The immediate past chief executive/director general of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), Prof. Tunde Babawale, and currently an Electoral Commissioner at the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), in this interview, explains the essence of cultural policy, indigenous language, preservation and promotion of our rich cultural heritage among other issues. TONY OKUYEME reports
There has been sustained discourse and calls for a National Cultural Policy. Why is this policy so important?
There is no question about the fact that a policy is the key to the development of any sector, be it cultural, social, economic or even political. So, there is no way any government would succeed in a sector that is not guided by policy. Policy is the signpost, the roadmap that you require to be able to navigate through the sector and decide what your activities would be. So, I am also shocked that for a very long time we have been battling with this problem of cultural policy for Nigeria.
Of course, we have the 1988 one, and we also have the revised cultural policy which I think even up until 2010 was still being revised. A lot of work had been done on the 1988 document, workshops had been organized. As I said, a new document has been produced, a copy of which I have. What is left is for this document to be formally presented to the public.
Why then has successive governments failed to implement it?
Unfortunately, I am still at a loss as to why the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture has not deemed it necessary to formally launch the document. It seems as if we are working without a policy guide. And that could also be partly responsible for the lull that we are witnessing in the Arts and Culture sector in terms of what government policy is on it. So, I want to appeal to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to as a matter of urgency get his team in the Ministry to dust this document that is still in the archive of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, and ensure that this particular document is presented to the public. It is of essence that this is done as urgently as possible.
As a nation, are we doing enough in terms of documentation, preservation and promotion of our rich cultural heritage?
I am not sure that we are doing enough in terms of preserving and documenting our culture.
There is a very high concentration on tourism by successive regimes. That in itself is not, but it becomes bad when it is done at the expense or at the detriment of the cultural components. You cannot have tourism without the raw material, and that raw material is provided by culture. This is where the documentation and the preservation of our cultural heritage is very important. One of the ways by which this can be done, in my view, is to have this policy, and also enunciate in it what the specific agencies need to do in terms of how to preserve our cultural heritage. For example, we have world heritage site in Adamawa State, we have in Osun State. How much or what effort have we made as a people and government to popularise, improve on these world heritage sites to become a showcase of our own heritage and at the same time earn us enough money. There is no doubt about it that if we promote our cultural heritage it will reduce our dependence on oil, because as you know, oil is exhaustible. Culture is sustainable; it cannot die. And the only way by which our culture will not die is for us to preserve that culture. One way by which we can do it is to incorporate elements of our culture heritage in our school curriculum at the primary, the secondary and at the tertiary levels of our educational system. Today, in my view, the curriculum of our schools seems deficient in the area of content that emphasises the preservation of our heritage. Don’t forget, heritage is in two parts, the material and the non-material. By material we are talking about the physical manifestations in terms of those historic sites and monuments; whereas, the non-material refers to our music, dance, mode of hair dressing, cuisine, and all of the other things that make the non-material aspect of our culture. Now, how far have we gone in teaching our children our languages? Language is the vehicle of culture; without the promotion and preservation of your languages there is no way you can preserve your culture. It is important to also stress that on a daily basis, we promote culture in the way we interact with people because it is also about your world view, about your custom, tradition, morals. Your proverbs contain culture, your worldview is about culture. That is why we talk about the cosmological aspect of culture; we also talk about the ontological aspect of culture which is philosophical in essence. And we also talk about the interaction between people, which is the aetiological aspect of culture. So, my point of view is that our school curriculum must be enriched or revised in such a way that these elements of both the material and non-material aspect will become a central part of that curriculum. Most importantly, the teaching and learning of our languages at every level of our educational system must become a norm in our country. That is a starting point. Two, we must create programmes; and government, for example, must ensure that specific days of the week are devoted to promoting the use of indigenous languages, especially in the States Houses of Assembly, like Lagos has done. We would have started on the road to promoting our culture; we would also have started on the road to preventing the extinction of our languages.
So, I am saying that in neglecting our culture and our language we are depriving our children of certain aspects of our existence that should come naturally with them. And one of the reasons why many of them are not performing well in the English language is the absence of that environment where they can drink from the fountain of philosophy where they could have vocabularies to express themselves. Every normal person thinks first in his indigenous language before he translates into a second language. This is why preserving, promoting our cultural heritage is of utmost importance.
Stakeholders appear divided on the merger of the National Theatre with National Troupe of Nigeria. What do you think is the best option for the sector?
I personally don’t think it is in the interest of the National Troupe to have a merger with the National Theatre. Managing the National theatre, in my view, is a technical matter which requires a technical person to do. For instance, somebody who has a management or engineering background can conveniently handle matters relating to National Theatre, because it is just a structure that can be managed by those who have the technical expertise.
But the National Troupe requires a professional, a competent professional to handle it. There is a possibility of distraction when you merge the office of the manager of the National Theatre with that of the National Troupe because the manager spends a lot of time concentrating on those issues that have very little to do with the promotion of culture or the arts. Those who decided to separate it in the past had very valid reasons for doing so, and I think we need to revisit it. This is not to say that in the culture sector there is no need to do some restructuring of some of the agencies and parastatals.
Values, morality as panacea for unity, development
Title: Music of the Muezzin
Author: R. Adebayo Lawal
Year of Publication: 2014
Reviewer: Mahfouz A. Adedimeji
Against the sorry state of our world that has lost its moorings, resulting in the Hobbesian conception of life as being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” Adebayo Lawal in his second collection of poems, Music of the Muezzin, offers us a way out of the miasma. Through a blending of soulful sounds, delicious lines of pure poetry that offer us sense from the pervading nonsense beclouding our global horizons, the poet draws our attention to the need to uphold morality and promote character in our lives.
Basically, Music of the Muezzin is a collection of 38 poems divided into six unequal parts: “Pro-Song: Symphony of the Lonesome Lark”, “Invocation: the Cock’s Mystical Music,” “Smiles of Sorrow,” “Exhortation: Cryptic Clauses of Counsel”, “The Snail’s Courage” and “Epi-Songs: True Time is but Timelessness”. As common to most works of poetry, the themes are as diverse as the poems artistically woven in the compelling collection, but one thesis that reverberates across the work is the need for values and morality in our society. This the author does by distilling messages that tantalize or religious, moral, cultural and ethical sensibilities.
The first poem in the collection is the “eponymous” poem (i.e. the poem that gives the collection its title) where the poet explains the impact of the muezzin’s call to prayer on him. The rationale for putting the poem first is most likely informed by the fact that when a baby is born in Islam, the first thing he hears is the adhan or call to prayer. We then have the poet’s interpretation of the magnificence of His Creator, Whose majesty he celebrates in “The paradox of your presence” (p.12).
However, the first two parts are not about Islam and faith alone. There is a striking poem, “Lines for a don”, dedicated to his teacher, Prof. David William, with which the poet decries the decline in the academics, which is of interest to every lecturer or don. In his usual inter-lock of sense with sound, a major stylistic feature of the collection, our poet takes a swipe at academic shoddiness and intellectual laziness, a cankerworm that seems to have seeped, or sneaked like a thief in the night, into our ivory towers. The sense is compelling in describing various types of dons in lovely lines and repetitive sonority before upholding the standard as symbolised by the teacher: “There are dunces / And there are dons. / Dons by distinction, / Dons by connection / Dons by compassion / Dons by constipation. / The mafia don, / Done by cruel connection, / Is the Don Juan / Thriving on a code of terror.” … (p.20)
There are interesting poems in Part Three, which begins with “The multinational tycoon’s theory”, a witty and humorless poem that ascribes the black man’s tragedy to the accident of creation. He lampoons the archetypal politician in our era of politics without principle describing him in powerful imagery using the bat metaphor: “Bird by day/ Rat by night/ The bat vies with the vulture/ And races with the rodent.” (p.25).
In “Damsel of the ivory tower” (p.31) and “City damsel” (p.32), Lawal has urgent and pungent messages for the students who waste their present and future on illicit sexual adventures.
For the latter poem (i.e. “City damsel”) that exploits the computer imagery, the warning to men is that the city damsel is not more than a lovely laptop with a caveat: when you “insert a randy flash-drive / You end up with a vicious virus” (p.31).
The third part under consideration contains the longest poem in the collection, “Smiles of sorrow” (p.34), which drives home the need for character and morality in our society.
In Parts Four and Five, the author offers antidotes to our troubled and troubling times while canvassing the virtues of love (i.e. “True love”(p.38); “We are all one” (p.39)) reason (“Who are you? (p.40); “Rat race or human race? (p.41)), religious tolerance and righteousness (i.e. “The cannibals” (p.42), “The bubble shall burst” (p.48), “Blessed are they” (p.52)) and other poems of similar thematic concerns. There are also well-crafted poems in this section like “Ilorin” (p.45) which offers a food-for-thought that everyone would like to relish and “In the long run” (p.47) which gives poetic expression to the maxim, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Generally, this collection is “larger than its frame” in terms of the profundity of the timeless messages that make good sense for our troubled season in a world that is going amok. It is a call to action to eschew what is morally bad, religiously sinful and ethically repugnant in our day-to-day interactions.
Unravelling the mystery of Tola Wewe’s ‘stolen’ painting
A mild drama played out mid last month when renowned Nigerian artist, Tola Wewe’s oil on board painting titled ‘Iye Boabo’ surfaced at the auction house, Arthouse Contemporary Limited 29 years after its production and disappearance. ‘Boabo’ is an annual cleansing festival at Igbobini, an Apoi-Ijo community in Ese Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State. In this community, contemptuous flouter of socio-moral order and hardened committers of taboos are cleansed with a ritual during the festival; and this is meant to rid the community of any burden of deviant or flagrant upsetting of societal order. Wewe was then a young lecturer at the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, and the painting was among some works kept in the Ile-Ife home of his colleague, Moyo Okediji, after a group exhibition held at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan.
On Wednesday, 18th of April, 2018, Tola Wewe received an image of the painting and a message from Nana Sonoiki of the Arthouse Contemporary Limited, requesting him to authenticate the painting, which was submitted by “a client” to the Arthouse for their next auction already slated for May, 2018. The artist was shocked to see the image of his painting, which was “stolen” 29 years ago. He then quickly responded to the enquiry, “It is one of my missing works. I will give the title, stories about the work, etc. But I must earn my remuneration.” Apart from appreciating his response, nothing else was heard from Sonoiki for two days until Wewe broke the silence: “Still waiting for your response on the work,” and Sonoiki quickly replied, “I forwarded your mail to the owner and no response yet.” Wewe then reacted again: “We need to act quickly because I may be forced to make this public o.”
“How? That we stole your work?” Replied Sonoiki. “Arthouse has no problem,” buttressed Wewe, “In fact, you are my saviour now. If not for an institution like Arthouse, how would I have seen this work? Kindly tell him to link up with me so that we resolve the issue or I go through my own way.” And silence took over from the Arthouse, for 10 days, which then prompted Wewe to go public.
The story of this missing work, according to Wewe at the media briefing of Thursday, April 26, 2018, occurred in 1989. The Ona Movement, which was just birthed at the time, had had its maiden exhibition at Ibadan. After the show, all works, including those of Wewe, Okediji, Kunle Filani, were taken to Moyo Okediji’s home at Ile-Ife. Soon, Okediji relocated to the United States with his family. Unknown to Wewe, the house was burgled and many paintings carted away. Seven years later, Wewe went to the then Fenchurch, a frame gallery at Onikan, Lagos, to frame some works. There, he saw two of Okediji’s paintings brought to the Fenchurch for framing. As at the time, he had no idea that Okediji’s house had been burgled. Neither did he know that even his own works had been stolen. Wewe only saw Okediji in later years, and got to know about the burglary and the stolen works. In fact, apart from Wewe who lost about 30 works, and Okediji who lost all his works, Kunle Filani also lost many works to the burglars.
On her part, Nana Sonoiki expressed disappointment in Wewe and condemned his hasty run to the public. She confirmed the conversation between her and Wewe, but that the reason she didn’t get back to him for almost 10 days was because “the client” who submitted the work had taken ill and so could not read the mail she had sent to him. She, thereafter, divulged the name of “the client” as Mr. Mike Oduah.
Mr. Oduah later confirmed that he had been contacted by a few media men who were concerned to know the true position of things. He said, as a regular art collector, he had in his collection more than 1,200 artworks by over 240 artists, and therefore had no business stealing any artwork. He claimed to have patronised Tola Wewe severally and had had the work in question in his collection for more than 20 years. On the question of where he acquired the work from, he said it was a little difficult to recollect. In his words: “We always have families clearing out their collections, and agents seeking patronage of artworks. Such families probably have lost the family head, assumed a new life of being born again and decided to sell the works they suddenly tagged as fetish. So, through such processes, works are acquired. “Such families and artists hardly give you receipts when you buy directly from them. That’s why I love to buy works from galleries and at exhibitions.”
The visual art industry is getting stronger and more attractive by the day. It has become a money-spinning industry that demands absolute cooperation among all stakeholders: artists, galleries, and collectors. If receipts, as evidence of acquisition, are possible with galleries and certificate of authenticity signed by the artist can be obtained from exhibition venues, the issue of art vendors, agents and dealers is a different ballgame. Many of these so-called agents or vendors have no reliable forwarding contact, and thus can easily heat up the art market. And this can easily upturn cases of originality, provenance and authenticity. That the Arthouse, by their standard practice, often reaches out to artists for authentication or verification, is a way of placing the auction house on a pedestal of integrity. Perhaps if Nana Sonoiki had reached out to Mr. Mike Oduah on the telephone two or three days after sending an email message with no response, there would have been no lacuna that stagnated action for 10 days. Perhaps contact would have been established between them and there probably would have been no reason to bring the case to public notice.
On a larger format of cordiality, artists, collectors and galleries must be careful not to allow uncertified agents and vendors ruin their beautiful dreams of propagating Nigerian art.
Sam Dede supports PHLS Poetry Slam
The PHLS Poetry Slam has received a major boost from acclaimed and award-winning actor, Dr. Sam Dede, with the institution of the Sam Dede Prize for Best Spoken Word Artist.
Dede made the announcement in Port Harcourt when he spoke with the Resident Poet of the Port Harcourt Literary Society, Chijioke Amu-Nnadi. He commended the Society for energizing literature in Port Harcourt.
“What you guys are doing is quite remarkable and deserves the support of every well-meaning artist and sponsor of the arts,” Dede said.
The actor, whose inspiring performance in Isakaba earned him Africa’s top acting honours, stated that the Prize comes with cash and a plaque.
The Sam Dede Prize is in addition to the N100,000 already set aside by the Society for the winner of the PHLS Poetry Slam. Other prizes are N75,000 for first runner-up and N50,000 for the second runner-up. A fourth prize of N25,000 will go to the best Spoken Word poet from one of the secondary schools which have benefited from the Society’s monthly PHLS Literature for Teens programme.
The PHLS Poetry Slam, already described as Nigeria’s biggest Poetry Slam, will be judged by award-winning poets, Efe Paul Azino, Andrew Patience, Obii Ifejika and Graciano Enwerem.
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