Theatre for change
By OZOLUA UHAKHEME 24/11/2010 00:00:00
If plays by renowned playwrights, such as the late Hubert Ogunde, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and Prof. Wole Soyinka, could be used to effect social change in the 50s and 60s, theatre can also serve as a veritable tool to effect changes towards credible elections in 2011 and enthrone good governance. This was the thrust of a paper, Theatre and change: Credible elections for good governance, presented by the deputy dean, School of Visual and Performing Art, Kwara State University, Ilorin, Prof. Ahmed Yerima, at the convention of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) in Lagos.
The former artistic director of the National Troupe of Nigeria described this electioneering period as a threshold of the confrontation or collaboration between theatre and political change, noting that the political realities are good materials for great drama. He explained that theatre has been tried in the past in different forms, and it has helped to achieve change by educating and mobilising the society whose problems are reflected in the play as well as helped to point towards change by conscientising and demanding it for the society.
"Hubert Ogunde had used his play, Yoruba Ronu, to examine the ills of the developing Nigerian society of the 50s and 60s. In the play, Ogunde spoke directly to a cultural group in Nigeria, asking it to find identity for itself within the political reality of Nigeria. Wole Soyinka again leads in the act of using theatre to effect change. In his Before the Blackout series of sketches by his Orisun Theatre Company at Ibadan and Lagos in the 60s, and Guerrilla Theatre Unit at the then University of Ife, in the early 70s and 80s, Soyinka captured the immediacy of theatre as a weapon of change.
Employing the graphic use of historical, socio-political issues and music, with a good dose of iconoclastic wit, where the audience laughed at themselves being presented as character caricatures, Soyinka confronted the society with immediate problems, dissecting the ills, proffering solutions if need be, and forcing the audience to ponder and arrive at their own decisions on the state of he nation," Yerima said.
The Edo State-born theatre professor observed that for the genre to be potent, artists must understand the craft of skilfully turning theatre from a tool for entertainment and enjoyment into a weapon of social change. He added that artist must observe society, recognise the ills, and being to weave his plot so that the conflict of his play carries the message without making it too didactic. Beyond presenting both sides of a political discourse, Yerima stressed that questions on good governance must be presented by the artist in his play while the society must find a space to pause and think, and conclude on issues raised in the play.
Continuing, he said: "Electorate should be able to know that their votes should not be sold ton the highest bidder or should they allow themselves to be carried away by the promise of politicians. They should be made to know that they must properly analyse such promises before decisions on who to vote for are made. Questions such as is government ready for free and fair elections must be asked. The dramatic presentations must be direct, yet humorous, the language clear and the images and imageries recognisable."
According to the guest speaker, theatre as a tool for community development in the area of children’s theatre should be taken to the base community by practitioners and issues broken down into plots and scenario for professional actors, children actors to act out roles that will inform the audience on the need for good governance and credible elections.
He noted that the power of individual artist in terms of personality and fame to effect political change, should not be undermined citing the endorsement of TV hostess, Oprah Winfrey as the beginning of President Barrack Obama’s rise in the presidential election victory which changed the face of American politics and history.
He said in Nigeria, artists have started endorsing political candidates as political rallies are strewn with theatre artists singing and dancing for candidates. Reacting to President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent announcement of a 200million dollar incentive funds for the arts, Yerima asked: "Is this the much awaited endowment for the arts? How will these funds be distributed to all the genres of the arts? Or is it a political gimmick to win the votes of gullible, hungry, poor, stupid artists?
In his remark, NANTAP president, Gregory Odutayo noted that the association’s journey has been a tedious and long one but thanked God for getting this far. He said the convention would be used to drive the state chapters especia
lly in terms of membership, which has been in low ebb. "After this convention, we would have given the impetus to the association to move forward. Among Nigerians inseted as fellow of the association included governor of Nassarwa State, Alhaji Aliyu Akwe Idoma, minister of tourism, culture and national orientation, ALhaji Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed and Dejumo Lewis.
'Why Durbar was not part of Abuja Carnival'
OZOLUA UHAKHEME 03/12/2010 00:00:00
A Few hours to the commencement of the event, tourists started milling into the Royal Polo Ground at Asokoro in Abuja, venue of this year’s Abuja Carnival. By noon, security officials and ushers have taken position, controlling the increasing crowd to ensure safety of life and property. But unknown to most tourists, many who later left in frustration, the famous and colourful royal durbar, which is always a spectacle at the annual fiesta, would not hold. Reason: The participating durbar contingents from some of the Northern states (emirates) were unable to finance the cost of participation. Instead, the organisers of the Abuja Carnival opted for polo, an equally equestrian performance, which is also cheaper. Among the emirates expected at the Durbar were Borno, Nupe, Kano, Katsina and Zaria.
Reacting to questions on why durbar was not part of this year’s carnival, the Artistic director of Abuja Carnival, Prof. Bakare Ojo Rasaki said the participating emirates could not raise N140million to bring their horses to the carnival. He explained that it would also cost the emirates over two million naira to decorate each horse for the carnival.
According to Prof. Rasaki, the Abuja Carnival Committee cannot afford to give out such amount of money for durbar alone because there are lots of other pressing financial obligations to attend to. “We have always had the durbar. But this year, the emirates said it would cost them N140million to bring their horses to the carnival. And it would cost about three million naira to decorate one horse. Where will I get such money? I don’t even have that kind of money.
“But durbar and polo are both equestrian performances, so we decided to choose polo, which is cheaper,” he said. Polo, he added, was introduced into the carnival last year.
It was gathered that Durbar event in past editions of Abuja Carnival has always been funded by the central working committee as well as sponsors like Dangote and Stanbic IBTC Bank, which picked the bill in 2008. This year’s carnival may have suffered poor funding from the federal government. Beyond inadequate funding, the frequent changes in the composition of the central working committee of the Abuja Carnival may have affected its drive for sponsors as well as sustaining rapport with the emirates.
Speaking at the opening ceremony at the Eagle Square in Abuja on Saturday, President Goodluck Jonathan urged Nigerians to relate to the carnival and accept it as their own, noting that a nation that wants to be in the top 20 economies must also plan on how to move forward from there. “Abuja Carnival was not designed to be just another addition to the community of carnival. As a national carnival of the world’s largest Black nation, it can only be referred to as successful if it becomes one of the best, most visited and most colourful carnivals,” he said.
President Jonathan stressed that the carnival is a tourism product that Nigerians must ensure its sustainable development so as to attract the desired tourists into the country, thus making Nigeria a tourism destination with pride. Continuing, he aid: “It is important to emphasise the need for Nigerians to make pecuniary commitment to the carnival. In this respect, we expect the organised private sector to take greater role in its financing both as a matter of corporate social responsibility and as an investment. This is not just because the government alone cannot finance it, but that carnival, a tourism product is private driven all over the world.” The president who was represented by the minister of tourism, culture and national orientation, Alhaji Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed hoped that next year more companies would align with this national event to ensure its sustainability.
The annual festival featuring road shows, children’s poetry, dance and fashion show, masquerades’ display, food fair, cultural night and boat regatta attracted countries like Egypt and Canada. It ended yesterday, Tuesday.