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.