Archive for August, 2007

Make the cripple walk

August 13, 2007

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[First published in The Nation newspaper of Nigeria on 4th of August, 2007.]

Olugbenga Kuye became deformed – handicapped, crippled, whatever you choose to call it – at the age of two. He lived in that state until the Lagos State Limb Deformity Correction Programme recently restored him to normal walking state. Now he is out there preaching the limitlessness of handicap of any form as Group Editor (Arts and Culture) Solomon Tai Adetoye reports

  Scorn. Rejection. That is the worst pain of disability.Hear the words of Olugbenga Kuye: “Keeping the disabled man-child in a room out of bond [sic] to all visitors and extended family members is worse than outright extermination.”Yet time was when they were literally exterminated. Arrangement was made to quietly eliminate a child whose crippled existence was perceived as a potential source of shame to the family. Communities in Africa and elsewhere used to have a special evil forest where such kids were killed and buried. Otherwise, “knowledgeable ones” within the family arranged quiet death which was announced as a result of “natural causes.”Fate would not allow Kuye to be born into such an era. But his pain was severe enough. At two years of age, he suffered a bad polio that crippled his legs. For years as he grew up, he lived with all sorts of pains. Today, things are different. But instead of dwelling on his pains or forgetting them, he has chosen to turn them into healing balm for all that ache both physically and emotionally.Who played what role to turn me into what I am today? That is a natural question people who suffered deformation early in life often ask. No doubt this has played out on the mind of Olugbenga Kuye for decades. In the home, especially a polygamous home, the mother is charged with bringing up the child. Whatever happens to the child, she is held responsible.One of many children from his mother in a polygamous home, Olugbenga’s misfortune would in no way be unconnected with his mother. After all he was just a toddler when the affliction that brought the misfortune occurred. Yet in his biographical motivational book entitled The Man In You, Kuye states that he hold nothing against his mother who died while he was still a young lad.She was there only for a while as she died while he was still young. But the memory the young man has chosen to preserve is that of a caring mother. She did within her limited knowledge and understanding tried to make life comfortable for the disabled son. One cannot of course rule out the fact that such “extra care” could at times make the handicapped man-child feel abused as such is not extended to other children.Nevertheless, the atmosphere was not particularly conducive for proper development. Imagine this, there is an incident next door and a – naturally – curious child goes out to see what is going on. Then an elder brother comes over to send him back home. The older one’s excuse? The people expected at such scenes were “normal human beings” not cripples.The rejection followed him to school. Recalling his school days, Kuye said, “Only a few played football. These boys seldom admit [sic] me into their midst even if the game involved did not require physical ability. ‘Gbenga go and sit down there.’ I have heard that near command a thousand times. It is a painful thing. It is humiliating, especially if the person giving the command is your age mate or ranked below you in age.”Countering this negative treatment, Gbenga Kuye committed himself to academic excellence. While he could not go out to play with his mates, he studied. Excel he did and by the time of his operation last year, he was a student of Lagos State Polytechnic.Apart from the emotional battle, Kuye had physical pains to cope with. “I lived on analgesic because of the frequent pains from both legs,” he recalled. “These severe pains often affected my respiratory system, which became irregular when the pain came. So I was not only disabled but also sickly. No one wanted me. No one was ready to be identified with me. I was always lonely. I was always sad. When I was tired of loneliness at the backyard I decided to come to the frontage of the house.”Like the ancestors say in Africa, it never gets so bad that no caring heart is left for the forsaken. While recalling the pains of isolation and rejection, Olugbenga Kuye recalls members of the family and others who not only showered him with affection but also rendered assistance.Faced with the challenges of physical handicap, Kuye forged ahead. He made his way through primary school and secondary school. Clearing his result, he proceeded to higher institution. It was while he was in the higher institution, Lagos State Polytechnic, that his miracle came.Polio victims often resign to fate. Many revert to begging while others try to eke out a living for themselves with whatever ability their disabilities left behind. A tiny fraction stick it out choosing to reach the utmost in life. Kuye belongs to the last group. Yet, fortune had something better in stock for him.The last administration in Lagos State led by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu had a policy of “health is wealth.” It reached out to malaria patients as well as those whose sight was impaired. But the one that got across to Kuye was the special programme for free limb deformity correctional surgery for victims.Olugbenga Kuye wobbled into the hospital ward. He was used to it. After all he had been in the disabled state for over thirty years. But this was destined to be his last wobbling walk. After hours of corrective surgery, it was time to wheel him out. Although essential staff had closed for the day, Programme Coordinator Dr. (Mrs.) Dolapo Fasawe was around to assist. In fact, Kuye sees former Governor Tinubu as the “presiding doctor” while words failed him to describe the then Health Commissioner Dr. Leke Pitan.Weeks later, he took the first steps with the assistance of crutches. In his words, “a ray of hope that signalled better days ahead fount itself ruling my once despondent heart.”Check out Olugbenga Kuye today decked in dark suit and white shirt minus necktie the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad style or with his friends in long sleeve shirt and trousers complete with tie and you would hardly recognise him as the once disabled fellow.

What saw Kuye through the dark valleys of his life? It was hope and faith. He believes there is a deposit of God in every human being that is the seed of greatness. Handicap and disability, terms he took time to differentiate, are not enough to hinder a determined person from manifesting what he was born to manifest.

Who better qualifies to lift up than the man who has been to the very valley of the shadow of death? That is the story of Olugbenga Kuye who has now devoted his life to helping people get out of despondent situations. Apart from his academic pursuit and hopes of career in future, he has become a motivational writer and speaker. The first fruit of his effort is the book entitled The Man In You which he had the honour of presenting to former Governor Tinubu when it was released not too long ago.

The nine-chapter work is in 152 pages spiced with photographs of his experience. In the work, he is not just talking at the subject. What Kuye has done is to related his personal life experience with practical counsel. Chapter one is entitled The Legs Are Bad in which he relates his personal experience. Another form of deformity, this time blindness, is the focus of the second chapter entitled Can He See. The third is The Man Cannot Live Alone and the fourth What About Politics? The next two chapters are subtitled Personal Experience. They are We Don’t Want Him and We Cannot Work With Him. The seventh chapter is entitled Disabled Indeed, the eight The Man In You and the final one, also a personal experience, But It Can Get Better.

With the surgery successfully performed, things definitely are going to get better for Olugbenga Kuye a man whose return journey has been as romantic as it is sweet to the hear.

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Seeking roses among rocks

August 13, 2007

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First published in The Nation newspaper of Nigeria on Monday, 13th of August, 2007

 Life in Nigeria is hard. It is as hard as rock. Yet the on the rocky terrain roses grow. Manifestations of beauty can be seen in the flora and fauna. The people of Nigeria are scattered all over the world in glorious display of the goodness this land of hardship breeds. That is the theme of Victor Ehikhamenor’s recent exhibition as Group Editor (Arts and Culture) Solomon Tai Adetoye reports

Victor Ehikhamenor is not easily defined. He is a labyrinthine complexity. A man of many faces yet lucid and vivid in his colourful manifestations. What describes this United States of America-based Nigerian creative force is just as true in his works.“I am many things,” Ehikhamenor confesses, “but for the purpose at hand, I am an artist and writer from Nigeria.“A clean canvas or white paper is my freedom square. The beckoning and the calling of these virgin spaces allow me to be what I am today and what I will become tomorrow.I started painting at a very early age, and older people called me ‘artist’ even before I knew what the word meant.”A graduate of English, this self-taught painter is also a writer, poet and a photographer. His level of artistic development was on display in the last week of July at an exhibition he held at Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel, on Ajose Adeogun Street, Victoria Island in Lagos. Before then he was at Abuja for an exhibition held at the auspices of the Embassy of the United States of America that was part of the celebration of the American Declaration of Independence celebrated last month.Rocks and Roses, the Lagos exhibition was unique in many ways. Jointly sponsored by Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel, ASCON Oil and Text Nigeria, the whole event was packaged and well managed by Sublime Communications. A pre-event press conferment was held to create awareness for the week-long exhibition.Rocks and Roses was a display of vintage Victor Ehikhamenor in all his glorious manifestation. Vivid colours. Intricate lines. Prodigious talented blend of photographs and painting done using modern tools offered by advanced software. All these and more.To understand Ehikhamenor’s work is to be exploring. His abstract works demand that the viewer exercise not only patience but intelligent exploration. Traditional motifs blend with abstracted natural forms in colourful splashes that drive home his theme of seeking the good in the conflicting crises of Nigeria.In a country where the bottom line seems to be the only preoccupation of corporate bodies, it is a welcome development to see the tree corporate bodies – Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel, ASCON Oil and Text Nigeria – come forward to promote art. Not only is art not directly connected with their businesses – hospitality, oil and telecommunication – they are not of the stature of giants like Hilton, Shell and MTN.During the pre-event press conference, representatives of the companies – Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel Marketing Manager George Blankson, ASCON Oil Executive Director Ndudi Emenmoh and Text Nigeria Managing Director Chike Asiodu – justified their gesture. Not only are their playing the roles of responsible corporate citizens giving back to the society in which they do business they are genuinely concerned with projecting the positive side of Nigeria. If the nation’s image has been tainted by negative acts of fraudulent citizens, corrupt politicians and unscrupulous political agitation pretenders, it is time to present to the world the positive aspect of our life.Victor Ehikhamenor is no doubt one of the ambassadors of Nigeria. The crises in the land that drove many into foreign lands has also created a Nigerian Diaspora of successful sons and daughters of this country whose pursuits and positions abroad present the image of a people who are talented, hard working, intelligent, honest and greatly endowed in their different spheres.Victor Ehikhamenor was born in Edo State, Nigeria and received his BA in English and Literature from Bendel State University, Ekpoma, Nigeria and MS in Technology Management from University Of Maryland, University College, USA. He is currently a Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. Victor is a Unix System Engineer, an artist, poet and a photographer.

The different influences in Ehikhamenor’s life can be seen his works. Flaming Laughter for example celebrates the beauty of the African woman in all her colourful display. Holy Ghost Fire is no doubt born of Christian influence while Awakening the Woman in Trance has its roots in African traditional religion.

Victor Ehikhamenor was born in Udomi-Uwessan in Edo State, Nigeria; a place rich in folklore and tradition. When he was a young boy, he was privileged to witness many traditional feasts and Christian festivals, which were highly spiritual and now form the basis for his creative works. Untrained in arts, his intrinsic creative has made him one of the most celebrated Nigerian artists based in the United States of America.

Recalling his growing up years, Victor Ehikhamenor said, “I was always fascinated by the figures, designs and colours that saturated my village when I was a child. Art, mostly functional, was abundant in my environment in Nigeria. Almost everything was art, ranging from my grandfather’s staff of office as the odionwele of my village, to the different wall designs by his seven wives and the clothing worn by men and women, especially on Sundays. As a young boy, I painted on any surface that was smooth enough. School slates, notebooks, my mother’s walls (which got me in trouble most times), even in the sand along my village streets. Those early experiences always snake into my current pieces, though my newer works are constantly evolving.”

The very theme Rocks and Roses carries political overtone. A product of the Niger Delta, Ehikhamenor is not divorced from happening in the region as well as other parts of the world. While celebrating the beautiful things the land has to offer, he paints them against the backdrop of the pollution, deprivation and violence that are hallmarks of our current history. His colours speak of bloodshed and desecration as much as they colourfully display out good sides. The complexities of his subjects are seen in the way he weaves motifs and line, dots and disproportional shapes to present his message.

As a Black man in America and as a world citizen, Victor Ehikhamenor’s works reflects happenings around the globe. The United States of America’s self-imposed policeman of the world is portrayed in Past Time of the Gods. Yet not only the US is presented. The depth of Ehikhamenor ensures that different manifestations of bullying gun boot diplomacy are brought together to send his message across.

In his words, “My works are not devoid of political or ideological tendencies. Society is beautiful and ugly, and we have to portray both paradigms. Take for instance the numerous wars that are ravaging the world, or hunger in the midst of plenty, or homelessness under sky-scrapers, or the lack of healthcare insurance for employees while CEOs ride private jets to golf courses, or bad leaders who want to stay in power forever….“I always have ‘politics’ at the back of my mind when creating any work, whether fiction or art. As for ideology, any art that does not stand for something will eventually fall. However, that does not mean propaganda dictates my creative process, just because I may want to make a political or an ideological statement. Beauty is necessary when you want to shine light on ugliness, and I pay a great attention to what I put out there.”

The conscious intellectual does not allow his political perception to hinder his creative flow and forte. A committed promoter of artistic ideals, Victor Ehikhamenor challenged Nigerian arts writers to have conscious commitment to the arts.

In the hands of such arts ambassadors, using arts to promote the ideals that will eventually bring forth the type of society we dream about is no doubt a visible venture.

Dancing around the globe

August 4, 2007

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[This piece was first published in The Nation on Thursday, 2nd of August, 2007]

He is a university don. But his first love is dancing. Dr. Rasaki Ojo Bakare has established his image on the Nigerian cultural scene. He is the prized first Nigeria scholar of dance to bag a doctorate degree in dance. Just before he led the Nigerian cultural entourage to the United Kingdom as part of the campaign for hosting the Commonwealth Games, he spoke exclusively with Group Editor (Arts and Culture) of The Nation newspaper of Nigeria Solomon Tai Adetoye

Dr. Rasaki Ojo Bakare is a playwright, a choreographer, a play director and instrumentalist. He has taught at the University of Calabar, Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Obafemi Awolowo University at Ile-Ife, University of Uyo where he was the Head of Department of Theatre Arts and is currently at the University of Abuja. He practically lives dance. All his adult life there is no time Dancerasaki, as he called, he has always been involved in one form of performance all the other.

When the retired General Yakubu Gowon-led bid committee for the Commonwealth needed a man to put together a cultural package to showcase Nigeria’s cultural heritage to the decision makers in the United Kingdom a few weeks ago, Dr. Rasaki Ojo Bakare was picked. For anyone who knows him, it was not a surprising choice. In the words of cultural icon and former Nigerian ambassador to Ethiopia Chief Segun Olusola, “Dr. Ojo Rasaki Bakare is a widely-travelled and experienced scholar, dancer of repute.”

Charming, highly intelligent and yet very humble, Bakare was educated at his native Aramoko in Ekiti State. After primary and secondary education, he started learning under the late Hubert Ogunde whom he joined at the age of 16, Chief Jimoh Aliu and a host of other Yoruba travelling theatre outfits of that time. Later, he gained admission to the College of Education, Ikere Ekiti and also worked for Ondo State Arts Council, Ondo State Radio and Television as a freelance artiste.

In his own words, “After leaving college, I proceeded to the University of Calabar, Cross Rivers State where I had my Bachelors of Arts in Theatre Arts, specialising in Dance and Choreography. I also bagged a Masters degree in African Theatre with concentration on Playwriting and Directing. I moved on to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where I taught for five years and later obtained my Ph.D in Dance and Choreography.”

Bakare, Ojo Rasaki taught, Dance and Theatre in University of Calabar (1991-92); Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1992-97), Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife (1997-2000), University of Uyo, Uyo (2000 – 2003). He was also the Choreographer and Technical Adviser to National Troupe of Gambia between 1994 and 1996. Currently, he is a Senior Lecturer in Department of Theatre Arts, University of Abuja. He is also the Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Ojo Bakare Productions, Afculture Theatre Consultants, and Demmy Stage Lights, Sounds and Visuals.

Right from his early days, Bakare has been writing and producing plays. He has written over 20 plays, but for now, five are published. They include This Land Must Sacrifice, Drums of War, Once Upon a Tower, Adamma, and Rogbodiyan. Knowing fully well that the basic principle of the ivory tower is publish or perish, he has published about 20 academic articles in journals and books. In the course of his career, this restless dancer has directed/choreographed over ninety full-length productions as a career scholar-artiste between 1990 and 2004. He is also involved in community services of different types as a Consultant Choreographer/Theatre Trainer, Abuja Arts Council; Consultant Choreographer, Koroso International Dance Troupe, Kano; Consultant Theatre Trainer/Choreographer, Anambra State (Now Enugu State) Arts Council, Enugu; Consultant Choreographer, Cross River State Cultural Board; Consultant Dance Trainer/ Choreographer, Plateau State Arts Council; Consultant Dance Trainer/ Choreographer, Ekiti State Arts Council; Playwright/Director Jagunmolu (Command Performance for the Inauguration of Olusegun Obasanjo as President, Federal Republic of Nigeria); Director of Dance and Music, Instances Project Sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. (Mac.Arthur Foundation, U.S.A.) directed by Jenkeri Okwori and coordinated by Professor BolanleAwe; Artistic Director, Opening and closing ceremonies, 14th National Sports festival, Abuja 2004 to mention just a few.

The son of an Imam who converted to Christianity, Bakare has been a rebel from his youth. The man disowned him for six years. His father never wanted him to pursue a career in theatre arts but he insisted on it. His marriage to an Urhobo woman was also seen as a manifestation of his rebellious spirit by his folks.

From his earlier plays like This Land Must Sacrifice, he picks on topical issues which he presents in the radical tradition of playwrights like Wole Soyinka and Ngugi wa Th’iongo. He does not hesitate to go against the authorities. His is of the agit-prop tradition, that age old sub-genre of theatre that is described as agitation propaganda.

His messages are meant to ignite the masses and call the leaders to order. Ever current, he studies political development of various countries in the world.

An anti-establishment rebel, he however rubs shoulders with the powers that be as one can observe from the different projects he executes for the government and government agencies. What can be responsible for this? It is simply that like the biblical lit candle he is too talented to be ignored.

Bakare, in his forties definitely has many more to contribute. His focus and dedication keep him going all the time. Many thought he would stay back at the University of Uyo to receive associate professorship but he moved on to University of Abuja in 2003.

An impulsive writer, Bakare waits for the spirit to move him and he writes without creating a certain pattern. Married to a fellow theatre arts teacher, Bakare would always name among his role models Wole Soyinka, Ola Rotimi and Femi Osofisan.

Now back from the bid trip to the United Kingdom, Bakare is busy with his other pursuits – always many at any point in time.

Dancing around the globe

August 4, 2007

Dancing around the globe .