to wrest the entire process of administering the Literature Prize from the Advisory Board and never referred to her again till date”. What I cannot understand is why Otiono should first of all consumate a spineless negotiation, refuse to make a bid for administering the prize, and even regretting not being able to hide the names of judges, then libel the rest of us for his lack of skills and forthrightness. Or has he forgotten that it was him, and his President, not all Nigerian artists and writers who were approached by the Gas company? If he has, that is just too, too convenient.   It is glaring that both of them abandoned the turf in advance of any difficulties that the NLNG created for them. Olu Obafemi’s brag that he went into the NLNG Panel as an individual is, from this purview, quite pathetic. Why sell the soul of your vocation first and then start fighting, not to gain the whole world, but to be allowed to bid for crumbs! Yes. Asking ANA members not to attend readings because it was not franchised to ANA is just plain asking for crumbs. Giving up your turf for a mere 20,000 dollars Prize is asking for mere crumbs in the face of the losses that we now know it vouchsafes for a literature that, the whole world agrees, has a solid tradition. Is it for crumbs that we are now supposed to go amoral? I ask this question because a member of the NLNG Literature Panel, Professor Femi Osofisan, has been quoted to the effect that there is nothing the matter with the Gas Company registering The Nigerian Prize for Literature. To him it is just a matter of one company outsmarting others by jumping first. Does this say that we are all now mere handmaidens of a smart multinational which can choose to mis-define and misdirect our literature if it pleases? This is what I call selling national patrimony for a mess of pottage. Even if we are all now in the age of liberalization, privatization and deregulation, our identities have not yet been so privatized, liberalized and deregulated to the point where we must celebrate a private company’s right to use the state apparatus, outside the dictates of market forces, to over-ride the capacity of other companies to compete with it. If this is the reform some people want us to have, with private companies hijacking the government to win battles in advance of real competition in the marketplace, it tells us about the storms ahead.   I do not want to be misunderstood. I do also believe that if a company so personifies the goals of a country, or a literary prize so incarnates the quality and excellence in the literature of a country, people in that country may choose to identify with it as a prime definer of their country’s interests or goals. This is the way that American interests used to be identified with General Motors. And the Booker and Pulitzer became modal definitions of British and American ideas of the way literature should be viewed. But not before the proof. And, not by a crude resort to legislation outside due process as has just been done by the gun-jumping that took the NLNG to the Attorney General. I would say that a writer who cannot make the necessary distinction between what is right in the market place but not in the sphere of citizenship and identity-building, has either given up the ground for morality in society or is simply doing the business of anything goes. Against such a tack, I think that the NLNG should do itself a favour by simply disavowing the idea of the Nigerian Prize and reverting to having it as the NLNG prize simplicita. It would do the image of the company and the self-respect of Nigerian writers a world of good. No matter how many permissions and imprimaturs they get from the Attorney General or even the President in order to continue to award The Nigerian Prize for Literature, it wont do.  By the same token, I think that ANA members who sponsored the ban on Nigerian writers abroad should learn some humility and confess to having goofed. Otiono’s argument that Chimamanda Adichie, author of Purple Hibiscus, could not have won the NLNG Prize because she was not published in Nigeria is disingenuous. First you ban them then you use their not publishing at home as a clincher to prove the point. It’s chicanery. Or first ban them then invite them to seminars and readings to help develop Nigerian literature. It does not occur to our prime defenders of the ghetto prize that involving off-shore writers in home-based activities in this manner is truly unjust and abusive of fellow-feeling. If the purpose is to encourage the off-shore writer to publish at home, or do simultaneous publishing at home and abroad, I don’t see why it is necessary to inflict a ban that disavows their citizenship. I should add, in this connection, that the President of ANA does himself too much injustice when he says that ”Odia went on one of his numerous refresher courses abroad, came back, armed with fresh loyalties, from abroad, to come and rubbish those who he refers to as the stay-at-homes”. The number of times “from abroad” appears in this sentence shows the fixation that led to the ban on fellow writers. If he has a chance to ban me for daring to do a six-day journey abroad to deliver lectures on African studies and cultural philosophy, he would probably do it. Besides, his colossal sense of spite wont let him admit the obvious: that the only reason he hates my guts is that my loyalties are old and unchanging, not fresh. Nor have I any reason to rubbish the stay-at-home writer who has respect for his trade. I am a stay at home writer myself. Only I am just not in love with Olu Obafemi’s love of Ghetto reasoning. I believe that ghettos, whether as urban jungles or sites in literature are unhealthy places to live in. My quarrel, yes, it is a quarrel, is with the fact that the very creme of the hierarchy in ANA lent their names to the rampage of the unwholesome envy which valorizes the ghetto and disparages fellow writers simply because they have refresher courses abroad, live abroad, or publish abroad. Literature is supposed to be our business not banal envy. And why should I not have refresher courses abroad, or simply just go abroad to see how the world is going, if that is how I get the knowledge or the kick that I need, for my work? By the way, shouldn’t the current President of ANA apologize to all ANA members for casting aspersions on any kind of refresher course that another writer undertakes in pursuit of literature and literary matters? Is he opposed to the fact that some Nigerian writers have written some of their best works during fellowships and solitude paid for in foreign climes? I suppose he would croak if he knows that I am writing this in Dakar (Senegal). What a ghetto mentality! For Goodness sake, the job of a President of ANA is not to dictate or impose a viewpoint upon Nigerian writers but to help create conditions that will make it possible for all Nigerian writers, irrespective of their views, to go on writing and writing well. Now he wants to divide the soul of Nigerian literature, dictate where I can stay to do my writing, and outlaw good writing because it was not produced in his ghetto. Assuredly, there is a moral edge to it which ties into the current granting of prizes to books that are not merely bad, but a swindling of the younger generation. It begins with treating demands for higher standards in writing and behaviour as being unduly ruthless, dictatorial and suffocative of the young shoots. This gives comfort to those who waffle and hedge in the face of literature that is not up to the mark. Judgment is then reduced to a matter of a national average which follows the notorious tradition of substantial compliance. To complicate matters, we just entered the age of prizes for journalists, an age so long overdue but one so fraught with danger. When journalists with the potential to serve as assessors and gate-keepers are judged on the basis of a criteria that lacks transparency, such a prize simply becomes a means of honoring those who do hatchet jobs for the reigning ANA chieftain. And, I am not speaking in abstractions. Nduka Otiono has reported in ANA Review a case of the NLNG people influencing This Day newspapers to mis-report or not report him. He offers no proof. He makes another charge even in relation to NLNG taking over members of his own team. But here I want to point directly to the current and first winner of the ANA prize for cultural journalism. I have just got a taste of the kind of journalism for which he was granted the prize. Recently, I sent a poem on Ken Saro Wiwa to some friends and newspapers on Remembrance Day for the Ogoni Nine. The current winner of the ANA journalism prize, Chuks Ohai of Daily Independent, phoned me to say that although I did not send him a copy of the poem he got one on the internet. I congratulated him for his enterprise. A few days later, the poem was published in the Daily Independent, first with the wrong title and then credited to author unknown. If The Guardian and later, The Sun had not published it with proper credits and I hadn’t received that phone-call, I would have thought, the error was mine. Which shows that there was a public means of correcting the ignorance of the editor of the culture page of the Daily Independent. And, which shows that this business of author unknown was meant to injure me in some way. The implication is that the Daily Independent as a newspaper was caused to deliberately abuse my intellectual property. I initially thought it was a matter for a lawyer. But, I think it is enough to use this medium to ask the editors of the paper if this is the kind of journalism for which they want their reporters to win prizes? I should ask Olu Obafemi and Nduka Otiono, without prejudice to their need to have hatchet-men, if this is the kind of journalism for which ANA should award prizes? It is not just about this writer. It is about not making the public suffer too much victimage in the hands of reporters and editors who may become so hostage to a warped personal agenda that they displace the public’s right to know. It is about creating the right disposition in the media before the establishment of a proper Nigerian Prize for Literature.  • Ofeimun is a past Secretary-General and President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA.




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Three kobo words



Three Kobo Book: Of Delayed Dreams Deferred Hopes
Those who contend that Nigerian writing might yet experience a renaissance or a rebirth are on the lane of truth. The optimism that the pervasive rot, which had percolated into the literary art from the general national malaise could be dislodged with time, is believable afterall.
There are indeed young, fresher views growing in the literary firmament. And the resourcefulness is not just manifesting in dynamism of vision, but also in the deployment of techniques and general craftmanship.
Ayo Arigbabu, DejoToye and Dapo Ogundipe, in truth, represent the new tendency for qualitative production in the arts. They are resourceful with their subject, throwing up mature visionary contentions; the language is deep and intense; a thorough understanding of the colours and dynamics of words and expressions; and a good grasp of the craft of writing; the place of sequencing and composition — all of which are the bane of most first new writings.
The three young writers have attempted, very articulately indeed, to master such pitfalls affecting some other writers of their age — logicality, arrangement, detailing, consistency of technique; and very important, styling.
It is instructive that the three artists are graduates of other disciplines outside of the arts. Ayo is an architect, Dejo, a lawyer, Dapo, a system manager. This is not itself new.
The community of Nigerian writers, especially after the independence era (and the second generation group), densely-populated by graduates of faculty of arts, have been mostly peopled by medical doctors, service men, town planners, pharmacists, lawyers and others.
These three chaps have only deepened the assertion that artists most often are born than made. Talents are intrinsinc virtues but skill acquisition help to nurse natural talent to inventive and effective deployment of resources.
Specifically, the strength of the content of Three Kobo Book is the depth of vision of the artists; each of the three having a sharp intellect that though young and fresh are aged in profile.
The writers are very observant of their environment, and have developed an uncanny ability to interrogate events and characters in the enevironment, in such a way that they could each offer insightful proboscis into the ettiquettes of the society. This ability which naturally is associated with age and worldliness — the vastness of the artist’s encounter with the vicissitudes of life — seem to be natural with each of the writers.
Thus their individual age, which is the late twentyish and early thirtyish does not reflect in the depth of the material they have imputed into the collection.
The poet, dramatist and fiction writer in this collection have also suggested a possible way of breaking the nightmare that publishing has become for the younger folks: cooperative publishing. And of course, this is a more concise format than the popular anthology culture. This is a venture that is based on mutual sharing.
In other words, these are drream-sharers.
In pooling their creative skills and resources toward this common publishing poject, the three chaps have been able to do inter-writers assessment of their individual works. This offers a good opportuninty for each of them to do a fair critique of each of the imputs.
For instance, the poet, Dapo Ogundipe must have gone through fictions of Ayo Arigbabu, while the dramatist, Deji Toye must have also reviewed the fiction and the poetry of his colleaguie and vice versa.
This cooperative is progressive.
This is expected in any case as the three had at one point or the other being key figures in the revolutionary student literary group — the Pen Circle — based in the University of Lagos.
In coming together, they, perhaps unconsciously, must have tapped from ancestral inspiration of the fifties that led to the flowering of Nigerian literature in the fifties and sixties through such structures as Mbari group at Ibadan and Nsukka. This workshop experience produced the most of the first generation of Nigerian literature; which was replicated in fine arts, as members of the famous Zaria Art Society that led to emergence of the icons of today's fine arts among others.
Dream sharers, yes. But these three are not copy-cats.
Each of the writers has an individualistic approach to writing that is very glaring in the imputs.
Arigbabu, the poet, is pethaps the most romantic of the three. His imageries bear roses with which they woo the heart of the reader. And his narratives are immersed in melodic riffs, which aid the digestion of his thought flows.
In Blue Notes, his collection of short stories, the graduare of Architecture, employs familiar but creatively subtle symbols of fertility, even when he is describing the chaotic hip-culture of Lagos vehicular movement in Yoruba jazz &Techno.
Of course, his caption is deceptive just as his narration. He seems to be talking about the culture of the Danfo (mini) buses but the narrator really touches on the violent character of jagged Lagos as seen from as simple a chore as taking a bus ride in this city of everlasting webbing.
Rain as a symbol of life and regenation, say renewal, course ever constantly thorugh Arigbabu's narration. It is in at least four of the seven short stories featured in the collection, even in the narrator’s rendezvous in the theatre hall with a certain Frank.
Remarkably, the narraror in Arigbabu's story appears an intensely, ruminative fellow with a mind that is ever pre-occuipied with wonderings and wanderings about the strangeness of life and its beings. The writer helps the narrator with simple but impactful diction, which helps to make him familiar and distant at the same time, thus casting an aura of mystery around him.
In Ogundipe's poetry, there is a mix of the various poetic styles. The poet is a lyricist with a huge heart for rhymes, metres and rhythms — essentials, which many poets of today have abandoned due to pretentious abtractions or a curious predilection for obsurantism; or, sheer negligence, carelessness, craft incompetence; or, impatience with the process of producing a qualitative piece of creative work, which, like giving birth, is laborious but sweetening.
And unlike some of the few who still respect the beauty of the verses, Ogundipe’s rhymes and rhythms are not forced; not contrived for shortcut effect! They rather come with his lyrical flow, gracing his thought into the consciousness of the reader. The music in the poems snake fluidlly from the very depth of the lines and diction; bearing the poet’s tapestry of picturesque imageries — love, life, conflicts and resolves.
Notedly too, Ogundipe has a fluent diction, unencumbered by concocted vast repertoires (collocations, really) of words which often end up producing soulless verses forested by strange, unwanted words and phrases.
The poet bears much love in his heart and this he shares — sometimes emotively, sometimes passionately; but never without an agenda; a motive, which could at any time be deployed in interogating the political or social space.
And even at the risk of sometime sounding simplistic , Ogundipe projects his thought simple, cute and concise.
Not unexpected, the dramatist, Deji Toye is the most political of the troika. And his drama bears pungent anger and exasperation with a system that walks living on its head and make monster of men through frailities of… Man.
Toye chooses the right model to probe the social political conditions. He engages the nebulous character-type — the abberation of modern African politics — the military; and explores the familar motives of war and attritions, with the attendant culture of grab and graft; and wastes.
His main character Aruwo is archetypal of the vampire politicians on the African political landscape, who peddle vile philosophy such as Aruwoism, which rather than reconstructing for reform, prefers to pull down and then enthrone void in the social equilibrium.
But most impactful in Toye’s The Botching of a Brute, is the symbolic setting of a ruined home— reflective of the carcass that militocracy has turned most African states. As recorded in Biafra, Rwanda Burundi, and now Darfur, the characters — destituted by the rage of blood — struggle in the ruins to reconstruct the remains of their life. The quarrelsome aged couple —Baba and Mama; and their derelict son, George are also archetypal of the relics of wastes. The picture is complete with a daughter, Marian who was uprooted from her home and taken hostage by the bloody tyrants but who returns as the ransome to sanctify the cheap victory by the militaricians; she returns more as a relic than a treasure.
The dramatist shares the passion (could read competence) for the right diction and fluent expressions with the poet, and the fiction writer. Particularly for the dramatist, words become stronger, effective vehicles of expression; his politics come out stronger as he filled the guts of his characters with the appropriate subtexts; much more in the near mystic character of theTramp.
Uniting the three authors here is a passion for sane living culture; a deep concern about protection of civilising principles that distinguish man from jungle beings; and above all, a reflection on the possibilty of attaining the ideal environment. The search for a space in which the real Man will exist and function progressively.
Yet the most affective thread in this union of the pen and intellect (and as well writerly disciplines), is a deep passion for the written word; a deep belief in the power of the art to reform and transform the society; or to restitute the soul of the society and human family generally.
They also remarkably share a keen interest in the deployment of craftmanship to realise qualitative work of literature.
Thematically, the authors have captured the entire realities of delayed dreams and deferred hopes; pointing at the cause, effect and danger of these twin-evil to human progress.
Delayed dreams Deferred Hopes say the authors of Three Kobo Book are like evil birds in flight; no one is sure of where they would land or what darkness they could cast on the peace of the human world.
But the author say that it is the society that bears the brunt of wrecked dreams and postponed tomorrow. It is Man that is the ultimate victim of the madness wrought by Man through his predilection for disingenous thoughts, words and deeds.
The Three Kobo Book is a song of delayed dreams, deferred hopes indeed…
…Eh, what are we saying?
Even this dream — Three Kobo Book – has been delayed by this 1759-word-weak foreword.
We are all accused of delayed dreams deferred hopes! All of us… even this fictionist, Ayo Arigbabu; this poetryst, Dapo Ogundipe; this playist, Dejo Toye… this forwardist…
— Jahman Anikulapo




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The prize and the truth



LNG Literary Prize: The Return Of Truth

Unfortunately none of the entries received met the high standard set by the panel of judges for the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2004. None was adjudged free of numerous faults observed because grave damage was done to these submissions through: Self publication with its attendant disabilities emanating from poor packaging. The panel of judges observed that recourse to self-publication short circuits the traditional publishing processes and this gives rise to the numerous stylistic and grammatical flaws just observed. It is further observed
that many writers have not acquired the necessary education or undergone proper apprenticeship and training required for the high level performance expected from winning entries at this level. Future competitors are thus urged to take note of these observations.

SO, what are the new things that the jury of the LNG prize were saying in their damning reports on the state of Nigerian literature, especially in terms of quality of production, that had not be said in the past? Was the community of Nigerian writers being told anything new than what many conscientious critics, book reviewers and concerned observers of trends in Nigerian contemporary writing, had consistently drummed into their ears?
Weren’t those observations about carelessness in craft handling, poor editing, bad grammar, awkward constructions, irrational logics and general sloppiness in theme and techniques, the bulk of observations contained in the reports of jury of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA annual Literary Prize in 2001?
Wasn’t this impatience with the due process of producing qualitative writing what Professor Niyi Osundare was stressing at the 51st Art Stampede held in honour of the 70th birthday anniversary of the Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, last June?
Wasn’t the poor attention to mastering the laborious craft of writing meaningfully and sensibly pointed out by the LNG jury, the theme of statement by Africa’s foremost novelist, Chinua Achebe, to two reporters in a room at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers one afternoon in 1991, when he came home after nine years of sojourn in the United States?
Didn’t (at the same Sheraton meeting with Achebe) the city fictionist Cyprian Ekwensi, express the fear that self-publishing and the inordinate ambition of young (or new) writers to become overnight stars will rubbish the excellence that Nigerian literature had attained globally. Said the then Septuagenarian -- “these young people they want to win the Nobel overnight without first knowing the meaning of good writing”. He added: “And they don’t want to listen to anybody. They believe they know it all.”
Wasn’t the matriarch of Nigerian literature, Mabel Segun right after all, when at the flag off of the reading tour of the LNG prize shortlist, she told a group of culture activists who were asking her to address the 54th Art Stampede dotting on dialogue between young and old writers at the 6th Lagos Book and Art Festival, she said: “I would very much love to do that, but I am not sure your colleagues — the young writers — are ready for the truth. When you talk to them, they say that we are too old and should retire and die. But I will be there. We shall not stop telling them the truth. They must go and learn that writing is not as easy as they think; that they need to be patient and learn the craft very well. No writer in history ever got it right without patiently reading the others and working very hard?”
Haven’t the eventual submission of the old woman — and that of the other people who shared her worries about the so-called new writings — at the Art Stampede, just a little over a months ago, about the deprecating quality of writings, turned out prophetic?
Aren’t those concerned observers of the Nigerian literary field, who had warned that the dislodgement of merit and enthronement of “Family Circle” criteria in the award of the annual awards of the ANA prizes, the eventual winners in this ‘drama of unbecoming’ of the Nigerian literature?
And far back into history…
Haven’t the words of the late poet and literary critic, Sesan Ajayi at the very first edition of the Art Stampede in June 1991, to the effect that new writings were already being afflicted by the viruses of rot and devaluation in quality that was at that time creeping into all spheres of the national life, come true, 13 years after he made the statement, and seven years after he died?
That afternoon on the open space in front of Toyin Akinosho’s (convener of the Stampede and today, secretary general of the CORA on A Close in Festac Town), Ajayi, who was writing a weekly critique on books in The Guardian, had warned that the advent of the so-called ‘pop novel’ then championed by (now late) May Ellen-Ezekiel (later Mrs. Mofe-Damijo), was bound to assume some preeminence in Nigeria’s literary production. And that it could begin to affect the nature and progression of Nigerian contemporary writings.
Expectedly, Ajayi’s opinion was not popular and the anger from some of the then emerging writers – who had begun to win the ANA prizes — drowned the late critic’s very lean frame. He was almost a pitiable sight. And when he went ahead to write on the discussion at the Stampede in his column, the following Sunday, he reaped baggage of opprobrium and condemnation. Some of the writers stopped talking to him altogether.
Ajayi took it all in his usual calm mien. He took it all into his blessed final resting place.
The disgrace -- well, there is no other apt word to capture the reports of the LNG prize read publicly at the Grand Finale cum Gala Nite of the Prize project -- is the triumph of Truth; triumph of the words of wisdom; triumph of the written Word as the everlasting treasure that will bear testimony to the power of the Truth.
When about a decade ago, glaring corruption began to creep into the activities of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, in which certain members of the executive council began to walk the set criteria for the award of the annual prizes on their heads, and arm-twisting members of the jury to give awards to their friends and cronies, certain members of the literary community raised alarm; and warned of the future consequences. The dissenting voices who berated the power-drunk exco members and their regime of ‘influence peddling’, were labeled enemies of the writers community. Gradually they were excommunicated from the body of writers.
Enter, the regime of ‘Caucus-ANA’ and ‘god-fatherism’, whose masters polished the armour of demerit, and institutionalized ‘Paddy-Paddy’ government in the history of the writers’ body.
Yet the critics, many of whom had then become ‘mere enthusiasts’ in the affairs of the writers’ body, would not stop crying out their fears and anxieties. At every opportune moments they raised it. But the ‘arrogance of the head’, which has over the years become the most defining character of many of the young Nigerian writers and their godfathers, would not let them heed the voice of wisdom.
Every year, the writers are called out to a chosen part of the country for the ANA convention, and prizes are dished out to so-called winners. Observations of the various Jury, pointing out the enthroned culture of rot in the firmament of contemporary writings, which were always read out publicly, were always soon forgotten. The reports never at any time mattered to the enlightened interests of the writers and their godfathers.
The yearly party of writers would every year, always end up in a feast of the bottles and wild merry. Every one would go home. Case finished. Till next year. ••
The truth came home last Saturday however. It gave vent to the aphorism that even when a lie had reigned for decades, it takes less than a second for truth to catch up with it. All the lies of ages crashed at the foot of truth on Saturday, in the cool, comfort of the congress hall of the Nicon Hilton Hotel, Abuja. The story unfolded right before the very eyes of many of the members of the community… well, and some of their godfathers.
They were not present at the return of Truth: Sesan Ajayi. Chinua Achebe. Cyprian Ekwensi. Mabel Segun. Niyi Osundare. All those who had in the past registered their voices in the campaign to rescue Nigerian literature from the path of self-destruct.
They were there with obvious burdened heart: Wole Soyinka. Gabriel Okara. Charles Nnolim. Theo Vincent. And some others in that respected club, who had spent their youthful and adult years fathering the voication and nurturing it to respect at home and abroad. Expectedly, their club could rightly be termed the ‘Estranged members’ of the writers collective, ANA.
Intriguing indeed, it was the lot of the man, who by his prodigious productions and attainment in the vocation of writing, represents the pinnacle of Nigeria’s achievement in global literary firmament – Oluwole Akinwande Soyinka.
“I agree with much of what the judges have said”, remarked the all-grey-haired man cutting more the picture of a stage on the broadly lit stage. If he bore a pain in his heart, he was as usual, smart with it. He buried it beneath the swelter of humour that lazed his extempore speech. Though he said he was not totally in agreement with the whole of the observations of the LNG jury, he nevertheless agreed with them that Nigerian literature has ceased to aspire to excellence and unblemished accomplishment.
Soyinka noosed the neck of publishing business with the tragedy… “this is an indictment of the publishing industry in Nigeria”, said the man as he recalled his earlier frequent warnings about the potential evils of self-publishing. In the audience that night sat at least three chief executives of notable publishing houses in the country Joop Berkhout (Spectrum); Bankole Olayebi (BookKraft), Adegbola (Evans) – the first two are Soyinka’s publishers. What could have been running through their minds as Soyinka scorched the buttock of their trade? Were they self-congratulating themselves that what they had always gave as reasons for refusing to publish manuscripts from many Nigerian writers had eventually been upheld as justified? Or did they sink into self-mortification for having been the harbinger of the regime of “self-publication with its attendant disabilities” through their much vilified refusal to patronize works of Nigerian writers; and their overt covetousness to commercialization which made them romance biographies and school text while shunning creative writing?
Oh, they were not in the hall… the so-called Nigerian writers abroad, majority of whom had been acerbic critics of the LNG prize, particularly for its stated criterion that only writers in Nigeria were eligible to participate in the competition. Since the prize project was announced about a year ago, it had become perhaps, the most discussed project in the Nigerian literary circle home and abroad. It had the most feasibility on Internet discussion groups as well as on the arts pages of Nigerian newspapers. Cannon of words and angers have awash its soul. This is not to abate now. Not with the latest development.
But are the ‘Nigerian writers abroad’ – many of whom were swept mostly across the sea by the late 80s through the 90s brain drain phenomenon, triggered by the search for better and qualitative education in the face of the falling standard at home; disillusionment with the social and political conditions at home as well as the search for economic fortunes, far away from a land that gradually crippled its middle class and the elite – toasting that their winds have blown to expose the behinds of their ‘enemies’… those who supposedly conspired to exclude them from aspiring to the largesse of the NLG? Is anyone out there lullabying : ‘we told them so, that the NLG prize was destined to come to no good for the Nigerian literature?
Well, let the jubilant step softly on the dance floor, so he doesn’t end up in the belly of the earth as happened to the elephant, whose arrogance was fatally tamed by the lithe tortoise. There is nothing to be jubilant about. The writers abroad are not themselves exculpated from the indictment in the NLG jury reports. They had been part of the rot too. Everyone has a mote in his eyes in this affair. Many of these writers were themselves the kingmakers of self-publishing, or what has been variously described as ‘Vanity Publishing’ or ‘Money-for-hand’ publishing. Many of them, through unbridled ambition to win the annual ANA prizes ‘at all cost’, dragged the collective body of writers into the mud of ‘caucuses’ and ‘alliances’, which led to the exit of a huge club of potential members, who could have been part of the few insisting on sanity, truth and conscientious-ness in the activities of the writers body.
Majority of the works with which many of the ‘writers abroad’ won the ANA prizes, too are riddled with the type of ‘avoidable errors’ catalogued by the wise judges of the NLG – incidentally the jury is peopled by the teachers and mentors of many of the writers abroad.
Many of the writers abroad scripted the ‘arrogance of the head’, which blotted out any attempt to recourse to self-cleansing of the writers’ community, through an obviously bloated sense of accomplishment or ‘arrival’ as someone once dubbed it.
Stated Osundare in his extempore keynote at the 51st Stampede in June:
“…there seems to have developed a certain kind of over-bonding among our new writers, a kind of nest-crowding that happens among birds threatened by external danger…. No, there is nothing wrong about a sisterhood or brotherhood of letters. But what we have at the moment is a kind of tiwantiwanism (ours-is-ours); with, of course, the unstated but implied rider tiwonntiwon (theirs is theirs), a kind of intra-generational commune whose tenet is: our own thing wrong or right.
“This kind of mindset is capable of producing an incestuous affinity, an over-subjective fraternity/sorority which operates through a process of inclusion by discriminatory exclusion: This is our own generation; let’s patronize, publicise, and protect our works at all cost. The older generations have taken care of themselves and grabbed their place in the sun. Greedy bunches: see how they stand in our way. This is our chance... Are we in danger of producing a band of writers, a guild of think-alike critics whose sworn duty is to protect the group from inter-generational onslaught? This clannish mentality draws inspiration from another strain of the tiwantiwanist virus: tribalist criticism, an infection that has never been very far from the fabric of Nigerian letters, but which has become quite acute in recent times: How dare you criticize the works of a fellow tribesman/woman. Good or bad, it is the work of your kinsman/woman, and belongs to the tribal stock. Stay under the tent. Not so to do is to be guilty of treachery. Let us be frank: our new writers did not invent this virulent mentality, though this fact does not absolve them from blame for its perpetuation...”
The applause that trailed Osundare’s (though stylishly veiled) brutal and frank critique of the degeneration of the Nigerian writing had hardly subsided when some of the ‘new writers’ – many pof whom hadn’t even listened to the full delivery, picked up axe, aiming for his aging neck. One particular writer, rushed up to the compere of the occasion and declared: “it will be so sad if you don’t allow us to respond to this Osundare man. He was just making sweeping statements; what does he know about the work of new writers. How many poetry collections has he read; how many drama scripts has he read. Has he read my work”. When he noticed the disinterest of the compere, he stammered off. He went to join some other members of the writer clan, who as always, had formed another discussion group some metres away from where Osundare was dissecting the state of Nigerian literature, drawing comparison between old and new generations of writers.
The impatient comportment of the young writer to criticisms reechoed at the Abuja NLG Prize ceremony.
Shortly after concluding the report of the jury, Abubakar Gimba proceeded to give the citation of the three writers considered befitting of ‘Honourable Mention’… he had hardly gone through the first paragraph of the first writer, when a corner of the Congress hall erupted in grumbling. Someone out there was agitated. He was one of the shortlisted 13 (the judges claimed they shortlisted six). His aggressive outbursts continued to laze the entire presentation by Gimba. While the Vote of Thanks was in progress, the agitated writer was seen in the lobby of the hall, screaming: how can any reasonable person say that this book (he flaunted a copy of his entry) is not well edited; has grammatical errors and all that rubbish they were talking about. What do they know about English language? Do they know that some of us have been writing for decades… please let’s get out of here; I have just come to waste my time here. With that he grabbed copies of his book on display in the lobby and dragged his company (a rotund fellow who all along was heaping expletives on the judges) and walked into the night of Nicon Hotel. A reporter who tried to conclude an earlier discussion with the writer was shoved off the way.
Yet another shorlisted writer found himself alone in the midst of five reporters, who were expressing their shock at the jury’s report said: “Those judges whoever they are jokers. My book has been well applauded by knowledgeable people and now these guys came and said it was not good enough for their award… We know their politics. They found a safe way out of the embarrassment of having members of the board of the prize and relatives of some of the NLG staff on the shortlist.” No contrary argument canvassed by some of the reporters would swing his convictions that the Jury’s decision had been influenced by the controversies that had dogged the inclusion of certain names in the shortlist.
Echoing the sentiments of some of the members of the audience that night, he kept muttering “Even at that they should have awarded the prize to at least one of the writers”.
It did not matter that the book adjudged to represent the very best work published in the last four years in Nigeria, should according to criteria for the NLG prize “represent the best of our writing”. Just give the prize and let my people go — the morbid philosophy that has come to define national etiquette in terms of performance and accomplishment.
But the attitude of impatience reflected in the reactions of the two writers above has been with the community of writers for long. And it is not peculiar to writers at home alone. It is part of the reasons why qualitative critics have taken the flight off the pages of newspapers. It was impossible to write a critique of a work and keep a straight face, without being ostracised by what Osundare has called “clannish” community of writers. Those who had dared in the past had been rewarded with insults and abuse. The era of “Scratch-my-back-I-scratch- yours” critics and reviews of literary work was effectively entrenched
Reviewing a collection of poems by a writer, a critic suggested that the poems are very prosaic, do not read like verses and at best sounded more journalese and pamphleteering! The writer who, then, had just relocated abroad, fired back: he thought the critic was mischievous, unlearned in the art of poetry and was indeed stupid to question his competence in poetry writing, afterall he had won many prizes, and no jury had ever queried his writings.
Another example: after a half-decade stay abroad, a writer came home, thrust his latest collection in the face of a reporter. After two poems, the reporter retorted:
‘But what has happened to your love of strong, dreadful imageries, which distinguished you from the others in the past?’
‘They are there. You need to read deep to get it’.
‘I think you have really watered it down, these read like a short story; it is not really poetic’.
‘Well, you may not see it. Others have seen it and praised my craft. But because some of you guys here have not seen good literature for a long time, you tend to lose trend of new styles and techniques. Nigerian writing has moved away from here. It is abroad’. With that he suspend his promise to autograph a copy of the book for the reporter. They sank their differences in drinks under the almond trees at the National Theatre.
At the June Stampede where Osundare spelt out his fears about current writing, a robustly argumentative writer, who one hour after he arrived the venue had not even sat down to listen to what the Professor of English was saying, walked up to the compere: ´h, this man is over talking, tell him to shorten it and give other chance”.
“But he is doing the Keynote[ protested the compere”.
“Ehn, but what is he saying that others have not aside before him”.
The exasperated compere remarked, “But you have not even listened to him, at least not since you arrived here, I saw you… you, like your friends over there, are more interested in breaking this house into two…”
“Well, you know we writers are restless. We have no time for all this long talk”.
He went off to join the rest of the ‘break-away’ participants at the Stampede.
••As it was with Soyinka, the novelist Abubakar Gimba had a burden. He was saddled with reading the fatalistic report of the LNG jury. Gimba is a past president of ANA. If he felt rankled by the indictment of his community, he was not alone in his category. Also in the hall were Femi Osofisan, also a former president of the writers body; and Olu Obafemi, the incumbent President of the body.
In spite of the excuses that memebers of te writer community would bring up to explain counter the claims of te LNG prize, the subtext of the indictment should not be sacrificed. It is not enough to attempt to rubbish the submissions of the jury as some of the writers have altready began to do, blaming certain clandestine agenda of the organisers or the failure to include everybody in the project. These excuses and blame-trading will only lead to one path: a return to the rotten past. The report should serve to relaunch Nigeria’s writing to dream and aspire toward excellence again. A rebirth of craftmanship and technique mastreing, afterall the Jury ruled that the writing is not devoid of great themes or good stories or ambitious style and technique. It is in the matter of cleanliness and effective production that the entries were mostly faulted.
The Jury’s report is in substance ,a call to re-examination of how much Nigeria literature had derailed from a destiny of excellence on which its history had begun. It is a subtle call for return to the glory which had enabled Nigerian writers win nearly all the Litearay prizes ever instituted in the world.
A failure to see the report as a call to rebirth, should perhaps lead to only opne thing; declaration of a state of emergency in the Nigerian literary field.




posted by EniOlorunda at 1:51 PM 0 comments links to this post  




What Has Religion Got To Do With It



Religion and The Sanctity of Space of Social Interaction: A Personal Narrative On The Situation In South West Nigeria
By Jahman Anikulapo

PREAMBLE
The title and content of this piece have been inspired by a speech delivered by the South Korean Ms. Irene NG, a former magazine editor, who later became a Member of Parliament, at a workshop for journalists in South Korea in 2002. Ms. Irene, in her speech, Walking The Middle Line, which was basically a narrative of her personal experience as a journalist dealing with matters of inter-groups relationships, uncovered some uncommon roots of conflicts among groups of divergent orientations and ideologies. She suggested ways by which a communications worker or any social worker and, by extension, the larger society could effectively navigate the vast and precarious landmine wrought by differences in belief systems as well as cultural orientations, that fill our current social order.
Substantially, Ms. Irene speaks to my experience in various dimensions: as a Nigerian who while growing up and schooling, lived through varied encounters with differing religious tendencies and who, has had to contend with other experiences as a cultural journalist in the past 18 years.
Interestingly, it is in this later dimension that I have come to realize certain basic truths that we, as thinkers and opinion-molders, ought to uphold in our search for answers to the many questions bordering on the survival of our contemporary society(ies). We shall return to these truths later, perhaps, in our conclusions.
But we may stress at this initial stage that the Social Space of Interaction which is that vast field where human beings meet on equal terms i.e as creations with blood and flesh, without the various barriers erected by man and the circumstances of his existence… must be firmly protected by all instruments necessary -- legislative, legal, political, social -- so that it will remain inviolable. It means that the State and its administrators and the people will ensure that even when peddlers of Religious interests including the Entrepreneurs and Profiteers, insist on seizing the control of political and economic powers, they will at least spare the Space of Social Interaction. The Cultural field is the most active of the various fields in the Social Interaction Space and so, we propose that the State must make deliberate attempt to invest in the field so that it could harness its vast potentials of diffusing the tensions that are bound to come with the day to day running of the State and human interactions.

This presentation is the product of a little project began by the Culture Working Committee (an arm of the Culture activist group, the Committee for Relevant Art, CORA, founded 1991) last year after the Colloquium on Culture of Peace that was part of the 13th National Festival of Arts and Culture, NAFEST, in Port Harcourt.
The NAFEST itself had been initiated as the Nigeria Arts Festival (NAF) in 1970 – a few months after the end of the 30-month Civil War -- by a group of cultural intelligentsia of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, as their contribution towards quickening the pace of Reconciliation and Reintegration among the various sections of the country that had been fragmented by the political conflicts that led to the war. The festival was taken over by the government after the Second World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture, FESTAC in 1977. It then became a yearly event though it suffered a break between 1983 and 1988.
At the 2002 NAFEST, the government had included a Colloquium on Culture of Peace as a continuation of an on-going national discourse the best means of resolving the various conflicts that attended the nation’s quest for Democracy and freedom from the long Military interregnum.
A group of Cultural Journalists who were attending the Colloquium, perhaps wearied by the unfruitful results of the many conferences that had been held on same issue of finding solution to the crisis and; perhaps also, noting that certain so-called social activists and public commentators had installed themselves as professional speakers at such events thus putting a question on the integrity of their contributions and sincerity of the conferences, had thought of initiating a more practical means of approaching the matter of Peace and National Cohesion.
They thus decided to take up a little project of documenting their individual story with focus on the type of orientation (upbringing, educational and working life) that had shaped their adult perception of life and society, particularly, as it affects the ‘Other People’.
The project is in three phases. And the first phase is the production of the Literatures (such as in this presentation), which will then form the basis of some Conferences and Youth-Focused actions in the nearest future. It is our own little way of creating an atmosphere of better understanding among the people and emphasizing on those positive values in our social orientation, which have been upstaged by activities of politicians who masquerade as purveyors of Puritanism and Protectors of God’s Lore.
So when we confronted the title ‘What Has Religion Got To do With It’? We decided to moderate the sub-text of that theme by adopting the title of the song of the famous American pop star Tina Turner, ‘What Love’s Got To Do With It’. So we asked ‘What Hasn’t Love Got To Do With What God Has Created?’ The creations we refer to are The Earth and its Human Occupiers.
This presentation will oscillate between the personal narratives and the cold facts of historical antecedents as they relate to the topic and particularly, the experience of the South West of Nigeria.
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NIGERIAN POLITY AND ETHNO –RELIGIOUS BALANCING
Ethnicity and Religion have always dominated discourse in Nigeria polity. These same issues have also, always been prevalent in the many conflicts that Nigerians have experienced in the past decades.
Governance of the country has been largely influenced by ethnic and religious considerations, particularly since 1914 when the ‘geographical expression’ that is today known as Nigeria was contrived by Britain, the former colonial administrator or ‘master’, from the Northern and Southern Protectorates.
Activities of consecutive Nigerian governments particularly, in the sharing of political largesse, have always placed emphasis on where the beneficiary comes from and the religion, which he/she professes. Similarly, the composition of Federal (as well as some state) cabinet has always been sensitive to balancing of the various ethnic and religious divides, although one can say that for religion, the contention is always between Islam and Christianity.
The Traditional Religion practitioners who are said to account for about 60 per cent of the over 120 million population, are always excluded except when there is a major rupture in the religious world of the nation and they are called upon to join their Muslim and Christian fellows to proffer solution to the crisis. Perhaps, the first major attempt to include the traditional religion in the national agenda was with the recent appointment of Professor Wande Abimbola, a renowned Traditionalist and Culture Scholar, into the Federal cabinet of President Obasanjo, as Special Adviser on Culture and Chieftaincy Affairs.
Throughout its political history, the composition of the Nigeria Federal Executive Council has always respected the Islam and Christianity dichotomy. At independence in 1960, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo Christian was elected the President while Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a minority-Hausa Muslim was Prime Minister.
In 1979 during the Second Republic, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a Fulani Muslim was the President and Dr. Alex Ekwueme, an Igbo Christian, the Vice-President.
Although the 1983 Presidential elections paraded two Muslims (MKO Abiola and Babangana Kingibe), one, a Yoruba and the other an Hausa on the ticket of the SDP, the issue of religion was topical particularly, in the campaign of the second party, the NRC.
The present dispensation since 1999 when the country re-adopted democracy follows the same pattern with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian as President and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, a Hausa Muslim as Vice-president.
But the dream of the founding fathers had always been a land of equal opportunity. As a matter of fact, the dream to have a pluralistic society where every component -- every people and every individual -- is free to adopt, develop and practice its (his) own faith and set of beliefs -- is well entrenched in the consciousness of virtually every Nigerian. And indeed, certain national policies are founded on this dream and aspiration of mutual respect and, accommodation of, for interest of other people.
For instance, the Second National Development Plan -- which has come to be known as the most definitive of the various Plans (that have always been abandoned at birth in any case) -- stressed five key objectives of the nation. These are to build:
oA free and democratic society
oA just and egalitarian society
oA united, strong and self-reliant nation
oA great and dynamic economy
oA land of bright and full opportunities for all citizens
However, these objectives have been abused and manipulated on many occasions by those whom Ms. Irene had described as Religious Entrepreneurs but whom we have also identified as Politico-Religious Merchants and Profiteering Puritans, who capitalize on the gale of social and economic depression that have over the decades, unleashed strain – physical and spiritual -- on the people.
The activities of these selfish leaders and opinion molders have also over time, managed to have some degree of backing by the corrupt tendencies in the State as well as the profiteering 'Big Brothers' from abroad.
The institutionalization of these Fifth Columnists in the affairs of many African states, in particular here, Nigeria, has led to the advent of frequent religious crisis.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that cases of very serious religious intolerance and violence started showing up in Nigeria polity and; though widely reported (because of their novelty), they were mostly isolated cases. The 1990s brought the most damning of the crisis in the infamous Maitasine Riot -- a Muslim sectarian conflict that was promoted as inter-religious crisis and which rocked the nation to its foundation.
But we must note that the 1990s recorded the most disruptive events in the political and economic lives of Nigeria. The Second Republic, which was the country’s second romance with Democratic Governance, was annulled in 1983 by the Military adventurists (politicians) who had halted the First Republic in 1966.
Also and very significantly, Nigeria took the International Monetary Fund, IMF loan in 1985 and launched the strangulating economic regime of Structural Adjustment Policy, SAP, which of course, sapped hope, confidence and self-esteem from the will of the people to live and survive.
Thus the wave of aggression that enveloped the national spirit can be gleaned from the perspective of economic emasculation of the populace and the dislocation of the political movement of the country. This aggression and sense of disorientation did not spare the religious conviction of the people. It buried anger in their souls and hatred in their senses.
****
NIGERIA AND THE SOUTH WEST
Nigeria is usually divided into three rough zones — North, East and West. Each of these zones portrays the two major religious tendencies of the country. The East (including the relatively new branding — the South-South), is largely Christian while the North is predominantly Muslim.
The West, however, is almost evenly divided among the two. In fact, there is hardly any family in the West without some of its members who do not share sympathy for either of the two main religions – Islam and Christianity -- even when the main family professes to either of the faiths.
The dominant ethnic group in the West is Yoruba and they are largely cosmopolitan and liberal in social, cultural and even political orientation. And there are shared fundaments between the traditional norms and the so-called Modern influences.
****
RELIGION OF THE YORUBA
Defining the religion of the Yoruba has always been a subject of contention among sociologists and other classes of researchers. Certain hasty conclusions had said at some point that it was Paganism and they based their resolve on the preponderance of perceived cultic influences in the norms and cultural practices of the people.
But this only signifies the problem of Labeling, which goes beyond mere categorization. The term is often used derogatorily by the adherents of the two main (foreign) religions who perceive themselves as the ‘authentic’ or ‘righteous’, to express their subjective conviction of the ‘Other’(s).
Paganism is no doubt, a convenient choice of label or perspective by Muslims and Christians for a set of beliefs rooted in the culture of the people and, which they cannot understand or have refused to comprehend.
However, one point on which they all agree is the fact that there is the sacrosanct place of the Supreme Being who occupies the same status as God in Christendom or Allah in Islam. All power flows from the Being and he dispenses his authority through the various deities, who other researchers have defined as similar to the various prophets in the other religions.
Also, debates have been had on whether Yoruba religion could be seen from the perspective of Monotheism — i.e. because of the Central place of the Supreme Being; or Polytheism i.e. because each of the deities also occupies important place of worship in the pantheon.
However, Bolaji Idowu, in his landmark 1962 publication, Olodumare — God In Yoruba Belief (Longman, 1962), contended that:
"It is rather dubious if we could speak of the religion of Yoruba people in precise term. What we have seems to be a mixed bag of individual cults out of which everyone chooses according to lineage or family tradition, or as the circumstances of life dictates. Nevertheless, the one big Bag which holds the individual cults together, is Olodumare (also Oluwa, Olorun etc).
This suggests a pantheon in which Olodumare is one among many... He is a part as wholly. His relationship to the divination being that of "the sovereignty by which He orders His dominion in which they are included". And none of the deities operate its power and will without the direction and supervision of Olodumare.
Generally, the Yoruba attitude to religion is one of tolerance and moderation, hence the title of any Oba as ‘Baba Ilu’ i.e. father of all. An Oba is expected to attend all religious activities in his domain, be it of Christian, Muslim or indigenous colouration. Indeed, there are certain Festivals which mandate that the Monarch must be a father of the entire community and that irrespective of his Religious inclination, he must be part of the spiritual comfort of the people as expressed in their Festivals as well as other social functions.
We have the Osun Osogbo Festival in Osogbo, Osun State. We have the Olojo Festival, in Ife also in Osun State. We have the Eyo Festival in Lagos. We have the Ekimogun Festival in Ondo State; We have the Okebadan in Oyo State among others. In each of these places, the Monarch is either a Muslim or a Christian but he still has to be the ‘father of all’ by leading activities in each of the national festival or ceremony in his domain.
Recently, some Obas who refused to respect this doctrine of being a father to all in the community have faced problem with the community.
Some studies have suggested that the Polytheism undercurrent in Yoruba religion coupled with the cosmopolitan nature of the people accounts for the attitude of accommodation of the two religions with little room for conflicts. But this accommodation has always discomforted the people of the two other religions who insist that the commitment of a Yoruba person to a religion is suspect. For instance to most Muslims in the North, the Muslim in the South is a ‘kaferi.’But the fundamental of the Yoruba to religion is borne in the song :Awa Osoro Ilewa
Esin ope kawa masoro
Awa o soro Ile wa
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Religions apart, people of the southwest are mostly driven by the virtues of kindness, love, tolerance and humility.
Consciously or unconsciously, they could be seen to have hearkened to the submission of the Holy Qur’an when Allah says: "Oh Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (Not that ye may despise (each other). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of God, is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God, Has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).



YORUBA CONTACT WITH FOREIGN RELIGION:
Whereas, Bolaji Idowu stated that it is difficult at the moment to say exactly when the two religions first made their contacts with the country, their coming is bound up with the early history of the Yoruba. J.M Groves speaks of Christian missionary activities of the Portuguese and of the Spanish in the Benin Empire between 1485 and 1655. Also Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics notes missionary activities in Benin, Angola, Upper Volta, about same time. Benin is only 180 miles away from Ife the cradle of the Yoruba.
Christianity came again in 1841 through slaves who were liberated in Sierra Leone.
It is difficult to put a date on the entrance of Islam into Yoruba land, but if we consider the fact that many of its neighbours like the Nupe, the Madingo and Hausa who trade extensively with Oyo people received Islam by the 10th century, it is certain that the northwest of Yoruba land must have some Muslims as far back as the 11th or 12th century. However, A.D. Bivar and M. Biskett in the "Arabic Literature of Nigeria: A Provisional Account" (BSOAS, XXV, 1962) and; H.F.C. Smith: "Arabic Manuscript Material Relating To The History Of the Western Sudan", made reference to Yoruba Muslims in the 17th century.
Christianity however, helped to further reinforce the Yoruba's belief in a supreme life and human responsibility.
Islam, which was also recorded to have come through Sudan via Northern Nigeria also help to reinforce such values as pre-destiny and fatalism. Islamic fatalism – the will not to question the will of the Supreme Being.
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But the two religions have had a weakening effect on Yoruba's belief system. The Yoruba religions have been known to suffer immeasurable disruption through intervention of the two religions. Stated Bolaji Idowu: "Besides the internal weaknesses which makes for its retrogression, the religion of the Yoruba has been affected by the incursion of two world religions – Christianity and Islam – which came into the country with their attendant culture.
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But we race ahead to another of conception of our conclusion that the insulation of Yoruba communities from religious conflicts, the volatile dimension of it, as had often been witnessed in other parts of the country, is rooted in the fact that the Yoruba culture in the context of its socio-cultural milieu including its norms and practices, has been able to contain the excesses of the two foreign religions – Islam and Christianity. Whereas it has managed, even where they in their philosophical contentions have gone against its foundational principles, to accommodate them, it has maintained its sacred doctrines of love, brotherhood and tolerance of all shades of opinion.
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However, we should not be under any illusion that the Yoruba culture and by extension, religious conviction from future conflicts or clashes with the foreign religions. As a matter of fact, we have noticed the aggression of the newer forms of Islam and Christianity ‘to fish’ for their ‘new men’ from the vast seemingly unexplored traditional religious fields to which the Yoruba religion is often confined. The Evangelisation or what has been termed Missionarism principles of the younger sects of the two main religions are bound to sooner or later run into conflict with the liberal contentions of the Yoruba cultural norms. Already we can see the manifestation of this future conflicts in the activities of the Gospeller cults of the two main religion which thrive on condemning or derogating the existing beliefs or practices to legitimize its own convictions or justify its own existence.
Thus we have in the South West, we have the rise of a new (militant?) gospelling Muslim body called the NASFAT which is redefining the traditions of Islam worship of Muslims. Its members now worship on Sundays at about the same time that the Pentecost Christians mass for worship in their various churches. Besides, the NASFAT is exploring the Pentecosts’ norms of tele-evangelism. It is thus curious when on Sunday mornings, young Muslim clerics come on the television screen preaching the gospels of Islam. They even stage Praise and Worship in the established Christian practices. And the famous Lagos-Ibadan Expressway which has in the past few years been colonized by Christian movements of Pentecost persuasions has suddenly become choice spots for the establishment of worship centre by the NASFAT. In other words, there is Jihadist colouration to the practice of the new Muslim movement and it is easy to project that the next Religious conflagration may actually come from the seemingly Conflict-insulated South West… and it may just begin at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
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NARRATIVE: Social (Childhood) Orientation:
The years of childhood were, of course, spent ignorant of the demarcation between the various belief systems. Every religious festival was a feast and we as children partook of all. In December we visited the homes of the Christians in the neighborhood and feasted on the famous Christmas rice that always appeared specially prepared and had a flavour that was distinct from the usual that we were used to at home. And after the month of Ramadhan, the Odun Kekere (Eid-Fitri), was our time to visit Muslim homes for the rice and ram and occasional amala and ewedu soup.
Soon it would be Odun Ileya, Id-el-Kabir or the big Muslim festival and again, the children would be there to savour the offerings. At this time, we were children of the entire community, and so we had to be fed by whoever’s turn it was to celebrate a religious festival. Only few parents would try to dissuade their children from participating in the feasting.
It was a feeling of camaraderie, which the entire community shared; the closely-knit bonds which the sociologist of renown, Emile Durkhiem, spoke about. There is a subtle social sanction for the parent or guardian who attempted to stop his children or wards from being part of the feast — and this had to do with winning the scorn of the other members of the community. In any case, it was difficult to even claim to be the child of one’s parents alone. Not with the aphorisms among the Yoruba that Oju Kan ni’ nbimo, igba oju ni nwo (You are born of only your parents, but weaned by 200 (the entire community)". This translates to the child being a property of the entire community or the neighborhood.
Of course, it was the responsibility of all the adults in the community to effect discipline on any erring child. And such an adult had no need to explain why he had to discipline the child. This was a measure of social control. With this kind of setting, it was possible for one, just as many other children, who grew up in similar circumstances, to have imbibed a liberal attitude to matters of religious differences.
The fact was we never knew the difference. The children of Muslim parents and those of Christians lived, ate and played together. The social interaction space was ruled by collective will for survival of the people rather than by primordial sentiments of race, faith or ethnic background. My father lived and worked in the northern part of the country, specifically in the very heart of Islamic community of Zaria. He worked as a building contractor, constructing residences for many of the rich people in that part of the University City. He had been there since 1958, some five years before I was born in 1963. My childhood memory recorded faintly this bearded fellow who always showed up in our family house in Agege, in the suburb of Lagos, about twice or thrice a year, and showered us, the children with many gifts particularly of Donkunu and Kuli kuli — two popular Hausa snacks.
I also recall that he had a funny (at least then to my little mind) accent that was indeed very strange. He spoke as if he was rolling some consonants on his tongue or sometimes over-stretching his vowels. But then I noticed that he always slept in my mother’s room and that the bigger room in the foremost part of the house, which usually remained close for most part of the year, was always opened anytime he visited. It was very much later that I came to realise that he was my father.
Much later, I was to be told that some of the little ones in the household were not his children but those of other people who had been in the house. I recall that on one occasion, when the bearded man was visiting, he came with about eight strange people dressed in long robes who spoke a very, very strange tongue. They were given a little feast at which a ram was slaughtered and that certain other bearded fellows came to the house, sat on a mat, and proceeded to give us names that one later understood to be Muslim names. We were told that the man with the beard had become a Muslim.
Perhaps pressured by the exigencies of the needs of his new friends, the strange talking ones he brought from his adventures in the north, the bearded fellow had gone ahead to convert the piece of land by our house to an open-air praying ground, where he and his friends prayed. The manner of prayer, which appeared as a game, soon drew the curiosity of the young ones in the neighborhood as we joined them to pray.
The praying ground gradually soon had a covering with corrugated sheets and an Arabic School started. We were enrolled. Thus in the morning we went to the Catholic School and we came back in the early afternoon to attend the Arabic school only to return to the school compound in the evening, to the St. Peter’s seminary, to partake of the bible study. These activities in our young minds were fused… one continuous experience of studying. We had no cause to interrogate the content or context of the two contra-distinctive experiences.
Thus we read the Holy Bible with as much fervour as we studied the Holy Qur'an. We could recite the Suras just as much as we could do the psalms and passages from the bible. And the status of every child was possibly judged by his adeptness at the recitation of excerpts from the two books. In fact, the elderly youths at night would hold tablets of Goody Goody sweet in the evenings at playtime and summoned the kids to recite from the two books. The ones who won in the competitions got a prize of the sweet. In all this, there was no knowledge of who was the child of whom in the neighborhood. Particularly the young ones were not supposed to know. Or so it seemed.
To one’s young mind then, every child who lived in the house was a child of the bearded fellow whom we had been told was the Bale-Ile (head of the household). I recall in particular distinctly my horror the day I was told that my favourite playmate, the oval-faced boy Eyinayya, whose name I could hardly pronounced well, whom I had always taken to be from my mother’s womb, was the child of another woman who had come from a distant land. This time I was already in Primary five in 1973.
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EDUCATIONAL ORIENTATION
Papa Eyinayya, I was later told, was only a tenant in my father’s house. Yet this was the first patriarchal figure in my childhood mind. He was the figure that stood as my father as far as I was concerned and he played the role well.
Papa Eyinayya was a Catholic by faith. And at the time we were ready to be enrolled in school in 1969, he was the one who took me and other children of my age in the house and perhaps, the entire neighborhood, to the nearest school to us — St. Peter’s Primary School to be registered for the beginning of our educational journey. At the Catholic school, we went through all the rituals of baptism, of church attendance, Holy Communion and the rest. And the full account of all these activities we related to our mother whenever we returned home.
Eventually, I was one of the few people chosen by the only white priest at St Peter’s to live in his house and serve as ‘special server’ at the church. Of course, by the grace of this circumstance, one could remember having started life as a Catholic, as we attended mass every Sunday and none of our parents ever raised an eyebrow.
Later our neighborhood became expanded, especially with the movement into our house of a set of twins, who were Christians no doubt. They were always dressed in white shirts over a black pair of trousers and in one's memory they seemed to be permanently attired in this dress. On Sundays and most evenings, they could be seen carrying a bulging bag. We were later told that they were members of a Kingdom Society and that what they carried in their bags were tracts and pamphlets that contained excerpts from the Holy Bible. Even at that, one could notice that they were not really so much interested in discussing the contents of the bible with one. They did not seem to share of the content of our religious learning in the Catholic school either. They seemed to have a different view of so many of the teachings in the bible. But what did it matter to such impressionable minds as ours. We loved them both as th ey were always neatly dressed and had handsome faces. Our generous father was soon so enamoured by the depth of the twins' knowledge of the way of the world, that he hired them as home teachers for us.
Thus after the Arabic classes that usually ended shortly before the sun finally set, we would converge in the passage of the Boys' Quarters for home lessons. While we learnt the secret of Mathematics and Additional Maths, we also learnt more of the doctrines of the Kingdom Society (KS) and got to know the fundamental difference between the KS, the Jehovah Witnesses and the Foursquare Church. The surprise was that these three appeared fundamentally the same, save a few variations in the beliefs.
However, when the population of the children in the twins class increased, the passage became grossly inadequate; and so another piece of land on the left side of the household was given to the twins by our father for the purpose of the evening classes. Thus began the emergence of a church on the street. Our household inevitably became sandwiched between a church and a mosque. Yet, we as kids had no problems traversing the two worlds. At most times, even the adults joined us in the classes.
Eventually, it was one of the twins who registered us in an Anglican School, United City College, when it was time to attend Secondary School. He was a teacher in the school and he had, one afternoon, brought the forms of the school home and asked us to register. The surprise was that we were registered at the school with the consent of our father who had only less than two years before, caused us to adopt Muslim names in cognizance of his new found faith. Though also a Christian school, United City College had a different orientation from the Catholic school. The ritual was less intense and the atmosphere was less regimented. There was much more songs and games and drama in the school and social life was freer. We were in the boarding school, and every Friday, we were allowed to go home at least for two hours. Sometimes, we took excursion to other schools and on some occasions we were allowed to stay the night during which we shared social activities. Of course, we were now older than when we attended St. Peter's. We were mature and so trusted with more freedom.
A shock find. In the curriculum of the Anglican United City College, there was the Islamic Religious Knowledge, IRK, which was made compulsory for all Form One Students just like the CRK -- Christian Religious Knowledge. The residual knowledge from the Arabic school was of great advantage here as our unformed tongues relished the singsongs of the surahs. Most of the teachers in the schools were Christians, but there were about three that were indeed Muslims; and every Friday afternoon there were special Jumat services, which the students were made to attend. It became fashionable for almost all the students to attend them as the service was always followed by the special meal of Tuwo and Gbegiri (millet meal and bean soup). On Sunday, it was the tasty rice and chicken stew. The foodstuffs came always from the large farm at the back of the school where every student had a little portion of land and was allowed to plant variety of crops. At the end of every school term, harvest from each student's farm, which had been recorded at end of every week, were adjudged and awarded marks for the Agricultural Sciences class.
However, the romantic feel of United City College was short-lived at the end of our first term in Class two when then General Olusegun Obasanjo's Government abolished private ownership of schools. The students of the school were relocated to some other schools that had earlier been taken over from the missionaries by the military government.
We were relocated to Progress College, which though had a Christian background, was not so pronounced in the profession of allegiance to any Christian denomination. However, we would not even attend classes for a day at Progress as yet another circumstantial occurrence would intervene. A stocky elderly fellow, who was later to be identified by me as Baba Friday, had taken it upon himself to intervene. He would not allow his son Friday to attend Progress College, a school already labeled as peopled by miscreant-like youths who were known to play pranks around town when their mates were in school. Being perhaps the most educated in the neighborhood -- he was a supervisor in one of the factories owned by the Asians on the other side of town and only came around at weekends -- Baba Friday's opinion was highly respected in matter of schooling. He had decreed that none of the young ones relocated to Progress College would attend the school.
Next morning he herded the young ones into a file and marched us to a school some five kilometers from the neighborhood. This was Saka Tinubu Commercial School in Orile Agege. The school had an Islamic background, being the commercial arm of the famous Ahmaddiyah College (later Anwar-ul-Islam College) that had been founded in the early 1940s by some radical Muslim missionaries. Saka Tinubu, like most schools in the South West, accommodated diverse human experiences. The student population was something akin to a rainbow coalition. Students from various schools had been relocated to the school and so there were indigenes of various ethnic groups in Nigeria. Also, people of different beliefs and persuasions could be found in the school.
The principal of the school, Olukunle, was a Christian of Baptist persuasion, while his deputy, a woman from eastern Nigeria was a Catholic. But the head teacher, a Yoruba like Olukunle, was a Muslim and the Mathematics teacher, otherwise called Mastilo, as well as his Fine Arts counterpart, were never known to be identified with any particular religion. In fact, every Wednesday, during the time for religious activities, they were known to be engaged in the game of scrabble or Ayo, while the French teacher would twang away on his guitar with a sizeable number of students forming his audience. I recall that he later joined the famous juju music band of King Sunny Ade and toured many parts of the world with the international musician. Notably also we had Mr. Kodjo, a Ghanaian as English Teacher and he was probably a Protestant as he was always to be found in scriptural debate with the headmaster during the Physical Education period later in the afternoon.
The school, as a matter of fact, harboured a mosque next door to the junior staff quarters on the southern part of the vast compound. Few metres away, where the long block of classrooms for the junior class land marked by the famous footpath to the football pitch, was the little prayer house which served as the church. It was in the same room that the music lesson took place because of the organ that had been mounted in it. It would not be a surprise that much of the content of the music class was based on liturgical hymns and themes. But almost, or so it seemed, the entire student population participated in the activities in the room. This was evident by the fact that the Muslim-dominated student populace had to be organized into groups so the activities of the little rooms could accommodate them.
Besides, the students met in other extra-curricular activities that defined the social life of the school. The drama society was as strong as the literary and debating society. There were the Man O' War, Girl's Guide, Boys Scout, Junior Scientists, Farmer's Club, Home Science club, the Red Cross, the First Aid team as well as the various sporting clubs led by the Winsome Football Club for which I was the ruthless Number 6.
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There were few elite schools in Lagos of the late 70s and they were mostly to be found on the Island, which harboured the Central Business District as well as the residences vacated by the former colonial administrators and currently occupied by the Nigerian elite most who had been educated abroad but had come home to relieve the expatriates of the posts they were leaving in the aftermath of Independence. The children of these elites attended those schools spread around Lagos and Victoria Island, Ikoyi and its suburbs. However, located in the far-flung Agege outskirts of Lagos was the Ahmadiyyah College. Outside of its location, the school, which later became known as Anwar-ul- Islam, shared every attribute that the St. Gregory College, Ikoyi; King's College, Lagos; Methodist Boy's Missionary School and the very few others in their category had. It had a huge reputation in academic and a good profile in sports. It was the breeding ground of young stars and future leaders in various human endeavours. And Nigeria's current political, economic, cultural and scientific professions are filled with products of the school. It was the dream of many parents that their children or wards attended the school. Of course, our parents were no less ambitious. But there was the scare. Ahmadiyyah was known for its strict admission policy, especially with the claim that there usually existed only very few spaces after they had reserved a third of such admission spaces for candidates from other African countries, the West and Mid-East who usually come on exchange programmes.
To secure admission to the Ahmadiyyah College for the Higher School Certificate (HSC) studies, the lot once again fell on Baba Friday, the educated hero in our neighbourhood. He insisted that all the Secondary School graduands in our area obtain application for the school. He also undertook to pay for the special coaching of all the applicants towards the entrance examination which, indeed, was a nightmare of many aspiring applicants to the school. The exams came and at least four of the six that applied were successful -- two for the sciences and two for the arts.
Ahmadiyyah, though a well-rooted Muslim school, was even more adept at stressing ‘meritocracy’. There was no marked programme to stress the differences in religion, ethnicity, class or even the more mundane state of origin as primordially indented in the Nigerian polity. In fact, it was at Ahmadiyyah that one had a full opportunity to study Christian Religious Knowledge, not as part of programme for the HSC but as one of the three optional classes that an HSC student could take from the School Certificate Classes. We had fellowship just as much we had the MSS -- Muslim Students Society programmes. As boarders, we observed every Friday for Jumat services and Sundays for Church activities. Above all, sports and cultural programmes coordinated by the Drama and Literary Society were the greatest weapon of unification in the school.
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University days at the University of Ibadan were, of course, most accommodating of all religious and ethnic persuasions. As a matter of fact, if any organization attempted to be over-zealous or overreach itself, there were many organisations without affiliation or sympathy for any primordial sentiments on the campus to neutralize such conflicts. I recall the widespread shock that attended an attempt in the mid-eighties by two students organisations representing the two dominant religions on the campus of the University of Ibadan….
The Muslim students had complained that the location of the huge cross depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, which belong to the Chapel of Resurrection church, was discomforting to them. They claimed that the cross usually obstructed their views of the East where they are mandated to face while praying. They wanted the cross relocated. However, the Christian community countered that, well, the cross had been there before the mosque was built and so it was the Muslims that should move their praying centre.
Now this was a conflict never heard of in such a liberal community of academics. The anger of the rest of the university community was so huge that it eventually drowned the contentions of the two aggressors. This neutral position was instrumental to a quick resolution of the brewing crisis. In fact, it influenced the character of a panel that was quickly set up by the University authority to intervene in the crisis. The crisis was nipped.
A similar crisis had become a regular occurrence in higher institutions in other parts of the country. At times, something as trivial a matter as the mode of dressing by female students had sent a university community on fire in such parts. However, over time, religious differences have become more sharply emphasised in the academic communities of Nigeria, even in the South West. But none of the conflicts had assumed the status of a conflagration to cause the type of mayhem that had been witnessed in other parts of the country.
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While taking part the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in Kafanchan, in the Je'maa Local Government Council area of southern Kaduna State in 1987, perhaps the most damning of such a religious conflict in an academic environment occurred. The conflict was recorded to have taken its inspiration from the 1985 Maitatsine Riots in some parts of the north, where a Muslim sect unleashed mayhem on those who profess to other faiths, including Muslims of a different persuasion.
On this day, in cosmopolitan Kafanchan, which by virtue of its being a Railway town was populated by people from different parts of the country, the College of Education campus was bristling with activities marking the Students Week. In the courtyard of the school, there had been mounted a carnival of performances. Two of the key events of the week was a congregation of the Christian students association and the presentation of the play "The Gods Are Not to Blame" written by Prof. Ola Rotimi and directed by the head of the English department of the school, Mr. Joab Bonat, with assistance by me.
On the day the riot broke out, the play was billed to be staged. At about 2 pm, the cast and crew of the play, all students of the English department with a sprinkle of those taking elective courses in the department. Just as a member of the crew mounted a stool to fix an electric bulb in the center of the social hall at the extreme end of the school, a group of students in long robes walked in. They demanded to speak with the head of the department. He was not around, they were told. But his assistant, Mr. Anikulapo, the youth corps member was. One of the students mouthed certain statements about the corps member being an infidel. The hall fell into a shock. However, the aggression was suppressed. Some of the drama crew demanded the mission of the intruders. It was a demand that two of the cast members, who were Muslim girls and members of Muslim Students Association, be withdrawn from the play. According to one of the students, drama performance is idolatry and no genuine believer should be engaged in the vocation.
Particularly irksome to the intruders was the fact that the female students were part of a particular scene in the play which mandated that the women are dressed in a wrapper tied around their waist while leaving their upper part bare in accordance with Yoruba maidens' dress mode. The targeted girls were the first to raise protestation. It was their affair, shouted the more outspoken of the two, Mairo. One of the transgressors charged at her and attempted to slap her. He was restrained. But his comrades soon seized the two girls by the wrist and dragged them out of the hall. Of course, this act instigated a pandemonium as other members of cast attempted to challenge the intruders. There was much argument and fisticuffs and the scene of the latest morbid drama had gradually shifted towards the courtyard where a congregation had been seated and were in the midst of preachment by a young clergy.
Perhaps it was the tension imported from the social hall, for in no time, another argument had begun, all of a sudden, where the congregation was seated. There were shouts of obscenities and angry words. In no time, chairs and other items of seating were flying in the air. Many of the students had dangerous weapons such as daggers and broken bottles in their hands and many students already bore wounds as smell of fresh blood filled the air. At the other corner of the school, the little Mosque neighboured by the library was in flames. The campus had turned to a battlefield and there were wounded bodies sprawled all over the place.
Fleeing towards the town where the Corpers' Lodge was located, I could observe that some houses, especially belonging to people from other parts of the country were already on fire; and a popular businessman in the town, said to be the leader of one of the ethnic groups from other parts of the country, had been felled by an arrow shot into his head. He was reportedly attacked by one of those he had engaged for more than five years as a maiguard (security guard.)
The businessman had been known to be the main financier of the Muslim community in Kafanchan, having built mosques and served many years as patron of the Muslim Students Society of the College of Education. to which in 1987 one of his sons was serving as an officer. Yet those who burnt his property and killed him were alleged to be members of the same student society! This would indicate that much of the killings that occurred during the Kafanchan riot were not necessarily based on ethnic differences but purely the inexplicable thirst for blood by Religious Profiteers.
The news of his death only fuelled the riot. The so-called foreigners in Kafanchan launched a reprisal attack on the community of the Hausas and not even the palace of the Emir was spared the violence. Notably, the Emir had been in disputation with the indigenes of Kafanchan and suburbs, otherwise called the Kaje people over the alleged perennial imposition of a monarch on them by the Emirate in Zauzzau. The riot was thus a mere vehicle for expression of certain political angst and discontentment with the status quo.
This was the first time that the extent of religious dichotomy in Nigeria first dawned on me and it might have helped to erode substantially my confidence in the capability of modern man and especially Nigerians to safely wade through the murky waters of religious contentions and overcome the machinations of Religious merchants who are growing daily.
This fear is perhaps complicated by the advent of globalization and its emphasis on competition between the various strata of society, races of the world and economic classes.
Again Ms. Irene has noted: "Most of today’s tensions and conflicts are bound up with complex issues, with concepts of ethnicity, religion, identity, nationalism and globalisation. And the latest of these terrorism".
For as noted by James V. Spickard "Why is there a simultaneous growth of both religious divisiveness and quasi-religious unity? … Increased globalization and the growth of an international division of labour have fostered both trends. Such structural characteristics of our global late-modern social order have made plausible key themes of the human rights discourse, specially its universalism. The same characteristics have spurred religious and ethnic particularism as an anti-systemic counter-trend".
In fact the questions that many people have asked is that if Globalisation is that major platform where every component or group of component of the world go to negotiate the\ bases of their interaction and contract with other stakeholders, what is the identity that Africa or the Africans would be taking there? Is it that identity that is rooted in this conflictual religious ideologies or cultural dislocations ? Or an identity of polytheism that belies the conception of homogeneity that the West has always foisted on its cultural experiences?
The answer is not clear even in my mind.
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Ten years after the Kafanchan riot, in 1997, I was opportuned to work on an anti-conflict theatre project of the International Committee of The Red Cross, ICRC in collaboration with the Nigerian Red Cross,NRC. Under the theme A Vote For Relevance, the project was designated the Red Cross Theatre Project and it was designed top produce a multi-lingual and multi-format theatre package that would campaign against the rising wave of religious and ethnic conflicts in Nigeria as well as in other parts of the world.
The drama package to which I was Assistant Director/Producer was titled Askari and was written and directed by Ben Tomoloju. The package was to tour at least two-third of Nigeria’s 36 states with three versions of the play produced in three centres — West, East and the North. Each of the Centres was to compose its own cast and crew and conduct its own rehearsals to stress the cultural peculiarities of each centre. But there was provision for the overall supervision of each centre and its production by the national crew led by Tomoloju assisted by me.
In all there were 22 performances in 20 states of Nigeria.
The project of course, had a hitch-free proceedings in the South West and safe for inadequate facilities in the East recorded success. However, the experience at the North Centre was another eye-opener for me and it only reinforced my conviction that Religious Conflicts often arise simply because certain human selfish instincts and mercantilist spirit come in to play in decision taking process by leaders in most human endeavours.
In the composition of the cast there were certain extra-artistic factors that were forced on the production by public officials who had been drafted to give the project political backings by the host state governments. They insisted that the lead actor to play Askari had to be not only an indigene of any of the northern states but practicing Muslim.
All appeals to them that theatre lays emphasis on talents, skill, competence and merit was rejected. They contended that a Christian actor who is from Christian-dominated Southern Kaduna was not suitable to play the role as according to them, he was a kaffir and could draw the anger of the local population in the ten northern states that would see the play.
Insistence by the national Crew to impose meritocracy and insist on professional judgement only aggravated the conflict as they threatened to distrupt the show and mount public protest. They were indeed adamant and held the production up for at least three weeks before the National Crew succumbed to the blackmail. A certain percentage of the 10 performances in the centre was allocated to the untrained but imposed actor. These were to be in core northern states with infamous records for religious volatility.
Needless to say that the performance of the actor was chaos. Interestingly however what drew the ire of the various audiences peopled by the youths and students, even in the so-called core northern states, was the inability of the actor to carry the role and speak loud and intelligibly enough for the comfort of the audience.
****
Again the Religious Entrepreneurs had won. They were guided neither by the genuine interest of Islam nor the will of the Northern people whose needs they professed to protect.
This same fraud is well entrenched in the Nigeria national polity and has been responsible for the inability of the country to attain its full potentials politically and economically. Merit has always been slaughtered on the altar of such retrogressive considerations as Federal Character, State of Origin and Quota System.
****
The second phase of the Red Cross Project had had to be cancelled by the ICRC based on the various obstacles placed on the path of the project by such primordial sentiments as experienced at the North Centre. This experience in recorded in A Vote For Relevance, a booklet on the project co-authored by Ben Tomoloju and Jahman Anukulapo.
And eight years after the Askari experience, Tomoloju faced a similar obstacle in the course of preparation of a theatre project for the on-going Eighth All African Games, Abuja 2003.
He had been billed by the Wole Soyinka-led Creative Task Force set up to produce the Ceremonies of the games, to produce a play on the legends of the heroine Queen Amina, a northern matriarch of anti-female oppression.
In the course of researching into the legend, a Professor of language who had worked on the material and wrote a script began a campaign which was to the effect that Tomoloju being a Christian, and from the South, was not qualified to handle the production. It took the adamant posture of Prof. Soyinka and the COJA officials to ensure that the production was handled as originally conceived.
****
CULTURAL JOURNALIST
I started work formally as a Journalist in 1987 shortly after Youth Service. My special interest has been in Cultural Affairs and I particularly loved the festivals.
My experience has been that aside of Sports which always as in many other societies break down the barriers between all men, even if only temporarily, Culture remains the most potent weapon to counter conflicts of all dimensions. In cultural expressions all differences dissolve as a dance like music, painting, architecture, drama is only an expression of man’s innermost sense of aesthetics. And the expression appeals to the positive segment of a man’s emotions.
Having reported and participated in the many editions of the yearly, NAFEST otherwise called Feast of Unity, I have come to the conclusion that for the Nigerian nation, to quicken its pace towards sitting peace, needs to invest much interest, energy and resources in its cultural materials and ensure frequent expressions of same. There may be over 400 ethnic nationalities (and may be as so many religious sects)in Nigeria, they all as had been proven, share so many cultural ideas and attributes that are easily identifiable even if they all met at a single forum.
****
Indeed, it is not as if the Nigerian political elite is blinded to the place of culture in creating a less-conflict prone society, it is just that there is a pall of lack of political will and honesty to do that which is right for the common good. And this tendency has been witnessed in the approach of consecutive governments to the various religious conflagrations that the nation has witnessed.
As a matter of fact, the 2002 editions of the National Festival of Arts Culture had focused on the Culture of Peace as a contribution of the Culture intelligentsia to the discourse on finding a stratagem for resolution of the frequent religious conflicts in the country.
Among others the Communique of the conference had observed
oThat elite have distorted various forms of cultural processes that make for peace in the polity and;
o That causes of conflict in the Nigerian state include non-physical visit between peoples of different backgrounds, ignorance, linguistic barriers, intolerance, corruption, non accountability, insecurity, injustice, sensational and sectional journalism, poverty, hunger, dysfunctional educational system, manipulation of the youth by the elite in the prevailing political, economic and moral environment.
The conference thus recommended
continued and improved funding of cultural sector to empower it to discharge its responsibilities and render quality service as a broker of peace in the nation.
inclusion of culture studies in all levels of formal educational system.
use of time-tested cultural imperatives and paradigms in ameliorating, diffusing and resolving conflict situations and tensions in the nation.
Empowerment of the culture sector, artists, craftsmen and other professionals in the arts by inaugurating and launching the National Endowment Funds for the arts and culture.
****
My proposal, even if it sounds simplistic, is that Culture and the Arts given a well-defined operative environment and honest administration and foundation, remain the key to solving many of the conflicts of today and that was the essence of Ms Nasa’s postulation that for culture workers and those working in the sociological fields, designing a model for resolution of the various conflicts including religious must place emphasis on respect for the individual cultural norms and practices of the people.
We must stress that Europe and the West, the civilizations from which Africa taps its current political and ideological orientations have shown that developmental objectives must take off from the cultural foundation.
This is where their national aspirations derive from and that is why aside from their diplomatic missions, they have insisted in maintaining strong cultural presence in Many parts of the world. That is the mission of the Goethe Institutes, British Councils and the United States Information Services among others.
Unfortunately, the African nations which really need these cultural paradigms are the least interested in harnessing their cultural resources and intellectual potentials as well as services of their intelligentsia to tackle the many contradictions of their existence including religious contentions.
****
CONCLUSION
Due to the continued deterioration in the economy and social infrastructure of the country, many more Nigerians are seeking solace in Christian and Muslim organizations. With swollen membership, these organizations have gained visibility and are exerting pressure to play increasingly crucial roles in the society, for good or for bad. Managing these will be crucial too.
It is necessary to constantly remind ourselves of the various submissions on the precariousness of Religious Conflicts and as well the extent to which our current world is prone to incessant conflagrations fuelled by differences in convictions and faiths.
****
Contended a religious scholar: It will serve us all better if we realise that truth is dialectical in nature. When extremes are emphasised, divisions occur. Consensus rather than authority or arbitrary majority coercion is the best atmosphere in which understanding is facilitated, but such dialogue usually slows and temporises group action. The same basic truth issues tend to be raised century after century.
The greatest degree of unity and cooperation is achieved when ideals, purposes, and goals are emphasised rather than theological agreement or polity conformity. Theological balance along with broad freedom of opinion and action is most conducive to constructive relationships. The conflicts of evolutionary religion are most effectively transcended by epochal revelation.
And Pickard continues, "If this battle between universalism and particularism – the theological battle of our age – is as much social as intellectual, then democratic governance of pluralistic societies can only succeed by paying attention to such underlying social correlates.
And we conclude thus:
In addition to Promotion of dialogue, the state must ensure that the space of social interaction – the vast field of cultural experiences… where everyman drops his burden of religious and racial convictions is protected and made inviolable.


References
* G.O. Gbadamosi, The Growth of Islam Among The Yoruba 1841-1908, (London: Longman, 1978.
*The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 49 verse 13.
*Bolaji Idowu, Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief, (London: Longman 1962).
*. James Pickard, Ph.D. (Department of Sociology and Anthropology University of Redlands, Redlands, California) "Human Rights, Religious Conflict, and Globalization: Ultimate Values in a New World Order"




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Chatting up Nobert Young



JAHMAN OLADEJO ANIKULAPO IN AN INTERVIEW WITH STAR TIME OUT ANCHORED BY NOBERT YOUNG
2002

Today, we have the Sunday Editor of The Guardian Newspapers; a medium that is widely read in Nigeria, in Africa and probably the world. I’m talking about a soul mate, a very good friend and a very, very truthful friend that most people would like to have. I’m talking about Mr Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo.
Jahman, welcome to Stars Time-Out.
We are very happy to have you here today, and we have chosen a topic to discuss. We are going to discuss Criticism.
I know that since your graduation from the University of Ibadan in 1986 and national youth service in 1987, you have worked with The Guardian. You have come up the ranks. Now by God’s grace you are Editor, The Guardian On Sunday. It is our pleasure having you here today.
Thank you so much, Norbert. This to me is like a family talk because we have both come a long way, since 1983, or so when we entered UI. I have always interviewed you as one of our brightest actors and theatre personalities; but now you have turned the table against me. God deh o!
Thanks Jahman. We will like you to give us an overview of the entertainment Industry in Nigeria; especially the claim that there is not much criticism of our creative arts going on right now.
When people talk about the absence of Criticism in the culture sector, you tend to ask yourself: what are they expecting?
Criticism can only thrive in an environment where there is enough room for creativity; quality creativity. But when you live in an environment that stifles creativity, you cannot expect criticism to thrive.
You want to look at a work of art; you want to talk about somebody’s performance -- a dancer or a visual artist -- you must look at the environment of performance.
What has the state or the society provided for Norbert Young not just to produce his film but to produce effectively; or to produce a quality work?
What has the environment provided for Olu Ajayi who is a quality painter to produce a qualitative work of art?
What has the environment given to Lagbaja to strive to produce his songs to the best of his ability...
When you put all these things together you’ll see that the environment is not even prepared for the artist to perform effectively, or optimally.
Why are you expecting the artist to live above that environment?
Then you say you are a critic, you sit down and, you are observing the trend of performances and making comments on them, and pointing a way for the future! What future are you pointing to, when the people that consume the works of art are not even prepared for qualitative ones?
That is why you find out that most critics… let me use myself as an example… I took a decision; I said the era of just sitting down in my newsroom and writing critiques about somebody’s work has to be postponed for sometime!
I resolved that I wanted to be more involved in creating the necessary environment for the artists to be able to, at least, produce qualitative works. If I succeeded in that conscientious activism, then I can sit down and write comments; objective and conscientious assessment of the work of art.
I don’t want to go through the exasperating experience of writing comments on works that, by all the parameters for critical discourse, are substandard; especially works I know that given the right environment, the artist could have accomplished better.
Perhaps, if I am myself not one who engages in creative enterprises all the time, it wouldn’t have mattered; but I am an artiste first; the critical vocation is only a gift of talent and a bonus acquired through my training in Dramatic Theories and Literary Criticisms; and years of practice as a writer on arts and cultural productions.
I am not just an observer of the trends in culture production, I am an active participant; just as any producer could be. I cannot afford the luxury of a mere journalistic interrogation of artistic experiences. The journalist can do that, I have no qualms. I am informed in my practice by something deeper than journalistic inclination and expertise.
By my training and antecedents, I cannot continue to be saying: ‘That theatre performance is not good enough’; ‘That painting is not good.’ etc. Do I know how much of Norbert’s wife’s money, Norbert has stolen to be able to produce that film? Do I know how much of his properties he had to sell; or the dirty thing that people had to go into to raise money to produce a play.
I have once been a witness to a lady theatre producer having to befriend a banker just so to be able to pay the balance of his cast and crew fees, when the supposed sponsors ditched her at the last minute. She got a loan through that means but the cast needed not know where the money came from. There are uglier stories that I heard from artistes themselves… many of them are big stars today... on what they did to get their first album off the demo stage...
Then, I sat down and reviewed my intervention in the institution of critical discourses and I resolved that I’d better off, conscience-wise, if I diverted my critical sensibility to culture activism. We try to create the right environment for quality creativity to flower, then nobody will have an excuse for underperformance or perfunctory production. And this is why I am very compassionate when it comes to matters concerning the arts. I insist that if you are a Minister for Culture or Minister in charge of entertainment, Minister in charge of Tourism, you must do what the Minister of Aviation is doing in terms of envisioning for the wholesome uplifting of the sector; you must initiate good policies and carry out necessary reforms with a view to making the vocations and the practitioners have hope and perform optimally. You must do what the Minister of Transport is ready to do in terms of providing the necessary infrastructure for that vital sector of the national economy…
You talk about the Culture sector; the culture sector is the fundament of our nation building. You talk of technology transfer, how can you transfer technology, when you don’t even know the basic farm implements that we have; you don’t even know them, so, you can’t improve on them. Then you want to talk about technology transfer! You can only transfer ignorance and incompetence at handling such transferred knowledge. It is all laughable.
So, instead of jumping on the bandwagon, and jumping the gun, I decided to stay on one spot and use my talent and a little link that God has helped me to gather these years in the course of the job, in ensuring that the right environment; the appropriate visions; functional policies and beneficial actions are taken by whoever the political process throws into the leadership of the culture sector of the economy.
That is more important to me than writing reviews and critiques that don’t even get read by the public but the artists themselves and their colleagues. Even at that, how many of those can afford to buy the papers to read up what you have written about them. Most times, you -- the writer -- still has to take the paper to the artists and say, ‘look what I have written about your work’... Haba, the burden that the so-called arts writer carries is enormous; painful at times.
So, I reviewed my career and I said since, God has been kind to me, I have a voice, when I write and when I talk people listen, I should use that to make the right noise, the right statement, so that we can challenge the polity to give recognition to the labour of the artists and culture workers; so that we can begin to create room for quality intellect that would produce qualitative art.
That is why I have been so engrossed in what has come to be termed ‘Culture Activism’… I am sure the sobriquet is in the context of a civil activist, human rightist or social activist. But really, it does not really matter what it is called. I only know I have a missionary zeal to the cause of the art and culture.
That is why I am deeply involved in cultural activism structures such as the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), which also incorporates such other bodies as Culture Enthusiasts Club; Lagos Circle of Critics; Friends of the Arts; Culture Working Committee etc. Of course, the more fundamental of such structures is the Coalition of Nigeria Artists, CONA, a fraternity of all the artists professional associations, which primary aim is to protect the interest of all artists whatever their callings; and especially to give some kind of assistance to the artists when they are distressed. Unfortunately, the coalition has been crippled by unnecessary politics by a certain section of the artiste community. But I assure you, the vision can never be eclipsed.
I believe that it is when I have succeeded in helping get the right environment, that is the point at which the critic in me will come out. And I don’t have to still be a practising journalist when that time will manifest.
That is my position and I have no apology about it; not even to myself. Even a critic has a choice to criticise or remain silent!
What I have done is to do an overview of our entertainment sector in the context of my own experience in a time capsule of my years on the job as an arts writer.
But I insist that, though we may complain about quality of what we produce and the attitude of the artists, we have to bear one point in mind: that the artist cannot live outside of his own environment. He must operate within his environment. To expect him to live in a pure world, the world that is not corrupt, is to construct a Utopia; an unreal world, totally antithetical to his environment that is corrupt.
Even if the artist doesn’t want to be corrupt, remember that in an environment like this, he’s coming from a family, and this family members are going to ask him: “We are not interested in how many times you appeared on the television, we are interested in what you have made for yourself; what are you going to give to your brothers and sisters; what have you made for your parents; what have you made for the community that nurtures your being.
In the West, some of these questions may not apply because of their socialisation process and the way the society is constructed, which is why an artist will make a single hit, and he becomes an international star, money wise, influence wise, and so on; he could go and buy the most expensive house in the costliest area of town and spend so much money on it. That is the way he wants to spend his fortune. No extended or expanded family to ask him to take in his cousin and his cousin’s cousin or to offer scholarship to other youths in the community as a matter of compulsion, since the community had contributed to his schooling or whatever.
But an artist here… I have one actor on my street, you imagine the pressure that the man goes through to be able to live to a standard that is expected of him by people in the neighbourhood. I have seen him done one or two things on the street, and I just know that this was not what he wanted to do, but he has to do it, because of the expectation of his neighbours.
So we cannot expect the art, the entertainment produced by artists living and functioning in this stifling environment to be well rounded in all creative departments as that produced in other societies where there are, at least, the basic infrastructures that enable creativity to flower; that encourages clean, clear thought, and make provision for facilities, including social respect and understanding; and thus assist the artist to concentrate on the business of thinking and creating.
We have to first create the right, functional environment; and that is what I have dedicated my intervention through the media, especially after 13 solid years as arts reporter and so-called critic.
And when I say creating the environment; it does not just stop at creating Endowment Fund or launching the Cultural Policy or establishing an Art Academy – all vital institutions to culture management that other societies take for granted but which we don’t even have after 40 years of Independence and clamour for same instruments – the saner environment also includes re-orientating the society and the people consuming the artwork to begin to see the artist as a professional who deserves to eat from his toil; his talent and his skill just as the medical doctor, the lawyer or the engineer. In fact, the appropriate social respect for the vocation of the artist or culture worker is the first essential infrastructure to be created.
Would you for instance, recognising that the actor is the most poorly paid professional in this country, say that because this actor -- a brilliant, skilful performer who has brought joy to you and your family -- and this day you see him standing by the bus stop, would you put him in your air conditioned car so that his shirt does not end up with dust, so that your children to whom he is a sort of hero or role model, would not snigger at his dirty look?
Bear in mind please that most of the times, the people in the public do not discriminate between the illusion of affluence they see the actor live on screen or stage from his reality as a human being functioning in the real life; with his own set of economic and social realities, hopes and despairs. They only want to appreciate him the way they see him act. Here is the guy unable to live a comfortable, dignifying life; after those lavish life on screen he crashes into this real life of wants and disappointment; he could not even afford a taxi if he has no car of his own, and this guy knows how many people that he is bringing happiness to, he knows the sweat that goes into his acts! And yet you want him to be pure, you want him to be qualitative, you want him to live above everybody…
Jahman, you see, that is why Stars Time-out is happy to have you here, you have just criticised everybody...
Including myself (laughs)
I quite appreciate it when you said you do not want to criticise substandard works, but these are the works we have now, the works society has to look at! And in those substandard works, we still have to know how substandard in the category of substandard hierarchy, some of them are. So even if we do not have an enabling environment, we still need the critic, we still need to be informed so that when things begin to take shape, when government now start to live up to its responsibilities, and the society begins to accord due respect to the artiste, and the people begin to figure out how they can contribute to the development of the entertainment industry, we would have overcome the shortcomings of the artistes..
When we talk about substandard works, we are not saying that Nigerian works are substandard, but that is the general impression. That is part of the attitude of the society to what the artist does. When they say that an artwork is substandard, they actually based such judgement on the mindset of comparison they harbour in their mind. They look at what the American Pop artistes are doing and they expect the artist here to do similar thing. So they come up with the attitude of saying: “It’s a Nigerian product, it is substandard’.
It is the same way you can relate to the cloth sold at Orile market. There is the foreign consumption craze. People don’t want to consume what is produced locally because of a deep-seated perception that if it is made at home it must be inferior. It is the crisis of identity; lack of self-esteem; lack of self-worth. The Nigerian consumer would rather spend fortune to buy that foreign product so far it carries the label of a foreign country or producer. So, the local producers grew smart too; when they make shirts here, they will put the label that says made in Britain, Taiwan, America etc... It is an intractable crisis of taste.
We do need the critics at all time in our creative enterprise. I’m not saying that we don’t need the critic! If I said that, it will be a subversion of sensibility; a subversion of my personal conviction that the critic drives the creative energy and resourcefulness of the society. I still operate basically as a critic in the sense that, when I am confronted with materials, I weigh the material, I say ‘okay this material deserves maximum attention’; this material deserves the best that I have got; then I look at another material and I say, ‘this material deserves lesser attention’… this assessment will reflect in the way I present the subject, the way I write about it or I comment on it! It is a result of the way I weighed the material; product of my evaluation but it is still essentially subjective albeit informed by my personal cognitive structures.
This is why I have insistently argued that criticism is no more than a personal opinion of the critic; a product of his cognitive structures – the sum total of his past experiences, cultural tendencies, taste, training, skill, exposures, and the school of criticism to which he subscribes among others.
But it is curious that the general public has been conditioned to see the critic as some kind of god. And it has to do with the self-institutionalising antics of the ancestors of the critics. Over time and through the various literary milleux, the critics have successfully entrenched themselves as monstrous institutions in the creative industry.
As a matter of fact, the critic has become something like an over-institutionalised person. We have created tin-gods out of the vocation of the critic. But he is no more than an ordinary professional but with a specialised consciousness for the vocation of evaluating or assessing a piece of art and offering informed opinion on same. In other words, the critic is only an informed commentator or evaluator or assessor of a creative product.
We have to bear in mind that there is a critic in every person. The television viewer is a critic, just as the man who reads a book; even as a hobby. This is because when the fellow is watching this interview session on the television programme, he is forming his own opinion; he could say for instance: “Now Jahman is talking rubbish, I’m not interested;” and; he picks his cigarette and lights it and puts his mind on more productive or self-satisfying venture… he has shut me off from his senses! That’s a critical enterprise at work.
I want to refer us back to a paper that was presented by Dr Ola Oloidi of the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He is a specialist in Visual Art criticism, and he said that the first set of critics were actually those simple folk who were appreciating the works of the community sculptor or carver. When in a village, a Yoruba man stands up and says: “This work is the work of gbegigbegi (the one who hews or chops the wood); and this one is gbenagbena, which means the one who is creating beauty out of a given object. Once a man or even a little kid stands up and says, “this man is gbegigbegi, that one is a gbenagbena, he has already made a critical assessment; a fundamental critical statement. He has described you as producing beauty or merely chopping the wood…
So, the critic is human after-all and he is only a shade higher in his evaluation than the ordinary viewer or audience, by the circumstance of his acquired skill; the fact of his vocation. But we have turned them into semi-god by our own exaggeration of their enterprise.
Those were some of the facts I see and I am amused at the lie of it all, when some people sing deceptively: ‘I am a critic, I hold the power to make or mar you the artist’.
I participate in some internet discussion, the way people sound on this critic thing, is like they are living above everybody else.. Yet, somebody had already said in the past that a critic is actually a failed artist; that because he cannot create, he now runs commentary in other people.
But intriguingly, Chinua Achebe was one of the very first people to even dismantle this myth around the critic, by saying: “look, the moment you can read my book and form an opinion, you are a critic”.
This is a very fundamental statement about criticism; that it is essentially the opinion of the person; by the viewer of painting, the audience of a theatre piece, and the listener to that music.
You seem to be saying that the critic is not an opinion shaper, who then project it into the public. Do you see the critic as somebody who makes negative marks about works of art. Is the work of a critic just to appreciate and write an opinion, or just to condemn?
A critic is not to write a negative opinion. Unfortunately, that’s what the critic vocation has become, especially in a creative environment like Nigeria where there is perennial struggle for power between perceptibly contending forces and envy and avarice reign in the mind of most men… – all products of poverty of purse and the intellect you know there is a way wants and unfulfilled dreams affect the reasoning and actions of men…
If you evaluate my explanation again, you’ll see that the critic is not definitely somebody who makes negative remarks. A critic is one who forms a technically informed opinion about a work, and who then projects it. And presenting it, it could either be negative or positive; depending on the way he perceives the work. But as I said his evaluation of the work, his judgment will be informed by his own cognitive structures; itself a summation of diverse factors.
I ask this question because in 1996, when as part of the Africa Project cast, we went to present the play Amona and Oedipus in Germany… you, in particular, made a statement that because you are familiar with the works of a particular critic in Germany, called Christopher Funke; you said the man was coming to see our preview, and if he said something positive about our work, then our work would sold out in Germany. In which case Funke is an opinion leader.
Compare that to the situation in Nigeria… what would you say is the work of a critic; is it to appreciate, following certain criteria, or to condemn.
In a place like Germany, the artistes can afford to wait for Funke and the ilk to do the job of selling the play to the public, but in Nigeria, do you think the critics here have do that kind of thing? Because here there is always so-called press preview and the critic will be there to write about that play, and then the people will say, “oh, Jahman Anikulapo has said this is it’, so it must be so with the play. Where a Jahman Anikulapo cannot make up his mind about that play, it even makes it more appetising for the viewer; that since Jahman cannot give a specific opinion about a thing, that thing is worth seeing.
Do you see the critic in that situation in Nigeria?
The example of Funke is what Ben Tomoloju, who is my mentor in arts and in journalism -- he was the Deputy Editor at The Guardian -- made a statement at the time when Nigerian journalism was becoming obsessively arrogant with its perceived power; over-estimating its influence on the public’s decision-making process, Tomoloju said that what we were practising was “Media Terrorism”! That because you thought we had the power of the pen, you had the medium, you think that you are a law, thus you wield tremendous influence on somebody’s work; to soil that person, or somebody’s family, and write some funny stories about that person and therefore shape the public’s opinion about that person or work.
Christian Funke was doing ‘Media Terrorism’ (laugh)… let me quickly re-capture what happened in Germany. We were leaving Nigeria with a production in the series Africa Project, a Nigeria-Germany cultural dialogue, which is the dialogue between Africa and Europe. And we were going to Germany carrying the burden of misperception of the African person by the West that we are no more than apes… that the image of Africa, in the perception of an average European is backwardness, war, hunger, impoverishment… as a matter of fact we still live on the trees; so, when you say you are bringing something about Africa, it must be ‘exotic’; since the African is generally incapable of intelligent discourse, he is not developed enough to attend to anything that is contemporary.
So, when we were leaving here, there was always this feedback from Germany, from Goethe Institut that, “Look the German audience do not understand what you are coming to do; in fact, you have to translate some of your things into German language…! And we, the producers of the play, we were telling the Germans that ‘we will effect some of the suggestions you are making, but we will not deviate from what we are doing, because we have a mission’.
When we got there, and we were ready to perform at the Hebbel Theatre in Berlin, there was this big noise about a particular critic in one of the newspapers who is so powerful that once he writes negative about your work, that’s the end, and once he writes positive, then the show is made.
And we were told that this guy is not necessarily wide- scoped to appreciate anything that is non-German; that anything that comes from outside, especially from Africa, he will not support it. And that was what informed my statement that night that we -- the actors and crew-- had to at least, take cognisance of the taste and preferences of the many Funkes that would be in the audience.
So, when I made that statement, I was looking at the environment we were going to… it was portrayed as a hostile environment. And I said the way to tackle this Christian Funke chap – who was being portrayed as some tin-god -- is to tell him that we were coming with our identity. And when we come, we were going to ‘unleash’ our cultural identity on him, let him ‘unleash’ his criticisms on us. But we must not underperform; we must not be seen to be playing down what we were supposed to do, just so to please the strange taste of Mr. Funke. That was why I made that statement. I spoke as the staege-manager of that show to imbue confidence in our actors, not to get conditioned to change their show because of someone’s expectation… and that is what I always say: an artiste must essentially perform to his own expectation; not that of any other person; not even of his own wife or mistress.
There are many Christian Funkes in the Nigerian situation. There are many of us so-called critics or arts writers who just pick our pen and rubbish what other people do. I must have done it in the past, beginning of my career when I was still marvelling at the power I assume I have over the life and death of the work of an artist; which made me to come to the conclusion, that critics in Nigeria for instance, in the media, what we have been doing is either writing to project or writing to destroy.
But we have to be very careful because we are opinion shapers just like you said. People read you because they respect you, because they want to hang on to what you said about a particular work or artist…
But I tell you that the Nigerian audience, the Nigerian viewers, they are even very exceptional! They don’t necessarily follow anybody’s writing before they determine what they consume.
If you, the critic, say that one video production is substandard, has it ever stopped them from buying? How come that the video movie market that critics have always condemned gross up to N8 billion in two years as was reported? How come it was the only sector in Nigerian economy that is making profit while others are in distress.
The only industry that can compete with the video movie market which the Nigerian critics have described as a sham full of substandard products, is the GSM telephone market.

Second Edition
Yes Jahman, thank you so much for your explanation so far. But I do not agree with your assertion that if you don’t see your critique of a work from the producer’s or the director’s point of view, you might be misjudging that person’s work. Because, first of all, coming from the classical era, whether we like it or not, standards have been set for putting together works of art; standards set by people who knew. There was the classical standard and then there was the 17th Century French Academy that came out with parameters for achieving a complete work of art. So, if you are going to produce a work of art, you should know the standard, you should know the criteria, you should know the yardstick, you should know the fixed points from which you must work. So we do not need to see your personality in the work. We just see a work of art which the critic now looks at using those same parameters that the producer or director ought to have known, putting aside his own creative input right now. Even then you still have to judge with his creative in-put. So to that extent, what do you say?
I think that we are even coming from the same point, just that I deviated a bit by really pressing on the influence of the environment on the works of the producer.
Remember what I said earlier on; that there are critics in the media who now look at the forms, the style, the techniques, the content of the works in the context of the message that you are trying to get across.
Every critic, for instance, is supposed to look at a particular work of art from these parameters, to say that these are standard paradigms. If you say that you are working as an impressionist in painting, and what I see is expressionism, I can say that he claims to be doing impressionism but I am seeing something else; perhaps realism. There you are talking of the form or the style.
Then when you are talking of style in the theatre, for instance, you say you are doing Agitprop,
Please explain what you mean by Agitprop.
Agitprop is a usually a play set in caricature model; most times, a satire or political drama that sermonises, agitates and seeks to propagate a particular ideal or idea…
That is Agitation and propaganda…
Yes, a production that is based on propaganda. Because of the nature of the script, it could appear as snatches; it may not be a whole direct production. If you say you are doing this and I am seeing something else, then I could begin to raise questions about the confusion of form or technique because it is going to affect the entire design of the production; including the acting style. When you say that you are using symbolism in a production, and then there are no symbols to even represent all the things you are saying, I could engage critical theories to assess your contentions in the play and see how far you have been fair to the form adopted…
In fact when I joined journalism mid-eighties after my graduation, writing on the arts, I had to go to my professor, Dapo Adelugba… I told him that this was what I had decided to do in the media, the man warned me… mind you, this is the foremost critic in the performing arts… he told me to be careful the way I applied the critical canons and theories I had ingested in school, because the medium I shall be writing for is a popular medium. He said, if you are not careful, nobody will understand what you are saying! I had to recoil from my heated passion for theories; and check all I had been saying.
So, when I talked about hearing from the artist, I mean asking for clarifications, for instance, about the style that he is using… that if I watch a play, I will be able to ask that artist, “that thing that you did at that point, what were you trying to do.” Then he says, “this is what I’m trying to do,” and then I can apply my criticism based on that.
For example, when Felix Okolo -- one of the very good young directors that came out of University of Ibadan and operated in Lagos State-- many people do not really understand him; they were saying, “what is this man trying to do.” The whole play looked like a piece of accident, impulsive, formless and unserious… In fact, at a time he claimed to have adapted Ben Okri’s novel, The Famished Road in the play, Mekunu Melody, one critic said he only read the first two paragraphs and wrote a play; that maybe he never read the whole play, I laughed.
Then I had to go back to myself, I said ‘who is Felix Okolo?’ And I remembered that we were both students at the University of Ibadan -- I directed him, he directed me on a number of occasions -- and I have had cause to listen to him. I even remember that we gave him a name -- Aruku Shanka, which means this guy is very impatient with normal processes of production; he abhors unity of form or unity of style as the classical critical theory would advise. He is not somebody you sit down and say his production is from A, B, C, D progressing to Z -- the denouement. He can take it from F and come back to A and go to G and so on...
Even that style has a definition, eclecticism
That’s what I’m saying. You see, if you understand that, that’s where the artist is coming from, then you will be able to better appreciate the work.
That brings me to this question: what is the level of awareness and qualification of most critics in Nigeria. Because I do not think after seeing a film, I will ask the director anything...
No, you don’t need to ask.
But if the critic does not understand the theories, or familiar with all the forms and techniques, what kind of critic is that?
This is what I’m saying and; soon, I will still come back to your point.
You can’t say that you are doing a Nigerian historical play, and put the standard or the forms, the style and the techniques that the Roman historical theatre demands into operation! You cannot, you should not. The moment you do that, you have dislocated that production; you are even abusing the production, because we have different approaches to history.
History to the black man is a very passionate matter because buried in that history is the long history of his being; his very essence; the pride of his race, the meaning of the name he bears today. History to the African is like the skin he wears. So, he is subjective in his judgment of the materials that history throws up. But to the European, he can distance himself from history and be very objective in his treatment of the facts.
Today, a German can talk big about everything, Hitler is just one distant thing in his mind, a distant burden. But, I tell you, an African carries the burden of history perpetually on his conscience. We know of great families and dynasties that have been buried in the abyss of the forgotten just for a simple error of judgment that the forebears made while in office. For instance, a person like Abacha, his descendants will continue to bear the burden of his excessive dictatorial actions for generations to come. He will forever remain a constant reference in the Nigerian history, as long as Nigeria is existing.
In that context, how do you apply historical canons of the Roman or the Germans to the Africans or the Nigerians then? You will surely dislocate the dramaturgical experience.
When I talk about talking to the director of a play or film before writing my critique, I’m not saying necessarily, you must talk to the director, I am only saying you need have studied what the person is trying to do. If a man comes out and says ‘I’m doing…, or I want to do Agitprops’. It has a thematic context, then you are looking at it from another point of view and saying -- ‘why is he saying so much about government in his play, why is he lamenting how democracy is not working in Nigeria…’ But that is what he set out to do.
What many critics do is that, they don’t even look at all those parameters; they just run away with their own subjective expectations; pass magisterial assessment on what the artist has done and; foist their uninformed (or ill-informed) opinion on the creative work of another person. But I say, If you are not pregnant how do you determine how painful the experience of labour is.
And particularly, in African theatre and other art forms, you need to debrief the artist constantly… much of what the African artist injects into his work are informed by certain ritualistic or spiritual essentials to which he is a participant, or had been a participant; sometimes, it is exclusive to him; and you, the critic, are just an outsider. How do you speak to such an experience then when you are a novice on its essences and beings?
Talking about the level of training of the critics in this country, you will know very well that we don’t have that in the first place. The reason is that our art studies did not start from that point. The arts schools started on the note of that word again… agitprops! They were struggling with the society just to even impress it on an indifferent social ethos that the theatre arts is something to study; that fine art is something to study; that being functionally educated does not end with being a doctor, lawyer, engineer etc.
The schools at the start were (and largely even now) trying to challenge the position of the society that art is for everybody; that everybody can dance; can paint; can sing! So, why go to school to waste four-five years and huge money to study what every other dunce on the street can do?
You know that there was a time when you dare not tell your parents that you are studying theatre in the university; you risked being disowned or excommunicated from the family. In fact, my father never knew that I was studying theatre, until when I graduated. I had gone in for Sociology and Economics and my dad carried that impression. He never bothered to check; in any case I was not collecting a dime from him. Fortunately, I was doing some works in the theatre already and earning my own money, so I never had to go to him for money. He thought I was doing Economics.
Imagine, the University of Ibadan theatre school was 40 last year (2002), the celebration is still on; and even to date, Professor Adelugba says they are still trying to educate this society that theatre is a course of study! That your child can study Theatre or drama and become a worthy person in life. If you are still struggling with that, where do you have room for criticisms as a study? Those who go in for criticism, they do it as elective courses.
In fact, I remember that in my final year at Ibadan, we were 15 that registered for Dramatic Theory and Literary criticisms. By the time we were graduating, we were only three. And out of the three, one made First Class, two of us were queued at First Class but for a course outside of our department that we were supposed to take but which could not because of the way the exam time-table was arranged. It clashed with our practical exams in Voice and Speech. And you know, that is a compulsory course for a credible theatre graduate.. (laughs).
Indeed, how many theatre schools are training critics?
Now, Fine Artists are complaining that the quality of Fine Art discourse in the papers are not impressive. And I ask them: “how many art historians and critics have you produced from your school who are ready to work in the media”. We have about 10 departments of Fine Art, how many of them have produced art historians writing frequently in the papers. In fact, how many of them have their own faculty or department’s journal to propagate the ideals of its peculiar scholarship?
It is not easy, sir. It is not easy because no media house even want to employ you in the first place. If not that The Guardian with Ben Tomoloju, started a formal arts desk… (that was after that impressive collection of academics and scholars had flagged off the literary culture in the paper)… and he then trained a generation of arts journalists, writers so to say because many of them were just graduates of liberal arts and sometimes, sciences and related fields. Those are the chaps sustaining the seemingly robust arts and culture journalism in the Nigerian media today… I was trained on the arts desk of the paper, and since then, I have trained some other people who are themselves now arts editors in other newspapers in the country. Go to other media houses, the arts editors were all, or let’s for modesty sake, say many of them were from The Guardian. If such a person never worked for The Guardian, he must have at one time or the other written for the paper.
And after it returned from its one-year proscription in 1995, The Guardian decided to go daily with its arts pages, everybody else hopped on the wagon. So we are just copying… we are learning things from each other and today you have a daily page of arts or showbiz in at least, six national dailies. Even the news magazines which were almost scandalously averse to the arts once they get enough of sensational political stories, have in the past few years retained at least, an arts reporter in their fold.
In the past, no one would employ you to write on the arts. It takes far deeper passion by the publisher or the editor to insist he was employing you to write on the arts.
No media house is even ready to open up pages for reports on the arts. They think it is not worthy of serious attention. It won’t generate adverts anyway!
Reuben Abati, for instance, is a brilliant critic of the arts but he is operating in an environment that is different from his natural calling. Occasionally, he comes in and does something for us, but you know that he has so much other responsibilities in his own Editorial section. In fact, if you are a great critic and you need to satisfy your professional yearnings, you may have to end up on the campus.
And, how many schools are ready to train the critic? What are the facilities to train critics?… In fact, the Bible for classical dramatic theories and theatre criticism, for instance, is the book famously called Dukor; how many students have seen Dukor? When I was graduating, there were only three in the departmental library and; before we graduated two were stolen…! (laughs). Where are the books to even train the critics?
How do these producers of art work, how do they react to certain criticisms that you have done in the past. Do they see you as a bad person or do they see you as friend or enemy.
As a matter of fact, I have collected about two dirty slaps (laughs). One at the Jazz 38, when a director just saw me and said “I feel like just killing you, but let me just give you thisas a warning o; the next time I will distort your face’…
And you retaliated?
Ah, no o! Rather, I found a way to escape from the scene.
The fact is that, the critics and journalists have to be careful about what they write because, what you are writing is very, very long lasting than that work of art. Perhaps it is only Fine Art, Literature, recorded music which originals could be resurrected in the original forms. But not so for theatre, concert and other such performance art, which thrived in momentary-ness. If I’m presenting a play, people must have seen it and gone, but what I have written as a critic would be read hundred years after my departure; or even thousands of years later. And generation who never encountered you and who were never part of the conditions that dictated the creation of the work and as well the tone and shade of your critical opinion might have to issue queries on what you had written. In literary criticisms and theories, isn’t that what we are doing today? Interrogating the paradigms that had been set by our forebears?
In my career, I got to that point at which I said, If I make this comment about this man’s work, what happens if I’m challenged later, and say “when you were writing this, did you even attempt to find out how he managed to put up the production’?
But then, that’s for me. I’m not saying that it is the standard for every practising arts writer. It is a very, very personal choice. And it has to do with my kind of person. I like to work with my conscience, I work within myself, I listen to my own opinion. A friend said I could reason that way because aside being a critic in the newspaper I am also a practising actor, director and producer. That the benefit of the two sides which I am fully involved with informs my passion about how the work got done… Well, maybe; but I have never given that explanation a deep thought.
But to return to your poser on the readiness of the artist to accept critical comments on his work, I shall say that essentially, the society is not prepared. The people are not used to open criticisms and this is part of the fundamental dilemma of development that we face in Africa. Even in our socio-cultural lore, criticism of the ruling class or the affluent was often coded in symbolic languages, cultic signs or in proverbs, gestures, wits etc. This was part of the self-preservation ethos of the society; sometimes, measures to ensure that only few people are availed of the details of such criticisms. And Africans do not have to be apologetic about this. It is an integral part of our cultural being. And it serves so many functions including to ensure preservation of mutual respect and harmonious living in the community. But applied to modern time, the collusion of this African ideas of criticisms and the Western type of open speak, is responsible for the conflict characterised by intolerance that we often witnessed in the modern African state.
And for the artists, because he has produced his works within the ambience of lean resources available to him, he is expecting that whatever you are going to say about his work would be complimentary, so that people can buy it. To him, you, the critic, you are only an extension of the marketing department of his operation!
The best you, the critic, can do is to work according to your own conscience. You know what you are trying to do, and you say it the way you see it.
But the language of criticism is not condemnation. It is not to say that this work is bad. The language of criticism is, ‘may be’ or ‘if he had’, things like that. It is not a magisterial proclamation or postulation where you say that work is bad! There is no bad work of art because the creative process that produced that work is informed by certain inspiration, certain mote process that produced that work is informed by certain inspiration, certain motive,tain expectations, certain cognitive structure. Sweat has gone into it; thinking has gone into it, money has gone into it, somebody’s being as a person has gone into it
Now, Jahman, can I still call you a critic?
I have told people that by the virtue of my resolve which I have explained and by virtue of my operative environment, I’m not a critic, but you could say that I write informed opinion or critiques on the arts.
Okay, if you write criticism on art, if you do informed art appreciation… because this word ‘criticism’, it sounds so negative, and people don’t understand. Criticism means appreciating a work of art. This appreciation of work of art, who is it supposed to pay?
You were talking about receiving slaps from two directors, yes because you wrote what will educate the public. Now, you don’t want to offend the producer, thereby blocking information for your public. Now, who are you supposed to satisfy? Should there be what is called a balance in critique.
Just like every journalist, first of all, you write from your conscience, you write for your conscience. Just be sure that what you are saying is according to how you have seen it, how you have perceived it; be true to your conscience; even if the person is your arch enemy or he has just dished you slaps for he last work you did on his work.
I am saying that criticism is not basically evil. It is opinion essentially. If I saw your blue dress and I say that what you are wearing is red, it is my opinion; that is what my mind tells me; that you wearing are red. It may be black to another person, it may be blue to the next person, but as for me, it is red. So, it is a matter of opinion. And the audience like I said had an option to either accept it or reject it.
So, first of all, as a critic, work from your conscience and work for your conscience. Then the target of a critical discourse should necessarily be for the two sides. You should write in a way that the man who has created the art work can learn two or three things about the way you see it as a member of the audience. And the audience too can learn one or two things that they could understand in the work of art from you.
In other words, the critic is more like a medium. A medium between these two extremes -- the audience and the producer of the work. So you should see yourself that way and the only way to see yourself as a balanced medium, a balanced refree, is to work for your conscience. You write the truth the way you have seen them, without being unfair to the artist, without being unfair to the public.
When I talk about the artist’s point of view, you see that the question has gone back to you. You try to understand what the artist is trying to do, the environment he is operating in; the audience he is targeting? The last point is very important indeed. If I produce a play for children and you as an adult come there to appreciate my work from the point of view of an adult, have you not done injustice to me, my work and the audience? Yes, you are doing injustice to my work because I did not write or produced the play for you, an adult, I have written for the children.




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Talking Religion



Interview with German Journalist on Religion and politcs of Nigeria
2000

Jahman Anikulapo

Are you member of any church?

Currently, I am not, but I used to be a member of the Catholic Church. I moved on, I have been to Anglican, eventually I moved to African churches, because of the theatrical content in the African churches, the theatre content, you know, there is a lot of music and a lot of expression, and I thought that was what really defined my kind of character, so I went into African churches, I am in “Celestial Churches” and “Cherubim and Seraphim”, I was there, but then, I am not really committed to them, but I do like to attend to their services because of the heavy celebration of life. But I am not a member of any of the churches. Even though my friends belong to them, so I only go there when they have harvest festival or carnivals – so I got to eat their food, let me say.

Sie sind mehr oder weniger eine Ausnahme? Fühlen sie sich so?

Yeah, I used to think that I was very exceptional, until I discovered that there are a lot of young people too, who are not necessarily members of the churches. They go, because their parents … they were born into those churches. So they go because of parental pressure. Some , because they are looking for one miracle or the other. But they are not necessarily members. The church has become something like a social place. The one who is looking for a wife goes to a church, the one who is looking for a husband goes to a church, when you need a job … but the moment you get what you need, you get out of it. That is one of the hypocrisy that I have discovered. There is a mercantilist attitude: you go in, you get what you want, and you get out. 2:44 that is what I have seen in the majority of people. So I don’t think I am strictly an exception. Just that – I haven’t tested all of them, but

I have been a Muslim, my dad converted at one point to Muslim, I went to a Muslim school, I went to an Arabic school, I attended a catholic school, I attended an Anglican school, so I have some kind of a broad experience, and as such myself, I don’t see anything that will make me that Christian or that Muslim. I want to operate from my head, that is what I am doing.

wie haben die Kirchen den spirutellen und geistigen Raum besetzt?

Currently you can say that the fastest growing industry in Nigeria is the church. Because all of a sudden, we just discovered that every corner in the city, for instance, is a church. In the past, when I was growing up – I am just 40 now - when I was growing up, you could look, before you get to church, you have to move from your house, you have to go at least ten kilometres or 15 kilometres before you attend a church. or atmost maybe five kilometres, but now there is a church in every corner, which means that people can just tie their towel or wear their sleeping dress, pyjamas, and just walk into a church. so there is this rush, some kind of a search for salvation, an explosion.

It didn’t come to be until the 80s – this is very strange. The moment, Nigeria took the IMF–loan – I always like to date our problems to that time, I was in school up to 1985, when we took the IMF. I graduated 1986. up to this 1985, things were calmer, for me. At least, there was a semblance of real life that was going on. Maybe the economy was better, the economic policy was better, the political environment was not stable, but it was not volatile. It didn’t inspire violence even in thought.

But 1985, Nigeria took the IMF. IMF – that is the international monetary fund - IMF came with its own politics, structural adjustment politics, SAP, it came with austerity measures, it came with tightening your belt, and I think the economy became so emasculated that it sort of squeezed the people, these Nigerians who have been used to some kind of …. there used to be a false sense of massive wealth, that we have oil – so what do we need agriculture for? As a matter of fact, we dumped quite a lot of things, we dumped Agriculture, we dumped a lot of things that we were able to be involved with. We just went straight into oil. so by 1985, the oil money did not come in, foreign investment stopped, that is after we took the IMF-loan, so many things had to happen within the economic space.

And so the middle-class, to which many of us, when you graduated from university, then, there is a job waiting for you, there is a car waiting for you, so many things were already waiting for you, you were recruited from school. I was interviewed in school to come and work in a company. But at that time, everything stopped, so the middle-class disappeared. And for me, the disappearance of the middle-class at that time let to this rush of churches, because a lot of the young people then, there was only one way to survive: abroad, okay, that was the beginning of the brain-drain, the university was dying, so a lot of the intelligentsia was moving outside the country or trying to find another economic space, and many of them who went out, I always say that most of them brought back what we have as Pentecostalism. In the country currently, there are a lot of people who lost their jobs, so because of the general depression in the mind and the purse of people, a lot of them wanted some sort of easy escape. so they came out with this idea of miracle, that you really don’t need to work – Manna is going to fall from heaven, you only need to pray, you only need to wish, and so we had this rush of even conmen men became pastors, // conmen like fraud, some of them have probably never read the bible, but they thought: look, that is an easy way, because they saw that a lot of people were depressed, and when people are depressed, they have always been going to church and thinking of god, so they were all rushing into the churches so that they can get some kind of miracle, some kind of deliverance. the key-word was deliverance, let us deliver you from economic depression, from a mental torture that you are undergoing because you lost your job, because a
lot of people were retrenched – “let us free you from demons! Demons have infested the country, and they are affecting people – that is why you lost your job, that’s why you can’t safe money!”

so a lot of people were not realistic in their perception of the situation in which we found ourselves. A lot of them thought that it was probably because of the sins; because one of the preachment of one of the earlier pastors was that the sins of Nigeria were so much that God had decided to visit Sodom and Gomorra experience on us, so that unless you enter the Noah-arch, you cannot escape. so a lot of them started lashing on to that arch and the Noah-arch is this deliverance, these churches, that if you come to us, we pray for you, we get a miracle for you from God, and then, you can be free again.

The preachment was not that you should work harder, or that you should expand your horizon, or that you should become more creative so that you can get back on the economic track. The dogma was that you must just believe that God is capable of giving you a miracle, that miraculously, you can become rich again, you can stand on your feet again.

So with the advent of the same SAP, a lot of industries shut down, which means the warehouses shut down, were we store foods, where we store goods, shut down, because there was no direct foreign investment. If you go along this road, because this road leads … this end here is airport, the other, the extreme end is seaport, so it is just this linear movement, and along the place, because of the nature of that road, you have a lot of warehouses, even next door to Guardian here, next door to us. This used to be a warehouse, the Guardian now, it was a warehouse for imported cars, Peugeot it used to be the biggest warehouse for cars - it was at that time when the economy started crashing, that by 1983, 84 it was becoming difficult, so the owner of the company has started selling his cars and trying to re-invest his money in something, and that is how the Guardian was born in 1984.
Even the Guardian started the year before the advent of SAP. actually, it started two years before, 1983, but being a businessman, he started seeing the writing on the wall, and a lot of warehouses along this road, where we used to store goods, a lot of goods, produced or imported, a lot of them had to shut down. And they were there laying fallow (brachliegen) for a long time, because there were no goods in there.
So when the churches came, it was some sort of a pre-meditated attack on the industry. The first set of place they went for were the ware-houses. So if you go along this road now, the next warehouses you see up to the port are mostly churches now. To some of us, it became, it was very worrisome. I remember my very first shock. I went to the National Theatre for a performance, and there is a warehouse very close to it, where I used to go and buy frozen food, I went there and I saw that it was a church!

And the pastor – his name was pastor Jordan – the pastor was preaching vehemently the way to exercise demons from this land is to take over all the places of commerce, and that commercialism had destroyed the soul of the people of Nigeria. That we are chasing money too much, we were all running after quick money. the way to exercise it was to make sure that those consumptions that encouraged commercialism or mercantilism are taken over by the churches.

And he took over that big warehouse there, and it started spreading, everybody …. they were not building their own churches, they were only taking over the warehouses. 13:46 And we saw that we were helpless because the economy was not in good shape, the military government continued with Abacha and the rest of them, many other companies left the country.
surprisingly, like a second phase of the attack, they went after the theatres, cinema-houses. Since because in 1985, when we took SAP, one of the things that first of all suffered was the film. when there was no money, the entertainment industry died. All the clubs shut down, all the recording companies shut down, there were no concerts, there were no cinemas. 14:20 We used to get films from India, from Hollywood that were being shown here, you watch them. I grew up watching Hollywood films. When they were released, they were here. 14:31 But all of a sudden, you couldn´t get all those things, because there is a ban on them, 14:38 so the cinema-houses naturally had to shut down, and that killed the cinema industry. 14:40
14:44 so cinema houses around there were then being taken over by the churches. They have taken all of them now. They were taking all of them now. So the last one that we thought was standing, the last one of the cinema-houses, one of the older cinema houses in Agega, Pen-cinema – some few month ago I was driving there and I saw that Pen-cinema was gone! 15:03 And when I was a little kid, Pen-cinema was where I always escaped to, even as a secondary school boy, and it is such a painful thing that churches are 15:14 taking over all these places, and the preachment was: look, you have to arrest that phillandeering soul of this nation. That this nation has done so much sins, that the only way to redeem it is to take over the industries and take over the churches! it wasn´t put straight like that, but it looked like a doctrine that was fashioned by somebody and it has been applied.
1
5:50 and then television stations – much of preaching is done on the television. So that in some mornings … they have a lot of money, they buy up all the airspace, so that your radio drama or your television drama or your soap opera cannot make the television, because you don´t have the money. They pay. There is a church that pays alone about 10 million naira per month. That is a huge sum of money. Just to appear on the television and preach. 16:19 So you could see kind of a systemic taking over of the entertainment life, of the cultural space, of the social space of the people, many houses have been converted to churches. 16:30 people start a church in a one-room apartment, and it begins to flourish, so the entire cultural and social space has been under attack. 16:45

16:45 I didn´t realise the impact of that until I went to Ghana, to the pan African historical theatre festival, it is called panafest, it is done every two years, it started in 1992 and I have been going there. // so when we went there in 1994, there was a professor from the US, professor James Small, I think that was his name, who presented a paper, and he was saying that in Nigeria as in 1994 had already about 1006 churches, not buildings, denominations. 18:04 It was a shock. I couldn´t sleep. Denominations 1006! and that Ghana was going around 400. So he said that he had decided to Ghana to let them know that there is something horrible happening, that all your space is being taken over by churches - Ghana is smaller - // that all your space - your business space and your economic space, your cultural space, your social space - is being taken over by churches. 18:39 he had come without document that to prove to them that they can still arrest it. 18:45 And when they can arrest, it to begin to revalidate your cultural heritage. Make them very strong so that they can counter this onslaught – in fact, he called it onslaught. 18:55 Church onslaught. 18:59 So after the conference I went to him and said: but what about Nigeria? I am afraid about what is going on there. He said: My brother, Nigeria is beyond redemption. That you cannot arrest it in Nigeria because the volume of money that has been pumped in the church business is so huge that you need double or triple that amount to counter it. 19:30

wo das Geld herkommt?
der US-Professor: hat Verschwörungstheorie
Dass Kirchen von Afroamerikanern kommen, die zahlen die Kirchen, aber das Geld käme nicht direkt von denen, sondern von den Institutionen, die auch Martin Luther King gefördert hätten,
man müsse nur den Lebensstil der Pastoren betrachten – US-gefärbt. Sprechen nicht nigerianisches, sondern afroamerikanisches Englisch –
und zwar prosperity-churches. Die Institutionen, die die fördern, seien angeblich mit KKK in Kontakt. Angriff auf Nigeria, weil reiches Land, viele schwarze Leute, und enge Kontakt zu afroamerikanischer Community. Potential zu einem der wichtigen wirtschaftlichen Mächte in der Welt zu werden
sechstgrößtes Öl-Land in der Welt
ich sage: prosperity churches sagen doch, dass man arbeiten muss. Nein, sagt er.

No! the prosperity churches say that you don´t have to work! there is Manna from heaven! That is what the churches are saying!
25:09 we have a lot of people now, we can testify, a lot of people go to these churches now – they don´t believe in hard work! they don´t believe that to make money, you have to invest, you have work hard, and you make money. What they do, when they have a little problem, they run to the pastor and say: Please pray for me! I think I have been attacked by a demon! 25:28 And the pastor says: I remove the demon! you know the way they preach? They put their hand on your head, and once they do that, you fall down, and then they say: the spirit has left! 25:39 //

The only means of preaching is not to counsel, the church does not counsel, it is not longer a social institution, where they sit down with you and ask: how are you doing? How is your business doing? If you say you are in economic depression, you know.. when I was attending the catholic church, they would call you and say: we have a social group, and they would sit down with you and ask: how is your business doing? what investment have you done? they had economic counsellers in some of those orthodox churches, but not these ones! there are none! they only tell you, when you come and say: my business is going down! I am not making as much money I used to do – I am afraid. They say: Well, maybe you have been infested by a demon! And so, we have to exorcize! you have to remove the demon! 26:41 and it is by laying their hand or using a handkerchief - a very unorthodox means of getting the problems solved! 26:44 the reason why we call them prosperity church: they only preach about prosperity. Getting rich quick. 26:55 they are not preaching about hard work. And that that is why we say we believe that some of the steps that they have taken look like a premeditated attemps to destroy industry. Where the only places you could buy up are the warehouses. so that now when the economy seems to be cralling back, there are no warehouses to keep goods. 27:19

Aber welche Institutionen stehen dahinter? bezieht sich noch mal auf US-Professor – indirekte Verbindung zu KKK

And actually you have to wonder where the churches get their money from! If they spend 10 million naira a month, two million naira a week to buy airtime to preach – where does the money come from? That are things that some journalists have tried to investigate in the past, but the media itself are infested by pastors now, we have so many pastors now who are editors, and you cannot even investigate, they are protecting their leaders and that kind of thing. So you have to ask yourself: where does the money come from? Even the money for the tracts! the volume of tracts, the little religious pamphlets that come into this country – at a time when we say that the publishing industry is dead! the most thriving books //, these books come out almost every day! in fact at a point we had to stop our book review page, because the only books you could get to review were pamphlets, church books and things. Where does the money come from? The publishing industry has been in depression for almost ten years now, but the only publishing – apart from text books for the schools, the only publishing that is going again you could say on a massive scale are the publishing of religious tracts and books, so the volume of them - every week, you have the Nigerian port authority announcing that there is a large consignment of tracts, and bibles and books and things coming in. 29:38 And then the size of the churches, the kind of buildings that they have – the whole catholic churches are very conservative buildings, and these are the most flamboyant buildings that you say: somebody must have spent millions of naira to get them. 30:00 so it is a nagging question. You keep on asking: where does this money come from? Certainly not Naira. It is foreign currency. 30:09

impact of local industry?
people think that the local industry may be involved. // You know there has been what we call “money laundry” in this country. that means: re-circulating profit and diverting it to other organizations and acting as fronts. you were right when you were asking the question about coca cola, unilever and things others - there have been some investigations in the past that link some multinationals to the financing of some of these churches, and that is the contradiction: // I have noticed that some of the multinational companies actually have sympathies for some of the churches, but then you take it to be because maybe the managing director is a member of the church – I mean, that was our naïve understanding of the situation, that if I belong to a church for instance, and I am a big man in the Guardian, I might go and give to them, but I think overtime we have discovered that it is not necessarily so, 31:28 it looks like there is a direct investment of multinationals in the churches. What some unconfirmed researches have said is that money has been channelled through the multinationals into the churches. From where – I don´t know.

Coca-Cola hat nicht nur sign-boards für Schulen, sondern auch für Kirchen gemalt
You said that you are afraid of this take-over – why exactly are you afraid?

It is multi-dimensional. My first fear was that when you take over warehouses and you take over business-environments and the sense of enterprise of the people, 34:14 then, you can never grow the economy. You are not encouraging the young people who are coming out of school, who ought to go and to engage their creative enterprise to do to expand the economic horizon – you are not encouraging them to do that. You are encouraging them to come into the churches and wait for a miracle.

So we thought that taking over the economic space is dangerous, because you are not encouraging the people to be creative, you are not encouraging them to be technologically minded, to be industry–minded, you are just telling them that: look, do the little you can do, and you get money. 36:09

The most dangerous dimension is that many of the institutions now, if you are looking for a job, you are not likely to be employed because of merit, because you are qualified and you can do the job. You are likely to be employed because you are a member of the church. you see, when you sacrifice meritocracy in a developing economy, then, the economy is in shamble, it is going to die. and this is prevalent. We know very close to this place is a recording company where, unless you belong to the mans church, you cannot work there. //
37:08 and when they resume in the morning, from eight am to ten am, they are praying. If you walk by the place now – I have not been there for some time – you are hearing every prayer between eight and ten. 37:25 They resume work at ten, they close at five, there is fellowship every afternoon, and that is what many companies are doing now. 37:31
37:31 Wednesdays for instance, many of the churches now, they congregate on Wednesday evenings. You close early on Wednesday so that you can go to the church and do fellowship. 37:43 There are some churches where fellowship is every day, there are so many groups in the church – prayer warriors, satan opponats – there are so many. you belong to this organization, so you are supposed to meet Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays… so that the time that you spent creating or working // is the time that you now spend just praying and hoping for Manna. 38:15 And the prayer is like war.

38:16 That is at the economic front: The man hours are wasted. People are not investing their money. When you have money now, you are not investing in anything - you take it to the church.
38:26 We just finish the case of a worker who was stealing money from the Sheraton hotel, 39 Million Naira, and he was donating it to one of the biggest churches. And the pastors says: Well, he was directed by the holy ghost to bring the money, so what is my offence? 38:41 And the state seems to be helpless. 38:43 // He was a junior staff, maybe just like a clerk. He has barely – maybe 20.0000 a month. And he was bringing millions and donating generators, a generating plant that is worth ten Million Naira to the church, and the pastor didn´t ask him: Where did you get the money? He doesn´t even have a car! 39:13 // but that´s just a sign of what many people are doing. Many people now, when they have money, they bring it to the church. When they have money, they build a house for the pastor. 39:30 when they make profit from their business, they buy a jeep for the pastor. 39:35 this is money that ought to be invested in the economy so that the economy itself can grow! 39:39


The churches are richer than the state! some of the churches can finance the entire budget of Nigeria! 40:07 The first set of people, private people, to ride private Jets in this country were pastors! //
40:27 And then, when someone like Bonnke comes to Nigeria – forget it! Bonnkes is a german preacher who comes regularly – if he comes to Nigeria, the crowd that you see - I used to keep a picture. It is amazing! The heads that were present there, and for three days or five days, they would not work!

Just like when you are going on the way to Ibadan now – the whole of the express way that has been taken to be an industrial layout, just like you have in Ghana and other places - there are now churches! Every point is a church now! That if you make the mistake of being trapped there, you can spend the whole day on just trying to navigate those churches!
And we say that the next religious war in this country will be on that express road! Because the muslims too have taken their own stand. They have taken mass land, and they now preach on Sundays too. To tell you the extend to which religion is likely to explode in this! The Muslims, they normally pray on Fridays, they now pray on Sundays. They have what they call “Nasfat”, that is a national organization of young Muslims. They behave like born-again Christians. They appear on television on Sunday – you know, Friday is their own holiday, but now, that is like an attack! 41:46 They appear on Sunday, the whole fellowship, just like the born-agains, they speak in tongues just like the born-agains, and very soon, there is going to be an explosion. may we be saved!

That is at the economic front.
The cultural front: 1977 hätte Nigeria die Dämonen der ganzen Welt importiert, weil da ein Festival war – weil die Masken, Tänze etc.
sagen, die Traditionen seien vom Satan oder dämonisch – das zerstöre das Selbstbewusstsein der Menschen

if you start preaching like that, you are destroying the self – confidence of the people.
People have been told not to speak their language because it is infested with evil. 43:10 I show you something that I eat – I am eating it in defiance. some pastors … this is a cola-nut, it is very harmless, it is just like coffee, it keeps me awake, because I don´t sleep all the time, but some pastors are preaching that it is infested by the demons, I must not eat it! 43:25 And I used to have a girl friend who was complaining that when you eat this, you are infested with demons – I said: okay, I will eat it! And I eat it all the time!

When you preach about things like that … there is food, that you cannot plug, certain vegetables, which you cannot plug on your farm, because they are infested with witches!

You cannot plant flowers in your compound, because certain flowers are infested by spirits! 43:53 You know, you are destroying the peoples consciousness gradually. 44:00 And then, you destroy the peoples culture by telling them that the dances from Yoruba-land, for instance, are the dances the Gods! So because they are dances of the Gods, they are dances of the Demon! You must do it.

You must not go and watch theatre! 44:22 it is only now that they are coming to theatre. At some point, you must not go to theatre, because the theatre is where we practise demonic activities. 44:25 We have some staff here who attend some church – they must not watch television! I am sure you are aware of that, that they must not listen to news, they must not watch television because the television is a medium of the devil. 44:40 // 44:55 And because of this preaching, many young people who ought to be engaged in the arts, like you have in the American society where the first place you ernest the energy of the youth is through the arts and entitlement. It is difficult now because the young ones are in the churches. 45:11 They cannot be involved in any creative enterprise of theatre and finance and things, because the theatre and entertainment is a place for the demon. 45:25

45:20 I tell you that I have some art-work at home which a college of mine gave to me. Before she was told to change her name, and she changed her name. And then she was told that any piece of painting or sculpture is a representation of the devil. She mentioned casually that she wanted to throw them away. I said: please, give them to me, so I collected them. I have about seven artworks which I collected from her.
45:51 That is a very enlighting person, almost an editor here, and who have been convinced that if you keep harmless painting in your house – painting! – that you hang on the wall, is the work of the devil. And she was going to through it into the dustbin. 46:09

46:08 I am just giving you examples of how you can destroy peoples self-confidence, self-estime, self believe and their conviction in their own heritage, in their own dignity as a person, in their identity. And once you continue to do that, and then you attack them on the economic front again – why are we talking of development? those people are not going to be part of any developmental process. They are just going to be so retarded that they will remain on the same spot 46:39 for life.

der Glaube an witchcraft hat offenbar zugenommen?

It has increased, because again we blame the usual suspect, the church. Because now, when you preach about it all the time – I show you some books – if you preach about it all the time, people are now being forced to, even those who didn´t believe in it before. 47:14 And especially when you see some manifestations, when you see how in some churches they are exorcising the devil, they tell you that the spirit is in the person and she is infested - a lot of people are beginning to believe that it is true. 47:29 That there are devils, there is witchcraft – many people did not believe it in the past, // but now, it is being logged in the peoples consciousness that there are witches and once you have a problem, that problem is not causal and effect, that if you do certain things it is likely to yield certain results, people are now just being told that it is the devil that is being responsible. 48:00 That´s what we see as a problem. A lot of people now believe that there are witchcraft, there are wizards, there are spirits, and demons, homids, and they are likely to affect them and things like that. 48:16 And that is very very dangerous. So many more people actually now believe.

what we are saying is: gradually we are removing realism from our national life. And we are living in illusions. 48:55 // 50:00 So the concept of witch crafting is becoming heavy in our sensibility again. We don´t believe in reality any more, we don´t believe in causal and effect any more, we just believe that there must be a miracle or some kind of extra supra natural forces working against. 50:24

but the believe in witchcraft is rooted in the African mind …
49:02 … ja, war in der Vergangenheit stark, dann aber durch Kontakt mit Westen und orthodoxen Kirchen erst die Überzeugung gewachsen, dass die Hexen und so weiter den Menschen nicht überwinden können, sondern durch den Glauben überwunden werden

the foundation we had in terms of orthodox religion told us that you don´t have to subject yourself to negative thoughts, and negative thoughts are the witches are part of negative forces. So we are told not to believe in that, that you should believe in your self will. But now, you are not to believe in your will power, you are to believe in some extra-beings or extra forces are affecting you.

ein wichtiges Angebot der Kirchen ist der Kampf gegen witchcraft

There are some words which have become so popular in our lexicons now: demons, witchcraft, deliverance, prosperity, believe. That are the popular famous words now

that you can not even read some books … look at the recent example in Kenya where some pastors took Chinua Achebes book and tie a question in it that he is corrupting the youth because he talks about witchcraft fairy tails –You know a book like Harry potter will not be a success here! If we continue the way we are going. If we continue the way we are going, our children are not likely to learn those stories like Gulliver’s travels. If you present that kind of story, some pastors are likely to attack you!

So one major thing that the churches and the mosques that they play on is fear. 53:29 They instil fear in you. And it is worth if the fear is a fear of a force that you cannot control. If it is for me to fear the next person because he can beat me, because he is bigger than me, it is still somehow manageable, I can confront it. But if it is the fear of something I cannot see, something I have to imagine, that is just a flitting idea, it cannot manifest physically like a book or a tape in front of me, it is worth because I don´t know what to expect. So, people have been instilled with so much fear that they don´t really know how to proceed. 54:14 To solve his own problem. The capacitiy of man to solve his own problem is being eroded. 54:33 and when you erode the capacity of a persons to confront a problem and to overcome it, it is very dangerous, it is really dangerous for the development of the human mind. It is dangerous for the development of the nation. 54:49 It is dangerous for the development of the social ethos. Because the society will not make any advancement.

was mit dem nächsten religiösen clash?

man denke immer an den Norden, aber er auch über situation im Süden beunruhigt

55:40 In the southwest - from my experience in the family – you can be a muslim and live with a Christian here. We don´t have these conflicts of ideas or interest. If it is there, it is barely down. To bring it up and use it as an instrument to fight is very rare. Rather people clashed in the southwest on maybe ethnic – Yoruba versus Haussa – you know, that is a natural phenomenon in the composition of the Nigerian nation. 56:12 but in the north, the experience of the Scharia riot has taught us that there is an explosion that may come some day. 56:22 Because when the problem starts in the problem starts in the north, it looks from the beginning like an ethnic conflict, but deep down, it is religious. usually the attack comes on Friday afternoon, when the muslim come out of mosques, // and then the Christian comes out on Sunday, and they retaliate. it is almost a definite pattern.

now the scharia thing has come to really encourage it, so that … erklärt das …. redet gegen Scharia …. gegen Kleiderordnung …

okay, aber für uns nicht neu, dass es islamischen Fundamentalismus gibt, aber heizt er Boom der Kirchen die Spannung nicht weiter an?

It´s true. It´s fundamentalism. That´s why we are saying that the intensity of preaching and the intensity of appearance of these churches is some kind of fundamentalism, and personally I have observed and I have said it before, and I have noticed that even though most of the time we would say that the Islamic religion is very hard, it likes Jihad, it is a religion of force, they like force to instil discipline in you, I have noticed that the new Pentecostal churches, they are anti-debate. 58:49 You cannot argue with them. I have noticed from my personal interaction with a lot of my friends who are born again Christians, the moment you try to question something in the bible or you question a pastor´s lifestyle, they go in anger, they want to fight you, so // the fundamentalism is even worse in the new Pentecostal movement. it is anti-argument. You cannot argue with them.

Even in our meetings as enlightening as a newspaper environment is supposed to be, you cannot question certain things. Once you raise it, somebody will say: Why are you attacking my pastor? They don´t like to be questioned. And so, sorry, that is fundamentalism in another sense. And that is what you can see on the express road where I told you that we are likely to have a major explosion, Now every last friday of the month, about four of the huge churches – if you travel by that road, you will see vast expands of land, that is where they build their churches – and because of the lack of control, these people park their cars on the major highway and they create this huge traffic jam that can last for two days, sometimes. If you are just somebody who has got frustrated and you try to challenge them, you are likely to be …. you may not escape alive.


And then we came here, we wrote, even my newspaper wrote an editorial on that, we said: look, you can have your church on that road, but please leave the road for the road user, because it is a common property - and they came to attack, not physically, but they wrote back and said that why are you questioning God? It is Gods will that we must be there, why do you want to destroy the will of God? I mean, that is fundamentalism, you cannot argue!

I am telling you, in my office there, there is some of my staff that I must not say certain things, they are like “ha!” – they want to fight you, because you must not question: Why is this word written like this in the bible?

sagt, wir warden noch so ein Erlebnis haben wie in den USA, wo sich die ganze Sekte umbrachte, denn

1:03:00 the followership is passionate. It is an religion of passion. 1:03:15 every heavy stuff of passion.

werben sie agressiv um neue Anhänger?

Yeah. Well, it is not directly to win the muslims, it is to win souls. They are fishers of men, like they say. They have won a lot of people over from the muslim side, and the muslims now, in reaction to that – that is why I said they have formed what they call their own born again, the “Nasfat”. They formed their own because … the aggression is coming from the Pentecostal churches, and they are winning a lot of their people, and so, they too, they have formed their own. And there is the spirit of competition, even among the churches.

spricht von “media war” diverser Kirchen gegeneinander. Im Fernsehen, aber auch im Internet

The war is on all fronts: physically, on the television, in the internet, in the newspapers, aggressive adverts in the papers.

Zahlen Kirchenführer ihre eigene Miliz?
ja, es gab Milizen, es seien auch welche aus Nigeria gekommen
über Kaduna: man nehme allgemein an, dass Politiker die Unruhen schüren. Medien berichteten, sie hätten gesehen wie ein General habe 200 Milizionäre in seinem compound bewaffnet und bezahlt – der General bestritt das – um die gegnerische Seite zu zerstören – der aber hätte eher eine politische, als eine religiöse Agenda
Annahme dass Hintergrund für Unruhe die Wahlen waren

Jahmans Vater früher Christ, dann ging er nach Norden, konvertierte, kehrte nach Lagos zurück, einige Freunde kamen zurück – baute in der Straße eine Moschee, damit sie beten können
1:08:50 diese Geschichte s.o.

bald beschwerten sich die christlichen Nachbarn, dass in der Straße schon um fünf der Muezzin. Also baute er für sie auch eine Kirche, wenn auch kleiner als die Moschee. Jahmans Haus steht dazwischen – um fünf morgens der erste Angriff – wie er sagt – von der Moschee, um 6:30 der nächste Angriff von der Kirche

man sieht den

you see this kind of competition, and sometimes its fun - down south here, it is fun, because you enjoy the two. // but in the north, you can´t try it.

der General bewaffnete offenbar Muslime – aber nutzten die neuen Kirchen nicht auch Milizen?
gibt solche Gerüchte ja. Man kennt aber keinen konkreten Fall. Eher fragt man sich, woher die Leute im Fall einer Krise immer so schnell an die Waffen kommen

Er möchte die Unruhestifter eher hoodloms nennen, oder area boys, Arbeitslose. Die kämpfen vermutlich für jede Seite. Aber die meisten Leute wurden vermutlich im Tschad und Niger gemietet.

in my office there are certain things I must not say. I joke about a lot of things, but there are certain things I dare not say, because it can lead to some kind of war. This was the basis of my interview with CNN where I said that even though you want to go and investigate and see how you can put some counter measures, but you must be very careful.

So what we have done as artists and culture workers is that we try to organize programs that will bring everybody together, especially among the artists. We resolve that you can use artists and cultural workers because art is not respecting of any religion or anything, so when you meet in a festival – we just finished one – when you meet in a festival, Muslim will bring his own artwork, Christian will bring his own artwork, beggar will bring his own artwork - we are just celebrating life. We enjoy the same music, 1:13:08 we share the same food. We believe that if you have more of this kind of programmes, people can begin to understand each other.

Herausgeber hier, und Mitarbeiter arbeiten nicht gut – keine Entlassungen?

I don´t have the power to sack, but I have the power to maintain some kind of discipline. I have sanctioned some people. I have sanctioned somebody who has been my my staff for over ten years, I just noticed that within a certain period of time I noticed that she disappeared to go somewhere, then I discovered that they stop work at some point and then, they go to fellowship outside of this place. And after warning, that look, it is work hour! Eight hour that you are spending here is for work, after that, I don´t care if you sleep in your church, and she continued to go, and I sanctioned her. I recommended for some sanctions which was applied. But in some organisations, it doesn´t matter. In fact, they just give them … I just told you of people who say that between eight and ten, you must do fellowship. so you are not working between eight and ten. So if that is a bank, and if you go to that bank, you will not be attended to in that time, because they are fellowshipping. 1:15:06 And then in the evening, there is fellowship. And what you discover that most of the people attending the same church, the same people work in the same environment. So, it is a sort of a grand conspiracy. So that they are just saying: Well, today is Wednesday, we are closing at two, because we are going to fellowship. And you can´t stop it.

und wenn ein Redaktionsmitglied jetzt erfolgreich etwas über einen Pastor recherchiert hätte – könnten sie das drucken?

yeah, we do. You have to notice one thing: The media has not really been over pampined by these churches. We have not. We have always been publishing. Granted there are sympathies, maybe somebody in the media establishment belongs to a particular church, and when something affects the church, he is trying to be careful, not to offend his pastor – in fact there have been journalists who have been sanctioned from their churches. There is one church that drove some two journalists out, because they reported that they bought a car that was worth nine Million Naira. They said they must not enter the church again. He said: these guys are devils, nobody should relate to them!

in manchen soft – sell magazinen regelrechte Kämpfe – die Herausgeber gehören zu unterschiedlichen Kirchen, aber die liberalen Medien immer weiter publiziert. Versuchen auf Seiten Religion Gleichgewicht zu behalten zwischen muslimischen und christlichen Beiträgen

schreiben regelmäßig über die diversen Kirchen
und drucken sonntags predigten –

Because on sundays, people want to read such preachment. It is a fact of our history that the churches are popular now, and the people want to read about scriptures on Sundays. So, we give them space. On Friday, we publish things about the islam, on Sunday, we publish things about church. But I think that we are lob-sided, we do more for Christians than we do for Muslims. I mean, the Guardian is lob-sided. We only have one page on Fridays for Muslims, but on Sunday, it is eight pages for the churches. But occasionally, we bring Muslim articles, information on the page. It is not that we discriminate them, it is just that the Christians are more aggressive in terms of publicity and public communication. They are more aggressive than the Muslims.

Gab´s im Süden schon religiöse Zusammenstöße?
meistens im Norden, im Süden meist ethnische

It may change. It tell you that that express road, I am expecting that one day, there will be an explosion there. The churches are lying in this way, and the Muslims now are buying in the same place. I ask myself: Why did they decide to go and get a land almost at side of the church if not if they are really trying to provoke some crisis? It may take time to explode, but definetly one day, because it is only …. Look, as a nude a matter, as a Christian parking his car in front of the Muslim ground, it is enough to cause a riot, because they will say: Remove your car! And he says: I won´t remove it! Then, they will burn the car, and then, there will be fight.

the major religious fight that we have had in the south was at the university of Ibadan. But it was not really a riot, it was fought as an intellectual playing. I attended the same school. … Moschee neben Kirche, das Kreuz der Kirche war immer für Muslime sichtbar wenn sie beteten, Christen sollten das wegnehmen, machten sie nicht – viele Diskussionen, dann am Ende das Kreuz durch Sichtschutz verborgen vor Blick der Muslime

Zurück zu express way:

And they cause all the huge traffic jam, there is always a tension, anytime there are activities there. And they all meet there on Sundays and they meet there last Friday of the month, and it is going to explode, I know. 1:22:23 some day it is going to explode.

How does Bonnke fit in that context?

The Bonnke factor in this place…
Bonnke saw an open ground. He saw that the industry, the church industry was building here, and he is just working, so he is doing a legitimate ... because they are all doing it here.

kommen auch amerikanische und britische Pastoren

And you know, these other pastors that come, mostly, they are blacks, but this is an European who comes, and he is commanding a huge following in this place. In fact, sometimes we believe that he lives here, because he is always here. So Bonnke comes, and he is doing a legitimate thing. Probably what outstanded some people is the way in which over a short period of time he has been able to amass so many followers. Í take it as his legworkers here a really doing a good job. They are really on their toes, fishing for men and winning souls for him. 1:24:58 If Bonnkes enters this town, it is like the entire Lagos empties into the stadium. It is a pilgrimage. They are just trooping there – it is amazing.
ist er aggressiver als andere? es gab Tote?

Well, that is expected because of his crowd-control. It is the fact that he has so many people attending that he looses control of the crowd. I have seen him at one or two … on television. I have never attended, but they record it well and they show it, so it is like you were present. So, it be more because of the crowd control, not because Bonnke is doing anything … I don´t know, but I doubt that he is doing anything to affect that.

Is he rising the tension between the religious groups? the political tension in this country?

political crisis – I think, that is remote. He doesn´t talk politics. He preaches just like a normal pastor, he preaches prosperity and … well, the one I have seen. // He preaches in such a way to tell people: “Don´t worry, there is hope! Just believe in God, there is hope, and you are likely to get better” - and that kind of thing. // 1:27:53 Just like the other preachers. Just that he is a more articulate preacher. And he has charm, sort of. 1:27:56 so that he can easily attract the attention of the crowd.
1:28:03 But there is something: In Nigeria like in most African countries, a white person is still like a God, it is like a mystery. So when Bonnke is preaching, people respond more to his skin. That he is a white person – he is a “master”! Not because he is the best preacher. The white person is still seen as a special being from our colonial mentality, colonial past, the kind of orientation that some of our people had, many of them have not even seen a white person before, so when Bonnke is preaching, they see a white who looks like Jesus – that is my mischievous (boshafte) interpretation of it. That he is closer to Jesus than Mr. Blackman who is trying to preach. That is my mischievous interpretation. // But I know that he is very articulate, he is very aggressive, the publicity is always massive. There are also a lot of other African and American pastors coming, and they get a lot of followings too, but Bonnke is exceptionally huge. It is an exodus, always.

Kann die Situation im Land explodieren? wir haben bisher nur über den Express-way gesprochen …

It can affect the whole country, because when those churches have their programmes there, and the mosques, the Muslim organizations, when they have their programmes, people come from all over the country. In fact, it is like a pilgrimage. They come from as far as Port Harcourt - even from Cameroun, Ivory Coast, from Senegal – outside of Nigeria. That to tell you that it is really a pilgrimage – if you see the busses that come, they come from outside of Nigeria. And so, when something happens in that place, there is anxiety from around the country that: What is happening to my person who has attended the programme there? So if they know that there is a major crises there, they are likely to react. Already when they hear that rumour – it is the first thing that will sell. If somebody says: Look, all the delegation from Port Harcourt has been wiped out – the people in Port Harcourt, they will not wait for anybody to tell them that this is a lie. They will go up in arms. Here, people already act by rumour. So that is why we think it something happens there, it may affect the whole country.

ähnlich Vorfall, wo auch wegen Gerücht eine Krise:

Just about three kilometres away from here, there is a mosque, and a little boy wanted to ease himself and he went to the gutter just next to the mosque. And because of that, the Muslim community just sprang to action and started burning and looting. 1:32:02 there was a tendency to say that it was a religious riot, that they were reacting because of the mosque – it wasn´t. It was because the boy - from my investigation, the boy is a Yoruba person, and there has been ethnic tension between the Yoruba and the Hausa, the Yoruba own the land, but the Hausa people are in the majority, it is a corner they have just taken like you can say the foreign corner, and once that little fight started from there, there was a reaction in Kano, because the Hausa people thought that the Yoruba people here had an upper hand, they were able to deal with them surppres them. In the North, the Hausa people took up arms and started to kill the Yorubas in the North. That is the way Nigeria operates: Any little thing somewhere sparks up something else. Reprisal attack in the other place.

es müsste eigentlich einen Mechanismus geben, der diese Unruhen am Anfang stoppt. Aber den gibt es nicht.

That´s why it is always good for a mechanism to be in place, to arrest it immediately it starts. But the governments overtime, they have never shown political will to stop it. // Because // Nigeria is not a structured society, it is not a structured federation, // President Obasanjo is a compromise president. He is a Yoruba by birth, but he was put there not just by the Yorubas – in fact, it was more by the votes of the northerners. Because they were looking for a compromise-able candidate. And president Obasanjo, apart from the fact that he speaks Hausa, he was in the military, most of his friends are military people, he grew up in the north, he has always been anti his own people, he is not popular among the Yoruba people, //

das könnte doch gut sein – frage ob bei Krise interveniert was anderes

He is not a leader. He is not a national leader. He is a politician who is just trying to play the balancing game.




posted by EniOlorunda at 1:32 PM 0 comments links to this post  




Yemoja in Mexico



he NEWS Of DAY       17 of October of 2001 







It is present at of XXIX the Festival the Cervantino International in the CENART


The NIGERIAN DEVOTION To The GODDESS Of the RIVER, YEMOJA, BECOMES A CELEBRATION OF The ARTS  


Karem And Silva




The old myth and the devotion to the goddess of the river, Yemoja, become a celebration in winch of this beautiful one and adored figure of the Nigerian culture. The National Troupe of Nigeria


National company Troupe of Nigeria



it retakes the misticismo of Yeroma to give life to a musical work, where the dramatización, the traditional dance, the folclor, the cosmic illusion and the conflict, are mixed with a thematic contemporary of the reality, within the framework of the presence of XXIX the Festival the Cervantino International in the CENART.


Yemoja is the goddess of the river of the Yoruba town, this deity gives name to the proposal of the Nigerian grouping that presents/displays the plastic and theater art of its country. The spectacle is based on festejo popular the goddess, that has beauty, power and love by La Paz. The company uses the drama-dance to present the rich one and vast tradition of this town in its oralidad, songs, language dances and music.


The company National Troupe of Nigeria, depends on the Federal Ministry of the Culture and Tourism of its country and was created in 1991. It has gained several international prizes and one has appeared in countries like Venezuela, Egypt, Korea of the North and the south, Japan, Portugal, Ghana, the United States, Switzerland, China and Germany.


Account with a repertoire of more than 40 dances of different parts from Nigeria and notables scenic productions like The Trial of Oba Ovonramwen, Sing of Enrinma, New Frontiers, The Silent Gods, Attahiru, The King Must Dance Naked, Things Fall Apart, The Sisters, Kaffirs Last Game, among others.


The members of the company are Amhed Yerima, artistic director; Arnold Udoka Youngest child, coreógrafo; Calrion Chukwura-Abiola, Bakare Eye Rasaki, Olatunji Sotimirin, Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo, Kayode Bolajo Idris, Yemi Adeyemi, Abiodun Ayoyinka, Husseini Shaibu, Ayo Ewebiyi and Amhed Aliu, actors; Lawrence Etim, Humpe Hunga, Adeleke Onanuga and Elijah Aworinde, percussions; Funke Ajibaye, Chinyere Ekoh, Traiwo Adeyemo, Ojevwe Egbele, Josephine Igberaese, Olalekan Sobaloju and Opeyemi Raji, dancers.


National Troupe of Nigeria will present/display its Yemoja drama-dance, the next Friday 19, to 20:00 hours and Saturday 20, to 12:00 hours, in the Seat of the Arts of the National Center of the Arts, located in Churubusco River and road of Tlalpan, Country colony Club, General station Anaya of the Meter. The entrance is free.




posted by EniOlorunda at 1:06 PM 0 comments links to this post  




Nollywood in Milan



Nollywood Stands Tall At Milan Film Festival


By The Guardian

ON March 14 the fifteenth edition of the African, Asian and Latin American Film Festival began in Milan, Italy. A major highpoints was the strong impact made by Nigerian films at the weeklong event, which has grown to become one of the most important cultural events of the city. As proof of the growth the last festival attracted the attention of professionals and common people, willing to see those high quality movies that are normally not considered by the commercial distribution channels.

For a competition that went with the fiesta more than 100 projections were scheduled all the week through in five cinemas of the city. There were also many meetings arranged in schools and universities with the aim of promoting an intercultural education as well as make young people reflect about international problems from different perspectives. The competition was divided in four sections namely Full-Length Films, Documentaries, African Short Films and African Documentaries. These categories were respectively won by directors, Serik Aprimow (Kazakistan) with Okhotnik (Hunter), Idrissou Mora-Kpai (Benin/Niger Republic) with Arlit, Deuxi?me Paris (Arlit, Second Paris), Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) with Kare Kare Zvako (Mother's Day) and Kali Van Der Merwe (South Africa) with Brown. As members of the jury were called great international guests such as the Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka and Bina Paul, director of the Kerala Film Festival of India.

Out of competition a whole section of the festival was dedicated to the Nollywood phenomenon from Nigeria. On Saturday March 19 some leading Nigerian directors and producers, journalists and experts of the subject took part in a discussion on the theme: Nollywod: Video-Boom in Nigeria. The Guardian newspaper, Lagos journalist Jahman Anikulapo made a short introduction on the history of the Nigerian film production up to 1985, when the Nigerian economy was strong and after its consequent crush till 1990, when some businessmen decided to produce video-dramas. Living in Bondage (1992) an Igbo language film, shot by Kenneth Nnebue can be considered the first drama in video. After years of military regime, this kind of video became a real means of expression almost in the same way as newspapers. The wave of growth has risen, so much that nowadays public money has begun to be invested in Nollywood. "It's becoming a national pride, and many film festivals are creating special sections, which permit those kind of films to be shown", explains the journalist.

In fact those videos became incredibly popular, not only in Nigeria, but also abroad, "in Italy the Nigerian communities look for them and buy them in the African Shopping Centers", says Sonia Aimiuwa, a Nigerian actress who has been living in Italy for 12 years.

"They're so popular, because they tell stories which are close to our people. Stories, which touch them", affirms the director Francis Onwochei, "and the quality of those videos has also improved as both producers and audience have become more sophisticated and the budget invested are getting bigger." But he also pointed out the difficulties of keeping piracy under control, especially when the videos are exported.

While Jonathan Haynes, professor at the Southampton College in New York, explained the peculiarities of the Nigerian production if compared with that of all the other African countries. Mrs. Roseline Odeh, director of the National Film and Video Censors Board who was also present talked about the very important role that those videos have on the cultural identity of the land. "A special law was created in order to preserve the cultural identity of Nigeria when British, American and Indian Films began to be shown in the viewing centers, and the same Office which cared for the safeguard of the national identity, had to consider also the Nollywood phenomenon." The result is that these days all videos are approved by the Censors Board before being distributed. They are not considered "allowed" if for example they show images or spread ideas of religious intolerance, of tribal intolerance or if they show excessive violence




posted by EniOlorunda at 12:33 PM 0 comments links to this post  




Nollywood in Milan



Nollywood Stands Tall At Milan Film Festival


By The Guardian

ON March 14 the fifteenth edition of the African, Asian and Latin American Film Festival began in Milan, Italy. A major highpoints was the strong impact made by Nigerian films at the weeklong event, which has grown to become one of the most important cultural events of the city. As proof of the growth the last festival attracted the attention of professionals and common people, willing to see those high quality movies that are normally not considered by the commercial distribution channels.

For a competition that went with the fiesta more than 100 projections were scheduled all the week through in five cinemas of the city. There were also many meetings arranged in schools and universities with the aim of promoting an intercultural education as well as make young people reflect about international problems from different perspectives. The competition was divided in four sections namely Full-Length Films, Documentaries, African Short Films and African Documentaries. These categories were respectively won by directors, Serik Aprimow (Kazakistan) with Okhotnik (Hunter), Idrissou Mora-Kpai (Benin/Niger Republic) with Arlit, Deuxi?me Paris (Arlit, Second Paris), Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) with Kare Kare Zvako (Mother's Day) and Kali Van Der Merwe (South Africa) with Brown. As members of the jury were called great international guests such as the Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka and Bina Paul, director of the Kerala Film Festival of India.

Out of competition a whole section of the festival was dedicated to the Nollywood phenomenon from Nigeria. On Saturday March 19 some leading Nigerian directors and producers, journalists and experts of the subject took part in a discussion on the theme: Nollywod: Video-Boom in Nigeria. The Guardian newspaper, Lagos journalist Jahman Anikulapo made a short introduction on the history of the Nigerian film production up to 1985, when the Nigerian economy was strong and after its consequent crush till 1990, when some businessmen decided to produce video-dramas. Living in Bondage (1992) an Igbo language film, shot by Kenneth Nnebue can be considered the first drama in video. After years of military regime, this kind of video became a real means of expression almost in the same way as newspapers. The wave of growth has risen, so much that nowadays public money has begun to be invested in Nollywood. "It's becoming a national pride, and many film festivals are creating special sections, which permit those kind of films to be shown", explains the journalist.

In fact those videos became incredibly popular, not only in Nigeria, but also abroad, "in Italy the Nigerian communities look for them and buy them in the African Shopping Centers", says Sonia Aimiuwa, a Nigerian actress who has been living in Italy for 12 years.

"They're so popular, because they tell stories which are close to our people. Stories, which touch them", affirms the director Francis Onwochei, "and the quality of those videos has also improved as both producers and audience have become more sophisticated and the budget invested are getting bigger." But he also pointed out the difficulties of keeping piracy under control, especially when the videos are exported.

While Jonathan Haynes, professor at the Southampton College in New York, explained the peculiarities of the Nigerian production if compared with that of all the other African countries. Mrs. Roseline Odeh, director of the National Film and Video Censors Board who was also present talked about the very important role that those videos have on the cultural identity of the land. "A special law was created in order to preserve the cultural identity of Nigeria when British, American and Indian Films began to be shown in the viewing centers, and the same Office which cared for the safeguard of the national identity, had to consider also the Nollywood phenomenon." The result is that these days all videos are approved by the Censors Board before being distributed. They are not considered "allowed" if for example they show images or spread ideas of religious intolerance, of tribal intolerance or if they show excessive violence.




posted by EniOlorunda at 12:08 PM 0 comments links to this post  




A little bit of scatterbrain



Name: JAHMAN OLADEJO ANIKULAPO

Age: Adult

Occupation: Culture Communication & The Arts

To which spiritual denomination do you belong?
I have sympathy for all religions but I prefer my neutrality. This means I could participate in rituals and ceremonies of all 'spiritual denominations' so far it is all about advancing the good cause of humanity. In essence, I worship God/Allah/Olodumare or whatever name is given to the Supreme Being - the creator/ owner of the heaven and the earth and all the components therein.

How do you nurture your spirit?
By being very human; loving others as I love myself; cherishing others the way I cherish myself; working for the good of all creations of the Supreme Being. I believe that by loving and appreciating other human beings, I am loving and cherishing the Supreme Being.


What inspired you to becoming a journalist?
I say always that I am a Culture Communicator and not a Journalist in the way it's usually or traditionally defined and practised. But even in my chosen vocation, I operate within the universe of Journalism.

What challenges did you face when you were writing your first novel- Kemi's Journal
I am not the author of such a work. Though I have unpublished collections here and there, which are for now on suspension due to my two decades of fraternisation with the print media.

How do you find a balance between staying true to your profession and the pressure from outside forces to compromise the truth?
I work according to the dictates of my conscience, and my sealed pact with my Creator to always be on the side of truth, honesty and; all that is justice-able.


How did you surmount the challenges?
I check-balance myself all the time. I refuse to be swayed by popular sentiment. I decline -- no matter the circumstances -- to be coerced to toe common line of actions. I am ever so conscious of circumspection and self-introspection. I work issues out within me before I make my intervention in public discourses or affairs. Above all, I SPEAK my feelings.

Who is your spiritual role model?
The Supreme Being, but I draw lessons from the exemplary lives of the various leaders of men in terms of religion.

How has your spirituality inspired you to give back to society
It is my main stimulus in all I do -- privately or publicly.


What principles/ philosophies do you guide your life and spirit by?
Live in service to fellow being. Love. Share. Appreciate.

If you could change one thing about Nigeria and the world, what would it be?
Erase Indolence; Gullibility; Docility ; Grumbling.... and Rumour Mongering -- all viruses that have eaten deep into the psyche of almost all Nigerians.


If you could change one thing about your spiritual journey what would it be?
To get deeply involved in Service to humanity.


Which holy books do you guide your life by?
I say that I am a student of Life Experiences. Is there a Holy Book by such title? In any case, I read sections from all the books of religion, because I believe they are documentation of Life Experiences of the leaders of men in religious philosophy.

How do you cleanse your spirit?
Silent moments of introspection and reflection on affairs of men as they relate to my daily experiences and needs.

How has your spirituality changed your life?
Make me to be very positive about life and survival of humanity.

In spite of its challenges, what inspires you to stay committed to your profession?
My conviction that I am here not to build Personal Empire but to do Service to humanity through My Gifts.

How can we enrich Nigeria spiritually?
Let every man be a Master of his own religious Conviction. Ensure freedom of choice; Freedom to Be what he plans/wants to Be. Not Judging others by our own selfishly erected standards. Freedom is the Key to a better, developed society.

Labels: ersonal




posted by EniOlorunda at 11:49 AM 0 comments links to this post  



Tuesday, July 17, 2007



Sussan Omagu and Milimalism



Sussan Omagu:
Graffiti of an interventionist


YOU would think that the nebulous albeit inchoate argument about the place of minimalist art in a figural artistic tradition such as Nigeria’s has been over-stretched; that all the gladiators have since reached some consensus on the possibility of 'form' as an alternative to the 'figurative' or 'representational' art that has characterised (in fact, dominated) practice and discourses of the Nigerian art exhibition scene.
Particularly, as some critics had observed in the past, many of those — form-wise — who dared to stretch their vision beyond the common template of existing painting traditions have since seemed to retrace their steps. Some of them had been hounded by peer criticisms to submit to the ‘common line’, while others simply discovered how frustrating it is to step out of the ‘mainstream’, even if for a short while, through a real or perceived unrestrained flirtation with experimentation.
The truth is that the Nigerian exhibition site remains a close circuit, almost intolerant of exuberant experimentation; and so has little sympathy for art for the sake of philosophical cogitation.
But Sussan Ogeyi Omagu has rebelled against the quaint silence; thus returning the argument that form as against content could indeed drive the character of art. Not only that, her art points a new direction for the debate and raises the heat of a redefinition of the boundaries of artistic vision.
The painter equally highlights a new direction of the argument, which is whether or not it is possible for the minimalist to escape the trap of sacrificing content for aesthetics; meaning for form; and draughtsman-ship, sometimes in expressionism modules in colour use. Or whether the minimalist navigating on a vast field of concepts but confined to the properties of few symbolic colours can be trusted to produce a work that is complete in all the departments of traditional painting culture.
OMAGU's latest collection entitled 'MINIMALISM' going on display, late March through April, 2007 in the Goethe Institut, Lagos, is no doubt a "leap" (as contended by a fellow painter) from what she did in the past. Whereas the tendency for a reduction in the content of her canvas/board, especially the volume of figural representation — itself a sort of departure from the Ahmadu Bello tradition where she trained — had manifested even as early as when she debuted on the exhibition circuit, Omagu perhaps has never been as daring on canvas as she appears in the current collection. She has remarkably fused symbolic motifs (newspaper cuttings, graffiti, patches of canvas), expressionistic colour use with romantic aesthetics (design patterns defined by poetic lines and verses, signs and symbols from anyaa facial scarification tradition of her Ogoja native home in northern Cross River State), to produce paintings that bear uncommon signature. And considering her strength in composition even in her deceptively lean content, she manages to evoke a cathartic denouement in her viewer. She commits her audience to a deep sense of reflection not just through her sometimes versified theme as in the work Courage, but also through her deployment of effusive lines and temperamental patterning in such a way that she invokes the image of a painter in unending dialogue with her canvas.
The result of this flight of creative temper are poetic pictures that are forested with hideous motifs whose implied meanings are sometimes coded in the tenor and intensity of her colours as in 'All Things Bright and Beautiful', where the onyaa script shares characteristics with nsibidi patterns.
Specifically for this collection, Omagu dots on themes of afflictive social and political orientation as in 'And the Man Died' — (recall wole Soyinka's prison memoir, 'The Man Died') — a work compositionally suggestive of a thriller movie scene, with imageries of anger, fear, poverty, sickness streaming out of the screen. Her three-part 'Handle With Care' series, in particular, seeks better life for children. But rather than draw empathy with images of depressed, pathetic children with poverty-oriented motifs strewn all over the face of the canvas, the artist puts the meaning in the motions of her lines, the newspaper and patches of canvas graffiti and, of course, the emotive raw colours.
Notably too, her predilection for feminism and the politics of gender discourse comes across in some of the works.
Though she once in a press interview, declined the feminist tag, saying: "when I paint I see myself just as an artist, not from gender perspective", 'Dear Sister' — which bears the expression of a woman resolute to break free from a certain enslaving condition — hints at a strong feminist contention. 'Dependable' with a newspaper rider caption 'More Women Must Be Involved In Governance', like Dear Sister, is a poetic sermon on the trials, if not travails of womanhood.
Largely, however, Omagu's thematic contention is consistent with her career profile as an artist. She once established her social concern thus: "In my country Nigeria, we have abundant human and natural resources and yet there is still hunger, unemployment and dejection in the land. In fact, an average Nigerian is not getting the basic necessities of life and everybody knows that a few people feed at the expense of the huge mass of the people of this country".
In "most of my works I try to give hope and courage to our people and to say that there is always a brighter side to life. So, I tell people, as in Tomorrow's Far, get up from that depression, go out there and accomplish your dream".
This sermonic voice is also found in 'Loss is a Protagonist', an installation with newspaper, which she explains "Whatever you lose, you learn in the process. If you are positive-minded and maleable; every experience comes with a price." Also 'This Too Shall Pass', is "a word of encouragement and hope that "things will get better as long as you stay focused and works towards a better date".
Hope and Courage, these are the dual resolutions driving Susan Omagu’s artistic vision; she is comfortable preaching, and seeing the finest points in every human condition, no matter the depth of despair or anxiety. In fact, the miniature series, 'My City is Under Construction', sums her conviction — "there is hope that things will definitely get better when the right people are sought and put into place to play the right role at the right time; it’s a process akin to a city under construction, which will reach its desired end". The choice of theme is the romantist in her, and this may be her greatest attraction to her audience.

IT is not really Omagu’s theme or subjects that excites one in this show, however; it is the dimension to which she has extended the frontiers of her chosen form. It is here that the strength of the artist, her competence in handling her medium as well as her depth of vision are celebrated. And her treatment of the subjects as well as deployment of objects in accomplishing the various mixed media works are only amplified by the form she has chosen.
One supposes that the essentials of Omagu's intervention in the earlier referenced discourse on the essence of form ‘minimalism’ — is to contend that it is possible to achieve a synergy between content, form and aesthetics, without losing out in the usually delicate area of depth both of artistic vision and technical sophistication. Interestingly, this has been the usual pitfalls of many later day minimalism converts as is very vivid in the art exhibition circuit, especially in Lagos.
However, it should be clear even here that it is not as if the works of minimalists or painters who show predilection for this style must always be held with suspicion; as if minimalism itself is an escape from the perceived laborious vocation of painting; a negation of the rigour of draughtsmanship. The point is that the sudden advent or shall one say the preponderance of minimalist paintings on the local exhibition circuit, tends to throw up many questions about the competence of certain painters in the handling of the several technical requirements of the genre of painting; drawing, effective/innovative exploration of colour scheme, pictorial composition and symmetry being very vital. Added to this is the often seeming impatience, perhaps apparent disregard, of such so-called ‘minimalists’ for the process of accomplishing a rounded piece of painting; a complete piece of artwork.
Here Omagu distinguishes her work through her seeming deliberateness to strike a symmetry among the divergent particulars of painting — where she negates drawing, she engages objects or employs the direct communication vehicle of graffiti in the context of mixed media format. Through this approach she carries her commentary on various social and political tensions in the national polity as well as in human relationships. Where she declines to drench the whole face of the canvas in generous paints, as prevalent in most works that currently grace most local galleries or display foyers, she applies colour to convey the intensity of the mood and tenor of the subject, or object of contention in the painting (See 'Spillage', 'Apparition', 'I See You', for instance). Sometimes, the inter-course between colour and object is so knitted that, viewing 'U Learn' for instance, one is drawn to query which is her central motif, the poetic colour or the newspaper/canvas graffiti?
Remarkably, aside the form, the minimalist predilection also manifests in her engagement of colour, which appears more like an interrogation of what had been; a sort of rebellion against the established mode of rendition, in which colour is seemingly subservient to content. In other words, colour was used only as an appendage, engaged for mere aesthetic purposes, such as in elucidating the theme; or as mere embellishment, to create an atmosphere to the content. In this instance, Omagu could be said to be a mere aesthete, who cherishes evoking emotive response in her viewer through atmospheric effects.
In most of the current collection, she is significantly, bolder in her experimentation playing, essentially, with shades of red, black, white and gray, and in rare occasions, with blue and green. Her colours appear almost ritualistic in some instances i.e so deeply engaging that one suspects an addiction, a sort of worshipping of the evocative power of those hues to inspire deeper meaning beyond the mere appearance on the board or canvas. It is curious for instance, that Omagu would rather deploy the raw texture of the colour than variegate its character or graduate its intensity to buoy the ambience of the painting. Perhaps this comes in the context of the minimalist’s orientation, in which case, having eliminated the more traditional particulars of the painting such as figures and a motif-bristling face of the canvas, the artist must have found alternative paradigms to elucidate her artistic contention.
Beyond the riches of her colour scheme, however, the temperament of her strokes and the cadences of her painting vocabulary present are reflexive of a poet at work in visual representation.
IN a press interview, during her first solo, Expectations, held in 2005, Omagu had hinted at the source of her influences; she admires the forms and motifs of fellow artist Ndidi Dike — who herself is currently experimenting with space, shades and colour (not only on her traditional wood panels but on canvas). Omagu said: "As an African artist I try to incorporate things African in my works. I also like the colour scheme of Jerry Buhari, who happened to be my teacher at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. As an artist I enjoy fresh and live colours and I try to see how to apply them in my canvas".
Omagu hinted in the course of preparing this exhibition that the theme she desired to explore drove the forms she has adopted. This is perhaps another departure from the lean club of minimalists here, who often operate like absurdists with the with the form seeming to interface with, sometimes intrude, on the meaning.
THE current show, her second solo, provides a different template to evaluate her emerging voice. Thus it is perhaps, providential that she has chosen to experiment with form and colour — two platforms that give her ample room to stretch her imagination and creative temperament. But she ensures that the experiment immunises her against afflictions from the sometimes cacophony of influences in the visual arts circuit.
Should this show be taken as a ‘one-off’ or suggestive of a new direction for her not-so-old career as a professional painter? The answer may not be so glaring now until her artistic ouvre in the next few years (or exhibition) is studied. But what Susan Omagu has shown is that there is a limitless possibility to which she is ever willing to push her creative intervention in experimental art.
Jahman Anikulapo,
Lagos.
March, 2007


NB: Article was written without knowledge of the fact that the title of the collection of work is MINIMALISM. It was sheer coincidence.




posted by EniOlorunda at 1:47 PM 0 comments links to this post  




Identity and the Art



Identities & Labels: Deconstructing Traditions And Prejudices
By Jahman Anikulapo
( 2004)
There are just too many tales drawn from the recent history of the Nigerian visual art to serve as background to this comment. Particularly, where the serious issues of identities and gender in art are involved, these tales bear testimony to the fact that discourses had always been very vibrant on very relevant aspects of our art historicity; even if they seem to happen more at informal sites.
Perhaps the very first tale to recall here was that woven by the former director of the Goethe Institut, Lagos, Mrs. Renate Albertson Marton (late). Just a quick reminder: Renate was the amiable lady who served as Deputy Director of Goethe Institut between 1989 and 1995; left for Bremen 1999; and then returned late 1999 as the substantive director of the Goethe. It does not need much retelling that while Renate served here, she was instrumental to what was eventually considered the boom in the Nigerian art. She journeyed round the various centres in the country where arts were being produced, particularly the various schools, and uncovered many hidden talents that probably would have been lost in the maze of the social, political and economic travails that challenged Nigeria at the time. Many of her discoveries are the most discussed artists of today.
So Renate left in 1995 but at the time she returned four years later, she seemed to be in a hurry to top what she had done in the first eight years. Specifically, she had always lamented that much as she had done what she wanted to do, she felt inadequate that she never really gave voice to the 'voiceless'; she felt that Nigeria art was still very much patriarchal. It was peopled by men, practiced by men, promoted by men, patronized by men. The women were too few on the field and even at that, they had such a huge weak voice.
One of her dream then was to have an all-female artistic show. But not just any female. She contemplated women who are stretching their imagination and capacity beyond the usual pedestrianism that pervaded much of Nigeria's national life.
Notably too, she was thinking of female artists who are not necessarily consigned to engaging female related issues, but dealing with themes of man and his environment in all ramifications - politics, philosophy, economy, society in general among others. She was not into 'isms', so she probably was not thinking of an art show to flag such ideation as feminism, womanism or whatever the usually 'lamenters of the female woes' and activists were thinking. As she stressed in an interview she wanted women artists who perceive themselves as creators of artistic and cultural ideas and materials; and not as a set of artists that considers itself deserving of sympathetic hearing from the general visual art viewership .
Though she did quite a few solo showing of certain women artists, her real dream was a large show that will feature a long list of women. "I want to have about 20 female artists in a show that would travel round the country", she said in the interview with this writer. She worked hard at that. But as if she knew that she had indeed very little time to live, she decided to experiment with a select few; just to test the waters. That was when she brought four women to the gallery: (NKECHI PLEASE CHECK THESE NAMES, AM I RIGHT?) Ebele Okoye; Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo; Angela Isiuwe; Juliet Ezenwa. That show, 'Women About Women', which held at the Goethe Institut, Lagos, though not the first all-women show, was definitive of the direction of new art as practiced by the Nigerian women.
In choice of themes, form predilection, style and techniques of rendition, 'Women About Women', perhaps represented a most definitive statement on the question of art and gender equation; of course, with a subtext of art and identity albeit the undercurrent discourse on what constitutes contemporary Nigerian and African art.
A peculiar note from that show was the fact that women artist do not necessarily have to engage issues of gender or use motives that are strictly women in content or context to practice as artists. That women are capable of engaging any subject, form, stylistic or technical options to express their innermost desires. Also it shows that paintings as had been known through the checkered Nigerian art history had been subjective in the hands of the men. That for instance, the 'Fulani Milk Maid'; 'Mother and Child'; or the ubiquitous nude model, which is often drawn to the very details of her precious materials are the whimsical creation of men.
Several of the artworks on display were obvious (even sometimes subtle) reactions to the archetypal portrayal of the female being by the male artist. Not that such reactions had not been attempted in the past, but for many 'Women About Women' was perhaps the first time in recent memory, in this environment, that there was such a robust repudiation of what has almost become a legend in artistic contention. Moreso this was perhaps the first time there was such a multiple of voices interrogating a tradition in local exhibition circuit; or in a single show.
Remarkable in the assemblage was an installation by Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo on woman and labour. In its picturesque depiction of the pain of labour, the work (title), an effigy robed in white, with splatter of blood at the genital part, lying prostrate, spent or perhaps comatose, haunted the viewer's conscience to the realities of the burden the woman bears.
****
"Gender does position me differently from my male colleagues, but does not define or articulate my artistry. First, I am an artist who happens to be female within a social order that has an overwhelming tendency to relegate women. My experiences and perceptions are on a different psychological and emotional plane. I find that women are able to empathise with most of my work while men are often disturbed by their content".
--Chinwe Uwatse

"I see the urge to explore and succeed in my chosen field before I see my strength or weaknesses as a female or human. Being a woman does not lower the expectation and standards of art produced. A good painting is good irrespective of whether done by a male or female artist".
-- Peju Layiwola

The second tale was an accident of history, but it underscores a core objective of the current show on identity i.e that every people or group of people must attempt to develop their own voice(s) and express same in their own originated vocabulary else others would speak or continue to speak for them. And of course, when others speak for you, they engage their cognitive structures constructed out of their own selfish motives, preferences, prejudices and as well subjective definitions and conclusions in depicting your affair. Africa and its people have suffered this debilitating adversity for centuries. And even in the 21st century it is not about to get out of that canyon.
Like Africa, the women have been perennially under that yoke in which -- the men - speak for them. And the effect has been most psycho-somatic, particularly, in a society where certain cultural norms and man-made rules have helped to (almost un-resolvedly) condition the women to be second rate in many respects. This has indeed been a recurrent subject of many decades in art circuits, in classrooms, seminar rooms, among art intellectuals, especially between men and women.
Often, one had pondered what must be going on in the minds of women when they stepped into the exhibition room, and they behold the prurient predilection of male artists celebrated in the famous nude figure, which has been favourite subject for ages. artists. This as said earlier, is at the very core of the question of art and identity, quite equidistant to the cross-borders perspective of the germane question.
But this is pontificating. Back to the accidental shot of history as referenced earlier...

" ... naturally I feel the need to
express issues that affect the woman - issues of child bearing, fertility, and barrenness and overpopulation, women's work and perspectives..."
-- Peju Layiwola

A happy jollificating collection of Nigerian culture elite was recently at a send-forth reception for an expatriate culture worker somewhere on the Lagos Island. Expectedly, discussion drifted to the state, nature and character of Nigerian visual art and performances. This was when a female proprietor of an art centre in the city made a statement that has continued to ricochet in one's consciousness. Spotting a scornful smile, she looked straight ahead - into the eyes of a painter in the group and asked (paraphrase): 'Tell me, if you were a woman would you have been happy to walk into a gallery and see an artwork showing all the details of the genitals of a woman. Would you feel dignified that before you, especially when your husband or children are standing by your side, that you were viewing a painting that shows the female organs...?'
Silence fell on the gathering of all male except the woman flanked by her husband...
The painter attempted an answer... "Well, it is just a painting..."
The woman continued: "Why don't you men draw the male nudes with all the male genital organs intact. Why should it always be the woman's breast, and others that get frequently, without respect, depicted".
Another male painter came in: "Madam, but it is only a piece of artwork; it is the subject that fascinates the painter that he worked on."
"Whatever! It is horrible. You need to see the picture of two women, one in red colour and the other in black, naked in everything. It was too detailed and conferred no respect on womanhood".
"But there have been such other s over the centuries of the female. It is a common subject", offered a journalist in the group.
The woman said, "But it doesn't have to be perpetuated. It may be something of fancy to them in the West, because of their excessive liberal culture, but for us in Africa, we should be very careful. Motherhood and womanhood are still sacred institutions here.' This was another member of the gathering, a teacher.
"For instance, would you have drawn your wife, girlfriend, or daughter in that nude posture. I am sure it has to be someone else's daughter..." continued the woman. She was the only one not smiling through the informal symposium oiled by red wine and small chops.
"The lady is my model; she posed for me. Many artists use such model. It is a profession for many of them", said the painter in the dock.
"Oh yeah, and I am sure that picture was recorded after some other transactions between the artist and his model..." offered the woman spotting mischief on her pretty face.
She continued, "Honestly, there are so many ways that you men abuse the women and help to perpetuate the lack of respect and dignity of women by what you do. That is why you have many young women on the streets who believe that the only thing they have to offer to survive this harsh economic environment is their body; the temple of the Lord".
The talk would not end, but this statement was apparently the fundament of the debate.
"I am an artist who happens to be
female within a social order that has
an overwhelming tendency to relegate
women"
- Chinwe Uwatse
The appropriate response to the male-domino assessment of art by the womenfolk is provided in this (above) response to the poser: 'Does gender position you differently from your male colleagues'.
Specifically, there is a resonance in her conclusion that the object of her artistic production and expression is not to assert her femininity or assure of her femaleness; for she says "My work is an extension of my being".
And there is something indeed instructive in Nneka Odoh's statement on same Identity and Gender vis: "I would prefer to have paintings assessed on their individual strengths or weaknesses as valid statements in art just as one would assess works of my male counterparts".
Remarkably, as it is in the visual art, so in the other disciplines within the art. The Theatre and the film, especially the new Nigerian film culture characterized by the video drama (Nollywood) is suffused with materials that do not hide prejudice against the female being. Especially in the videos, the women are objects of carnal exploitations, and debasement; sometimes tools for the villain to realize his negative actions. In music, whether in video clips or live in performance, the woman is for no other use but to titillate the sexual instincts of the audience. Hence no band or clip is complete without women wiggling their waists or bobbing their boobs. And in a few cases where women lead the band, they merely assist the men to continue the objectification of the female being as a mono-brand: sexual pawns.
But the reassertion of the yearning by the female artist to be seen as artist rather than through any prisms of labeling is carried forcefully in the poet-painter Nwosu-Igbo's submission thus: "I choose for my work to be approached on terms of strength in communication and appeal and I strongly advocate that my art is identified and categorized not by gender but by its message and style (which is what it should be)".
And Layiwola, the painter-sculptor, says "Although gender differentiation exists in the use of materials, I find a rather interesting response to my works. In my chosen use of metal as my medium, I think people make a shift and become more receptive when proven wrong. There appears to be a kind of conflict in perception. Sometimes on one hand, the audiences may view the sex of the artist before appreciating the works, but on the other hand, I see my art before realizing that I am a woman in a male dominated field. In this complex situation I find in my experience that ingenuity and hardwork are commended irrespective of gender affiliation. I have had no discrimination whatsoever in my art practice. If anything my efforts have always been greatly appreciated and commended."
No less instructive of the un-necessary-ness of the male-female dichotomy in artistic production is the experience shared by lara Ige-Jacks thus: "Lara be gentle with your strokes, take it easy, you may not need to do much of this in future..." my male colleagues would go on and on. I was the only female student in a painting class of fourteen and so this foundation did influence my vision as an artist. I never placed myself differently from my male colleagues".
Stella Ubigho's attempt at delineating the cognitive structures of the male and the female in relation to contemplation of creative enterprise, may not be general in all the ramifications of artistic contentions, but it helps to elucidate the fact that creativity for any human being is a function of received stimuli and past experiences as well as the nature of the personality producing.
She states: "Gender has nothing to do with the kind of artwork I produce, my being a woman does not make my artwork less than that of my male colleagues though the man and the woman have different sensibility.
The man promotes reasoning than the woman, the woman is more emotional than the man. The woman displays this emotion occasionally in her works as a result of her nature. While the man passes his message more direct (reasoning) to the people in his works but this does not make the work sing gender".
However, in explaining her choice of motive, Odoh perhaps, offers a fresh perspective to why the female character is obsessive to many male painters: "The choice of the female personality owes its usage to reasons of convenience, flexibility and its readability and not strictly as an advocacy on gender-related issues. However, this does not imply that I may not tackle gender issues if the issue at stake infringes on my rights as an individual".
The patriarch of contemporary Nigerian art himself, Ben Enwonwu, in an interview with The Guardian in the early nineties to mark his 70th birthday, had offered that "the female figure is the most beautiful creation of God, the most perfect form of nature", though he added in same breath, that the pregnant female is "a distortion of form".
Indeed, would women, especially female artist want the old order of portraying women as object of visual mockery, pieces of worthless objects to satisfy the sexual reveling and desires of men to continue? The subtext here is how the female artists engage their talents and skills to redirect societal attitude to the worth of the female being. In the context of Identities and Labels rests an answer to the poser.
For this one could take the final affirmation from Titi Omoighe who says: "The gender issue shouldn't come up in the art profession. An artwork should simply stir the emotions of the viewer".

****
Culture is not fixed and I agree with Eddie Chambers that people who insist on seeing works produced in Africa necessarily reflecting 'africanity' about them is equivalent to these people maintaining that artists who are geographically located in the continent, Africa should live in huts and paint on caves and bodies using indigenous materials and tools. I believe that the term AFRICA makes specific references to geography also and not a strong linkage to a fixed past culture.
--Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo


The third tale backgrounding this comment is rooted in a statement that one had to make few months ago, while writing an introduction to an exhibition of a select group of six Nigerian artists at the Air Gallery in London. Titled Africa Passage, the exhibition in its ambitious albeit patriotic conception re-echoed that ageless poser: what is African art? Is there a contemporary art - just as the interrogative underscore of the current show, Identity and Label?
Following is an excerpt of the statement that one had to make:
"To most critics, especially in the West, Africans lack capacity for logic and cultural sophistication to be able to master their space in its entire connotation. They may never be able to master their environment. This conclusion perhaps, explains the attitudinal approach to the cultural - material and non-material - emanating from the continent. It is one of the reasons African culture producers have been eternally dumped in the age of (as popularly propounded by some critics) primitivism in ideation and production".
This statement is at the core of the three positions canvassed by Sylvester Ogbechie (Artistic Identity); Dele Jegede (Identity and Tradition), and especially, in Eddie Chambers (African" Identity) -- the three posers themselves being the fundamental objectives of the current show.
As a matter of fact this show, going by the conviction of the individual artists must address the stream of undercurrents, which manifests no matter how subtly, the prejudices of the West about the capacity of the artist that originates and as well operates from the continent.
Hence it should be possible to review the misconceptions that Africa is a monolithic cultural entity, in which case, the arts from the diverse peoples of the continent are often ignorantly or sometimes mischievously lumped under the term 'African Art'. And this in spite of the fact that the multitude of tongues as well as ethnic conclaves suggest that what could successfully encapsulate the art of the continent is art from Africa and never African art.
It should also be possible to challenge the notion that not much quality art happens within the continent.
And more significantly, it is time to assert with authority and substantive creative portfolio that an artist from the continent can participate effectively in the discourse on the global stage. That a 'modern African artist' in the quest for global acceptance does not need to kill his creative being to assume an expected character that bothers on the stereotypes. That he does not need to "ape the ancient forms, contents and styles and win instant acceptance or, deviate and dare to win critical opprobrium for having been so sucked into western techniques that he lacks authenticity of vision and production". That to be successful on the international market, the artists need not become a slave to strange influences wrought mostly in the West whose cultural contentions are most times at variance with the African cultural cosmology.


'Identities & Labels' stands at the threshold of affirming that the Female Artist is capable of musing on philosophy, social-political- economic conditions, human triumphs and travails; as well as engaging her art to reflect ideas beyond the mindset of the kitchen, the bedroom, and the baby nursing room.




posted by EniOlorunda at 1:36 PM 0 comments links to this post  




Africa passage



AFRICA PASSAGE: AN INTRODUCTION
By Jahman Anikulapo
Passage throws up imageries of motion, movement, dynamism; a ritual of transiting from one position to another; one status to a newer status; space to space; ethos to ethos. And yet this is the story of Africa, which has for centuries being in perpetual passage; journeying from one social, political and cultural experience to another. Particularly, the dynamics of its being has been most eclectic; sometimes defying regular rhythm of action; at other times confounding logicality and seemingly incoherent in temperament. Yet, this inconstant mood of motion is what has frustrated most observers of the passage of the continent and its people. To most critics, especially in the West, Africans lack capacity for logic and cultural sophistication to be able to master their space in its entire connotation. They may never be able to master their environment. This conclusion perhaps, explains the attitudinal approach to the cultural — material and non-material — emanating from the continent. It is one of the reasons African culture producers have been eternally dumped in the age of (as popularly propounded by some critics) primitivism in ideation and production. However, recent attitudinal shift in some more patient and objective critics have begun to liberalise understanding of the dynamism of Africa's cultural space.
The Western intelligentsia can see Africa Passage as an exhibition concept from the perspective of the currency of shift in attitude; and relaxation of the shackles of perception noosed around the being of Africa. The exhibition is thus, another major attempt by the Western elite to interrogate the fundaments of the dynamic cultural experience of Africa. The success of a delicate venture such as this, premised conceptually, on debunking certain mindset and entrenched sensibility about the continent, will depend on a set of paradigms. Prominent among these is sincerity of vision and purpose of the sponsors of the project and, thorough grasp of the missionary undercurrent of the project by the participating artists.
The collective of artists itself is reflective of the very idea which Passage as a word-concept represents. These are six individuals from same country that is deceptively culturally homogenous. Also, the artists in their divergent perception of passage and stylistic rendition of the thematic objective of the show, have explicated the authenticity of the vast cultural milieu of Africa that cannot be strait–jacketed into one linear concept. In other words, does there exist the concept African Art? Isn’t the term a convenient description of a confoundingly expansive experience that is beyond easy comprehension to a non-initiate? Some critics have indeed argued that the idea African Art is an illusion. Perhaps, indeed, it is a fraud. Maybe, a floating reality. This, however, is a subject of on-going discourse.
Africa Passage connotes dating as in the passage of a given period of time. It also tends to blow stress Africa as a mono cultural entity. It is indeed, a fact that outside the shores of Africa, many people including anthropologists, art critics, historians, and curators still see the continent as a unitary cultural tendency.
Although findings and facts of history have proved this view wrong, their counter arguments are documented mainly in textbooks and research journals.
But the consequences of the critical misconception about the correct status of arts from Africa, are more felt in contemporary arts practice where inadequate research, colonial hangover and insufficient participation of post-colonial African artists in global meet, help perpetrate the notion that not much quality art happens within the continent.
That is how much the title African Passage gives in to an aberration. The error here is that archeological findings have made ancient African artifacts special treasures in many of world’s public and private art collections.
Since the later half of the 20th century, many experts, especially Africans have argued (though without much weight) that the phenomenal fame of those rich treasures have largely overshadowed other arts coming out of the continent. In other words, not much is recorded or acknowledged of modern artists’ works.
The tendency heads in the direction of old argument that the looted and acquired ancient African artifacts represent the permanent visual art experience of Africa. And these works are preponderantly spread around world’s collections.
The experience of most modern African artists in the quest for global acceptance has been sometimes traumatic albeit, killing self to assume an expected character that bothers on the stereotypes. The artist either apes the ancient forms, contents and styles and win instant acceptance or, deviate and dare to win critical opprobrium for having been so sucked into western techniques that he lacks authenticity of vision and production.
The African artist who is successful on the global stage is quickly seen as having been civilised by his encounter with colonialism and Western (art training) institutions. The result is a profusion of productions of paintings, potteries, and sculptures, designs and installations that regurgitate the aesthetics of the past (in order to be relevant to so-called Western aesthetic taste). This explains why in many of the world’s collection or shows, what often features in the African art section are mostly sculptures, because they easily capture the aesthetic properties in antique pieces as well as fall into the expectation of global art viewer-ship.
Artists who appear to challenge these status quos are seen as rebels. They are rebels because they seek to capture contemporary realities of modern Africa. Why would they paint landscapes of skyscrapers, boulevards and sports cars in a continent assumed to be a jungle of huts, camel rides and footpaths?
Western Art historians tend to ignore such artists. This may explain why many writers tend to box the history of African art into two over-bloated confines: Ancient African Art and Contemporary African Art.
The allusion to existence of modern, postmodern, traditional, prehistoric art in the continent, to some critics, is abnormal.
But what else could justify the exclusion from history books of the phenomenal developments in art movements than the theme of the current show? The dynamism of trends and epochs in the art of each of the over 54 nations of Africa are buried in the definitive tag — Africa Passage?
The ‘Passage’ thus needs explication.
Hopefully, this is what this show has set out to do. This is a delicate subject, compounded by the word ‘Africa’. Indeed, for example, why not another word for ‘Passage’?
If every artist from the continent inserts Africa in his exhibition title, the position of researchers and historians who discuss African art as a one-headline-subject might eventually be legitimised. It may also justify the assumption that there is one way African art must appear – resembling the artefacts in Louvres and the British Museums.
In spite of its lofty objectives, there is a sense in which Africa Passage sounds a conceptual error, when viewed in the context of divergent orientation and character of African treasures. For instance, the Ethiopian Obelisk in North Africa and the Benin bronze heads in West Africa do not bear any semblance. And the Crypts on Egyptian tombs and the rock paintings in Zimbabwe are different in aesthetics and cultural context. Even the artifacts from neighbouring geographical locations are different in aesthetics. The Nok teracotta found in areas within the Middle Belt region of Nigeria and the Igbo Ukwu findings from the East of the same country, bear little visual correlation.
In spite of its seeming contentious philosophical base, Africa Passage is however, a reality. It is a major statement in the current argument. The artists believe (see appendix) they are participants in the dialogue on the dynamism of the cultural milieu that define their essences and being.
Significantly, the artists perceive themselves as the voices of Africa at the Globalisation forum, seemingly already appropriated and annexed by the scientific, technological, industrialised-muscled West with its huge economic wealth.
What the artists want to bring to the table is their identity, which though not homogenous in contents and forms and techniques are shared values and ideas. It should, therefore, be understood when each of the works, each of the artists displays here reaches deep into the innards of sensibility of each guest at this show.
The idea is to interrogate sitting perceptions, open up closed prejudices and radiate new vision in our individual understanding of the mystery that is Africa.



PREVIEW

Harvest Of Statement
The six artists in African Passage share a coincidence of circumstances in many respects. But the most germane to this discourse is the circumstance of their birth. They were born either a few years before or after the surge of Independence for colonised nations of Africa. Nigeria, their country of birth only became an independent state in October 1960.
The artists were thus born into an atmosphere of hope, an era of unfettered imagination when the former ‘slaves’ (colonialism was itself a sort of moderated slavery) began to emerge from the shackles of debasing psychological, moral and cultural impositions and, notched up to being ‘real’ human beings by taking up the driving of their own destiny. It was a time of high hope for socio-cultural and economic boom.
Even if they were minors at the time of the oil discovery and wealth of the late 60s and 70s, the artists participated by accessory in the petro-naira boom of the mid 70s to 80s that was finally aborted with the advent of the International Monetary Fund, IMF in 1985. And they had then been unwilling witnesses to the waste of the political and economic fortune of the nation in the last two decades and half. Thus the undercurrent of forlorn hope and despondency in their visioning process can be understood. Otherwise, the artists are vibrant in their forms, colour schemes and stylistic deportment. They are of course, products of the Western art institutions, hence their approach to techniques.
Notably, however, each of the artists is competent in experimentation, thus offering a tapestry of harvests of studies and daringness.
However, in an exhibition of this nature, 'visual appeal' cannot suffice as the only standard of assessment. The aesthetics is as significant as the content and title, theme, technique and other factors chosen by the each artist count.
The artists -- Nsikak Essien, Ndidi Dike Onyema Offoedu-Okeke, Obi Ekwenchi, Sam Ovraiti and Tony Enebeli -- are all professionals with good degree of accomplishment. They belong to a generation that can unequivocally be branded the 'modernists`. Yet they have always sourced their materials and inspiration from the indigenous cultural properties and ideas. They have always been challenged to interpret these indigenous ideas and inspirations in the context of modern forms and techniques.
Though trained at different institutions thus acquiring divergent practical orientations, they share similar objectives, techniques and themes.
Essien, perhaps the oldest in the group, was a founding member of the phenomenal AKA Group of (13) artists, which since the late 80s has manifest as a key tendency in the determination of the direction of the current art production in Nigeria.
The group was reputed for unpredictable experimentation with the media and, Essien was about the most eclectic of the lot, which also include the internationally renowned sculptor, El-Anatsui and Obiora Udechukwu.
Essien's experimentation is sometimes eccentric but mostly expansive in scope. He would fold rigid wooden panels into scrolls, lay thick pastes of colour rings on his board, and indent his pieces with layers of strange motifs. These are evident in such titles as Heritage, Mirage, Nostalgia, and Eternity, featuring in this show. In Sovereign National Conference he brings these attributes into his commentary on the contemporary political question in Nigeria.
Ovraiti is reputed for his brilliant colour scheme and beautiful pictures. He belongs to a group of young idealist painters that emerged in the late 1980s. Known as ‘The Colourists’, the group’s hallmark is expressive use of pigments. Ovraiti in particular, however, blurs the edges of the 'colourist’ movement by presenting pictures that are as impressionistic as they are expressionistic. His works sometimes combine the aesthetic virtues of watercolour and oil paintings.
In Ovraiti’s Portrait of Kano City, Rising Generations is representative of this approach. In The Call, Defaced by Incision and Two Musicians, he employs elements of cubism that create illusion of multitude from the few figures on the canvas.
Enebeli is a product of the famous master printmaker Bruce Onobrakpeya, reputed to have invented the Plastograph form of printing. Enebeli`s Ipu Afia series (a set of three pieces narrating the tale of a princess going to the market), Ikpu Ite, Egwu Ukwata III among others, are sourced from his folklore heritage. Like his master, Onobrakpeya, Enebeli's prints and their blocks are produced in a way that both can be served as art pieces. Every of his works is like a script with many chapters of motifs and stories.
Dike and Offoedu-Okeke are products of the Uli art movement later domiciled at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Uli art uses principally cryptic insignia and motifs with philosophical (and sometimes mythological) meanings.
The only female in the group, Dike has over the years extended the experimentation frontiers of the Uli design concept. She has taken the form beyond its mere decorative functionality to technical experimentation. In producing Totem Poles and Staffs, she locates the Uli in part of its traditional domain — shrines and palaces. But she implants certain modern elements like metal and deft colour patterning.
Though Offoedu-Okeke’s seeming predilection for blues and the purple appear strange to African pictures (indeed an error of conception by some critics), he engages symbols and signs that celebrate the mask tradition, totems and festivals in the deep of Africa.
His titles — Maiden Dancers, Oracular Gisting, Throngs of Expectation explicitly indicate his direction — homeland. Yet he paints Morning Cloth and Evening Weather which reflect his vast repertory of inspiration. But his colour scheme, which taps design motif from pointillism, exposes the infinite possibilities of his style.
Ekwenchi’s antecedent is in producing awesome public sculptures. This pins him in realism. But in his paintings, the artist is capable of variegated stylistic dimensions. His paintings often very simple without being simplistic come in rich, fresh colours and are laden with symbolic figures and motifs. These attributes are proficient in Rhythm, From the Spirit and Nomadic Life, which feature in the current show. As usual, he celebrates the African (often women) anatomy showing the poise, grace and elegance of the figure in an elegant picture. His sculptures often bear complicated and distorted forms. Benediction and Dialogue are just two examples.

o Research Assistance: CHUKA NNABUIFE



ARTISTS FORUM

OUR MISSION ON AFRICA PASSAGE


As part of preparation for the current show, the artists mounted a forum to dilate ideas on the theme and concept of the exhibition. For reasons of logistics (mainly location of individual artist), only Onyema Offoedu-Okeke, Ndidi Dike, Tony Enebeli and later Sam Ovraiti made the informal forum. The session however served to explore the perception of individual artist, as regards the current show as well as examine certain existing conceptions about Arts and Artists in Africa.
The session was moderated by Jahman Anikulapo.

How do you perceive the theme of the exhibition?
ONYEMA: I think of the theme in terms of features of the African society -- the lifestyle of the people, the festivals, languages, dance and other such authentic symbols and materials. To me, Africa Passage presents images that remind viewers abroad where Africans are and how they got there. I believe that even as we embrace the so-called western civilisation, we should still retain that Africanese, especially our cultural values. In my works, I intend to show those authentic African values and how they have passed through the various phases of human development.

ENEBELI: I see the theme as encapsulating the way we are: living, dress, walk, and work cultures that are peculiar to the African people. I shall show that African art today has changed in the sense that people are beginning to be fed up with the same kind of arts we met or have seen in the past years. Art today has changed for the fact that we are now using it to correct the mistakes of yesteryears. I see this exhibition therefore as a way of promoting our traditional heritage and its various transformations over the years to the outside world.

NDIDI: We shall use this show to help correct some of those stereotype views of the African art through the parameters of Western aesthetics, criticisms and history, which are written by the people I prefer to call ‘outsiders’. We should make bold statement for instance, that there is indeed contemporary art coming out of Africa or Nigeria. We should use this opportunity to tell our own story. Africans have not done enough research, enough writings on what we consider to be our own kind of aesthetics. We should begin to provide answers from our own perspectives, when people ask the question: what is African art? Is there African art?
We cannot deny the fact that we are Africans and therefore, we are aware of certain characteristics that define our contemporary art; that signify this is African art or Nigerian art.

MODERATOR: You spoke about challenging certain stereotypes; I thought this has been done overtime by African scholars, researchers and artists…

ONYEMA: Yes, much has been done but there is a lot more in terms of uprooting the idea that African art is still primitive.
Besides, most of the books on African art are on the antiques, the arts of old Africa. But today, we we ought to be talking about African renaissance just like the Italian renaissance. I think with what we have today, we have more than enough to inspire us. We are going to challenge the stereotypes by raising arguments on how far we have adapted what we have to modern artistic culture; how differently we have adapted the same old tradition through different means and methods to modern expectations.
They ask us how do we relate the African inspirations to the western products forgetting that even aspects of western (modern) art today were inspired by African art. So today, we are very free to use whatever products we come across as ours.

MODERATOR: How effectively can you challenge a culture that is so deeply etched in Western sensibility through a single show in Britain?
ONYEMA: This is just a part of a long-debate that has been on for a long time. We want to contribute our voices to the discourse. But we are a bit different in our approach. We are more interested in raising questions. We want to raise questions such as: who we are? What are our visions? What are our perceptions? How do we look at ourselves? How do we look at our art? We intend to start the process of challenging these stereotypes with this show. We know that it is not going to change overnight, because we are fighting an existing institution but this is just the beginning of a challenge to change those perceptions of Africa. We know that we do much of that challenging of status quo a lot regularly in Africa, in Nigeria but how much of that information gets outside of Nigeria?
We've been doing it for quite sometime but now that we are on international stage, where our art is going to be the focus of an international gathering, we can begin to hopefully, change that perception of how the West think Africa ought to be.

NDIDI: The status of our Art has changed; we are beginning to assert ourselves. And the West is beginning to recognise who we are, appreciate our lifestyle, so we need to consolidate on this new consciousness. We don't need to wait until an Oyinbo (Westerner) man comes to tell us that what we have here is good. What I mean by that is that the artist has to go beyond repeating the same thing that his public had seen in the past years. There is need to change his perception of his role in the society.
We are now trying to change the system. By allowing our immediate environment to influence our creativity and perception, using what we experience daily to influence our creative work, we are going to correct the wrong impressions of the gone years.

(SAM OVRAITI JOINED THE FORUM)

MODERATOR: But certain critics even Africans, have indeed, argued that some of the so-called African cultural symbols, materials, ideas, do project certain negative values about the heritage of the black people.

ONYEMA: They are not negative. Rather, it is the perception of those viewing them because they subject them to their own cultural experiences and standards of valuation. And much of this deliberate wrong interpretation of those materials and ideas is what the older artists tried to change. And we the younger artists, of the moment, we recognise these facts; it is not that we are writing off the efforts of the older artists; it is a continuation; we are continuing from where the older artists have stopped.

OVRAITI: We have to be sensitive to how we put this across. We don't want to be antagonistic but at the same time we want to challenge or correct misconception that has been put out about us maybe in the past.
In fact, I thought that when Onyema used the word challenge — the way I understand the word challenge — he was actually referring to perception of Western people.
Let me say something here; you know we're talking about international politics, international art perspective, and politics, there are so many things that come into play.
We know that even some of our people -- researchers, and historians have not been sincere and thorough in their vocation. Some of them have had to misrepresent or deliberately distort information about what is going on here so that they can get the acknowledgement from their Western colleagues and sponsors.
They now want to come to Africa to make certain statement so that they will make their papers, their qualifications and their PHD. Again, most of people who write these things are scholars, they are not even artists. They only came in to study African culture and the only things they have to look into are the wood carving, the stone carving and maybe, metal works that our forefathers produced.
I think with this show, we should be looking at redirecting the understanding of the history of African Art. When you say African art, there is one direction they always look at — mask, shrine designs, body adornments etc, but a contemporary artist has gone beyond that level. It does not mean that we don't have spirit; we have the same spirit and experience, but our focus has changed. We are now creating arts, not for the use in the shrine, but art that are both functional and aesthetically relevant to our contemporary experience. This is what we have to stress in the current show.
NDIDI: Even in terms of practice, we are expanding our space of operations. We are looking at the various opportunities available to exhibit in the right place, to make a point. That is why this show is very important.

MODERATOR: There is a very important point we have to also stress. How do we want to be placed in the global art discourse? Are we trying to place ourselves as modern artists, post modern artists, artists in Nigeria… because there is a difference between Nigerian art and artists from Nigeria? So if we are going to place ourselves we should know where we want to place ourselves and we should be very focussed in our presentation.
Where do you want to place yourself?

OVRAITI: I wrote a poem in 1998 that I am not an impressionist yet I am. I am not a realist yet I am. I am part and pieces of all these things that have been before my experience and me. This question of labeling or categorization is sensitive, so the question is very germane.

ONYEMA: I would rather we stress that we are artists from Africa and not African artist.

NDIDI: Oh yes, the term 'African Artist' is sometimes used in derogatory terms at global forums. You are either an Artist or you are not. So, we would like to be seen at this show as Artists from Africa.

ENEBELI: The only difference between us and any other artist from any other part of the world is the matter of where we come from.

I detest labeling as Nigerian or African Artist. I am an Artist. That is what I am.

MODERATOR: Could we say we as artists, that we still transiting or…?

NDIDI: There is a sense in which we can say we are still transiting, yes, because we are still exploring new ideas, new forms…

OVRAITI: Transition is the period of instability as in government. In the life of a person whether in social or business life, any time of transition is a time of upheavals. It is not steady. For anyone to aspire to the fact that he is part of development in transition is to bow to instability. Transition is instability. I don’t believe we are transiting.

ONYEMA: I believe that transiting is not instability; it is part of a process of growth; it’s part of the evolution!




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Thursday, July 12, 2007



Essays:



Essay: Theatre of the Enthusiasts




The others are doing the show the we are in limbo

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 3:49 PM WAT

NOTES ON NIGERIAN THEATRE: (LAGOS ENVIRONS 1999-2003)
A RANDOM SAMPLING BY
JAHMAN ANIKULAPO

At
a time the public culture circuit was enwrapped in despair on the future of the live stage and especially, the seeming helplessness and hopelessness of theatre practitioners on the viability of their professional calling, there emerged a new trend which suggested that something fundamental had been wrong with the approach of trained artistes to their vocation.
The past five years had witnessed not a drought of live theatre per se, but a seeming retreat by the club of regular theatre producers which used to keep the stage engaged. Various reasons were adduced for the retreat. The most frequent was the paucity of fund and as well diversion of interest of popular sponsoring institutions to other less intellectually engaging ventures such as sports and popular music.
Thus gradually, the stage dried up of real productions apart from the usual overtly mercantilist literature text productions, which are guaranteed to draw school audiences, even if the quality of show was poor.
Intriguingly however, at the same time that the major theatre producers were taking a break, certain unusual organisations, which are not necessarily into theatre production and are not composed of trained artistes, came on strongly on the scene.
Of interest was the fact that each of the groups had firm root in social activities of the Church, particularly, the Pentecostal variations. Membership of each of the groups usually comprise fellows of the same church who had decided to stretch the entertainment content of their praise and worship activities beyond the confine of the church. This fact is always vividly reflected in the theme and context of their productions.
Notable among these groups was the Rhythm of the Blackman, a band of young school leavers. The group came to popular attention with Going Back to My Root, a play which in content, form and context of production, was fashioned after the Negro theatre tradition. After a series of runs on the Lagos stage, the play was billed for an outside engagement. In its wake came two other plays which have also been performed to a variety of audience at some of the most expensive venues in Lagos, Abuja and parts of the South West.
Remarkably too, the Rhythm of the Blackman could be said to have come up with such an impressive business profile -- an aggressive marketing scheme that saw them doing costly adverts on the print and electronic media and selling their tickets at high-profile business concerns around the city.
Rhythm of the Blackman also broke into the diplomatic circle and soon set up as a model theatre producing outfit with its work staged so many times in cottage theatre formation. Significantly, there is much to learn from its experience.
The Rhythm of The Blackman has in its repertory:
*Going back to my roots by Dozie Atuenyi; January 2001.
*Dawn of a New Day by Dozie Atuenyi; April 2002
*A New Song by Dozie Atuenyi; November 2002
*Journey of the Drum by Dozie Atuenyi, 2002
Another group which has continued to exert such great impact on the theatre scene is the JASONVISION - also a team of young theatre enthusiasts led by the lawyer Wole Oguntokun. A few of the group's members had had romance with the Theatre 15, a troupe of students drawn from the humanities at the University of Lagos but which has for almost a decade made its mark producing plays and entertainment shows on the Akoka campus.
Indeed, the JASONVISION has produced some of the most thought-provoking theatre pieces that the Lagos scene has witnessed in the past few years. Its first major play was Who Is Afraid of Wole Soyinka (title modeled after Who is Afraid of Tai Solarin by Femi Osofisan), and well acknowledged was its boldness in the treatment of the theme of corruption and the intolerance of the political elite for criticism, transparency and probity. Next came Rage of the Pentecost, a steamy satire on the comic excesses of the new-found 'fishers of men' Pastors and their 'prosperity churches'. There have been other equally successful plays with equally radical thematic focus.
A third group in this neo-Pentecostal theatre movement was the Baneo Ventures which however, appears to be the most technically sophisticated of the new groups. Its marketing strategy made intense use of the electronic mailing system and it uses the web a lot in its publicity drive. It produced no less than five major plays in the past two years including the box-office romance drama hit, Private Lies. The group's clientele also consist of the top echelon of the society including key political figures and captains of industries. These are the classes of Nigerians that, sufficiently weaned on European cultural taste, always shun the local produce except when it is supported and promoted by the various foreign cultural agencies.
Another non-conventional group that had been something of a surprise on the theatre scene is the Spirit of David, which comprises young school leavers of strong Christian inclination. The troupe staged many dance drama at major performance venues around Lagos, particularly at key corporate events.
Like the other troupes in its class, the Spirit of David was very aggressive in its business approach. Theatre production was taken beyond the conventional, almost conservative feature that had defined the sixties through the mid-nineties.
To these groups, the age-long maxim, 'The Show Must Go On' which had defined the operative environment of theatre was out-dated. Theatre must be business-like in orientation. And this pretext conditioned the content, form, context and as well the approach of their productions.
Of course, the groups broke so many sacred rules of the theatre in the process, not the least, the quality of performance. It was most times difficult to apply the strict paradigms of dramatic theory and literary criticisms to their performances and operations because of their non-conformity to the basic rules of performance art. Yet they brought a fresh breath to the stage which had been rusticated by the poor patronage, dis-enabling economic environment and skepticism by the general public.
It could be said that the positive examples the groups set, particularly, the emphasis on commercial viability of the stage led to the seeming explosion of productions that the theatre scene was to witness in the past three years or so; maybe so, in the Lagos environs.
As a matter of fact, when a group of middle-age veterans of the Lagos-Ibadan-Ife stage circuit including Mahmoud Ali-Balogun, Lara Akinsola and Ayo Oluwasanmi among others, mid-last year, decided on a missionary project entitled: 'The Revival Of Dramatic Excellence On The Nigerian Stage' designed to "to rescue the Live Theatre from its current lack of excellence", they were perceived by some critics, as having been stimulated by the doors of possibilities flung open by the new non-conventional theatre groups.
The 'veterans' had teamed up under the name Stagecrafts Incorporated with Ali-Balogun's multi-media outfit, Brickwall Productions as motivator. They resolved to stage a play a year as a "way of setting examples of quality productions". They mounted a high-class production of Ola Rotimi's If... Tragedy of the Ruled which also featured top actors and actresses. But the financial failure of Stagecrafts no doubt, killed the dream at birth! The performance could only hold once and could not travel to Abuja and other parts of the country as had been projected.
Juxtaposed against the success of the neo-Pentecostal-church groups, the failure of Stagecrafts further signposted by its inability to be sustained in 2003, has further affirmed that there is much the school-trained artistes can learn from the business formula of the non-conventional troupes.
Aside of these groups, the various foreign cultural institutions continued to be at the forefront of theatre promotion and production. The front runners remained the Goethe Institut (German Cultural Centre) and the Maison de France (French Cultural Center) while occasionally the Public Affairs Department (which under the name United States Information Service, USIS had produced many plays through a seemly monopolized project by the Chuck Mike-led Collective Artistes and Performance Studio Workshop), remembers to mount a play.
The Goethe Institut had in 1996 developed a project with a group of artistes under the control of Kakaaki Arts Company led by Ben Tomoloju and, Jide Ogungbade-led Rotom Productions. Christened Africa Project, it was designed as an African-European (Nigerian-German) cultural dialogue which produced a global theatrical theme per year. Each year produced at least two plays that were then staged in Nigeria and later in various cities of Germany. The plays were usually co-directed by a German and a Nigerian director.
After its debut in 1996 with a Euro-African reinterpretation of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Ben Tomoloju's Amona (itself an African response to the question of guilt as espoused in Oedipus), the project took on an educational garb in 1997 when an award- winning playwright came in from Germany to hold a workshop with a select group of local actors, dramatists and directors.
The idea was to develop an 'authentic African life story' with universal thematic focus and performance style. The experiment led to the creation of A Horse on my Back. And in 1998, the play was staged with another, Andorra Goes Kinshasa (a Femi Osofisan's adaptation on Max Frisch's classic Andorra), in Lagos and parts of Germany. Africa Project produced Iphigenia Finds Aiyelala (adapted by Ben Tomoloju from Aeschylus' Iphigenia auf Tauris) in 1999.
In 2000, another the project presented Asylanten (Asylum Seekers) by Susanne Amatosero after a workshop with a group of local artistes. However, the cut in funding of its operations overseas by the Goethe headquarters in Munich Germany, led to a stoppage of the project as the budget was no longer realistic and; quest for local supplement sponsorship of the project had consistently failed to yield any fruit.
The French Cultural Centre on its own, has never really had a sustainable theatre project. But it has always had individual projects that brought in experts -- a director, actor or choreographer --- into workshop with select Nigerian artistes. Usually, a play or dance package is developed which is performed in Lagos and then sent on tour of many cities of the country. However, in the dance art, the Centre has had the most enduring project.
It had five years ago commenced the modern dance and choreography project which brought the famous French choregrapher, Claudio Brumachon into contact with a wide group of young Nigerian dance artistes. The workshop no doubt, radicalized the character of the dance theatre in the country. It opened a new vista of professionalism to the Nigerian dancers who before now had been confined to merely adapting the various traditional and ethnic dance steps and forms to the proscenium stage. The modern dance form as obtained in the West and to which the French are the greatest promoters, became a regular feature on the local stage.
The Brumachon workshop presented those (now) astute professionals as Ijo Dee, Omitun among others. These are groups, which have been competing well and winning awards at international events in the last few years. The profusion of these new professional modern dance companies led to the creation of the yearly project, Dance Meets Danse, an across-Africa (Nigeria-France cultural dialogue) project that in its three years, has brought dancers and choreographers from no less than 20 countries into the country.
For the theatre however, the French Centre last year teamed up with the National Troupe of Nigeria to launch the project, EXPLAFEST -- a festival of young theatre directors and dramatists. This was a low budget feast of performances that at its birth, showcased at least six short plays and gave the young directors a lot of work to do.
The first edition of Explafest held in the second quarter of 2002 featured six plays which were performed at the French Cultural Centre, Lagos and the National Theatre simultaneously. The plays included:
* The Bridge, written by Don Pedro Obaseki and directed by Henry Eze Sainyo; *Tai written by Sesan Ogunledun and directed by Makinde Adeniran;
*The Twist, written by Ahmed Yerimah and directed by Israel Eboh; and
*The Engagement, written by Femi Osofisan and directed by Nwachukwu.
Explafest which threw up a lot of promises unfortunately could not be sustained by the two collaborating institutions. No doubt, shortage of fund is at the root of death of the dream.
But the festival was probably the next big theatre show after the yearly Festival of Nigerian Theatre, FESTINA initiated by the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP). The project was organized in three-zone format such that it could cater for the commonest geo-polity of the country, since NANTAP purports to have membership spread in at least 18 states of the federation.
The first edition of FESTINA held in August 2001 at the Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos. Plays performed at the first edition were:
*Aikin Mata (based on the classic Lysisrata) by the Northern Zone;
*King Emene by Eastern Zone;
*Death and the King's Horseman by the Western Zone.
The second edition of FESTINA in 2002 was at the MUSON Centre, Lagos and the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. The plays performed were:
*Ovonramwen Nogbaisi by Ola Rotimi directed by Israel Wekpe for the Eastern Zone;
*The Beggars' Strike, (an adaptation of an Aminata Sow Fall's novel The Beggars' Strike) by Teju Olaniyan directed by Tony Shittu for the Northern Zone;
*Aman-Iba by Amayo Uzo Phillips and directed by Ben Tomoloju for the Southern Zone.
The Third edition of FESTINA took place at MUSON Centre, Lagos in August 2003 and featured:
*The Divorce by Wale Ogunyemi, directed by Niji Akanni for the Western Zone;
*Mooremi Ajaasoro by Lekan Balogun and directed by Ahmed Yerima;
*Things Fall Apart (adapted from Chinua Achebe's classic by same title) by Bassey Effiong who also directed the play for the Eastern Zone.
Note that there was no play to represent the Northern Zone in the third edition of FESTINA.
There have been other theatre performances some of which are outlined below:
*Queen Amina of Zazzau by Wale Ogunyemi directed by Patrick Jude-Oteh at the yearly MUSON Festival in 1999. Another performance took place at National Theatre in May 2000.
*Jankariwo by Ben Tomoloju and directed by Tunji Azeez for the 2002 MUSON festival;
Also there were various drama skits by the King's Theatre led by the university teacher, Tosan Edremoda-Ugbeye which were presented every Monday evening at the Nimbus Art Centre on Victoria Island, Lagos, including the popular Romario and Jullieta adapted from William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
In another part of the city in Ikeja, another group of young enthusiasts under the name Black Image Theatre presents a monthly theatre show, more of drama skits, at the La Campaigne Tropicana. The project has been on for about two years and has an in-built cultural tourism dimension as it is done in conjunction with the management of the La Campagne Company.
In the neighbourhood also, African Film Company owned by the marketer-actor Yinka Ogundaisi, has revived the aged Little Theatre located in the elite Country Club. The company which has a track record of promoting the popular 1980s television Yoruba drama, Feyikogbon, had started out about two years ago with the idea of reviving the famous Duro Ladipo travelling theatre. It had struck a working relationship with the Duro Ladipo Memorial Theatre led by the wife of the legendary dramatist, actor, Biodun Ladipo. The collaboration early this year, marked 25 years of transition of Duro Ladipo with a revival of the classic, Oba Koso. The company has also launched Global Children Theatre and has plans to mount a children workshop theatre every month to cater for the needs of children of members of the Country Club.
In the past five years, the yearly International Theatre Day, ITD, as celebrated by the NANTAP has been a good source of theatrical activities. The practice had been to mount at least, a play a year. Sadly however, the celebration has not witnessed any theatre performance in the pats two years. The organisation had instead presented a night of variety entertainment. Also, the yearly International Dance Day (IDD) celebration every April 29 by the Guild of Nigerian Dancers, GOND, has often climaxed with the staging of a dance drama on performance. There was Victor Eze's - Nsibidi in 1998 and Osusu Owoh in 2000. 2002 had A Dance for Ola Rotimi and this year had Together As One.
The play reading sessions of the National Troupe of Nigeria which started in 2000 has also elicited much interest in theatrical activities. It usually featured public reading and critiquing of new scripts. Sometimes, selected scenes are enacted at the reading.
Other notable performances have been:
* Echoes from Lagoon by Rasheed Gbadamosi, directed by Shade Ogunde; 2000;
*Who is Afraid of Solarin by Femi Osofisan produced by NANTAP as part of activities marking the 2000 edition of International Theatre Day; 2000;
*Ire Olokun by Hubert Ogunde ; directed by George Ogunde; January, 2000;
*Locked Inside; March, 2002;
*Mbarra (dance drama) by Arnold Udoka and National Troupe; December, 2001
*The Sisters written and directed by Ahmed Yerima; January, 2001
*Song of a Goat by John Pepper Clark; directed by Ahmed Yerimah; 2001
*Kuluso - a theatre outreach programme performed at the University of Lagos in 1999 and 2000.
*Midnight Hotel by Femi Osofisan; directed by Abiodun Abe; June, 2001 (as part of activities marking Femi Osofisan's 55th birthday).
*Conflict Resolution by written and directed by Fred Agbeyegbe; 2002;
*Ojomolami by Martins Adaji; 2002;
oMekunu Melody written and directed by Felix Okolo for Tall and Wide, Communications; 2002;
*Iludun; March, 2002
*House of Gold written by Thomas Animashaun; March, 2002;
*Drums of War written and directed by Ojo Bakare Rasaki; 2002;
*Her Majesty's Visit by Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo; directed by Patrick Ombo; 2001;
* She stoops to conquer by Oliver Goldsmith; directed by Israel Eboh; February 2000 (as part of activities marking the 10th anniversary of Fezi Production);
*Yemoja - written and directed by Ahmed Yerima (National Troupe of Nigeria's presentation as part of activities marking the 41st Independence anniversary of Nigeria and a preview of the performance before its tour of Mexico); October, 2001;
*Madness Junction; directed by Binda Ngazolo; November, 2001;
*Epitaph for Simon Kisulu by Audu Ogbeh; directed by Gloria Ogunyemi; April, 2002;
*Strong Breed by Wole Soyinka; directed by Ahmed Yerima , 2002;
*Farewell to a cannibal rage by Femi Osifosan; directed by Israel Eboh, September 2002 (as part of activities marking United Nations' International peace day);
*The Scoundrel Suberu by Dapo Adelugba;
*Ori (Dance of Destiny) by Dayo Liadi;
February 2003;
*Ladugba; St. Dominic Catholic Church, Yaba; May , 2003;
*Agbedo; August, 2003;
*Genesis; August, 2003;
*Community Call - a theatre outreach programme staged at motor parks and markets in Lagos.
*Valley cry - a theatre outreach programme.
*One legend Many Season, written and directed by Femi Osofisan for the Christmas Season of 2001;
*The Sick People by Ahmed Yerima; directed by Israel Eboh; January 2001;
*Bishop Ajayi Crowther written and directed by Femi Osofisan 2002;
Other theatre related programmes in Lagos in the last five years include The Black Heritage Festival which had its first edition in Badagry between May 24-29, 2001.The second e edition held in Badagry and Epe between August 23-30, 2002;
*First ECOWAS Culture, Tourism and Fashion Festival; Grand Hotel Asaba, Delta State; January 2002;
*Pan Yoruba Festival of Arts and Culture; Oyo State Cultural Centre, Mokola, Ibadan
April 2002;
Other remarkable theatre producers in the past five years include the:
o Optimum Art Konsotium based at the Lagos State University which produces plays regularly on the campus with occasional foray to the public circuit.
oFred Agbeyegbe, the lawyer-playwright who had been instrumental to the flourish of theatrical activities of the eighties with the Ajo Productions has also been relatively active producing among others Human Cargo which toured Ghana recently.
o Kakaaki Arts Company led by Tomoloju and, which produced the huge Red Cross Theatre Project (Askari) in 1997 and toured 20 states of the federation in a project described as perhaps the biggest of its kind since FESTAC 77, has been on stage every year.
oCentrestage Productions led by the actor-teacher Sola Fosudo has also been active. It recently staged Osofisan's Twingle Twangle, to mark the 43rd Independence Day celebration.
oDon-Pedro Obaseki, a trained stage actor who has moved more into the video-drama genre has always returned to the stage. In his repertory in the last five years have been Obaseki, Azagidi, Idia among others. Azagidi will be presented in October 2003 as the drama entry for the yearly MUSON festival of arts and culture.
Significantly too, the various comedy and light entertainment shows have thrown up a lot of theatrical activities. Of note is the yearly Nite of A Thousand Laughter initiated by the movie artiste, Opa Williams and; the Crab Ya Rib by the dancer-actor, Julius Agu. Lately they have been joined by other comic actors such as Okey Bakassi, Yinka Adeyemi and Tunde Adewale a.k.a Tee-A.
The Creative Arts Department of the University of Lagos unde the tutelage of Tunji Sotimirin has also launched Arts-O'Clock, a mimi-festival of theatre, which presents a series of play per semester both as part of the students training and for the entertainment of the public.

Macintosh HD:Story of Nigerian Theatre2.doc





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Essay: Sussan Omagu




Thinking of Sussan

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 3:50 PM WAT

Sussan Omagu:
Graffiti of an interventionist


YOU would think that the nebulous albeit inchoate argument about the place of minimalist art in a figural artistic tradition such as Nigeria’s has been over-stretched; that all the gladiators have since reached some consensus on the possibility of 'form' as an alternative to the 'figurative' or 'representational' art that has characterised (in fact, dominated) practice and discourses of the Nigerian art exhibition scene.
Particularly, as some critics had observed in the past, many of those – form-wise – who dared to stretch their vision beyond the common template of existing painting traditions have since seemed to retrace their steps. Some of them had been hounded by peer criticisms to submit to the ‘common line’, while others simply discovered how frustrating it is to step out of the ‘mainstream’, even if for a short while, through a real or perceived unrestrained flirtation with experimentation.
The truth is that the Nigerian exhibition site remains a close circuit, almost intolerant of exuberant experimentation; and so has little sympathy for art for the sake of philosophical cogitation.
But Sussan Ogeyi Omagu has rebelled against the quaint silence; thus returning the argument that form as against content could indeed drive the character of art. Not only that, her art points a new direction for the debate and raises the heat of a redefinition of the boundaries of artistic vision.
The painter equally highlights a new direction of the argument, which is whether or not it is possible for the minimalist to escape the trap of sacrificing content for aesthetics; meaning for form; and draughtsman-ship, sometimes in expressionism modules in colour use. Or whether the minimalist navigating on a vast field of concepts but confined to the properties of few symbolic colours can be trusted to produce a work that is complete in all the departments of traditional painting culture.
OMAGU's latest collection entitled 'MINIMALISM' going on display, late March through April, 2007 in the Goethe Institut, Lagos, is no doubt a "leap" (as contended by a fellow painter) from what she did in the past. Whereas the tendency for a reduction in the content of her canvas/board, especially the volume of figural representation – itself a sort of departure from the Ahmadu Bello tradition where she trained – had manifested even as early as when she debuted on the exhibition circuit, Omagu perhaps has never been as daring on canvas as she appears in the current collection. She has remarkably fused symbolic motifs (newspaper cuttings, graffiti, patches of canvas), expressionistic colour use with romantic aesthetics (design patterns defined by poetic lines and verses, signs and symbols from anyaa facial scarification tradition of her Ogoja native home in northern Cross River State), to produce paintings that bear uncommon signature. And considering her strength in composition even in her deceptively lean content, she manages to evoke a cathartic denouement in her viewer. She commits her audience to a deep sense of reflection not just through her sometimes versified theme as in the work Courage, but also through her deployment of effusive lines and temperamental patterning in such a way that she invokes the image of a painter in unending dialogue with her canvas.
The result of this flight of creative temper are poetic pictures that are forested with hideous motifs whose implied meanings are sometimes coded in the tenor and intensity of her colours as in 'All Things Bright and Beautiful', where the onyaa script shares characteristics with nsibidi patterns.
Specifically for this collection, Omagu dots on themes of afflictive social and political orientation as in 'And the Man Died' – (recall wole Soyinka's prison memoir, 'The Man Died') – a work compositionally suggestive of a thriller movie scene, with imageries of anger, fear, poverty, sickness streaming out of the screen. Her three-part 'Handle With Care' series, in particular, seeks better life for children. But rather than draw empathy with images of depressed, pathetic children with poverty-oriented motifs strewn all over the face of the canvas, the artist puts the meaning in the motions of her lines, the newspaper and patches of canvas graffiti and, of course, the emotive raw colours.
Notably too, her predilection for feminism and the politics of gender discourse comes across in some of the works.
Though she once in a press interview, declined the feminist tag, saying: "when I paint I see myself just as an artist, not from gender perspective", 'Dear Sister' – which bears the expression of a woman resolute to break free from a certain enslaving condition – hints at a strong feminist contention. 'Dependable' with a newspaper rider caption 'More Women Must Be Involved In Governance', like Dear Sister, is a poetic sermon on the trials, if not travails of womanhood.
Largely, however, Omagu's thematic contention is consistent with her career profile as an artist. She once established her social concern thus: "In my country Nigeria, we have abundant human and natural resources and yet there is still hunger, unemployment and dejection in the land. In fact, an average Nigerian is not getting the basic necessities of life and everybody knows that a few people feed at the expense of the huge mass of the people of this country".
In "most of my works I try to give hope and courage to our people and to say that there is always a brighter side to life. So, I tell people, as in Tomorrow's Far, get up from that depression, go out there and accomplish your dream".
This sermonic voice is also found in 'Loss is a Protagonist', an installation with newspaper, which she explains "Whatever you lose, you learn in the process. If you are positive-minded and maleable; every experience comes with a price." Also 'This Too Shall Pass', is "a word of encouragement and hope that "things will get better as long as you stay focused and works towards a better date".
Hope and Courage, these are the dual resolutions driving Susan Omagu’s artistic vision; she is comfortable preaching, and seeing the finest points in every human condition, no matter the depth of despair or anxiety. In fact, the miniature series, 'My City is Under Construction', sums her conviction – "there is hope that things will definitely get better when the right people are sought and put into place to play the right role at the right time; it’s a process akin to a city under construction, which will reach its desired end". The choice of theme is the romantist in her, and this may be her greatest attraction to her audience.

IT is not really Omagu’s theme or subjects that excites one in this show, however; it is the dimension to which she has extended the frontiers of her chosen form. It is here that the strength of the artist, her competence in handling her medium as well as her depth of vision are celebrated. And her treatment of the subjects as well as deployment of objects in accomplishing the various mixed media works are only amplified by the form she has chosen.
One supposes that the essentials of Omagu's intervention in the earlier referenced discourse on the essence of form ‘minimalism’ – is to contend that it is possible to achieve a synergy between content, form and aesthetics, without losing out in the usually delicate area of depth both of artistic vision and technical sophistication. Interestingly, this has been the usual pitfalls of many later day minimalism converts as is very vivid in the art exhibition circuit, especially in Lagos.
However, it should be clear even here that it is not as if the works of minimalists or painters who show predilection for this style must always be held with suspicion; as if minimalism itself is an escape from the perceived laborious vocation of painting; a negation of the rigour of draughtsmanship. The point is that the sudden advent or shall one say the preponderance of minimalist paintings on the local exhibition circuit, tends to throw up many questions about the competence of certain painters in the handling of the several technical requirements of the genre of painting; drawing, effective/innovative exploration of colour scheme, pictorial composition and symmetry being very vital. Added to this is the often seeming impatience, perhaps apparent disregard, of such so-called ‘minimalists’ for the process of accomplishing a rounded piece of painting; a complete piece of artwork.
Here Omagu distinguishes her work through her seeming deliberateness to strike a symmetry among the divergent particulars of painting – where she negates drawing, she engages objects or employs the direct communication vehicle of graffiti in the context of mixed media format. Through this approach she carries her commentary on various social and political tensions in the national polity as well as in human relationships. Where she declines to drench the whole face of the canvas in generous paints, as prevalent in most works that currently grace most local galleries or display foyers, she applies colour to convey the intensity of the mood and tenor of the subject, or object of contention in the painting (See 'Spillage', 'Apparition', 'I See You', for instance). Sometimes, the inter-course between colour and object is so knitted that, viewing 'U Learn' for instance, one is drawn to query which is her central motif, the poetic colour or the newspaper/canvas graffiti?
Remarkably, aside the form, the minimalist predilection also manifests in her engagement of colour, which appears more like an interrogation of what had been; a sort of rebellion against the established mode of rendition, in which colour is seemingly subservient to content. In other words, colour was used only as an appendage, engaged for mere aesthetic purposes, such as in elucidating the theme; or as mere embellishment, to create an atmosphere to the content. In this instance, Omagu could be said to be a mere aesthete, who cherishes evoking emotive response in her viewer through atmospheric effects.
In most of the current collection, she is significantly, bolder in her experimentation playing, essentially, with shades of red, black, white and gray, and in rare occasions, with blue and green. Her colours appear almost ritualistic in some instances i.e so deeply engaging that one suspects an addiction, a sort of worshipping of the evocative power of those hues to inspire deeper meaning beyond the mere appearance on the board or canvas. It is curious for instance, that Omagu would rather deploy the raw texture of the colour than variegate its character or graduate its intensity to buoy the ambience of the painting. Perhaps this comes in the context of the minimalist’s orientation, in which case, having eliminated the more traditional particulars of the painting such as figures and a motif-bristling face of the canvas, the artist must have found alternative paradigms to elucidate her artistic contention.
Beyond the riches of her colour scheme, however, the temperament of her strokes and the cadences of her painting vocabulary present are reflexive of a poet at work in visual representation.
IN a press interview, during her first solo, Expectations, held in 2005, Omagu had hinted at the source of her influences; she admires the forms and motifs of fellow artist Ndidi Dike – who herself is currently experimenting with space, shades and colour (not only on her traditional wood panels but on canvas). Omagu said: "As an African artist I try to incorporate things African in my works. I also like the colour scheme of Jerry Buhari, who happened to be my teacher at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. As an artist I enjoy fresh and live colours and I try to see how to apply them in my canvas".
Omagu hinted in the course of preparing this exhibition that the theme she desired to explore drove the forms she has adopted. This is perhaps another departure from the lean club of minimalists here, who often operate like absurdists with the with the form seeming to interface with, sometimes intrude, on the meaning.
THE current show, her second solo, provides a different template to evaluate her emerging voice. Thus it is perhaps, providential that she has chosen to experiment with form and colour – two platforms that give her ample room to stretch her imagination and creative temperament. But she ensures that the experiment immunises her against afflictions from the sometimes cacophony of influences in the visual arts circuit.
Should this show be taken as a ‘one-off’ or suggestive of a new direction for her not-so-old career as a professional painter? The answer may not be so glaring now until her artistic ouvre in the next few years (or exhibition) is studied. But what Susan Omagu has shown is that there is a limitless possibility to which she is ever willing to push her creative intervention in experimental art.
Jahman Anikulapo,
Lagos.
March, 2007


NB: Article was written without knowledge of the fact that the title of the collection of work is MINIMALISM. It was sheer coincidence.





Posted by EniOlorunda at 1:52 PM 0 comments  










Essay: Some Family Do Have Them




Spme Family Do Have Them

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 4:03 PM WAT

THE RANSOME-KUTI FAMILY: IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE MOTHER AND THE ACTIVIST CHILDREN...

BY JAHMAN ANIKULAPO

It was the weirdest of the family that first gave a hint of the root of the virus that had, no doubt, eaten deep into the soul of the Ransome-Kutis.
On a most appointed day a little two decades ago, after his dramatic session of worship in the comic-looking altar in his music kingdom, the Afrikan Shrine, he was accosted by a reporter who had been excited at the latest act from the musician's seeming endless reservoir of madness:
'Why are you changing your name from Ransome-Kuti, when your brothers have maintained the family's name?'
The legendary acid-mouthed musician took a long drag on his Three Rings cigarette, smiled, shot a direct missile of a look at the reporter: 'You go first go ask ya papa why im deh bear Joseph, Johnson, Stonehead or abi na elephantiasis be im name.'
Not wanting to let the yabbis master slip away from the question, the reporter repeated his query: 'We know of Beko Ransome-Kuti, Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, why Fela go change im own name now?'
'Well as you be original winsh make I tell you small bio...'
His multitude of hangers-on and fans screamed his alias: Ogostin di tori teller...' hailing such as this usually got the man leaping in frenzy; he begins: You see, Ransome, na di name weh slave master bin give my great great grand papa. E mean say my grand grand great papa na slave, weh one master com dash another.... Ransome, gift, dash...'
More ululation followed this revelation, which though mouthed in slapstick now, was probably not a piece of news to some acolytes of the Afrikan Shrine's Chief Priest.
The man continued nevertheless: 'My great grand papa was a rebel stubborn man, as im refuse to give the slavemaster im real name after dem purchase am for market, na im the slave master kuku call am Ransome... gift weh dem give am to cover igbese (debt) weh the slave master bin owe im trade partner'.
The wird being dressd in his peculiar stage costume, stretched his hand and his customized jumbo wrap of hemp was engraved into his pretty palm. A deep pull at the massive stick, he jumped up and paced down the little passage towards the changing room at the back of the stage, the reporter and a handful of chaps in his tow, he declared with a stiffer expression, which manifested a hardened resolve: 'Me I no fit continue with that kain name, I be Anikulapo... I get death for my pocket, and person we him get that one im no fit die again lailai...'
He stepped out of the dingy room into the expanse of the hallway, where a crowd was waiting, not particularly for him, yet conscious that the Lord of the Republic, was always around to protect them against the prowling men of the police force that had laid siege to the Shrine since the dawn of the day.
Raising his famous black power salute, the screaming of 'Anikulapo-Kuti' broke out amid catcalls... the entire shrine palpitated to the rhythm of exuberant displays by the youthful acolytes, many of whom were already high on substances that included hemp and local gin....
Anikulapo!!! Varied interpretation of the name were also created on the spot .. anigbolapo - one who habours marijuana in his pocket, alokolepon (one how has enormous male genitalia.. etc.
The concert soon resumed...
***
THOUGH carved in such hilarious cadences, the impact of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's (formerly Ransome-Kuti) act was not lost on those who had made it a duty to set a store of high value by what he says; even if to a larger segment of the society, the musician must have lost his mind by his various anti-norm acts of late.
Date was 1985: It was at the launch of his most definitive album Beast of No Nation at the Afrikan Shrine on Pepple Street in the heart of Ikeja the capital of Lagos State, where he had spent all his adult life since he returned from London late fifties.
Fela had in a way given a background to how the blood of non-conformism was planted in the veins of the family.
***

Rebellion... the virus started with the grandfather -- Josiah Jesse (1855-1930), streamed into his son, Israel Oludotun (1891-1955), who infected his wife, Olufunmilayo (1900-1978), and both passed it on to their own daughter and sons (Dolupo (1926-2006), Olikoye (1927-2003), Olufela ( 1938-1997), and Bekololari (1940-2006)... and now it has been injected in the grandchildren... who already are passing it on to their own children - the fifth generation of the Ransome-Kuti family.
In a sense the family started out on a class suicide mission - they stooped from the pinnacle of societal pedestal of comfort and affluence to fraternize with the flotsam and jetsam of the community. And in this unusual move they had always been regarded as outlaws, anti-norms, rebels and those to whom the society has to be circumspect. But that was only to the high and mighty whose myth of super-humanity they had shattered. To the mass body of the poor, helpless and hapless in whose service they deployed their services, the family remains an eternal hero, and even if their offspring do not step deep into the dangerous trenches of activism, the reverence for the Ransome-Kuti remains etched in the deep of the sand of history.
***
The rebellion, if it could be termed so, or humanism if it can be rationalised so, is the plank on which the family erected its legend of being. And as history of the struggles of the varied generations of the family would show, the rebellion are in three formalistic dimensions o cultural nationalism,
o social-political activism and
o humanitarian activism.
Remarkably, the most rambunctious of the family's activism -Socio-political - was taken from the unusual source, their mother.

CULTURAL ACTIVISM, AND NATIONALISM...
It all began with Josiah Jesse.
JJ had been born June 1, 1855 at Igbein in Abeokuta to a weaver, soldier and community diplomat. An early convert to Christianity, it was in the new faith that he began his rebellion. He had queried the established order of worship, wondering why the growing body of native converts still had to be made to relate to a Lord that seemed so distant to their cultural norms and expectations. He chose the strongest weapon, the language of communication in the church. As catechist of the Gbagura Church, he gradually moved his people to appreciate that there are traits in their cultural norms that are compliant with the Christian faith; particularly that their language, songs and drums are not evil, and in fact could serve as instruments to glorify the Lord.
This essentially was not to the total comfort of the church hierarchy, which thought that such a treatment of the faith at an early age of the mission could, in fact, mortgage the future of the church; particularly as there was then still a strong resistance by some influential members of the society - nameky the Ogboni cult -- to the new faith, leading to what was described as half-hearted acceptance of the gospel among the natives.
Thus the Rev JJ Ransome-Kuti faced difficulties in his service to the Lord and the Church. However, though the leadership loathed aspects of his operation he was an irresistible factor in the advancement of the Church. He was progressive. He had moved the congregation from their usual open-air location into a building, which he succeeded in mobilising the community to construct. He had also improved the quality of the Church music, even if in that process he had changed the content and performance context of the music, which earned him reprimand from the hierarchy of the faith. He had also established the Church as central to the progress of the society in the way he mobilized the flock to render service to their community. In this context, unlike in other places where the faith often sat as foreign intrusion to the life of the community, JJ made the Church to be part of the society.
But this too was not to the comfort of the Church top echelon... his activities was seen as capable of dragging the Church into some perceived contentious practices in the society. But then the congregation swelled by his innovation, and this at least gladdened the conquistador vision of the Church's headquarters in Europe.
For these feats he was popular among the flock, and irresistible to the Church.
However, after his ordination as a Deacon in 1895, he was moved out of the centre to a remote part of the Church district, Sunren-Ifo, about 60 miles away. Though the Church said it needed JJ's unique wisdom and capability to help restore peace in the community that had been turned chaotic in the aftermath of a war, the motive for the movement was said to have been spurred by the need to exile his nuisance from the centre, where the Church had been making remarkable progress.
However Rev JJ made his mark in the Sunren-Ifo after an initial turbulent starting in which he had many clashes with the strong influential forces that had taken hold of the soul of the community. His radical disposition too had launched him into the trenches with the converts who saw his radical ways as anti-norm, especially departing from the practice of his predecessors in feeding on the largesse provided by the congregation. He had continued his mission of uniting the Church and the Society, and this brought him into repeated conflicts with the authorities as well as the Community governance.
JJ's reputation as a competent leader of people grew with his ascendancy in the church hierarchy. Gradually he was pushed up the political ladder. In 1903 he was asked by the Abeokuta District Government to, in addition to his new role as the superintendent of the Abeokuta Church, act as its representatives in times of emergency. He made a success of the role, and this helped in pushing his profile in his missionary work. The congregation grew even as he advanced his objective of transforming the traditional mode of worship in the church, of course amidst great resistance by the leadership.
JJ's radical deployment of the Church to challenge some set attitude of the society led him into conflicts with not just the community but also the traditional institution. Notable in this stead was the incidence around 1908 when he literally compelled the traditional ruler of the tyown to allows Christians use the umbrella as against norms that reserved the right for only the king. This caused upheaval, leading to protestations by other members of the community as well as disquiet among some members of the Church who felt that the Priest was bringing the church into conflict with the sacred traditional institutions. The action eventually led to an attack on JJ himself in which he was severely injured.
Until his death on September 4, 1930 at age 75, JJ Ransome-Kuti remained a double-edge radical, reforming the church out of its tradition and challenging societal norms - both making him a hero and as well a virus.

SOCIAL REFORMISM AND HUMANITARIAN ACTIVISM... Israel Oludotun personified it.
JJ would seem to have passed the baton of cultural patriotism to his son, Israel Oludotun, born April 30, 1891. Like his father, Oludotun was a reformist of seemingly insatiable appetite. He left his mark in every office he held, every institution he worked in. He seemed to have imbibed the cultural activism that underscored the rebellion of his father JJ. As a teacher he ensured that the education of the young ones had enough dose of cultural content. And as a catechist, he continued the reforms of the Christian procedures, such that much of the indigenous norms and mores found their ways into the worship and evangelisation. And for the realization of his mission, Israel Oludotun after his BA degree at the Fourrah Bay College, Freetown (1913-16) - an institution where many of West African nationalists had been trained and groomed -- became a teacher at his former school, the Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, founded the Boys Scout movement, which aimed at grooming a new set of young leaders in cultural nationalism.
He left in 1918 by which time he had sown the seed of the new leadership training through the Boys Scout, which influence quickly spread among other schools in the area.
Ransome-Kuti returned to his native home to head the prestigious Abeokuta Grammar School, and in his 22 years, he revolutionised the traditions of the school. His main instrument was to engage the cultural notions of the people in the training of the young ones. Some of his innovations did not find peace with administrators of education in the district, and in the country, but Ransome-Kuti continued. His landmark in this area was the founding of the union of teachers in his local environment, which was to drastically alter the way education was administered in the whole of Egba district. A year earlier in May 1925, Rev JO Lucas had established the very first teachers' union in the country, though strictly for those in Lagos area. Yet it was Ransome-Kuti's local effort that pushed the agenda of the union to the national menu as the fame of its activities spread. It was only natural that at the formation of the National Union of Teachers in 1931, Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was anointed its founding president. He transformed the Union to a powerful pressure group that shaped the path of education in the country, and largely many parts of Africa. Israel is credited with having deployed his charisma, his focused activism and eloquent vision in agitating better working conditions for the teachers. Naturally he was at conflict with the colonial administrators and their political allies most of the time over the activities of the union; the virus of which also spread to other part of West Africa.

THE MOTHER, FUNMILAYO, ENDOWED THE FAMILY WITH POLITICAL AND CIVIL ACTIVISM.
Whereas the more famous Ransome-Kuti brothers may imbibed cultural reformist and visionary philosophies from their patriarchal heritage from JJ down to his son, Israel, their more known forte, political activism, was no doubt a bug from their mother, Funmilayo, who was born 1900 to the Thomas family of Abeokuta.
In fact the narrative had been provided by the weird being of the family, Fela himself, when in response to a question in 1985, on why he seemed to speak less of his father, he had said,
'My Papa that one im miss road, he say im be churchman deh worship one oyinbo man with biabia... me na my mama I know, that one im be winsh,.. im show dem gaddem yeye rulers pepper'.
And when the woman died in 1978, following injuries she sustained in the Fela versus Soldier fracas, Fela broke down in tears on recollecting the impact his mother had on his life... 'That woman weh dem kill so, na the soul of revolution gangan na im dem exterminate so'.
Some commentators had reasoned that the death of Funmilayo, did a permanent damage to Fela's psyche, and even affected the movement of his music. One, he became more militant, a deviant and gradually intolerant of what he perceived inanities in the system, especially if such were authored by his favourite subject of derision, the political/military elites. His music lost its musicality and became more of political pamphleteering, in sound format.
An insight into the political sagacity of Funmilayo is provided by the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka in his childhood recollection, Ake, The Year of Childhood, when he captured how Mrs Ransome-Kuti had led a group of women including his own mother, to invade the palace of the then Alake of Egbaland, to protest certain policies that they thought were inimical to the interest of the womenfolk.
Soyinka a cousin of the Ransome-Kutis was a student in Rev. Israel Oludotun's Ab eokuta Grammar School, and in recollecting the enigma of the strict disciplinarian fondly called Daodu or 'D-a-o-o-o-o' by his bemused wards, offered sufficient clues on the difference between the activism of the man and his wife, Funmilayo whom he dubbed 'Beere', also a teacher in the same school. He recalled how at a time the then principal, Ransome-Kuti had journeyed abroad, a group of women had begun massing around his equally tough wife.
'It was informal gathering which began with three or four women, then increased in numbers', wrote the famous author. 'They met, discussed problems which had to do with the community and matters relating also to their homes'.
He continued, 'They were all Christian, wives of 'professionals' - teachers, pastors, pharmacists, and so on. When they were not discussing problems of sanitation, the shortages or rise in price of some commodity, plans for some kind of anniversary, their absorbing concern appeared to centre on the plight of young women who were just entering a phase of domestic responsibility. Over and over again, came the observation that 'they don't know what to do'; they seem not to know how to take their place in the society...'
Enlightenment, protection of rights, defending the helpless... these about sum up the ideology of the revolution planted by Mrs Kuti and her dream-sharers. And these are the traits that would manifest in the activities of not just Fela and Beko, but in the four Ransome-Kuti siblings, including Dolupo, the first girl, and Olikoye, the professor of medicine, who though least interested in politics radicalised administration of health affairs in the country, with significant influence internationally too.
Significant also is Soyinka's hint of how the Rev Ransome-Kuti helped to broaden the target group of his wife's growing class of self-aware women. The women had started mostly as wives of 'professionals', which meant they had all obtained certain degre of education...
Wrote Soyinka, 'Daodu was strolling past the 'Group' (at the regular meeting then) one afternoon when he stopped to listen. Then he interrupted: 'You know, you women have quite good aims but you don't seem to know how you want to implement them. You've been meeting now for some time and all I see all the time are 'onikaba' (gown wearers). The people who really need your help are the 'arosos' (wrapper wearers), yet they are not here. Forget the problems of social graces for newly weds. Concentrate on the 'aroso'. Bring them in your meetings. They are the ones who need your help'.
It is clear from this that both Rev Israel Oludotun and his wife share a passion for helping to lift the veil of ignorance from the faces of all classes of people, particularly the lowly placed. This is a sort of class suicide for a family that by virtue of its education and social attainment ought to be aristocratic.
The activities of the children, in their divergent manifestations reflect this predilection to speak for the voiceless and mobilise them for collective actions - a trait that is at the base of Beko's human/civil right commitments.
Perhaps most instructive in the shift of baton between Funmilayo and her four children is yet another narration by Soyinka of how eventually the matriarch of the Ransome-Kutis 'was empowered to give notice of a demand for the abolition of tax for women, both to the District Officer and the Alake of Abeokuta and his Council of Chiefs".
According to Soyinka, who by virtue of his own mother whom he dubbed Wild Christian, being an influential member of the 'Group' had done much of the errand running for the women, the meeting at which the mandate was given to Mrs Ransome- Kuti lasted late into the night with each of the members presenting examples of the maltreatment they had lately been receiving from the tax officers to justify why an urgent action needed to be taken by the group.
'On the following morning at breakfast I heard, for the first time, the expression Egba Women's Union...', which was to carry the banner of the protestations not just against indiscriminate tax but also all other forms of unfair policies against the women.
The fame of the Union spread round the country and beyond leading to the series of invitation to Mrs. Ransome-Kuti to attend various conferences overseas. She had the opportunity to draw international attention to the plight of women in the hands of colonial rulers and their cohorts in the ruling class. Ostensibly she had drawn attention to the various exploitations, which the colonial policies or the action of their men in the colony was inflicting on the people. She became quite unpopular with the ruling class, the same way that his children, especially the two politically inclined were to become to the various military and democratic regimes.
There were several attempt to stop Beere, including clandestine campaign ion the media to break her hold on the group of women but all failed. Rather she grew in stature among them as a sort of messiah. The climax of her activities led to the women openly confronting the Alake of Egbaland in his palace - a strange development particularly for a group of women. The incidence in which the women deployed all their weapons of blackmail including baring parts of their bodies, has been variously termed the Egba Women Riot, the women revolt etc.. and consequently, the Alake was forced to flee his throne and proceed on exile.
***

THE THIRD GENERATION, THE MOST INFLUENTIAL
The enigmatic influence of the matriarch of the Ransome-Kuti family on the four children is very profound, perhaps helped by the fact that she spent the longest time with them. 23 years after her husband passed on when the children were still relatively young while - (Fela was just 17 and Beko the last born, 15 in 1955 at the death of Israel), Funmilayo hanged around the children, shaping their cognitive structures, their socio-political sagacity and reformist's consciousness.
Olikoye on his 70th birthday declared: 'Our mother was no doubt the most influential in our lives. She was a very strong, determined woman who believed there is virtue in struggle for the betterment of the society and the comfort of your fellow men...'
Perhaps the greatest virtue underlining the works of the Ransome-Kuti siblings was a sense of responsibility to the welfare of the society in which they live. They believed that they owed the society a service to ensure its betterment and sustenance of good values and secured future. Their gospel was to guarantee every member of the community a tolerable level of comfort and well-being.
Dolupo, the only girl but eldest child, who's lesser known of the four, made her own impact in her nursing profession. Aside her often referenced eccentricities, including the refusal to wear shoes and rather walk bare-footed, she was known to be full of human kindness. She was known to insist that services of the government hospitals be made affordable to every member of the community, and most of the time free to the needy. In her world there were no classes in the society, everybody was equal before the creator. Thus she worked assiduously to dismantle the famous affliction - 'bigmanism' - of the Nigerian system. She was also reported to be fond of prowling the streets to pick up destitute for free medical services, which made her on collided many occasions with her superiors and authorities of the hospitals where she worked.
Until her death on January 6, 2006, Dolupo had filled up the role of matriarch of the family which the mother vacated 29 years earlier in 1978. And she bore this remarkable semblance to the mother. At her funeral, there was a suffusion of tributes not just by the well-placed dignitaries but many ordinary people who had benefited from her gesture of insisting that government institutions' services must be put at the reach of the masses who could hardly afford to cater for their needs. A famous action she took when her immediate younger brother, Koye, became health minister was to write him a public letter that if he had no intention of guaranteeing free primary healthcare to the poor of the country, he had no business taking the oath of office. Quite a lot of people frowned at her decision to send copy of the letter to the media, when she could have made it a 'family affair.' But such a counsel failed to pitch that action against the antecedent of the family.
OLIKOYE: Though often sniggered at by his own brothers for being publicly non-committal to political and civil rights activism, and being politically naïve to the point that he could take a ministerial appointment under a most contemptuous military regime, Olikoye's trajectory in public service is silver-lined. He was a pro-people administrator, who like his father, mother, brothers and even sister, insisted that the ruler must at all time uphold the tenet of their contract with the people - ensure that community wealth serves the need of the collective, rather than greed of the privileged individual. All his years at the United Nations Health bureaucracy, he was reputed to have helped shaped policies that guaranteed safe comfort zone for the needy of the world. While he served as Minister of health under the Ibrahim Babangida military administration, he stuck out of the cabinet whose soul was generally believed to have been carved in treasury looting and misrules.
Almost two decades after he left office (died in 2003), many still wonder how he managed to get away with his impressive reform policies, which drastically altered the destiny of healthcare delivery in the country. His plank was primary healthcare delivery, which he hoped would help make medical services available and affordable to a larger mass of the people. The policy helped to liberalise the administration of health in the country by redirecting its orientation from an elitist predilection. Upon his death, Babangida described Olikoye as a lonesome pro-reform enigma who believed that every man should strive to swim by his own self-resolved tide.
OLUFELA: Ostensibly by the virtue of his vocation and militant, well confrontational, disposition to activism, Olufela, remains the most influential member of the Ransome Kutis. And intriguingly by his act of changing his name to Anikulapo-Kuti, he was the one that could have helped eclipse the name that had become a part of the long, winding, drama-filled script that is Nigeria.
Fela was more than an activist, he was a revolutionary by inclination and disposition both in his psyche and character, even if his method was engraved in adventurism, sometimes weird and crude. And he is surely the most confrontational; and intolerant of the shenanigans of the ruling clan - very much in the tradition of his mother. It might not be simplistic to say that since he was the professed favourite of his mother, and one who lived longest with her, and whose serial confrontation with the security operatives eventually led to the mother's death, they both shared a deeper passion for distrusting the system.
Fela elevated outlaw to a virtue and compelled - not by force - a multitude to be a part of his movement of non-conformists. He had no sympathy for the law crafted by the rulers whom he regarded as corrupt, inept, anti-people oppressors. He deployed his creative sensibility and skill to achieve his objective of mobilising the people to self-realisation and possible action. He could be declared an astute politician who was, however, reluctant to live according to the law skewed by the centrifugal forces in the society to govern conduct of public affairs.
Was Fela dreaming an Utopia? It was most unlikely. Was he thinking of sitting in the state house as leader of government? He did not even equip himself for that role? And that was quite a distance from his objective. But he did form a political party, Movement of the People, MOP. Fela was essentially, an interventionist who deployed the civilising principles of the arts to etch his agenda in the psyche of the people.
He was the child of his mother.
BEKOLOLARI: Though in orientation, Fela's activism is closer to Beko's, the brothers differ in the strength of sacrifice they were ready to make. It could be argued however, that of the family, it was Fela that completely abandoned the Ransome-Kuti's aristocratic heredity, a total renouncing of his elevated class to intervene in the life of the masses of the people from among them. Others, including Beko, who probably spent more time on the street marching and protesting against iniquities in the social and political system, than he ever spent in his clinic as a medical doctor, looked in from up there, or from the outside of the community. This is probably why Fela's influence is more deepening in the public psyche, even among the puritans who despised his lifestyle of express sex and drug. Well, his robust music, soaked in rambunctious politics, helped a lot to spread his influence and will in future, ensure that his influence is not dropped in the abyss of the forgotten.
Beko though as omnipresent in the public eye as his weird brother, Fela, arguably had the diciest start and credential in activism. Of course, he was looking in from up-there/outside; he never like his brother, renounced his privilege background. He fraternised with the mass of the people, fought for them, pounded the streets with them, shared their pains and frustrations, but he did it from his comfort zone - which in any case is an understated fact about many of Nigeria's robust civil activists' clan.
On this course, he and Fela were never in agreement. At his many Shrine-speak, Fela could be heard sniggering at Beko's 'ajebota's (spoilt/privilege child) inner disposition: 'Ha, that Beko na craze colomentality man. Im deh fight for the masses, but im fit chop for buka or shit for public, or smoke igbo for street?' Fela declared on an occasion when Beko was arrested after yet another street protest. This comment ricocheted a similar Fela's yabbis of his dear younger brother when Beko took up the job of Chairman of the board of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH... 'Im no get business for that kain oyinbo medicine centre, and working for these yeye government sef', he had said, reaffirming his denouncement of orthodox medicine as capable of saving the Blackman from ailment.
Beko himself was to say of Fela in an interview: 'that one, he is a crazy fellow, it was frustrating growing up with him. He was always up to one thing or the other. We argued over everything, and we were at loggerheads all the time. He used to make fun of me and say 'Mr Logic... do you think you can address everything with logic'.
Beko's statement is instructive of the fundamental difference between the two brothers - incidentally however, the two dimensions re deducible from the character traits of Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti's brand of activism. For Fela, struggle means getting into the trenches and doing the 'roforofo' (rough, possibly violent) fight - matching the enemies gut for gut, brawn for brawn, no matter the risk and cost to your personal safety and comfort; for Beko, the struggle must toe the line of ideology, it must be logical on concept and execution. 'I am that kind of person who is very concerned about my environment. As long as I lived, I will continue to engage in the struggle to make sure that my society, that my environment, is better.' says Beko shortly after the sickly man came out of hospital following another bout of illness.
In another interview, Beko gave an insight into his own unwritten pact with the people: 'Our people must realise that things will not change on their own. The kind of people we have in power today are very ruthless people who care less about the ordinary citizen. Unless we are prepared to fight real hard, they would one day wipe all of us completely out from the shores of this land. We must also realise that the consequences of fighting, in remaining in the struggle is not as bad as engaging in the struggle. We shouldn't be afraid in fighting for our collective rights, happiness and survive'.
Bekololari, a pace away from his brother, Fela, believes in the collective struggle. He would not form his own party or institution through which to fight, rather, he would identify people who share his dream of redeeming the environment from the claws of forces of darkness, and form a collective to give the struggle wider appeal and a tighter muscle. The problem he ran into in this choice, and which must have gravely undermined his influence and as well tormented his hapless, frustrated soul, is that in his collective of fellow travellers, were to be found activists of credentials; those who were part of the very rot he sought to clean. He had among his close friends and fellow fighters, roguish members of the ruling class, pseudo-human rightists, pretentious ideologists as well as ex-criminals whose main agenda is to rake in hard currency from he donor agencies. He did not discriminate, or did not seem to know how to turn people down once the precept of the struggle is well stressed to the collective.
This is perhaps what Fela referred to as his over-addiction to 'logic'. And surely why he never really was close to the legend of civil and rights activism, Gani Fawehinmi, who was indeed his neighbour in the Anthony Village part of Lagos. It was also certainly why Beko was seemingly flirtatious around the civil society organisations, which saw him literally hopping from one organisation to the other. Even at the time of his death on February 10, 2006, Beko was embroiled in a battle with the Pro-National Conference, PRONACO, a body he had worked very hard to help firm-footed for the purpose of compelling the government of Olusegun Obasanjo to stage a truly representative and purpose-driven national dialogue towards resolving the many incongruities in the federation. He had also run into conflict with the very unexpected quarter, his cousin Wole Soyinka, who had to issue a public declaimer of a rally that Beko's faction of the PRONACO had staged in Ibadan where Soyinka was advertised as a speaker.
His inability to abide by inanities of others, even of his closest associates, earned the hush-hush criticisms of his being dictatorial in his opinion, resentful of opinions that did not emanate from him, intolerant of other people's interest, and overtly self-loving.

A LINK TO THE PAST

To every generation of Ransome-Kuti, its own virtues and authored philosophy of activism, or legacy of intervention in the social, political and cultural orderings of the environment or society. However, the greatest virtue the members shared is the concern for a better, progressive environment, a more humane community of man and a well-defined path to the future.
These virtues are encapsulated in Beko's description of the nature of their parents -- the second generation: 'What you could read from both parents was a genuine concern for their environment. My father was very good at music and he composed numerous songs. He composed Egba National Anthem. He was not necessarily thinking of Nigeria; he was thinking in terms of Yoruba nationhood. When my father died, my mother carried the Nigerian vision a bit further, which was why she joined the National Council of Nigerian and Cameroun Citizens, NCNC, because NCNC of that time was the one group focusing on the concept of one Nigeria, whereas the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC and Action Group, AG were more interested in a federations of the Regions. She transmitted from 'One Africa' to 'One Nigeria'. But in her last years, she had become disillusioned.'

THE FUTURE SPEAKS
Disillusionment!
Sure this was no portion of the Ransome-Kuti dynasty of activists, certainly not of the third generation, aptly represented by Fela and Beko. They both died of ill-health. They died fighting. They expired on the struggle... not exterminated by the struggle.
Perhaps this was the looming sign that the family is not resting yet on Project Better Nigeria, Better Humanity.
For what the future portend for the family in the scheme of struggle. The words of members of the fourth generation provide the guide:

DOTUN RANSOME_KUTI, son of Olikoye Ransome Kuti:
Yes, the burden of the struggle, which our parents championed is on us... It is something that every Nigerian should share for a better society. So in my own little way as Dotun Ransome-Kuti, I'll try and do my own bit. I don't think the death of Beko, the last of the brothers, will end the involvement of the family in the struggle for a just and better society. You could see that already some of us the children are involved in some form of activism or the other. We still have people like Mr. Femi Anikulapo-Kuti. He's doing it in his own little way. I know Mrs. Nike Nedum, who had gone to jail with her late father and she'd always stood by her father. She's doing it already in her own way. I can't say anything of myself, but I know of those two. You don't just say I want to be human rights activist. You have to feel it after you have the conviction. Our dynasty has got to a point where we hold tenaciously whatever we believe in and stand by it till eternity. The fact that your father was an engineer is not a guarantee that you will be an engineer... I don't know what my daughters or my sons will be. They might decide to take up that struggle. I can't talk for other people. I've never been politically inclined. It is not because I don't have any views or things like that. But I don't think I have that push to be rapped up into public arena.

YENI RANSOME-KUTI, performing artiste, designer, daughter of Fela

I share ultimately my father's vision for a better society. My father and his siblings were not fighting for something that's not real. Rather they were fighting for something that's so real. Unfortunately, in their lifetime, the vision did not come to pass... I have the courage to sustain and carry out the struggle. It is the means to carry out the struggle that I don't have. For instance, I'll never accept to serve government or go into politics as it's obtained today. This is 'chop chop' politics. I don't believe in such politics. I can't stand a situation where somebody does something that's obviously wrong and you say we should leave the person by covering him up. I don't believe in that. I believe in being straightforward. I cannot practise 'boju-boju' (shady) politics. I can only deal with people that are honest, because I'm more interested in the betterment of this society. An average youth wants to leave Nigeria for Europe and America. But I believe we should stay here and do something to make ours a better society. My beliefs and ideas are positive force and not radical, because radical is a negative word. They are positive force particularly concerned about changing this country. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to go about it. I started in our own small Africa Shrine. The orientation of our people is wrong now. We don't believe in hardwork again. To me, I look at the shrine with the view that if I'm running a state or a country how would I succeed if I cannot run this shrine properly... My brother, Femi, does the struggle through his songs. Our music has satirical Lyric, trying to reshape the society. Femi started Movement Against Second Slavery... I dream of a society where there will be light, water etc. I wish for a society where we'll be light, water good road, good food, safe and secured etc. when a man is well-fed, he can always think of better ideas to move the society forward. But if he is hungry, the reverse is the case.


FEMI ANIKULAPO KUTI, Musician, son of Fela (he founded the Movement Against Second Slavery)

My music and my life have always been channelled in the direction of struggle for justice and a better society. I don't think I'm afraid of anybody... I'll forever confront injustices that come my way. The struggle for African liberty and total emancipation can only be won collectively, not by an individual. If people are not concerned that for more than 40 years after independence, we don't have light, no good road, so many poor people in the streets, etc, that's getting dangerous. As an individual and as educated as we are, we can't understand that simple fact, only for us to just sit at home and pray, pray, that's the individual's business... There's nothing to be afraid of as far as I'm concerned. I'll continue to do what I'm doing and I'll do it to the best of best. My son will do the same. He's trained in that direction. His son will do the same. It will be the history of Anikulapo- Kuti... I'm not preparing him, but I'm just teaching him the truth. I've been telling him about his grand father. I played his songs for him as much as possible, even my own music. He knows what I'm doing. He knows probably 90 per cent of everything in my life. I have no secret for him. He knows the truth. Now it's for him to use his intelligence to decide, which one he is going to uphold and how he's going to handle that. I can only teach him what I know. So, I teach him as much as possible day-by-day, second-by-second, as much as I can. So, if I'm not here tomorrow he will be able to handle his life. He's prepared for the future. It's his duty to uplift the family name. He has to do better than me. Because the family has a name to protect.

Mrs. NIKE NEDUM (nee Ransome Kuti) daughter of Bekololari

Struggle cannot be passed on genetically. Like I said earlier, it's the responsibility of all Nigerians to seek to hold their leaders accountable to be forthright and consistent in defending what they believe is their rights. If we continue to wait for people because they're from a certain family then not much is going to get done really. It will be the struggle of the lone. I feel concerned about issues and I try as much as possible personally to stand by it and defend whatever I feel strongly about. But I don't think it's the responsibility of the Ransome-Kutis. The fact that my father and his siblings did so, I think it was not a design or a plan that was agreed by them. It just arose by the nature of their character. Whatever role the next generation of the Ransome-Kutis plays will be defined by individual's perception of the society and how they deal with it. Obviously it won't be as if we are sitting down somewhere to hold a meeting and say the next generation must continue the struggle. They just found themselves in circumstances that made them to stand up for what they believed in. I think it is a spirit we should expect from all Nigerians not just the Ransome-Kuti family. If we want a better society in our country, it is a thing we should expect from all Nigerians. People can have expectations you can't stop them. The events as they unfold will determine whether their expectations can be met or not.





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ARt & OUTrage 5




I love Daddy Showkey, I am choking

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 at 4:09 PM WAT

A Love Affair With Daddy Showkey
By Olaiya 'Subomi
My friend James barges in this afternoon, visibly agitated…
"Why, you guys don't give Daddy Showkey and the guys from Ajegunle the respect they deserve; you don’t even put them on your pages? You are biased and segregationist…"
The activist poet raves on. And when he goes like that, you'd better hush him.
"But where did you pick up all these accusations", I launch at him, a bit irritated at his incorrigibility.
"I don’t have to pick it up from anywhere. I read your pages. When was the last time you wrote something about Showkey? Even when he won four award including best song and the best musician in the country award, you only mentioned it in passing. That is not good. The guy is great and he deserves more than you are willing to give him!"
James drops into one of the seats before me, dives into the bowels of his bag clawing at some object. I observe him: such an intelligent fellow but sometimes, lousy with his reasoning; and a running mouth to boot. Perhaps he talks before he thinks. But then his word sparks a thought in me:
Have I really being unfair to these new age Nigerian musicians who peddle their wares as afro-hip-pop and see themselves as culturally more exposed than the musicians in the traditional or trado-modern forms such as juju, fuji, highlife, kalangu, ikwokrikwo among others.
Well, to credit, the new wave musicians (mostly singers in fact, as they hardly play any instrument) have succeeded a lot in wrenching a great deal of space from the hitherto tight clutches of the local airwaves and screen by the Western (American) pop works.
The radio stations for instance, now find themselves playing more of Tony Tetuila, Azaadu, Remedies, Plantashon Boys, Zakky Adze, Maintain, Eedris… The more reggae steeped of them run the Showkeys, Father U-Turns, Fryos, Mighty Mouses on their various programmes.
This is a great cultural statement indeed. At least, a Westerner would not any longer, step here, listen to local FM stations and, ask if he was back in his homeland. That used to be the case and it happened in 1998 to a group of American journalists on a research mission here.
And of course, in a time of economic depression and political uncertainties buoyed by social disequilibria, the hip pop acts have provided entertainment for the distressed and liven up the stressed social space. They have found jobs for themselves and others in showbiz fields such as audio-visual, dance, designs, fashion, even marketers and others. They might have even re-coursed certain potential miscreants from the landmine planted on their path to future by massive graduate unemployment and youth disempowerment.

Daddy Showkey!
Now, I am thinking: James must be running a PR consult for the sensational reggae toaster from the seedy suburb of the Lagos metropolis.
In fact, hasn’t Showkey got more than he deserved from the critical press?
Sure, he is a dance floor favourite and knows how to waoh the popular concert arena, but he is very light in concept and vision…
Well, this is my (very personal) critical opinion. After all, some other supposed critical media workers had once blessed Showkey's head with the best Nigerian Musician for 2000 crown.
Yet this is where I think the problem is: Status Conferment.
There ought to be a debate on such ritual. Who for instance, should be confirming status on the Nigerian artists? What are the criteria to hook on? Should the venture even be the turf of some media workers who are not trained in music…? A legion of queries to be raised.
There is a violent misplacement of values when the wrong people have the wholly whim to give sensitive endorsement to certain artists and, for indeed the wrong or suspect reasons. Wrong signals may be sold to other more culturally civilized observers that we are a people governed by the masturbation syndrome; rather than the cerebral.
Showkey as the best Nigerian artists. Curiouser and curiouser!
"Oh well, he probably sold better that year, had the most frequent radio and TV airing, had more concerts bla bla… But was he really the most qualitative voice, best tuned musician, most sonorous singer, eminent lyricist, most philosophical composer… what in fact is in Showkey's songs to balm the pain of the hopeless, and satiate the discomforted with dose of tonic…?"
James springs to life again!
"There you are! I knew that you don’t know much about the guy. You have not been listening to him, because you are biased…he is a fighter for his people, the ghetto people. You won't know that because you are one of the oppressors of the suffering masses, the type in Ajegunle…"
Were James not my friend, I should have called up my lawyer to start preparing for our million-naira days. Such lousy accuser!
"Well James", I begin, "I can't really think of any great, deep work from that chap. He is a good performer, he even created the dance style, galala, but that is where it ends. As for lyrical depth, he is nowhere. As for singing, the voice is haughty. And his act though comical and so deceptively attractive, is in material and substance dirty. It is the stuff of the crass. Best for 'area boy-minded' fellows and…"
" See where you sell yourself in the open market" James shoots, "you mean you have not heard of 'Fire Fire In our country, give me plenty water make I quench fire'. James is singing. I am amused…
"Okay, give me another one".
" There are many of them… 'Fire Fire, In The Ghetto', said James and he dries up. I tease him"…Dianna, Welcome Daddy Showkey…"
He sure got the joke and cast his eyes away from my mischievous looks.
I lecture him: "You see there are populist artists and there are visionary artists, just as you have populist politicians and philosopher—politicians.
"The populist artist is the more popular because he appeals to your basal instincts, more to your brawn and purse, your dancing feet and your sexual desires. The Artist-philosopher steals your souls with his words and tune. He conquers your space of reasoning; he imprisons your emotions and overrides your cerebral cavity so much that you fall in line with his thought process.
"That is the artist that moves men to positive actions and speed up the process of change. He is a medium of national reformation or cultural regeneration. He is the one to spur a renaissance in the social consciousness.
"Your Showkey is not that kind of artist and neither are other artists of his ilk. They just want your pocket and your patronage. That is why their music go well with drinks and women, especially the easy virtue type".
Poor James. He gazes like rain-drenched chic…
I continue: "Of course, there are some of those Ajegunle artists who have come up very strong in terms of deep lyrics, even if flippant or perfunctory… I talk of Mighty Mouse, even Showkey and his good friend, Daddy Fresh…
"But the most surprising has been Baba Fryo who, curious still, has about the most unserious personal carriage of them all, with his usual one-eye mask. His Denge Potze debut happens to have approximated the rot in today's social etiquette and valuation system where a man's worth is no longer judged by the quality of his mind and resourcefulness of his handiwork, but by the flashiness of his appearance.
"You are only as big as the size and brand of your car and the depth of your intellect could sometime be your passport to public opprobrium. Your fat certificate can no longer earn you applause in your community.
"The ideal role model most parents sell to their children, is that chubby-cheek fellow from the city with a limo and an obscene bank account and grand house down the street. It doesn’t matter to such parents that to the vacuous fellow education is an anathema; or the volume of blood he shed to grab riches by the scruff.
"Fryo studied this new attitude and came up with Denge Potze, a treatise on the ignominious crash of values and morality of the new society. He follows up with Notice Me, which in content and context is a stretch of the message in the first.
"Now that is a popular artist who managed to scale the bar to the midst of philosopher-artists. And it doesn’t really matter how clean or astute the content of his message is. There are some of them like that too, even Daddy Showkey in some of his songs; except that his extraneous are sometimes too much that they tend to overshadow the substance."
I have a student in session, so I continue to pound ideas into James’ head:
"Popular art is a luxury to a society such as we live in, bedraggled by political iniquities and consistently raped (sorry, ruled) by mean men whose idea of leadership is underdeveloping their community and decimating their people to the deep of the abyss.
'In such a society, a real artist would not just be an entertainer doing the lewd and seedy songs that can only administer temporary relief to the people.
"The artiste will no doubt, find himself drawn into the debate about reordering the status quo; sculpting a more focused leadership and an enlightened followership -- he will indeed champion the struggle of his people, his potential fans, to get out of their precarious situations.
"Otherwise, he might find himself inadvertently as the harbinger of further fatal resolve on the part of the people. For one, the insincere note in his songs could breed false hope in the people to the point that they begin to resign to their fate and weaken their desire to fight their way out of their situation; and that is cancerous to the heart of the society and the psyche of the people themselves.
"That is the kind of thing a Showkey or those in his group who have the opportunity to talk but have decided to hum, could end up achieving".
I didn’t want to lose James, so I hit further: "Showkey is even fair. There are far more educated musicians whose initial pedigree was committed art, but who soon capitulated to the force of commerce that they abandoned the serious for the mundane and; they even have the audacity to proclaim in the market place their new found penchant for 'na ideology we go chop' attitude.
"It is okay if an artist wants to chop, afterall it is in our cultural canon that 'a man eats where he sweats' and; besides, it is a matter of personal choice. The problem is: once you sentence yourself to 'chop chop' syndrome, you may discover that you are not able to get out of it again. 'Money good o, but money make man lose im soul, money na devil', sang Nico Mbarga… and that is what has afflicted majority of our musicians.
"And the pain is that most of the legends that they peddled as their mentors were not so given to flirtatious swing between the profound and the mundane. That was why they were able to create the evergreens, works of lasting virtues that you and I still coveted today", I submit.
"But all the musicians cannot be politicians or fighters. Life is not so dry… people have to live and love", a rasped James has finally found his voice. Wonderful!
But I am not done yet.
"Oh yes, they don’t all have to be. But each artiste has to be evaluated according to the nature and colour of his vision.
'If your vision is as deep as the hollow of your stomach or as vast as the space of the dance floor, why should any self-worthy critic accord you a deeper minefield of idealism or ideology?
"If you battered your artistic conviction for a pot of commerce and survivalism as some notable artistes here have done, why should a critic continue to ascribe to you the golden garb of the committed, when you have long abandoned the ship? And if you on your own, declared yourself no longer interested in making your art serve far more missionary objectives, why should the public continue to proclaim you as their voice of reason and wisdom?"
"Well, you are right", say James, but I was not convinced he got the message yet.
"You are a poet", I say, "If you write show your colour, konko below or omo pupa lemi nfe kind of poem, why should you be taken beyond the reach of your vision. That critic would have committed a faux pax, you know. And if you decided to capitulate into a socially conscious artiste to a mere entertainer, undistinguishable from the runs of the mill, why should I be expected to rank you alongside your colleagues who are futuristic and doing profound works? That is the crux of it all."
"How about those guys doing all those great stuff on rap and toast?" queries James, "I think you guys should look at them closely and see which among them would endure. They can't all be flukes!"
"Well, remember I said it too that they are fulfilling a role. They have for one, forced our exuberantly Americanized deejays and presenters to detune their selections a bit. Now you either have to play the local varieties of the Western pop or you are off the beat. Thanks to the doggedness of Kennis Music and the like who have taken those local boys to greater heights.
"But you see, you still cannot define authentic contemporary music of Nigeria from the musical products of those guys. What they are doing is cooking western delicacy with spices of local condiments. The taste can never be as real as the real indigenous menu. At best, especially to a foreign hear, it will sound like a well-grilled mistake, irritable but passable for unserious attention.
"Those of them who stretch their imagination further in terms of sound experimentation and style and identity would surely survive. And in fact those are the guys who seem to be doing something akin to evergreen. Maybe a Paul Play Dairo, whose real luck is that he adapted an already evergreen number of his father, IK Dairo.
The products of the hip pop guys are like tomato, highly perishable. If you don’t consume it soonest, it goes rotten. That is why you see them always rushing back to the studio -- to keep themselves in business.
"Imagine in a recording career of less than two years, some of them have had as much as eight albums. That is not the stuff of professional musicianship. It will sound ludicrous in some more musically enlightened clime.
"Really, I think many of those guys should team up and do one solid, serious work. You know the way, the Spice Girls did. And long before them, the Supreme Sisters that eventually threw up Dianna Ross. Or ABBA. Or Beatles. Or Rolling Stone. Or…
"Won't you for instance say that the Remedies would by now, have been a more enduring group but for the solo career ambition of Tetuila, Idris and Montana? The Plantashon Boyz remains hot because they are in some kind of a cooperative…
"But many of the guys just feel that they could croak into the Mic and get the studio engineer to strewn it up into some manageable sound and, pronto, they are in the market.
"Of course, after some cash-induced rash of radio and TV exposure, they crash off the sight and mind of the public. They have to hit the studio again. The music is two-for-kobo".
Now I am sure I have lost my boisterous friend, James. His gaze is fixed hard on the TV screen. Whatever was of interest there? The usual: suicide bombers have wreaked another havoc; this time in downtown Jerusalem; there was blood and pandemonium everywhere on the street.
I grab the remote control. There! The petit singer, Yinka Davies, doing Eko Ile, a one-off video clip promo she did long before her current album was released.
"Yeah, that is what I think a real musical effort is", I announce gleefully. "You could see some grand effort at quality performance".
James isn't listening but I continue, "now would you compare this with Showkey. Or would you put Showkey in the class of Kayode Olajide, Laitan Adeniji, Funso Ogundipe, Kola Ogunkoya, Seyi Solagbade and others…"
James retorts dismissively: "Many of those guys are only imitating Fela, they have nothing original to offer!"
There we go again. My friend James and his hasty brain. Yet I have known him to be capable of grander thought.
I feed him: "Including Lagbaja?"
"Lagbaja is just an entertainer like Showkey. The only difference is that he wears the mask which gives him a mystic quality", says James and he s
"Have you ever heard of afro-jazz movement?"
"Well, I see you guys write that all the time. I doubt if I know what you are talking about."
"That is the classification we have given the stuff by Lagbaja, Kayode Olajide, Adeniji and others. And it simply means that they are redefining jazz idioms in the context of traditional materials. It takes a lot of musical depth and intellection to do that.
"You must be well exposed to the complex nuances, the standard format of jazz as well as all the different schools, you must be musically literate and have a considerable competence in composition and arrangement; a good level of skill and artistic comportment…" I seem to be losing James again. "You can't just wake up and go into the studio the way your hip-pop dudes do.
"The chaps involved in this kind of form, plus those doing the afro-highlife blend, the so-called post-Fela Kuti experimentalists are the keys to our future musical destiny. They are most likely to give us that musical identity we have been craving for. The reggae-toasters, the Showkeys can continue to provide auxiliary services", I wrap up my treatise.
James sighs: "I know you will try to bamboozle me with all those technical. All I ask for is that you should give those guys some exposure too".
"Well we are doing that. But we shall take up your grievances, grumbling poet.





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Chatting up with pal,. Norbert




'You Can't Do Genuine Criticism In A Philistine Environment'

Being the text of an interview the actor/broadcaster Norbert Young granted Jahman Anikulapo, former Arts Editor and now Editor The Guardian on Sunday on the television programme, Star Time Out.


NORBERT: Today, we have the Sunday Editor of The Guardian Newspapers; a medium that is widely read in Nigeria, in Africa and probably the world. I'm talking about a soul mate, a very good friend and a very, very truthful friend that most people would like to have. I'm talking about Mr Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo.
Jahman, welcome to Stars Time-Out.
We are very happy to have you here today, and we have chosen a topic to discuss. We are going to discuss Criticism.
I know that since your graduation from the University of Ibadan in 1986 and national youth service in 1987, you have worked with The Guardian. You have come up the ranks. Now by God's grace you are Editor, The Guardian On Sunday. It is our pleasure having you here today.
JAHMAN: Thank you so much, Norbert. This to me is like a family talk because we have both come a long way, since 1983, or so when we entered UI. I have always interviewed you as one of our brightest actors and theatre personalities; but now you have turned the table against me. God deh o!
NORBERT: Thanks Jahman. We will like you to give us an overview of the entertainment Industry in Nigeria; especially the claim that there is not much criticism of our creative arts going on right now.
JAHMAN: When people talk about the absence of Criticism in the culture sector, you tend to ask yourself: what are they expecting?
Criticism can only thrive in an environment where there is enough room for creativity; quality creativity. But when you live in an environment that stifles creativity, you cannot expect criticism to thrive.
You want to look at a work of art; you want to talk about somebody's performance -- a dancer or a visual artist -- you must look at the environment of performance.
What has the state or the society provided for Norbert Young not just to produce his film but to produce effectively; or to produce a quality work?
What has the environment provided for Olu Ajayi who is a quality painter to produce a qualitative work of art?
What has the environment given to Lagbaja to strive to produce his songs to the best of his ability...
When you put all these things together you'll see that the environment is not even prepared for the artist to perform effectively, or optimally.
Why are you expecting the artist to live above that environment?
Then you say you are a critic, you sit down and, you are observing the trend of performances and making comments on them, and pointing a way for the future! What future are you pointing to, when the people that consume the art works are not even prepared for qualitative ones.
That is why you find out that most critics... let me use myself as an example... I took a decision; I said the era of just sitting down in my newsroom and writing critiques about somebody's work has to be postponed for sometime!
I resolved that I wanted to be more involved in creating the necessary environment for the artists to be able to, at least, produce qualitative works. If I succeeded in that conscientious activism, then I can sit down and write comments; objective and conscientious assessment of the work of art.
I don't want to go through the exasperating experience of writing comments on works that are by all the parameters for critical discourse are substandard; especially works I know that given the right environment, the artist could have accomplished better.
Perhaps, if I am myself not one who engage in creative enterprises all the time, it wouldn't have mattered; but I am an artiste first; the critical vocation is only a gift of talent and a bonus acquired through my training in Dramatic Theories and Literary Criticisms; and years of practice as a writer on the arts and cultural productions.
I am not just an observer of the trends in culture production; I am an active participant; just as any producer could be. I cannot afford the luxury of a mere journalistic interrogation of artistic experiences. The journalist can do that, I have no qualms. I am informed in my practice by something deeper than journalistic inclination and expertise.
By my training and antecedents, I cannot continue to be saying: "That theatre performance is not good enough'. 'That painting is not good.' etc. Do I know how much of Norbert's wife's money, Norbert has stolen to be able to produce that film? Do I know how much of his properties he had to sell; or the dirty thing that people had to go into to raise money to produce a play. I have once been a witness to a lady theatre producer having to befriend a banker just so to be able to pay the balance of his cast and crew fees, when the supposed sponsors ditched her at the last minute. She got a loan through that means but the cast needed not know where the money came from. There are uglier stories that I heard from artistes themselves... many of them are big stars today... on what they did to get their first album off the demo stage...
Then, I sat down and reviewed my intervention in the institution of critical discourses and I resolved that I'd better off, conscience-wise, if I diverted my critical sensibility to culture activism. We try to create the right environment for quality creativity to flower, then nobody will have an excuse for underperformance or perfunctory production. And this is why I am very compassionate when it comes to matters concerning the arts. I insist that if you are a Minister for Culture or Minister in charge of entertainment, Minister in charge of Tourism, you must do what the Minister of Aviation is doing in terms of envisioning for the wholesome uplifting of the sector; you must initiate good policies and carry out necessary reforms with a view to making the vocations and the practitioners have hope and perform optimally. You must do what the Minister of Transport is ready to do in terms of providing the necessary infrastructure for that vital sector of the national economy...
You talk about the Culture sector; the culture sector is the fundament of our nation building. You talk of technology transfer, how can you transfer technology, when you don't even know the basic farm implements that we have; you don't even know them, so, you can't improve on them. Then you want to talk about technology transfer! You can only transfer ignorance and incompetence at handling such transferred knowledge. It is all laughable.
So, instead of jumping on the bandwagon, and jumping the gun, I decided to stay on one spot and use my talent and a little link that God has helped me to gather these years in the course of the job, in ensuring that the right environment; the appropriate visions; functional policies and beneficial actions are taken by whoever the political process throws into the leadership of the culture sector of the economy.
That is more important to me than writing reviews and critiques that don't even get read by the public but the artists themselves and their colleagues. Even at that, how many of those can afford to buy the papers to read up what you have written about them. Most times, you -- the writer -- still has to take the paper to the artists and say, 'look what I have written about your work'... Haba, the burden that the so-called arts writer carries is enormous; painful at times.
So, I reviewed my career and I said since, God has been kind to me, I have a voice, when I write and when I talk people listen, I should use that to make the right noise, the right statement, so that we can challenge the polity to give recognition to the labour of the artists and culture workers; so that we can begin to create room for quality intellect that would produce qualitative art.
That is why I have been so engrossed in what has come to be termed 'Culture Activism'... I am sure the sobriquet is in the context of a civil activist, human rightist or social activist. But really, it does not really matter what it is called. I only know I have a missionary zeal to the cause of the art and culture.
That is why I am deeply involved in cultural activism structures such as the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), which also incorporates such other bodies as Culture Enthusiasts Club; Lagos Circle of Critics; Friends of the Arts; Culture Working Committee etc. Of course, the more fundamental of such structures is the Coalition of Nigeria Artists, CONA, a fraternity of all the artists professional associations, which primary aim is to protect the interest of all artists whatever their callings; and especially to give some kind of assistance to the artists when they are distressed. Unfortunately, the coalition has been crippled by unnecessary politics by a certain section of the artiste community. But I assure you, the vision can never be eclipsed.
I believe that it is when I have succeeded in helping get the right environment, that is the point at which the critic in me will come out. And I don't have to still be a practising journalist when that time will manifest.
That is my position and I have no apology about it; not even to myself. Even a critic has a choice to criticise or remain silent!
What I have done is to do an overview of our entertainment sector in the context of my own experience in a time capsule of my years on the job as an arts writer.
But I insist that, though we may complain about quality of what we produce and the attitude of the artists, we have to bear one point in mind: that the artist cannot live outside of his own environment. He must operate within his environment. To expect him to live in a pure world, the world that is not corrupt, is to construct a Utopia; an unreal world, totally antithetical to his environment that is corrupt.
Even if the artist doesn't want to be corrupt, remember that in an environment like this, he's coming from a family, and this family members are going to ask him: "We are not interested in how many times you appeared on the television, we are interested in what you have made for yourself; what are you going to give to your brothers and sisters; what have you made for your parents; what have you made for the community that nurtures your being.
In the West, some of these questions may not apply because of their socialisation process and the way the society is constructed, which is why an artist will make a single hit, and he becomes an international star, money wise, influence wise, and so on; he could go and buy the most expensive house in the costliest area of town and spend so much money on it. That is the way he wants to spend his fortune. No extended or expanded family to ask him to take in his cousin and his cousin's cousin or to offer scholarship to other youths in the community as a matter of compulsion, since the community had contributed to his schooling or whatever.
But an artist here... I have one actor on my street, you imagine the pressure that the man goes through to be able to live to a standard that is expected of him by people in the neighbourhood. I have seen him done one or two things on the street, and I just know that this was not what he wanted to do, but he has to do it, because of the expectation of his neighbours.
So we cannot expect the art, the entertainment produced by artists living and functioning in this stifling environment to be well rounded in all creative departments as that produced in other societies where there are, at least, the basic infrastructures that enable creativity to flower; that encourages clean, clear thought, and make provision for facilities, including social respect and understanding; and thus assist the artist to concentrate on the business of thinking and creating.
We have to first create the right, functional environment; and that is what I have dedicated my intervention through the media, especially after 13 solid years as arts reporter and so-called critic.
And when I say creating the environment; it does not just stop at creating Endowment Fund or launching the Cultural Policy or establishing an Art Academy - all vital institutions to culture management that other societies take for granted but which we don't even have after 40 years of Independence and clamour for same instruments - the saner environment also includes re-orientating the society and the people consuming the artwork to begin to see the artist as a professional who deserves to eat from his toil; his talent and his skill just as the medical doctor, the lawyer or the engineer. In fact, the appropriate social respect for the vocation of the artist or culture worker is the first essential infrastructure to be created.
Would you for instance, recognising that the actor is the most poorly paid professional in this country, say that because this actor -- a brilliant, skilful performer who has brought joy to you and your family -- and this day you see him standing by the bus stop, would you put him in your air conditioned car so that his shirt does not end up with dust, so that your children to whom he is a sort of hero or role model, would not snigger at his dirty look?
Bear in mind please that most of the times, the people in the public do not discriminate between the illusion of affluence they see the actor live on screen or stage from his reality as a human being functioning in the real life; with his own set of economic and social realities, hopes and despairs. They only want to appreciate him the way they see him act. Here is the guy unable to live a comfortable, dignifying life; after those lavish life on screen he crashes into this real life of wants and disappointment; he could not even afford a taxi if he has no car of his own, and this guy knows how many people that he is bringing happiness to, he knows the sweat that goes into his acts! And yet you want him to be pure, you want him to be qualitative, you want him to live above everybody...
NORBERT: Jahman, you see, that is why Stars Time-out is happy to have you here, you have just criticised everybody...
JAHMAN: Including myself (laughs)
NORBERT: I quite appreciate it when you said you do not want to criticise substandard works, but these are the works we have now, the works society has to look at! And in those substandard works, we still have to know how substandard in the category of substandard hierarchy, some of them are. So even if we do not have an enabling environment, we still need the critic, we still need to be informed so that when things begin to take shape, when government now start to live up to its responsibilities, and the society begins to accord due respect to the artiste, and the people begin to figure out how they can contribute to the development of the entertainment industry, we would have overcome the shortcomings of the artistes..
JAHMAN: When we talk about substandard works, we are not saying that Nigerian works are substandard, but that is the general impression. That is part of the attitude of the society to what the artist does. When they say that an artwork is substandard, they actually based such judgement on the mindset of comparison they harbour in their mind. They look at what the American Pop artistes are doing and they expect the artist here to do similar thing. So they come up with the attitude of saying: "It's a Nigerian product, it is substandard'.
It is the same way you can relate to the cloth sold at Orile market. There is the foreign consumption craze. People don't want to consume what is produced locally because of a deep-seated perception that if it is made at home it must be inferior. It is the crisis of identity; lack of self-esteem; lack of self-worth. The Nigerian consumer would rather spend fortune to buy that foreign product so far it carries the label of a foreign country or producer. So, the local producers grew smart too; when they make shirts here, they will put the label that says made in Britain, Taiwan, America etc... It is an intractable crisis of taste.
We do need the critics at all time in our creative enterprise. I'm not saying that we don't need the critic! If I said that, it will be a subversion of sensibility; a subversion of my personal conviction that the critic drives the creative energy and resourcefulness of the society. I still operate basically as a critic in the sense that, when I am confronted with materials, I weigh the material, I say 'okay this material deserves maximum attention'; this material deserves the best that I have got; then I look at another material and I say, 'this material deserves lesser attention'... this assessment will reflect in the way I present the subject, the way I write about it or I comment on it! It is a result of the way I weighed the material; product of my evaluation but it is still essentially subjective albeit informed by my personal cognitive structures.
This is why I have insistently argued that criticism is no more than a personal opinion of the critic; a product of his cognitive structures - the sum total of his past experiences, cultural tendencies, taste, training, skill, exposures, and the school of criticism to which he subscribes among others.
But it is curious that the general public has been conditioned to see the critic as some kind of god. And it has to do with the self-institutionalising antics of the ancestors of the critics. Over time and through the various literary milleux, the critics have successfully entrenched themselves as monstrous institutions in the creative industry.
As a matter of fact, the critic has become something like an over-institutionalised person. We have created tin-gods out of the vocation of the critic. But he is no more than an ordinary professional but with a specialised consciousness for the vocation of evaluating or assessing a piece of art and offering informed opinion on same. In other words, the critic is only an informed commentator or evaluator or assessor of a creative product.
We have to bear in mind that there is a critic in every person. The television viewer is a critic, just as the man who reads a book; even as a hobby. This is because when the fellow is watching this interview session on the television programme, he is forming his own opinion; he could say for instance: "Now Jahman is talking rubbish, I'm not interested;" and; he picks his cigarette and lights it and puts his mind on more productive or self-satisfying venture... he has shut me off from his senses! That's a critical enterprise at work.
I want to refer us back to a paper that was presented by Dr Ola Oloidi of the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He is a specialist in Visual Art criticism, and he said that the first set of critics were actually those simple folk who were appreciating the works of the community sculptor or carver. When in a village, a Yoruba man stands up and says: "This work is the work of gbegigbegi (the one who hews or chops the wood); and this one is gbenagbena, which means the one who is creating beauty out of a given object. Once a man or even a little kid stands up and says, "this man is gbegigbegi, that one is a gbenagbena, he has already made a critical assessment; a fundamental critical statement. He has described you as producing beauty or merely chopping the wood...
So, the critic is human after-all and he is only a shade higher in his evaluation than the ordinary viewer or audience, by the circumstance of his acquired skill; the fact of his vocation. But we have turned them into semi-god by our own exaggeration of their enterprise.
Those were some of the facts I see and I am amused at the lie of it all, when some people sing deceptively: 'I am a critic, I hold the power to make or mar you the artist'.
I participate in some internet discussion, the way people sound on this critic thing, is like they are living above everybody else.. Yet, somebody had already said in the past that a critic is actually a failed artist; that because he cannot create, he now runs commentary in other people.
But intriguingly, Chinua Achebe was one of the very first people to even dismantle this myth around the critic, by saying: "look, the moment you can read my book and form an opinion, you are a critic".
This is a very fundamental statement about criticism; that it is essentially the opinion of the person; by the viewer of painting, the audience of a theatre piece, and the listener to that music.
You seem to be saying that the critic is not an opinion shaper, who then project it into the public. Do you see the critic as somebody who makes negative marks about works of art. Is the work of a critic just to appreciate and write an opinion, or just to condemn?
A critic is not to write a negative opinion. Unfortunately, that's what the critic vocation has become, especially in a creative environment like Nigeria where there is perennial struggle for power between perceptibly contending forces and envy and avarice reign in the mind of most men... - all products of poverty of purse and the intellect you know there is a way wants and unfulfilled dreams affect the reasoning and actions of men...
If you evaluate my explanation again, you'll see that the critic is not definitely somebody who makes negative remarks. A critic is one who forms a technically informed opinion about a work, and who then projects it. And presenting it, it could either be negative or positive; depending on the way he perceives the work. But as I said his evaluation of the work, his judgment will be informed by his own cognitive structures; itself a summation of diverse factors.
NORBERT: I ask this question because in 1996, when as part of the Africa Project cast, we went to present the play Amona and Oedipus in Germany... you, in particular, made a statement that because you are familiar with the works of a particular critic in Germany, called Christopher Funke; you said the man was coming to see our preview, and if he said something positive about our work, then our work would sold out in Germany. In which case Funke is an opinion leader.
Compare that to the situation in Nigeria... what would you say is the work of a critic; is it to appreciate, following certain criteria, or to condemn.
In a place like Germany, the artistes can afford to wait for Funke and the ilk to do the job of selling the play to the public, but in Nigeria, do you think the critics here have do that kind of thing? Because here there is always so-called press preview and the critic will be there to write about that play, and then the people will say, "oh, Jahman Anikulapo has said this is it', so it must be so with the play. Where a Jahman Anikulapo cannot make up his mind about that play, it even makes it more appetising for the viewer; that since Jahman cannot give a specific opinion about a thing, that thing is worth seeing.
Do you see the critic in that situation in Nigeria?
JAHMAN: The example of Funke is what Ben Tomoloju, who is my mentor in arts and in journalism -- he was the Deputy Editor at The Guardian -- made a statement at the time when Nigerian journalism was becoming obsessively arrogant with its perceived power; over-estimating its influence on the public's decision-making process, Tomoloju said that what we were practising was "Media Terrorism"! That because you thought we had the power of the pen, you had the medium, you think that you are a law, thus you wield tremendous influence on somebody's work; to soil that person, or somebody's family, and write some funny stories about that person and therefore shape the public's opinion about that person or work.
Christian Funke was doing 'Media Terrorism' (laugh)... let me quickly re-capture what happened in Germany. We were leaving Nigeria with a production in the series Africa Project, a Nigeria-Germany cultural dialogue, which is the dialogue between Africa and Europe. And we were going to Germany carrying the burden of misperception of the African person by the West that we are no more than apes... that the image of Africa, in the perception of an average European is backwardness, war, hunger, impoverishment... as a matter of fact we still live on the trees; so, when you say you are bringing something about Africa, it must be 'exotic'; since the African is generally incapable of intelligent discourse, he is not developed enough to attend to anything that is contemporary.
So, when we were leaving here, there was always this feedback from Germany, from Goethe Institut that, "Look the German audience do not understand what you are coming to do; in fact, you have to translate some of your things into German language...! And we, the producers of the play, we were telling the Germans that 'we will effect some of the suggestions you are making, but we will not deviate from what we are doing, because we have a mission'.
When we got there, and we were ready to perform at the Hebbel Theatre in Berlin, there was this big noise about a particular critic in one of the newspapers who is so powerful that once he writes negative about your work, that's the end, and once he writes positive, then the show is made.
And we were told that this guy is not necessarily wide- scoped to appreciate anything that is non-German; that anything that comes from outside, especially from Africa, he will not support it. And that was what informed my statement that night that we -- the actors and crew-- had to at least, take cognisance of the taste and preferences of the many Funkes that would be in the audience.
So, when I made that statement, I was looking at the environment we were going to... it was portrayed as a hostile environment. And I said the way to tackle this Christian Funke chap - who was being portrayed as some tin-god -- is to tell him that we were coming with our identity. And when we come, we were going to 'unleash' our cultural identity on him, let him 'unleash' his criticisms on us. But we must not underperform; we must not be seen to be playing down what we were supposed to do, just so to please the strange taste of Mr. Funke. That was why I made that statement. I spoke as the staege-manager of that show to imbue confidence in our actors, not to get conditioned to change their show because of someone's expectation... and that is what I always say: an artiste must essentially perform to his own expectation; not that of any other person; not even of his own wife or mistress.
There are many Christian Funkes in the Nigerian situation. There are many of us so-called critics or arts writers who just pick our pen and rubbish what other people do. I must have done it in the past, beginning of my career when I was still marvelling at the power I assume I have over the life and death of the work of an artist; which made me to come to the conclusion, that critics in Nigeria for instance, in the media, what we have been doing is either writing to project or writing to destroy.
But we have to be very careful because we are opinion shapers just like you said. People read you because they respect you, because they want to hang on to what you said about a particular work or artist...
But I tell you that the Nigerian audience, the Nigerian viewers, they are even very exceptional! They don't necessarily follow anybody's writing before they determine what they consume.
If you, the critic, say that one video production is substandard, has it ever stopped them from buying? How come that the video movie market that critics have always condemned gross up to N8 billion in two years as was reported? How come it was the only sector in Nigerian economy that is making profit while others are in distress.
The only industry that can compete with the video movie market which the Nigerian critics have described as a sham full of substandard products, is the GSM telephone market.


NORBERT: Yes Jahman, thank you so much for your explanation so far. But I do not agree with your assertion that if you don't see your critique of a work from the producer's or the director's point of view, you might be misjudging that person's work. Because, first of all, coming from the classical era, whether we like it or not, standards have been set for putting together works of art; standards set by people who knew. There was the classical standard and then there was the 17th Century French Academy that came out with parameters for achieving a complete work of art. So, if you are going to produce a work of art, you should know the standard, you should know the criteria, you should know the yardstick, you should know the fixed points from which you must work. So we do not need to see your personality in the work. We just see a work of art which the critic now looks at using those same parameters that the producer or director ought to have known, putting aside his own creative input right now. Even then you still have to judge with his creative in-put. So to that extent, what do you say?
JAHMAN: I think that we are even coming from the same point, just that I deviated a bit by really pressing on the influence of the environment on the works of the producer.
Remember what I said earlier on; that there are critics in the media who now look at the forms, the style, the techniques, the content of the works in the context of the message that you are trying to get across.
Every critic, for instance, is supposed to look at a particular work of art from these parameters, to say that these are standard paradigms. If you say that you are working as an impressionist in painting, and what I see is expressionism, I can say that he claims to be doing impressionism but I am seeing something else; perhaps realism. There you are talking of the form or the style.
Then when you are talking of style in the theatre, for instance, you say you are doing Agitprop, which is a usually a play set in caricature model; most times, a satire or political drama that sermonises, agitates and seeks to propagate a particular ideal or idea...a production that is based on propaganda. Because of the nature of the script, it could appear as snatches; it may not be a whole direct production. If you say you are doing this and I am seeing something else, then I could begin to raise questions about the confusion of form or technique because it is going to affect the entire design of the production; including the acting style. When you say that you are using symbolism in a production, and then there are no symbols to even represent all the things you are saying, I could engage critical theories to assess your contentions in the play and see how far you have been fair to the form adopted...
In fact when I joined journalism mid-eighties after my graduation, writing on the arts, I had to go to my Professor, Dapo Adelugba... I told him that this was what I had decided to do in the media, the man warned me... mind you, this is the foremost critic in the performing arts... he told me to be careful the way I applied the critical canons and theories I had ingested in school, because the medium I shall be writing for is a popular medium. He said, if you are not careful, nobody will understand what you are saying! I had to recoil from my heated passion for theories; and check all I had been saying.
So, when I talked about hearing from the artist, I mean asking for clarifications, for instance, about the style that he is using... that if I watch a play, I will be able to ask that artist, "that thing that you did at that point, what were you trying to do." Then he says, "this is what I'm trying to do," and then I can apply my criticism based on that.
For example, when Felix Okolo -- one of the very good young directors that came out of University of Ibadan and operated in Lagos State-- many people do not really understand him; they were saying, "what is this man trying to do." The whole play looked like a piece of accident, impulsive, formless and unserious... In fact, at a time he claimed to have adapted Ben Okri's novel, The Famished Road in the play, Mekunu Melody, one critic said he only read the first two paragraphs and wrote a play; that maybe he never read the whole play, I laughed.
Then I had to go back to myself, I said 'who is Felix Okolo?' And I remembered that we were both students at the University of Ibadan -- I directed him, he directed me on a number of occasions -- and I have had cause to listen to him. I even remember that we gave him a name Aruku Shanka, which means this guy is very impatient with normal processes of production; he abhors unity of form or unity of style as the classical critical theory will advise. He is not somebody you sit down and say his production is from A, B, C, D progressing to Z, the denouement. He can take it from F and come back to A and go to G and so on...
NORBERT: Even that style has a definition, eclecticism
JAHMAN: That's what I'm saying, if you understand that, that's where the artist is coming from, then you will be able to better appreciate the work.
NORBERT: That brings me to this question: what is the level of awareness and qualification of most critics in Nigeria. Because I do not think after seeing a film, I will ask the director anything...
JAHMAN: No, you don't need to ask.
NORBERT: But if the critic does not understand the theories, or familiar with all the forms and techniques, what kind of critic is that?
JAHMAN: This is what I'm saying and soon, I will still come back to your point.
You can't say that you are doing a Nigerian historical play, and put the standard or the forms, the style and the techniques that the Roman historical theatre demands into operation! You cannot. The moment you do that, you have dislocated that production; you are even abusing the production, because we have different approaches to history.
History to the black man is a very passionate matter because buried in that history is the long history of his being; his very essence; the pride of his race, the meaning of the name he bears today. History to the African is like the skin he wears. So, he is subjective in his judgment of the materials that history throws up. But to the European, he can distance himself from history and be very objective in his treatment of the facts.
Today, Germany can talk big about everything, Hitler is just one distant thing in his mind, a distant burden, but I tell you that an African carries the burden of history perpetually on his conscience. We know of great families and dynasties that have been buried in the abyss of the forgotten just for a simple error of judgment that the forebears made while in office. For instance, a person like Abacha, his descendants will continue to bear the burden of his excessive dictatorial actions for generations to come. He wi8ll forever remain a constant reference in the Nigerian history, as long as Nigeria is existing. In that context how do you apply historical canons of the Roman or the Germans to the Africans or the Nigerians then? You will surely dislocate the dramaturgical experience.
When I talk about talking to the director of aplay or film before writing my critique, I'm not saying necessarily you must talk to the director, I am only saying you need have studied what the person is trying to do. If a man comes out and says I'm doing, or I want to do Agitprops, it has a thematic context, then you are looking at it from another point of view and saying why is he saying so much about government in his play, why is he lamenting how democracy is not working in Nigeria... but that is what he set out to do.
What many critics do is that, they don't even look at all those parameters, they just run away with their own subjective expectations; pass magisterial assessment on what the artist has done and foist their uninformed or ill-informed opinion on the creative work of another person. But I say, If you are not pregnant how do you determine how painful the experience of labour is.
And particularly, in African theatre and other art forms, you need to debrief the artist constantly... much of what the African artist inject into his work are informed by certain ritualistic or spiritual essentials to which he is a participant or had been a participant; sometimes, it is exclusive to him; and you, the critic, are just an outsider. How do you speak to such an experience then when you are a novice on its essences and beings?
Talking about the level of training of the critics in this country, you will know very well that we don't have that in the first place. The reason is that our art studies did not start from that point. The arts school started on the note of that word again... agitprops! They were struggling with the society just to even impress it on an indifferent social ethos that the theatre is something to study; that fine art is something to study; that being functionally educated does not end with being a doctor, lawyer, engineer etc.
The schools at the start were (and largely even now) trying to challenge the position of the society that art is for everybody; that everybody can dance; can paint; can sing! So, why go to school to waste four-five years and huge money to study what every other dunce on the street can do?
You know that there was a time when you dare not tell your parents that you are studying theatre in the university; you risked being disowned or excommunicated from the family. In fact, my father never knew that I was studying theatre, until when I graduated. I had gone in for Sociology and Economics and my dad carried that impression. He never bothered to check; in any case I was not collecting a dime from him. Fortunately, I was doing some works in the theatre already and earning my own money, so I never had to go to him for money. He thought I was doing Economics.
Imagine, the University of Ibadan theatre school was 40 last year (2002), the celebration is still on; and even to date, Professor Adelugba says they are still trying to educate this society that theatre is a course of study! That your child can study Theatre or drama and become a worthy person in life. If you are still struggling with that, where do you have room for criticisms as a study? Those who go in for criticism, they do it as elective courses.
In fact, I remember that in my final year at Ibadan, we were 15 that registered for Dramatic Theory and Literary criticisms. By the time we were graduating, we were only three. And out of the three, one made First Class, two of us were queued at First Class but for a course outside of our department that we were supposed to take but which could not because of the way the exam time-table was arranged. It clashed with our practical exams in Voice and Speech. And you know, that is a compulsory course for a credible theatre graduate.. (laughs).
Indeed, how many theatre schools are training critics?
Now, Fine Artists are complaining that the quality of Fine Art discourse in the papers are not impressive. And I ask them: "how many art historians and critics have you produced from your school who are ready to work in the media". We have about 10 departments of Fine Art, how many of them have produced art historians writing frequently in the papers. In fact, how many of them have their own faculty or department's journal to propagate the ideals of its peculiar scholarship?
It is not easy, sir. It is not easy because no media house even want to employ you in the first place. If not that The Guardian with Ben Tomoloju, started a formal arts desk... (that was after that impressive collection of academics and scholars had flagged off the literary culture in the paper)... and he then trained a generation of arts journalists, writers so to say because many of them were just graduates of liberal arts and sometimes, sciences and related fields. Those are the chaps sustaining the seemingly robust arts and culture journalism in the Nigerian media today... I was trained on the arts desk of the paper, and since then, I have trained some other people who are themselves now arts editors in other newspapers in the country. Go to other media houses, the arts editors were all, or let's for modesty sake, say many of them were from The Guardian. If such a person never worked for The Guardian, he must have at one time or the other written for the paper.
And after it returned from its one-year proscription in 1995, The Guardian decided to go daily with its arts pages, everybody else hopped on the wagon. So we are just copying... we are learning things from each other and today you have a daily page of arts or showbiz in at least, six national dailies. Even the news magazines which were almost scandalously averse to the arts once they get enough of sensational political stories, have in the past few years retained at least, an arts reporter in their fold.
In the past, no one would employ you to write on the arts. It takes far deeper passion by the publisher or the editor to insist he was employing you to write on the arts.
No media house is even ready to open up pages for reports on the arts. They think it is not worthy of serious attention. It won't generate adverts anyway!
Reuben Abati, for instance, is a brilliant critic of the arts but he is operating in an environment that is different from his natural calling. Occasionally, he comes in and does something for us, but you know that he has so much other responsibilities in his own Editorial section. In fact, if you are a great critic and you need to satisfy your professional yearnings, you may have to end up on the campus.
And, how many schools are ready to train the critic? What are the facilities to train critics?... In fact, the Bible for classical dramatic theories and theatre criticism, for instance, is the book famously called Dukor; how many students have seen Dukor? When I was graduating, there were only three in the departmental library and; before we graduated two were stolen...! (laughs). Where are the books to even train the critics?
NORBERT: How do these producers of art work, how do they react to certain criticisms that you have done in the past. Do they see you as a bad person or do they see you as friend or enemy.
JAHMAN: As a matter of fact, I have collected about two dirty slaps (laughs). One at the Jazz 38, when a director just saw me and said "I feel like just killing you, but let me just give you thisas a warning o; the next time I will distort your face'...
NORBERT: And you retaliated?
JAHMAN: Ah, no o! Rather, I found a way to escape from the scene.
The fact is that, the critics and journalists have to be careful about what they write because, what you are writing is very, very long lasting than that work of art. Perhaps it is only Fine Art, Literature, recorded music which originals could be resurrected in the original forms. But not so for theatre, concert and other such performance art, which thrived in momentary-ness. If I'm presenting a play, people must have seen it and gone, but what I have written as a critic would be read hundred years after my departure; or even thousands of years later. And generation who never encountered you and who were never part of the conditions that dictated the creation of the work and as well the tone and shade of your critical opinion might have to issue queries on what you had written. In literary criticisms and theories, isn't that what we are doing today? Interrogating the paradigms that had been set by our forebears?
In my career, I got to that point at which I said, If I make this comment about this man's work, what happens if I'm challenged later, and say "when you were writing this, did you even attempt to find out how he managed to put up the production'?
But then, that's for me. I'm not saying that it is the standard for every practising arts writer. It is a very, very personal choice. And it has to do with my kind of person. I like to work with my conscience, I work within myself, I listen to my own opinion. A friend said I could reason that way because aside being a critic in the newspaper I am also a practising actor, director and producer. That the benefit of the two sides which I am fully involved with informs my passion about how the work got done... Well, maybe; but I have never given that explanation a deep thought.
But to return to your poser on the readiness of the artist to accept critical comments on his work, I shall say that essentially, the society is not prepared. The people are not used to open criticisms and this is part of the fundamental dilemma of development that we face in Africa. Even in our socio-cultural lore, criticism of the ruling class or the affluent was often coded in symbolic languages, cultic signs or in proverbs, gestures, wits etc. This was part of the self-preservation ethos of the society; sometimes, measures to ensure that only few people are availed of the details of such criticisms. And Africans do not have to be apologetic about this. It is an integral part of our cultural being. And it serves so many functions including to ensure preservation of mutual respect and harmonious living in the community. But applied to modern time, the collusion of this African ideas of criticisms and the Western type of open speak, is responsible for the conflict characterised by intolerance that we often witnessed in the modern African state.
And for the artists, because he has produced his works within the ambience of lean resources available to him, he is expecting that whatever you are going to say about his work would be complimentary, so that people can buy it. To him, you, the critic, you are only an extension of the marketing department of his operation!
The best you, the critic, can do is to work according to your own conscience. You know what you are trying to do, and you say it the way you see it.
But the language of criticism is not condemnation. It is not to say that this work is bad. The language of criticism is, 'may be' or 'if he had', things like that. It is not a magisterial proclamation or postulation where you say that work is bad! There is no bad work of art because the creative process that produced that work is informed by certain inspiration, certain mote process that produced that work is informed by certain inspiration, certain motive,tain expectations, certain cognitive structure. Sweat has gone into it; thinking has gone into it, money has gone into it, somebody's being as a person has gone into it
NORBERT: Now, Jahman, can I still call you a critic?
JAHMAN: I have told people that by the virtue of my resolve which I have explained and by virtue of my operative environment, I'm not a critic, but you could say that I write informed opinion or critiques on the arts.
NORBERT: Okay, if you write criticism on art, if you do informed art appreciation... because this word 'criticism', it sounds so negative, and people don't understand. Criticism means appreciating a work of art. This appreciation of work of art, who is it supposed to pay?
You were talking about receiving slaps from two directors, yes because you wrote what will educate the public. Now, you don't want to offend the producer, thereby blocking information for your public. Now, who are you supposed to satisfy? Should there be what is called a balance in critique.
JAHMAN: Just like every journalist, first of all, you write from your conscience, you write for your conscience. Just be sure that what you are saying is according to how you have seen it, how you have perceived it; be true to your conscience; even if the person is your arch enemy or he has just dished you slaps for he last work you did on his work.
I am saying that criticism is not basically evil. It is opinion essentially. If I saw your blue dress and I say that what you are wearing is red, it is my opinion; that is what my mind tells me; that you wearing are red. It may be black to another person, it may be blue to the next person, but as for me, it is red. So, it is a matter of opinion. And the audience like I said had an option to either accept it or reject it.
So, first of all, as a critic, work from your conscience and work for your conscience. Then the target of a critical discourse should necessarily be for the two sides. You should write in a way that the man who has created the art work can learn two or three things about the way you see it as a member of the audience. And the audience too can learn one or two things that they could understand in the work of art from you.
In other words, the critic is more like a medium. A medium between these two extremes -- the audience and the producer of the work. So you should see yourself that way and the only way to see yourself as a balanced medium, a balanced refree, is to work for your conscience. You write the truth the way you have seen them, without being unfair to the artist, without being unfair to the public.
When I talk about the artist's point of view, you see that the question has gone back to you. You try to understand what the artist is trying to do, the environment he is operating in; the audience he is targeting? The last point is very important indeed. If I produce a play for children and you as an adult come there to appreciate my work from the point of view of an adult, have you not done injustice to me, my work and the audience? Yes, you are doing injustice to my work because I did not write or produced the play for you, an adult, I have written for the childre




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Unforgettable: Africa in the world



SUNSTERS SIZZLE IN THE CHILL

Africa blares its rhythms at the world's largest exhibition
By Olaiya 'Subomi
(written in 2002)

Hall 12 was no ordinary hall. That was where the soul of the Hanover 2000 Expo seemed lodged. It was the home of African participants at the global meeting of Art and Science; Environment and Nature.
While other halls hosting other regions of the world swam in cold, turgid features, Hall 12 basked in robust life and evoked deep feelings. Where boxed music entertained in the European and part of Asian halls, live and loud music, performances and rambunctious jives reigned in the Africa Hall.
Hall 12 was conceptualised by the German architect, Michael Radtke who grew up in Tanzania. He earned a special commendation from the Expo organisers for his appropriate management of space to accommodate the diverse nuances and cultural elements of all the countries. 'We tried to merge all the countries into one big entity without injuring their individual identities and cultural pride. We tried to create a universe of big Africa under one roof', Radtke said.
Ostensibly, participants from the other regions most times in the course of every day of the six-month Expo, found themselves thronging Hall 12 repeatedly -- to refresh and savour the abundant life teeming endlessly in the Africa Hall. Picturesquely, the mix of rustic and pulsating rhythm of Africa was effectively recreated in the hall.
Hinyagerwa P. Asheeke, Namibian ambassador to Germany and Chairperson of the Africa Hall Committee had declared at the outset of the Expo in June 2000, that: 'Our aim at EXPO 2000 is to present a continent on the move and to show how we are bridging the gap between tradition and modernity'. The visitor he assured, 'can experience Africa's natural wealth and cultural riches, its manifold roots and history, but also see the innovative concepts that will accompany its journey into the future'.
But whereas Aseeke assured that in the Hall 12, African countries would present state-of-the-art projects -- on the use of renewable sources of energy, futuristic satellite, technology for use in desertification control, new approaches to the conservation of unique areas of natural beauty, cross border concepts on the sustainable use of water -- almost all of the countries seemingly went beyond the thematic bounds to elevate the arts and culture to the fore of their presentation.
Also Aseeke had projected that the Africa Hall would 'be a place where our continent comes alive, as also seen in our cultural programme of which concerts and exhibition, dances and story telling are enthralling visitors of all ages'. And so it came to pass. There was less science but more of art and life.
The trip to the dreamt Africa was symbolically presented in Monique Le Houelleur, a gigantic sculpture executed by an artist from Cote D'Ivoire. The huge (about 15 feet) female figure raised her two hands up as in supplication. The meaning was unambiguous 'the future is in our hands'.
The artist however, said his sculpture expressed 'solidarity' among all nations and people of the continent.
The underlining philosophy of the Africa Hall however, was to re-create and re-present the image of a continent obsessively prejudiced by Western media and; persistently persecuted by the Euro-Western economic institutions. This much was achieved as each country turned out in its best attire. Individually and collectively, they presented the beauties of their land and culture and in doing so, proclaimed that the years of locust was over! Now is the time for aggressive self-assertion and self-regeneration in economic, political, cultural and social spheres.
Hall 12 however, resonated more in the vibrancy of the performing arts. Tens of dance, drama and musical troupes were imported to the Expo ground. Thus a fiesta of the diverse culture of Africa was presented on the two performance stages in the hall as well as at the various other outdoor venues within the vast Expo ground.
Significantly too, most of the countries bogged down by fratricidal wars, ethnic bigotry, hunger, pestilence, political unrest left their trouble back at home. They were at the Expo with smile; bubbling with smile. The Eritrea stand for instance, showed no trace of a country under seemingly intractable stress arising from war with Ethiopia. Sudan created a peaceful world around its little pavillion and; even offered its visitors cups of traditional drinks and sweet.
Yet the most impressive of the Africa's outing at the Hanover 2000 dubbed the biggest so far in the 70-year old history of the Expo project, was the series of individual projects presented in the Africa Hall. The projects according to Zinge, director of the performances at the Expo, were meant to show the intense creative endeavours happening on the continent.
It was to educate the many overzealous western critics who had dubbed Africa, the 'unthinking' continent or said that the Africans are anti-logic and short in profound philosophy, Zinge a German contended.
First of these individual projects is the Car Art From Africa. Esther Mahlangu, the famous female artist from the Transvaal Province in South Africa, had painted a BMW 5251 series, in the traditional art of her Ndebele tribe. Many visitors to the stand were enthralled by the deep sense of aesthetics and the perfect execution of colour schemes.
Old lady Esther said 'I wanted to combine tradition and modern times in my art car'. The Ndebele art is the traditional practice of decorating house walls in harvest season, by women of the Ndebele tribe; just like the Uli art of the Igbo women of Nigeria.
Esther learnt the art from her mother. But she has almost single-handedly launched it on the international circle. Before the Expo outing, she had been engaged by a gallery in Stuttgart, Germany to paint most of the houses in a town. Her engagement by the BMW plant is to enable her contribute to the special BMW series called 'The Art Collection'. Already the series has 15 exhibits accomplished by artists drawn from many countries of the world.
In the course of the opening of the Expo, President Thabo Mbeki led a delegation of South Africans to Esther's exhibit and he showered commendation on the aged artist whom he described as a 'great ambassador of our motherland'.
Few meters away from Mahlangu's BMW is the curious piece of art -- Floating Calabash - an installation by the Nigerian artist, Emeka Udemba. Without the appurtenances of colour lights and the hydro-electric device that powered it to activity, the Floating Calabash looked so ordinary; indeed, like a pool of water littered by some miserable calabashes. Thus most visitors stared at it out of curiousity; some of them, after touring the innards of the hall would sit by the side of the artificial pool of bluish water to perhaps, source energy or peace.
It was hard to decipher the meaning of the installation. But when all its accouterments are activated, Udemba's installation sparkled in a swelter of colours and motions as the calabashes move around the pool of water. They created dynamic sensation as their painted body waltzed to rhythm of the colour lighting. Udemba was born in the South Eastern part of Nigeria and educated in the South Western part. His creative instinct is restive but his imagination is fertile though his themes might appear fleeting.
Most celebrated individual project was the sensational conceptual fashion designs by Senegalese woman, Oumou Sy. Energy deep and intense characterised Oumou's wearable art - a blend of traditional materials and and modern design concepts. The exhibit that almost gorged out the eyes of visitors was a gown with rafia as appliques. It was simple and complicated at the same time. On the catwalk the raffia created a rhythm as they swayed musically with the helm of the dress.
Oumou Sy , 48-year old textile artist and theatre designer producer said she intended making a statement for the 'African rural women as the bringer of life and as provider of survival of her family'. Her designs are bold, expressive and can be outrageous especially, when she delves into conceptual art. An example was a long gown with compact discs as embroideries. She had wanted to adorn the cloth with shining stars but, 'since I cannot take them from the sky, I use the silver CDs. This is easier for me, and at the same time it pays tribute to the Cybercafes throughout the world'.
Oumou, who was discouraged from attending school by her father on the excuse that western education would destroy her creativity, is indeed credited with having initiated the first Internet Café in West Africa when she created the 'Cyber Dress' concept -- a composition that adapts CDs to wearable materials. Cyber fashion, she says 'reflects the cultural and ethnic mix that the Internet enables... for the Net gives people the opportunity to set off on virtual journeys throughout the world'.
The other celebrated artist in the Hall 12 was the activist South African woman, Gcina Mhlophe. Through story telling, Gcina administers therapy on the poor, the distressed, the depressed and the deprived. She energises the otherwise docile people to rise up and fight for their rights. When she started her art in the heat of Apartheid in South Africa, she ran foul of the authorities many times. She was haunted, tortured and forced to flee. But the repressive instrument of persecution could not stop her heavy, sensuous voice from activating the consciousness of her listeners to challenge the status quo.
She began at 17 and now at 42, the fire in Gcina's voice and the militancy in her stage work have not wained. On the Hanover Expo stage, the story teller tantalised a full house with her swelter of motifs and parables with which she touched the conscience of leaders and the sensibility of the led. Alone on stage, energetic, forceful and expressive Gcina did the work of five other artists at the same time - she sang, danced, chanted, mimed and enlisted the participation of her audience. She also teased their libidinous instinct through the movement of her waist to syncopated percussion.
Further down in the south of the Africa Hall had been mounted a marvel. A house constructed with cans of beverages. The 'Tin Can Restaurant' was the idea of Michael Hones. He said he wanted to pay homage to services rendered by the can, which most people having satisfied their thirst often threw away carelessly. He thought to create wealth from the waste. Piling the empty can on one another must be an ardous task. Sure?
Hones said: 'Actually, this is all very simple. We line up the tin cans in long rows with wire, and then they are piled up on each other and, again with the aid of wire, tied together. And hey presto, there is the wall. You just need four of these walls plus a a roof made out of corrugated iron, and you have a tin can house'. Hones a mechanical engineer, developed his recycling concept in Lesotho. He now has a factory in Lesotho and has been building for many clients since then.
Sitting in a strategic corner of the Africa Hall was a baby of the foremost African stateman, Nelson Rohilala Mandela. A huge pavillion indeed, it had the character of an installation with movie like motif. On approach, the visitors had the impression he was walking into a huge movie screen with the big man looking down at the visitor. Pasted on his chest cavity, are five kids of multi-racial origin. It seemed the big man spotting an invocative smile was poring into the hearts of the visitor; asking for a little help to brighten the today and future of the unfortunate African children.
The pavillion of the Nelson Mandela's Children's Fund is colourful; manifesting the brilliant, innocent life of children. The appeal is that the older folks should not endanger the future of the leaders of tomorrow.
Initiated in 1994, the Fund was inspired by an experience Mandela had shortly before the democratic election that ushered him in as the first president of post-apartheid South Africa.
While leaving a luxury hotel in Cape Town, shortly after a political meeting, recounted Mandela, "A group of children came running towards my car. They were street children who looked frozen and hungry. In this night, I could have given them some money, saved my conscience and driven home. But I was simply unable to forget these young and yet so sorely afflicted faces".
That night Mandela couldn't sleep as the images of the deprived kids haunted him. Idea of the |Nelson Mandela's Children Fund was born that night. It was eventually launched with the objectives of raising money to cater for such needy children. The objective was expanded to cater not only for the street kids but also other disadvantaged youths such as orphans and the handicapped. At the outset, Mandela donated over a third of his annual salary to the cause and this encouraged numerous other donors. Over 700 local and international organisations now support the institution.
Education and training in vocational studies take the lion share of the donations, but the ultimate aim is to alleviate the rampant unemployment among youths on the continent. Also, abused youths such as rape victims, psychologically traumatised by careless parents or guardians as well as health projects benefit from the Fund.
At the Expo, the Mandela gift to youths was specially celebrated with the United Nation's Secretary General, the Ghanaian Kofi Annan proclaiming that the project would be formally presented to the UN General Assembly to draw further assistance.
Six months into the Expo, the attendants at the Fund's stand claimed that they raised over a million Deutsch Mark in addition to recording thousands of commitment by visitors from many countries of the world.
Africa was a sonorous song at the Hanover Expo but its attitude to the progressive theme of the project -- Humanity and Nature - was suspect. While every other continent played to dictate of the theme, Africa adopted an escapist stand. The African participants decided to perspectives the theme from a mercantilist angle.
They displayed new technology projects from their individual countries quite alright, but much of the transactions that went on in the various pavillions was matter of buying and selling. This was contrary to the Expo regulations that the exhibits should not be traded while the Expo lasted.
Victor Awa, a Nigerian culture worker pursuing a doctorate degree in History in Magdeburg, Germany who visited the Hall 12, quipped that the African nations had wisely resolved to exploit the Expo to tackle the magnificent burden of hunger and wants that had weaken their appetite and ambition for scientific and technological advancement.




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Wednesday, July 11, 2007



ARt & OUTrage 4



Oh Come Let's Pray
BY JAHMAN ANIKULAPO
(Love notes to Bromillow Jack, the Minister)
Oh Spirit of our Being, you know that even as we kneel before you for this rite, we bleed from the wound of disgust and distress, we are bloodied from the hacking of Awodi who cannot lift the chick but would rather peck life out of our souls, we anguish on our endless spin in the turbine of hopelessness, we anger in our hapless state, we are battered by years of empty promises, shallow boasts and flatulent talks, we are shattered by the dislocations of our dreams to see our fortune and profile bettered by these men of meanful means whom we have been lucky to have in the driver's seat of our cultural house.
Oh Spirit of our Being, we hasten to confess that this prayer, we are about is not new to your divine hearing, that you have been acquainted with it for so many years, that you are indeed, bored stiff by our endless struggle, grumble and wobble, that you are in fact, tired of hearing same old dreams and hopes pushed into your majestic hearing over and over again. But we plead that you still hear these words of exaltation.
Oh Spirit of our Being, guide Baba Agba that the softer part of his heart will open wide to take in the timeless wisdom that only an apa will sell the fountain of his spiritual being to merchants of casino, lottery and the excessive taste of the golfer. Prod Baba Agba to wake up on the right side of Mama Skolie and declare in his romantic guttural voice “no way, we are no more selling”. Let him put to shame the peddlers of commerce who want to deprive us the source of our livelihood. Charge his voluptuous frame to action so he would call the famous Lagbaja or Tameduns or Lakasegbes behind this anti-intellect move. Inspire his crown head to live up to his name and give the oppressed victory, the distressed hope, the deprived fulfillment.
Oh Spirit of our Being, numb Baba Agba's memory to recall 27 years ago when he mounted global throne as host of eminent men of power and intellect during the famous cultural fiesta. Fill him with tonic of remembrance to realise his first claim to eminence and worldly grace was that fiesta of spiritual renaissance. Remind him, that this same house of culture that his selfish hawk aides want to pawn at altar of naira and kobo served his needs and desire at that world meet.
Oh Spirit of our Being, nudge Baba Agba to wake up September 14, the Creativity Day, on the joyful side and proclaim “Here, my gift to my un-rewarded toiling protectors of our father's wealth, the apex home of legacy is not befitting of the thieving claws of the anti-culture men”. Or let him be stirred awake from his vast waterbed on World Tourism Day, as he did last year and sing “Our culture is the only authentic wealth we have, we shall not undermine it through senseless profiteering”. Fill him with wisdom to consider so many other options available to bale out the depressed edifice at Iganmu.
Oh Spirit of our Being, this note in our prayer is most desired, so hearken to it in earnest. Prompt Baba Agba to rescue us from the claws of Mama Agbani, the matron into whose care he has dumped us like orphans of no status. Mollify him to deliver us from this abyss of hopelessness into which Mama Agbani has cast us. Let his eyes clear that dreams which for long had been dead in this house has been re-killed by the aging matron who shares passion for dark vision with the deadly man of yesteryears that basha-ed our collective being to almost in-existence. Inspire him to gird his flowing robe of empathy for our hapless case and throw Mama Agbani into the pond from where he picked her.
Oh Spirit of our Being, let Baba Agba realise that only men of vision, mission, passion, and intellection can hold the forte in the house of culture where dreamers, visionaries, missioners and intellectuals give meanings to the many mysteries of our checkered existence and lay foundations for our collective survival.
— Jahman Anikulapo




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ARt & OUTrage 3



For Beauties, They Sacrifice Arts
BY JAHMAN ANIKULAPO
HERE is a proposal. And it comes highly recommended by common sense; seconded by patriotism.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the governments of Cross River and Rivers States should be counseled (or compelled) to release whatever is left of the money they had earmarked for the Miss World Beauty Pageant, as initial deposit for the National Endowment Fund for the Arts. In doing that, they should pull along all the financial supporters, corporate and individual, of the pageant.
And let no one come up with that incredulous excuse that the “Nigerian government has no financial commitment to the Miss World project”! That's too cheap an explanation.
Why the proposal?
The beauty pageant with its package of pleasures brought baggage of pains to a good chunk of the nation’s art and culture workers. Though it did this unwittingly, it visited its discomfort in an uncanny way.
Particularly emotive in this matter, is the fact that the soul of the primal feast of arts, the National Festival of Arts and Culture, NAFEST, was largely mortgaged so the beauty show could breath.
For the comfort of the beauties, the bulk of Nigerian youths in various disciplines of the arts who participated in the 2002 edition of the festival last month in Port Harcourt, suffered discomfort.
While the queens slept in choice hospitality property, the artistes found a home in the open yards of the Integrated Cultural Centre in Port Harcourt, with its inadequate conveniences, courtesy the wisdom of the hosts. It was pathetic!
Rivers State Government which volunteered to host the festival claimed it was broke and could not assist the festival's national secretariat in providing a befitting welfare facilities for the legion of contingents from 24 states of the country.
The state's culture officers in various interviews confided in journalists that the government was conserving fund for the state's leg of the Miss World. Said one “You know this is the Culture Minister's homestate as well as that of Agbani Darego, the reigning queen, so we cannot afford to perform lower than it is expected. That is why we are reserving all our energy and resources for that pageant”.
Culture commissioner, for the state, youthful Emma Deyaah offered a similar explanation on why it was even impossible for the state to invest adequately in publicity that would have ensured good turn-out of the city's folks at the 10-day festival.
Standing few meters from where majority of the artists, many of them about his age and some older than him, the commissioner waived off further questions on what was apparently a general disinterest by the state government on the welfare of the artists and plight of the festival organisers.
“We invited the people with the little resources voted for the festival, but we cannot go and bring them from their houses if they don't want to come”. Said the commissioner when told of the dismal attendance of the city's folks — who normally are great fans of artistic endeavours — at the opening ceremony and subsequent events of the festival.
Accommodation for the hundreds of artist-delegates was at the National Youth Service camp which “is too far, dirty and lack light, water, functioning toilets and is mosquito-infested. In fact, it is not habitable for a decent person”, complained director of one of the state's contingents. She expressed disappointment in the attitude of the River's government… “they are behaving as if they don't know what hosting the festival entails before picking it up.
“In the past, the hosting state always ensured that at least the delegates, the artists have good accommodation even if they couldn't help in other ways”.
“All they say is they are short of fund because they still have to host the Miss World… And this is supposed to be the home state of the Minister. It’s a shame”, chipped in another director.
River's State seemed not to have read the script well before jumping on the festival's stage. It thus left the organisers high in hope but dry in purse even though it drummed its chest for having being magnanimous enough to accept hosting revival of the national feast that had gone into comma since 1998.
The state's failings were not helped by the attitude of its culture bureaucrats. The state's council for arts and culture it was obvious, had no real role to play in the operation of the festival as its head Arthur Pepple appeared helpless most of the time. According to an official of the council, the council director was not even in the caucus of the state's committee for the hosting of the festival.
A senior culture worker and journalist added a different dimension: “Maybe because the Minister is from this state, they just with the governor, took things at high level and forgot the leg-men, which ought to have been led by the state's council for arts. I am not sure that the commissioner himself knows much about what is going on in the festival”.
The Culture and Tourism Minister on its own, had spent the whole year on one dream: hosting the Miss World. It appeared no other song could get the ministry to move. For the pageant, several trips had been made abroad to market the pageant with the Minister as the chief speaker…. It happened in London, in Berlin…
The ministry could not come up with any reserve for the national festival as could be gleaned from the lean presence of its operatives. Out of the nine other (apart from the NCAC) parastatals in the ministry, only three could attend the festival; and they probably were facilitated to Port Harcourt by the NCAC itself. The rest mostly from Lagos in contrast to what used to obtain, were absent.
The fact is, throughout the year, they have not been receiving their due votes. Many of them have had to cancel schedule programmes. Things have ground to silence in the culture sector. There is no money, says the ministry, but each time, there is a tourism function abroad, its officials is there to trumpet Miss World and Nigeria's stake in the pageant.
Yet it is repeatedly claimed that the Nigerian government has no hand in sponsorship of the pageant… “it is purely a private initiative”, claimed government officials. Such implausibility.
Emma Arinze head of the National Council for Arts and Culture and Festival Director claimed “this is the first NAFEST that will be run entirely on support from private sector, we didn't get a kobo from the government”. He wanted the idea to sink as perhaps the new direction that the festival secretariat would be looking in subsequent editions, and he proceeded to reel out the backers such as TotalFinaelf, Niger Delta Development Commission, African Continental bank, MTN, United bank for Africa, Chisco Transport among others.
But it is improbable that a cultural project that is not-for-profit can do entirely without governmental support. Especially when it addresses 'culture of dialogue' —a theme that is most imperative to current national quest — the government has both statutory duty and moral obligation to invest in the festival. Otherwise, private sponsorship of all the entire aspects of the festival could inadvertently lead to anarchy of intent, in which case, the sponsor subverts the direction of the piper and his tune.
And in spite of the long list by Arinze, it was certain that the corporate bodies gave supports more in kind; not much in terms of the real fund needed to run a festival of that magnitude.
Those that ought to have really bankrolled the festival, were busy running after Miss World, a private initiative smartly packaged as a national project.
The 16th NAFEST held November 2 to 9, a clear two weeks before the world beauty queens ventured on these shores. It brought the citizens, artistes, politicians, professionals from diverse fields in the economy, from 24 states together to explore the theme Celebrating The Culture of Peace, Dialogue and Reconciliation.
The theme is deliberately chosen to “draw attention to the need to institutionalise tolerance for differing opinions and attitudes in the body polity”, said Boma Bromillow-Jack, the Culture and Tourism Minister and chief host of the festival, who added “Such a culture of tolerance is expected to serve as effective mobilisation towards enshrining peace and national growth”.
Interesting enough, in its history, it was about the first time that the festival had gone back to its very foundation; the very essence of its beginning as a platform for re-knitting the over-stretched fabric of unity of the Nigerian union.

THE festival had begun in 1970, as an initiative of a group of young Nigerian culture workers and intelligentsia who, moved by a patriotic zeal, thought that the pains, sorrows and tensions unleashed on the national psyche by the 30-month (1967-1970) Civil War could be assuaged through the balm of artistic expression steeped in the cultural wealth of the divergent peoples of the country.
At this time, Nigeria (less than a decade old) was one house on a sadistic self-destruct mission. Its soul had been battered and its body on the verge of dismemberment. A thick cloud of bloody drama veiled its psyche. There was no sign of hope for its continuation as one united nation. And those who mediated in the crisis were almost resolved that even if a new peace fabric was sewn for the embattled country, it would soon be worn out.
It was in this huge sea of hopelessness and dementia that the group including Maitama Sule, Segun Olusola, Erhabor Emokpae, Paul Uriel Worika and a host of others under the aegis of Nigeria Art Society conceived the idea of a feast of artistic and cultural expressions. They discovered that though the centre could no longer hold and anger reigned in the hearts of one-time friends and brothers, tongues could still spare time for songs and feet embrace the rhythms of life. Through culture the ember of anger could be doused, they resolved.
In 1970, the very first all Nigerian festival of arts was staged in Lagos primarily to accomplish the mission of consolidating the end of the civil war on culture platform. The message was simple: “Let’s be friends again. Let us bury our differences, drop our weapons, let us celebrate the virtues that bind us — our dances, music costumes, rites, masks, and cultural ideas”, according to Olusola at the colloquium event of NAFEST 2002.
For note, there had been precursors to the 1970 festival that was specific on unification of the various components of the nation.
“The festival has its root in the various local festivals. The All-Nigeria Festival of Arts, which in its early stage was limited to visual arts — paintings, crafts, sculpture, pottery — was however, its forerunner the scope of participation was also limited to the few schools and colleges where art was taught. The trend and scope were expanded leading to a spectacular festival in 1947 in which many schools and colleges participated. The transformation in its feature was manifested in its growth to encompass other sectors of Nigerian society beyond educational institutions...
“It was in 1970 that the first Nigerian Festival of Arts was actually staged in Lagos. The fourth edition was held in 1974 as a rehearsal for the 2nd World Black Festival of Arts and Culture (Festac 77) held in 1977”, stated NAFEST 90 — National Creativity Fair (Special Publication).
Also as part of its history, Nigeria’s first ever National Festival Week was organised in Lagos from April 28 to May 1, 1965 and it featured drama, folk music, folk opera and traditional dances. The objective no doubt, was to harvest the best of materials from all over the country that could represent Nigeria of the first Negro Art Festival in Dakar, Senegal, the precursor of FESTAC 77.
It is instructive that majority of the members of the Nigeria Art Society that mounted the 1970 festival were key operatives in the Nigerian contingent to the Dakar festival and they later played major roles in the FESTAC.
In conception and execution, the NAFEST 2002 in Port Harcourt therefore reenacted the very fundamental objectives of the national feast particularly the 1970's feast of unity. Arinze, expatiated on the theme as deliberately chosen to mollify the newfound culture of conflicts and violence that is engulfing the nation.
And in ambience of operation, Port Harcourt '02 came up at this time the pulse of the nation jigs to the rhythm of national disintegration, when the various components are stocking arsenals, materially and otherwise, to prosecute certain wars lodged in the deep recesses of their psyche and brawn.

INEXPLICABLY, it is this ritual of mending cracks in the national fabric, which the government and their friends in the corporate market decided to shun.
They preferred the razzmatazz of the catwalks to the engaging rhythms and dances steeped in the very core of their cultural being. They loved the pretty, slim-sony, leggy faces that stirred their libido than the heavily clad performers in intricate steps that would task their cerebrum.
Indeed, the morbid testimonials of the Nigerian political elite as a set of philistine who live more in their brawn than the brain have been affirmed by the contest for priority between the national festival and the beauty pageant. But the arts have always had to contend with even more profane priorities in the scale of preference of successive governments.
For instance, the arts and culture have always had to trail behind sports and state banquets in budgetary allocations and government supports.
It had been so all through the military regimes. And the Fourth Republic chaired by the very man who in many forums acknowledged the mileage that FESTAC achieved in up-swinging Nigeria’s image globally as a potential superpower in Africa, is irredeemably committed to not only stifle growth but ruin the very little resources left to the culture sector.
Year 2002, there was almost zero allocation to the sector. And in the 2003 proposed budget, there is no capital allocation for the Culture and Tourism sector.
But wasn’t the same Federal government saying few weeks back, that Tourism has, for the first time, been lifted to join the league of the favoured?
Tourism, Culture's spouse in the current ministerial wedlock, was mentioned as one of the six priority areas that the 2003 budget would favour! Yet, in same budget proposal, there is no plan for capital investment in Tourism!
It is attractive to spin sarcasm that the listing of Tourism among the six key sectors was something whispered to the President as pillow talk. Recall that the First Lady has since assumed role as 'Mama Tourism'. And as a precedent, Baba had September last year, shocked his critics when on occasion of the World Tourism Day he broadcast a speech. It was the very first time; an epoch indeed. Never mind that the speech was just a collection of the usual words without a heart.
Oh yeah, it could be possible that the listing of Tourism in the league of six, was inspired by the reality of the impending Miss World Beauty Pageant, which one of the President’s senior cultural bureaucrats told a bewildered CNN journalist at a tourism show in Berlin, was “the greatest cultural achievement so far for Nigeria.”
This might be true anyway.
The Miss World crown sure dwarfs Wole Soyinka’s 1986 Nobel prize in Literature; Achebe’s string of innumerable awards for the sheer brilliance of his brain products as well as the many literary and honourary awards that artists and members of the intellectual class have earned on the strength of their talents and skills — to the glory of their fatherland.




posted by EniOlorunda at 12:36 PM 0 comments links to this post  




ARt & OUTrage 2



A Louis Armstrong’s Blues For Tinubu
By Jahman Anikulapo
PRIVILEGED by circumstances last Saturday to sit directly behind Senator Bola Tinubu and gazing straight into his back-head, certain thoughts danced round ones consciousness. fortunately the engagement with inner thoughts was oiled by the cocktail of luring Louis Armstrong’s master numbers streaming from the skilled hands and guts of the Jazz ambassador trio currently touring some states of Africa.
Provoking the current congress in the innermost was indeed the feast of choice back-leads resting just few metres away from one’s gaze. These include that of from extreme left. Kofoworola Bucknor Akerele, the former broadcaster turned politician (deputy governor of Lagos State); Howard Jeter, (the American ambassador and host of the night); Ahmed Tinubu, the achieving Governor of Lagos, and his delectable wife Remi initiator of the wave making chirty, New Era Foundation; Chief Segun Olusola, the culture activist and art patron and; Professor John Pepper Clark, the erudic literary scholar, playwright, poet and one of the best in the world.
The back-heads came in varied dimensions representing one, the innumerable varieties of the Lagos nay Nigerian culture intellectualism. Ostensibly, the curious irony of Governor Tinubu’s position in that gathering came flooding into ones though. Just like the cruel metaphor of a man sitting by a keg of palm-wine and still thirsting on a thirsty man dumped in a river and still bogged by parched throat. This parable had earlier article, on the recently concluded Black Heritage Festival. It was a preview published last month in the Guardian.
Here was Ahmed Tinubu, the political and civil rights activist who was ushered into office as the second Executive Civilian Governor of Lagos State through a package of artistic and cultural feast recall the art exhibition at Didi Museum. Victoria Island that featured works of Sanya Ojikutu, the now London based former cartoon editor of Fame weekly magazine and Hilda Oti; and the news making premiere of Saworoide, the metaphor riddled film by Mainframe led by Tunde Kelani and Tunde Adegbola. There were pockets of other artistic parties concerts by various musicians, drama and dance pieces by many group at the National Theatre and other parts of the state.
No doubt. Senator Tinubu rode to office on the love, warmth and sweat of art and culture community. And it was just good that he himself graced many of the events and, had been privilege in the past to acknowledge same.
This was why the irony of last Saturday should be brought to attention of the beloved governor, whose star is currently at full glow and will, by providence, never dimmed as a Deliverer that the people of Lagos, daily harangued by traffice congestion power outages, irregular water supply and general insecurity need.
In that same gathering of guests of Ambassador Howard Jeter were among other artists and culture workers.
Steve Rhodes, the patriach of Television broadcasting and founder of the internationally acclaimed Steve Rhodes Voices, SRV that has trained a whole generation of Nigerian youths in music making and performances.
•Newton Jibunoh, the businessman who however, endowed one of the most priceless legacies for the arts the Didi Museum in Lagos;
Gbenga Sonuga, the resourceful culture
administrator, who was pioneer director of Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture, and in whose tenure the state got promoted to its status as culture capital of Nigeria through a visionary and energetic culture of programming;
•Sylvia Bello and Funke Akinyanju two women of substance who unlike socialites in their class, spend their extra time in the service of the arts through their Masoma foundation that has succeeded in stamping Nigerian art and culture on American consciousness.
•Tunde Kuboye, the electronic engineer turned band leader, who since 1975 has been indoctrinating Nigerian youths in the values and virtues of their artists culture legacy through his Jazz 38 International Centre for the Arts, Lagos as well as other NGOS.
•Peju Sonuga (formerly Sodieinde), one of the best costume and make-up artists in Africa.
•Gloria Rhodes, a compulsive singer of international glory.
•Kayode Olajide, one of the very rare youthful generation of musicians, putting Nigerian folk resources in the context of modern cultural discourse;
•Tolu Ajayi, the novelist, poet, physician and pioneer chairman of Lagos chapter of Association of Nigerian Authors.
•Wale Okediran, also a physician, novelist, the secretary general of the National association of Nigerian Authors.
•Soul Irabor, the broadcaster who has spent active time promoting and supporting indigenous youthful talents;
•Theo Alfreds, founding president of the Association of West African Young Writers, a body that has for almost a decade concentrated on promoting literature and reading culture in the grassroots, and among secondary school pupils.
Also in that gathering savouring the rich repertoire of Louis Armstrong many decades after his death, was a club of arts and culture communicators, promoters and supporters. among others.
Now the irony for Governor Tinubu came in varied dimensions. And it provokes many questions.
Did the event for instance, nudge the Active governor that he is indeed presiding over the cultural and artistic capital of Nigeria (and the whole of Africa, because no other city, not even Jo’burg, Dakar and Abidjan three most hyped art cities in Africa - is as robust and busy as Lagos)?
Also, was it possible for the governor to reflect on how much he has spread the goodies of his ‘Active’ ness to affect the lives of the distinguished artists and culture workers. Most of them have spent decades pushing their dreams and accomplishing task and earning both local and international honour without government sponsored endowment fund for the arts, functioning cultural policy, academy for the arts.. among other desired facilities.
Was it indeed possible for beloved Governor Tinubu to discover that his well acknowledged generous sharing of the democratic divids has failed to percolate to the various industries within the arts and culture community, in spite of fact that the vocational groups played roles in giving the former NADECO chieftain, Tinubu a heroic inauguration into officer?
Particularly and significantly, did the just conduct while it ran and after, flash across Governor Tinubu’s mind as Armstrong’s blues lulled him to reflection in that romantic setting of Ambassador Jeter’s palatial residence, last Saturday?
If the BHF came to his mind, was it possible for his excellency to his mind, was it possible for his excellency to ask: But where were all these distinguished artists and culture workers resident in Lagos when my government hosted blacks in Diaspora less than a month ago?...
There are various reason why these people were absent at the festival, but first, a quick cut.
The fact of presence of these people at the American embassy even is only an affirmation that the foreign agencies and diplomatic missions have become, as a critic once observed, the effective ministry of arts and culture in the country. The German Cultural Centre (Goethe Institut), French Cultural Centre, Italian Cultural Centre, former United States Information service (USIS) (now Public Affairs Department of American Embassy) as well as culture departments of embassies of of Russian. Japanese, Chinese, South African... have always rescued the inept culture bureaucracy in the country.
They have offered succour and support where the Nigerian governments over the decades, and in all the tiers, have always failed their own artists and culture workers.
Every weekend, the community of active arts and culture workers and patrons troop to the missions located on various parts of Lagos Island, to be part or guest of one art/culture event or the other, Sample this brief list.
•Three Saturdays ago, visual artists and patrons were at the Goethe Institue at the opening of Women and War, an exhibition by the International Red Cross.
•Every weekend, since beginning of the year, hundreds of Lagos youths and members of the art community are holed up at the French Cultural Centre. Last Saturday, they began the feast at 5pm, savouring Adewale Ayuba’s music, then watched a film till 10 pm before returning to their various homes. Some people left straight for the Jazz concert at the American ambassador’s where they encountered Governor Tinubu.
•Testerday, a good chunk of the crowd was at the French Centre for the World Music Day with about 10 band from Nigeria and neighbouring countries in performance.
•Today, another good chunk of the crowd will be at the residence of Italian Ambassador to feast on Italian classical music...
this is the way it is every weekend, and sometime almost every day, especially at the French Cultural Centre.
Lagos has a department of culture. It has existed for almost two decades. What does it offer the people of Lagos beyond entertaining state’s guests and officials at functions such as the Black Heritage Festival.
it was only in the past that the state’s arts council shot Lagos to the leading position as capital centre of Nigerian culture. Recall the 1988 National festival of Arts and Culture which Lagos through its council, hosted. It almost rivaled the grand fiesta, Second World Festival of Art and Culture, FESTAC in 1977.
One of the reasons why Lagos seemingly shut out the vibrant arts and culture community (which it is privileged to house) during the Black Heritage fesitval, was no doubt, the overzealousness of its culture bureaucracy which seems to have a pathological aversion to intellectual dimension to programming; as well as an inexplicable reluctance to open its bossom to embrace contributions from more knowledgeable.
it was no surprise that when Lagos had opportunity to host the world as the BHF purported to do, it only succeeded, except at the closing Gala nite, in entertaining members of Governor Tinubu’s cabinet, their families and friends, with the twenty something people that from the Dispora.
Where were the real movers of the culture scene of Lagos, who apart from the crowd at the Ambassador Jeter’s even also include accomplished artists as the Bruce Onabrakpeyas. Yussuf Grillos, Cyprian Ekwensis, Chris Ajilos, Victor Oliayas and many more, who have each erected a sort of monument or institution in the peculiar guests of Lagos, who being intellectuals themselves, would have perceived the Slave Route project that fundamentalised the BHF beyond the eventual ‘owambe’ colouration it had.
It will interest the governor to know that the very morning that the Black Heritage Pilgrims from the diaspora were converging in Badagry, a group of distinguished Nigerian art, culture scholars, administrators and activists were leaving the former slave town. they had been there for four days as part of a culure administration workshop initiated by the International Centre for the Arts, Lagos and facilitate by the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria, ASCON>
Their mission was to fashion out a new administrative cum management strategy that could advance the cultural and touristic resources of the country - the very basic objective of the Black Heritage Festival.
Now the governor should ask his men - the conveners of the Black Heritage Festival - why it was impossible to have enlisted participation of the main men of Nigerian artistic life in the festival. Among the men were:
•Prof. Uche Okeke, foremost painter, culture ideologue and founder of Asele Institute, Nimo, Anambra State:
•Demas Nwoko, architect and founder of the New Culture Studio, Ibadan, and Idumuje, Delta State;
•Dr Bashir Ikara, well acknowledge culture - scholar and ideologue;
•Frank Aig-Imoukhuede, former federal director of culture who has authored most of the developmental projects of Nigerian culture;
•Dan Awodoye aka Mr. Culture, a key menber of the first generation of culture administrators in Nigeria;
•Charles Gomyok, a former federal director of culture, now head of Nigerian Institute Cultural Orientatation, NICO, among others.
In fact, Governor tinubu and his BHF men should have a review of the festival on the WTAR radio, Chicago and various others American publications and web-sites to which some of the BHF pilgrims have since relayed their experiences. Beyond the “warm reception” and “great party” descriptions, none of them seems to recollect any tangible intellectual ideas he took away from the event. One couldn’t even remember theme of the ‘Economic Forum.’
Now, this particular note for the adorable Governor Ahmed Tinubu: It is time to:
• democratise activities of the states’ arts and culture department:
• imbue it with intellectual capacitors, which in the past produce Abinibi (the culture journal that rivaled Nigeria Magazine in the 80s through 90s) as well as the monumental Lagos state Life and Culture, a voluminous book that is found in some key libraries around the world;
• embrace other contributions in programming beyond the inevitable myopic visions of the bureaucrats in the civil service and;
• deregulate the culture bureaucracy and cure it of itys ‘airport dancer’ mentality and; re-launch Lagos as the authentic culture capital of Nigeria and Africa in same status as America’s New York and Britain’s Brixton.




posted by EniOlorunda at 12:25 PM 0 comments links to this post  




ARt & OUTrage



Niteshift Coliseum As A Song For Leadership
BY JAHMAN ANIKULAPO

(written 2003)
THE day the prime entertainment centre, Niteshift Coliseum marked its 15th year of operations, the politicians invaded its shimmering bosom and turned it into a mini-political summit hall.
Three state governors — Bola Tinubu, Lagos; Segun Osoba, Ogun; Orji Kalu, Abia — were physically present. There was the Lagos deputy governor, Femi Pedro and, a representative of Kogi State governor. Chief Press Secretary to the Vice President Chris Mammah brought goodwill from his boss, Atiku Abubakar.
There was Bode Olajumoke, the PDP chieftain; Adeniji Adele, an ANPP stalwart; Olorunnimbe Mamora, Speaker of Lagos House of Assembly; Tokunbo Afikuyomi, an Alliance for Democracy senator and a whole clan of other no less notable politicians and aspirants. They all came in their individual affluence and influence. They carried their aspirations in their massive robes and subtly impressed it in the audience that 'we sef deh here o'.
They came to ‘shine their eyes’. Well, The Coliseum was a ground for them to register their presence on the political turf with the Nigerian public. They knew that and they bore the burden of their ambition in their individual carriage and body language.
The seriousness of the occasion is perhaps borne in the submission of Governor Kalu who reportedly declared that he recognised the importance of being present at the event that he had to charter a flight just to ensure that he was at the occasion. Evidence of the pressure he left behind at home probably made him to leave the event before the proceedings peaked.
The Vice President, according to organisers of the event, regretted that he had another function that prevented him from attending the all-important event. He was away in Port Harcourt where the PDP was flagging off its the South South Zone's Presidential campaigns for the 2003 elections.
All the same, his heart was at the event even as he sweated it out in the sun of Garden City to convince the people why they have to keep faith with the Obasanjo-Atiku ticket.
Nevertheless, the vice president had such a formidable delegation to stand in for him.
Governor Tinubu was afraid of missing the juicy parts of the event that he sent his deputy and almost a third of his cabinet as an advance team. It was rumoured and in fact, reported in a daily that the governor (and his (eventual) fellow Coliseum-pilgrims), had to rush old man Abraham Adesanya to truncate a meeting of key Lagos politicians at the Yoruba leader's home, just so they could attend the party at the Coliseum. Quite generous of Tinubu, after all, he was the hosting governor.
These politicians, they all came to share of the success of a dream of just one Nigerian —Ken Calebs Olumese, Guv'nor of the Niteshift Coliseum. They validated the institution which the man through dint of envisioning, hardwork, perseverance and commitment had dreamt from his teen years and accomplished almost five decades after.
These incredible politicians, they gave credence to the fact that dreams can be dreamt and lived in this environment in spite of the stifling air around progressive ideation. And yet they have almost through their words and actions, branded dream and progressive visioning impossibilities
These impermeable politicians who have been ceaselessly blame-washed for their inability to dream for their people, and yet have manifested, by their policies and mindset, as incapable of responding to the yearns of their people they profess to serve.
These politicians, leaders who have been slab for failing continuously to inspire their followers.
These curious politicians who have been perceived as philistine in their consciousness that they are afraid of things of the intellect; scared to embrace beauty; too self-indulgent in vague conception of progress, that they cannot see the import of cultural development in the quest for social and economic growth.
These perfunctory leaders who are too pre-occupied with counting as, their achievement, the obvious tangible needs — how many roads, how many electricity poles, how many loaf of bread, how many this, how many that — that they cannot think of the intangibles.
Simplistic leaders who cannot perspectivise purposeful governance from the angle of catering for the spiritual and intellectual needs of their people by investing in projects that would help them to imbibe self-esteem, self-belief, self-confidence in their own history as a people and the greatness of their heritage as participants in the global cultural discourse and polity.
Overtly materialistic leaders who cannot see that cultural self-esteem is the foundation of any people's effective participation in the scary West-invented project called Globalisation.
These politicians, these leaders, they came to swim in the glorious dawning of a harvest which Calebs-Olumese envisioned, dreamed, tilled and now is reaping.
When the politicians had the chance to speak on the occasion, each of them rained praises on Calebs-Olumese's deeds. They loved his gut, his spirit of daring; his adventurist sensibility. His feat marveled them and they could not hide their admiration.
One of the politicians said of Ken Calebs-Olumese: here is one man who rose above all the odds to get his vision and the bountiful reap imprinted on the fabric of history.
Another politician in the house said: here is a man who knows how to use the arts in the ultimate goal of cultivating certain untapped energies and resources in the youths and growing such virtues for the benefit of creating an enlightened tomorrow generation.
The Governors rained poetry on the Guv'nor's deed. They let the prose of admiration flow unhindered from their soul. They sounded genuine. Never mind that cynics would always subject a politician's word to very finicky scrutiny.
The peak of the moment was when the politicians jostled for space on the stage to be part of the cake cutting ceremony. It was a race of their lives. The shorter fellows almost mounted stools just to have a shot at the knife. They wore this ocean-size smiles and ensured that the motley cameras recorded them for whatever effect that would generate.
They cut the cake baked by one man with ingredients he mustered by his own personal will and wit and resources he sourced by his own business acumen and self-mortification.
The politicians danced and wined and dined to the rhythms waxed by a private entrepreneur who has no access whatsoever to state resources officially allocated or officially looted. As the lord of public-servantship merry with Calebs-Olumese, they never seemed to have had a jolt of self-pity or self-questioning or self-blame. They spoke as if they had no inkling of their own antecedents of failings in mining the artistic and cultural wealth of the country.
None of them engaged in self-dialogue: 'how many of this kind of Calebs-Olumese's enterprise have I at any time in my privileged tenure as a leader of my people, or an aspirant leader, conceived or built for the purpose of growing the youths in my homestead?'
None of them in that momentary flash of reflection before they dug the knife into the heart of The Coliseum's statemental cake, self-critiqued the cultural policy of his administration (that is if the government has a policy in the first place), to see how much provision there is for the kind of Calebs-Olumese's enterprise to flourish.
The three states whose governors mounted spectacle of the Ivoirien Magic System's lepa gaou dance steps on The Coliseum's stage that night, have no identifiable policy on culture and the arts.
And they have remained impervious to even freely given counsels on how to positively distract the youths from anti-social behaviours through the various disciplines in the arts.
At the 17th National Festival of Arts and Culture last November, these were the states whose youthful artists slept in the open air of the Integrated Cultural Centre in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, begged for survival stipends and, generally had very poor outings in the various programmes of the event… for the simple reasons that their governors had outrightly refused to finance their participation or short-changed them in terms of providing adequate fund for the venture.
The office of the Vice President, richly represented at The Coliseum's anniversary, supervises the federal government's privatisation drive through the National Privatisation Council headed by Abubakar Atiku.
And it is this same office that came to savour the harvest of Calebs-Olumese that superintended the smuggling (a corruptive act) of the National Theatre into the list of government properties to be sold to the highest bidder.
It is the office that has been reported as been most arrogant and impervious to reasons and cries of the public that it is an error of judgement for any country to sell off its primal symbol of cultural unity.
It is the office that has been publicly rumoured to have a clandestine agenda in the selling of the Theatre edifice because someone high up there is interested in building casino and such other profane facilities on the landmass around the theatre edifice.
It is strange that these political elements with the worst record of service to the arts and culture as well as the collective of the creative workers, seized the feast of The Coliseum's 15th anniversary.
Strange indeed!
But for the Guv'nor of Niteshift Coliseum, Ken Calebs-Olumese, it is a bouquet of deserved appreciation for at least dragging the politicians from the drudgery of their offices and excesses, and make them see that there is another life more deserving than the self-importance air of political offices. This the Guv'nor had set in motion through his periodic Grand House Reception for mostly political leaders in the recent past.




posted by EniOlorunda at 12:19 PM 0 comments links to this post  



Monday, July 09, 2007



Pain beyond words



Godwin Agbroko, the former Editor of African Guardian, The Week, Newswatch, and lately Chairman ThisDay Editorial Board, was brutally killed on Friday (December 22) night, less than two kilometres to The Guardian’s Rutam House office. Ruonah, his (awaiting NYSC) daughter published the article below the following day on Saturday, December 23.
Now, I know why i have been so sad ever since Oga Goddee -- as we fondly called him at The Guardian in his days here -- was murdered. In some ways I have become an extended member of the family… I had not met any other member besides Oga Goddee, until I met Ruonah, the daughter by accident on Wednesday December 13… well, I had met her through reading her columns on the pages of ThisDay Plus every Saturday… I recall that I had even had occasion to make enquiry about her, having read one of the stuff she did on, I think, the fuss about dressing culture of the young… I need to check this out. I thought that for a young person herself that depth of reasoning san all those stuff about ‘they are young let them explode’ was inspiring…
I was talking about meeting Ruonah physically, right?
Now, on December 13, I had gone to Eko FM as a guest of the popular ‘Breakfast With Mr K’, a programme that is truly innovative in every sense of the word.... it is broadcast live from the studio of Eko FM but it is cast also on the internet such that anywhere you are in the world, you could access it. In fact while I was in the studio (with NAFDAC’s heroine, Dora Akunyili) calls came in from as far as France, UK, Austria and the USA. Also, inventive is the Celebrity News Reading .. I read the news with Dora…. Come deh shake gbirigbiri for mouth… even though I had done same (and on magazines) in 1986/1987 with FRCN as a jobless fresh graduate, and later in mid-90s as an adventurous co-presenter on The Beat (with Kole Ade-Odutola and Toyin Akinosho)…
Anyway back to meeting Ruonah: I was embarrasingly late into the studio thatday. I was expected at 8.20 pm, but did not get in until about 9.10 am. Why? It was the day the madness of Governor OjuYobo Tinubu's Lagos (may God deliver us from his spell of incompetence and ineptitude governance in 2007) decided to play its worst drama. The traffic was maddening, as Area Boys and all the crazy fellows in uniform mounted inexplicable barriers everywhere... surprinsingly the traffic only occurred where-ever you see Tinubu's uniformed rogues!.... at other places, trust Lagosians they got around to sorting (or slugging) it out.
Well, sadly and out of character, I made the studio so late.
As I rushed in there, I was accosted by a slim lady in smart jeans dress... ‘Uncle Jahman, so this is you...' she washed off my mix of agitation and anger.
'Uncle Jahman? I had to look around for that fellow…
‘Uncle!’
Me ke? Me that should have been flogged for getting late to a live programme. Well, I unleashed the tyranny of my tongue... I am so sorry, it is this impossible Lagos, those crazy Danfo drivers, the madmen of Lagos traffic scheme bla bla...... ‘No, Uncle don't worry we were all victims of that traffic too. Ruonah said..
‘Uncle’, again!
Okay, it is me she is talking to, right?
But who is this smiling lady Uncling me all the way?
I was still working out the best way to get that query across, when she helped out…
My Daddy speaks so highly about you? I even told him I wanted to start writing for Life magazine. I love what you do with that magazine. My dad loves it so much, and so I told him I would want t write for the magazine.
Her Daddy?
‘He said he worked with you at The Guardian?’
All the while I still had no clue.. Ruonah who?
Haaaaa!
‘Writing for Life is simple…. Okay, give me your number..’
She wrote her name,,, abnd wala! Ruonah Agbroko!
Oh, so you are my Uncle’s daughter? She smiled.
You are the columnist in This day, the one I have been reading… waow, you are so young…. She broke out I broader smile now…. And a wink of caution had to come from the studio minder… as Dora was all the while being interviewed by the main anchor/ initiator of the programme – Kayode Akintemi.
As I was going to keep the praise-singing going on.. I was summoned to join Dora at the Mic to present the news…. That broke my fascinating with this young, deep and intense lady.. one I could actually called my niece.
In any case, we continued after the programme, as she reminded me of her earlier request to be part of the committee for Relevant Art’s subsequent programme. That was when I invited her and the entire crew of the ‘Breakfast with Mr K’, to the Formal Presentation of the Prince Claus Award to CORA holding the next day December 14 at the Netherlands Embassy on the Lagos Island.
The team attended the show. I recall Ruonah dressed in skirt suit, looking fit and trim. I think I joked that she looked like air hostess, and earned that smile once more. The team was busy on that day – it was desirous of talking to Ambassador Ariel Van der Weil, who was chief host of the day, which explained why we eventually never got to talk.. but I saw when the four-some ‘Breakfast with Mr K’ team was leaving the venue. A joyous group, I remember now. I saw that smile again.
Now I shudder to see tears roll down those innocent young cheeks that spoke so passionately about ‘My Daddy…’; My Dad’.. on my first encounter wit Ruonah. For that, I have been hell scared to head to the family house in the Isolo area to pay my respect to Oga Goddee, that committed journalist, fine columnist whose main writing virtues were the depth of his thought, sincerity of intellection, and simple-ness of prose… the man who as Editor of the African Guardian, accosted me one day on the staircase, gave me a stick of cigarette and bellowed... ‘No think say na only Guardian and Lagos Life you go deh give all that your arts stories… we deh here too o’… he did not even wait for an answer from my shocked lips, he just walked on in his ‘rolling style’… But that was what launched me into copies to that magazine that died an untimely death with the Abacha proscription in 1996.






posted by EniOlorunda at 12:47 PM 0 comments links to this post  




The heck of a critic; Fragment of a debate



Fragments of a debate

I have enjoyed this two-man dialogue on Criticisms. Much as one had been provoked along the line to hop on the wagon, one had held back, preferring to enjoy the romance across the borders. It was such an enlightening session, in spite of some of the ‘suggestives’ that manifested along the way.
But there was something that cropped up – incidentally (or perhaps providentially) by the alien factor to the dialogue -- Mr ‘Lagbaja’.
In the view of Mr Lagbaja, which St***e shared with us, he seemed to be gloating on the idea that the ‘Centre’ is an inviolable space albeit a scared site that is beyond interrogation. He subscribed to the contention that the Pulitzer winner, Jerry, is valueless unless he belongs to the Centre. And instantly I started screaming again:
Why must Jerry give a damn what the Centre represents?
Why must Jerry’s Pulitzer be validated by the Centre before it becomes accepted, even to Jerry and the public that believes in his work?
Why does Jerry need the certification of the Centre before he can gloat in his self-accomplishment?
Who needs the Centre anyway before he can assert himself?
Inevitably, I was drawn to the old endless debate about the notion of the Centre versus he ‘Other’… I refuse to subscribe to the word ‘Periphery’?
The notion of the 'Centre', Ch***a has eventually, graciously redeemed from the bottomless pit of meaninglessness to be ‘Mainstream’.
The notion of the 'Centre' as the determinant of artistic discourse is like a monster that you could conceive in the notion of a ‘Beast of no Essence’ .. . it is one of those amorphous creations of self-preservationists. It always smuggled its caustic head into discourses about art and its role in the society. And whether we like it or not we shall have to always return to it.
The ‘Centre’ was at the centre of one's earlier argument on the question of Criticisms: i.e The Centre, the Mainstream, the General Trend, the Majority, the Normal way, the Accepted Standard, the Status Quo… and the ‘Centre’ has so many siblings that commentators on arts and culture affairs ought to be conscious of. For if you are not conscious of the dangerous possibilities of the notion ‘Centre’, you may not really know when you help to obliterate the cultures of other people or their ‘Being’ in your inadvertent action of pulling them along the path (or script authored) carved by the so-called ‘Centre’ or the ‘Centre-ist’.
The essential of Centre is that it is usually the CREATION of some self-enlightened interests ! Period!
The idea of the Centre itself is dictatorial, autocratic and, in practical terms, a negation of the place of the minority (views, objectives) in the scheme of things; albeit an attempt to foist a central ideology or mode of reasoning on all even if without your consent. Whereas it might work in other professions say law, Accounting, Medicine etc, I believe it is at its very essentials are anti-art, as it’s primarily against the notion of FREEDOM – the very basis of creativity.
I personally have always been preoccupied with the idea of dis-recognising that Centre,
Dismantling it. The battle has become an addiction , especially since the emergence of Okwui Enwenzor as the Artistic Director of Dokumenta XI. The main opposition to Okwui, strange enough and unlike what it would have been expected to be, was not based on the fact he is a gaddem black smooching into the exclusive beat of the whites. It was not because he was an African from a scammy country, Nigeria attempting to bite at the greatest curatorial pie of the West-dominated visual art kingdom.
The opposition -- curious, I say-- was because Okwui was not part of the New York ‘Centre’ of artistic discourse. He had always been outside of it, again not because of the colour of his skin, or his birthplace but by the nature of his contention that art is not a regulate-able venture, and that arts cannot be divorced from its environment of production and manifestation.
Thus surprisingly, rather than the New York visual art runway backing one of them (at least by virtue of his near three decade residency there and as base of his operation) they were the virulent attackers… The fact was they were largely uncomfortable with the reason that an Okwui was coming in to breakdown the protective WALL they had constructed around the beat of art direction and curator-ship.

THE CENTRE AS INTOLERANCE
What has Centre got to do with it. It is that everywhere the Centre is a self-centred, selfish, self-serving, self-indulgent monster which fights daily to ensure that its hold on the general imagination remains firm. Its bid is self-permanency, or self-perpetuation. It is often deadly in insisting on the status quo it has established being sacrosanct. If you challenge it you become an irritant, or worse an outlaw.
You could see the manifestation of ‘Centrerism’ in the determination of the Third Termists of Nigeria to intimidate the oppositions and the stubborn resolve of the ant-Third Termists to shout down the proponents. The basis of it all is intolerance of the opposing views, the attempt to mortgage the right of the ‘other’, or the attempt to impose the Centre’s Will on the Rest of the divide.
It is the perennial and obviously intractable Centre-sation of the human mind that indeed has brought so much tragedy to the human world. People ‘Follow Follow’ as if they too have no sense of their own; like they have no mind that could process an idea and make the right decision that would best serve the interest of their own personal objective.
Centre indeed connotes enslavement to doctrines or objective or truth authored by others. And you would be surprised that it starts from the family level.
So because your father is Catholic, you must be Catholic: He is Anglican, you must be… even if you do not share in the doctrine of that sect. Most often you end up a bad Catholic or Anglican and the supposed objective for which you joined it would have been defeated, then you live the rest of your life in regret and misery; especially if you are so obedient as not to step out of the cage.
If man behaves so slavishly to expectation of others, in what way is he different from the animals in the deep of the forest then. Still wondering why we have great Christians and Muslims who are worse than the devils? Because they live their daily life in abject falsehood, LIES… they exist for the truth of the other people, not for their own truth. The meaning of their life is as had been stencilled by other people… they have no freedom to choose. So they merely exist according to the truth of other people, not by their own self-authored conviction. That is the tragedy I spoke about earlier.
Centre-ness is what you find in such organisations as NBA, ICAN etc. where code of conduct is the God of their professional existence. And it goes beyond the cosmetic aspects of the trade i.e dressence, language of practice, mode of practice.. it also include the notion of inclusiveness. You have to belong to be relevant. That is the dictatorial regime. Thus everything you do as a practising lawyer must conform otherwise you would not be accepted, you will be excluded.
For the art however, greater circumspection is needed in approaching the notion of the Centre.
Art itself is Freedom we have said earlier. It is the process of challenging the existing such as in creating object out of vacuum, creating beauty out of ugliness or vice versa, deploying material and immaterial idea beyond the possibilities already established for them… all of which translates to interrogating what had been.
So you ask, why would Art be subject codes and doctrines of the ‘Centre?’
The greatest Centre that ought to exist here should be the self-constructed ‘Centre’.
If you want to extend the politics of it: you may create your own Centre then and ask others to buy into it.. if they do that there gain or loss would then be their own beast of burden.
But to create a Centre and dragged others by the neck to belong to it is what freedom is not about; what ART should not be.
I advise when next time we as Arts Writers, Workers, Activists, Communicators whatever, see the CENTRE set up as a CAGE -- even when it is made of the finest of gold -- we should pause and reflect deeply before we jump in or drag others by their hapless neck into the noose. To do that is to help to kill that which we profess to advocate – ART.. with its manifest freedom to let loose the senses; freedom to create, freedom to stretch possibilities of the human mind, the human world.




AND THIS:
In contribution to this debate about Criticisms, and to stress that Criticisms just like Art cannot share of the Christian injunction that: ‘As it was in the Beginning, is Now and Ever Shall Be’, I share below the contention of an Art Critic that I have come to respect, John Simon as published in NewsWeek magazine sometime last year:

Criticism In An Uncritical Age
With More Content Comes More Critics. But Do They Have Anything To Say? By John Simon

WE live in an age when everyone is a critic. "Criticism" is all over the Internet, in blogs and chat rooms, for everyone to access and add his two cents’ worth on any subject, high or low. But if everyone is a critic, is that still criticism? Or are we heading toward the end of criticism? If all opinions are equally valid, there is no need for experts. Democracy works in life, but art is undemocratic. The result of this ultimately meaningless barrage is that more and more we are living in a profoundly — or shallowly — uncritical age.
A critic, as T.S. Eliot famously observed, must be very intelligent.
Now, can anybody assume that the invasion of cyberspace by opinion upon opinion is proof of great intelligence and constitutes informed criticism rather than uninformed artistic chaos?
Of course, like any self-respecting critic, I have always encouraged my readers to think for themselves. They were to consider my positive or negative assessments, which I always tried to explain, a challenge to think along with me: here is my reasoning, follow it, then agree or disagree as you see fit. In an uncritical age, every pseudonymous chat-room chatter - box provides a snappy, self-confident judgment, without the process of arriving at it becoming clear to anyone, including the chatterer. Blogs, too, tend to be invitations to leap before a second look. Do the impassioned ramblings fed into a hungry blogsphere represent responses from anyone other than blogheads?
How has it come to this? We have all been bitten by television sound bites that transmute into Internet sound bytes, proving that brevity can also be the soul of witlessness. So thoughtless multiplies. Do not, however, think I advocate censorship, an altogether unacceptable form of criticism. What we need in this age of rampant uncritical criticism is the simplest and hardest thing to come by: a critical attitude. How could it be fostered?
For starters, with the very thing discouraged by our print media: reading beyond the hectoring headlines and bold-type boxes embedded in reviews, providing a one-sentence summary that makes further reading unnecessary. With only slight exaggeration, we may say that words have been superseded by upward or downward pointing thumbs, self-destructively indulging society used to instant self-gratification.
Criticism is inevitably constricted by our multinational culture and by political correctness. As society grows more diverse, there are fewer and fewer universal points of reference between a critic and his or her readers. As for freedom of expression, Arthur Miller long ago complained about protests and pressures making the only safe subjects for a dramatist babies and the unemployed.
My own experience is that over the years, print space for my reviews kept steadily shrinking, and the layouts themselves toadied to the whims of the graphic designer. In a jungle of oddball visuals, readers had difficulties finding my reviews. Simultaneously, our vocabulary went on a starvation diet. Where readers used to thank me for enlarging their vocabularies, more and more complaints were lodged about unwelcome trips to the dictionary, as if comparable to having to keep running to the toilet. Even my computer keeps questioning words I use, words that can be found in medium-size dictionaries. Can one give language lessons to a computer? What may be imperiled, more than criticism, is the word.
I keep encountering people who think "critical" means carping or fault-finding, and nothing more. So it would seem that the critic’s pen, once mightier than the sword, has been supplanted by the ax. Yet I have always maintained that the critic has three duties: to write as well as a novelist or playwright; to be a teacher, taking off from where the classroom, always prematurely, has stopped, and to be a thinker, looking beyond his specific subject at society, history, philosophy. Reduce him to a consumer guide, run his reviews on a Web site mixed in with the next-door neighbor’s pontifications, and you condemn criticism to obsolescence.
Still, one would like to think that the blog is not the enemy, and that readers seeking enlightenment could find it on the right blog-just as in the past one went looking






{Critic Sat. }
['If I were a critic....']
The arts writers in the print and electronic media including freelancers and communicators on arts and culture will converse today in the Cinema Hall II of the National Theatre Lagos for a session of self-appraisals. Especially, one of the inescapable issues to be discussed would be the standard of art reportage which has attracted much criticisms in the public of recent. Drawing example from a recent encounter with the misconception of the vocation of the Arts writer, JAHMAN ANIKULAPO reflects on aspects of the current problem with arts reporting in the media.
"Eh, you guys foje man
You guys foje man"
"How?"
"I mean you guys had such a big show and you foje man..
Se you listen to the sound production tonight. That is the quality of sound that we expected from you guys. But that sound yesterday (Saturday) was very poor. E foje man."
This was the rap of a popular musician in Lagos.
He was doing an extempore critique of the Great Highlife Party '99, a concert programme that paraded no less than 10 veteran highlife musicians, many of whom time and an abject poverty of documentation and laziness of art critics have almost buried in the sea of the forgotten.
The venue of the encounter was the premises of MUSON Centre, Onikan Lagos last Sunday night, shortly after music impressario, Steve Rhodes had presented his famous pantomime - Ijapa on the bill of the MUSON. The show held in the multi-million Naira Shell Nigeria Hall of MUSON Centre and it was valued by sources at the MUSON at about N2 million including cost of halls and huge staff deployed to assist the programme.
The popular musician, himself known for hi-tech sound production (with one of his friends) continued his rap with one of the coordinators of the highlife concert, in the presence of two art journalists.
"If I were a critic like you guys (reference to the Highlife concert coordinators) I will tear you guys to pieces. I will take two pages and tear you guys to pieces."
Soon however, he calmed down after he got full information about the antecedents, actual cost and the performance circumstances of the Great Highlife concert. His jaws dropped when he learnt that the Highlife concert cost less than 10 per cent of the cost of the pantomime show at MUSON. And especially considering the conditioned environment of Shell Hall to the open air lagoon front garden of Goethe Institut where the Highlife concert held.
He was perturbed when he learnt of how much the old musicians, the forgotten heroes of Nigeria's musical evolution from which the hi-tech musician himself has been feasting endlessly in his indeed, buoyant career, were paid. The shock was even more palpably evident on the face of the musician's friend, obviously one of the young stars of profession or business otherwise called the upwardly mobile' or 'yuppies'.
After the session of disclosures by the coordinator, the musician was asked: "Well why don't you write the critique?
And he replied: "well I have written my critique by telling you what I said."
The 10 minutes encounter ended on a feast of laughter and the coordinator and his company of journalists walked off into the light haze of harmattan dust that was at that time about 9p.m -— settling on the Onikan area of Lagos.
But the incident of that night could not but instigate a deeper reflection on the business of writing on artistic products and events. Succintly put, reviewing an art work or a piece of performance.
As had been stated in many discourses, there is an inevitable limit to the degree of criticisms that can be done on the pages of newspapers or the electronic media which are good enough, getting stronger in terms of space for arts and culture reporting.
Early last year, the Goethe Institut convened a workshop for art journalists on how to improve the standard of art reporting and reviews in the print media. The workshop was the initiative of some concerned arts writers who were uncomfortable with the notoriety that reporters on arts were assuming as either unabashed praise singers or injudicious murderers of creative enterprise. There was need for a reorientation, thought the initiators.
Resource persons were drawn from two leading newspapers in Europe, with two men - Dominic Johnson and Harry Nutt (from Taz Berlin) and Angela Schader (from Austria) and: from Nigeria - Ben Tomoloju, founding Review Editor of the defunct Weekly Democrat as well as pioneer Arts Editor. The Guardian and: Dr Garba Ashiwaju former federal director of culture and editor-in-chief, Nigeria Magazine.
The worhsip after five days of work resolved that whereas art reporting in European and Western media has peaked after centuries of practice, in Nigeria it is at developmental lstage; that since the level or degree of general literacy and specificially art history education in Europe and the West is far higher than it.
Africa nay Nigeria, there was no basis for comparison, that essentially the arts writer in Nigeria would for long operate as a 'describist' and 'explanatory reporter or critic, that conscious attempt be made by African writers to educate the public on the nature, politics and character of the art, the artist and artistic product.
But submission at the workshop did not presuppose that the arts writer would be less than circumspective in his appraisal of art products. He could be limited in his application of literary and critical canons in assessing an art work, but he should't be frivolous, mischievious or simply persecutory. Except that these three odious factors have characterised much of what is published as reviews or criticisms in the media.
Of course, the art journalist is not spared the value dislocation and moral somersault that mere offshoots of the socio-political and economic intransigence of Nigeria in the last two decades. In fact, the media has been the most institution consumed by the cancer of corruption and insincerity.
However, the vocation of the arts writer should not be over exposed to these tendencies of death because the reviewer or critic is expected to through his comments, confer certain degree of status on a piece of work or the career of the artist or culture producer.
This was the vision behind the founding of the Arts Writers Organisation of Nigeria. AWON in 1989 — for the arts writer to be equipped to approach his vocation with circumspection, a sense of responsibility and a commitment to quality discourse, objective sense of appreciation and a sensibility for honest appraisal of work.
The vision lived in the early years of the organisation, which as at inauguration time, had well over 30 identifiable practising writers and a huge house of potential members, kept under observation by executive of the association.
Unfortunately, the fortune of the AWON began to crash around 1993, just when coicidentally, the huge blanket of darkness was thrown on the sky scape of Nigeria's polity and consequentially moral, cultural, economic and even psychological comportment, with the annulment of the very first full-fledge democratic election in the country.
From then on to this season of rebirth, art journalism had swam in turbulent sea of disorientation, a flourish of misdemeanors, unprofessional attitude and unethical approach to vocation. A season of exodus of untrained, half-baked and uncommitted enthusiasts into a vocation that perhaps of all the other subsections of the media, demands the highest form of education and constant re-education.
The house was populated by mostly enthusiasts; at best artists who, due to poor economic landscape could not practice their vocations and thus gravitated to the media where they end up on the arts page with their lack of basic tools for engagement in critical discourse or even for the much less technical reviews.
Arts reportage took on the colours of either minute of events, praise singers or the more dangerous 'art-pull-down', where the arts journalist operates like a judge determining, even in his own stark ignorance, what is good or poor for public consumption. An indeed, dangerous development for a nation that has a population insufficiently equipped in general art education or that could not be bothered about usefulness and significance of arts and culture to societal lneeds and developmental aspirations.
But the arts writer should not be magisterial in his operation. The one with penchance for being judgemental has failed even before his products gets to his consumer — the reader or listener. In the theory of criticisms class, students are quickly reminded that though the vocation of the critic or writers on arts makes him susceptible to arrogance of the intellect or over-bloated sense of importance, he should be circumspect.
There is a language of criticism! And against the easily accepted norm it is not the language of condemnation. The attitude is not cantankerous. The pen should not be steaming of writing off the products of another person's creative ingenuity or enterprise.
The critic obviously cannot be the hi-tech musician who watched a show, did not enquire about the history, objective and performance circumstance of the show, but was hot in his scheme to write a two-page criticism or condemnatory article as he suggested. Rather the critic is a highly intelligent, sufficiently patient and painstaking and attitudinally more reflective professional, who would ask questions about certain facts about an art product before he comments. He would for instance, be interested on why an artist chose a particular medium, form or technique amid a wealth of other options.
For example, the musician, a wishful critic declared magisterially:
"You guys were just talking endlessly without letting the music flow. You could have just done the introduction and let the band played on. The people were there for music not talk!"
Interestingly, this is one reason why critics or arts writers are often referred to as failed artists. Coming from the musician's submission, the right answer would have been 'well, if you know how to do it better why don't you go and organise your own show'.
But then, the musician critic was asked by his listener:
"Did you read the objectives of the concert as stated in the programme notes? Or didn't you hear the explanation offered by the anchor man on the aims and objectives of the project?"
He was silent. It was obvious he wasn't interested in the story or environment of the show, which stated that the highlife party was to tell the story of the great music genre; essentially, to convince a largely doubting audience that contrary to peddled misinformation that highlife music was dead it is still alive! And as the anchor man said "It is only experiencing evolution in line with the dynamics of our changing cultural experience."
And to prove that most of the new sound produced in the continent today are deriving their materials, elements and forms from highlife.
Also important, a critic would not behave the way the musician behaved - abandoned the show and still think that he could pass informed commentary on events at the concert.
No! A critic — a purposeful professional and competent critic - would not read a book half way and then write a review. That was the heart of a hyped controversy between two writers and journalists few years back, when a supposed critic who had not read (completely) the work of his friend colleague, went to press and posted jaundiced judgement. He sold himself cheap and insincere by that act to the public.
A critic would sit through a show, read through a book and live through an event, even if the show, book or event is made of a mesh of mess. He would be patient, thorough and broad minded in his approach.
The critic's joub is not as cheap and unimportant as the musician has made it. But isn't that what even most arts writers have made of the vocation with their pen and tongues steaming hot of writing of creative products or imposing their own half education or ignorance on the unfortunate consumers of critical comments.
However, in the season of rebirth which the Arts Writers Organisations of Nigeria has initiated with its convention today, much more discipline would be invested in the art of arts writing at least in the media.
One of the major programmes already designed by the steering committee of the nine-year old organisation is a periodic workshop or training session, with experts as resource persons on the act of critical appreciation of the different categories of music enterprise.




posted by EniOlorunda at 12:27 PM 0 comments links to this post  




The heck of a critic



‘Criticism is inevitably constricted by our multinational culture and by political correctness. As society grows more diverse, there are fewer and fewer universal points of reference between a critic and his or her readers’.





The subject of criticisms and the African (Nigerian art) has become something of an obsession for one since 1996 when The Arts Writers Organisation of Nigeria, AWON, staged a workshop on Literary Journalism tradition in the Nigeria media in 1996. In essence the debate had started in 1988, when Nigeria hosted the African Literature Conference, ALA to mark the 1986 Nobel Prize for Literature, Prof Wole Soyinka. As one of the foot soldiers (organisers) in the conference, the session on Criticism and the African Art was a most anticipated programme. For one it was the first time that one would be engaging in prognosis of the sacred subject of Criticism beyond the confine of the academics. Prior to that time Criticism was supposed to be a most sacrosanct subject not to be touched. It was a sort of god not to be dared. As a matter of fact I recall that in he university while reading Theatre Arts with boas I Dramatic Theories and Literary Criticisms, , you wee a god if you found admission into the Theatre 303 Class room and weekly seminar. You had to carry a chip o your shoulder, as you were considered well above your colleagues the department, and indeed the Faculty of Art. I recall that at the beginning of the Course 303, 25 students had indicated interest, and indeed paid the expected registration, but hat as the time of submitting the application form, only 15, forms were returned. But by the time we were graduating, only three of us sat for the final examination. Others had since dropped by into other course\ of studies. I have never ceased to be amazed by such a phenomenon, especially when I recall how fat the other Courses – Playwriting, Dramatic Studies, Directing, Dance and Acting etc, were. If you were ever caught in the Literary Criticisms class you were a scared cow, an elite, an intellectual. The community in the arts faculty respected you for it. It was an achievement.
Years after graduation, I continued to ponder at what made the enterprise of Literary Criticism such an elitist vocation. And working as an arts and culture reporter almost straight from the classroom, in 1987 (started writing on the arts, especially Criticism in 1983 even as a Year one student, though my first byline ever was in 1981 as a Higher School Certificate student), I had been confronted every now and then by the question: Who is a Critic? What is his/her role in the creative e enterprise? What is the context of his operation? What are the cognitive structures that define his operation? What is the relationship between his vocation and the environment of his operation? What are his source-pool of vocational inspiration and operation – the established critical theories and traditions from his Colonial educators i.e those who took his natural mentality and imposed on him a set of strange ideas and ideologies that have contributed to the underdevelopment and mis-development of his mental and national life? What in fact are the cognitive structure that he has to deploy to the practice of his trade?
As I have mentioned the ALA conference in 1988 was a platform to unravel these mysteries. Fortunately, the post Independence African scholars had already situated the argument in the various debates and contentions that had been engaged in , particularly in such seminal works as Decolonising the African Mind, How West Underdeveloped Africa, Negritude debate. This also include Soyinka’s monumental declaration in Myth and the African World, which suggested that Western Critical canons are not well-equipped enough technically and theoretically to tackle the question of myth and folklore in the African art. There was\also Ngugi wa ‘Thiong’o contention that original indigenous ideas expressed in other language other than that which gave birth to the idea, would never be totally explained or understood by a critical canon that is strange to it. All these contentions were forming into certain conclusions I the 1988 conference. I though that the resolve by the many resourceful persons at the seminar pointed in the direction of evolving new paradigm in the approach of criticism of arts and cultural products emanating from Africa. You could say that the redefinition of he Critical canons started formally at that conference, and luckily it was to be promoted by the horde\of Literary workers who were drawn largely from the popular media.
That initial 1988 encounter with the attempt to deconstruction of criticism of African art, influenced my personal engagement in the popular media, especially at The Guardian newspaper where I have since worked as an Arts and Culture reporter rising to Arts Editor for 12 years, until 2003 that I moved on to edit the Sunday title though with a supervisory portfolio for the entire Arts and Media department of he Guardian titles.
Since 1996 as\mentioned earlier when the Arts Writer Organisation of Nigeria, which I served in the executive for eight years, I have been engrossed in the shaping of some definitive character for Criticism in the media.
I draw inspiration from the contention of the former Arts Editor and later Deputy Editor of The Guardian, Ben Tomoloju, who is famously regarded as the founding father of Arts Journalism in Nigeria because of his pioneering role, in his keynote at the AWON Conference. He said:
"Whereas Nigerian literature boasts of an established tradition when compare with other parts of the world, it is quite a different matter with literary journalism. The latter is, at best, an evolving tradition struggling against forces of economic, socio-cultural and political disablement which, jointly or severally, make it difficult for the journalist to measure up effectively to the expectation of the public".
Tomoloju went on to illustrate the various constraints, which included the socio-political environment of the newsroom which makes\no room available for full deployment of critical sensibilities in art reporting, for instance the dissonance in the expectation of the newspaper managers and the art critic. Whereas one is mercantilist the other is academic. And these have divergence attitude to the institution called the bottom-line.
And in evaluating the realities that existed in the newsroom vis a vis the performance of the first set of arts Journalist or supposed critics that he employed at The Guardian, he wrote: not all arts journalists were supposed to be critics in the sense by which the professional critic is known. Some of them served as reporters. Their resources were primarily in the areas of gathering and writing news about happenings in the arts world. The performance of this set of arts journalists was based on acceptable standards in news evaluation, production and presentation. A few others, especially young graduates of the arts and humanities just venturing into journalism were assigned to beats having to do with criticism".
And balancing newsroom expectation against that of the public, he recommended:
‘the arts journalist, whether as a reporter or critic, needed to know his subject. But the reading public should also realise that the approach of a reporter to a particular subject must, necessarily, be different from that of a critic.’
Particularly instructive in Tomoloju’s contention is the recommendation that: "In viewing journalism and the Nigerian literary tradition, therefore, the critical observer should be guided by this dichotomy, especially within the framework of development journalism which seems a most applicable strategy for the growing practice…"
Let me recall a statement I made recently on the enterprise of criticism. Though I was speaking on Criticism in the context of the Nigerian filmic phenomenon, I am confident that the statement remains valid for the current enterprise:

In the course of the 2005 African Journalist Award held in Kenya late June was a session tagged Media Debate on the theme: Direction of African Media: Changing the Paradigm. It held at Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi sponsored by MultiChoice. It was a sort of roundtable with two media executives as well as three professors of Media Studies — all from Africa — as panelists and as many as 25 editors from all over the continent in attendance.
What we took away was the emphatic statement that: of necessity, the focus and operational modem of African journalists as well as media houses must change, if the continent is to truly realise its destined greatness.
The media practitioners had opportunity to review their journey so far, and they came to the conclusion that much as the media had seemingly discharged its role as a professional organisation and flourished resourcefully on the continent, it had not lived up to its most important agenda:
(1) Speaking FOR the people of the continent and NOT above their head;
(2) Telling the story of the people and the continent through a home—grown paradigm and NOT through models established by the West.
(3) Helping to lift the veil of ignorance and mis-education, which certain historical antecedents —i.e. slave trade, western education, erosion of cultural ethos and colonialism— had placed on the psyche of the people of the continent.
The resolution of the house was that henceforth, a responsible African media must change its style of operation; must begin to:
(1) Speak FOR the people in the language and tone that are not only FAMILIAR but also ACCESSIBLE to the people.
(3) Expose the voices (and in that cause the hope and despair) of the people the way the people will UNDERSTAND it.
(4) Tell the story of the people in such a way that will drastically CHANGE the status quo — i.e. the way most Western media tell it — full of misinformation, mis-education and sometimes deliberate distortion of facts about realities of the continent and its people.
Of these three resolutions, which are my own summary of the many resolutions of that resourceful gathering, the point that grabbed me — or as we say, the Waow factor — is the one about telling our own story in the way that is FAMILIAR to; and ACCESSIBLE to our people.
Also very instructive to me is the resolution, which states expressly that the African media must Speak to the people and NOT ABOVE their head. I particularly cherish this statement for it is in tandem with my long-held conviction on why Theatre as practised by those the late Chief Hubert Agunde branded Acada Theatrer (school trained, or expandingly, Theatre in English practitioners) has failed to become a profitable venture or sustainable vocation for the teeming practitioners. One had said this at other forums in the past: that the theatre legacy handed down over time by our colonial curriculum as well as our elders, was that tailored at SPEAKING ABOVE THE PEOPLE.
And this is why English Language or Acada Theatre — has failed to produce its own Hubert Ogunde, Duro Ladipo, Icheoku and others in their clan who became legend in their own time, without being media-assisted as the one or two legends of Acada Theatre. This statement, I know is scratching the bottom of many of our theatre/film elders and colleagues here — it is contentious, an aberration — but there shall be other forums to expand on it.
But just think of this: Why has Nollywood become such a popular Brand in spite of its many complexities, innumerable flaws and contradictions? Whereas the film industry of old remains tottering even in its old age? Why has Nollywood warmed itself into the hearts of a large segment of our people, in so short a time? Why is it on the lips of everybody, including politicians to whose concreted ears and senses, culture and the arts are bugs of burden? Why is Nollywood such a favoured brand so much that virtually every newspaper, broadcast station and media organ in this country, has at least a page or slot per week devoted to it? Whereas most media houses still think that a theatre review on an arts page, is a waste of space, resources and human energy?
I say the answer is simple: Nollywood speaks TO the people, not ABOVE their heads.
Here, I hasten to the fulcrum of my conclusion that film critiquing in the context that will be relevant to our immediate environment, responsive to our immediate needs and responsible to our peculiar social, cultural and economic circumstances must take off from where Nollywood itself has berthed: SPEAK TO THE PEOPLE. You could extend that to say the film critiquing that we need must speak to Nollywood itself; must not attempt to dictate to Nollywood what its character should be, but accept the circumstances of Nollywood and access it based on the established character traits of the industry. It must, however, do all these without compromising the established cannons of media practice in terms of educating, informing and entertaining.

Film Critique
So for me Film Critiquing in the context of the new film industry represented for now by Nollywood, must adopt the characteristics of DEVELOPMENT JOURNALISM, which I am sure I do not need to define here, except to say that it is the brand of journalism that has been highly recommended for a developing economy such as Nigeria. It is the brand of journalism that is willing and ready to develop side by side the society it serves.
Film Critiquing thus must step down from a perceived arrogant comportment, to align with the very vision and energies that drive the current film industry or Nollywood. It must adopt a new set of paradigms and dynamics of evaluation. That is when it can be responsive, responsible and relevant, otherwise it will commit the same pervasive suicide that Acada Theatre, Acada Literature, Acada Visual Arts, Acada Music had committed over the ages — speaking above the people; speaking above its primary constituency — Nollywood and its practitioners.

Nature of Criticisms
Criticism stripped naked of the bombardness of the name, is nothing but personal opinion of one person who masquerades as a character called The Critic.
Criticism, however, put in its proper garb, is not more than an informed reading of a subject or material and rendering such informed reading in informed opinion. Embedded in the word informed is the necessity of painstaking research, patience for facts, readiness to seek clarifications (i.e. engage the creator of the work on areas that are unclear to you); and above all truthful to your conscience as you evaluate the work.

Monsterisation/Deification of the Character of the Critic

It is curious that the general public has been conditioned to see the critic as some kind of god. And it has to do with the self-institutionalising antics of the ancestors of the critics. Over time and through the various literary milleux, the critics have successfully entrenched themselves as monstrous institutions in the creative industry.
As a matter of fact, the critic has become something like an over-institutionalised person. We have created tin-gods out of the vocation of the critic. But he is no more than an ordinary professional but with a specialised consciousness for the vocation of evaluating or assessing a piece of art and offering informed opinion on same. In other words, the critic is only an informed commentator or evaluator or assessor of a creative product.
We have to bear in mind that there is a critic in every person. The television viewer is a critic, just as the man who reads a book, even as a hobby. This is because when the fellow is watching this interview session on the television programme, he is forming his own opinion; he could say for instance: "Now Jahman is talking rubbish, I’m not interested;" and he picks his cigarette and lights it and puts his mind on more productive or self-satisfying venture… he has shut me off from his senses! That’s a critical enterprise at work.
A critic is not to write a negative opinion. Unfortunately, that’s what the critic vocation has become, especially in a creative environment like Nigeria where there is perennial struggle for power between perceptibly contending forces; and envy and avarice reign in the mind of most men — all products of poverty of purse and the intellect. You know, there is a way wants and unfulfilled dreams affect the reasoning and actions of men…
If you evaluate my explanation again, you’ll see that the critic is not definitely somebody who makes negative remarks. A critic is one who forms a technically informed opinion about a work, and who then projects it. And in presenting it, it could either be negative or positive; depending on the way he perceives the work. But as I said his evaluation of the work, his judgment will be informed by his own cognitive structures, a summation of diverse factors, which could also include his own mischief and human flaws and frailties.

Environment & criticisms
When people talk about the absence of Criticism in the culture sector, you tend to ask yourself: what are they expecting?
Criticism can only thrive in an environment where there is enough room for creativity; quality creativity. But when you live in an environment that stifles creativity, you cannot expect criticism to thrive.
You want to look at a work of art; you want to talk about somebody’s performance -- a dancer or a visual artist -- you must look at the environment of performance.
What has the state or the society provided for Norbert Young not just to produce his film but to produce effectively, or to produce a quality work?
What has the environment provided for Olu Ajayi who is a quality painter to produce a qualitative work of art?
What has the environment given to Lagbaja to strive to produce his songs to the best of his ability….
When you put all these things together you’ll see that the environment is not even prepared for the artist to perform effectively, or optimally.
Why are you expecting the artist to live above that environment?
Then you say you are a critic, you sit down and you are observing the trend of performances and making comments on them, and pointing a way for the future! What future are you pointing to, when the people that consume the works of art are not even prepared for qualitative ones?
We cannot expect the art, the entertainment produced by artists living and functioning in this stifling environment to be well rounded in all creative departments as that produced in other societies where there are, at least, the basic infrastructures that enable creativity to flower; societies that encourage clean, clear thought; and make provision for facilities, including social respect and understanding; and thus, assist the artist to concentrate on the business of thinking and creating.
We have to first create the right, functional environment, and that is what I have dedicated my intervention through the media, especially after 13 solid years as arts reporter and so-called critic.
We do need the critics at all time in our creative enterprise. I’m not saying that we don’t need the critic! If I said that, it will be a subversion of sensibility; a subversion of my personal conviction that the critic drives the creative energy and resourcefulness of the society. I still operate basically as a critic in the sense that, when I am confronted with materials, I weigh the material, I say ‘okay this material deserves maximum attention’; this material deserves the best that I have got; then I look at another material and I say, ‘this material deserves lesser attention’… this assessment will reflect in the way I present the subject, the way I write about it or I comment on it! It is a result of the way I weighed the material, a product of my evaluation but it is still essentially subjective albeit informed by my personal cognitive structures.
This is why I have insistently argued that criticism is no more than a personal opinion of the critic; a product of his cognitive structures, the sum total of his past experiences, cultural tendencies, taste, training, skill, exposures, and the school of criticism to which he subscribes, among others.

Absence of appropriate training of critics
Indeed, how many theatre schools are training critics?
Now, Fine Artists are complaining that the quality of Fine Art discourse in the papers are not impressive. And I ask them: "how many art historians and critics have you produced from your school who are ready to work in the media". We have about 10 departments of Fine Art, how many of them have produced art historians writing frequently in the papers. In fact, how many of them have their own faculty or department’s journal to propagate the ideals of its peculiar scholarship?
It is not easy, sir. It is not easy because no media house even want to employ you in the first place. If not that The Guardian with Ben Tomoloju, started a formal arts desk… (that was after that impressive collection of academics and scholars had flagged off the literary culture in the paper)… and he then trained a generation of arts journalists, writers so to say because many of them were just graduates of liberal arts and sometimes, sciences and related fields. Those are the chaps sustaining the seemingly robust arts and culture journalism in the Nigerian media today…
In the past, no one would employ you to write on the arts. It takes far deeper passion by the publisher or the editor to insist he was employing you to write on the arts.
No media house is even ready to open up pages for reports on the arts. They think it is not worthy of serious attention. It won’t generate adverts anyway!
The fact is that, the critics and journalists have to be careful about what they write because, what you are writing is very, very long lasting than that work of art. Perhaps it is only Fine Art, Literature, recorded music which originals could be resurrected in the original forms. But not so for theatre, concert and other such performance art, which thrived in momentary-ness. If I’m presenting a play, people must have seen it and gone, but what I have written as a critic would be read hundred years after my departure; or even thousands of years later. And generation who never encountered you and who were never part of the conditions that dictated the creation of the work and as well the tone and shade of your critical opinion might have to issue queries on what you had written. In literary criticisms and theories, isn’t that what we are doing today? Interrogating the paradigms that had been set by our forebears?
The people are not used to open criticisms and this is part of the fundamental dilemma of development that we face in Africa. Even in our socio-cultural lore, criticism of the ruling class or the affluent was often coded in symbolic languages, cultic signs or in proverbs, gestures, wits etc. This was part of the self-preservation ethos of the society; sometimes, measures to ensure that only few people are availed of the details of such criticisms. And Africans do not have to be apologetic about this. It is an integral part of our cultural being. And it serves so many functions including to ensure preservation of mutual respect and harmonious living in the community. But applied to modern time, the collusion of this African ideas of criticisms and the Western type of open speak, is responsible for the conflict characterised by intolerance that we often witnessed in the modern African state.
And for the artists, because he has produced his works within the ambience of lean resources available to him, he is expecting that whatever you are going to say about his work would be complimentary, so that people can buy it. To him, you, the critic, you are only an extension of the marketing department of his operation!

Expectation of a Critic in African setting
The best you, the critic, can do is to work according to your own conscience. You know what you are trying to do, and you say it the way you see it.
But the language of criticism is not condemnation. It is not to say that this work is bad. The language of criticism is, ‘may be’ or ‘if he had’, things like that. It is not a magisterial proclamation or postulation where you say that work is bad! There is no bad work of art because the creative process that produced that work is informed by certain inspiration, certain mote process that produced that work is informed by certain inspiration, certain motive, certain expectations, certain cognitive structure. Sweat has gone into it; thinking has gone into it, money has gone into it, somebody’s being as a person has gone into it
Just like every journalist, first of all, you write from your conscience, you write for your conscience. Just be sure that what you are saying is according to how you have seen it, how you have perceived it; be true to your conscience; even if the person is your arch enemy or he has just dished you slaps for he last work you did on his work.
I am saying that criticism is not basically evil. It is opinion essentially. If I saw your blue dress and I say that what you are wearing is red, it is my opinion; that is what my mind tells me; that you wearing are red. It may be black to another person, it may be blue to the next person, but as for me, it is red. So, it is a matter of opinion. And the audience like I said had an option to either accept it or reject it.
So, first of all, as a critic, work from your conscience and work for your conscience. Then the target of a critical discourse should necessarily be for the two sides. You should write in a way that the man who has created the art work can learn two or three things about the way you see it as a member of the audience. And the audience too can learn one or two things that they could understand in the work of art from you.
In other words, the critic is more like a medium. A medium between these two extremes -- the audience and the producer of the work. So you should see yourself that way and the only way to see yourself as a balanced medium, a balanced refree, is to work for your conscience. You write the truth the way you have seen them, without being unfair to the artist, without being unfair to the public.



Landmines that a critic must circumvent all the time:
*GENERALISATION
*TRANSPOSITION OF CANONS
*PRESCRIPTIVE CRITICISMS
*OBJECTIVATION OF CRITICISMS
*GLOBALISATION OF CRITIQUE
*DECONTEXTUALISATION OF CRITIQUE


Quote
I keep encountering people who think "critical" means carping or fault-finding, and nothing more. So it would seem that the critic’s pen, once mightier than the sword, has been supplanted by the ax. Yet I have always maintained that the critic has three duties: to write as well as a novelist or playwright; to be a teacher, taking off from where the classroom, always prematurely, has stopped, and to be a thinker, looking beyond his specific subject at society, history, philosophy. Reduce him to a consumer guide, run his reviews on a Web site mixed in with the next-door neighbor’s pontifications, and you condemn criticism to obsolescence.




posted by EniOlorunda at 12:15 PM 0 comments links to this post  




The One Man Riot Bomb



One in ONE out
(Tribute to a Star I lost)
FIRST A SONG OF LIFE
Let the dirge cease.
There is LIFE
to wipe the tears
of the depressed.
CHUKA NNABUIFE’s wife was delivered of a boy this morning






The day he performed a poem by Langston Hughes and recited his favourite poem of all time: THIS POEM by Mutabaruka, which he had set into his own musical accompaniment, my head fattened up. And I remember his famous better half… with all its brown skin already peeled off. He joked that the briefcase was in transition, and in fact had been in transition since the day of one Chief something whom I suspect must have been his father.
There is always a story to Funsho Alabi. I think only few people, maybe Tunji Sotimirin and his close friends, would have heard him relate why he for a long time went about in ‘Rubber Shoes.. yes o, the one we in-famously call Tekowiiiii – never leather. And why he liked his car – aside economic factor – to look like that now famous Junkman’s Nigeria exhibited at the last Lagos Book and Art Festival now permanently (?) resident at the French Cultural Centre Lagos.
There is a story on why he refused to be married to any woman, though you could say he looked every inch a lady’s man. There is a story between him and Richard Mofe-Damijo. There is a story between him and Bayo Oduneye and the National Troupe of Nigeria. There is a big story between Funsho and Nollywood. He did not hate Nollywood – it took me time to discover that, though – rather he had issue to grind with matter of etiquette and professional conduct, in other words DUE PROCESS and its application to Nollywood..
On Mutabaruka: Funsho had become acquainted with Mutabaruka in 1982 when the Jamaican performer-poet visited Nigeria, especially the then University of Ife. They had a lot of interesting exchanges then, especially as both were one--man actor.
When I met Mutabaruka in Ghana in 1997 during PANAFEST, we went down memory on his visit to the country, and all the hassles he had, which almost got him deported by the Shagari govt. He was still embittered even in 1997, but he said Nigeria had the most beautiful women in the world (hear hear) and that our dress culture was the best in the world.. In fact his costume in 1997 was made of aso oke and an agbada-like long dress made of thick Mali muddy cloths. Instructively, he recollected his visit to Nigeria and his meeting with many Nigerian artistes: He said: ‘I met a crazy actor then in Ife, really crazy but very good....' He gave the actor's name as name as ‘Funton’ – he scribbled it in my notebook -- , but then I recognised that that actor must have been Funsho Alabi, who was reading theatre at Ife at that time – the years of Mahmoud Ali Balogun, Edmund Enaibe, Ahmed Yerima, Yemi Sodimu, Niyi Coker; while a fellow called Bisade Ologunde (producer of masked musician, Lagbaja) was already super-stardoming on the guitar and rising to be toast of the campus babes… so I corrected Muta that the name was -- FUNSHO ALABI -- and he leapt to his full 6 plus .. ‘ yeah, that’s him.. crazy good guy…’
Muta's passing shot on Alabi was: 'I like to work with him someday when I come to great Nigeria (he had referred to the country as 'shytshtem' earlier). Respect to him'.
I told Funsho Alabi of the encounter. He remembered Muta and their exchanges too. Thereafter, he asked for the man's CD, which I eventually dubbed for him, and then he started his one-man thing on THIS POEM… one of Muta's greatest compositions.
Later he told me he had been in touch with Muta through his manager, a Ghanaian-Jamaican, who had lived in Lagos around 1981 when we staged Reggae Sunsplash in Lagos. Funsho said they were working on some collaboration. I never followed up to ask him how far they had gone into the dream...
Now… Funsho is no more. He has abandoned the dream midcourse or is it the dream that was scared of fulfilling Funsho Alabi?
Well the creator of ‘Hotline Aids’ and ‘Theatre Against Drug Abuse’ and founder KOMITAT PRODUCTIONS has gone the way of those other comrades hacked down by illness midstream to artistic fulfilment: Bode Osanyin, Segun Ayota, Amatu Braide, Hakeem Shitta, Ralph Aboyeji, Segun Narset, Femi Ayeni, Charles O’Neil, Ezenwa Ohaeto etc.
May the path to the graveyard grow unattractive to the green feet of the walkers in the vineyard of dreams.
I have lost my tear gland.. pemanently. Death, You shall not draw my tears again.




posted by EniOlorunda at 12:08 PM 0 comments links to this post  




Scatterbrain Mad Artist



Chatting Up Baba Agbalagba


You should have seen the murderous look I gave Pig-head (that is what I call him... well, behind his back) last night when he asked me: ‘But why do you always call yourself Scatterbrain? Don’t you know what you call yourself has a way of manifesting in your star?'
I shot him this deadly gaze… Dem don come again o! Wetin consain you wetin I call myself? I fit call myself goathead, panpala or even yamtuber… na me get myself…"
But how dat one take consain the matter we have at hand sef? You no go mind ya own business'…
For where I no tell am all these o, I was just grumbling within my raging head.
Yet, tens of agrofy-ing questions raced thru my mind.
Well I dared not show it… I was on his ticket. The drink. The fish-peppersoup were on his account. I was just a layabout, hanging like a haplessly around him.
Pighead had asked me out so we could discuss some projects (yes o, another wild dream, which though long on vision are always short on political will to execute)… We had been doing well in the talk, even if much of the science-based jives he injected in the talk were way above my light head… I nodded along anyway... I needed to make him feel happy. He didn’t come all the way from Germany to look Lagos bridge, did he?
And he wasn’t spending as much as 5k on this outing just for the fun of seeing my ugly face, abi?
With his tempestuous (I could feel the tension) in spite of his masterful concealment) query on the reason I dub myself a ‘Scatterbrain’, I knew he was already reviewing the propriety or the wisdom of having me as his face, ear and nose on the ground in this country o the proposed business… eh, the business was going to be worth millions of Naira he assured me…
Oh, shit, your suspicion is damn wrong. It wasn’t connected to any scam-related beats o. Just some bite at the hospitality, showbiz pie, that is surely growing in this clime.
And soooo, Pig-head was insistent so I had to edit my looooongish life history to some few miserable sentences. Okay!
I begin: I call myself Scatterbrain, because I am sure that the cells in my ‘medulla oblongata’ are too restive, too scattered, too impatient (especially with rubbish(es)and nonsensical)) too scattered to let me stay steady in one place.
At every moment I want to do so many things… fly, walk, run, eat, sleep, read, dance, pinch something soft, touch up something.. yo know… smooch something soft and inspiring (this is becoming an obsession really with Lagos swimming with heavy, heavy ‘stuffs’ delicately balanced as to serve as ‘in-your-face-man’ sort of ala carte; or the WMD (weapon of man’s distraction (someone said it is Destruction) ) deliberately half-covered with see-through spaghetti tops and bum-hugging pants… oh, the TV screen is not helping, especially the music channels… which makes me always wonder: ‘why aren’t the defenders of woman’s dignity suing the life out of those TV stations daily abusing the anatomy of the womenfolk… my crazy friend said the defenders (mostly the ngo-rised women themselves) couldn’t because seeing such lavish expose by the ‘young, daring and willing’ in a sort of way help the usually oldin’ activists measure or affirm the surplus-ness or leanness of their own ‘wealth’.. well that is another matter.
Oh …. See my scatterbrain has been at work all this while… So you are confused at the end or tail of my tale? I told you I am a Scatterbrain….
Well the end of this scattered tale is that I call myself a Scatterbrain because I could not afford to let the name ‘Mad Artist’, which some coat-wearing colleagues in the office seemed hell-bent to attach to my honourable person.
It is maddening enough to be an artiste, now to be a ‘Mad Artist’ is sure to be the end of all madness, abi?
So any time I acted sort of funny and they opened their wide mouth to say Mad Artiste, I quickly hop in and give them a lead: I am a Scatterbrain… so now you know what why and how I came about the name... notto so… I don tire jo, tomorrow is another day.