Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Merits of filmmaker Ugbomah’s reunion with home-state

By Anote Ajeluorou

IT was historic day for acclaimed father of Nigerian film industry, entertainment promoter and cultural activist, Chief Eddie Ugbomah, when a state reception, in his honour, was staged last week in Asaba by Delta State Chief Executive, Dr. Emmanuel Uduagban. Ugbomah had long yearned for that historic moment, which he described as a homecoming with indelible imprints.
  As his Ugbomah@50 in Film and 74th birthday approach, the fire-spiting critic had agonised over lack of recognition of his immense contributions to the film industry. At 74, he still has ideas he was yet to execute. But he’s a self-willed man who has navigated the rough-and-ready waters of Nigeria’s entertainment with a measure of success.
  So that in spite of being rebuffed by Lagos State Government, which pointedly told him to go to his home state, Delta even though he’d spent his career years working and paying his taxes in Lagos, he remained undaunted in his resolve to celebrate himself. And he’d always been firm on this: Anyone celebrating him after he’d passed, he’d vowed, would face his wrought as he’d rise momentarily and slap the person before going back to his finale repose again! Such was Ugbomah’s grim avowal. But now that prospect just might be avoided, with Governor Uduaghan firmly promising to celebrate him on his 74th along with his enduring legacy in making Nigeria proud in film and entertainment.
  So that when he received news of his forthcoming reception in Asaba, Ugbomah was ecstatic. He was more so when the day arrived and Uduaghan more than received him. He also paid tribute to Ugbomah’s works, which he described with the precision of a true fan, and how much the veteran’s work fits into the state’s new economic blueprint of ‘Delta Beyond Oil’, as catalyst for human capital development.
  In recalling the historic visit to his home state, Ugbomah, who is ordinarily skeptical of everything government, was beside himself with joy and felt humbled the way Governor Uduaghan seemingly broke protocol and embraced him with open arms. In his Ilogbo-Eremi residence over the weekend, Ugbomah recalled this visit thus, “As far as I’m concerned, the visit broke the jinx that a prophet is not recognized in his own village. What surprised me most is that Uduaghan knows my films – Oil Doom and Black Gold – films that are very prophetic!
  “Also, my joy is that the governor of my state has agreed to bankroll my N60 million celebration budget, but I know he can’t do it alone. But accepting to host my Hall of Fame gallery in Asaba that cost me over N20 million to make is more than something else for me”.
  Ugbomah said he was exceptionally thrilled when Uduaghan asked him: If we don’t celebrate you, who else will celebrate you? In his assessment of the trip, the hard-to-please, die-in-the-wool critic simply said, “I’m very happy, very happy that I’m going to be celebrated during my lifetime and not when I’m gone. It has been my quest that is about to be fulfilled!”
  Ugomah said although Uduaghan might not have responded early to calls to actively promote the arts and entertainment, noted that it was never too late once the goal is genuine with far-reaching positive benefits. He, however, blamed some of his assistants for keeping him and other arts-friendly politicians from looking the way of the arts, as a way of solving youth unemployment and restiveness bedeviling parts of the country.
  He said activities marking his 50 years in film and entertainment and birthday would include a symposium, a musical concert, induction into the Hall of Fame, launch of his autobiography, premiere of his new film, If Only, showing of three of his old films out of 13 – Death of a Black President, Black Gold and The Mask. Asaba, Lagos and Abuja will be host cities to some of the activities marking Ugbomah festivity.
  According to him, those to be inducted into the Hall of Fame include King Sunny Ade (KSA), Dele Abiodun and Danny Wilson. To those to be inducted post-humously include Oliver d’Coque, Osita Osadeby, Roy Chicago, Eddie Okonta, Comfort Omoge, Christie Essien-Igbokwe and Keffe.
  Ugbomah also expressed excitement at what he referred to as ‘groundbreaking’ Governor Uduaghan’s provisional acceptance to give land and support to the proposed Film Village project, which the veteran filmmaker said would be the crowning glory of his life work when it comes on stream. He said the N81 billion Film Village project, which is in conjunction with his African-American counterpart, would be a whole city when completed and would employ over 20 thousand people.
  With the Film Village, Ugbomah noted, some of Nigeria’s set and location problems would have been solved. Such problem, he stated, would be reality shows and the shooting of musical videos currently being done in South Africa, a development that Ugbomah deeply frowns at as a needless drain on scarce foreign exchange.
  On his part, Uduaghan commended Chief Ugbomah for producing films on the gains and challenges of the oil industry in the region, which he said were in line with his administration’s Delta Beyond Oil movement. He said, “Some of your films like the Oil Doom and Black Gold are in tandem with our development model of Delta Beyond Oil,” adding, “they expose the negative aspects of crude oil because an oil economy is not a sustainable economy; it has its challenges. Though, we are oil-producing state, we are using the oil money to develop other areas of the economy. So, we associate with the ideals of your films”.
  Uduaghan then congratulated Chief Ugbomah on his 74th birthday and 50th anniversary as a filmmaker and assured him of his administration’s assistance in the establishment of his Hall of Fame gallery in the state and support his celebration activities.
  The governor wholeheartedly endorsed the establishment of a world-class film village in Delta State that would change the face of the film industry in Nigeria and promised to provide land for the take off. Uduaghan explained that the construction of a film village in Delta State was in line with his administration’s human capital development and would also serve as encouragement to the Nigerian film industry which he described as mirroring the ills of the society and marketing the country to the world.
  The governor reiterated that his administration was investing in different areas, especially in the area of tourism, noting that the Film Village was based on the fact that Delta State remained Nigeria’s entertainment hub and pre-eminent destination for film producers and entertainment promoters.

Royal patronage for the arts, as Obi of Onitsha becomes LIMCAF patron

By Anote Ajeluorou

It was always the case that the arts got and flourished through royal patronage from time immemorial from Europe to Africa down the ages. In Europe and America, such practice still subsists and accounts for the blooming of the arts, with governments taking over the place of royal courts. But in Africa it’s not so any more, with royal courts and governments becoming ever so distant from the arts.
  For example, the royal court of ancient Benin Kingdom, Nigeria, was renowned for its patronage of the arts, with the Igu bronze-makers supplying the royal court its decorative wares. It became a trade to which Igu bronze-makers became dedicated and they produced some of the finest artefacts that have continued to amaze the world. The same applied to other African royal courts. But the arts and artists fell into bad times ever since in parts or all of Africa. Patronage became scarce both from the royal courts and governments to the dismay of enthusiasts.
  But in a rare display of mending the age-old broken bond between the arts and royalty, Agbogidi, Obi of Onitsha, His Majesty, Nnaemeka Achebe, last week in his Onitsha GRA home, agreed to be the patron of Enugu-based Life in My City Art Festival (LIMCAF). In Achebe’s acceptance to be patron of LIMCAF lay far-reaching affirmation that might yet impact positively in a sector often seen as an orphan not deserving of attention. But His Majesty’s open endorsement might yet open doors that had been locked against the cultural sector that often yearns for needed support. Achebe is also a strong art patron and enthusiast, who has a wide ranging collection of art works.
  It was an uncommon display of humility as Agbogidi Achebe saw his acceptance of offer of patron as his duty and pleasure. According to him, “My instant decision to support the LIMCAF was naturally my duty and pleasure. As a royal father, I consider it a duty to support all laudable initiatives that can edify the human spirit and nature. Also, coincidentally, I share with all of you, and many more persons, a deep passion for the visual arts. This confluence of duty and pleasure has resulted in my happy participation. Thus, notwithstanding my many other commitments, I will do my best to remain part of this noble initiative, going forward”.
  He also expressed pleasure at what LIMCAF was doing to situate Enugu as a centre for the arts and his plans for increased art patronage in his Onitsha domain, saying, “I am particularly pleased that the LIMCAF is contributing to the restoration of Enugu as the regional cultural centre for the South East of Nigeria. This is only the beginning as the LIMCAF can do more. As you well know, I am a strong advocate for bringing our arts and culture to the common man in our smaller towns and villages throughout this country, as it was in the past. Thus, here in Onitsha, we are leading our own quiet revolution or evolution in that regard. I already hinted at the palace project. We have also decided that visual art exhibition will become a permanent feature of our annual Ofala festival (this year’s Ofala falls on October 11 -12). Last year, some 50 renowned artists contributed works for the exhibition and we hope to double that number this year, including artists from other West African countries and Nigerian artists living and working abroad.
  “Personally, I have commenced plans to eventually build a museum/cultural centre that will become the repository of my modest art collection and royal paraphernalia for the enjoyment of the general public. These measures, in addition to the various initiatives of the government and the private sector, such as the five-star hotel, shopping mall and Inosi Onira Park, will transform our quality of life and make this ancient metropolis more inviting to visitors. I am sure that LIMCAF can also be a catalyst in mobilizing consciousness and commitment in the artistic and cultural transformation in the entire South East, if not the whole country”.
  Earlier, chairman of LIMCAF, Elder (Dr.) Kalu Uke Kalu, called Obi of Onitsha’s acceptance to be patron as a historic moment in the life of art in the country that called for celebration. He stated, “But there is not likely to be another day quite like today in the history of Life In My City Art Festival.
  “For today must mark the first time in the history of the patronage and development of visual art and the arts in general in Nigeria, most certainly in Nigeria East of the Niger, when a royal personage – the towering traditional royal personage of an ancient but also highly modernised and still very relevant Nigerian institution of royalty, has accepted an official position as patron for the promotion of art.
  “This, we know continues a tradition dating back to olden times when art only flourished under the patronage of royals. But then interestingly, today contrasts very much with those times, in that it certainly does not conform in any way with Samuel Johnson’s reputed definition of a patron as, quote “one who looks on with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help”
  “Yes, Life In My City was very much like a man struggling for life in the water when we came to you in July 2012, but I dare say you had hardly heard of us at all, let alone look on with unconcern. Indeed, the very opposite was the case in that you had hardly finished hearing from us before you set the royal wheels in motion which enabled us to reach ground!
  “Therefore today is not so much important for its semblance or continuance of a tradition dating back to ancient times, as it is important for a historic breaking of new ground. Where in these climes do we find one of similar, let alone of equal stature, openly accepting a position of official CONCERNED patronage of the arts beyond – well beyond the call of duty, cultural, traditional or otherwise.
  Agbogid! As we see it, Life In My City, as I have hinted before, is not a hobby. It is not something we are engaged in because time hangs heavy on our hands. It may have begun somewhat casually; it may have started as the dream and vision of one man, but now it is our collective dream and we seek your patronage at this stage of its development because you have been a practical player in the field even since your college days. Therefore, it is a big dream for art and for our young people”.
  Kalu went on to enumerate the objects of Life In My City art initiative to include promoting art pan-Nigeria through an annual competition that offers young people opportunity to showcase and commercialise their productions, win handsome prizes and interact with the larger art community on a national and international platform, involving young people in an interactive visual art fiesta, including art teachers, scholars, writers, connoisseurs and collectors, which thereby exposes them and enables them  to meaningfully advance their skills while expressing themselves on the state of their lived environment through their art and creating a notable national and international art tourism destination in Enugu to complement other such events and attractions in other parts of the country and thereby contribute through a fresh grassroots perspective to the growth of art and art tourism”.
  Kalu further said the drive for LIMCAF was borne out of love for art and young people who ultimately benefit, adding, “We gather here today In the name of and for the sake of art, In the name of and for the sake of young people on a platform of creativity and the pursuit of inner development”.

‘Festivals are cultural central banks of a country’s knowledge industry’

By Anote Ajeluorou

IT was not sheer coincidence that the Nigerian Oral Literature Association (NOLA) decided to hold its 3rd international annual conference in Benin City last week. The association had an eye to the working of history. Its choice of theme was also instructive: ‘The Arts and Literatures in Festivals’. Nigeria is still basking in the celebration of 100 years of its existence since 1914. 17 years earlier in 1897, the British overlords had razed the famous Benin Empire to the ground and visited all manner of barbarism on a civilization that had stood in all glory for 1000 years.
  For these oral and folklore experts, modern, expressive arts and literature owe much to that vanished and vanquished past and civilization for which they are at vanguard to safeguard and preserve as much as possible. In his opening address, association president and professor of Oral Literature and Folklore, Delta State University, Abraka, Prof. Godini G. Darah, called the conference “a festival of remembrances, nostalgia and scholarship” while maintaining, “It is also apt that Benin City is the host for it was the invasion of the ancient city on February 17, 1897 that triggered the political and military actions culminating in the amalgamation in 1914, 17 years later. As historians have shown, the destruction of Benin City and the fall of the 1000-year old Benin Kingdom epitomized the conquest of Nigeria by the British imperialists”.
  For Darah and others participants, the moment of remembrances and nostalgia had started, as they went on to establish the centrality of festivals in the life of Africans as they permeated every facet of communal existence. “Festivals constitute one of the most ancient cultural institutions in human history,” Darah stated. “By whatever name they are called – carnivals, celebrations, durbars, ritual events, memorabilia, or spectacles – festivals are the repositories of a people’s cultural heritage over the ages. Festivals mark moments of triumphs, travails, achievements, rites of passage, convocation of achievers and warriors guilds, agricultural, fishing, hunting expeditions, adventure, inventions, reflections, and projections of future aspirations.
  “Festivals designate seasons when groups congregate to express and exalt themselves in prayer, sacrifice, song, music, dance, drama, comedy, laughing, masquerade, costume, ritual cleansing, feasting, sharing, stocking taking and planning for security and harmonious co-existence. The festival is where all the philosophies, religions, worldviews, ideologies, art forms, sciences, technologies, and organizational skills converge. The festival is an economy of its own. As African descendants in Jamaica and other Caribbean nations have demonstrated, cultural festivals are a treasure base of national economies.”
  Describing it as “a veritable dynamo of festivals and festivities”, Darah called Nigeria world festival destination with its abundant tourism potentials yet to be tapped and properly harnessed for their economic benefits. He, however, said this year’s conference of Nigeria Oral Literature Association was conveyed to set things right, as it “seeks to stimulate academic and investment interest in the creative, artistic and literary aspects of festivals”. He also hoped the conference would reconnect well with the “imperatives of the Cultural Policy of Nigeria (1988)” that enjoins state governments to use festivals as means of communal interaction and cohesion of local communities and larger national interests.
BUT it was not all smooth-sailing though from the folklore expert, who is also a Marxist and social critic. He took government to task for the recently rebased economy, saying that in spite of the contributions of the culture sector, it didn’t seem to feature in such rebasing as only the polluting, extractive mineral resources were considered. As he put it, “Yet culture and its multiple industries, crafts, arts, fashions, food, consumables, and spiritual resources of joy, entertainment and peace are more valuable to the economy than pollution-generating and perishable endowments like oil, gas and solid minerals”.
  Also a member of the just-concluded National Conference, Darah took a swipe at government that set out to negotiate the future of the country for failing to include culture and education on the agenda. For the literature teacher, nothing could be more criminally appalling! According to him, “It’s also regrettable that of the 20 Committees established by the 2014 National Conference, none was dedicated to culture or education this official neglect and contempt for culture and its creators and transmitters reflect the poverty of philosophy among the Nigeria ruling elite, a poverty of ideological orientation so pervasive that over 90 per cent of the basic needs of the citizenry, including food and clothing, is imported from foreign lands”.
  Further, Darah hoped that the conference would serve to open more opportunities in tertiary institutions for academic programmes in oral literature, folklore, performance arts, entertainment arts, leisure and tourism and travelogue to be brought into mainstream scholarships and socio-economic planning for development. As he put it, “Festivals are cultural central banks of a country’s knowledge industry that must be explored for the rebasing of the Nigerian economy and the redemption of Africa from foreign domination and exploitation”.

IN his keynote, theatre scholar, playwright and teacher, Prof. Olu Obafemi stated that it was wrong to presume all sources of scholarship emanated from the west or Europe, especially the emergence of theatre practice. He argued that contrary to rather than look to the west as source of modern theatre in Africa and Nigeria, it would be instructive to look at local festivals as the real origin. He’d earlier stated in his book Contemporary Nigerian Theatre that the ‘dominant influence on the written and performed arts in Africa in the traditional festival and other verbal and performed arts, even though this is most obvious in drama and theatre’.
  He said the three constituent parts of oral performance – oral literature (poetry and folktales), music and dance – were all inter-related and reassembled in performance in festival format. He traced the theatre traditions of North Africa and Africa South of the Sahara and argued that both theatres owe their existence to pre-Islamic and pre-Christian origins and that there had been evidences of their performative origins long before the arrivals of these foreign religions deeply rooted festivals native to the peoples of these regions.
  To foreground his views, he used the theatres of four of Nigeria’s masters of the craft – JP Clark, Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan and Zulu Sofola – as exemplars, saying the theatres of these playwrights owe their sources of inspiration to their traditional roots – Ijaw and Yoruba respectively. As he put it in Osofisan’s theatre, “The traditional elements of oral performance of myth, folktale and magic are deployed in Osofisan’d drama to achieve a dialectic, revolutionary end… Orunmila, the god of divination and fore-knowledge, Esu, the trickster god and Sango, the god of thunder – all provide the cultural provenance and repository for his radical vision and politics”.

IN addressing the issues raised in the keynote, Darah said it was time African scholars took back what had been stolen from Africa by Europe. He said the rape of Africa knowledge system happened in Egypt during its invasion by Alexander the Great of ancient Greece, who took along with him Aristotle. After defeating Egypt, Aristotle and his pupils stayed back 18 years to steal and copy all the books in the Egyptian library and have them credited to him, otherwise how is it possible that one man alone has knowledge in all fields, he queried. He thundered, “Aristotle is a thief and kidnapper of African ideas from Alexandra city!”
  He, therefore, tasked African theatre scholars and departments, that still aped Aristotle to throw off such yoke as the man was a common thief; but praised literature departments for having evolved Afrocentric paradigms of evaluation literary discourses.
  But literary scholar and teacher, Prof. Tony Afejuku of English Department, University of Benin, Benin City, while not disputing Darah on his claims about Aristotle and western scholarship on appropriating Africa’s theoretical frameworks for themselves, wondered what such dire development meant for African scholarship. Indeed, Afejuku sought to know what was wrong with Africans for allowing Europe claim what was theirs to advance their civilization while the owners failed to do same with their own civilization!
  Awodiya was unhappy that the conference was not a full house.