Sunday, May 17, 2009

angry young man

Track your vehicles, go to sleep
Since its inception in 2006, Fast Track Technology Limited has provided online tracking services for thousands of car owners in the country. Can the cost of tracking equal the trauma victims of car snatchers go through? Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME reports.

Imagine being trailed by a group of teenage armed robbers on your way home from church service on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Unknown to you, a car suddenly pulled up and blocked your way. Behold, armed teenagers emerged ordering you and your family out of your vehicle. First, you contemplated ignoring them. But, in a matter of second, the robbers pulled out their pistols asking if you valued your life and that of your family. While your expectant wife is trying to attend to her three-year-old baby that is crying for biscuits, you are being stripped of all your telephone hand sets, money, wallets, ATM cards, wedding rings and other valuables in your possession.
Troubled and frustrated under the scorching sun, you and your family watched helplessly as the robbers drove off with your car. In the midst of that trauma, your wife managed to alert the police and your employer on phone. And immediately, your employer notifies the security firm handling the tracking of your car. Few hours later, police patrol team recovered your car on the outskirt of Lagos. How and why? You want to ask.
Interestingly, the above scenario is a common occurrence these days. The police were able to recover the car because it was installed with online tracking device that enabled it to be demobilized. Today, not many Nigerian car owners are buying into these vehicle protection and alerts services being provided by security solution firms like Fast Track Technology Limited.
Explaining his company’s mission to offer security solutions to these increasing spates of vehicle theft in most cities in the country, the general manager of Fast Track Technology Limited, Mr. Adir Mizrahi, said his firm identified security issues as very fundamental to the socio-economic development of the country. He stated that his company has therefore designed various packages to meet the clients’ security challenges. He noted that the desire to provide these services to Nigerians is in reaction to the growing security risk in the country, which he said, is much more than most Western countries. “From daily reports on security matters in the country today, the need for security solutions like ours becomes very paramount. Also, security risk in Nigeria is higher if compared with other Western countries. So, Nigerians need to be more security conscious,” he said.
Fast Track Technology, a subsidiary of AA Group of Companies was established in 2006 as an IT security solution company and is currently handling the recently launched Lagos State government’s Safe City Project that provides 10,000 Close Circuit Camera facilities across the state and is financed by the Security Trust Fund. Mizrahi said his target audience includes the private, the public, corporate sector, military and government; but he acknowledged that the needs of each differ from one to the other. “There are different segments within the market. Each sector responds to their needs differently. You do not expect the military, for instance, to respond to security issues the same way an individual or corporate body will do. Again, our clients have the advantage of choosing from the series of solution package we offer,” he added.
He stressed that tracking and fleet management service, which is one of the packages from the stable of Fast Track, has been able to reduce the trauma of loosing ones vehicle to armed robbers. He stated that apart from tracking, the service also enables vehicle owners to control and monitor the usage of their vehicles especially when they are driven by teenagers or unreliable drivers. According to him, “I cannot say categorically that there is a drop in theft of vehicles in Lagos since the commencement of online tracking. But I can say that car owners can now go to sleep with their two eyes closed because their cars are being monitored. There is that high percentage assurance of safety and recovery in the event of theft. Sometime, we can track a vehicle after three days.” But, he however warned that the earlier the theft alert gets to them, the better the chances of locating and demobilizing such stolen vehicle, otherwise, if the robber is smart, it might be difficult to track the vehicle.
“We wish to handle all Lagos cars including those of the security agencies like the emergency and ambulance as well as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Apart from tracking, you can also get alarm service through your telephone handset. You can control the on and off of your car engine, its fuel consumption as well as restrict the movement of such vehicle. All of this is to safe money,” Mizrahi said.
On how far tracking can cover, he explained: “I can track my vehicle in Israel, but it will be expensive for an individual to undertake. Interestingly, I am working with the best network coverage in Nigeria, but there is no one hundred percent securities guarantee any where in the world.

I left Nigeria an angry young man’
At a time many young Nigerians are ready to pay any price in order to travel to Europe and the US, Victor Ehikhamenor, a writer, painter and photographer shunned a US scholarship/fellowship in order to serve his country. Last year, he won the prestigious Breadloaf Writers, Conference scholarship, which he turned down to work at NEXT newspaper in Lagos. He spoke with Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME on his planned solo art exhibition, Mirrors and Mirages, and why he decided to return home 12 years after he left in anger.

Until very recently, Victor Ehikhamenor’s name never rang a bell within the Nigerian arts circuit. He is not a product of any of the Nigerian arts schools. He could not study arts in Nigeria because his high school did not offer arts. But in far away US, he has in recent time been in the mainstream of arts, producing abstract and symbolic works with unmistakable ties to his Nigerian background. He has had numerous exhibitions with strong following mostly in US and later Nigeria.
Beyond visual arts, he has traversed other genres of the arts with several short stories, anthologies, documentaries to his credit. He has also produced over nine book covers among them are for publications by award-winning authors like Chimamanda Adichie and Helon Habila,
In May, this year, Ehikhamenor will unveil his recent collection of works in a solo art exhibition tagged Mirrors and Mirages at Terra Kulture on Victoria Island, Lagos. His works are eclectic because he creates artworks from everything and anything. He is continuously reinventing himself, which is very evident in his new body of works. “My past and present environments have continuously influenced my works. Growing up in a natural environment and mentally colonised country, which is deep in both African religion and Christian belief, has been a big source of influence to my work,” he explained, noting that the solo exhibition is meant to examine the benefits he has received from Nigeria and what Nigeria has gained from him as an artist. But the mirage aspect of the show is to highlight the disappointing thing about his continued search for the real home he has been longing for while in the US.
Despite the disappointment, the Edo State-born graduate of English and Literary Studies is hopeful of a better and safer Nigeria, saying no country anywhere in the world is crime free. Since returning to Nigeria in June 2008, Ehikhamenor has been faced with the stark reality of the disappearing moral values in a society he thought would be a home. “I came to Nigeria at a period I was longing to return home. My working for NEXT newspaper was a catalyst for my coming home. There is a whole lot to be done here. The need to impact the expertise in developing Nigeria informed my decision. However, those attractions (food, masquerade, drink, music, folklores) of home have disappeared,” he said.
But home has remained a mirage after he escaped the chaos and insecurity that characterised the administration of former Head o State, Gen. Sanni Abacha. And today, in the face of persistent abuses, Nigeria as a home is still a mirage. “At 49, we are still a test-tube baby. However, we cannot give up. I know it is home, and I can survive here,” Ehikhamenor assured in spite of the growing misconception about the country.
As a former University of Maryland scholar and lecturer in the United States of America, he is happy to come back to his native country. He said: “This is great that I can come back to my homeland and to find a new means of expression, and to be part of a new newspaper. For me to take this giant step from the world of fine arts, to a totally new medium (print and web, and the business of news) is right on target as far as my professional development is concerned. I am learning much already, and the learning curve is quite high, but I am up to the challenge.”
The Creative Director of NEXT newspaper described art as the biggest cultural expxort of any nation, but observed that lapses in the country could be frustrating. He stressed that artists must examine the content of their works and how they present them, becuase potential buyers of artworks must first be attracted to the work before deciding on whether to buy or not.
Ehikhamenor is a holder of Master of Science in Technology Management, and an international award-winning writer, poet and photographer. He was awarded a fellowship by University Of Maryland, College Park for an MFA in 2006. Before graduating, he won the prestigious Breadloaf Writer’s conference award, which he turned down to join NEXT newspaper. “I have to make history in my own country, Breadloaf can wait, plus I know I can always win the award again” he said of his refusal to honour the award.

My solo is my testimonial’
To most visual artists, a thousand group art exhibitions cannot equal a solo show. Every studio artist finds it very fulfilling holding a solo exhibition than participating in a series of group shows. Ajene Isegbe, one of the successful sculptors in Benue State, did not agree less in this interview with Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME.
After working for six years at the National Gallery of Art (NGA), Ajene Isegbe, who is now a Makurdi-based practising studio artist, has rediscovered fresh vistas in the composition and presentation of his arts works, especially public art. Also, his interest in preservation and restoration of such works is one area for which he has found a strong passion since going into full-time studio practice almost a decade ago. His first major commission was an outdoor sculpture of Aper Aku in Markudi, Benue State capital. The statue of the late Joseph Tarka at the J.S Tarka Foundation and the national coat of arms are among his other commissions.
Unlike most of his peers in the academia, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-trained artist finds fulfillment in studio practice. He said he was not very keen on pursuing post-graduate programme in arts, noting that the only post-graduate programme he desires to pursue now is preservation and restoration of art. “I don’t find higher degrees in arts as the ultimate. I can only go for training in special areas like preservation and restoration of modern works and antics. It is a specialised aspect of art management that is relatively not very popular here in Nigeria. Again, only one or two institutions in the country offer such training. In fact, that is where my heart is,” he declared.
Perhaps worried by the state of neglect of the nation’s heritage and art collections, Isegbe is determined to get the special training in order to assist in changing the uncaring attitudes of culture workers to priceless works of arts. He observed that a good percentage of artworks in national collections are not well preserved. He noted that the storage conditions of these works are not ideal, thus making the works vulnerable to loss in value.
In an interview with The Nation, Isegbe described art appreciation in Benue state as very encouraging adding that some individuals in the state spent millions of naira for the execution of sculptural works in honour of their beloved parents. Besides, textile design is another vibrant sector of Benue art and culture, which has the red, black and white stripes hand made textile commonly used by the people of the state.
Benue State, known as food basket of the nation, according to him, can boast of the likes of former Governor George Akume and Justice Kastinalu who are emerging collectors in their own right. He hinted that Governor Gabriel Suswan is considering the creation of a desk for Special assistant to the Governor on Arts in the state. Interestingly, Isegbe produced a five-by-four feet metal sculpture, an abstract piece showing a food basket being presented by a female hand decorated with bangles. The sculpture, which is made from metal scrap covered with fibre resin, is suitable for both indoor and outdoor display. The metal was one of the biggest exhibits at last year’s African Regional Exhibition and Summit on Visual Arts (ARESUVA) in Abuja.
Commenting on the indiscriminate mounting of low quality public arts in some Nigerian cities, Isegbe said that in the composition and presentation of any public art, the pedestal (base) upon which a sculpture stands must not swallow the piece. This, he said, is to allow the pedestal to remain a support that will enhance the work’s visibility. “If the contrary is the case, then the base will assume the position of the work on show. And that is not an ideal presentation format,” he added.
To most exhibiting artists, holding a debut solo art exhibition is a measure of maturity, especially when it is holding after long years of studio practice. So, to Isegbe, holding his first solo art exhibition, which will mark his 50th birthday celebration, is one project too dear to his heart. The retrospective exhibition will hold in Makurdi in November 2010. He described it as an appraisal of a sort that will feature selected old and current works he did since he left the university in 1983. “I thank God the journey has been successful. The only missing link is the solo art exhibition I am planning. The exhibition will serve as an appraisal of my journey so far in the arts. I love arts and I am determined to remain focused on arts. My joy is that I am an artist and I never regret being a sculptor,” Isegbe recalled, disclosing that work on his private gallery located in Makurdi would soon be completed.

Gallery Edifice: Private investors battle for soul of arts.
In the last two years, the proposed multimillion naira National Gallery of Art’s edifice has gone through several stages of fine-tuning. But apathy and paucity of fund have forced the NGA management to look the way of private sectors to get the project off the ground, reports Assistant Editor (Arts), OZOLUA UHAKHEME.

There are strong indications that the management of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) will be considering private–public-partnership (PPP) for the construction of its multi-million naira edifice in Abuja. Already, some foreign investors and local partners have indicated interest in the project, originally expected to be funded by the Federal Government through the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation.
In an interview with The Nation, the Director-General of NGA, Mr. Joe Musa, said the decision to embrace the PPP option became necessary following perceivedgovernment apathy, paucity of fund and the gallery’s inability to get the approval of the Presidency for government’s funding of the project. He explained that the project would adopt the build, operate and transfer (BOT) arrangement between NGA and its partners.
“Two monstrous challenges that have been confronting the realisation of the edifice are apathy and funding. And what we have therefore decided is to adopt the BOT option to put up the edifice. I am sure I will flag it off soon because it is a vision the sector needs to reposition the visual art,” he said.
Musa, who expressed optimism on the growth of the art sector despite the financial meltdown, observed that unlike other sectors of the economy, the art market has continued to thrive, citing the recent auctions of works of art locally and outside the country. He explained that at a time when most investors were being forced to withdraw their funds from some sectors, patrons of the art are busy investing in the sector with the collection of works of art at major auctions. Last month, a London-based auction house, Bonham, held an auction of works by leading African artists like Prof. El Anatsui, Bruce Onobrakpeya and Nnenna Okore, among others.
“Global financial meltdown has never affected the art. Patronage of the art is on the rise while art auctions are being held across the globe. In January, Sotheby’s auction house in London said the new emerging art market is African art market. Notwithstanding the low level of art appreciation n the continent, visual art remains a significant instrument of economic development. Nigeria has an art market and the secondary section of it, which is the auction, is already evolving,” he added.
Continuing, he said: “What we must do is to liberalise and deregulate the market. The issues of the 60s are not what obtain today, especially the volume of artists’ works in the market. The Nigerian art is at the verge of breaking away from its old shackles. The sector is worth investing in. Cable Network News (CNN) reported African Regional Exhibition and Summit on Visual Art (ARESUVA) and it got a good coverage.”
He disclosed that NGA is organising a world tour of Nigerian arts beginning in Egypt in August. According to him, each tour will feature 15 best living Nigerian artists’ works. The world tour that will move to Italy, Australia and US, he said, is to serve as another platform to project and expose Nigerian art to the global art market.
On the second African Regional Exhibition and Summit on Visual Art, (ARESUVA) holding later in the year, he regretted that unlike the maiden edition last year, this year’s summit might suffer some setbacks because of poor funding. He recalled that last year, NGA got about N200million to hold the summit but has so far received N20million for this year’s edition. “From January till April, ARESUVA sub-head on the budget had remained zero. Almost all our programmes are not going to be funded by the government, so we must depend on our ingenuity to raise fund. However, the challenges are there, but it takes human being to overcome them and achieve a milestone.
“ARESUVA was a huge success but now we are fighting several battles within the system. It is easy to use the private sector to assess our programmes, but the public sector has its own rules. We came to effect a change and that we must achieve. There are several influences we must contend with,” Musa said. He stressed that repositioning the art is more challenging in these days of global financial meltdown because in time of cost cutting, arts suffers. He noted that for sustainability, ‘we must continue to lobby the assembly in the face of apathy in order to push art appreciation.’
On the reconstituted board of directors of National Gallery of Art, Musa hinted that the appointment of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) as one of the institutional members of the board was made possible because of the doggedness of the minister and permanent secretary in the ministry. The D-G, who is also a practising artist, noted that unknown to many, the SNA slot on the board has always been available but not implemented by past administration.

The many faces of African masks, masquerades
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor

The Eyo, Efe-gelede, Okumkpa, Mmanwu and Eku are names of various masquerades across the country. Apart from the common cultural myths (ancestral status and entertainment) that link most of them, the social relevance of each differs from one community to another. Yet, they serve, most times, as diviners, mediating and regulating the relationship between the living and the spirit world. Emeritus Professor of African Art, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Prof. John Picton, observed that most masquerades in Africa are the embodiment of cultural complexities, noting that they are often perceived in terms of authority as figures from the world of the dead. He explained that in much of sub-Saharan Africa, masquerades continue to be, according to the appropriate event and season, a commonplace and contemporary activity of social consequence.
Picton, who delivered a paper at a recent Mmanwu festival in Enugu, said whatever is the overt purpose of any given masking institution and performance, all manner of concerns are addressed-including questions of authority, gender, social identity, seniority, ancestral status, affliction, healing, and the need to laugh.
“Masked performances, sometimes, achieved their purpose by the public criticism of those in authority as with the South-West Yoruba Efe-gelede, in which performers were protected by the witches for whose entertainment the performances are staged; and Afikpo-Igbo okumkpa in which performers were protected by a male deity that authorised the performance for an astonishing survey of masquerades among the Igbo-speaking people. In Kalabari, a woman in the mythic past introduced the water spirit masquerades to Kalabari people, and men then appropriated them. The performances themselves were for entertainment which, at the same time, allows for the ridicule of anti-social forms of behaviour,” he added.
Picton, who first came to Nigeria in June 1961, stressed that despite these, the masquerade is only one of the ways of (re)presenting the world of spirits; as most Kalabari spirit mediums were (in contrast to masked performers) women; moreover, one kind of Kalabari ancestral memorial. He cited the Senufo people in Ivory Coast where women are the diviners, mediating and regulating the relationship between people and spirits; while men and boys were concerned with masquerades, especially in the context of training for adulthood.
In Mali Dogon, people performed in masks for the tourists as well as, on other funerary and celebratory occasions, for themselves while many Bamana ‘masks’ were as much the emblems and repositories of magical power as they were things to perform with.
In Congo-Zaire (DRC), young Pende men invented and performed new masks as a good way of attracting girl friends, while some older aspects of mask use evolved during the colonial period presenting it dramatically as a sorcery attack. In Gabon, in the late 19th and early 20th century, Kwele warlords made use of gorilla-shaped masks to terrify subject communities; while in many communities across sub-Saharan Africa masks were used.
Unlike other African countries, masquerades and masks, he said, are used to terrify small boys at their initiations to manhood, while also serving as the executioners of criminals. “In some Akoko-Edo communities in Nigeria, tall wooden masks that stood sometimes as much as ten feet high when in use, provided a test of strength at male age-grade festivities,” he noted.
Prof. Picton, a fellow of the Pan-African Circle of Artists (PACA) howevered remarked that for most parts, masquerade was a male affair, but that there are a few examples of women as masked performers. The best-known, he said, is the Sande society in Sierra Leone, in which women wore masks that embodied the aboriginal spirits of the forests into which Mende people moved in the 16th century. On the medium and performance of African masquerades, he said: “For one thing, performance entails social participation; for another, performance presupposes and enacts a framework of ideas; it is, inevitably, a ritual environment; and all of this takes place through time and marks the passage of time. Moreover, many if not most African masks were not made of wood: all manner of fibres and fabrics were used; and there were some that were seemingly without physical presence. They were heard at night, and the very night itself was their mask… Some masked performances in Africa might be characterised as ridiculing jokers, but most are not. A masked executioner was certainly not joking when he came to cut your head off.”

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