Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rotimi Babatunde; Writer, Waiting to Win

Rotimi Babatunde; Writer, Waiting to Win
Ropo Ewenla

His name is Rotimi Babatunde. You won’t notice him if you see him in a crowd but for his near Ola Rotimi looks. Even that can be conveniently ignored as looks are not indelible marks of ingenuity. It takes some patience to listen to him too because of a tendency to stutter. An attribute you could link to the hypothesis that he is probably on the point of choking from the many creative ideas struggling to find expression in him. If you mention his name in most art and literary circles in Nigeria, the chances of drawing a blank are quite enormous. Except in Ibadan, where he has been hibernating for some years now, Mr. Babatunde is hardly known as a writer to be paid any serious attention. Even at that, beyond the small circle of writers, drinkers and smokers that he is wont to be found in their company, he is just another guy on the streets of Beere, Beyerunka or Inalende. Ironically however, this young man is ending up as one of the strongest up coming writers of the current generation. That is especially true if the recognition he has garnered in the international literary circuits is anything to go by.

Before you accuse me of over-sweetened tongue or honeyed pen, let me give you an inkling of what makes the foregoing introduction near-mandatory. In 1997 his ‘Oxbow Lakes’, a poem, in Daybreak on the Land (Library of Poetry, Owing Mills MD.) was published. In 1999 his ‘Love Song’, a poem, in A Volcano of Voices: A Ford Foundation/ Association of Nigerian Authors Joint Project by Kraft Books Ltd., Ibadan, was published. In the same year, his piece of fiction ‘the Fall of Icarus’, caught the attention of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s World Service, London, and it was not just aired, it won a prize money. In 2000 ‘Death’s Last Dance’, another fiction of his was anthologised in Little Drops of Spectrum Books Ltd., Ibadan. In 2001, ‘Elements’, a sequence of poems (in both the English originals and the German translations done by Jan Wagner) in Die Aussenseite des Elementes No. 11 (NPAM, Berlin), was published. ‘A Shroud for Lazarus’, a play, was featured as a staged reading at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs, Sloane Square, London (Director: Topher Campbell) in 2004. In 2005 ‘Auto-da-fe’, a short story of his made it to Fiction on the Web.

He was a Fondazione Pistoletto award recipient for participation in the Unidee in Residence programme for artists at Universite des Idees, Cittadellarte, Biella, Italy in 2007. He was sponsored to participate at the Teaterdargana Festival of theatre in Stockholm, Sweden by The Swedish Institute and Riksteatern in November 2006. He was one of the three authors short listed for Nigerian Writer of the Year award by The Future Awards with Chimamanda Adichie and Tolu Ogunlesi in 2006. He received a Fiction Grant from The Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, Shelter Island, New York in February 2006. He participated in Beyond Borders: A Festival of Contemporary African Writing, Kampala, Uganda, sponsored by the British Council in October, 2005. He participated in The Royal Court’s International Residency for playwrights at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London, U.K. in 2004. He was a fellow at The Kate and George Kendall Writer’s Fellowship, The Macdowell Colony, New Hampshire, U.S.A in 2002. He had Residence Fellowship at the Ledig House International Writers Program, the literary programme of the Art/Omi Foundation, New York, U.S.A in 2001. He won 1st Prize in the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Meridian Tragic Love Story Competition in 1999. He came 2nd in The 22nd International Student Play script Competition organized by the World Student Drama Trust, London in 1998. He was short listed for the Association of Nigerian Authors Drama Prize in 1997. In the same 1997, he won 3rd Prize in the North American Open Poetry Competition with Oxbow Lakes.
In October 2008, his play, Elddopet, translated into Swedish and initially commissioned by the Swedish Art Council opened, went on tour of Sweden in not less than sixty performances and closed in Stockholm in December 2008. The play was directed by Lars Melin and translated into Swedish by Eva C Johansson. The cast included Mans Clausen, Harald Lonnbro and Yankho Kamwendo. Scene design was by Charlotta Nylund and Petra Weckstrom was the play’s producer. In the words of Petra the producer of the play, it would play to “approximately 5,500 Swedish kids between 10 and 12 years old!” That is nothing if not remarkable. Before then he had been flown to Sweden to see the premier and he came back quite impressed and overwhelmed. He was impressed by what the Swedish Art Council was doing but very well depressed that the chances that the Nigerian system can give similar opportunity to writers in the land is as remote as dogs snacking on kola nuts.

He was contacted to do Elddopet in 2005. That was shortly after his participation in the Royal Court Theatre’s International Residency for playwrights in London. It was through the Residency that the Riksteatern, the Swedish National Theatre, got to know of his work and became interested in commissioning a play from him for their World Playwrights Project. There were other plays in the project which were written by writers from Argentina, Mexico and Kenya.

Asked how he took the offer? Did it have any ring of initial difficulty compared to other things he had done? He says “Every new work presents its own special challenges. Before writing ‘The Bonfire of the Innocents’ which was translated into Swedish as Elddopet, I had never created any play for a young audience so I was venturing into a new dramatic territory. The Swedish tradition for such plays is seen by many as possibly the most adventurous in the world, with issues like divorce, death, alcoholism, sexual violence and similar down-to-earth themes routinely addressed. In Sweden, plays for youth are not seen as inferior to those for adults; if anything, they are taken more seriously because that is probably what their theatre is most respected for. So, not only did I have to understand the unique demands of writing a play for a young audience, I also had to write one for the National Theatre of a country with a sophisticated critical tradition in that dramatic sphere”.

Knowing that most playwrights always have something against the interpretation of their work by a director other than themselves, one tried to sound out Rotimi Babatunde on his impression of the premier of his play he went to Sweden to see. Contrary to wildly held belief he says he was extremely satisfied by it and that “…the production was faithful to the play’s script but not in a slavish way. Theatre is a collaborative art and the creative contribution of others involved in the production was strong and pleasantly surprising, without undermining the essential vision of the play. The production crew had done comprehensive research for the work and it showed in the quality of the performance. Even the haircuts of the actors were done exactly as it would have been in Nigeria. To the credit of Riksteatern, the research was done without assistance from the Nigerian Embassy in Stockholm, despite repeated attempts of the theatre to liaise with the embassy. Having a Nigerian play going across the length and breadth of Sweden in a tour of over sixty performances is not something that happens very often, if ever before now, but it seems our diplomats in Stockholm just do not care about how Nigeria is being presented in the country they were posted to work in.”

In 2006, the British Royal Court Theatre commissioned him to write a play in commemoration of its 50th anniversary. In view of this and other similar instances in his writing career, is he ever going to write a non-commissioned play? Most other young writers are also looking for such opportunities and may not be able to kick start their career without such a boost. He insists that he has written works that were not commissioned before and that getting a commission makes projects such as creative writing convenient as it “…helps to know the context in which a play will have its first presentation and it is reassuring to know beforehand that the play one is writing will be staged. A substantial proportion of plays written in countries with professional theatre cultures are commissioned. This is not a new development. Shakespeare wrote for a specific theatre and Chekhov wrote his most important plays for a specific director, Stanislavski. Coming closer home, don’t forget that Wole Soyinka’s first major play, A Dance of the Forests, was specifically written for Nigeria’s independence celebration”.

He was challenged on the possibility of the fact that writing a commissioned play gives you a feeling of being boxed in by the terms of reference of the funding organisation and he disagrees tactically, “A playwright who understands the nature of his or her art will instinctively know how to subvert and transcend such restrictions, if there are any. For example Wole Soyinka used his play, A Dance of the Forests, to criticize and lampoon the illusions of the very politicians who paid for the play’s production. Most commissions though, do not have such reactionary expectations and the terms of reference allow the playwright an ambit so wide that it will be inappropriate to label them as restrictive”.

It is a good thing that he is recognised outside the shores of Nigeria for his literary competence but is he not bothered that Nigerians living in Nigeria have never been able to see any of his plays just as they have not been able to see nor read that of many others like him who are striving to keep the art going? He is optimistic. Carefully so optimistic. He says, “They will, hopefully. I write essentially about the Nigerian experience. If audiences from other countries can connect with the plays I write, then those in Nigeria should find it easier doing the same. So it is logical to think that it is only a matter of time before my work starts getting performed here. There is no need to force it though and end up with a sloppy production. The best approach is to wait for the right opportunity and the right context”.

So, how does he think this would impact on the development of an (permit one to say so) already stunted live theatre environment? How would …? and he cuts in. “Making such predictions is beyond the immediate mandate of any playwright. Yes, our so-called globalised world is so connected that distance doesn’t matter as before, but having one’s work presented first in one’s country is still the ideal scenario. Reality though imposes other imperatives. Between having one’s play premiered abroad and not having it staged at all, every playwright will choose the former. And theatre is not the only sector where the outside world engages with our best talents more robustly than those in Nigeria do. In recent times, the bulk of notable novels from Nigeria have been published abroad. Our best brains are more likely to be lecturing in foreign universities than at home. Our best footballers ply their trade in European leagues, not in Nigeria. This is not because of a lack of patriotism. And, if one is to be realistic, I don’t see how this situation will change until we put our house in order. Resuscitating the glorious days of live theatre in Nigeria is a collective venture, not an individual one”.
…And you think this will help what is happening on the Nigerian theatre stage? I mean, in terms of interpreting our collective theatrics as the likes of Kola Ogunmola, Hubert Ogunde, Wole Soyinka and Osofisan to mention a few (don’t know how many more are left anyway) have done?

“The economic downturn after the seventies affected dramatic writing severely, in many ways far more severely than the other genres of literature. You need a vibrant theatre industry, from good venues to well-paid actors and spectators who feel secure enough to venture outside their homes, to get the best out of the rich pool of dramatic talents we have in Nigeria. You asked me what I think is at present happening on the Nigerian live theatre scene? There are a few brave individuals still trying to keep the embers of live performance glowing but frankly, almost nothing is happening. Almost nothing. And this is regrettable for a country that, in the space of just a few decades, produced playwrights as renowned as Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark and Biyi Bandele”.

At this very moment, he is on an art residency as a guest of the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, Italy, for a period of four months. The Bellagio Center lies on a hilly peninsula adjacent to Lake Como, two hours north of Milan. Some place to challenge the Muse if you ask me. I tried to pry out of Rotimi, what it feels like to be there and, in his usual mode he complained about how the organisers were attending to him with undeserved seriousness. He wonders what they would do if they found out that he is the same guy to be found in some drinking joints in some unknown places in Ibadan engaged in sometimes meaningless beer talk just to exercise the jaw.

The residency program that he is involved in offers influential scholars, artists, writers, scientists, policymakers and other professionals from around the world the opportunity to pursue ideas and to engage others in their work. According to the official website of the Foundation, “The conference program leverages ‘convening power’: the ability to bring notable and diverse participants from around the world together to share ideas, to debate and to collaborate.

The Foundation has operated the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy since 1960. In leaving the property to the Foundation, the previous owner mandated that it be used “for purposes connected with the promotion of international understanding.” A group of distinguished scholars was convened to discuss and advise on the land's usage and function. It was their view that the property should be a refuge for contemplation, writing, and purposeful discussion -- a place where the world’s leading thinkers could be free from everyday demands. In addition, they proposed the Center host targeted conferences, with the goal of arriving at important conclusions concerning the state of knowledge in a given field, and plotting paths for future development”.

National Troupe...Still Dwelling In Swamps

National Troupe...Still Dwelling In Swamps
Lasunkanmi Bolarinwa
(as published by the Sunday Guardian, June 07, 2009.)

THE end of last year and the beginning of this year was a very exciting one at the National theatre, Iganmu Lagos. That was because for that season of celebrations, the management of the theatre decided to mount on stage, one of the classics of Ola Rotimi, Kurunmi, for the viewing pleasure of its thinning audience.

Aside the reputation of the play and its playwright, the fact that the artistic director would be Ben Tomoloju was also more than sufficient to challenge more than the theatre buffs to queue up for tickets at the National Theatre box office.

The media reviews, from the first rehearsals to the last performance were electrifying. The cast, crew, management and directorial crew received heaps of praises for a job well done. When it finally opened, it lived up to its reputation on all fronts. It was the kind of play production a first timer at the theatre needed to see to become permanently addicted to the theatre gospel. Even when the halls were barely filled except for the day of command performance and on the last of the eleven straight shows, those who did not come but saw the trailer or the review in the media knocked themselves for not coming and resolved not to miss such an opportunity again in the future.

Soon, an opportunity to live up to their resolution came. This time, the National Theatre was to stage the production of Wole Soyinka's Swamp Dwellers. It was to be directed by Nick Monu. Going by his resume, this is another director whose work the average theatre buff in Lagos, if not in Nigeria should crave to see if not for all, but for one of the following reasons. Nick Monu was at a time in the recent past, one of Britain's most demanded young actors. He had been with the British National Theatre, the Royal Court and of course the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company. He had also acquired a stretch of experience with the Moscow Arts Theatre.
By the last day of production of Swamp Dwellers, I had seen three shows, all confirming and rebutting my perceptions of the position of the director; the place of the playwright in our national discourse; the attitude of the National Theatre/National Troupe to its productions; the quality of cast; the texture of interpretation and most importantly, the continuing relevance of the play as a potent post colonial treatise that is still capable of interpreting our current reality beyond issues even in the Niger Delta which the play ostensibly deals with. Mind you, none of these three shows was the command performance. I deliberately stayed away from that. The three shows I saw were actually after the command and the last was on the close of production.

On the three occasions that I saw this show, never was I offered a production brochure at the box office. A number of things could have been responsible for this. You sometimes get the feeling that the NTN is reluctant about doing some of the things it does. This feeling arises when you have course to interact with some of the personnel placed in charge of some of the activities. You ask for a production brochure after paying one thousand naira to see a play and you are told that they are meant for the command performance alone; you do not even get to leave with a small literature of additional information about the context of the play. The one I am using for the purpose of this review was obtained from a friend's library.

The production starred, back to back, some of the cast who made a success of Kurunmi in the hands of Ben Tomoloju. The challenge thus was to see them do again what endeared them to the critical audience that saw them in the previous production. I am not sure this was a challenge they lived up to. There are doubts also whether the management of the National Theatre, producers of the play has a full grasp of the kind of standard it bears and should protect. We would get to that later.

Some of the cast one had to watch out for were, Wole Macaulay, playing as Makuri; Albert Akaeze, playing as beggar (spelt begger in the brochure); Toriseju Ejoh, as Igwuezu; David Uba, as drummer/servant; Martins Iwuagwu as Kadiye; Titilayo Akinmoyo as Alu; and Okokon Nse as Flautist.

Apart from these players, there was also a strange clan of ten dancers from the National Troupe of Nigeria who found themselves into the beginning and end of the play. I am confused as to ascertaining whether their coming was as an apology for the length of the play for which the poor fee paying audience who were not circumspect enough had to cough out one thousand naira, or it was as an extended interpretation of the theme and concerns of the play.

Were it to be for the former, then the management of the theatre should know that had there been something of a full house on the days that the show held, there might have been a protest from a substantial number of the audience who felt swindled and ripped off. I actually overheard some members of the Lagos chapter of ANA wondering aloud after what was the curtain call at the end of one of the shows what just happened? They both agreed that they were yet to start understanding the play when it ended and actually joked about getting a refund. I could not agree with them more.

On the other hand, if the dancers had been in the show for the latter reason, then there is a strong need not only to question the quality of interpretation of the director but also to interrogate the process of evaluating directors for a National Troupe's job. In concept and execution, the opening and closing 'glee' were the greatest disservice to what might have passed as a worthwhile project. What could have been more damaging to the credibility of an intellectual effort than to see one of the dancers more devoted to the chewing gum in her mouth than the dance she was executing right there before the full glare of the audience.

If for any of the reasons of extending the duration of the play or exploring the thematic concern of the play, adding a dance or series of dances was necessary, there are more apt junctures in the play where dances that are interpretive of the mood and situation of the play could have been planted. What we had in this case was slovenly, lazy, unprofessional and unbecoming of a National Troupe of Nigeria's production.

The secret challenge I nurse in me is to one day see a set or light designer tell the story of the play in colours of paints, shades of light, sound of music and poetic set design that complements and accentuates the intended meaning of both playwright and director in an artistic synthesis. I see most often, barely functional technical designs even when there are open invitations for expressive interpretations. Either for lack of material or metal requirements, technical designs of our plays hardly excites one these days. Sometimes where the set attempts to live up to expectation, the light scheme and or cues take on a life of their own and come on and go off at will.

Where the lighting scheme in The Swamp Dwellers might not be worth writing anywhere about, the set in its design was daring and commendable. Credit for the set is given to Simone Nick. She was able to create a piece of installation for the audience to behold. The set alone was enough reason for me to say that the first one thousand naira I spent on the ticket was not a loss and, on each of the other two times I went back, the prospect of seeing it again was an easy excuse to endure other shortcomings in the production.

Off the script, the play is in a dialogue with the aspiration and reality of the nation. It speaks of debauchery and religious bigotry. It speaks of treachery and loss of basic African family values. It speaks, most importantly to me of the need to realise that each different cultural, social and economic component of the Nigerian state would achieve more, if it concentrates less on its deficiencies and devotes more time into how to creatively align with the others in order to tap from them what it lacks and which others have in abundance. The play suggests a magical alignment between the arid desert and the flooded swamp. It warns of a need to let the past and its failings be, while we focus more on the fruits of the future. All these I see in the situations given life to by the characters of the beggar, Igwuezu, Kadiye and of course, Makuri and Alu.
Unfortunately, I did not see all these in the production. I mean, I did not see any point of emphasis of all or any of the aforementioned. Thus, I will not be able to say categorically, what the thematic area of concentration of the play is. In all, it felt like a production in which the cast did not do enough work to interrogate their lines, characters and the situation in which they are in the play against one another in order to determine interpretation. You therefore have Macaulay in the character of Makuri, speaking with an Igbo accent, while the wife, Akinmoyo, speaks plain, unaccented English just like every other person in the play.

Again, while there is some attempt by Macaulay to speak and play an age that helps the audience understand the character of Makuri just a little, Akinmoyo was rather unconvincing either in carriage or speech. I am sure that she would not have been able to say by how many years her husband is older than her as she was just the same person you encounter at Ojuelegba in her jeans and possibly spaghetti top. This shows a lack of an understanding of the principle of give and take, action and reaction in the theatre, as you cannot effectively give back, in acting, if you do not know or understand, what you have been offered. I have no doubt that there would have been more life on stage had there been a better understanding of this principle.

In the curse of trying to satisfy my curiosity about my perception of the play, I encountered the work of a literary critic, teacher and Professor of Literature in his book, African Drama and the Yoruba World View. He says of some characters in the play: Alu and Makuri, landlocked in cosmic loneliness and futility look much nearer the grave than to life (26). As a mater of fact, Macaulay committed one of the most unforgivable of crimes on the stage when on the last day of performance, he came on wearing a gold chain; part of his own personal jewellery which he must have forgotten to remove in the cause of assuming the character of Makuri at the beginning of the play. All through that performance, I am sure the audience would have been distracted with the glittering shinning necklace on the neck of a character whose portrayal was at variance with every other thing in the play.

However, you cannot say the above for the character of the beggar as played by Albert Akaeze. You need not be told that he is blind when he comes on stage to know that his sight is impaired. His characterisation is one that justifies his inclusion in the cast and equally gives credence to his invaluable experience in the profession. But for a lack of team spirit, which may not be so obvious to the undiscerning, but which is there all the same, his efforts, just like others in the play too, would have come out more prominently.

As far as incongruities go, I think I also saw a bit of anachronism in the use of props where a 555 aluminium bowl, the type which just surfaced in the market in the past ten years or so, was on the set of a play set in pre-independent Nigeria. In my opinion, a calabash, if not an older aluminium bowl, would have helped the audience understand better the temporal setting of the play. A calabash would be more preferable because it shows that limited or lack of contact that the Makuris have with the approaching modernity.

In this performance, I saw things, images and suggestions that stood unconnected with other issues in the play. I saw and read things that made me seek the counsel of the original play text by Soyinka. I do not intend to substitute an impression of the written textual material I have since come to with the impression the textual performance had on me. No. But by going to this length, I have found out that there were deviations - unforgivable and inexplicable deviations. Note. There are provisions to deviate within accepted limited scope but such deviations must be consistent with an overall vision. This way one can be sure where either the director or the playwright has faltered or done well in representation and interpretation within the agreed philosophical, literary or artistic medium of realisation. I found this wanting in Swamp Dwellers. I do not know how many other productions have since taken place between the end of this play and now, but I hope someone else had spoken up on time to alert the management of our theatre about some, if not all of these critical points.

Keeping Nigerian Legends Alive

Keeping Nigerian Legends Alive

By Akintayo Abodunrin and Obidike Okafor of Next on July 17, 2009 01:25PMT

The lack of documentation and preservation of legendary works in Nigeria’s arts and culture sector was painfully highlighted at the 78th Stampede of the Committee for Relevant Art, held on Sunday, July 12, at the National Theatre, Lagos.

Kongi here and there

The screening of a yet-to-be-completed documentary on Wole Soyinka by Dapo Adeniyi titled ‘Kongi Here and There’ signalled the commencement of the forum with the theme: ‘Legends and Legacies’ and which was dedicated to the late music impresario, Steve Rhodes and Soyinka, whose 75th birthday was on July 13.

The moderator, Ropo Ewenla, opened the discussion philosophically by stating that “the history of a people’s art is the history of the participants or creators of that art. You can’t talk about the history of music in Nigeria without mentioning Steve Rhodes; you can’t talk about the history of theatre in Nigeria without mentioning Jimi Solanke”. Ewenla added that it was important to keep the memories of the late, living and upcoming legends alive.

Secetrary-General of the Committee for Relevant Art, Toyin Akinosho, also spoke on the theme before the nine panellists gave their takes. Akinosho highlighted the relevance of the stampede and the legends being celebrated.

The CORA official buttressed the importance of preservation and documentation. He concluded with a poser: “How do we ensure that our children and grandchildren have access to the works of these people?”

The courage to carry through

Before the exchanges between the panel members and the audience, Segun Adefila’s Crown Troupe of Africa performed a dance centred on the theme.

Gloria Rhodes, daughter of the late music icon who represented the Rhodes Foundation, opened the discussion proper. She spoke about the history of the foundation, how it started as The Centre for Cultural Preservation before lack of funds affected it.

She also touched on the foundation’s new lease of life. Rhodes said keeping the organisation afloat requires people’s support and not trusting in the vision of the foundation alone. She was to later draw angry responses from the audience when she said government’s role was to provide policy and structures to help the arts, not to fund it.

“Government won’t do everything for you.Its role is to give policy and structures, it’s our own to earn respect and protect the sector ourselves,” she said to the audience who made disapproving noises. “Where are the policies and structures,” they demanded?

Richard Mofe-Damijo, the Nollywood actor who is now the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Delta State, informed the gathering about what is being done to document history in the state. To him, making archival materials more contemporary is the key.

“Key it into the world of pop, for example. If we can package the works in such a way that it can be can be shown in programmes like ‘Soundcity’”. Mofe-Damijo also noted that science and technology should be employed in documenting and showcasing the people’s culture to make it more attractive.

He believes the lack of commitment by the custodians of the arts sector is the major hindrance to progress. “When we find ourselves in positions, we have to have the courage to carry through,” he said.

Not government’s spokesman

The Director of Culture, Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, George Ufot, was glib when asked about the policy of the Federal Government in canonising heroes and heroines of Nigerian arts. “Government has policies but I am not here to disclose what government has,” he said.

“The government has honoured Chinua Achebe and Bruce Onabrakpeya before, I am here to listen and take back feedback to government. We need to tell the government what we want, it is important to make specific demands. Government does not have all the answers, we all need to participate. We need to send communiqué to government that this is what artists need. It is important we come up with an advocacy to carry the cause to government,” he said.

The solution is with us

The Chief Executive Officer, African Movie Academy Awards, Peace Anyiam Osigwe’s take on documentation was that the solution lies with the artists themselves. “It’s about commitment, dedication. Keep knocking until you get what you want. We need to learn how to keep documents and keep records. We have to take responsibility for taking and preserving what we have,” she said.

Osigwe decried the poor documentation of Nollywood movies, informing that a Spaniard has a rich archive of Nollywood movies which is not likely to be the same with the Nigerian Film Corporation. The movie maker also spoke on funding, urging that artists cooperate more and stop relying on handouts.

She said artists have been unable to attract funds from the private sector because they don’t write proposals in a way corporate Nigeria understands. “We could do things like fundraisers, or organise cultural shows. Teamwork is required, creativity thrives in team work,” she said.

Age has nothing to do with it

The filmmaker Femi Odugbemi told a damning story about records keeping in Nigeria, when discussing his documentary on the late Steve Rhodes. He recounted the difficulty he encountered sourcing materials for a documentary he wanted to make on Nigeria’s history; and how he had to pay the BBC for the required footage.

The veteran producer Tunde Oloyede, informed the shocked audience, that, he also couldn’t find footages of ‘Village Headmaster’ when he needed them recently. “Nigeria will be celebrating 50 years but my fear is that it will be extremely difficult to document what Nigeria is about because it is disappearing,” he added.

He said the dearth of footages on Rhodes made him source for footages from the man himself. “When I sat with Steve Rhodes, I was amazed by what he had done. He was profound in his thinking and he studied and created”. The former president of the Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria added that, “Legends have the responsibility to write their own stories. The older generation kept diaries in the US while most people do memoirs.”

On why he did a documentary on Segun Adefila titled ‘Bariga Boy’, Odugbemi said, “Documentation is not about age. A problem with youths nowadays is that there is more appearance to them than essence. They have reputation but most people don’t know what the reputation is built upon. Segun may be in his early 30s but some in their 60s have not done the quantum of work he has done”

On what galleries are doing about documentation, Frank Okonta, President, Gallery Owners Association of Nigeria, said the brochure of Art Expo 2008 organised by the association profiles about 150 artists who participated in the event.

“What is really bothering us is money. Banks don’t give loans and we haven’t learnt how to source money from outside... We need encouragement from government and individuals,” Okonta stated.

Age of materialism

Femi Aseku weighed in. “There are so many problems but we don’t know how to tackle them,” he said. “We must also make efforts to disseminate information more. Materialism seems to be the only thing elders are indoctrinating into the young these days. The youths are materialistically oriented these days, it is sad, sickening. Until we can tackle the problems, I don’t know where we are heading to”.

In their contributions, Mahmoud Ali Balogun, Greg Odutayo, Zik Zulu Okafor, Yinka Ogundaisi, Ikeogu Oke, Tope Babayemi and Francis Onwuche all aired their views on what could be done to properly document the arts and the players.

“Being in the art is our tragedy, we should not rely on the government”, Okafor said with feeling. A common thread in their contributions was a lack of commitment artists; the need for them to take their destinies into their own hands, and backing from government and corporate Nigeria.

Our responsibility

Odia Ofeimun prefaced his comment with a poem titled: ’Civilian to Solder’ by Soyinka, before asking if anyone had a tape of Steve Rhodes’ last performance. No one did. “If you don’t do your own documentation, you are not doing justice to yourself. History will not do you well. We need to keep records of what we do ourselves although there is nowhere in the world where government does not provide a platform for the arts to thrive. We owe ourselves the responsibility.

“We are all in trouble in Nigeria because we don’t protect our works ourselves. No ministry of culture in Nigeria is about culture. There is no journal that defends us. If we don’t defend ourselves, we won’t get government to do anything for us”, was Ofeimun’s advice.

Veteran producer, Femi Jarret, made the last contribution and he dwelt on making sacrifices. “Sacrifices are made for change to happen but nobody is making sacrifices. I have been at several stampedes where we talk but who will make the sacrifice?” Jarrett also mentioned corruption in Nigeria.

He said Rhodes’ production company, Fiesta, lost many jobs because Rhodes refused to give bribes. “Artists are endangered species. Hold yourself very carefully. Stop extending yourself,” was his parting shot to the gathering.

Ironically, for a stampede concerned with documentation as a means of preserving legacies, the organisers did not provide any audio-visual coverage for the event.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Many of our Heroes are Criminals

Many of our Heroes are Criminals
Friday, March 27, 2009

He started out as a dancer, choreographer and actor, having studied Drama at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. But on facing the world as a trained artiste, Abiodun Aleja found love in television and film. He availed himself to elaborate training and retraining and eventually became a producer and theatre/movie director.
With a rich African cultural background rooted in traditional ethics and values, Aleja is most driven by a desire to attain the highest level of creativity and perfection in whatever he does. He has an innate passion for quality and entertaining drama, with a mission to represent African lifestyles and culture through the screen.
In 2005, Aleja founded Compact e-Schedules in Lagos as a production outfit with the aim of adding value to the growing Nigeria movie/film and entertainment industry through credible, informative, educative and highly creative film and television productions. He has recorded many credits in the production of TV commercials as well as feature screen plays.The director who begins shooting of his first personal movie; Skillachi, today in Ile-Ife also explained to Daily Sun how he started his career and how he was able to discover his strenght in the motion picture industry.
How I started
I was trained as a dancer, stage manager and cheorographer.I went into stage drama after graduating from in 1987. I was into stage acting and dance before I crossed to the medium of film in 1995. At that time, I worked for Dudu productions under my former boss, Tunde Alabi Hundeyin.Since then, I ‘ve been greatly inspired to do something of value, meaning that I had to take my time in doing things. When I finally had the time to settle down, I started directing films for people and this went on for years. But after working for so many producers, I decided it was high time I started my own directing, but I realised I needed my own company, hence the birth of Compact e-Schedulers.
Movies directed
After establishing my company, the first major directing job I did was Chameleon, followed by Pepper less which I directed for Deji Etiwe and in which I featured Daddy Showkey as one of the actors. The movie also won an award after which I directed Irapada for Kunle Afolabi. Irapada was the first ever Nigerian indigenous film that made the London Film Festival about two years ago.
I started working on the script about four years ago. At that time, we had many philantropists that we always praise in Nigeria. Many people looked up to these philantropists but the truth is that many of them were behind many of the atrocities in our society.
That is to say that behind every crime committed, there is always a godfather that would be linked to it. This scenario was was inspired my story in Skillachi, and the aim really is to put Nigeria on the world map and to actually show that many of the crimes being committed with impunity are not as a result of government’s inaction or the inefficiency of our security operatives. Basically because of the love I have for my country, I decided to do something in my own creative way to mirror how crime is perpetrated and aided by some people in our society. For example, crime was quite rampant in both Lagos and Edo states, but today the governors of the two states have tried to combat crime through their policies on environment and infrastrural development. Also I want to let the audience know that cultists on our campuses have their godfathers too. And by the time some of these students leave the campuses, they graduate into greater crime which makes the society itself a victim of a growing network of unsuspected, and often celebrated criminals.
Why Skillachi is different
I hope to start shooting the film before March 31 and this would run into about 30 days. In all, two scenes might be shot in Lagos but the major scenes would be shot in Ife to establish the campus angle to the movie. There is also the Abuja angle as well as the Cotonou angle which is the border for drug running.
Incidentally I‘ve never directed any movie that people do not like and Skillachi is a good story that even people who read the script were so much intersted in it and have urged me to go ahead in producing it.
The audience
Already people have shown interest in the story and I believe it is something people would want to watch all over again because they really would learn from it. When we talk about crimes and cultism in this country, people are always eager to know and it would be interesting to see the Nigerian Security operatives at work through the movie.
Cast and Crew
Many of the cast and crew members in the movie have been in the movie industry but people have never look up to them as fantastic actors and actresses. But they would make history in the film just as the film itself is expected to make history in the Nigerian entertainment industry. Some of the artistes include Wale Macaulay, Sola Awojobi-Onayiga, Ayo Binta Mogaji, Ropo Ewenla and a host of other talented Nigerians.
Showbiz and quality works
The biggest challenge for those of us in the entertainment sector is to embrace true professionalism. The sector currently suffers from mediocrity as a result of the bulk of gate crashers and untrained but aspiring artistes. I think what we need is to acquire good training and learn how to produce good works that our audience would love and be proud of both locally and internationally.

Kurunmi…and the corruption of power

Kurunmi…and the corruption of power
January 7, 2009

What price does the leader pay for daring to mislead his people? And what lessons do the people learn when their leader suddenly arrogates power to himself, urging them to do his suicide bid? These and other questions are what Ben Omowafola Tomoloju, renowned culture activist, journalist and theatre director tried to answer in the just concluded production of Ola Rotimi’s classic; Kurunmi, at the National Theatre, Lagos.As a major drama production by the National Theatre/National Troupe to bid the year 2008 a befitting farewell, Kurunmi aptly gave the Nigerian theatre lover a timely feast at yuletide, with a challenge on good governance and a sermon on the choice of peace rather than war.And so, Kurunmi offered a theatrical menu that was served in a conducive atmosphere, giving the audience a refreshing taste of total theatre in the air-conditioned Cinema Hall of the Theatre complex. There was palpable air of relief inside the well-decorated hall, even as the audience settled comfortably to watch the historical play.

The play opened with Kurunmi, the Aare Ona Kakanfo (the war generalissimo) of Ijaiye registering his protest against the newly crowned Alaafin Adelu of Oyo. The latter’s father, Atiba had just passed on and the kingmakers unanimously agreed to make Adelu succeed him. This, according to Kurunmi is against Oyo tradition hence his opposition and refusal to attend Adelu’s coronation.Meanwhile, the new Alaafin sends emissaries to Kurunmi, offering him a choice between peace and war. Kurunmi unilaterally chooses war, daring the king to the battlefield and summoning his people to a needless war. With danger in the air, the whiteman and his faithful in the Christendom vote for peace, but Kurunmi remains adamant, sticking to the choice of war and using his wealth and might to raise more troops to fight Oyo.

Rather than succumb to several peace moves by neighbouring communities such as Ede, Ibadan and Egba, Kurunmi seeks support repeatedly from Ogun, the god of iron to back him up at the war front. He even goes on to enlist his sons in the battle, claiming superiority over others and subjecting the Oyo kingdom under Adelu to ridicule.But neither the Christian fold nor the Ogun shrine rescues Kurunmi, as the Ibadan warriors under Bashorun Ogunmola and Balogun Ibikunle mount serious attack on Ijaiye at River Ose.

The brief intervention by the Egba warlords could not save Ijaiye hence tragedy ensues when Ijaiye warriors cross the river and fall into the waiting arms of fierce Ibadan warriors. In the end, thousands of lives are lost and even Kurunmi’s five sons are not spared. Eventually, Kurunmi receives the skull of one of his sons, accepts his fate and moves on to commit suicide.However, Kurunmi’s fall becomes a societal tragedy, as many lives are lost to the whims and caprices of just one man. And as the Ijaiyes count their losses, Kurunmi’s household too records a lion’s share of tribulation. The director evidently uses the play as a metaphor of the social political milieu in Africa. As for Nigeria, Kurunmi the tragic hero symbolizes such powerful and over ambitious leaders who sacrifice their people on the altar of ego and thirst for power and influence. Perhaps the beauty of Kurunmi lies in the quality of cast and the director’s ability to interpret Ola Rotimi’s historical vision.

Tomoloju achieves this in his choice of lead characters such as Kurunmi (Wale Macaulay), Bashorun Ogunmola (Ropo Ewenla), Balogun Ibikunle (Soibifaa Dokubo), Balogun Ijaiye (Phillip Okolo), (Okon Bassey) and Kehinde Adeyemo, who played several roles of the bereaved wife, warrior, priestess, among others. The play also benefited from rich traditional Yoruba costumes, props and accessories with the fairly large cast being dominated by warriors.

There is also the creative use of stage lighting, which helps to illustrate the moods of warriors and townspeople at intervals. Kurunmi’s incessant recourse to the Ogun shrine, as well as the various battle scenes, are well-illuminated in deep red hues. But perhaps the director preferred a less expensive, simple set to an elaborate one, which may have indeed cost fortunes. or the entrance of Ijaiye town Instead, he uses a bush path as center stage of action, and more of sound and lighting effects to depict bloodshed, and royalty.

Terrorists, death and the king's By Damola Awoyokun

I WENT to a friend's apartment and I found the media dominated by news of the arrest of 12 Pakistani terror suspects, 11 of them posing as students who had come to learn not destroy. In ten days, they would have caused a mass bombing in Liverpool. My friend asked me is West's injustices against Muslims worldwide not responsible for fuelling these unrelenting terror plots? I told him no.

He brought out a secret bag containing Islamic literatures and DVD detailing horrendous deaths: of Palestinians, of mangled bodies of Afghans made so by American fighter jets. I was not persuaded. He launched into a discourse from which I kept on hearing Arabic...Islamic...Muslim...Arabic...Quran...Arabic. I had to intervene to bring him back to his roots. I told him the greatest injustice of the West is against Africa and blacks. I started from the age of enlightenment which set the stage for western civilization but which also set the stage for monumental barbarity of transatlantic slave trade. The same enlightened philosophers who provided the basis for civilization provided the intellectual grounds for defining blacks as subhuman. I went on to describing the horrific conditions on the slave ships, and the treatment of slaves in the plantations and the New World. Next: colonisation, then: apartheid.
All of the whites I travelled with to South Africa for an AIDS conference preferred to stay behind in the bus when we went into the apartheid museum that documents the horrors of apartheid period. Next: the current trade injustice and exploitation of Africa's mineral resources, the secret dumping of industrial and nuclear wastes, and the radiation poisoning they engender in man, animals and vegetation. Then: the recent Congo war in which the British foreign secretary played a vital role in bringing both sides to dialogue, until it was discovered that the main arms supplier to both sides was from the same place with the peace diplomat. Concern Africans took to the streets of Westminster in protests. With all these, I told him, Africans do not plot terror against the West to air their views, or make their feelings known, or to get justice.

I got extra tickets for Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman and asked him along. I have watched several productions of the play, the best so far is Makinde Adeniran's 1995 production in Oduduwa Hall in Ife where Ropo Ewenla superbly starred as praise singer. This was the first time I would watch it in the capital of the empire, in their National Theatre with majority of the audience white, and more importantly, when the issues raised in the play are still pertinent. This Rufus Norris's production is wonderful except that Iyaloja is not accorded the total grandeur the character deserved. Yes, she concedes to Eleshin's indulgences but stooping to him even during his detention is way off. Eleshin himself has physicality that weirdly approaches that of a brute during the dramatisation of the Not-I sequence.

When he is going through the motions of killing himself, and the sound effect assumes the echoes of the noumenal passage, the fourth stage, the cast spread out at his back, raising their hands towards him in gestures that unmistakably bring to mind what pastors do when they just found a wealthy convert or a quarry kneeling before them. Compared to Ewenla, this praise singer is a nonstarter, when he is not fluffing his lines, he is not giving essentials the dramatic intensity they required to empower the progress of the plot. The actors that give the production its edge are ironically the minorities: sergeant Amusa, the resident's wife, Iyaloja's girls, the ensemble who stood throughout to represent reading lamp, table, chair, flowers and shutters at the residency. Not only do they illustrate the colonial's objectification of natives, they are ingeniously used to tell the weather and their rattling used to stage the storm in Amusa's inner weather.

And the audience? The mood was one of reverent silence throughout punctuated by moments of laughter: during the vaudeville of Iyaloja's girls about sergeant Amusa being a white man's eunuch, and the British cliched use of please in every phrase. And moments of realization and compunction: when characters say lines laced with accusatory lasers. You feel them as furious reports from the young Soyinka's psyche when he was wrestling with the bust of Churchill, that he confronted everyday on the way to his office in Cambridge when he wrote the play. Be it Olunde's assertion that whites do not have respect for what they don't understand; or the newsreels calling mass slaughters 'strategic victories' which the tabloids are still doing up till today with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; or that supreme moment when Pilkings said he has ordered his force to shoot down anyone who foments trouble after he has arrested Elesin. Iyaloja responds calmly: to prevent a death you want to cause many others? Such is the wisdom of the white race! The whole audience went hmmmgh!

After the play, my friend filled with much ado bought some Soyinka in the theatre's bookshop. He said he has seen what he would tell others. I told him the reason I wanted him to see the play was to prove there are other ways of channelling anger or addressing race injustice other than violence or terror. This channel was too brilliant that the white man had to make its author the first African to win the Nobel Prize. There is something noble about every human being. The West in perpetrating injustice is acting from ignorance and it is your duty to enlighten them, appeal to that noble core of the human soul. That was where Mandela's and Martin Luther King's moral integrity came from and that is what Obama tapped into. Had Obama stuck to the polarities of black vs. whites, minorities vs. majority, violence against the violent, he will not be the most powerful man on earth today.

I informed my friend to disregard those propaganda literatures they distribute stealthily in London mosques about a permanent western conspiracy against Muslims. Not only the West, Arabs too enslaved and colonised Africa. They have not apologised and the physics of their maltreatment persist till date not only in Mauritania and between Nubians and Arab Africans but also in the Sudan genocide. Let Nigerian Muslims beware: there is something still unevolved about the Arab-ed psyche that tend to valorise violence against keferis; that career terrorists and their sympathisers in Nigeria are just using the so-called western injustices as a cover to enlist the sentiments of uninformed Muslims all over the world to their barbaric cause; they are no freedom fighters. Even if injustices disappear tomorrow, they will not relent. Their agenda is to bring about regimes that would popularise chopping off limbs, lynching adulterers and gays and, fill the streets of Lagos or Ibadan with beggars from their Sharia factories.

While civilisation with its marvels of science and medical technology is trying to improve the lots of disabled, Sharia forces want to keep on producing them. Why is it that the governor who cut the hand of a cow thief as deterrence to theft stole millions in public money and his own limbs are still intact? Why is it that those who claimed to be fighting western injustices have not condemned the genocide that their own brothers are perpetrating against the unmaghrebed blacks in Darfur? Instead, in a recent show of shame, the Arab League of Nations was expressing support for that ICC-wanted genocide butcher in Sudan.

Authentic Muslims have no business buying into their lies and propaganda. For those who feel there is a genuine injustice to address, or an anger to take out, the works of Palestinian poet Marmoud Darwish and acclaimed play, The Al-Hamlet Summit by Suleyman Al-Bassam's are examples.

Awoyokun lives in London.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Modest proposals on sale of National Theatre
By ’Lasunkanmi Bolarinwa(As published in The Guardian Wednesday 15/8/07)

IN the wake of President Umaru Yar’adua’s assumption into office, virtually everything standing in Nigeria had been sold. Nothing was sacred. Those that were yet to be sold were counting their days. As a matter of historical fact, so obsessed was Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo with the urge to sell at no cost, or is it at all cost, that just as he was waving farewell at Nigerians with one hand, he was, with the other hand counting proceeds from the sale of two of our refineries. He was not just the President, he was the auctioneer. He sold buildings; sold the roads leading to them, sold the furnishings and mortgaged the domestic servants and their families. Such was the reign of the auctioneer who also was the president. We do not know yet if his successor would be – Auctioneer The Second.

If you are an avid follower of privatisation and commercialisation reform package of our government, you would know that as you read this, the National Theatre might have been sold. Do not mind all the hues and cries by stake holders in the industry. You agree with me that if the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is to have its way, all those who call themselves stakeholders in the industry and use their stakes to hold back and derail policies of government would be tied to the stake and shot. Simple! Stakeholders to the stakes! Stakeholders my foot! It is therefore the matter of the sale of the National Theatre that prompts me into this intervention.Those who know me would testify that I am not very good at the business of buying and selling. But that is not to say, I am not entitled to my fair share of clairvoyant thinking; especially when I set my mind to it over a long period of time. I may claim to be a genius, a claim that I cannot prove except when I am in the beer parlour, but sometimes in a moment of flashing divine intervention, I am capable of some quasi ingenious ruminations. So give it to me, I have stumbled, No! found the perfect proposal to apply to the spate of selling going on in the land.

With all proposals, you should know that there must be a background. This, among other things would make us understand the problem statement better and then to appreciate fully the strength of the proposed solution. This is the background I proffer.Let us face it, No matter how stark and ugly it may be. We come from a long tradition of buyers and sellers. Simple. A substantial part of the history of the African continent is that of buying and selling. There was nothing we did not sell. We sold our labour. We sold our intelligence. We even sold ourselves. Yes, we sold our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers. We sold our artifacts and traded our culture in. And in each of these cases, what we get in return did not matter. Salt? Rum? Money? Mirrors? Slavery? Colonisation? Deprivation? Anything. Just provide an opportunity to sell and…. Gbam! We are ready to play ball. We must however put the texture and component of this trade in perspective. A major point of note here is that it is usually the powerful who capture and sell the weak and all they have. It is the haves who sell the have nots. It is the rulers who sold their subjects. Ironically, the rulers and the powerful also sold themselves into perdition. But before they knew this, it was too late. Maybe at a latter date, interested anthropologists would conduct studies into the nature of this trading bug that is eating into the African system.

If that glimpse into the past does not help you, what about the instances of how properties, houses, were sold – and are still being sold - off their owners heads by sellers who did not own the house and who knew next to nothing about the house and to buyers who were too greedy to find out the authentic owners of the houses? The emergence of billboards and graffiti on actively inhabited houses saying This House Is Not For Sale, Buyers Beware is one of the recent indications of our penchant to sell everything and anything, ownership not withstanding. So, without any attempt at being mischievously euphemistic, I put it to you that we are a very enterprising people. Take it as a compliment or take it with a pinch of salt. I cannot be bothered. I have stated a fact provable empirically.

It is strange therefore that those who claim to be stakeholders in the art and culture industry have done very little to show an understanding of the culture they are stake holding. They have therefore embarked on this huge protest calling attention to their ignorance about the imperative of selling. They have forgotten that there is no power in the world, no matter how great, that can stop a buyer from buying from a willing seller when it is in their blood to trade at all cost. I know for certain that this is one major reason why government and their partners in trading would not listen to them and that is why I have taken it upon myself to make the following proposal; modest as it may seem, I hope it will show all parties concerned the path of reason.

Why can we not just sell the National Theatre and throw a huge party? What is it doing for us now that we will miss if it is gone? Have other structures not been sold before the National theatre? Who cried foul then? What the hell (don’t mind my French) does it matter if we do not leave anything for generations to come? Can they not fend for themselves? Who says they (future generation) are not going to sell it off anyway? So, why wait for them if we can do it right away?We cannot begin now to ask questions of whether or not government has been meeting its obligations to the upkeep of the structure of the place over the years because this is a land where such sensible questions are expected only from officially certified idiots. So, why bother ask? We see things differently. So, our reactions and attitudes to issues are different. Our definition of government, governance, leadership and followership among others are at cross purposes. To these other people at the other side of the divide of reason what is culture? It is that piece of entertainment you have on the airport tarmac when visitors come flying in. It is the assemblage of young pretty women and men costumed in traditional attires doing exotic dances to the delight of official human beings after dinner in the bouquet hall of a five star hotel. So, where is the place of the national theatre in all these art and culture business? The National Theatre is just a piece of property that can be put to better use by other sectors of the economy.If we know anything about the average Nigerian politician, it is that they know the value of money. They spend a lot of valuable time accumulating (another word for obtaining inappropriately or simply stealing by stealth) so much of it to be able to stand a chance to contest elections. They spend so much of it ensuring that the elections are rigged. When they get into office, so much of it is expended to ensure that they garner more. This is where we must begin to understand that, for an economy that is as practically grounded as ours, where are our esteemed politicians recoup money that will either serve as their severance package or that they will use for the next election campaign if there is nothing to sell? Those who say the National theatre should not be sold should go and sleep and come back when they have alternative suggestion of where to raise pocket money for our leaders from? Am I the only one who suspects that the government officials in charge of the building will make more money on the transaction if it goes through that if it does not?

Now that all the banks we have in the country are mega banks, it makes sense to imagine what wonders it will do to have all twenty five or so of them map out the sharing of spaces in the premises of the Theatre. In compliance with the drive to ensure that everything in Nigeria brings money in the name of economic reform, what is the sense in pretending to be protecting some cultural heritage? Just like some musician in the past said ‘grammar no be money’, so also is culture no be money.

I will not be one of those shortsighted people who believe this is about efficiency and effectiveness of a sector. For God’s sake, not even government is effective or efficient in this country and we have accepted that with all sense of humility. If you take privatisation, commercialisation and consolidation in the banking sector for instance, you will find out that, N25m or not, some of them can still not run efficient toilets in their various branches. They cannot present staff members who understand their place against that of costumers. Their branches cannot be found in other places apart from the capital in some states. They advertise internet banking but they cannot deliver on it. They are quick to tell you there is no network when you go for your money. They are quicker to tell you in Ilorin to go to your branch in Onitsha in order to cash your cheque as if it is your fault in the first place that their network is not working. Those that were efficient before the commercilaisation are still the ones leading in the ratings of the person on the street.

I also know of one or two companies that have been privatised in the last eight years but have refused to get any better, at least in my layperson’s perception. If you doubt me, check out what is happening to Daily Times Newspaper or whatever its proper name is. If that is not enough, ask the person next to you what has become of NEPA/PHCN transformation. Maybe they were not commercialised, they were merely ‘reformed’. However, whichever, way you see it, nothing, absolutely nothing, has improved in that parastatal. Although PHCN has not generated any additional megawatt of electricity yet, it is jerking up its tariff at will. That is the way of Nigeria!Yes, other countries, more economically advanced countries of the world, protect their own cultural heritage no matter how fluid it might be in the face of changing economic realities and the challenges of coping with imperialism. What is most interesting is that they are not just interested in their own culture, they are also interested in studying other people’s culture too.

Take the example of the French people who even have a cultural centre in Nigeria! Maybe you can forgive the British for having their Council here in Nigeria. This is a commonwealth nation. They colonised us and the link tends to be stronger. But what about the French and the Germans? Talk of cases of classical busy bodies! Give it to these cultural outposts, some of them have done more for the promotion and positioning of the Nigerian art and culture than some of the people who are clamouring for the sale or concession of the National Theatre now have ever done in their collective history either as people in government or as people in the corporate world. While those who lead in global economic reforms are exporting their culture and promoting other countries’, we are in an annihilative mood under the guise of progress and reforms. But then we all have headaches differently. One man’s poison is after all another man’s breakfast.

In the recent past, those who drive against the flow of traffic in Lagos State were arrested and taken to psychiatric homes for medical examination. The basis for this was that there must be something wrong with your mental state for you to do things contrary to good reason and constitutionality. I think it worked while it was being implemented. But, as usual, instead of improving on it, we have since abandoned it. By now, all the drivers of bullion vans who blow illegal siren would have been put in their places, including big lawyers who think that by quoting the law a lot they have become the constitution. That is the way of our land. In a similar vein, I am not sure if it followed from the Lagos state case, somebody suggested that our political leaders should have their heads examined before confirming their eligibility for elections. Simply put. This would mean that as they publicly declare their economic assets, they are also expected to present a certificate of a clean bill of mental health. We ignored this suggestion. This selling spree is one of the consequences of such lack of attention to important details.

Nigeria is one of the biggest countries in Africa and it is also one of the most, if not the leading irresponsible state. Unfortunately, irresponsibility is a trait that cannot be traded in. Otherwise, I would suggest the outright sale of the Nigerian Armed Forces, as one of the most backward, reactionary, anti progressive institutions in the polity. I would suggest a plan to do a hundred year concession of the National Houses of Assemblies because, in spite of huge investments in time, money and trust, they have achieved only one thing; the grand incapability to serve the ordinary people of Nigeria.It was over a couple of drinks that my friend and I stumbled on this novel idea of trading off leaders like football clubs, especially in Europe and the English Premiership, trade off players. Open a transfer window as they say and shop for the brightest leaders in the market. You can imagine the pleasure of loaning Obasanjo to the Americans and buying Tony Blair back from retirement? We can simply sack our national assemblies and go shopping for replacements in France, Italy and even the United Nations. That way, we would not have to be saddled with all these unproductive elected officers who give the effect of a bad bench and pitch combined. In a way, football seem to be more business like than governance and it is part of my modest proposal that we include ideas such as this in our reform package for the current dispensation. I can bet my better eye that the United Nations would, for this, acknowledge our contribution to world politics.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot ignore some of the age old sayings of our ancestors. They are just too apt. In certain circumstances they say that people who refuse to acknowledge the praise of their lineage in public would most probably take to their heels if they stumble on their father being beaten up in a remote corner. How else do you begin to understand people with little value for that which should matter most to their lives? Sometimes, it is the mere act of suggestion of an idea that implies the rationale of the maker of the suggestion.

To mute the idea of selling, loaning or concessioning the National Theatre is a clear symptom of a peculiar type of thinking that one should be wary of.It is for all these reasons and more that you and I know of but which we would not talk about here that I humbly propose that we sell the National Theatre as quickly as possible and go on with our business as usual. My proposal is a modest one. Just like my ambition in life too. I have no illussion about leaders who lack the foresight required of visionaries. Long live Nigeria!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Who is afraid of Wale Macaulay as Kurunmi? By Mufu Onifade

Who is afraid of Wale Macaulay as Kurunmi?
By Mufu Onifade

WHO is afraid of Wale Macaulay? The rave of the moment as the year 2008 bade farewell on Wednesday was the 5-star command performance by the National Troupe of Nigeria. It was a stage show of Kurunmi, a tragic play written by the late professor Ola Rotimi and directed by the ever-current and consistent Ben Tomoloju. It was a show that re-polished professional image of the National Troupe. Kurunmi was outstanding in every department: acting, dancing, music and miming. The usual Tomoloju magic wand struck a positive lightening in all, and the cobweb was woven around an exhaustively outstanding actor, Wale Macaulay.

Who is afraid of Wale Macaulay? Kurunmi is a story of absolute power that intoxicates absolutely, deposited in a generalissimo. It is a story of high-powered politicking. It is a story of deviance with the intent of upholding the tradition against common sense. It is a story of intrigues and strategy, filled with suspense and awe-inspiring drama. It is a story that forcefully enforces a change and further compels the resisting force to kiss the dust by force. In the end, Kurunmi, the all-powerful generalissimo of the entire Yoruba race is turned into a lifeless effigy whose emotional and spiritual well-being become permanently retarded. It is a story that forcefully steals away the existing peace from Ijaye in order to embrace the change of an age-long tradition in Oyo. The story is well told on stage, but who is afraid of Wale Macaulay?
All actors, drummers, dancers and singers in the play can easily enjoy a genuine display of thumb-up, for a job well-executed, but Wale Macaulay's role, his apt interpretation of the Kurunmi character, his energetic resistance to pressure and his proven ability as a theatre rat whose professional career began on stage must be placed on a pedestal of high praises. His gait, his gauntlet, his diction, his audibility, his carriage, his charisma and natural smoothness on stage could not but exhume the reputation of the National Troupe from its state of oscillation between known professionalism and strange mediocrity.

Unfortunately, Professor Ahmed Yerima, the director-general of the National Theatre/National Troupe of Nigeria was conspicuously absent from the command performance staged on Sunday, December 28, 2008 at the Cinema Hall 2 of the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. He missed a rare show of great potential and redefined professionalism woven by Ben Tomoloju and delivered by Wale Macaulay. Yerima missed the visible difference between the traditional interpretation of Kurunmi invented by the late Laide Adewale and the new breed of fresh invention, Wale Macaulay. He missed the opportunity of receiving all those notable chiefs who came to grace the show all the way from Ijaye, Egba and Abeokuta. So was his assistant, Arnold Udoka but as the parlance in the theatre is often echoed: the show must go on, and on it went; and successfully, too. The lead actor miraculously dumped his audience into a deep trench of emotion, but who is afraid of Wale Macaulay?

There is no denying the fact that every actor on stage, Phillip Okolo, Osagie Oyedigun, Ropo Ewenla, Soibifa Dokubo, Yemi Adeyemi, Kehinde Fasuyi, Lola Kazeem, Awele Onuora and a host of others performed excellently to compliment Macaulay's role. However, the London-trained actor's eventual 5-star performance did not easily emerge on the dining table like bread and butter. There were plots, underground power play and secretive manipulation to un-robe him of the role. Who was afraid of Wale Macaulay? Who was afraid of his artistic mien and characteristic domination on stage? Who was afraid of his possible stage interpretation of any role by this screen mini-god? Prior to the play, the Kurunmi camp was divided into two. On one side was the popular Abe Igi caucus who saw the role of Kurunmi as the birthright of the caucus. With a wide consultation within, the caucus had presented a credible candidate that was perceived powerful enough to upstage Wale Macaulay. The other camp comprised those passive individuals who cared less about who played what role. To them, anybody could play Kurunmi as long as he was capable of delivering the goods. In the middle of the two groups was the arbiter, the director of the play, Ben Tomoloju who was bent on presenting a cosmopolitan Kurunmi which Macaulay represents. Apart from being a respected playwright, Ben is also an accomplished director, songwriter, singer and many more. In truth, he is not a push-over in directing. He has handled many classics in the past and had just risen from directing one of his plays, Jankariwo whose performances ended recently in controversy, to take up Kurunmi. The controversy had nothing to do with the artistic management of the play, and so, Tomoloju was easily absolved.

In Kurunmi, he was not ready to yield to any pressure to dump one actor for another. He would rather follow his heart, which told him to depart from the deep-rooted local rendition of the past to embrace the current wind of change. As a matter of fact, he acted as if he was unaware of the existence of the two camps. Of the lots, however, only Wale Macaulay fitted in, perfectly for Tomoloju's radical approach to modern day theatre directing. First, Tomoloju, who belonged to a gradually fading generation proved that he was different. He is certainly a director in embrace of constant research, and that informed his current vision and recurrent adaptation to modern tendencies in theatre performance. In the end, in spite of the plots to unseat him, Wale Macaulay who claims to have shed tears the first time he read the play, succeeded in translating his director's vision into the audience's delight, but the question still rages: who is afraid of Wale Macaulay?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

'Kurunmi, a Refresher Course for Me'

The play, Kurunmi, was staged by the National Troupe of Nigeria at the National Theatre, Lagos, during the festive period. Ola. Sunkanmi writes on one of the dramatis personae behind the play, Wale Macauley, who played the role of Kurunmi.

ON Sunday, December 22, 2008, the last play on the bill of the National Theatre/National Trope of Nigeria opened to the audience. It ran all through Christmas till the first day of the New Year. The play is none other than Ola Rotimi’s Kurunmi. Acclaimed as one of the best in the Nigerian dramatic repertoire, the play production whose rehearsals started six weeks before opening, has been generating quite a buzz in the arts sector and the reasons for this are many.

Apart from being reputed as one of the best from Ola Rotimi, it has the passion of the connectivity of history, especially with the Yoruba people. It is directed by Ben Tomoloju, also acclaimed as one of the most imaginative interpreters on the Nigerian stage. It is, indisputably, the biggest thing the National Troupe has handled in a long time. The play is critical in the historical tragedy of the city/state formation of the Oyo kingdom as it diffuses its power to younger but more vibrant formations. It is a classical tragedy of one man against the rest of the people. It is the tragedy of one person who brings untold hardship, pain and death on his people for what he calls the defence of tradition.

The person is Kurunmi, the then Aare Ona Kakanfo of the entire Yoruba kingdom and the person playing the role is Wale Macaulay.If you do not know the name, you will perhaps know the face when you see it, except that from play to play, and from roles to roles, his face has been taking different looks and shapes all in the name of making an attempt to reflect the specific character he is playing. There have been times when he was clean-shaven with a Samanja-like moustache. There were times when he had quite a heavy load of beards and a complimenting share on his head. Right now, he is on low cut with a spot of natural make up fluffs of whites on his beards which almost make the job of the make-up artiste team in Kurunmi half done. His voice, which you could say has been conditioned by television acting, is a rich outflow of rhythmical waves that the lover of good art cannot but love. Wale Macaulay is a versatile artiste. Educated in Nigeria and England, he is an actor, poet, director, and playwright. His works on stage and screen have drawn critical acclaim locally and internationally; Prominent among his performances on stage are the plays Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to blame and Femi Osofisan’s Twingle Twangle. On screen, he is better known for remarkable roles in Amaka Igwe’s popular film, Violated, Tunde Kelani’s celebrated Thunderbolt and O leku, and the MNET hit cable television series, Doctor’s Quarters. Others are national television drama credits which read like a list of virtually all the hit series in the past twenty-five years – from National Television Authority’s (NTA) Play of the week series through Mirror in the sun, Third Eye, The Charly Boy Show and Family Ties to Superstory and Everyday People. Recently he’s been engaged as a content director on the famed Big Brother (Nigeria) project and was also the Big Brother voice. A songwriter too, his more successful songs include Ti o basi ti oluwa ni delivered by Grammy Awards nominee, King Sunny Ade and Lucifer performed by popular reggae artiste, Ras Kimono. He is married and lives on Snake Island, Lagos.The last time he was actually seen on live theatre stage was in 2005 as Professor on Femi Osofisan’s Twingle Twangle a Twinning Tayle, which staged in Abuja during COJA. So you would be right to label him a television actor.

Well, he did not quite disagree but he worked out his answer on an economic template. He says the remuneration on stage is hardly enough for him to take care of his transportation during rehearsals not to talk of feeding himself or taking care of other personal sundry expenses. Besides, according to him, artistes also have families to take care of. Enslaving oneself to the form of the stage may therefore mean starvation.Another thing is that while he insists that the movies pay more than the stage, he has not been seen in too many films. His explanation is that since he is responsible for all the choices he makes in life and would not want to blame anybody for the consequences of such actions, he likes to go through a script first in order to find out if the quality meets his taste. Says he, ‘I haven’t really been happy with the state of the stage in Nigeria. You cannot expect one to work as hard as one does on stage and live on the pittance offered. Aside from your person, you also have a family you have to take care of. You have needs you have to meet. So, if another genre of arts can take care of my bills, I don’t see anything wrong in that and that is why I actually salute Ben T. for him to have so much believe in me in spite of my perception as an essential television actor is an act of bravery I salute.’

He would also be careful in choosing the director he would work with. This way, the options of films to act in are not much for him. But he is sure that the few ones he has done would stand the test of time. He says, ‘ in our line of job, you are as good as your last job’. I guess this is why he makes sure the last job people can remember him by are the few good ones he does.He declares ‘I could do a film a year. I write as well’.

Yes, he writes too. On record he has The Rape of Gidiolu published in 2005 to his credit. But since then he has not come out with any other thing. Rape of Gidiolu was in the film genre too a year before it was published in book form. It starred: Femi Branch, William Benson and Adebayo M. Liadi among others. Apart from being the writer, Wale Macaulay also directed it. Not only that, he also composed the title music. Produced by his outfit, Kazimba Productions, of which not much has been heard in recent times, the film ran for ninety minutes. This film was recorded during the premiere stage performance of the Rape of Gidiolu at Shell Hall, Muson Centre, Lagos, Nigeria, on 4 June 2005. This event was sponsored by the Herbert Macaulay Leadership Institute. It was screened at the biennial International Council Meeting (ICM) of Amnesty International in Mexico on 19 August 2005. The ICM is attended by 450 delegates from all over the world. The film was screened alongside international successes like ‘Hotel Rwanda’, ‘Voces Inocentes’ (Innocent Voices) and other films with important human rights messages, such as ‘Seoul Train’ and ‘Child Soldiers’, and, though very well received in certain international circuits, is yet largely unknown and unheard of here at home.

Why then is he here on the set of Kurunmi? Is the remuneration in this particular case any better? Do not go there he says. He insists that as in other cases of stage productions, this one even though it is by the National Troupe of Nigeria is not much different financially. He reveals that when he removes his cost of transportation from the total package, the rest is nothing to write home about. But then, he had always wanted to work with Ben Tomoloju. This would be the first time the two of them would be working together. He sees him as one of the directors an actor like him can learn something from. While he had been auditioned a number of times by the National Troupe, this however, would be the first time he would be picked for any job with them. Given the circumstances surrounding the current job, he says ‘This is actually a refresher course for me. It is a good thing to come back to the source once in a while for some mental and intellectual boost. And the source for me actually, is the theatre because this is where it all started with me and for me’.

On his interaction with the character and script of Kurunmi, this is what he has to say, ‘This is one of the very few scripts that really touch me and sometimes at the beginning; I got really emotional about some scenes. It seems in the history of Africa, people with causes we kill them….Kurunmi as a character is larger than life, but what I saw in the handling of the material is that Ben T. (the director) shows the totality of the character. You will see Kurunmi laughing, romantic, wild and cowed. It is total’.

Asked, how soon are we to expect any new thing from him after this Christmas/New Year gift, he replies, ‘I want to take a rest’. You might also want to take a rest after six grueling weeks of rehearsals and twelve performances as Kurunmi.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Kurunmi - a Play in Season of Cholera

Kurunmi - a Play in Season of Cholera
McPhilips Nwachukwu
25 December 2008

Currently showing at the National Theatre of Nigeria, Lagos is one of late Professor Ola Rotimi's most important plays, Kurunmi. The play, which was written about 1966 as a dramatic response to the tragic 30 months civil war between Nigeria and secessionist Biafran republic was historically first brought on stage in 1969 with famous scientist, Dr. Akin Sofoluwe playing Kurumni.Coming on stage again , 49 years after its first stage performance under the directorship of frontline theatre artist, playwright and culture pathologist, Ben Tomoloju, the 45 member cast historical drama is being re-interpreted to fit into the light of contemporary experiences.

Originally scripted to dramatically explore the internecine conflict between the Ijaye and their Ibadan cousins of Old Oyo empire, the playwright, Rotimi using the characters of Kurumni and Alaafin of Oyo explores the absolute corrupt tendencies of power.
Fortuitously, Rotomi's Kurumni has enjoyed the hindsight of history as it came in to sphere at a moment the Chinese describe as " interesting times" interesting in the sense that it appears when the debate of secession was hot: when the Biafran side led by the Igbo of Eastern Nigeria wanted to break away from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Each time the play has come on stage, it has succeeded in playing out the whole intrigues epitomized in the leading figure of Aare Kakanfo; the War General, Kurunmi, who represents the conservative stock of power players in governance, the sit tight attitude epitomized in the person of Alafin of Oyo, who wishes to succeed himself in power with the installation of his son contrary to cultural dictates( constitutional provisions), and the betrayal of brotherhood and trust displayed by the Egbas.

Coming out this time again, as the last play offering to conclude the National Theatre/ National Troupe of Nigeria 2008 play season, Kurunmi , also plays into the hands of history as the nation has just witnessed another blood birth in the once upon a time peaceful city of Plateau State in the North Central part of Nigeria.

The Jos crises , which unconfirmed sources put its death toll at 400 is said to have been caused by a clash between indigenous people and the Hausa- Fulani settlers, over perhaps, who is to control the power apparatus of the place.

While the crises in the Plateau may not directly be about succession, it however directly speaks on the corruptive tendencies of absolute power display. As people troop to the theatre this season to watch this well crafted and properly interpreted drama, there is no doubt, that they will be drawn into the cathartic influence effusing fresh from the sad and injured history of the nation's deformed polity.

Realizing Rotimi's dramatic vision on stage is not a simple task. For instance , his use of large cast, a phenomenon that was frontally queried by such critics like Uli Beier was a task before any director engaged with the task of directing Rotimi's plays.

But beautifully, Tomoloju, the director of the present show has scored well in this area like in other areas of the theatrical production by trimming the large cast to sizeable crowd of 45 players. According to him; " We know the mind of the master."
Beside good management of cast, the entire packaging of the show captures the dramatic vision of the late playwright, who had always envisioned a complete African dramatic sensibilities in his dramaturgy.

The play is richly endowed with a total African theatrical aesthetics that manifest in the form of beautifully arranged music, costumes and linguistic power.

In the present show, Kurunmi is being played by well known actor, Wale Macaulay, who stars on stage along side other tested actors that include: Philip Okolo, Albert Akaeze, Ropo Ewenla, Victor Oyadeji, Hadji Bello and Dokubo.

Kurunmi Rehearsals

Kurunmi Rehearsals
By Obidike Okafor/NEXT
January 1, 2009 10:37PMT
- When performers gather on a stage, barefoot, wearing modern day clothes to act a seventeenth century play, one begins to wonder about the contrast. Then you realise it's not lights, camera and action. It's the rehearsal for Kurunmi, a play by the National Troupe of Nigeria in collaboration with the National Theatre, which will run from December 22nd to January 2nd 2008 at Cinema Hall 2 of the National Theatre.
On entering the hall for the rehearsals, clothes and bags were scattered on the seats. Some of the performers who were not on the stage acting either lay on the floor getting some rest before their scenes or sat down to get the lines right. On stage, between red and black curtains, gesticulations and loud voices fill the vacuum caused by the many empty seats, as they performed for the audience of one the guest directors, Mr Ben Tomoloju. The director, an experienced dramatist and journalist, watched with keen interest the actions on the stage from different seats in the theatre, interrupting the actions on stage when it was necessary.
He sometimes had to demonstrate what the performer should do to make it interesting to the audience and attractive on camera. Even the blackouts did not stop the rehearsal. The choreographed scenes and Yoruba songs were accompanied by drummers who did not escape the director's eyes; the director noticed when the drummers went off beat and when the drums were meant to stop, and didn't. The performers had the opportunity to use props for the play to help them get into their roles.
Mrs kehinde Fasuyi, who has been a stage performer for over 23 years, and also recently has appeared on a TV series (the drama Super Story) said "Kurunmi is an epic play that shows when the traditions of Yoruba began to degenerate." Another actor, David Uba, who started acting professionally in 2006, said "lessons from Kurumi are relevant for today's leaders." Oladele Akinseye, who takes the part of a warrior in the play, had to put his musical production on hold to work with Mr Tomoloju.
"Kurumi was about the truth, tradition had been flouted," he said.Kurunmi was written by Ola Rotimi and has elements that make the play a complete experience: songs that give the play its melodic face, proverbs that add weight to the words in the play ("The philosophy of a frog is the philosophy of life," "It takes a monkey to see the ugliness in the buttocks of a fellow monkey," etc.); courage and humour complete the play. Are Ona Kakanfo Kurunmi is a stickler to tradition. And when the wind of change came did he stand? That is the question that the drama answers.

Wale Macaulay (Kurunmi), Ropo Ewenla (Ogunmola), Gogo Ombo Gogo (Are Agoro Ajayi), Philip Okolo (Balogun Ogukorooju), Osagie Okedigun (Abogunrin), Ife Salako (Seriki Jegede/Blaogun Anoba/Ijaye Christian Convert) and Yemi Adeyemi (Kujenyo) are some of the seasoned performers in the play.

Music, literature in 'An evening with the future

Cornerstone in the centrestage
Music, literature in 'An evening with the future
updated: Tuesday 01-12-2008re'

Ola Sunkanmi was at a reception held in honour of some literary icons in the ancient city of Ibadan. He reports how the event, which included performances by poets, folklore singers, etc, went.

Aptly tagged “An Evening with the Future”, perhaps no other caption could have captured the ambience and spirit of a recent literary gathering in the city of Ibadan. Organised by Optimum
Arts Communications, the event was not just another gathering of writers and literary enthusiasts but equally a platform to unveil a whole array of exciting talents. “An Evening with the Future”, which held at the premises of the Information Aids Network (Ifanet), Bodija, Ibadan, was a literary reception for two burgeoning literary icons, Ifeanyi Avajah and Rotimi Babatunde. Ifeanyi Avajah, a poet, playwright and notable career juggler, recently reneged in his devotion as a committed bachelor by leading his heartthrob, Ada, a pretty banker to the altar; Rotimi Babatunde, on the other hand, is being celebrated on account of his play “The Bonfire of the Innocents” which is on the national tour of Sweden.

The trio of rising musical stars, Awoko, Edaoto, and Cornerstone, set the tone for the evening with a remarkable opening performance which left the audience speechless with sonic delight. Thereafter, it was a medley of music, poetry, dance and assorted performances. Iquo Eke, author of My Breast Tells a Story, gave a scintillating performance of Ifeanyi Avajah’s poem “My Dear Friends” before proceeding to crown her presentation with two poems of her own, including “I am a Woman” which turned out to be an ear-seducing thriller.

Apart from the excerpt from Rotimi Babatunde’s play (translated in Swedish as “Eldoppet”) which was dramatised by the duo of Kunle Bayere and Yele Olaseinde, another excerpt from Kunle Okesipe’s intertextual drama adaptation, Professor’s Last Death, was also performed. Perhaps the most pleasant revelation of the evening was Iwalewa Olorunyomi, the nine-year old daughter of the host, Dr. Sola Olorunyomi, himself a certified talent collector, eclectic exegete and performance studies authority. Iwalewa read a lengthy excerpt from Igbesi Aye Okonkwo, Wale Ogunyemi’s translation of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, in a faultless Yoruba that was not only bewitching to the ear but a testimony to the reader’s precocious aesthetic consciousness. The reading drew from the audience a shower of involuntary applause.

As the evening wore on, readings, especially from the members of the Iroke Group, to which both Rotimi Babatunde and Ifeanyi Avajah belonged, dovetailed into musical interludes to create a seamless aesthetic fabric. Earlier in the programme, while introducing the Iroke Group and presenting Dr. Olorunyomi’s co-authored book, Duro Ladipo: Thunder-God on Stage, Ayo Adeduntan, an Iroke member and a PhD student at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, had said that the nucleus of the gathering was a product of a literary ferment that would soon assert its voice in the Nigerian literary landscape. Another close associate of the group, Lanre Ogunkola, a computer analyst who designed the Yoruba keyboard, spoke in the same vein.

Commenting on the programme, Ropo Ewenla, the literary aficionado and Project Manager, Optimum Arts Communications, described it as worthy, timely and remarkable. He opined that Ifeanyi Avajah who had been variously anthologised as a writer and who as a painter, had exhibited with the likes of Kelechi Amadi and Sam Ovraitti, deserved the reception. Rotimi Babatunde, he argued, had since 1999, been shortlisted for various international prizes, winning some in the process. His play, which is on the national tour of Sweden, he added, is a testimony to his industry. The vision of Optimum Arts Communications in honouring the duo, he concluded, is a mere tokenist gesture disproportionate to the magnitude of talents on display.Another author, Akin Bello, shared the same view, but added that actors in the arts generally got less than they deserved from the society.

The poetic atmosphere later climaxed into the poetry of songs, dance and freestyle literary disputations as the event glided into the informal session with Cornerstone, Edaoto, Awoko and Yele supplying the music. Palmwine, the official drink of the event, made the evening light.