Sunday, June 19, 2011

Who is a Culture Minister?

Who Is A Culture Minister?

By Segun Ojewuyi

TRUST me, the premise is simple. Artists are fueled by a burning passion to create art — expressive and qualitative art that conveys the ennobling power of deep thought and penetrating insight, balanced with beauty. Artists — Nigerian artists not excempted — also want to make a dignified living, the kind that respects and provides the sanctity necessary for creativity to flourish. Where there is talent, good training and tenacity of purpose, such a combination of critical artistic and commercial success, should not be hard to find. Often the artist just wants to be able to keep the creative work unhindered, maintain a responsible family life and foster good citizenship.

Opulence is not a requirement, but also not anathema. The artistic life is a cause not a curse, it is one of service not servitude, nobility not futility. It is a life that is just as worthy of every breath, every second and minutia of creativity and labour that the artist puts in, as well as every accolade and Naira that the recipient cohesive civic community invests. There are models of such partnerships and success stories in the developed world. Making art is and must be vital to the well-being of society, community and country, just as the sustenance of the artist is and must be embraced as a necessity for societal identity, prosperity and health.

We are a very unhealthy society. Our common treasures and processes of human creative activity and imagination, have been worn down by attrition through many years of unimaginable physical and emotional violence. We cover the full range - terrorist crimes, pogroms, kidnappings, robberies, contract assassinations, high brow stealing from the people’s coffers, political muggings, religious brigandry etc.

Our country is in one of the worst throes of psychological maladjustments in our history. Swarms of our humanity are deeply wounded and the blood clots are just beginning to show.

Imagine what the landscape will be in five years, if we do not make a change. Now more than ever, we need immediate intervention and rehabilitation — physical and emotional. Some would argue that we need seven Halleluyah’s with multiple baths in the baptismal and all-year-round ramadans. I say goodluck to them.

While we are focused on building new infrastructure for steady power supply and rebuilding our economy, while government continues to wrestle with transparency, we must remember that central among the remedies for that necessary collective societal rehabilitation, we need the arts, we need a renewal of our artistic and cultural imagination to fuel new growth, a new egalitarian Nigeria. Art is how we explore the difficult terrains of our national character.

Culture is how we stabilize our individual and collective morality. And without character, without integrity, our growth experiments will fail and we will merely continue to drift into darker depths of horror and disintegration.

In a democracy, government must be a dependable provider of service for the people and the corporate community must be a model of responsible citizenry, with long-ranging and clear sighted participation in the creation of the ennobling environment for the development of the arts and the artist. This should not be hard to embrace and nurture, if we are truly intent on building a rich and healthy nation.

Deficient infrastructure

It is time to revisit the infrastructure of artistic and cultural production as we now have it. Our cultural production and artistic expression at the grassroots in our villages seem to be holding well, even if not all healthy. Nigerian artists are not insular and they have responded with imagination to the vagaries of our postcolonial intersections with the world. This courageous productivity has, however, been shortchanged by an infrastructure that should be supportive but instead is more destructive. As at this juncture, government and corporate partnered intervention in the development of the arts and artists in Nigeria, will rank a miserable 2 on a scale of 10.

Garba Ashiwaju (late) and Aig Imokhuede deserve some credit as Federal Directors of Culture who midwifed a number of parastatals, ideas and policies into Government’s participation in our national cultural and artistic agenda. We have a few motivated and productive executives running a number of those parastatals, vigorously exploring the ideational frontiers for our national cultural growth. The Center for Black Arts and African Civilization, National Institute for Cultural Orientation and in fits of seasonal brilliance the National Commission for Museums and Monuments are some of the most progressive of these parastatals. We have a cultural policy that is functional, if not totally adequate, and we have an arts community that is vocal even if not well organized.

The appointments of the Federal Ministers of culture have become the pawn of political gifts by a succession of short-sighted Nigerian administrations. The Ministry of Culture unlike all the other ministries, seem to have become a hibernating station for neophytes and political office seekers who use the ministry to appropriate huge funds for future political campaigns and entertainment expenditure for their extra-curricular.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s promised transformative agenda for Nigeria will only be fully realised, when he genuinely commits to a deep and radical campaign for the health of Nigeria’s artistic community and production. Jonathan must move away from the traditional process of political gifting and party quotas, to find an active leader from the artistic community — particularly in the portfolio for a Culture and Orientation Minister.

So perhaps we should seriously revisit the definition of not just what a ministry of culture stands for, but most pertinent, what makes a Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation? We should also interrogate what responsible corporate citizenship means for the arts and how the minister’s role should be seen in that picture. For the most part, we should be reminded that we are in the 21st century with its multiplicity of variables and our 20th century models may not be adequate anymore.

I suggest that we interrogate the commission of our nationally appointed cultural agents and agencies, particularly in the face of their collective colossal failure to affirm for our local citizenry, the proven direct correlation of art and culture to societal health and development. It is time to howl up the utter dereliction of purpose by our Ministers of culture in projecting what is good about us, about our people, about our Nigerian humanity with our arts and cultural expressions.

When our languages, dances, writers, poets, musicians, actors, directors, sculptors play second fiddle to foreign imports, our humanity is subjugated to second class humanity. It should be disturbing enough, that our Ministry of culture and our embassies abroad have become mere clearing centers for same old festivals and ‘diplomat - ease’ of the last quarter century, instead of being the hotbed of new ideas and cultural trends that cast Nigeria as a healthy nation of bold, innovative and highly productive people.

Our angst should be roused when our Minister of Culture and National orientation is a mute bystander in the national discourse for a culturally viable and democratic Nigeria. We should now boldly ask those who nominate and appoint our minister in culture and orientation, what they look for, what questions they ask, what skills they demand of a nominee to be appointed.

Is he one who spends an entire tenure sitting over the funneling of contracts for T-shirts and things of such petty ilk? Is a Minister of culture synonymous with the master of ceremony for government’s hedonistic adventures and self-glorification? Are we against the grain to advocate that such a man or woman be a known and passionate advocate for the ethical subtext of our constitution and a provocateur in the corridors of ideas and national discourse — deploying art and its beautiful agency for growth and national well-being? Rather than a central humongous national legislative office holder, not unlike the fat-bellied and sycophantic agent of a Politburo, shouldn’t the minister be one who is committed to serving the arts community, an active fund-raiser for the artistic and cultural expressions of our artists outside of government? Should he/she not be versed in the whims of international cultural diplomacy and public affairs — an erudite thinker, speaker and a deep well of innovative ideas?

As he, Mr. President, considers the zoned list of nominees for the culture ministry, we urge that he shares with us his criteria for that man or woman in whose hands we submit our well being and growth, for the next four years or so.

Prof, Ojewuyi is a professor of Theatre arts at the Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, USA. He wrote this article under his Column ARTEFACTS, which made its debut today in The Guardian, Lagos

‘They Came With Brushes In One Hand And A Bag Of Knowledge In The Other’

‘They Came With Brushes In One Hand And A Bag Of Knowledge In The Other’

‘They Came With Brushes In One Hand And A Bag Of Knowledge In The Other’

‘They Came With Brushes In One Hand And A Bag Of Knowledge In The Other’

Chief Taiwo Olaniyi (aka Twins 77), the world renowned artist and UNESCO Ambassador for the Arts, who passed on at age 67 on Thursday after weeks of illness at the UCH Ibadan was one of the pioneers of the famous Osogbo Art Movement, having participated in the 1960s workshop that led to the emergence of the movement. In this narration excerpted from the book, Thirty Years of Osogbo Art (Iwalewa Haus, 1991), edited by the man who (with his wife, Georgina) inspired and coordinated the workshop, the German scholar and culture worker, Uli Beier (also late), Olaniyi explains how he came into the world of the art. The interview was based on an interview with Gabi Duigu in Sydney, 1984.

THE first time I saw Ulli was towards September 1963. Then I was still working with the medicine sellers, and I never knew I was going to come to them. But I just like him as a person, I don’t know why, but I just like him. He was driving his French car. This strange orange car: more like a tin box.

People called him an idol worshipper, but I felt attracted to him, maybe because he was wearing Nigerian dress always; or maybe because – spiritually – something inside me told me that things were going to happen to me through them in my life. The first time I ever talked to Ulli and Georgina was in 1964, when I gatecrashed a party at Mbari. I just forced myself in, because there was music, and I love dancing, and in those days I don’t know any other thing than dancing. Everything I do is dancing, everyday, and day in and day out!

There were a lot of people there, ambassadors and intellectuals; it was a very big party, and they all notice my dancing. After the party Ulli asked me whether I want to work for him.

I say: to do what? He says: I don’t know, I just want you to stay with us at Mbari. I told him I have to think about it; but at that time the medicine sellers were treating me very badly, and I would have gone to Ulli, even if he had asked me to clean his kitchen.

Georgina – I don’t know – I like Georgina a lot. When I say like, I am not referring to the likeness between man and woman: but she had the kind of personality around her that make people feel like working with her.

Ulli was more like a father to us; we have to respect him because of his age and because he was a chief. Georgina was more like one of us. Anytime we need something from Ulli we would go and talk to her first.

Ullli had to settle a lot of quarrels between us at Mbari. It was his plan to let me join Duro Ladipo’s Theatre Company, but Duro never liked me. When the company was invited to go to Germany he refused to take me. I was very upset, but Ulli could not persuade Duro. So before they left for Berlin, he bought me a guitar. I don’t know why he did so. Maybe he wanted to make me happy. Maybe it was his foresight, because he saw my love for music. So he gave me the guitar and he said: this will keep you busy. But up till today, I don’t know how to play guitar! But the guitar helped me to get a lot of boys around me who wanted to join me and form a musical group!

The band became very popular; and when Duro and Ulli and Georgina came back from Berlin I threw a welcoming party for them. All my musical friends came and there were hundreds of people who wanted to hear my music, because some of my songs were very popular at that time:

“The wise man uses his beans to make cake

Let me tell you what the world is like.

Two friends live together in one room:

The one has a talent for spending

The other has talent for saving.

The first spends all

The second save all

The foolish man will perish in the ocean

The wise man’s bean makes cake.”

But Duro wasn’t happy when he saw me so popular, because it was as if the whole Mbari Club has been created only for me, and he must have been thinking that I was taking over his father’s premises!

So a few days later, he drove me out of Mbari, saying he did not need my assistance any more. Fortunately, by that time, my artistic talent had already been discovered by Georgina; because about a month before they left for Germany she had been conducting her art workshop. She had left me lots of pen and ink and paper, and before she returned I had done a lot of black and white drawings. Georgina was happy with the work I had done and immediately I told her I had been driven out of Mbari, she decided I should come and work in the house every day. I could tell from her smiling that she thought I was more talented than others. I think she like my work, because it was different from anybody else. The others were all doing what I might term “mural paintings”. They were all working with thick brushes, drawing in heavy black line. My own work was something completely new. When I make my shapes, I never look at any book, and I was never moved by anybody elses painting, I don’t even know where they are coming from.

My method of working was also different from others: others drew sketches; then they developed their paintings from that. I never drew sketches. I hated drawing sketches; in fact even when I draw a sketch, I find I can never copy it again when I work on the painting: because when I work, I close my eyes and I put my hand there and I draw things. That’s how I work.

When I came to Georgina’s house to work she had brought an etching press and she taught me how to draw on a zinc plate, how to etch the plate and how to use the press. Ulli had given me a book by Amos Tutuola to read: My life in the Bush of Ghosts. He said that my titles reminded him of Tutuolas stories. Now that book gave me very good ideas for giving more titles to my works.

When I had made about twenty plates, we started printing them. That was a very good time in my life with Georgina: because we would work all night; we would print and print and print. And any time there were some small smudges on the margin, she would say: this is not good enough and throw it out and make me start all over again.

I learned many technical tricks from her. When I first put the gouache colours on my paintings, I found that they would submerge my pen and ink lines. She then taught me how to apply the colour with a sponge; then she bought some yachting varnish, and she showed me how to varnish the paintings I had painted on brown paper. The varnish made the black line come through again from underneath the colour. And it also helped to preserve the paper. Some of my pictures, which I painted on paper twenty years ago, are still in very good condition.

The most important thing I learned from her was energy: Because Georgina was very hard working. You will find her making a mosaic on her kitchen wall; she would make backdrops for Duro’s Theatre; she would paint murals in the palace of Ido Oshun; she would do a lot of sewing, she would be designing furniture; she would run to the palace where Bisi and Muraina were working, she would run back again to the house where I was working on prints. We always called her a witch, because she never get tired; but we don’t mean a negative witch, we mean she was a woman who had a lot of power.

Maybe that’s why I like working with her, because I also like to be very active. And before I was having this big accident, I will be dancing, I will be singing, I will be painting, I will be travelling; I will be doing a lot of things at the same time. I learned energy from her. Maybe I also learn smoking from her, because at that time she would be smoking five or six cigarettes while she was working; she was smoking those French cigarettes, very black tobacco in a blue packet.

Georgina also taught us to look at work critically. Before an exhibition she taught us how to look carefully and pick the best works; she never wanted us to exhibit any second rate pictures; and I know she used to destroy many of her own works, when she wasn’t satisfied with them. Many paintings she would just paint over them again. But unfortunately, since I have become so popular, the collectors cannot allow me to wait. They just jump in and by the time you know it, they will say: I am going home with this! Because they want to go away with your work. And there is nothing you can do. But nowadays, I stop people form buying, because I just put a very high price on my work... to scare people away. But – some people still buy. I remember one painting – I put $50,000 on it because I love it and I don’t want to sell it. But somebody still bought it in Spain. But one good thing about having high prices is that you don’t have to paint as much; you can afford to spend more time on a painting. One good thing about working with Ulli and Georgina in those early days was that they gave you time to work without having to sell. They gave you money for food and they bought your materials. So we had about two and half years to develop, before having to fight for existence. Working in Georgina’s house was like going to school: I would start work early in the morning by seven o’clock and I would not finish until six in the evening. I learned how to have patience then. But many of the younger artists, who are imitating us now, they feel that immediately they do something, they should sell it. They call themselves “Oshogbo artists” but they don’t know the experiences we went through. They have nothing in common with us; they merely copy us, but they don’t have the same energy. I don’t blame them too much, because they see us building houses and they see us riding some of the best cars in town.

But when we started, we didn’t know that our work would ever be worth anything; we did it because we loved doing it! Perhaps the most important thing I got from the workshop was that it taught me how to stand on my own feet. It enabled me to discover myself as an artist; it enabled me to sit down and work for hours without getting tired; it made me understand that concentration is one of the most important things an artist needs in life.

Nowadays we see many artists trained in the universities. But I think they are more imitating other people’s work; I don’t think they have all we have; because what is the point of a teacher teaching you, and he makes you look at Picasso’s work. I don’t think that’s the way it should be. An artist should be given the freedom to work. I was never able to accept instructions form anybody in my life; that’s why I dropped out of school, because I could not tolerate the headmaster ordering me to dig out big iroko trees from the school compound as a punishment. That’s why I refused a scholarship I was offered in Theatre Arts at the University of Ife.

But Georgina would never try to give us instructions, but she might say things like: why don’t you try this. Many people in Oshogbo did not understand Ulli and Georgina at the time. They called them pagans and idol worshippers and they said to us: these people want to turn you into olorishas. But I didn’t care about that. I told them: as for me, I have already got orisha in my family, both my father’s family and my mother’s family. My father’s compound in Ibadan is called Oloshun, which means that we have always been worshipping Oshun; and my grandmother in Ogidi was a very powerful woman in the Imole cult. So it is not surprising that 90% of my work has to do with Yoruba religion and orisha. Ulli never talked to me about religion, but you could see in his face that he had this interest and you could see him going to many orisha ceremonies and you could see that many Shango priests were his friends and they came to his house a lot. He wanted us to respect our traditions, and I think his interest had a lot to do with the content of Duro’s plays as well. But in those early days we got a lot of abuse from people; some people didn’t even want to sit next to us in a taxi, because we all started to imitate Ulli and Georgina and we wear adire and handwoven Yoruba cloth. So the people said we were backward; but later they got to know we were more civilised than they.

These things never bothered me. In fact I loved it. Because it makes you more powerful. People didn’t dare to touch you, and some people were afraid of Ulli because they said, he must have strong medicine to turn us all into orisha worshippers. These people themselves were going to see the orisha priest at night, but they wont show themselves in the afternoon. In the daytime they pretend to be Muslims, but they were not really Muslims, in their heart they weren’t Muslims, but because you may not get any business unless you call yourself an Alhaji, or because you cannot marry the Alhaji’s daughter, unless you pretend to be a Muslim – that’s why these people accuse us of doing the same thing that they themselves will be doing at night.

Some people were jealous of Ulli and Georgina. In later years, when I became very successful myself, I discovered that the more successful you are, the more jealousy you are going to meet and people are trying this and the other to harm you. Well, there were some intellectuals, who told us that we were being exploited and that these people were gong to make millions out of us. There was a special meeting we were called to for that – and up to now I haven’t even told Ulli about it. And I said to them: well, as far as I am concerned, I lost my father when I was seven and none of you – so called intellectuals – ever dreamed of looking for me, or of finding out who I am. You were laughing at me, calling me a crazy boy, because from birth I was having dreadlocks, which I was not allowed to cut and I was dancing in the streets. I wouldn’t even care if these people make a million on me – because if I leave them, which of you will give me a job? I don’t want to be an armed robber, and I don’t want to roam about the street without a job. I have no paper qualification, so what am I going to do? You want me to start hating Ulli and Georgina: then how much is your salary? I am feeding more than twenty people – because I have always attracted a lot of young people. If you come to my house you will find it full of people, who either come to seek my help or who just want to be around me. Who is going to take care of this responsibility? If I am what I am today, it is not because of you, but because Ulli and Georgina believed in my talents, when you would not even talk to me.

Then some of them even said: these people may carry the Oshun from the sacred grove and carry her to Europe. And I said to them: what have you people done for Oshun? If not for Susanne and Ulli – would the Oshun grove even be there today? And who amongst you has built a museum for your town, as Ulli and Georgina have done?

Well, they said a lot of things in those days: but now they know and now they even apologise to us.

But I never listened to anybody; because where would I go and where would I be given the same opportunities? Where else could I find out who I am and bring out all the things that were in me?

Ulli and Georgina were unique. The uniqueness of it was that they came from another culture and they made us more aware of our own culture. They revealed our creativity to the world and to ourselves. That’s what I see in them. They were a kind of missionary; but they were not like those Christian missionaries, who came with the Bible in one hand and with the sword in the other. They came with brushes in one hand and with a bag of knowledge in the other.

(excerpted from Thirty Years of Osogbon Art, (Iwalewa Haus, 1991)

1967 – A Year in the Live of an Artist, By Beier
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1967 was the most crucial year in the life of the Oshogbo artists. Shortly before Christmas 1966 Georgina and I left Nigeria. For three and a half years the “Oshogbo Artists” had worked in Georgina’s studio. They had been able to devote their energy and imagination to their artistic work, without hassling for their daily bread. Their art materials were supplied and they received enough money to subsist without selling their work. Several exhibitions had been arranged for them abroad (Naprstek Muzeum in Prague, Neue Munchner Galerie in Munich) and their career had reached a first climax in Nigeria with a major Oshogbo exhibition, which opened at the Goethe Institute in Lagos on December, 14th, 1966.

Now, for the first time, the artists had to fend for themselves and many critics predicted that they would not survive without this special patronage. For some the transition was made easier, because they were able to find jobs to sustain them: Muraina Oyelami and Bisi Fabunmi were caretakers of the Oshogbo Museum; Jacob Afolabi looked after the Mbari Mbayo Club and its little gallery; Jimoh Buraimoh was the electrician of the Duro Ladipo Theatre and Samuel Ojo was a tailor by profession.

Twin Seven-Seven was one of the few who had to live off his paintings alone. As he was the only one of the artists to keep diary, we are able to reconstruct this turbulent year in the life of one of the major Oshogbo artists.

Though he was still in his early twenties and at the very start of his career, he had already burdened himself with heavy social commitments: his first wife Bintu had given birth to a baby daughter; he still owed the bride price for his second wife, Iyabo, but she too gave birth to a daughter. He was courting a third girl, Risi, but had difficulties in obtaining the parents consent.

With his first earning he began to build a house for his mother in his home town Ogidi. This is a way of showing reverence to his mother, and at the same time acquiring new status and prestige by being the first person to build an “upstair” house in Ogidi. At the same time he works hard to re-establish his rights in his father’s compound in Ibadan, trying to move himself into line for his eventual succession to the family title of Olosun. He is surrounded by a gang of young admirers and followers, who have grouped themselves into a band. While Twins is more anxious to succeed as a band leader than as a painter, he is obliged – more often than not – to subsidise his band from the earnings of his art. Perhaps the single most important event in this year is his visit to London, where he participates in an exhibition of modern African Art at Institute of Contemporary Art, together with Ibrahim el Salahi, Malangatana, Asiru and Jimoh Akolo. His brief comment on the opening reads:

‘’We met a lot of friends and reporters came; we made a lot of jokes, we have fun and a good time.”

In London he cuts a spectacular figure in the streets with his gold-embroidered Yoruba cap and a Victorian policeman’s cape that is lined with purple silk. Children follow him into the house to watch him paint, much to the chagrin of their racialist parents. He likes to go shopping with Georgina and spends all his money on present to take back to Nigeria. He is picked up by a Vogue photographer, who makes him model capes, sitting on a white horse in front of the Victoria and Albert Memorial. He is busy framing his pictures for an exhibition at the University of Sussex and relaxes to the music of Ambrose Campbell in London’s famous Abalabi club. The most lasting impression of his London visit is the old gorilla “Guy” in London zoo:

March 23th: On this day I fell in love with a gorilla named Guy. He is standing there in that tiny space; I felt he was supposed to have freedom and I felt sad for him. His image stays in my mind...”

The moving pen and ink drawing Twins made of Guy must be considered one of his major works. Back in Nigeria the hassle for daily existence began again. The very day after his arrival in Oshogbo he travels to Ibadan to sell some paintings and to see his family. The amount of travelling Twins does during this year is quite incredible. He has made a name for himself in Lagos at an exhibition of prints that took place in Tayo Aiyegbusi’s Mbari Mbayo Gallery. There is an increasing stream of visitors to Oshogbo, who come to look at his paintings and who also use him as a guide to other artist studios and to the Oshun shrine. Twins records twenty-two visits, mostly by Americans during this year: on one occasion thirty Peace Corps workers arrive; on another day a group of American and European visitors arrive on Oshogbo airport in a chartered plane.

In spite of this, he has to make twenty trips to Lagos and sixteen to Ibadan in pursuit of sales. In Lagos the Wolfords keep an open house every Thursday for the display of Oshogbo art: they also introduce Twins to many other expatriates. The Argentinian and the Venezuelan ambassadors become friends and begin to collect his paintings. Another American, Mr. Springwater, arranges an exhibition of Twins etchings at the Wesleyan University of Connecticut. Although these are in fact the prints that Georgina has sorted out as rejects. Twins earns about £5000 during that year. Twins is often hard up, because his social commitments are so great. Numerous diary entries read:

“A penniless day. No visitor, no friend, no helper. I pray for energy and creativity”. Or again.

“Another penniless day. People think I have money and I am hiding it. But I try to explain to them that I depend on my luck”.

In spite of his considerable income, Twins is forced to borrow money continuously; from the bank manager, from fellow artists, from his food seller. Three days after receiving about £1000 from America, he records borrowing £10 from Susanne Wenger. His money is spent on building his mother’s house at Ogidi, on his band boys and on socialising. After his return from London he notes:

“A very busy week when I spend about £40 both in celebrating my return from Europe and for making other friends happy, who complain that I don’t bring anything back from Europe for them”.

Whenever he has a windfall of money, he pays his debts, buys food, clothes for his family and band and building materials and throws parties. On his daughter’s first birthday, he spends no less than £432 – an enormous sum at the time. If he has no money and unexpected visitors arrive, he borrows money from the bank to entertain them. Much of his money goes on his motor cycle – understandable, because without mobility he can’s exist. In 1967 he goes through three machines: one Honda and two Yamahas. He has four road accidents, seriously hurts his knee in one of them, but escapes without a scratch in the others. On November 13th, his Yamahas catches fire in the house, perhaps from a cigarette that was carelessly thrown away:

“A bad day in y life. I am ruined by an unseen power. My motor cycle caught fire”.

People sympathise with him:

“Mr. Jimoh Buraimoh came to my house to give me hope”.

On November 15th, he records:

“Early in the morning I woke up. I go here and there looking for cash to buy a new motor cycle”.

The Yamaha is his lifeline. He needs it, not only to sell his work in Ibadan and Lagos but also to keep his links with his mother’s relatives and his old school mates in Kabba province. He has a strong emotional attachment to that part of the country, where his real roots are. He makes eight trips to Kabba province during that year. Each visit lasts four or five days, during which he rushes restlessly from village to village. On May 24th, he travels from:

“Oshogbo to Ikare, from Ikare to Ishe, Ishe to Ishua, Ishua to Epinmi”.

On the following day he travels:

“First to Ishua, then back to Epinmi, to Ukpe and back to Ishe. All is well. A short visit to Ogidi”.

May 26th:

“Left Ogidi in the night for Ishe, Life in Ishe. On a short visit to Ikare in the morning. Two times trip to Ishua. Another rush to Ikare. Visit Dupe and Karimu at Highlife bar”.

May 27th:

“Life in Ishe on the market day. Plan a rush visit to Ogidi. Took Dele with me to Ogidi and later travel all the way to Iyara, to see the burial ground of my father and m other’s mother. Slept at Ogidi”.

While he is strengthening his links with his mother’s people, he is also trying to put down new roots in Ibadan. After the early death of his father, his mother’s people had kept him away from Ibadan, because it was said by an oracle priest that the child’s life was in danger there. Now he gets to know his father’s relatives in the Olosun Compound of Ibadan. He learns the family history and discovers that from 1895 to 1897, one of his ancestors was the Olubadan (ruler) of Ibadan:

“I went back to Oshogbo late in the night and I was sad to know that I am a prince and to know that Christian influence has really relegated our family to the background”.

He decides that one day he will become the Olubadan of Ibadan to restore the lost dignity of his family. After a while he accepts the fact that he may not realise this ambition for a while, the effort needed in time and energy and money is too great at the present moment. With all these hectic activities he has little peace at home. Bintu, his wife, feels neglected; she suspects him of having other women and resents the fact that he spends so much time and money on friends and hangers-on. He records seventeen quarrels with Bintu.

“A very slow Sunday. I expected big cash, but none came. I work harder. A little fight between me and my wife Bintu, because she thought that every time I went out to play and came back in the night, that I must have been with some other women: forgetting that music is not something you play and rush back home. You have to shake hands with friends and have drinks with them”.

Some of the quarrels become serious. Twice Bintu runs away to her mother in Ede, leaving the baby behind. Both Bintu’s and Twin’s mother repeatedly get involved in the quarrel.

Things are not going smoothly with the band either; there are constant demands for more money, but there is also disagreement on the type of music to be played. But in these disagreements Twins always comes out on top; the band stays together and they give at least 30 performances during that year, usually with great success. He is immensely popular as a musician.

During this year the Oshogbo artists remain a cohesive group. Twins participated actively in the foundation of the Oshogbo Artists Association, of which Asiru became the President. An All-Oshogbo exhibition was staged at Mbari Oshogbe. Twins assists Tijani Mayakiri to become a member, but resents the fact that new artists are now calling themselves “Oshogbo” artists, even when they have no connection with the group. He has a public row with Z.K. Oloruntoba about this at Ibadan. Twins sees much of the original Oshogbo artist group, in particular Muraina, Bisi Fabunmi, Jimoh Buraimoh and of course Samuel Ojo, who is also a member of his band. They visit each other’s houses, lend each other money, attend each other’s family ceremonies and go out drinking together.

Occasionally Twins goes to church; regularly he consults his ‘readers’, traditional oracle priests as well as Muslim fortune tellers and Christian ‘prophets’ from the Apostolic Church. He performs several traditional rituals and regularly visits the Oshun shrine in Oshogbo. He washes his new born baby with the sacred water of the river Oshun and gives the Oshun priests money for a sacrifice after he has escaped from a motor cycle accident.

He has several major exhibitions during that year: at the University of Sussex, the Travers Gallery in Edinburgh, the Wesleyan University in the U.S., at Mbari Ibadan and at the Goethe Institute in Lagos. He finds time to produce all his works, by applying himself with relentless energy. This entry for July, 19th, is typical for many others:

“A very busy day. I don’t want to see anybody. I am thinking and planning of how to create new work, to beat some of the Oshogbo artists, who have already copied my work”.

Twins emerges from his diary as a man of restless energy, a man generous to a fault, an ingenious survivor, a philosopher who takes life as it comes and makes the best of it; a man with an unshakeable belief in his talent and his destiny, an ambitious man but one whose repeated prayer is for ‘energy and creativity’.

Friday, May 20, 2011


The Committee For Relevant Art, CORA, in collaboration with the iREP Documentary Film Forum invites you to the ART STAMPEDE on the theme NEW TRENDS IN NOLLYWOOD.

Scheduled for 3pm on Sunday May 22, 2011 at the Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos, the Stampede is to interrogate the new Nollywood through an interactive public forum involving the producers and directors of what is certainly the new narrative in Nollywood.

The forum will assemble producers/directors of such new narratives as Figurine, Through the Glass, Reloaded, Tango With Me, Ije, Inale, Tenant, Bent Arrows, Champion of our Times, Bursting Loose, Holding Hope, Private Storm, Jungle Ride, In America, Anchor Baby, Mirror Boy, Alero's Symphony,Lilies of the Ghetto, The Child, and others. Many of these producers have affirmed the readiness to participate in this all-important discussion designed to examine the current challenges and prospects of the Nollywood industry, and pointing the way to a brighter and even more promising future.

The Forum has the backing of key Writers on Nollywood including Mr STEVE AYORINDE (Film Critic, and Editor and Managing Editor of National Mirror, who is Moderating; and Mr. Shaibu Husseini (Film Writer, The Guardian, author of Moviedom: Clips on Pioneers of the Nollywood Industry) coordinating with officials of CORA and iREP.

“These are obviously works have helped to shape and redefine movie making in Nollywood”, says CORA’s spokesman Ayo Arigbabu. “ We intend to engage those behind these works in an intellectually engaging and stimulating dialogue that will help us appreciate the new bend that Nollywood is negotiating”.

CORA is a 20-year old culture advocacy group specialising in stimulating debates around Nigerian and African Cultural sectors.

iREP is the pivot of the West African Documentary Forum, and organisers of the yearly iREPRESENT Documentary Film Festival, which made its debut in January this year.

Toyin Akinosho
Secretary-General, CORA

Femi Odugbemi
Executive Director, iREP

Arthouse Forum for Yeni Kuti @ 50

The Committee for Relevant Art, CORA, and Friends of the Arts (FOA) presents the ARTHOUSE FORUM in celebration of YENI ANIKULAPO-KUTI @ 50. Ms Yeni Kuti,choreographer of the Positive Band and Manager of the New African Shrine will be 50 on May 24. The Arthouse is only a prelude to the birthday celebration.

The objective is to examine how the intervention of Yeni Kuti in Afrobeat Dance changed the dynamics and culture of Music Band dance in the last two decades.

Date: Sunday May 22, 2011

Time: 12 noon

Venue: Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos.

Speakers are:
* Dr Sola Olorunyomi (Author: Fela and the Imagined Continent); Lecturer at University of Ibadan, Lead Speaker
* Mr Benson Idonije, Broadcaster, Music writer and first manager of Fela's Koola Lobitos band
* Dr Eesuola, Lecturer on Polical Behaviour, University of Lagos, and scholar on Fela's politics
* Latoya Julius-Ekemode ( Culture activist and Choreographer of Orlando Julius Band)
* Segun Adefila -- Artistic Director, Crown Troupe of Nigeria
* Arnold Udoka, National Choreographer, Director of Dance, National Troupe of Nigeria (Moderator)

Crown Troupe of Africa
Adunni and Nefertiti

The ARTHOUSE FORUM is a social gathering with generous dose of discussion in honour of an art personality who has contributed immensely to the flowering of a vital aspect of our Cultural Industry.


Arthouse Forum for Yeni Kuti at 50
As a prelude to the 50th birthday of choreographer/dancer, Yeni Anikulapo-Kuti, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) in collaboration with Friends of the Arts (FOA), will on Sunday, May 22 stage the Arthouse Forum in celebration of Yeni, choreographer of the Positive Band and manager of the New African Shrine, for her contribution to dance in Nigeria.
Holding at the Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos, by 12pm, with the theme, From body gyration to choreographic art: Evolution of afrobeat & music band dance, the objective of the programme is to examine how the intervention of Yeni Kuti in Afrobeat dance changed the dynamics and culture of music band dance in the last two decades.
The lead speaker at the forum is Dr Sola Olorunyomi (author of Fela and the Imagined Continent), a lecturer at the University of Ibadan. He will be joined by Benson Idonije, Broadcaster, music writer and first manager of Fela's Koola Lobitos band; Dr Eesuola, Lecturer on Political Behaviour, University of Lagos; Latoya Julius-Ekemode (culture activist and choreographer of Orlando Julius Band); Segun Adefila, artistic director, Crown Troupe of Africa and Arnold Udoka, National Choreographer, Director of Dance, National Troupe of Nigeria as moderator.
According to the Secretary General of CORA, Toyin Akinosho, “the Arthouse Forum is a social gathering with generous dose of discussion in honour of an art personality, who has contributed immensely to the flowering of a vital aspect of our cultural industry.”
The event is expected to attract artistes and stakeholders in the industry and will also feature performances by the Crown Troupe of Africa and Nefertiti led by Adunni.
Unlike his siblings Femi and Seun, who toed their father’s part, Yeni, the eldest daughter of the late music legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, gained her popularity in dance, which she started at a very tender age.
“I’ve always loved dancing; I stated dancing at a very tender age; about three years old. When I was in secondary school, I joined all the cultural dance groups in my school. Before then, when my father was practicing with his dancer, Dele, I always join her; she used to teach me how to dance Afrobeat,” she said in a previous interview.
Unlike many, who see dance as a hobby, Yeni had always wanted to be a professional dancer.
“I wanted to dance professionally. When I left secondary school, instead of going to journalism school, I wanted to go to a dancing school abroad but my father couldn’t afford it. That was why I could not attend a dancing school but it was still a passion.”
As the first daughter of Fela, it was natural for Yeni to play in the art sector, but she insists her father’s music wasn’t really the attraction.
“It wasn’t really my father because he was a musician not a dancer; it was in my blood. People, who knew us in those days, they used to see my sister and I get into the stage with my father’s dancers. Though I never danced with my father’s band, we used to join them during rehearsals.”
Unlike most parents, who wouldn’t want a dancer daughter, the Anikulapo-Kutis embraced the idea and even provided support to Yeni’s passion.
“My mother was always very supportive and my brother Femi was about starting his band then. So, my sister and I told him, ‘we are going to choreograph for the dancers, in fact, we are going to dance.’ And my mother, she’s used to supporting her children in anything that we were doing. And my father will not say, ‘don’t dance; shebi my father was a musician. So, there was no dissenting voice really,” she said.
Even the many discouraging comments from her peers, most of who were dreaming of becoming lawyers and doctors, did not change anything.
“I didn’t hear them; they must have been talking to themselves, not me. I mean, you get the odd ones saying, ‘ah, Yeni, don’t dance oh! In secondary school, most of my friends knew that I loved dance and they always tried to discourage me. I remember when we were going to do our O Level–– I was the student still dancing–– all the other once had given up; they were studying their books. So, I used to hear my friends say, ‘oh, don’t dance, face your books and I will say to them, ‘all right, I’m coming, I’ coming.”

As a student, combining academics and dance was a difficult task for Yeni, but like she puts it, “I did the proffered; dance.”
Though she never enrolled in any dancing class, her talent, which she described as natural, did the magic for Yeni.
“I was just natural to me; by the time they had burnt down my father’s house, he couldn’t afford to send me to school I wanted to go. I first went to school of journalism, then to secretarial school as well, so, I did things that didn’t involve dancing at all; I just followed the trend–– going to school and getting qualifications.”
The coming of Femi Kuti and the Positive Force could be described as the lifeline for Yeni’s dancing career.
“I was just doing what I was supposed to do; working in offices. Until one day my brother (Femi) said he was starting his band; I abandoned everything to face dancing.”
Dancing for the Positive Force remained one of Yeni’s cherished moments in her career.
“I’ve loved every second, every minute of the dancing; I don’t regret it for a second. I’ve danced all over the world; the only places I haven’t been are India and Australia. I’ve been to America, China, Japan, England, Canada, Brazil, France… I’ve been everywhere, just dancing. I was in Croatia, Slovenia, South Africa, West Africa… in fact, I can’t even remember all of them,” she enthused.
Having excelled in her chosen field, topmost in Yeni’s agenda is to set up her own dance troupe and touring around the world.
“I will love to have a dance troupe, but right now, work doesn’t permit me to do that. But for sure, I will definitely have a dance troupe. It has not been easy running the Shrine but it’s enjoyable; it’s actually a par of our dream of maintaining Fela’s legacy. He was such a great man and I’m very proud that we are in the position to maintain his legacy and even do our best to carry it to greater heights.”


I remember Bassey Effiong

By Shaibu Husseini

Born Paul Bassey Alpha Anansa Xhala Effiong Effiom but simply called Bassey Effiong, the theatre director was born in February 1955. Effiong would have 56 in February but he died a few weeks after his birthday. A native of Ikot Edem Ndarake in Akabuyo Local Government Area of Cross Rivers State, Bassey Effiong attended both primary and secondary schools in Lagos and crowned it with a second class upper division in Theatre Arts from the University of Calabar. He graduated in 1981 and through out his pre and post NYSC years, Effiong served either as director in several national stage production. Effiong's directorial skill at the interpretation of Wole Soyinka's The Road is still adjudged the best at the University of Calabar. His own play which he wrote and directed was also adjudged a master piece during his undergraduate years. He later served under the late Professor Ola Rotimi with whom his directorial and writing skills blossomed more.

Effiong joined the staff of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) Lagos from where he ran his popular stars producing Anansa Playhouse. After about a decade, Effiong moved on to Calabar and was employed first into the Cross State Cultural Centre Board as a Deputy Director and later he was transferred to the Ministry of Information as a technical director. Effiong will be best remembered for adapting Chinua Achebe's Things for All Apart for the stage.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

On eve of Nigerian elections and the opening of 'Fela!' in Lagos, Femi Kuti talks politics, legacy, and music

By Jessica Hundley
Femi Kuti makes something more than music. His dozen or so album releases and hugely popular concerts (“one of the more powerful live shows on Earth,” according to the Onion) are imbued with the weight of family legacy and Kuti’s own individual intents.
It is "music as message" in a way few acts take on these days –- protest and admonishment and hope all embedded in Afrobeat exuberance. In his own words, Kuti’s songs are his primary “weapon” in a lifelong struggle to bring awareness and resolution to the strife in his home country of Nigeria.

The eldest son of the great musician and activist Fela Kuti, Femi began his musical career at age 16 as a member of his father’s band. After Fela’s death in 1997, Kuti continued in his father’s footsteps, embracing outspoken activism, maverick musicianship and a relentless tour schedule. His newest effort, Africa for Africa (released April 12 on Knitting Factory Records), was recorded in the same studio where he first laid down tracks with his father.

A direct return to his roots, the album embraces raw funk and deliberately dirty production -– a mix of joyous dance beats and deeply potent lyricism. With the upcoming presidential elections in Nigeria on April 16 and the opening next week in Lagos of the Broadway hit “Fela!,” Kuti is raising his voice high, still seeking, through music, revolution, renewal and redemption.

Pop & Hiss: I’d like to hear your thoughts on music as a method of communication, a way to connect to the times. I think great music is always indicative of the moment that it’s made in. With that said, can you talk a bit about the intent of this particular record and ideally what you would like people to take from it?

Femi Kuti: I think the most important thing for Africans to understand, especially the young people of Africa to understand, is that all African countries, despite their political structures, are all one people. I want them to see that we are brothers and sisters and to try to love one another instead accepting this divide that exists for very stupid, ignorant reasons. We need to unite Africa, because we are so far behind the rest of the world. We need to take steps toward health and education for our children. We need to take care of ourselves and not rely on the West, on the rest of the world, to solve our problems.

Finally, people need to understand what 500 years of slavery did to Africa, what 50 years of colonialism did to Africa, what so many recent years of corrupt government has done to Africa. Young people, especially, need to understand this history in its context. They need to understand what people like Marcus Garvey, my father, my grandmother, people like this who sacrificed their time and their lives to fight for the emancipation of Africa.

People need to understand the past in order to step into the future. Africa has resources –- the human resources of great African doctors, athletes and artists -– collectively, as a nation, we have natural resources as well. We have what it takes to move into this future. I am trying to enlighten people on these issues and trying to encourage them to move forward.

Why do you think music is such an effective tool to communicate these messages? You’ve called it your “weapon,” and your family, of course, has always been utilizing music in this way. What makes music so powerful?

I think there are many reasons. The most important is that music is a way to make very complex things understandable, palatable. Especially for young people, people in their teens, these topics are hard to understand; these issues are difficult to digest. Young people want to have fun. They don’t want to go to hear a lesson, but if you incorporate that lesson into a musical form, it’s a way for them to understand. You could put the knowledge of a whole book into a few lines of music, and because of this, the listener can quickly visualize everything on a large scale.

Growing up, listening to my father, I was able to understand what his deeper message was. It opened my mind. His music passed on information in a way that was pleasurable, simple, moving. Young people can dance and sing, and then it is only later that they realize what the song was talking about, that it had a deeper meaning. Music is very powerful that way.

Can you talk a bit about the elections of the last few weeks and of the upcoming presidential elections in Nigeria and how have they differed in the past?

We have had years of corruption. Africans are impatient right now. They just want to make enough money to live their lives. They want a job to support their families. This is a worldwide issue, of course, at the moment. The world is struggling right now. In Africa, truly democratic elections are still evolving as a process, but they seem to be much better this time, in part because we, as a people, as voters, have the same needs. We are unified in the same pressing desire for the basic rights to an education, to healthcare, to roads, electricity -- this is the right of everyone in Africa. It belongs to the bus driver, the household workers. It’s not just for the elite. It’s for all Africa. So we are hoping that these elections are closer to attaining some form of democracy for us.

And you are part of bringing the "Fela!," the Broadway production of your father’s life, to Lagos next week. Can you talk a bit about that?

A: I wanted people here to see how Americans saw the story of my father and how he changed the world. Now, a lot of critics here resent that the show is coming because they don’t feel it’s “African” enough. They resent that an American is playing my father. They are making judgments about the performance and the dance -- that it's not “African” dance. But these are trivial criticisms. If you keep an open mind, you see that the Americans were able to communicate the message of my father in a way anyone can immediately understand.

I didn’t go to the show on Broadway wanting to see my father. I didn’t go to the show to see “African” dance. I wanted to see a show that expressed the essence of what my father meant to the world. I cried when I saw the show because that message came across so powerfully. I’m hearing complaints like the American star of the show doesn’t look like my father or sound like my father -– blah, blah, blah. But they are complaints from minds that are not open. What I want to know is, if you are going to complain about the Americans telling this story, why didn’t an African company do the show themselves? Why did no Nigerian produce this show years ago?

If it were not for this show, then I’m not sure if as many of people would be talking about my father today. Now that’s not to say that the average person on the street here in Lagos will not come and enjoy and be moved and satisfied by the show. I think the average person here will love the show. The Americans succeed in communicating my fathers’ life in a way that is understandable to all cultures. If you were to take this show to Japan, people would understand, because the Americans have told it in way that crosses those boundaries. So I think it’s important that people here in Nigeria set aside their assumptions and open their minds to it.

You’ve been playing music (with your father first) when you were 16 and have been carrying on the work of your father, in your own individual way, since his death. Does that legacy ever weigh heavily on you?

Sometimes I do think that I wish could be somewhere in Hawaii on the beach or something. And of course, I would like to be able to spend more time with my family. But these are selfish thoughts, especially when you compare this to the history of my family. There are people in my family, and many, many other people in history, who knew they might be killed for what they were doing. So you can’t compromise when you see injustice and you see the truth. I try to give myself to my family as well as to my music, but I cannot compromise.

You just had a child a few days ago. Do you have hope for the future, for the world that she’ll become a woman in?

There are so many good people in the world, people who truly want peace and love and want it now. The world at this moment is going through a very drastic, very bad time. And all these recent natural disasters -- the tsunami in Japan -- these are heartbreaking things beyond our control. But we do have control over what we do as people. And we do have control of our own lives. I try to do my music and be strong and be there for my children and keep alive that hope for the future.

Culled from Los Angeles Times


Should artists accept “dirty money”?

Culled from The Cultural Weapon

Should artists accept “dirty money”?

Mike van Graan

A number of things strike one on entering Bamako, the capital of Mali. The first is the majestic Niger River responsible for much of the green in an otherwise dusty, gravelly, semi-desert city. Another is the industriousness of the people in an obviously poor country, as everyone is trying to generate even a meagre income selling mangoes, chickens and home-made furniture, or Chinese-manufactured T-shirts, electricity adapters and slip slops. Then there are some incongruously tall buildings and hotels, a number of the latter bearing the name “Libya Hotels”. One garish building is named after the Libyan dictator, Gaddafi, who has funded this – still empty - structure to house the Malian cabinet. There are two bridges across the Niger with a third being built by the Chinese.

As one walks through the market, there are hand-made posters in defence of Gaddafi, and in conversation with some of the locals, it is clear that there is much sympathy for the one time, wannabe-head of the United States of Africa.

Mali is ranked in the top half of the Mo Ibrahim Index on Governance in Africa and shares second spot for the best media freedom in Africa. But Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world with an average income of $680 per year and a ranking of 160 (out of 179 countries) on the Human Development Index. Should a country like Mali that is making great strides in human rights and freedoms – but which is relatively poor and in need of development assistance – accept aid from countries with extremely poor records in human rights and media freedom?

This is a similar question vexing some artists and arts organisations: should they accept “dirty money” that contradicts their own values of freedom of expression and fundamental human rights? Funding is often used to buy credibility, to buy political or other influence, to boost an image in need of a makeover, or simply to co-opt and mute critical thought and practice.

So, should arts organisations, cultural institutions and individual artists – given that they often struggle to survive and are more often than not in need of funding – accept support from countries with poor human rights records and that might even suppress artistic freedom in their own countries? How far back does one go to determine whether money is “dirty”? Previous Cultural Weapons have highlighted how European countries like France, the United Kingdom and Germany are increasingly compromising fundamental human rights and principles of cultural diversity, particularly with regard to immigrant communities. So, should funding be accepted from these countries? Is their funding not rooted in the repressive colonial period, partly in contemporary neo-colonial relationships and their current trade with countries that do not have exemplary human rights records?

And how many western countries that profess support for human rights and democracy, such as the USA, are not guilty of direct or indirect abuse of human rights whether through the torture of prisoners, illegal wars (not sanctioned by the United Nations) or propping up repressive regimes that serve their interests?

But if government funding may be dirty, what of funding from the private sector, from those that trade with and so sustain governments that abuse human rights, or who generate profits through weapons that are used for war against citizens, or through environmental destruction or simply through highly exploitative labour practices or who put profits before people such as drug companies who deny cheaper life-saving drugs to people who need them? Should funding be accepted from such companies? And what of more “harmless” funding from tobacco companies or wine companies that impact directly or indirectly on health and social problems? Should artists accept funding from the lottery that some regard as another form of tax, especially on the poor?

The reality is that it is very difficult, if nigh impossible, to find “clean money”, that in a world as structurally and historically inequitable as ours, with the global free market perpetuating these inequities, it is likely that all funding is tainted in some way or another. So then, is funding from any source morally acceptable, simply because it is unlikely to find funding that is not morally compromised through its generation, its source, its role or the associated strings?

Prof Es’kia Mphahlele, a highly respected South African writer and community activist who passed away a few years ago once said to the effect of “the closer dirty money gets to me, the cleaner it becomes”.

His was a pragmatic approach, one that did not see the world in binary opposites, but as a morally complex labyrinth. If the money is used to achieve a good end or a morally sound objective, then that would be acceptable in terms of this approach.

Sometimes, it is those with options, those with resources, those in relatively privileged positions who may make more “moral” choices so that a more wealthy country may not accept funding from Gaddafi, but a country like Mali – also trying to assert greater economic and political independence from its former colonial master - has fewer options. Similarly, artists and arts organisations with greater funder or income diversity are more able to adopt morally superior positions than those with less access to international or other funding sources. (Not only do the rich have more options, but they can also be more opportunistic, such as the artists from the West who were paid huge amounts to perform at a Gaddafi function, only to rush to return or donate the money to charity after he turned his guns on protesting Libyans).

The locals in Mali speak of how the construction of the building to house the country’s cabinet ministers is often halted by Gaddafi when he is unhappy with some internal Malian policy or international public position that Mali takes. (One can but wonder about the dynamics and varying interests of the current AU delegation to Libya that includes the Malian President).

In a complex global economic and political order where there are few absolutes with respect to human rights and only degrees of respect for such universal values, it is unlikely that one can adopt a one-size-fits-all policy about whom to accept funding from, and who not. It would appear to be a question of whether the individual artist or the organisation could live with the written and unspoken strings that come with such funding. Would an association with the source of funding compromise one’s image or the pursuit of one’s core objectives? Would it compromise one’s ability to “speak truth to power” and be a form of co-option or lead to self-censorship? Will it compromise solidarity with artists in the country of the source of funding?

Generally, there is a contract between a donor and the recipient spelling out the terms and conditions of the funding arrangements, and articulating the expectations of the donor. Perhaps - at least for organisations concerned about harming their image and reputations with funding from potentially compromising sources – recipients should draft a document that would form part of the contract, outlining their own values and principles, and the terms upon which such funding is accepted i.e. that the organisation will not change its principles, values, objectives or forsake its right to speak truth to power, even if such “power” includes the donor.

1. The views expressed in this column are entirely those of the writer and are necessarily representative of any of the organisations in which he is involved.
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Mike van Graan is the Secretary General of Arterial Network, a continent-wide network of artists, activists and creative enterprises active in the African creative sector and its contribution to development, human rights and democracy on the continent. He is also the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute (AFAI), a South African NGO based in Cape Town that harnesses local expertise, resources and markets in the service of Africa’s creative sector. He is considered to be one of his country’s leading contemporary playwrights.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Repositioning Nigeria literature Prize

Repositioning The Nigeria Prize For Literature: The Stakeholders’ Resolve

Repositioning The Nigeria Prize For Literature: The Stakeholders’ Resolve


ABOUT 30 workers in the various disciplines of the Literature discipline gathered in a function room of Eko Hotel & Suites, last Monday to review the state and status of the $50,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature with a mission to setting it on a more progressive and widely beneficial path for the creative writng community. the gathering was at the instance of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas company, NLNG, which initiated the prize (as well as its $50,000 Science counterpart) and has been its facilitator over the years.

According to Siene Allwell-Brown, General Manager, External Relations, of the gas company, the forum was conve of making it the “best and the biggest for rewarding excellence” as well as one of the best administered prizes in the world. Said the ex-newscaster, “We believe it is time enough to ask some pertinent questions: in the eight years of its existence, would we say that the Prize definitely lived up to this billing? Has it presented a large enough canvas for writers, publishers, editors, book sellers, literary critics, and journalists to paint their dreams? Has it made excellence its prime guiding principle and have the aspirations, yearnings and dreams of the stakeholders in promoting excellence in writing and publishing been met? Has the Prize been administered in a fair and transparent manner?”

Former Vice Chancellor of te University of Ibadan, Emeritus Professor Ayo Banjo, who chaired the session, noted that the Prize has been growing from strength to strength, and that the Stakeholders’ Forum would help in propelling NLNG on the best way forward. Banjo counselled that the Prize should remain a prestigious one that will “command the respect of Nigerians and one that can be a model for the rest of the world to emulate”. He advised that the interest of literature should be uppermost in the resolution of the issues that would arise at the forum.

Jerry Agada, ex-Minister of State for Education and now, President of Association of Nigeria Authors, ANA, who was deputy chair of the Forum, described the session as a necessary initiative to make the Prize more inclusive; and bring out the best for literature in general.
President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters, Prof. Ben Elugbe, recalled that the academy became part of the Nigeria Prize for Literature through invitation from the NLNG. NAL’s involvement is to ensure that literature Prize, like the Science prize, is better managed and better judged. He would want NAL to be seen as a fair judge in the issue of the management of the Prize money.

Ifeanyi Mbanefo Manager Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, NLNG reviewed the Prize from when it was conceived in 2003, stressing that now that the project is concluding its second phase of four years per phase, there is indeed the need to review its journey so far and position it for the next phase as well as greater accomplishment.

A consultatnt Strategist and Corporate Governance expert, Deji Toye of Lodt Governance Centre, Lagos, reviewed the management structure of the Prize, and recommended among others that:
• The Award should remain The Nigeria Prize for Literature as against Prize for Humanities
• In place of the current Literature Committee an Advisory Board should be constituted comprising a carefully selected group of stakeholders, appointed by organisations/institutions in the industry value chain to carry on the creative, scholarly and disseminative aspects of the project. The proposed organisations/individuals are: Association of Nigerian Authors, Nigerian Academy of Letters and National Library of Nigeria. In addition, a senior executive from the Corporate Affairs/CSR team of NLNG to serve as Secretary of the Committee and the head of the Secretariat; an eminent Nigerian of an iconic status well respected for his/her integrity to serve as the Chairman of the Committee. The reduction to five from 12, the Consultant said is in view of NLNG’s desire to reduce administrative costs.

• The Advisory Board should have the power to appoint Judges which membership should comprise the following:
Three scholars experienced in the genre under consideration for the year; one seasoned practitioner in the genre under consideration;
one iconic, public figure who is a proven enthusiast/connoisseur of literature, especially the genre under consideration. This is for common touch and popular appeal.
• The Judges be invited through public advertisement to serve for a year on the panel.
• The Stake holders Forum should be maintained and converted into a virtual General Assembly. This forum should hold at the end of each four-year cycle for review of governance framework and operational processes.
• The winner of the Prize should be announced through an interaction with the Press prior to a befitting Prize Presentation ceremony. In view of cost, the Grand Award Night Ceremony should be shelved.
• In a No-Award year, the Prize money should be donated to a charity that is active in the promotion of the literary arts or the money returned to source.

The Consultatant’s presentation and those of the Academy and ANA as well as other contributors from the various organisations present were reviewed, after which teh followuing resolutions were passed:
• Endowment: It was generally agreed that the NLNG should create a Foundation which will endow the Nigeria Prize for Literature and Nigeria Prize for Science for sustainability and perpetuity.
• Purpose: It was agreed that the strive for excellence must remain the core for award of the Prizes.
• Reading Culture: It was agreed that a National Book Tour and in case of Drama a National Play Tour be reintroduced to take the book and the author to the reader across country.
• Scope: The Award should remain restricted to Literature and not the Humanities.
• Book lists: It was agreed that the long list should remain an internal consideration of the Judges while a shortlist of three should be publicised.
• Stakeholders Forum: It was agreed that this should be convened annually.
• Judges: The recommendation that the position of the judges be advertised was rejected.
• Award of Prize: Announcement of winner should be on the Presentation Day.

Represented at the meeting Various organisations within the Literary and Creative writing community; including Association of Nigerian Authors; Nigeria Academy of Letters; Nigeria Publishers Association; Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists; Abuja Writers Forum; Arts Writers Organisation of Nigeria; Women Wriers Association; Committee for Relevant Arts, CORA; Literary Agents; as well as some notable workers in the creative and literary discipline including Odia Ofeimun; Tony Ujubuonu. Also four of the past laureates of the prize were in attendance: The poet, Dr.. Gabriel Okara ; The dramatist; Prof. Ahmed Yerima; The Prose writer, Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo. Nigeria Guild of Editors;

Living In Two Cultures: Story Of A ‘Prize For Excellence




A poem,” Robert Frost once wrote in a letter to a friend, “begins as a lump in the throat … a homesickness.” Frost was an American poet highly regarded for his realistic depictions of rural life. His work frequently employed settings from rural life to examine complex social and philosophical themes. He won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry.

This morning, I have a big lump in my throat that has nothing to do with poetry; it is for gratitude. I hope Frost and other poets in this hall will forgive me for appropriating this vital medical sign for purposes other than poetry.

Eight years ago, my company forged an immensely successful partnership with writers and scientists to reinvigorate and nurture learning and culture in Nigeria. The partnership was founded on the very simple idea that writers and scientists have important roles to play in the society and deserve public support and recognition. Creating awareness, stimulating competition, rewarding and recognising excellence in literature, science and technology will enable this country to provide meaningful existence for its citizenry and shore up standard of its education and literacy.

Permit me to share a secret with you. Meltwater News Inc., a global specialist in online media monitoring that keeps track of business critical information published online for 16,000 of the world’s most admired companies and organisations, has found that The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science, between October 2008 and October 2010 generated 511 online articles. You may say that is a few hundreds, but, wait for this: those articles were read by 139, 940, 496 people.

Seeing the size of the entries every year, the vast improvements in the writing value chain – editing, proofreading, publishing, etc – and the media attention these prizes are receiving, and feeling the drive, energy, and intellectual force flowing from this project, I believe the proof is undeniable: there is hope for science and literature in this country; this partnership has given science and literature a new lease of life.

I still have the lump in my throat. So, with your permission, I discharge it, presenting on behalf of my Board and management, a bouquet of our thanks: for everything you have done, so far, to make the project a resounding success. Individually and collectively, you have made this journey very exciting for us.

I also thank all of you who, forfeiting all else, have made it here this morning to join us in discussing literature and these prizes.

I am not exaggerating when I say that writers everywhere make great company; this is no doubt going to be a gorgeous day.


Companies don’t become model citizens overnight; it’s a long journey from corporate to model citizenship. And for this journey, there are no beaten paths.

The challenges of responsible business practices are huge and learning pathways are complex and iterative. Every company’s journey is unique. Some companies become responsible citizens by choice, others by circumstances.

Take Nike, for instance. A leader in responsible, ethical practices, Nike’s metamorphosis from the poster child for irresponsibility to a leader in progressive practices makes for an interesting reading. In the 1990s, protesters railed against sweatshop conditions at Nike’s overseas suppliers and made Nike the global poster child for corporate ethical fecklessness. Nike’s every move was scrutinised, and every problem discovered was touted as proof of its irresponsibility and greed. The intense pressure that activists exerted on the athletic shoes’ giant forced it to take a long, hard look at corporate responsibility faster than it might otherwise have.

Since the 1990s, Nike has raced through a bumpy road on this front, but has ended up in a much better place for its troubles. To become a model company, Nike cleaned up its processes, became an ethical company, but above all turned its attention to the society, to the people through corporate social responsibility programmes. Let’s take a roll call:

Nike is partnering with the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development to install and refurbish 25 basketball courts throughout New York City giving 10,000 children access to the game.

Through its N7 initiative, Nike has built an environmentally friendly performance shoe to address the specific width and fit requirements for the Native American foot. Diabetes is prevalent in this community, so this shoe will help combat it by encouraging and improving exercise

Nike supports the Homeless World Cup, a world class, annual, soccer tournament engaging players from 64 countries. About 71% of the participants significantly change their lives after competing in the Homeless World Cup.

In Soweto, South Africa, Nike built a football training centre, giving 20,000 young footballers access to a programme that includes high-end training facilities, top-level coaching and HIV education.

In 2007, South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius ran the 100 metres in 10.91 seconds. Without any legs. The first amputee to break the sub-11-seconds barrier. Some critics claim that the carbon fibre blades he ran on gave him an unfair advantage. Nike has helpfully pointed out that these critics have legs!

The lessons from the Nike saga will help other companies traversing this same ground.

Coming in the wake of Nike’s troubles and Shell’s scuffles with Ogoni and other communities in the Niger Delta region, Nigeria LNG Limited, was ready from Day One to be an exemplary corporate citizen ready for the new era of end-to-end responsibility.

In this new era, it’s no longer good enough to do your job well, satisfy customers, and generate financial returns. You are accountable for the supplies you use and where they come from, what your customers do with your products and whether it improves their lives, and the costs and benefits to the countries and communities touched along the way. This, perhaps, explains the public interest in Dangote’s business or Otedola’s empire.

Operating a fast-food franchise, for example, requires much more knowledge than how to cook, bake and serve. Where was the food grown? Is it organic? Does it lead to childhood obesity? Is it healthy food?

Companies and leaders are assessed not only on immediate results but also on longer-term impact—the ultimate effects their actions have on societal well-being. It is a trend, which although it came in small waves is now surging.

Signs of this trend are everywhere. Questions were constantly directed at Nigeria LNG Limited concerning shortage of cooking gas regardless of the fact that it was built and licensed only for export of natural gas and NGLs. The refineries were meant to supply the domestic market.

Hey, it’s a brand new world out there and Nigeria LNG Limited was quick to grasp and master it. Take the infamous Land Use Decree that has dispossessed millions of compatriots of their property. Realising sentimental attachments to land and the deep feeling of dispossession inflicted on communities by this law, immediately it acquired the pipeline routes, NLNG sought to make amends. It signed long-term contracts with land-owning families for grass-cutting and surveillance of pipeline routes to ensure that they continue to earn revenue from their property.

With land-owners protecting our gas pipelines, there have been minimal, almost negligible, cases of their vandalisation. The lesson in all these is that obsolete systems of territory mapping, of sequential processes, in which each group denies responsibility for what it was not directly responsible for, have given way to more integrated planning and management, with everyone bearing a share of responsibility for the products and processes and not just for its direct footprint.

On the corporate social responsibility sphere, NLNG realised early that hierarchical and transactional relationships should be replaced by circles of influence, business fortresses by collaborative business ecosystems. This is why NLNG initiated the Joint Industries Committee (JIC) in Bonny to pool resources and provide power, water and roads on the island. JIC is today responsible for providing and maintaining these infrastructure in Bonny. NLNG is the operator of the JIC projects and pays 50% of the bills.

Truth is: a new paradigm is afoot. Leading companies are beginning to find inspiration in an unexpected place - the social sector—in blighted public schools, orphanages, working with widows, and unemployed youths. These companies have discovered that social problems are, when carefully examined, economic problems, whether it is the need for skill acquisition, shortage of cooking gas or entrepreneurship training in poor villages.

Companies are learning that applying their energies to solving the chronic social problems powerfully stimulates their business development. Today’s better-educated children are tomorrow’s knowledge workers. Lower unemployment in the neighbourhood means higher security for life and property. Indeed, a new paradigm has emerged: a partnership between private enterprise and public interest that produces profitable and sustainable change for both sides.

It is in the spirit of this new partnership that The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science were conceived by Nigeria LNG Limited. In addition to numerous cogent reasons adduced for the establishment of these prizes there was a clear understanding that traditional solutions to recalcitrant social ills amount to very little.

Companies often just throw money at a problem and walk away. But the fact is that many recipients of business largesse often don’t need charity; they need change. Not spare change, but real change—sustainable, replicable, institutionalised change that transforms their business, their prospects, and their outlook. And that means getting business deeply involved in non-traditional ways.

The way to go about it is not in business making donations to the society, but treating community service as business. And for society to understand that a public trust cannot deliver public good over a long haul if it is not run on sound business principles.

So from the outset, the company embarked on a bold experiment in social innovation to demonstrate that a different way of investing in non-profits would generate demonstrably superior outcomes to drive change in the sector. The ultimate judgment of its faith and investment in public trusts will not be known for years, but its efforts have triggered a quiet revolution that must be sustained.

It is this policy that underpins the legendary power supply in Bonny driven by NLNG. Power supply on Bonny Island which has remained at a consistent 98% availability for over 10 years is paid for by users, although there is a margin to accommodate those who are unable to pay and those whose electricity bills are less than N2000.

It negates the principles of sound economic management to provide free utilities anywhere. It is impossible to sustain free utilities. This principle guides NLNG’s investments in non-profits.


Recognising, therefore, that the country’s education is in dire straits, NLNG sought to create conducive environment for learning and competition, reason why it promotes scholarship in tertiary institutions, entrepreneur training for youths and two major prizes — The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science.

These awards were entrusted to The Nigerian Academy of Science and The Nigerian Academy of Letters and some eminent writers. These bodies assess the worth of scientific discoveries and contemporary works of literature and, in so doing, consolidate the needs of the publishing and academic worlds: boosting sales of the award winner’s work and simultaneously effecting a change in the Nigerian canon.

SCIENCE PRIZE: The case for supporting science cannot be more urgent. Nigeria is a developing country with aspirations for joining the ranks of developed nations.

Only science and technology can make these dreams come true. And creating awareness, stimulating competition, rewarding and recognising excellence in these fields are conditions precedent, not only for realising these dreams, but also for providing meaningful existence for the citizenry. Some of the reasons proffered by experts seeking greater recognition for science include that:

It will provide leaders with answers to crucial issues such as food shortages, fuel shortages, electoral malpractice, poverty, health and environment;

It will encourage the authorities to take science-based decisions;

It will bring about improvements in the standards of living;

Support for science in a developing country will help resolve myths that tend to cripple development.

And by instituting a significant prize for science, NLNG seeks to bring science and scientists to public attention, save them from their current low rating in national estimation and avail the nation of their immense benefits.

Science can only be relevant if it is supported to play vital roles in the society. A major pillar of support for science comes through recognising and rewarding excellence in science and creativity.

LITERATURE PRIZE: The case for instituting a worthy prize for literature was more straightforward. For decades, Nigerian writers bemoaned their fate. They griped in newspapers, conferences, and workshops about the neglect their noble profession had fallen into. They were unhappy with the declining levels of education and literacy; unhappy with the loss of a reading culture; and for good reasons, sad that writing and publishing in a nation that gave the African Continent its first crop of literary giants had all but become lost art.


At about the time we intervened, the literary business was struggling, locally and internationally. It was not a business any investor would rush into. It was like investing in the stock market during the crash. Our research showed us what to expect.

Abroad, the great Booker Prize was in serious trouble. The original sponsors, the Booker-McConnell company, were bought out by a frozen-food concern called Iceland, which declined to continue sponsorship of the prize estimated at over £400,000. The prize went for an open bidding and was won by a firm called the Man Group, a London-based international stock broking firm, which agreed to take over sponsorship for an initial five years. That’s how come Booker became Man-Booker Prize.

The founders of the Orange Prize for fiction launched in 1996, had announced with fanfare that it had secured an anonymous endowment sufficient to provide for a £30, 000 annual award. It was a false start, because they immediately returned to the drawing board when Martyn Goff of the Book Trust fame and other experienced administrators pointed out that, for the prize to succeed in practical terms, the organisers would need a far larger budget to cover operating expenses, particularly the expenses associated with promotion and publicity.

The Orange Prize was rescued by Peter Raymond of the cellular phone service company, Orange PLC. By 1999, Orange Plc was spending £250,000 yearly minus the prize money. The real cost of organising the Orange Prize was 10 times more than its declared value!

Back home we had a potpourri of prizes, many of them not exactly exciting.

The Nigerian Academy of Science was running a prize for young scientists in partnership with the Third World Academy of Sciences (NAS-TWAS). The prize was instituted in Nigeria in 1995 to be awarded yearly on rotation. It has a cash value of USD $2000.

Another prize, The National Science Prize, was instituted by the Academy jointly with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria to reward outstanding research in science and technology, particularly projects with potential industrial applications. It was worth N30, 000.

Another was a postgraduate award instituted in 1993 to honour outstanding doctoral theses in the pure and applied sciences in Nigerian universities. And yet another prize was for best graduating science students in universities. This prize is very popular with companies and many of them have instituted chairs in the universities.

Shell has however done most for the universities, building multimillion Naira classroom blocks in many universities. Agip and Total have carried out similar projects but their generosity was restricted to universities in their catchment areas. African Portland Cement Company also instituted a prize for the best graduating geology student from Obafemi Awolowo University.

For Literature, there was the Association of Nigerian Authors’ prize which was then struggling. Its cash prizes were not promptly redeemed. There were other attempts to establish a decent prize, most of which failed.

We shall not forget The Nigerian National Merit Award, which is an order of dignity and distinct from the National Honours. It was instituted to accord proper and due recognition for outstanding intellectual and academic attainments and contributions to general development of Nigeria and is conferred on the recipients by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. It had a cash value of N500, 000 only. (Currently, it is worth N1million).

In setting up The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science, we were determined to take steps to change the chemistry and character of philanthropy, by incorporating not just money, but also moral character and commercial orientation. This is not entirely a new phenomenon; we were merely reprising and building upon the ground work laid by Tyler Cowen in his masterful piece: “In Praise of Commercial Culture.”

Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University had argued persuasively that free market unbridled by government produces the best environments for creative expression. And that business, by fostering alternative modes of financial support and multiple market niches, vast wealth and technological innovation is the best ally the arts could have.

Our intention was not charity; far from it. We were determined to deploy the skills of business, flexible corporate ‘philanthropy’, and the rigour of the marketplace to develop systems-changing solutions to rescue the ailing prize-awarding industry.

We believe that philanthropic capital, combined with large doses of business acumen, can build thriving enterprises that serve vast numbers of our people. We also believe that our presence would lure other giants and blue chip companies to invest in the industry. Our ultimate vision is that this industry would change and grow if mega companies get involved; that the culture of philanthropy in Nigeria will change in the next few years strongly influenced by the ways of some multinational corporations because of the scale of wealth at their disposal and the sense of purpose they are expected to generate.

I confess, that we have not fully realised our dreams, but then The Nigeria Prize for Literature and The Nigeria Prize for Science are work in progress. We need to take them to a level that allows them to become public trusts in fact and in deed.

Eight years on, The Nigeria Prize for Literature is turning our initial vision into a reality with tangible, compelling results and a clearer understanding of the truly formidable nature of this undertaking.


The following resolutions were reached with stakeholders (university teachers, writers, and journalists) at an exploratory meeting of 14th November 2003:

That high profile literary prizes of significance and commensurate prestige be set up to stimulate creativity and promote indigenous literary and scientific culture

Cash value at take off $20,000 (now $50,000) each to be reviewed regularly as occasion demands

Prizes awarded yearly to alternate amongst four literary genres: prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature and to the work of science that provides solution to a major national problem or one that breaks new grounds.

NLNG to provide logistics and administration services, pending the time a BOARD OF TRUSTEES will be constituted and the prize endowed.

There will be publicity, advertising, press promotion and national promotional tours to promote the award

Prizes will be awarded yearly at a prestigious ceremony to draw local and international attention to prize and winners

Only works published by Nigerians qualify to participate. This rule has been modified to accommodate Nigerians in diaspora.


Prize Money : US$100,000.00

Logistics: US$436,044.03

Grand Award Night: US$241,691.92

Total: US$777,731.94

For sustainability, the Board and management of Nigeria LNG Limited think the administrative costs for these prizes are too high. That ways must be found to cut the costs without losing the essence.


In his Rede lecture of 50 years ago, entitled The Two Cultures, C. P. Snow, a writer and a scientist said: “There is something wrong with a civilisation where knowledge is so compartmentalised that people can count as highly educated and yet be wholly ignorant of huge swaths of what other highly educated people know. How could scientists not read Shakespeare? How could literary people never have heard of the second law of thermodynamics?”

I will reprise Snow, but with some modifications. How can we continue this business of writing and literature writing thinking about economics? Why should the arts not work with business to find workable and lasting solutions to problems besetting the arts? Why are we not working more and more with business to find solutions to our problems? Why are we not paying more and more attention to sustainability of our programmes and projects? This is one of the reasons we called this meeting to re-examine this prize, ensure it is both sustainable and businesslike

The long and short of my mission, with the permission of Snow, is: let’s spend the next couple of hours, discussing literature and economics or economics and literature, as the case may be.

The ball, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, is now in your court. Please play it – with eyes on the Prize.