Monday, April 16, 2012

Repackaging Owanbe for all Four years after Governor Babatunde Fashola signed into law a bill banning the blocking of roads for social or commercial activities in Lagos State, organisers of the popular Yoruba Owanbe, which often holds on the streets, are exploring alternative modes of celebrating with their loved ones, reports ASSISTANT EDITOR (ARTS) OZOLUA UHAKHEME. In Lagos, it was common place every weekend to find some streets or roads closed. It was also common to find hundreds of plastic chairs, tables and canopies of different shapes and colours as well as heaps of waste from food and drinks littering the streets. Sound pollution from musicians, who performed on the streets to the detriment of other road users, was common too. That was before May 2008, when street parties were banned in the state. Today, all that has changed. Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State on May 12, 2008 signed into law a bill banning the blocking of roads for social or commercial activities in any part of the state. The law, entitled: Bill on Commercial Activities and Prohibition of Obstruction of Traffic, makes it an offence for any person or group to obstruct traffic on any road in the state as a result of social or commercial activities. By the provision of the law, anybody who obstructs a law enforcement agent of the state while enforcing compliance to this law will be liable to six-month jail term, with an option of fine of N10, 000 or both. But, remember the old song 'Satide la ti n patibaba l’Eko/Ojo Sunday la fi n moti aye/ Laroo Monday, Eko o ni gba igbakugba o' by the late Afro-beat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti? Street party culture of Lagos is the subject of that song, which translates to "On Saturday, we erect tents for street parties in Lagos/Sunday is for drinking/Monday is the no nonsense day in Lagos." Even Fela, when crafting the song never anticipated the open display of opulent affluence occasioned by sudden wealth from the oil boom in Nigeria. The Sowambe party, which is described as a symptom, but not a cause of a moral meltdown in the Southwest region, came with its own performance culture, its music and its aesthetics. The Sowambe music operates on "bottom power." The term comes from a question, Bebe idi, Sowambe? (Beaded waistband? Is it there?) This is a rhetorical question around which the male and female dancers weaved their body dialogue in street party dances, sometimes with erotic twists. According to US-based Nigerian scholar, Moyo Okediji, the passing of the anti-Sowanbe law against the throwing of street parties marks the beginning of the end of an era. He said Yoruba people enjoy lavish celebrations and they mark and celebrate the rites of passage along the cycle of life, namely birth, marriage and death. Okediji noted that the ban on street parties in Lagos has some benefits as it prohibits those hosting parties from blocking the streets with their tents, which range from small canopies for about 20 people, to enormous structures constructed to accommodate hundreds of partiers. "Because streets are not blocked to stage these parties, the ban contributes to a better flow of traffic throughout the nation, from the north to the coast. Motorists no longer have to face the frustration of aggravated traffic chaos that plagued the city resulting from street partying. "Because the parties are restricted indoor, the ban probably reduces the stress from noise pollution and from blasting music into the open air. The environmental benefits of such reduction of stress are mental and psychological. But they contribute to a decent image for an international city of the calibre of Lagos." Apart from the environmental nuisance created by street partying, he said the lack of a street venue to openly display ill-gotten wealth may discourage greed and corruption. This, he stressed, might encourage the relocation of the street parties away from Lagos, to hospitable metropolitan centres in the Yoruba provinces. "Were Fela to wake up today from the grave, he would be surprised that the streets of Lagos are no longer clogged with party tents during the weekends," he added. Expectedly, since the passage of the law, new event centres have emerged in Lagos. They include Balmoral, Kingsize (both on Oregun Road), Regence on Adeniyi Jones, Expo Hall of Eko Hotel and Suites Victoria Island, Blue Roof, Time Square and The Havens. Their rates range from N5,000 to N10,000 per hour on weekends depending on the class of centre. Chief Executive Officer of an Oregun-based event centre, Balmoral, Mr Ezekiel Adamu, said the ban on street parties is not a plus per se, but an added lift for the services offered Nigerians. He recalled that holding parties on the streets did not portray Nigerians in good light because many road users are not only denied free access, but molested by street urchins. "The use of event centres has made parties convenient and comfortable for all. Things are now done in proper and civilised ways and everybody is enjoying it. At Balmoral, which stands for royalty, we provide for the elites at affordable prices. But Nigerians have not fully utilised the many opportunities in event centres because people tend to link event centres only to parties for merriment. So far, in the scale of 1-10, Nigerians have utilised four opportunities," Adamu said. He noted that with healthy competition, clients’ demands are growing and getting higher than before. This, he said, has kept Balmoral on top of the game having sustained trust, good image and standard. However, he identified epileptic electricity supply as one big challenge facing the operators. To him, other challenges are opportunities to grow because if there are no challenges, there will be no growth. Chief Executive Officer, Havillahmd Cakes and Events, Mrs Olasinde Adenike, described the ban as a blessing in disguise for stakeholders in the sub-sector. She noted that the shift from streets and roads to build event venues has not only brought orderliness and boost to service providers, but has also elevated the image of operators. "The rental and catering services are increasing expanding by the day and it is safer to supply food and other items to venues as their safety are guaranteed. Unlike in the past when parties were held on the streets, cutlery and other valuables are exposed to theft. Also, parties held at such venues are restricted to invited guests, thus making planning easier for both the organiser and the providers of services," she added. Banning street parties, according to her, has not threatened the Owanbe culture among the Yoruba, instead it has helped to refine the modes of hosting such parties. She observed that shifting to event centres did not stop holding Owanbe but that people choose primary school playground as venue to reduce cost. Yet, she described event centre and catering business as one of the fastest growing business in the country. To succeed, she noted that operator must be well connected as the business is embedded with many opportunities. She said the ban has brought reduction in noise on the streets, reduced extravagance and wastages, ease traffic flow around the streets, increase in employment opportunities: cleaners, designers, tents builders, security men, food vendors etc, safety of life and vehicles; are among the multiplier effects of the ban. In the past Okediji recalled that the emergence of the middle class in Lagos caused an explosion in the purchase of new cars driven along the same few streets, with minimal maintenance. He said parties held to "wash" cars only blocked small sections of the street, unless it was jointly organised to celebrate a house-roofing. "But the king of all street parties is the obituary performance. It was the "obituary" owambe parties that attracted the largest and longest street shutdowns. Lagos street parties no longer started on Saturdays. Impatient celebrants began to erect tents as early as Thursday evening in some instances. The parties before the big partying rolled in as early as late Thursday. NEPA circuits were more efficient and were not so loaded with electronic gadgets. Few homes had television sets or fridges," he added. To him, everyone knew the party was not sustainable. But 'nobody wanted to pull the plug and stop the music. The government ban is one of the attempts to pull the plug. It has not stopped the mentality of extravagant partying, but celebrants have to contain their parties indoor now.' ‘Why looting of artefacts thrives’ The controversy that trails the illegal excavation of Nigeria’s Nok terracotta, one of the oldest metallurgical technologies of the continent, was the thrust of a stakeholders’ meeting in Nok, Kaduna State. Museum authorities, local archaeologists and German partners reached a fragile truce on the allegations and the modus operandi of the MoU guiding the partnership, Assistant Editor (Arts) Ozolua Uhakheme reports. The long standing partnership agreement between the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) and the Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany on the archaeological project on Nok culture came under scrutiny recently following fresh allegations of ‘illegal large-scale looting’ of terracotta by German researchers. The president of the Archaeological Association of Nigeria (AAN), Dr. Zacharys Anger Gundu of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, had accused German researchers (Professor Peter Breunig and his team) of promoting ‘unethical archaeological practices in the Nok Valley in the name of ‘scientific’ archaeology. He also alleged that officials of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments connived with the foreigners in the ‘looting’. “Visiting German archaeologists who are posing as researchers are involved in the large-scale looting and illicit digging in places such as Kwatarkashi, Ife and other parts of Nok valley in Kaduna State,” Gundu alleged. He, therefore, called for a review of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a view to addressing contentious issues such as the exclusion of Nigerian universities and archaeologists in the project implementation, money made during exhibition should be ploughed back to the community, and ensuring transparency and avoiding return of ‘fake objects.’ But the Director-General of the commission, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, denied the commission’s involvement in any ‘unauthorised excavation’, while clarifying that NCMM, since 2005 has been in partnership with the Institute for African Archaeology and Archaeo-botany of the Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He stressed that the German researchers are in the country with the aims of enriching findings onNok Culture. At a stakeholders’ meeting organised by the commission, held behind closed door at the National Museum, Nok, Kaduna State, penultimate weekend, it was resolved among others that the MoU should be reviewed to address all the concerned issues, especially the return of the Nok pieces taken to Germany by the researchers for laboratory analysis. The six-point communique issued at the end of the meeting also stressed the need for security agencies and community leaders to help in curtailing the activities of illegal mining and illicit trafficking of Nok. The stakeholders also resolved to bring to the fore permanent position of Nok in Nigeria’s art tradition, inscription of Nok area as a World Heritage Site in line with the proposal of National Tourism Master Plan as well as the need to review the law establishing the National Commission for Museums and Monuments. The meeting that was chaired by the director-general of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman had Prof. Joseph Jemkur of the University of Jos, Prof. Peter Breunig, Mr. Yohanna Nock, Dr. Nicole Rupp, Mr. Yashim Isa Bitiyong of NIPOST, Bulus Zakka, Dr. Zacharys Gundu, and Prof. Ibrahim James in attendance. Others were Iliya Bako Bying H. Dura, Mallam Yaro Wakilin Kpop Ham, representing His Royal Highness, the Kpop Ham, Mallam Gyer Maude, Elisha Buba Hakimi, Kpop of Ham, His Royal Highness Illiya Bako Bying H. Dura, Wakin Sarkin Jare and the President of Ham Community Development Association, Mr Monday Tela. Mallam Usman disclosed that all the restored objects taken from Nok to Germany by the researchers would return to Nigeria in 2013 to form the nucleus of the permanent exhibition. Reacting to the allegation of large scale looting of artefacts on the Nok valley, the director-general described it as mere allegation without substance. He said efforts have been made by the commission to safe guard the nation’s priceless objects in the museum. He added that illegal mining takes place in Nigeria both in artefacts and solid mineral resources. “So long the local communities are ignorant, so long they are impoverished, the act will continue,” he said. According to him, ‘unfortunately, Nok archeological sites became victims of unprecedented looting, especially in the 90s when some of these sculptures were illegally exported to Europe and the United States.’ “The need to embark on scientific studies became very urgent in the face of this threat. Thus, the commission entered into a partnership with the Institute for African Archaeology and Archaeo-botany of the Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main in 2005…The joint archeological research is operated under the rules and guidance of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments,” Usman said. He recalled that when he assumed office as the D-G in 2009 he carried out some operational review in the areas of legal and administrative frame work, community involvement and capacity building.