By Anote Ajeluorou
THE year couldn’t have ended on a worse note for the culture sector with the sort of change President Muhammadu Buhari executed when he showed utter lack of understanding for one of Nigeria’s largest employers of youth labour. It wasn’t really unexpected; several governments had towed the same path in the past and subsumed culture into many irrelevant and even redundant ministries like information where it has the misfortune of being domiciled yet again. In fact, the country’s culture producers have excelled in spite of, and not because of, governments involvement in directing the sector in any meaningful sense.
A simple instance of what the British Council (Britain) or Goethe Institut (Germany) or Alliance Francaise (France) does for their citizens back home while still taking the gospel of cultural promotion and appreciation abroad to impact citizens of their host countries should suffice and is a model Nigeria, with its teeming youth talent, should emulate. Alas, our government suffers from a dearth of ideas.
And so when the irrepressible Nobel laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka cried out last week that Buhari had further made the orphan status of culture more glaring, it didn’t come as a surprise. In fact, the sector’s orphan status had long become normal in the eyes of culture enthusiasts and producers alike. This was even when Buhari was quick, during his election campaigns in April, to drop by to see Saro the Musical. It is clear he’d gone to score a cheap political point, something his disdainful action towards culture now clearly shows. Executive producer of Saro the Musical, Bolanle Austin-Peters, would now know what Buhari’s game was all about when he swept into MUSON Centre, venue of the show, without buying tickets for his large retinue. A sad loss it was.
With Lai Mohammed as minister of Information and Culture, it’s clear where the direction would lead. However, he would soon find out that culture can’t be used as a barefaced tool for government propaganda; this means culture will just fade away and the few gains already made would slip down the slope. Nevertheless, irrespective of successive government’s disinterest in promoting culture, the sector has marched on strongly largely because of the passion and commitment of individual Nigerians. This is evident in the array of culture festivals that capped the year and showed the abundance of youth talent in creativity from photography to writing and to filmmaking.
The Efe Paul Azino-organised Lagos International Poetry Festival started the year-end festival train with its explosive poetry concert that was simply mind-blowing. Shortly after LagosPhoto Festival in came on and add its touch of photographic magic with ‘Designing Futures’ as its theme. Both festivals had Nigeria Breweries Plc and Etisalat respectively as sponsors; this gave the two festivals needed mileage and boost away from the government’s madding crowd. Soon after also Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2015), organised by Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), came on. It was a feast of ideas and books dedicated to late writer and environmental rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa who was judicially murdered 20 years ago for his activism against the Nigerian state and multinational oil giants pillaging his native Ogoni land.
Held at Freedom Park LABAF 2015 did not just show the indestructibility of an idea, but how ideas, when they are the right ones, can help shape the future. While at the time it seemed all right for government to clear all obstacles on its path, including murder the innocent, to continue feasting on the oil wealth unchallenged, government is now being forced to eat its humble pie and find alternative sources of revenue in the face of oil’s dwindling fortunes in the international market with buyers of Nigeria’s crude oil also thinning out.
So 20 years after Saro-Wiwa’s murder, what has the country gained from oil proceeds? In what meaningful ways has it impacted on the lives of ordinary Nigerians? And 20 years from now, what new strategies will government adopt to change from dependence on oil and diversify the economy, clean up the damaged environment in the Niger Delta and re-green it for sustainability? These were some of the issues that engaged the critical minds at LABAF 2015, with notable poets like Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo and Dr. Obari Gomba, prominent poets from the Niger Delta who have written extensively on issues plaguing the oil-rich but deprived and degraded region, leading the way alongside many other writers.
LABAF 2015 had as theme ‘Texts of Self-Determination’ as theme.
AND in Abeokuta where Ake Arts and Book Festival 2015 ended yesterday, it was yet another convergence point for culture producers and promoters to feast on books and ideas. With the theme ‘Engaging the Fringe,’ the festival had a full day dedicated to environmental sustainability issues last Wednesday. Secondary school students from nine schools in Ogun State were brought in for the needed awareness on environmental concerns. They were taught on how they, too, should be part of the fight for a cleaner and greener environmental by towing the non-destructive path.
The section had the support of cement maker Lafarge Africa Plc and its representative, Mr. Greg Salami, made a presentation on efforts his company was making to adopt biofuels and reduce the use of fossil fuels in its operations, including planting of trees at its old quarry sites.
Also, the wife of the state governor and an environmentalist, Mrs. Olufunso Amosun, charged the students to embrace the ‘Green Empathy’ philosophy of the three ‘Rs’ by ‘reusing, reducing and recycling’ materials to save the environment. She encouraged the students to put a smile on other people’s faces by giving out their old and discarded materials rather than throw them away to litter the environment. Amosun also preached the philosophy of her pet project ‘Gefty Gospel of Green Education’ to them and distributed her book Green Education for the Youth: ‘Empowering our Youth to Save the earth.’
Abuja-based environmental campaigner Ms Funto Borofice spoke to the students on taking responsibility for the environment for its sustainability.
However, the highlight of the day was the documentary film Nowhere to Run shown to the students. Incidentally, it has Ken Saro-Wiwa Jnr, son of the murdered environmental activist, as narrator. The film was being shown to the public for the first time, and it made a huge impact on the young audience for whom the monumental environmental degradation in the Niger Delta was sore news. When they stood up to express how they felt about the issues the documentary raised, some were close to tears and said they didn’t know anyone was being subjected to such horrendous hazards and urged those in authority to urgently mitigate the disaster already foisted on the hapless people of all degraded environments in the country.
Nowhere to Run is a carefully crafted docu-film that lays bare the country’s underbelly in terms of poor vision of managers of its affairs. In fact, a deeply philosophical Igbo proverb sums it all up, “He who burns down his own father’s house inherits the ashes!” Indeed, Nowhere to Run explicitly depicts the waywardness of Nigeria’s managers as foolish sons who willfully burn down their father’s house. What would such wayward sons bequeath to their own children who come after them?
And so from the desertification in the north that is driving people down south and issues of cattle grazing on farmlands, cattle rustling and communal violence as a result down to the Niger Delta’s polluted environment and the hazard it poses to lives and erosion in the south-east, with whole communities being washed away by erosion, a documentary couldn’t be more telling on the implication of a people living recklessly and burying their heads in the sand in the face of grave problems. It was Ake Art and Book Festival organiser Lola Shoneyin who put it succinctly, when she said at the end, “We’re sitting on an environmental disaster in this country!”
The film has such telling sub-titles as ‘The Desert Dunes’ to highlight desertification, the Lake Chad debacle, to ‘Fire in the Sky’ for gas flaring and polluted Niger Delta environment and how what it means for climate change that causes ‘The Rising Tide’ that threaten those living in coastal areas. Also with the activities of man logging wood for economic reasons and not replacing same sets the tone for ‘Disappearing Trees’ and ‘Loose Soil’ that accounts for erosion in most places to the country’s inability to harness its solar power potentials in ‘Power Starved Nation’ and ‘Doing it for ourselves – Afforestation,’ the film created solid resonance that would affect audiences across the world.
Nowhere to Run has an impressive array of environmental activists and those working to save the earth as resource persons; they gave depth to the issues the film highlights. Nimmo Bassey, Liza Badsby, Peter Jenkins, Dr. Michael Egbedike, Hannah Kabir, Amara Mwampa, Godknows Igali, Inimo Samiama and several local respondents are among those interviewed.
Simple messages ring true from the film – We need to start seeing our environment as a resource we need to protect – Government should rise up to its responsibility; there should be a paradigm shift – We are not apart from nature; we part of nature. We have only this earth.
ASSOCIATION of Nigerian Authors (ANA) held its yearly convention in Kaduna where a new executive was elected. Mr Denja Abdullahi defeated BM Dzukogu to emerge president of the association. During the same week Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) was held in Lagos to critical acclaim in celebration of African films. Eko International Film Festival capped the film festival train in Lagos. Yet to come though is Austin-Peters’ second Broadway-type musical theatre Wakaa The Musical that would end a remarkable year of culture feast that happened without government’s input whatsoever. Obviously, this should be of concern to President Buhari.