Monday, August 22, 2011

‘Why our wines are not in open market’
At the birthday party for South African ex-President Nelson Mandela, the tasting of Rolands wines was the high point of the celebration at the Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island, Lagos. The brain behind Roland wines, Chief Jerryaham Roland Okoro, spoke with OZOLUA UHAKHEME, Assistant Editor (Arts) on why his wines are not in the market, his preference for South Africa and his battle against adulteration, among others.
South African-based Nigerian businessman and Chief Executive Officer, Westlog Nigeria Limited, a leading marketer of South African wines, Chief Jerryaham Roland Okoro, has identified inclement economic climate- high cost of production and distribution, in the country as major setback to the nation’s economic growth.
He said unlike Nigeria, South Africa provides enabling environment for investors with good business plan and strategy to realise their business objectives.
“When you are talking of economic factors, they are in exhaustive- power to maintain the cooling system for the wine; the labour cost; the land acquisition system and farm land acquisition nature also make it very easy.
South Africa is a country where once you have a good business plan and strategy the financial institutions will support you to realise the business plan.
Unlike in Nigeria where you must own properties for collateral and the banks will expect you to operate for three months with them before you can get any form of assistance from them.
In South Africa, trust is something you must strive to earn from your business associates and once you gained trust from them, the sky is your limit. That is a country where partnership strives,” he said.
Chief Rowland, who founded a leading marketer of South Africa wines in 2007, noted that in South Africa, transportation system is adequate, effective and there is a high level of support from the government to entrepreneurs.
“When I had the opportunity to attend an economic summit in South Africa held at the International Conference Centre in Cape Town in 2006, I discovered the need to build an economic bridge between Nigeria and other West African countries through Westlog Nigeria Limited.
It is purely a trading company that majors on wine and wine related requisites and other consumables,” he added, stressing that today, it is a dream come true owning private wine labels.
Westlog Nigeria Limited, which has distribution channels in Nigeria, Ghana and Angola has variety of wines; red, rose and white, with brands like Rowlands Wine and Justinas Wine, which put his name on the shelf of African market.
He said he feels happy following the footsteps of Nigerian investors, such as Dangote, Adenuga Jr and Tony Elumelu.
The former employee of United Bank for Africa said his products are not in the informal market for fear of being adulterated. And to further avoid adulteration, he established mobile wine bar services unit that serves wine in customers’ events and receptions.
Continuing, he said: “Our major consumers and customers are high network individuals; middle market managers. We do direct marketing-supplying to supermarkets; hotels; eateries and nite clubs. Our brands and products are not in the informal open market such as the Trade Fair Market; Balogun Market; Onitsha Market and Aba Market.
“We warned our consumers not to drink any of our products purchased in the open market. It will be at their own risk as they may fall victim of adulteration of fake wine, which is very common in Nigeria’s open market.
To avoid people meddling with our products and brands, we established a mobile wine bar services unit that serves our wine in our customers’ events or reception. We set up a Westlog mobile wine bar at the reception venue and serve the guests directly from our wine bar.
According to him, “we want our customers and consumers of our products to hold us responsible for what they drink. We have introduced a return bottle system so as to make a refund of certain amount to customers that brings back their bottle to us after consuming the liquid content.”
He declared that it is very expensive to adulterate his products because it is not profitable to do so. He added that the organisation’s system of operations made it extremely difficult and unprofitable for them, saying “we operate Westlog wine shops in every state in Nigeria. These Westlog shops serve as distribution hub to all hotels, supermarkets, eateries and clubs.
He disclosed that there are plans to establish a plant in Umuahii Amaike 1, Mbieri in Imo State in the future as a way of creating job opportunities.
“I am still working on the energy challenge as wine needs a 100 per cent cooling system…A sip of any Westlog wines like Eezi Mzi; Rowlands or Justinas changes everything. Our wines are all cultivars wines: Merlot, Shiraz, Cabnert, Pinotage, Rose, etc. None is a table wine. We don’t do table wines,” Roland assured.

Octogenarian singer with sonorous voice
By Ozolua Uhakheme 10/08/2011 00:00:00
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Doyen of Indian classical music Pandit Jasraj, 83, is visiting Nigeria. At a dinner hosted in Lagos in his honour by Jim Ovia, he performed briefly alongside two of his disciples. Assistant Editor (Arts) Ozolua Uhakheme was there.
There was pin-drop silence as he entered the medium-size hall at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. Escorted by his two disciples and the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Visafone, Mr Sailesh Tyer, the doyen of Hindustani vocals, Pandit Jasraj, 83, walked in with a broad smile.
The Indians among the selected guests quickly took turns to honour Jasraj with ‘cultured’ salute, touching his feet with hands before going for an handshake. The veteran of the Mewati Gharana is in the country on the invitation of the Indian Fine Arts Society (INFAS), Nigeria. He was hosted to a dinner by the Chairman of Visafone, Mr Jim Ovia, for his contributions to music globally. He also performed at the Muson Centre, Lagos.
Ovia, who presented Jasraj with a plaque and a traditional drum described Jasraj as one of the greatest Indians that ever lived. He said he learnt much from the India community who, according to him, formed the core of customers at Zenith Bank. "They are shrewd business people. They hardly default in their loans. It is a statement of fact. Sooner, Nigerians started to learn from them," he said. Ovia is former managing director of Zenith Bank.
For a few minutes that Jasraj led two of his disciples in a short rendition of one of his songs in a rich, soulful and sonorous voice, he literarily lifted the guests into the spiritual realm- that moment when ‘everyone hears in his voice the whisper of the unknown and experiences in his singing the stillness of unheard sound’. And everyone was filled with a sense of gratitude that he shared in the rich Indian musical tradition. That was the peak of the moment.
But the octogenarian Indian music icon did not hide his love for Nigeria. He said India and Nigeria are similar, adding that Nigerians are warm people. "Immediately I arrived in Lagos, I thought I was in my country," he said.
He recalled that as a little child he never knew how he got into music, but that he started off with drumming before going into music proper. "Before learning music, I taught music in college in Pakistan. Thereafter, I started learning music from my elder brother, Pandit Muniram. In fact, God has been kind to me. If you are lucky, God will take you to great places," he noted.
On his relationship with Indian movie producers and directors, he said: "I did my first sound track for a movie in 1954. And the legendary Indian movie producers and directors love me and my music." The Mewati maestro, who has won numerous awards worldwide, said he has a growing disciple of musicians in Indian that two of them would perform in Lagos during his visit. He recalled that at 73, her wife made her first movie and that she is still a movie producer.
The contemporary doyen of North Indian vocals was born in a family that has given to Indian classical music four generations of outstanding musicians. He had his initial grooming in music under his father, late Pandit Motiramji. At age three Jasraj, with just the seven notes as his inheritance from his father, stepped out into the cold world of harsh realities.
Today, those seven notes make up his rainbow... his bridge to a mystical realm of sound... that lies beyond the applause, the awards, the titles, the trophies, the honours...putting him in touch with the music of the infinite.
Under the tutelage of his older brother Sangeet Mahamahopadhyaya Pandit Maniram and with the spiritual influence of Maharaja Jaywant Singhji Waghela of Saanand, Pandit Jasraj began his vocal and spiritual journey. The Maharaja, himself a gifted and scholarly musician of the Mewati Gharana, gently ushered Jasraj into the realm of devotion, preparing him for the sublime music he was ordained to create.
In honour of the glory of this unparalleled living legend, awards and titles have not only been created and bestowed upon him but have also been instituted in his name, thus these awards gaining more in prestige and value on account of being associated with his name.
The University of Toronto has instituted a scholarship in his name for young Canadians wishing to train in music. Also, the first Distinguished Visitor Award was created specially in honour of Jasraj by the same university in 1999 for the first time since its inception 200 years ago.
Endowed with a rich, soulful and sonorous voice, which traverses effortlessly over all three and a half octaves, Jasraj’s vocalising is characterised by a harmonious blend of classic and opulent elements, projecting traditional music as an intense spiritual expression, at once chaste and densely coloured. This gives his music a very sublime emotional quality, touching the soul of the listener.
He has been guided in this by his spiritual guru, the late Maharana Jaiwant Singhji of Anand, another doyen of the Mewati Gharana. Perfect diction, clarity in Sur and extreme tunefulness, command in all aspects of laya, choice of composition and interplay of the notes with the words to evoke the desired mood and feeling are other highlights of this Rasraj Pandit Jasraj’s music.
This sensitivity together with the pure classical approach has given his singing a lyrical quality, which is the quintessence of the Mewati style of singing.
Although every performance by Jasraj can be deemed as original, he is the originator of a most unique concept that will go down in history as the work of a genius and as one of his great contributions to Indian music.
A novel Jugalbandi (duet), which finds inspiration from the ancient system of moorchanas, is the Jasrangi. In his words, he says he devised the duet, "Like the Yin and the Yang or Shiv-Shakti." The Jasrangi is a sensuous fusion of the ‘Purush (Male) and ‘Prakriti’ (Female).
Few Indian musicians have been so felicitated as Jasraj. The list of accolades he has received bears testimony of his musical exploits. He is indeed India’s best-known cultural ambassador to the world. He has received numerous awards including the   Padma Vibhushan, (art-classical music-vocal) in 2000- the highest award given to any musician in Indian, Sangeet Samrat by Vedic Heritage, New York, Ved Shiromani - the highest Awards of Vedic Heritage of New York, Param Acharya by Pandit Jasraj Institute, Rajeev Gandhi Award for professional excellence, Giants International Award, American Academy of Artists Award, Prime Minister of India Mr. AtalBihari Vajpayee honour in 2002, Award for Peace on October 14, 2001 in New York for the peace of the New York People after September 11, tragedy and a scholarship instituted by the University of Toronto for young deserving students of Indian music.
Jasraj received the University of Toronto highest award, ‘The Distinguished Visitor Award’ making him the first ever to receive it in the 200-year history of the university.  This also makes him a visiting Professor of its faculty for life. The award consisted of a citation and a medal crafted by the renowned Canadian sculptor, Sandra Nobel Goss.
Also, the Harvard University Art Museum together with Kalawati (a wing of the University) of the US and the BharatiyaVidyaBhavan of London honoured him.
He has been accorded civic receptions at Oklahoma City in the USA as also in Mumbai (MahanagarPalika), Valsad, Nagpur, Hissar, Varanasi and Ujjain in India.

One throne, two contenders
By OZOLUA UHAKHEME 03/08/2011 00:00:00
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The peaceful community of Ubulu-Uku in Delta State is at cross-roads over kingship tussle between two brothers, Edward and Akaeze, reports OZOLUA UHAKHEME, Assistant Editor (Arts).
Former assistant producer with British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and heir-apparent to the throne of Obi of Ubulu-Uku in Delta State, Prince Edward Okwuchukwu Ofulue, 56, is unhappy with happenings in his home town. Twenty-five years after he was initiated by his late father as heir-apparent, he is yet to ascend the throne.
Reason: One of his siblings, Akaeze, has ascended the throne in his absence, contrary to the traditions of the Umu-ozim, the king-makers, who are empowered to conduct the rites of ascension. Their father Obi Ofulue died in August 2006.
The prince, who was in Ubulu-Uku recently to conclude some rites preceding his coronation as the rightful traditional ruler, has urged the Delta State government to come to his aid. He is praying the government to assit the community restoring order to the royalty of Ubulu-Uku. He said before his father died, the deceased initiated him into the position of crown prince 25 years ago.
He claimed that while away in the United Kingdom (UK), some parties have usurped the position, thus circumventing the traditions of the people and the royal stool. He, therefore, enjoined the appropriate authorities to investigate the accusations for peace to reign. "I have full confidence and respect for the law of our land and the state and believe that right will prevail over injustices and disharmony," he assured.
He noted that the community’s values on matters of kingship are based on primogeniture–first son’s responsibility and God-given right to the throne in Ubulu-Uku, which he described as ancient and uncompromised right.
The sitting traditional ruler, his Royal Highness, Agbogidi Obi Akaeze Ofulue is however, on unruffled by his brother’s claim.
Obi Akaeze Ofulue said: "Though Edward is his elder brother, he was an illegitimate child having been born out of wedlock."
"It is true that the first son takes over when the king dies, but that is when the king and the mother of the person were legally married. My elder brother’s mother was not legally married to my mother," Obi Akaeze Ofulue said in a report.
But for Prince Edward, his right to the throne cannot be contested. "As the legitimate and lawful first son of the late Obi Ofulue, the Obi of Ubulu Uku, I have come to my father’s kingdom to carry out the expectations of the umu ozim (the king makers) and thus our people," Prince Edward said.
He said by disclosing to the umu-ozim of my father’s whereabout, the king makers have formally declared that he has ‘travelled to a better place and have handed me the staff of office.’
"Our values are based on primogeniture– first son’s responsibility and God-given right to succeed to the throne in Ubulu-Uku, Delta State. This is an ancient and uncompromised right. As the legitimate and lawful first son of Obi Ofulue II, I have come to my father’s kingdom to carry out the expectations of the umu ozim (the king makers) and thus our people.
"My existence and very being were recognised by my father who initiated me into the position of crown prince in 1985.
"I have come to Ubulu-Uku, our kingdom, to perform sacred duties and rights, which have now been carried out with the Umu-ozim present. By telling of my father’s whereabout, the Umu-ozim have formally declared that he has travelled to a better place and have handed me the staff of office," he said.
According to him, he has paid courtesy calls to some leading Obis in the area during which goodwill messages were exchanged. They include the Asagba of Asaba, Obi of Owa, Obi of Ubulu-Unor, Obi of Ubulu-Okiti, and Obi of Umunede. He said: "I have set feet on Ubulu-Uku soil, which is the ancient land of our ancestors. The people of Ubulu-Uku are safe as the traditional rites have been performed by me.
"As the first son, I have assumed the rights bestowed on me in the name of God, our father’s ancestors and the land. The legacy processes can now be put in place to ensure the natural processes continue."
In a telephone interview, the Information Committee Chairman of Umu-Ozim, Emeka Ojie, told The Nation that the community is in a dilemma, but noted that there could never be two rulers in one kingdom. He said the Umu-Ozim has instituted a case against the sitting traditional ruler in the law court challenging his right to the throne. "As it is now, we have to wait for the determination of that suit. But, Umu-Ozim recognises Prince Edwards Ofulue as the heir-apparent to the throne. And as soon as the case is determined by the court, Prince Edward will conclude all the rites," Ojie said.
Mr Patrick Ofulue, a member of the family, also told The Nation on telephone that situation in Ubulu-Uku is an unusual one, noting that the king-makers are not comfortable with it. Ofulue said the sitting Obi was neither initiated by his late father nor crowned by kingmakers. "In fact, he does not believe in the Umu-Ozim as he always claims he is a Christian," he added. Prince Ofulue had his O’Level and A’Level certificates in London. He attended Staffordshire University, where he obtained a BA (Hons) in History and Politics before he went to Westminster University for a certificate in Radio Journalism. He worked at BBC as assistant producer (foreign) and as information officer with the Commonwealth office. As the moment, he works as corporate social responsibility manager specialising in employment training and community engagement (construction projects) relating to blue chip projects in London: Terminal five, the Olympics and the London bridge development.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Go back to the president

‘Go back to the President’
Eighteen years after he left for greener pastures abroad, Prof Dele Jegede has come home for an exhibition. He relocated to the US in the heat of the June 12, 1993 political impasse. Jegede, who teaches Art at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, is in the country for his first solo art exhibition, Peregrinations, holding at the Nike Art Gallery, Lekki, Lagos. He spoke with Assistant Editor (Arts) Ozolua Uhakheme on why Nigerian artists must return to the President on pending fundamental issues affecting the arts; his 18 years self-exile and the need to produce works that must go beyond the cosmetic.
Eighteen years after you relocated abroad, you are holding your first solo art exhibition in Nigeria. How much of your experiences will be reflected in the show?

I would have satisfied my conscience that as a creative artist, I have given expression to the fullest of my ability to the issues that have continually made me uncomfortable regarding the Nigerian nation. But I am not unique, indeed, in this feeling that the Nigeria that I had anticipated, unfortunately, is an aborted country. It has not grown to the extent one has anticipated. And I don’t know what the solution is in one specific term.
But I know that I will be deluding myself if I, think that my art will suddenly ginger them into doing the right thing. I also think that if I in my capacity as an artist can voice my concern just as other million Nigerians can do, then we will get to a crescendo. It would have sickened me to sit down and do nothing knowing well that I have the capability to express these feelings in this medium. I am not deceived into thinking that there is a new Nigeria because Dele Jegede held an exhibition that talks about issues of national interest.

What are your expectations of the Nigeria project?

We have stumbled hopefully on the right path. Given the issues we have just gone through historically in the last few weeks particularly the elections, I can say emphatically that what we have witnessed in the performance of INEC deserves commendation because the leadership of INEC has proven that it is doable. If everybody who is saddled with a responsibility of shepherding this country in his or her own little way would take it to the extent to what Prof. Attahiru Jega has done, I think collectively we will begin to mend our ways. I am not disappointed in some leadership of political parties that had the opportunity to let people know that is not a do-or-die affair or political parties that initially said they are not going to contest whatever the outcome is and yet on the way of abrogating that ideals. And then, the post election violence that was unleashed on people is condemnable. When political leaders say if you rig, you are going to pay with your blood, of course the blood they are referring to is not their blood or that of their children. It is the blood of the poor people.

What trend can you identify among Nigerian artists during the 18 years of self-exile? Is there significant growth in terms of quality?

I cannot say emphatically yes or no because the much I have been familiar with are through the reports of art writers such as you. Agreed I have been in and out of the country attending events such as ARESUVA, Grillo Pavilion festival, I hope my colleagues, especially the younger generation will begin to see art as a very potential area that can be used to consciencetise the nation to issues that are of concerned to them. I do not necessarily expect people to have the same kind of approach. But I hope we will have among us a group of artists who will be concern enough about issues that go beyond cosmetisation of presentation of art.

Is there any strong link between your cartoon series in the defunct Daily Tines and this solo art exhibition content wise?

I hesitate to say yes, but indeed, I know it is. That link is me. If I will look at my cartoons you can find that kind of link between it and my paintings, especially for this show. They are issue-based and I feel very passionate of them. But for this show, the issues are divided into three main thematic areas: Africanism, political environment in Nigeria and Abuja series. It sickening to find that people sell their property to pursue their political agenda and such people will come to say they are serving the nation? And yet we cannot claim that there are no examples of those who have laid down their lives and contributed intellectually to the growth of this nation in the days when it was customary for people in authority to derive pleasure from having programmes that contribute to the upliftment of the society. I am sure you remember the likes of the late Chief Simeon Adebo of the old Federal Civil Service in the 70s. Unfortunately, today, Nigerian politicians eat the bones around their necks. Nigerians have not done enough in exerting pressure for social change as it is happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and the whole Arab world. In fact, the lesson from the uprising is that power belongs to the people.

What is your impression of the quality of art being produced by Nigerian artists in recent time?

Well quality is relative. I will go more in line with the concept or ideas of art. If I could I will favour art that is powerful at the conceptual level, which is not illustrative and representational. We should figure out ways of producing art that elevates.

UK-based Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare said in a lecture recently in Lagos that he is not concerned about representation in his works, but more on about the politics of representation. What is your take on that?

Unfortunately, I was not at the lecture and have not read the report in papers. However, we are speaking along the same line. Yinka has expressed himself in a particular medium we are familiar with. But it took a while for him to get there. But it is unrealistic to expect every Nigerian artist to do same. If you look at the US for example, the percentage of artists who are successful is really negligible compared to the number of artists that graduate from art colleges every semester and not yearly. In the US, it is not unusual to find an art graduate who still pumps gas to make a living.
I hope we will get to a point where it is not the quantity of art that an artist produces but rather we should be looking at the power of the idea of art and the content, which does not have anything to do with whether it is reality or abstract. Importantly too, the National Endowment for the Art should be a sine qua non for progress regardless of how limited it will be made on the Nigerian art. And this is the time for everybody to get together and go back to the President in a transparent manner on the need to start a fundamental restructuring of the sector. We should be thinking of leaving a legacy, and that deals will putting in place structures that will facilitate growth and development of the art.

You were at the maiden edition of ARESUVA at Abuja and it is currently undergoing review for some reasons. How can it be re-engineered to compete favourably with other global art events?

What you are having as ARESUVA has unfortunately been infected by the usual malaria that are parasitic and sometimes very deadly. There is so much that goes on in the civil service that I am still surprised is referred to as civil. It is not civil. Everything hangs around the budget, the budget… there is this absence of quality ideas. From my stand point, the first ARESUVA was very successful. Although, when I was contacted three months before the event, I felt it was not proper. I came in with that kind of skepticism despite my conviction that it was a good idea. I learnt it is going to be biennial in subsequent editions. But I will take it when I see it. And it is not impossible for this thing to happen without hanging on to budget. In fact, people depend so much on the government and unfortunately, government business is nobody’s business. Again, there is the culture of impunity, culture of lack of respect for other peoples’ right, and it is me, me syndrome even in government. The average man on the road also manifests this syndrome. It is a national tragedy.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I am as free as Picasso

I am as free as Picasso’
Last year, London-based Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare, Member of the British Empire (MBE) unveiled a scale model of Nelson’s ship HMS Victory in a bottle at Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square. He spoke on his 30-year sojourn in the UK, his belief in African culture and his dream for Nigerian artists, among other issues, at a lecture in Lagos. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME was there.

AFTER 30 years sojourn in the UK, internationally acclaimed Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare returned home to a warm reception by his kinsmen and professional colleagues last Wednesday in Lagos.
The event was the Articulate lectures series organised by Bisi Silva’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, Lagos at the Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
With nostalgic feelings, he poured out his heart sharing his decades of artistic practice in the UK and used slides to illustrate the presentation that was laced with conviviality. E ku role, Eku joko; he greeted the audience, including his elated aged mother, Mrs. Shonibare, who was flanked by other relations. Expectedly, he acknowledged the assistance of Prof. Grillo Yusuf who he sought his advice before travelling, saying: “Thanks for having me. I have not been here for 30 years. I managed to build a career for myself.”
From his old works such as Deep Blue, to Double Dutch, Diary of a Victorian Dandy, Vacation, Alien obsessive-Man, Dad and the Kid, The Swing, Black Gold, How to blow up two heads at once, The crowning, The confession and Nelson’s ship in a bottle, Shonibare unveiled for the first time the diverse content of his collection to the expectant local audience. In fact, his talks and works were in consonant with the contextual underpinnings of his collection-global politics, freedom, colonialism, identity and culture.
Despite the long years of his stay in the UK, the artist who feels at home speaking in his local language, Yoruba, still believes strongly about the sanctity and relevance of his roots. And he sees art as a potent tool of propaganda, which he said, is being used by the West. “America at a time used art to challenge Russia during the Cold War. Art is very powerful in the West and the government used it as a tool of propaganda. Adolf Hitler thought modern artists were mad men and rebellious,” he said.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Shonibare paints mostly on Ankara fabrics, which is common among Africans. The choice of Ankara, he said, is a means to reassert his African identity among the Europeans. “I decided to paint on Ankara fabrics as my own way of reasserting my identity, which is, however, a mixture of culture. But I am a Lagosian…… In my works, I could have painted like any Briton, but I have to speak my mind… I am doing my own revolution. When I first got to England, I was very interested in global politics, so I started doing works that challenge the system,” he recalled, adding that he is not different from people on the streets carrying on campaigns for revolution.
He described artists as more serious political animals who are concerned with the goings on in the society, but expressed their feelings through media. At the college, a teacher once asked him why he was not doing authentic African art? He replied, saying, ‘I am a modern man,’ stressing that in Europe, there is an expectation and they feel Africans are primitive. At that period, people were no longer talking about modernism and the big museums were showing only the big artists at the detriment of non-Europeans and women. Driven by the fight against colonialism, a post-colonialsm movement, comprising those wanting to empower the colonised, emerged.
He recalled that instead of showing his work, Diary of A Dandy, in a gallery, he took it an underground station into interrogation and challenge the people. He said though his works are very critical of the society, but are never aggressive because there is a lot of humour in them. He cited How to blow up two heads at once to show that no man wins a war as both parties are losers.
Reacting to the absence of his works in collections of Nigerian art collectors, Shonibare said it is unfortunate that Chris Ofili and he are hundred per cent collected by Europeans, lamenting that “it is our heritage that we are losing to them.”
“Art collecting in America and Europe is a legacy for the people. My works in their collection can’t find their way to Nigeria. And I can’t divulge the figures about my works. Lots of museums collect my works in the ratio of private 60 per cent and public 40 percent. I do collect myself. I remember buying a painting from a German artist for 5,000 pounds, which I later sold for 70,000 pounds.
Beyond, the use of Ankara fabrics, observers wondered why his works are not reflecting enough of African culture. “I am free like Picasso and we are all global. My work is not about representation but the politics of representation. I am not using fabric to represent Africanism. Unfortunately, the legacy of colonialism is everywhere in the country.”
His dream for Nigerian art and artists is for Lagos to have a befitting museum that will raise the quality and standard of art practice in the country. The content of my work is a continuum of global art,” he explained. Present at the lecture were artists, collectors, gallery owners, student artists and admirers that included Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Prof. Yusuf Grillo, Chief Joe Musa, Emeka Udemba, Olu Amoda, Ndidi Dike, Mrs. Bolanle Austin-Peters, Wale Shonibare and Dr. Demola Azeez.
Shonibare was born in London and moved to Lagos, at the age of three. He returned to London to study Fine Art, first at Byam Shaw College of Art (now Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design) and later at Goldsmiths College, where he received his MFA - graduating as part of the ‘Young British Artists’ generation. Shonibare has become well known for his exploration of colonial and post-colonial themes.
His work explores these issues through the media of painting, sculpture, photography and, more recently, film and performance. With this wide range of media, Shonibare examines in particular the construction of identity and the tangled interrelationship between Africa and Europe. Having described himself as a ‘post-colonial’ hybrid, he questions the meaning of cultural and national definitions.
In 2004, Shonibare was shortlisted for the Turner Prize and in 2009, he won a commission for the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, for which he unveiled in 2010 a scale model of Nelson’s ship HMS Victory in a bottle. He has exhibited at the Venice Biennial and internationally at leading museums worldwide.

200m dollars intervention fund is no threat to Endowment for the Art
Twenty-three years after the coming of the Cultural Policy, the creative industry is yet to witness its effective implementation. Instead, the policy is being constantly reviewed. The Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Alhaji Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed, explains the stages the policy is passing through to get the government’s approval. Assistant Editor, Arts, OZOLUA UHAKHEME, reports.

IN the past few years, the Cultural Policy has been undergoing series of reviews. What is the update on the policy?
The Cultural Policy is a key feature on the table of the ministry. Since I asumed duties, we have made frantic efforts to ensure that the policy is approved and launched by the government. You will recall that when the policy was reviewed, it was sent to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and there were observations raised as to the financing of culture.
And when I assumed duty, I saw the need to convey a stakeholders’ forum, as to guide us on issues that relate to tax and incentives. After the stakeholders meeting, there was another committee of experts drawn from stakeholders who produced a final report.
At the forum, there was also a discussion about the National Endowment for the Art. It was a law that was promulgated in 1991 and, of course, it was not effective for whatever reason. But, we also felt that we should look at it and inputs were made. Not long ago, we intended sending the draft to the FEC, but we realised the need for the Ministry of Justice to have input into it. So, we sent the draft of the amended copy to the Ministry of Justice. We are receiving preliminary reports from justice ministry asking us to send an officer to them for discussion.
In fact, we feel strongly that for us to underscore the importance of the funding for the art, that law on art must go a long way. And if the policy is taken along with the law at the same time, at the FEC, the understanding of it all will be better. That was why we felt we should carry them along. As soon as we get the inputs from justice ministry, we will include that and send to the federal executive council.
In fact, the policy is one of the most important priority areas of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation.
For how long has the draft been with the Ministry of Justice?
The policy has been with the justice ministry since January. And I don’t know how long it will take them to complete their contributions. I thought the Ministry of Justice would respond with their input, however, we will follow up and ensure fast tracking of their input into the policy.
What is the update on the National Gallery of Art Bill? Also, what is the position of the ministry on the pending case involving NGA’s embattled DG and EFCC now that the acting DG has been confirmed as substantive?
The NGA Bill sent to the National Assembly is a privately sponsored bill and we are in touch with the culture committee and the leadership of the assembly on the need for the passage of the bill. When the House is through with it, it will then go to the Senate. In fact, we are waiting for it to be listed in the order of papers.
As for the suspended DG of NGA, Chief Joe Musa, we did not replace him until his tenure expired. The government is at liberty to appoint or reappoint him. And if he wins the pending case and comes back, he will get his benefits.
Will the President’s $200million intervention fund for the creative industry not be a draw-back for the realisation of the Endowment for the Art?
Well, to me, the President’s intervention fund is a complementary effort. In fact, it is a stop gap measure and it is one source fund. But the endowment for the Art is a multi-source, which is more enduring. The President is very passionate about the creative industry and is ready to support it because of the contributions it has been making to the economy and national growth.
Endowment for the Art is an enduring process where the art will be continually sustained through various instruments. So, the intervention fund from the President is just a complementary initiative and I hope that the law will be able to bring a sustainable framework that will make not only entertainment but all the creative industry viable and profitable.
At this period of electioneering campaign, arts and artists are used by political actors. And there is a seeming disconnect between your ministry and stakeholders in terms of programming. What is responsible for that?
I will not say there is disconnect between the ministry and stakeholders. But, the way the ministry relates with stakeholders can be different from the ways they can be used for political purposes. For us, it is an enduring relationship you build and you continue to sustain through some instruments of useul mechanism. For this, we know clearly and why and how you want to use them. No matter how you want to be sure, we are with them and will continue to be with them. No matter what promises that were made, they have to be within a certain government framework. They cannot be in isolation. The relationship between the stakeholders and the ministry will continue to grow and of course, a two-way affair.
One reason I may adduce for that impression is may be some small confusion. For instance, in the entertainment industry, once it is purely a creative art there seems to be more inclinations to other ministries than the ministry of culture. I feel strongly that the entire creative industry should be domiciled completely in the culture ministry.
Is this a mere wish or the ministry is truly working on how to redress this?
No, it is never a wish. We have started discussing with the ministry of information for instance, because we feel strongly that we have to sensitise the people. The bureaucracy there has to be sensitised so that it is not seen as we want to take away what you have. That has been the problem. We want them to understand that as long as they hold on to it, there will be no way there can be substantial progress. Of course, the stakeholders outside don’t have a real feel of such ministry and they feel strongly that they don’t belong there.
We have started talking and they have agreed and we are writing a proposal on the other aspects of culture ministry that should be incorporated into the ministry.
How effective is the government using culture as diplomatic tool for laundering Nigeria’s image abroad.
We will use culture as a diplomatic tool to launder Nigeria’s image. Except for paucity of funds, there are several programmes to launder Nigeria’s image. The major challenge is insufficient resources but there are several ideas to correct image problems.
What are the preparations to present Kano City Walls for UNESCO listing?
At the moment, we are only sensitising stakeholders about the enlistment plans. And we need to bring up the walls to a stage when the UNESCO assessors will not have much problem in considering it for enlistment.

On the President’s trail
After traversing the country for two months, taking about 10,000 shots of President Goodluck Jonathan's campaign rallies, a photo-journalist, George Esiri, has showcased 52 of the shots. The photo exhibition, entitled: The People’s President, was held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja. It ran for three days. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME was at the opening.

Goodluck Jonathan at the various campaign venues and the tortuous trips across the country, Reuter's photo-journalist, Mr. George Esiri, dared the odds to make history. He explored the creative elements of photography to document the visual attractions in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) campaign train, which flagged off in Nasarawa State in February.
From the colours of Calabar, to the beauty of Benue, the exotic Lagos Eyo masqueraders and the flowing agbada of Southwest, he mirrored the diversity of Nigerian culture. He simply captured the energy, colour and character of Nigerians in The People’s President.
In attendance at the opening were the President; PDP Acting National Chairman Dr. Mohammed Bello; Senior Special Assistant to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Mr Oronto Douglas; Special Assistant to the President on International Affairs, Ken Saro-Wiwa Jnr, some members of the Federal Executive Council and the public.
To the President, the colours of the exhibits are quite symbolic, as they tell of a bright future of a country that has hope. "It also tells me that if we collectively work together, we will transform this country. I am happy to be part of this Nigerian project, to play our little role to see that we collectively recreate a country for our younger generation and for children who are coming up should take certain things for granted.
"We feel sad that up till this time we still talk about electricity supply and potable water. We believe that the bright colour we have seen is a sign that surely all of us will change this country for the better," he assured the viewing audience.
Leading the pack of photographs is Warri 2007, which shows the late President Umar Yar Adua and Jonathan both decked in traditional Urhobo white attire and bowler hats during a campaign tour of Delta State. The exhibits are not all about politicians as there are shots showing excited placard-carrying crowd, artistes in performance, Police on duty, rural women, children and first ladies. Bright and colourful as they look, the photographs do not carry captions to assist the viewers situate the messages of the exhibits within time and place. This missing link would have been filled if the exhibition brochure was made available at the opening.
Esiri was inspired by the fact that it was the first time a politician from the Southsouth zone would be campaigning for the post of the President of this great nation. Yet, it was never a rosy trip across the zones. "You know, it was hectic, harrowing and tough because at times I will travel with a pair of trouser, and T-shirt for a week with my bag, laptop and camera. There are some states I got to and I won't get a hotel to stay. It was stressful but I thank God that any state I went to, I ate any food I saw. The trip was not moin moin," he said.
He recalled that of all the expereinces, two instances at Yobe and Zamafara states remained unforgetable. Continuing, he said: “Twice, I had it very rough in the hands of security details while I was trying to get very good shots of Mr. President. This was at Yobe and Zamfara states. At those instances, the security guys pushed me and I fell on the ground from where they pounced on me. And in the process, my camera lens got broken.”
But, driven by the conviction that President Jonathan is making history, he defied all obstacles of funding, harsh weather and hostile security to carry on with the project. Today, he has brought to the viewing public some selected shots showing the brilliant colours, costumes, dances, and other trappings of the rallies. His interest in President Jonathan dates back to 2007 when PDP was having its campaign tour of Delta state. "When Mr. President went to cast his vote in his home town last Saturday, April 2, I was there. When his father died, I was there. ut unfortunately, at the swearing-in at Abuja in May, I could not cover him," Esiri recalled the journey so far.
The ex-The Guardian photojournalist took advantage of the last campaign to accomplish his task. "I told myself, now I will complete my mission. I met the SA to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Oronto Douglas for funds and he said there was no budget for that. I said to myself, I would take care of it," Esiri revealed, adding that 200 years to come, people from the Southsouth zone will say this is the first time a man from that zone is campaigning for the post of the President of Nigeria."
Continuing, he said: "For weeks, I had to go on the road. Sometimes I covered two states in a day. Sometimes, I crossed three states getting to another state at 12 midnight. But today, I am happy with these photographs on display. I am happy that I have done something that will be part of the history of this nation."
Not minding if the President wins or loses in the election, he assured himself of continuing with the documentation. On how he was able to select 52 out of 10,000 photographs, he said: "I won't lie to you. It took me five days to pick the choice pictures for this show because there are some strong pictures. In fact, I was confused. On the fifth day, I just started choosing because I have a big bank of photographs. It took me time to choose before going to print. Nobody choseEsiri worked with the Vanguard newspaper from 1986 till 1988 before leaving for The Guardian. He was at The Guardian from 1989 to 1990, and then moved to Prime People where he won the NUJ Photographer of the Year Award 1990. He was in Denmark on invitation as the only African photographer to document some stuff. He later joined Reuters where he worked for the past 10 years covering the creeks, the militants, the North when there were crises. In 2002, he was among 100 photographers in the world to document Africa, A day in the Life of Africa. The book is out and it's on the website. If arrangements by the party work out fine, the photo exhibition will go on tour of the federation.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mare 2010 to UK auction house

MARE 2010: exploring nature’s gift for tourism
Ozolua Uhakheme
OSCaR is a professional climber, but he looked at the Idanre rocky hills in awe last week during the annual Mare festival. His task was simple, but yet not so simple. He with two others, Oscar Morales and Raul Lora were invited by the Ondo State government to train local climbers at the Methodist High School, Idanre, as part of this year’s festival. He marvelled on seeing the hills, saying they have the prospect of becoming a world class tourists attraction for mountain climbers because the weather is friendly and the cost of participation is cheap. He, however, stressed that the state must first invest in climbing tourism by creating routes for climbing, building rest places, providing health facilities and ensuring safety.
The three professionals’ assignment includes the training of local climbers, improving on their climbing techniques and creating routes on the rock for climbers. The professionals were coordinated by Mr. Tunde Balogun, a United Kingdom-based Nigerian and ex-international footballer John Fashanu
Mare festival 2010 featured carnival float/street shows, cultural performances, art and crafts exhibition, marathon race and musical concerts parading the likes of Sir Shina Peters, Opalemo, Ara, Francis Akintade, Lord of Ajasa, Weird MC, Seun Kuti, Pappy Luwe, Boy Alinco and many  young local talents. Amng them were Seun Akinola and her cultural troupe, local government councils standing troupes.
"There are no two cities like Idanre in the world. We must, therefore, create wealth out of the abundant wonders of nature provided by the rocks," Governor Olusegun Mimiko said at the festival that ran from December 9 to 11. He noted that the lovely rock formation was a special gift to Ondo State and Nigeria in general and promised that no effort would be spared to make Idanre the best tourist centre in the country and attract tourists to the state. He said: "Our administration is leaving no stone unturned to make Idanre Hills the best tourist centre in Nigeria. By next year, the on-going Golf Course at Atosin will be completed. We are also planning to build a housing estate that will not tamper with the ecology of the area".
He recalled that last year-winner of the mountain climbing race, 11-year-old Sunday Akinwumi, would have been in Spain by now, but for some hitches in his visa processing. Akinwunmi climbed the 2000 feet mountain during last year’s grand finale of the festival. He won scholarship, prizes and trips abroad sponsored by the state.
Following the continued support from the state government, Idanre Hills have attracted the attention of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which recently announced plans to enlist Oke Idanre Hills on the World Heritage List.
This development will make the ancient hills the third world heritage site in Nigeria after Osun-Oshogbo in Osun State and Sukur palace in Adamawa State. No doubt, this would act as catalyst to the efforts of the government to turn the state into a tourists’ haven and a place to be visited in Nigeria.
Also, the world body has approved the Idanre Hills nomination dossier and consequently dispatched an independent inspector to carry out comprehensive assessment of the facilities on the site as contained in the dossier. UNESCO’s accredited assessor and a renowned international archaeologist, Dr John Sutton disclosed that from his findings, the dossier actually met the technical criteria for the listing.
At the marathon race, Stephen Juvbe (Plateau State) of the Nigerian Army, First Division, Kaduna, won the first position and a cash prize of three thousand dollars while Christopher Tokbe and Gwok Kendagwu got two thousand dollars and one thousand dollars as second and third position winners respectively. In the female category, a woman police from Taraba, Yohana Dinatu, won the first position and a cash prize of one thousand five hundred dollars. Genevieve Njoku from Bayelsa State and Deborah Agidi Omoyeni from Ondo State won second and third position respectively.
The festival raffle draw brought out the philanthropist in Governor Mimiko who donated refrigerator and thousands of naira to Mrs. Folake Taiye, 24, who won the first prize of the raffle draw. Folake who was overwhelmed with joy, also got donations from some members of the executive council present at the ceremony. According to the Governor, ‘I was praying in my mind while the raffle draw was going on for a true winner that deserves the prize to emerge, so that the winner can be truly torched. And I am happy that it came to pass.’
On the new innovations at this year’s festival, Ondo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Chief Tola Wewe identified the training of the youths in the act of mountain climbing at the Methodist High School, Idanre, as a major addition for the growth and development of the festival, especially the mountain race.
"I can foresee an Idanre indigene becoming a Tiger Wood of mountain climbing in the future because there are the potentials. For instance the 11 year-old boy that won the mountain climbing last year, has been tried by the professional mountain climbers and was discovered to have the potentials," Wewe said.

Artist as a social crusader
Ozolua Uhakheme
08/12/2010 00:00:00
Unlike many of her contemporaries, Mrs. Stella Awoh, an art lecturer at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, is unpretentious about her concern for human rights in her works of art, especially as they affect women. She is equally touched when widows’ rights are abused by the society that should protect them. Little wonder she literarily made these issues the focus of her last solo exhibition Hibernation and Rejuvenation in 2008 at Didi Museum, Victoria Island, Lagos and the forthcoming exhibition tagged; Hephzibah and Beulah opening at Omenka Gallery, Ikoyi, Lagos on December 11.
As a fresh vista to 2008 exhibition, Awoh is incorporating both art and crafts in this year’s outing to express her creative mind for the benefit of mankind. A total of 30 works (arts and crafts inclusive) will be showcased at the exhibition that will run till December 18. The exhibits include Rose of Sharon 1 and 11, Greener Pastures, The Widower, The Widow, Aso-Ebi, Aba Women Riot, Unity, and A New Dawn. Generally, the collection is more message-oriented and affordable to collectors than being appealing in terms of aesthetic.
According to her, "the size of the works is a reflection of my approach to art- not competing with anybody. I do it my own way."
Of the paintings, The Widow and The Widower share a common character in terms of presentation. The artist uses a metal comb to etch the surface of the works thus creating a near coarse surface that tells the mood of the object of the paintings. But, the two works also show a difference between how the society talks and treats a widow in modern day Nigeria. While the eyes of the figure in The Widower are closed that of The Widow are wide open.
As a social crusader, the author of From Grief To Grace takes a swipe on an emerging trend in the churches where Christians turn the house of God to a market place. She uses Aso-Ebi, a piece made from textile to illustrate stealing in the name of God. In like manner, she presents Aba Women Riot to correct the wrong information by Governor of Abia State, Gov. Theodore Orji that Aba is a city unknown for riot. She recalls that in 1927, Aba women took to the streets in protest against taxation by the colonialists. One of her mixed media works, A New Dawn, (additive plastograph) draws attention to the misery of the cock that keeps the world abreast of the time.
At a sneak preview of her selected works, Awoh said: "I have been blessed with a creative mind from my youth. I see it as God’s amazing grace on me. I have been able to combine numerous ideas in creating my works; with a metal comb, metal foil, clay, sinamay, wood, fabric, acrylic paint and cake icing (fondant and sugar craft). There is no question that we all face problems and difficulties. Everyone has pressure and pains. But this is part of being included in the human race. How we face our difficulties is what makes, or breaks us.
"Affliction comes to us all not to make us sad but sober, not sorry but wise, not despondent, but by its darkness, to refresh us as the night refreshes the day; not to impoverish but to enrich us. As the flow enriches the field and multiplies the seed a thousand fold, so will our joy be multiplied. Faced with challenges of years of grief, God has increased my understanding of Him and His plans for my life. Today, I see things more clearly from His perspective rather than mine. What the devil meant for evil, God will use for good."
Awoh said to get this far, she had to sacrifice her social life, noting that she struggled to attend most events. "I don’t drink, and I don’t enjoy parties," she added.

Jonathan unveils Bring Back Book Campaign
Ozolua Uhakheme
08/12/2010 00:00:00
As a way of promoting education, President Gooduck Ebele Jonathan will on December 20 in Lagos unveil the Bring Back Book Campaign. The launch will afford some teachers and children the opportunity of interacting with the president on issues affecting reading and education. The event will be marked by a mini-festival featuring D’ Banj and Zakky Azzay to promote the power of written words.
Also to be presented on that day is Goodluck Jonathan: My friends and I, a compilation of some of the President’s conversations with friends on policy and governance via facebook.
According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Research, Documentation and Strategy, Mr. Oronto Douglas, the book campaign is designed to revitalise the reading culture, with knowledge serving as a tool for development. He described project as a vehicle for knowledge and empowerment.
Douglas said the President insisted that books should be used as an instrument to project the nation’s culture, for survival, sustenance and protection which should not be mixed with politics because if it is politicised, "we will miss it."
"The time has come when educational opportunities must be for all; when knowledge must be promoted over the mad rush for materialism. Book culture, if properly put in place, will help promote a new Nigeria," he added, noting that key literary groups that have been projecting and promoting book culture would be identified, encouraged and supported in the sustenance of this historic mission. These groups, he said, would be partners in the campaign.
Douglas said the book campaign would not be a one-off event because after the Lagos show, the President would wish to read to children anywhere he goes. He, therefore, urged young writers to write new books on knowledge and information.
The launch is expected to attract literary icons from across the nation.
Explaining what led to the publication of the book, Douglas said the President opened a facebook account as a means of opening the door into governance so that youths and elders could have direct access to him through suggestions. "Four months after, the interactions with Nigerians on facebook were turned into a book containing reactions and suggestions on issues of governance. The President joined facebook not to belong but for the desire to engage, communicate and learn from Nigerians. In fact, the idea of government and governance being impenetrable and sacred, should be smashed as government belongs to the people," Douglas said.

Theatre for change
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.

Literary festival first on my mind, says Amaechi
Ozolua Uhakheme
17/11/2010 00:00:00
This year’s Garden City Literary Festival, which opens on December 8, will witness a historic meeting of two literary titans, Nobel laureates Prof. Wole Soyinka and J.M.G Le Clezio, the French writer who won 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature, reports Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State said he never had a nightmare over security when he initiated the Garden City Literary Festival three years ago. He said the take-off of the literary festival, which has attracted giants, such as Nobel laureates Prof. Wole Soyinka, JP Clark and Kenyan literary icon, Ngugi Wa’ Thiong’o and Kofi Awoonor, as well as young writers, such as Sefi Atta and Igoni Barrett, was the only issue on his mind.
This year’s festival, billed for December 8 to 11, will witness a historic meeting of two Nobel laureates — Soyinka and J.M.G Le Clezio, the French writer who won the 2008 Nobel Prize for literature. Le Cl├ęzio, who is one of the special guest writers at the festival, has more than thirty literary works to his name, including short stories, essays, novels and children books.
He began writing at seven and his first novel was published when he was 23. He has received many prestigious awards, including the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1991, he wrote the novel Onitsha, which was translated to English in 1997. Partly based on his childhood in Nigeria, the work recounts the journey made by a young European boy to the country. It tells the experiences of the boy, his family and the people they met in Nigeria.
Recounting what motivated him to initiate the festival, Amaechi explained that he wanted to use the annual literary festival as a forum for young writers to engage in critical issues.
He said: ‘It was to create that environment for more argument, for more creativity and to see where it will take us. It was also to create an environment where the young writer.”
Three years on, the festival has provided several opportunities for old and young writers to share ideas on writing skill and publishing challenges, among others.
He noted that he was moved by the size of the audience present at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) hall when Prof. Wole Soyinka was presenting his address during the second edition of the festival.
To him, the greatest fulfillment is using the forum to nurture a movement from culture of acquiring certificates to that of absorption of knowledge.
“In fact, that will be my greatest achievement. But to assess the impact of this, we really have to wait for some time. You can only measure my administration’s performance in education 20 years after I have left office. That will be when the quality of graduates from primary, secondary to tertiary levels will be measured,” he said in a chat with art editors in Port Harcourt.
Amaechi observed that after Chinua Achebe wrote the Man of People, which is a creation of post-independence politics, no Nigerian novel has ever made him laugh like Man of the People. He explained that the novel is one he could pick up and still read even though it is not a very radical piece. According to him, the novel belongs to the conservative school of thought which is incomparable to other Nigerian novels in terms of presenting a socialist view point.
“But, you can clearly say that it is a creation of the Nigerian politician of post-independence. If Achebe created the Anthills of the Savannah to present the picture of what the local government looks like in post-independence Nigerian politics, how many Nigerian writers are doing this?”
He expressed concern over the dearth of critics, saying: “I doubt if we have critics like the days of Yemi Ogunbiyi, Chidi Amuta and so on. There is a difference between critics and journalists who enjoy themselves in reporting literature. We have wonderful writers in the media and if you want to enjoy yourself you find many materials in the media. We used to celebrate critics when they came for conferences. I have gone to several conferences and I have not seen new critics being celebrated,” he added.
On the impact of the festival, he said the festival could not be used to measure the impact on literary growth in the state but that there is the need to up the creative efforts by making the tempo and gains worthwhile. He disclosed that if there are funds in the future, “we can think of Writers’ Forum where funds can be released to train people.”
Reacting to questions on plans to establish a Writers’ Village in the state, the governor said such proposal should come from Rainbow Books, manager of the festival, who must also come up with how to source the funds and the relevance of the village to the festival.
“But I have this mental picture of a Writers’ Village, a quiet environment. Can we find a quiet environment in Port Harcourt that is suitable for such? Port Harcourt is a very noisy place unlike Calabar,” he noted.
The festival will feature a book fair, photo exhibition (9ja@50), a collection of rare images of Nigeria at independence, workshop/master class, interaction, seminars, drama presentation of Love’s Unlike Lading by Femi Osofisan and A Feast of Return by Odia Ofeimun.

Jonathan, Soyinka return to classroom

Ozolua Uhakheme
29/12/2010 00:00:00
IT was a great tribute to the power of the written word.
There were two seats – one occupied by the President; on the other sat the Nobel laureate. Each held a book ready to read.
The excited crowd of kids listened, their minds tuned to the big moment.
Welcome to President Goodluck Jonathan Bring Back The Book Campaign and the presentation of Goodluck Jonathan: My Friends and I; (conversations on policy and governance via Facebook), penultimate Monday, were meant to encourage Nigerian youths to read.
The first reading lesson was taken by President Jonathan, who gave an introductory summary of Chinua Achebe’s Chike and The River. To test the children’s knowledge of Nigerian literature, he asked if they knew Chinua Achebe and possibly his books. "Do you know Chinua Achebe? Which of Achebe’s books have you read?" the President asked. The children answered in the affirmative as Chike and The River echoed through the hall.
That was the assurance the President needed to continue his reading of the first chapter of the book. And the children followed with rapt attention. Prof. Wole Soyinka took the next lesson reading from his popular book, AKE.
It was the turn of the children to ask their teachers questions on the books read. "Why was Chike unhappy in the book? What is the equivalent of one pound in today’s naira?" Were some of the questions asked by the children.
Jonathan explained that Chike was unhappy because each time he thought he would achieve his goals, he was always confronted with one challenge or the other. And on the equivalent of one pound, Jonathan told the children that former Finance Minister Dr. Usman Shamsudeen would provide the answer. But for some whispers from the audience, the children were almost misinformed on the equivalent of one pound in naira. At first attempt, the children were told the answer was twelve shillings as against twenty shillings. Unfortunately, none of the children knew the shilling as a denomination of Nigeria’s old currency.
Three of the children had golden handshakes with Jonathan followed by group photographs with him and Soyinka. Publishers took advantage of the occasion to display their books. And messages like"Today a reader, tomorrow a leader"; "There are many ways to enlarge your child’s world; Love of books is the best of all" were strategically pasted at different stands in and outside the hall.
At the presentation of his Facebook compilation in the evening, Jonathan restated his commitment to reinventing the book-reading culture among the youth, which he described as a spring board for the emergence of a new and virile nation. He said for Nigeria to be great nation, its citizens must use their heads to think and a to do that, they must read. "In our drive for social and economic advancement, I have discovered that after due consultation, there is need to encourage people to read. This effort will guide our young men. I am convinced that with government’s efforts at repositioning our education sector, there is hope for a brighter future. The campaign starts here and now," he said.
He disclosed that his facebook page offered a platform and feedback that have been invaluable. Jonathan, therefore, charged Nigerians to take the campaign across the country, saying it must be supported by all. "Today we are charting a path to restore our education standard to its glorious past, and take it further to where it will lead to the resurgence of our economic development. At all times, we should have a book in our hands," he said.
Frontline writer and activist, Odia Ofeimun, said it is heartening to meet a new type of leader who wishes to make a difference in the face of a reading culture considered dead or in doldrums. He noted that the charm in it is that he is doing it as a facebook denizen in open camaraderie with other readers and surfers.  "By giving all of us common access to knowledge and entertainment, the art of reading mobilises consciousness, in favour of human empathy and solidarity.  It provides a basis for building a sense of community among diverse peoples. Of course, we need such a sense of community to nurture genuine approaches to the setting of social goals and expansion of the context of political interaction," Ofeimum said. He stressed that great nations are built by great minds, while great minds are nurtured by great books. "But how do we aspire to the reading of great books if we lack reading habits that sustain access to books in general?"he asked.  
According to him, what makes the President’s initiative unique is that it is the first time a national leader at the apex of decision-making would be identifying with the campaign for the development of a reading culture without minding the cynicism of those who believe the situation is too far gone to be remedied.
Ofeimun stressed that a new approach was certainly required, which could garner mass support based on a very programmatic confrontation with the core issues and  for the purpose of generating new policy directions and commitments. Continuing, he said: "Talking of core issues, I think we can all agree that the disheartening state of reading culture across the country is first and foremost a sibling of the absolute derailment of public education in the country. I like to put it this way: that we have an educational system which gives poor education to poor people in order to keep them poor and unmobilisable."
As a way of meeting the spirit of Bringing Back The Book campaign, Ofeimun presented President Jonathan with advance copies of three of his books soon to be published: Lagos of the Poets, (an anthology of poems written on Lagos since Dennis Osadebay, first President of the Nigerian Senate, and Nnamdi Azikiwe, President of Nigeria in the First Republic), A House of Many Mansions and Taking Nigeria Seriously.
The event was not all about reading and long speeches as some young Nigerian musicians mounted the stage to thrill guests to many of their top releases. Among them were 2Face, P-Square, Zakky Azzay, D’Banj and Mo’Cheddah.

UK auction house cancels sale of Benin artefacts
Ozolua Uhakheme
05/01/2011 00:00:00
A leading United Kingdom (UK) auction house, the Sotheby’s London, has dropped six Benin artefacts from its list of works for next month’s auction. The cancellation followed pressure from local and international groups, including the Edo State government.
In a statement cancelling the sale of the artefacts, the auction house said: "The Benin Ivory Pendant Mask and other items consigned by the descendants of Lionel Galway which Sotheby’s had announced for auction in February 2011 have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors."
The artefacts were to be sold by the descendants of Lt-Col Sir Henry Lionel Galway, who took part in 1897’s punitive expedition in Nigeria. A mask, which depicts the head of the queen mother of the Edo people, was due to be auctioned along with five other rare pieces collected from Benin at the same time. According to Sotheby’s, the masks "rank among the most iconic works of art to have been created in Africa".
Earlier in the week, the Edo State government through its Commissioner of Culture and Tourism, Abdul Oroh, called on the international community and the UNESCO to compel the British Government and its people to return all the antiquities stolen from Benin. He also urged the international community to prevail on all other countries in possession of Benin heritage to return them forthwith.
Leading the pack of campaigners, a UK-based Nigerian pro-democracy group, Nigeria Liberty Forum, on December 23, petitioned Sotheby’s over the planned sale of six pieces of Benin artefacts on February 17. The forum alongside other UK-based African groups and institutions registered their protests condemning the sale of precious pieces of Nigerian heritage to the highest bidder.
In a petition, ‘Re Auction of 16TH Century Benin Ivory and Other Benin Artefacts’, signed by Kayode Ogundamisi, convener of the forum, to Ms Helen Collier of Sotheby’s London, the group urged Sotheby’s to do the right thing by withdrawing the said items from sale.
These artefacts, the group said, were acquired illegally, by theft, and they are now being put up for sale illegally, adding that they are important cultural heritage of Benin people, and part of their history, and should be returned forthwith.
"We are aware (and so should you) that these artefacts were forcefully taken from Nigeria in 1897 when the British invaded the Benin empire, and request very firmly that your organisation should not assist and or collude in the appropriation of such.
"It is a shame that in this time and age individuals continue to plunder and abuse the culture and heritage of a defenceless people just because they can. There is simply no legal or moral basis for the Galway family to lay claim to the Benin masks and to go on to profit from their sale is reprehensible and unconscionable.
"To this end, we request that you withdraw the items from sale forthwith as the true ownership is far from settled. We would also like to request that you go a step further and advise your clients to return these items back to the Nigerian people where they rightfully belong. It is akin to the selling of the Egyptian mummies, and should not be allowed," the group said.
According to the group, it is in the process of mounting legal, diplomatic and or political challenges to the sale of these cultural artefacts and "we are sure your organisation does not want to be embroiled in the resulting fallout this will surely create".
It added that the rape of Africa and plundering thereof has gone on for far too long and still continues, aided by such institutions as Sotheby’s.
The Nigerian Liberty Forum stressed that the said masks have been subject of historical study by the UK Open University, which has produced a clip about the theft of these artefacts.
In his reaction via his blog, a US-based Nigerian scholar, Prof. Sylvester Ogbechie, said the plundering left their owners significantly poorer and that it is tragic that the descendants of the thieves who stole these artworks from Africa should so brazenly benefit from their plunder when the descendants of the Africans who created the artworks receive no share at all from their economic value.
"All across the world today, many stolen artworks are being repatriated to their countries of origin. No one is asking the cultural owners of these artworks to pay for the privilege of retrieving their ancestors’ properties.
Therefore, the relevant issue is whether Africans have any legal rights to their lives, natural and cultural resources. At what point does the brazen dispossession of Africa become a significant political, economic and moral issue?
"The Sotheby’s sale is part of a broad disregard for the very real impact of dispossession on the reality and fortunes of black Africans today. There is no justice here and it does not appear that black Africans or their descendants will be afforded any kind of legal justice in the prevailing context of white Western power. And yes, this is clearly a racial issue," he added.
He recounted that Zahi Hawass has stopped Western institutions from brazenly trafficking in Egyptian artefacts while continuing to negotiate the return of large numbers of looted Egyptian artworks back to Egypt.
According to him, Italy has repatriated artworks to Libya. Western museums have repatriated artworks to South Africa, but all requests for repatriation or reparation by black Africans have been dismissed without hearing. This, he said, is not surprising: African-Americans have so far only received an apology for their centuries–long enslavement and, through their overwhelming imprisonment, they continue to fatten the coffers of modern-day slaveholders who run various prisons in the US.
He said: "There has never been any Western country held accountable for their actions in Africa, not even Belgium that oversaw the genocide of close to 10 million Congolese between 1880 and 1920. Sotheby’s multi-million dollar sale of stolen Benin artworks would seem insignificant within such a list of atrocities against Africa but, make no mistake, it is part of the same current of morally and ethically dubious actions unfolding without any regard at all for African concerns."
Dr. Peju Layiwola of the University of Lagos, explained in her recent exhibition,, that it is more disheartening to know that over a century after, the descendants of Galway still hope to gain financially from the loot taken in one of the most gruesome episodes of British imperialism in the Euro/African encounter.  
She noted that the attack on Benin by the British was instigated by an overwhelming commercial interest.  
"The commodification of Benin artefacts in the West and the continuous keeping of these artefacts in foreign museums are extensions of this commercialisation," she added.