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Tongues wag – in mother tongue – at Amb. Tinubu’s investiture

March 18, 2008

This piece was first published in The Nation, Lagos, on Wednesday, March 5, 2008 

  

Yoruba language on parade

 At the formal investiture of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the National Ambassador for the World Festival of Yoruba Arts and Culture (WOFEYAC), prominent Yoruba leaders came out displaying different communication skills in their mother tongue as reports Group Arts and Culture Editor SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE 

My speech was prepared in Yoruba considering the nature of this gathering. But the earlier speaker spoke in English. So I have just begun translating the speech into English. I hope you will help me.”

As the audience shouted their disapproval of such a move encouraging the speaker to deliver his address in Yoruba, the atmosphere was filled with gaiety one hardly expects from boardroom players.

The speaker was Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas who was the chairman at the occasion of the investiture of former Lagos State Governor and AC chieftain Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the National Ambassador for the forthcoming World Festival of Yoruba Arts and Culture (WOFEYAC). It held at the MUSON Centre last Sunday.

At an event put together for the promotion of Yoruba culture and language, it was just appropriate that people spoke in Yoruba. That was it. These were men we hardly ever saw speaking the language.

Professionals, business tycoons, academics, politicians, traditional rulers, entertainers… from all walks of life Yoruba leaders gathered to honour Tinubu. Even the part of the tribe in Benin Republic sent the Alajase of Ajase-Ile, Porto Novo to represent them.

Well the chairman finally gave his speech in Yoruba. But such expressions as describing Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) as an “excellent student” the Asiwaju as an “excellent professor” just did not come out in the mother tongue. Ditto his description of Tinubu as governor emeritus.

It was quite refreshing to see the topmost industrialist communicate effectively in the native tongue. The image of westernised corporate player might be a myth after all.

Just wait. Next in line was a “young man.”

Iwure, all who know will agree, is no business for the young in Yoruba land. It is special prayer that is more or less divine pronouncement. So, when former governor of Western Region retired General Adeyinka Adebayo was picked to perform the duty, organisers of WOFEYAC, Alaroye publishers led by Alao Adedayo, must have assumed they made the right choice.

The general who turns 80 next Sunday did not agree with them.

Iwure, is for elders not young ones like me,” he said drawing roaring laughter.

Anyway he prayed and no doubt the ancestors were listening.

Now away from one of our elders speaking the language laced with proverbs and other forms of expressions that are the jewelleries of Yoruba language. The next person to pick the microphone was one of the ivory tower. I mean a professor can speak Yoruba but it is usually laced with sprinklings of English language. Not the Director of Centre for Black and African Arts and Culture Professor Tunde Babawale.

If there was a competition in the use of Yoruba last Sunday, Prof. Babawale would probably win the prize. He spoke in sonorous Yoruba that makes one wonder when to expect his music album in the marked. The simple task of introducing Governor Fashola to unveil the WOFEYAC calendar turned into an exceptional display of Yoruba language skill with him. Whoever recommended him for his present position had good counsel.

If the prof. was qualify for lifting the trophy of use of language, Governor Fashola would not just him still the show. Far from the Latin-studded bamboozlement of the court room, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria came out smoking hot a Senior Advocate of Yoruba Language Usage. His smooth Yoruba flew effortlessly without his needing to retrieve English words that had found their ways into his short speech.

But there was a problem. The Governor had been called upon to unveil the calendar.

“I was just asking my egbon the honourable a question,” Fashola said addressing the audience. “The question is, how do you say ‘calendar’ in Yoruba language?”

Beyond the laughter he drew not a few left with the poser in mind. Maybe a word will be invented to cater for the need.

Meanwhile party stalwarts decked in the green T-shirts of the AC kept interrupting the governor by singing his praises.

“They are already spoiling for another election,” the governor joked. “Of course if one is coming up tonight we are ready.”

Recalling that Chief Okoya-Thomas had earlier said that Fashola’s term is an eight-year term, if Alausa is anybody’s target, he might have to wait till 2015!

You can bet the mood of the gathering changed when Asiwaju Tinubu stepped out to be decorated. From his sure gait, whoever calls him ato-fi’se-ogun-ran, he who can be sent to the battle front, did not make any mistake. Okanlomo of the Universe – a most outstanding son – was among the unofficial titles with which people hailed him.

When the time came for him to give his acceptance speech, the good old sing song Tinubu captivating oration came to the fore. While remembering to appeal to the Ndigbo and the Hausa community present to pardon his speaking in Yoruba the Ambassador reeled out Yoruba expression in impressive intonation.

Before it was over however, he reverted to English. There are some things that one would rather express in English. After all, what is the Yoruba word for “calendar”?

It was a fun-filled evening during which the glory and beauty of Yoruba language and culture took the centre stage. At the main WOFEYAC event in April, one wonders what it would be like.

Adeboye: Living the dream

March 18, 2008

This piece was first published in The Nation, Lagos on Wednesday, March 5, 2008

He started dreaming as a child. He has pursued his dreams with total commitment and with the aid of some hardly revealed leadership tools. What is not in doubt is that at 66, the General Overseer of the RCCG has come a long waypastor-adeboye.jpg

Hidden secrets of Pastor Adeboye’s success

 As he marks his 66th birthday with the three-day Special Holy Ghost Service, some of Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye’s not well celebrated secrets of success are revealed by Group Arts and Culture Editor SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE Humble beginning

Now coated in cement plaster and paint, the three-bedroom apartment building seems to greatly aspire to escape its past. The discerning could easily visualise what it must have looked like 66 years ago when the son was born to the Adeboye household of Ifewara in Osun State – cracked mud walls graced by thatched roof the outdoor kitchen out of which oozed waves of smoke from firewood at evening cooking time.

Travel down to metropolitan Ilesa a few kilometres away and you’d encounter one of the citadels of western education in colonial Nigeria. Although the building no longer serve the purpose, the corner where Enoch Adejare Adeboye’s bed stood in his days at Ilesa Grammar School as a boarding student in the 1950s was pointed out by a classmate with nostalgia. “This was our hostel. That was the location of his bed space.”

“He used to keep to himself a lot,” Dr. M. M. Omole, an Ilesa-based agriculturist who was in the same class with the General Overseer of The Redeemed Christian Church of Christ, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye continued. “I am sure it had a lot to do with his poor financial state when we were in school here. He spent more time studying that he spent relating with other students.”

His mother had “retired” from bearing children. With daughters and a son, the junior wife of the senior Adeboye felt she had had enough. Then tragedy struck. Her only son died. Relatives and neighbours – especially siblings of the dead son –appealed to the Ilesa-born petty trader to try and have one more issue. Who knows, it might be a replacement for the son that is gone. Their prediction proved true and on March 2, 1942, the earth welcomed a son who was destined to be a world changer of no mean stature, Enoch Adejare Adeboye.

Growing up a peasant farmer’s son in the village was one thing. Attending what was then an elitist post-primary education facility was quite another kettle of fish. By the time Enoch Adeboye entered Ilesa Grammar School in 1956, the sharp difference between his socio-economic status and that of his mates was glaring.

“I did not were trousers or a pair of shoes until I was 17 years old,” Adeboye has said more than once.

“When we were here,” Dr. Omole recollected, “there was a day we students decided to boycott the dining hall to protest against the pap and akara we were being served. The only student who went quietly to the dining hall to take his meal was Pastor Adeboye. I am sure it was not because he was so desperately hungry. Yes, he would have had difficulty purchasing what to eat. But at the same time, I think it had more to do with his loyalty to the principal, Rev. Canon Akinyemi who was his benefactor.”

Disadvantaged background and strict upbringing bring out different qualities in different children. No doubt, the combination of the two had done well for the man his followers love to call Daddy GO. Raised by a disciplinarian father and a hard working poor mother, Adeboye picked up the qualities that would make him what he is today quite early in life. His relationship with late Rev. Canon Akinyemi, father of Professor Boloji Akinyemi is a pointer to his later development.

 Great dreamer

“When I was young,” Pastor Adeboye told the crowd that had gathered to spend “a day with the GO” at the MUSON Centre at Onikan, Lagos in 1998, “a bishop visited our village. Schools were closed. Hunters lined the road firing dane guns into the air. Cocks and eggs were gathered as presents for him. I took a look at the pomp and pageantry and said to myself, ‘One day I will be a bishop.’”

If anyone takes his PhD in mathematics as an indicator of the fact that Pastor E. A. Adeboye is a clinical practical man who does not allow dreams into his realm of operation, such a person cannot be far from the truth.

Abacha for life campaign was on. A million-man march was organised for Abuja. Half way across the globe, Pastor Adeboye was travelling in the company of two of his faithful followers in Miami, USA. There they saw a large number  of people gathered at the beach for a musical festival.

“Why can’t we have a two-million-man gathering for Jesus?” That was the dream Adeboye’s mind produced out of the two events. The result? Lekki ’98 the first Holy Ghost Festival that up to that time was arguably the largest religious gathering in Nigeria if not Africa as a whole.

The gathering now holds annually at the Redemption City and its tag has become Holy Ghost Congress. The most astounding aspect is its purpose. Adeboye believes that through the means of his annual congress, Nigeria will become the greatest nation in the world. Tall dream wouldn’t you say?

From his childhood dreams to catching visions for growth for the mega church he leads, one of the secrets of Pastor Adeboye’s success is his ability to dream of great things. Commitment

Of what use is being able to dream if one is not committed to pursuing it to logical conclusion? Late British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once spoke of an outstanding quality of the bulldog. When the bulldog grabs an object, one of its unique virtues is its ability to keep on breathing without letting go.

“In the early days of our marriage,” Pastor (Mrs.) Folu Adeboye, the GO’s wife once told a writer, “we used to quarrel. He would return from class at the school where he was a teacher, take his meal and immediately proceed to attack mathematical problems. Whenever I tried to take the books away from him he would pretend to need to ease himself only to go and lock himself in the toilet to attend to his mathematics.”

From his travails as the favourite of the late founder of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Rev. Josiah Olufemi Akindayomi, to the present day, to say uneasy lies the head that wears the crown in describing Pastor Adeboye is an understatement.

Once he sets his hearth to do carry out an assignment, Adeboye simply pulls all the plugs.

He wanted the International Office at the Redemption City ready under a month, he simply moved floodlights to the site and personally supervised construction workers round the clock.

Some years ago, while worshippers gathered at the auditorium awaiting the arrival of the GO at a particular Special Holy Ghost Service, the unthinkable nearly happened. As Pastor Adeboye stepped out of his office to enter the four-wheel drive that would take him to the auditorium, the gangly man of over six feet in height staggered and nearly fell.

“When I am fasting I am fasting and when I am feeding I am feasting,” those are the words of a man who would fast up to the point that one would wonder if he was on hunger strike for one fanatical cause or the other. To him, realising his dreams is so vital that no price is too high. Having embarked on stretch fast – fasting without breaking at the end of the day – for several days would rise every night to conduct prayer walk around the Redemption City every night. When the event he has been preparing for comes, there he is standing at the pulpit to minister as if nothing had happened. Where he gets the energy to conduct those services is definitely beyond mere human explanation.

One thing Pastor Adeboye understands is that there is nothing like a free lunch. There is always a price tag. So, whatever he desires – miracles for his congregation, financial breakthrough for projects or whatever, he is committed enough to pay the necessary price to make it happen.

 The warrior

One aspect of Pastor Adeboye that is not easy to perceive is that he is primarily a man who operates with the instinct of a military man. His humble mien notwithstanding, he is one general one would not want to face with regular weapons. In the spiritual real especially and in church growth drive that reaches up the level of what business analysts would describe as mergers and acquisition, Pastor Adeboye is a dogged warrior.

“When you are fighting a wise man and he surrenders,” he once told his ministers, “know that you are finished.”

Strategies for conquering new territories and retaining those already in his possession are what Pastor Adeboye executes without even the closest people to him realising it. He is not a fire-fighter tactician. Whatever brought the RCCG to where it is today did not begin today. From the formation of his ministry, Christ the Redeemer’s Ministries, while Rev. Akindayomi was alive to the establishment of Christ the Redeemer’s Friends Universal set up to reach out to the upper echelon of the society and other such tactical moves, Adeboye works within the framework of his vision making moves according to his long-time strategic moves.

“The Lord is a Man of war” is a favourite quote of his. And no doubt he does not perceive himself as a bastard. Like Father, like son, he is just as well a warrior as his heavenly Father.

 Empire builder

When his friend, fellow Ijesa man co-lecturer at the same department and Christian brother W. F. Kumuyi needed a location for his midweek Bible study and miracle service events, Adeboye did not hesitate to seek the help of his spiritual mentor, Rev. Akindayomi. When Kumuyi moved his mostly youthful crowd-pulling programmes away to go and establish the Deeper Life Bible Church contrary to his early expressed vision of only running a teaching ministry, Adeboye saw it not as a setback but as a stepping stone. Through his own ministry, he began his midweek services.

One of the qualities of empire builders is that they convert disadvantages to stepping stones.

Pastor Tunde Bakare started the first “model parish” for the RCCG. When he moved on with the entire congregation of over a thousand worshippers but for twelve to start Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Adeboye simply picked up the pieces to build the success story the model church has become today.

His vision of a parish of the church within every five minutes walking distance within Lagos has been surpassed. He is reaching out for greater heights.

 Authority

Pastor Adeboye grew up under a father who was an authority figure in the true sense of it. He too does not care about hiding the fact that he believes in absolute loyalty to authority.

As a student, the school principal Rev. Canon Akinyemi who happened to have been from his Ifewara hometown helped him by allowing him to stay on in school even when his school fees were not paid. No doubt, the Anglican reverend gentleman must have played a role in securing a loan for Adeboye from the local Anglican church. As a result, he would not join students to protest an act of the principal no matter how justified his colleagues were or what repercussion he might face later.

Up till this day, Adeboye expects total loyalty. If anybody has any illusion of sharing of power in the RCCG hierarchy, the person should just seek out the mission’s organogram. Pastor Adeboye, the mathematician that he is, has fashioned out an ever-changing system that ensures nobody is in the position to challenge his authority. When Pastor Tony Rapu, one of the most outstanding “captains” in “General” Adeboye’s army was growing too big, he ended up out in the cold – literally. His Freedom Hall parish was quartered and shared among four assistants while he was “exiled” to Europe. He ended up leaving the mission to start This Present House.

The last Deputy General Overseer retired in 1998 and has not been replaced. No Assistant General Overseer (AGO) knows what to expect from the GO who would move a retired secondary school principal from the position AGO Training to AGO Family Matter, whatever that means, and replace him with a retired carpenter! What used to be the highly exalted position of State Pastor is now Provincial Pastor with as much clout as the then Area Pastor.

No matter what anybody says, such firm grip has helped Adeboye forge ahead with his plans for the ministry. Even the seeming anointed successors in the waiting of a few years ago had been sent to Siberias of missionary fields in past years.

 A different person

Attempt to blend in makes a man nothing different from other people. Pastor Adeboye is a man who does not fear being different. While his contemporaries pursued glamour, he took the Gospel message to the world with humility and gentle mien. Here is a man whose pen – one of the things he treasures in life – would pay for the glamorous fellow’s entire attire, yet he would carry it in a way that displays no outward self aggrandisement.

Sometimes ago, Pastor Adeboye had just three cars. One was a Lexus jeep, another a Lincoln Navigator and the third a Lincoln Town Car, a sedan that requires servicing once in four years. Yet nobody would perceive him as being ostentatious.

A sharp wit who cracks wonderful jokes, Adeboye does not really talk. He would rather communicate with even his immediate staff through notes – notes that are full of abbreviation that a new staffer has to learn his code! This sets him free to spend time in prayer and meditation, two things he does literally “without ceasing.”

Over the years, Pastor Adeboye has brought a lot of changes to the church he inherited in 1981. At the same time he has devised several ways and means for reaching the perishing world with the Gospel which is what he sees as his primary assignment. In all such pursuits, he does not shy away from being different. A state chief executive who is a Moslem invited him over to minister annually. He was always there to use the platform.

However, some had had cause to criticise him for carrying along wrong fellows in the name of church growth. Some glaring unchristian behaviours by some leaders had been overlooked while others paid highly for less sins – that is if there is anything like less sin. There was a year when the second wife of a prominent monarch and the second wife of a state chief executive were ordained in a church that is avowedly opposed to polygamy.

However one looks at it, Pastor Adeboye takes it all in the stride and heads in the direction he feels God is leading him. Like all heroes of all times, he is not perfect. But in him is a mix of qualities that has helped him build what is probably the largest Pentecostal church in Africa. He yet dreams of making it the biggest in the world!

Life’s a party

March 18, 2008

This piece was first published in The Nation, Lagos, on WednesdayMarch 12, 2008. Poeple know him more in the sports arena than in any other area. He was a civil servant till he retired at the age of 60. Art is his passion. But Chief Frank Okonta believes…

Chief Frank Okonta is better known as a sports administrator than a public officer. What is less known about him is that he is a man who takes life as one long leisure cruise. He is also an arts addict whose collection is one of the most enviable in Nigeria. Group Arts and Culture Editor SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE learnt much about him in the hours they spent together at his home and galleryokonta-2.jpgokonta-4.jpgokonta-1.jpgokonta-5.jpg With wife, Patience

He’d rather be called Frank Okonta without the complication of a “chief”. So do not expect him to tell you where he bagged the chieftaincy title. But that is just one of the many things Chief Frank Chukwuma Okonta himself cannot define about himself.

Where was he born? This is a question that is as difficult for him to answer as what he did with eight years of his life in Europe. Don’t even bother asking him where he grew up.

“My mother told me,” he responded to the question about his place of birth, “that when she was eight months pregnant, my father sent her to the village to deliver. A month after I was born, she returned to Lagos where my father was based then.”

Thus Frank Okonta was born in Lagos, although the delivery took place at Ibuzo, his parents’ hometown. By the time he was old enough to begin primary school, his medical officer father had been transferred and he started his educational pursuit in Bauchi. His father, who was a nurse/dispenser, was again moved and he finally completed his primary education at Jos thereby earning the nomenclature “Dan Jos”. By the time he was entering secondary school, his parents were on their way back to Lagos where they were when he was born. Although he went to secondary school in Kaduna, he traces his living in Lagos back to those days.

“I attended St. John’s College in Kaduna,” Okonta told The Nation.

He spoke about his college days with uncommon enthusiasm. But that is the way he speaks about everything. He never believes in any negativity in life. To him, all developments contribute to the building of the whole man.

“Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu was our PT captain,” he recalled. “Even then we used to call him ‘major’. He would go into the houses to ensure that all students come out for sporting activities. In fact, sports was so much active at St. John’s College that no student participated in less than three sports.”

If the sharp reporter goes to Chief Frank Okonta’s Frank Okonta Close residence at UPDC Estate at Lekki in Lagos, he would be wrong to come armed with a recorder to tape a one hour interview. This writer did not make that mistake and his gamble paid off. The appointment was scheduled for 2 pm. But considering the notorious Lekki traffic, early start guaranteed this writer got to his house before one o’clock.

What should have been a one-hour engagement did not end till more than four hours later. From his residence to his gallery, Frank Okonta chatted like an old friend. The age gap was no barrier for him at all. He spoke on different subjects with equal enthusiasm. Here is someone who loves life and does not care to hide it.

Born on August 3, 1939, Frank Okonta’s father wanted his son to follow him into the medical field. After leaving secondary school Frank’s love for the media world led him to the Radio School between 1959 and 1960. Thereafter the father thought it was time for his son to pursue a “real career”. In 1961 he was sent to England to pursue studies in the medical field. His elder sister who ended up with a glorious career in the medical field was already out there building herself up in the same field. So the second born being the first son of the family was expected to better the father’s career success.

It took the whole of between two and three years for Frank Okonta to turn his back on the stethoscope and scalpel. He had finally made up his mind that the world of television production and documentary films would suit him better.

He proceeded to attend a television and film school in England and thereafter launched into a life that the average parent would not want to discuss with his relatives and friends.

“I lived more or less as a hippy in those days,” Frank Okonta said. “I had a very, very good time.”

He did not bother to pick up any regular job. Instead, he made contributions to British Broadcasting Corporation and the Office of Information among other media houses. He travelled all over Europe generally having fun. In the process he took time to take a course in Political History at Oxford College of Technology. Although it might not appear in his CV, he also made his first forage into the high-tide world of marriage.

“I made a mistake,” Frank Okonta said in his usual jocular manner. “I thought love should be the sole basis for marriage. Love is one of the basis for marriage but it is not enough. There are other factors that must be considered.”

When he speaks about his wife Patience, whom he married much later, there is no doubt that he has made a greatly successful comeback.

“I deeply pity those who do not have happy homes,” he said. “If a man is not happy in his marriage, it is a great problem. I thank God for the woman I married. She has been such a great source of joy for me in life.”

Okonta’s first marriage was not without any blessing anyway. It produced a daughter, Nkem who became an artist. Okonta’s gallery at Lekki was named after her. As it happened, she died of cancer a few years ago. His second marriage has produced children who are doing well in their different fields.

By the time Okonta returned to Nigeria towards the end of 1972 he showed no interest in picking up a regular job. He spent a year with the Midwest TV producing a programme on farming. Then he moved on to join Tam Fiofori at Sunart Production to produce a documentary of the Rivers State people.

Recalling his days at Midwest TV, Okonta said he used to travel to Lagos every week to process his films. Sometimes, according to him, he would leave Lagos at eight pm to head back to Benin.

“Crime rate was low then,” Okonta said. “You know I have been living in Lagos for much of my adult life. Even while I was schooling in Kaduna I spent all my holidays in Lagos because my parents were in Lagos. My father was in the civil service while my mother was a successful business woman. She built quite some houses in Lagos here. I still have a place at one of houses and my brother lives there.”

To him, the freewheeling life of travelling around shooting documentaries was fun enough. The security of paid job with hope of retirement package simply did not appeal to Okonta. For him, his beer, wine, champagne, cigarette and later cigar were all that made the world go round. The night clubs where life bands played and sporting events were enough fun.

Frank Okonta’s love for sports had taken roots before he left St. John’s College, Kaduna. He recalled how he and his brothers would walk from their Ebute Meta residence to King George V Stadium, now Onikan Stadium to watch football matches.

“Lagos was much safer then,” he recalled. “Life was much sober. Whenever one walked down the road, there was no apprehension that someone might be out there waiting to snatch your bag or car. We moved around freely at all times.”

By the time the one-year project of documenting the people of Rivers State was completed, Frank Okonta moved on to another temporary engagement. This time around, he worked with Prof. Nwachi of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs as a liaison officer alongside the Yeye Oge of Lagos Chief (Mrs.) Opral Benson. Preparations were then in top gear for the Festac ’77.

Then came the change. Close to the age of forty, Frank Okonta finally decided there was the need for some sort of stability in his life. First he went out in search of a regular job and ended up at the Ministry of Information. Secondly he met the woman that has since remained his lifetime companion, Patience. He got married to her and the family settled at 1004 Estate on Victoria Island where they lived for several years.

At the Ministry of Information and Culture – the two ministries were one then – Okonta found a perfect home. Operating in the areas of protocol and liaison, he travelled widely. “In fact, I’ve been to virtually all the continents of the earth.”

Apart from travelling widely Okonta utilised the opportunity to pursue one of his greatest passions in life – African arts. As he travelled, he took works of Nigerian artists along using every forum to market African arts. In the same sweep, the avid films and documentary lover had more than his take as the Nigerian Television Authority among other such media agencies of the Federal Government were under the supervision of his ministry.

It was during this period that Frank Okonta became renowned as a sports administrator. He spent so much time at sports administration meetings that, according to him, his wife often wondered which came first – sports or the family. He held several positions including those of President of the Cycling Federation of Nigeria and Chairman of Boxing Association of Nigeria.

Another great change came in Frank Okonta’s life in 1999. Clocking 60 years of age, he retired from the civil service at the position of a Deputy Director.

“When I retired,” he said, “I chose to live a sober life. I wanted no more headaches. So I left the world of sports and other such things and opened this gallery.

“The world of sports is very turbulent. Sports administrators in Nigeria are hungry people. There would be five naira meant for a project and someone who does not even attend meetings would come and ask you to account for how you spent the fifteen naira you got. If you buy a new car or build a new house the suspicion is that you had stolen money meant for sport.

“The politics in Nigerian sports administration is so much that a good number of administrators have no problem moving into partisan politics. Both are about the same except that they are not sending hired assassins after themselves in sports administration politics.”

Why did he then choose art?

“I’ve always loved arts. I love beautiful things. I’ve been collecting works of arts for several years. I have works of masters like Ben Enwonwun as well as works of younger ones. I have paintings, carving mixed media works and all sorts of works.

“When I come into this gallery, I feel fulfilled. No doubt I am a wealthy man. My wealth is not in digits stored in a bank. But how can one derive fulfilment from going to the bank manager and asking him to let him sit down and watch his savings. I come into this gallery and I see things that make me happy.”

Last August 3, Frank Okonta’s Nkem Gallery hosted the opening of a one-week exhibition of painter Larry Isima to mark Okonta’s birthday. Immediately after the opening ceremony was over, the other side of Okonta took over.

His residence, a walking distance from the gallery, has a large garden. No doubt his architect wife and his partying spirit must have connived to create the fairy vista. There a lavish party was thrown where friends, especially fellow arts lovers, wined, dined and chatted till late.

“My philosophy in life is to be happy,” Frank Okonta told The Nation during the interview conducted recently. “In my house, we always look for an excuse to throw a party. If I offer to throw a party for a friend and he has nothing to celebrate at that point in time I will ask him to locate a friend of his who has something to celebrate.”

Now he has stopped drinking and smoking for health reasons. But Frank Okonta’s love for the bottle and the butt was legendary. Although he does not regret his teetotaller status he still speaks about champagne and cigar with the relish of a man who would not mind spending his entire life between France and Havana.

Well that is what he has actually done. His entire life has been spent living. While a good number of people spend their days worrying about problems that might never manifest, Okonta spends his days just being happy.

Among guests at Frank Okonta Close at Lekki on that August 3 were prime arts collectors Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, Engineer Yemisi Shyllon and Chief Sammy Olagbaju and painter and arts teacher, former Lagos State Chairman of Society of Nigerian Artists, Kunle Adeyemi. The four have something in common. They are all arrow heads of the Visual Arts Society of Nigeria (VASON) a co-sponsor of the exhibition. Frank Okonta is a patron of VASON, an organisation that seeks to do for visual arts what MUSON is doing for music.

At 68, Frank Okonta’s nothing of retiring into total sober peaceful life just cannot include staying away from his passion for arts and partying. Bubbly and easy to approach, Okonta radiates the air of someone whose arrival at the most sober funeral would create a cheerful atmosphere. To him, life is one long party. And the party just goes on.

Peter Igho: Long walk through the stage

March 18, 2008

This piece was first published in The Nation, Lagos on Wednesday, February 27, 2008

igho-2.jpgigho-1-ed.jpgIgho, the Dan Jikan Kabi

 After a lifelong career in the entertainment industry, 33 of them spent at the NTA where his network productions were household names and he rose to Executive Director, Marketing, Peter Igho is retiring at 60, moving on to…

The next level

Peter Igho bows out of the organisation on March 28 upon attaining the mandatory retirement age of 60, he would have put in 33 years into the tube industry in Nigeria. However, his romance with the stage has lasted longer just as he plans to still remain in the industry that is his life as he told Group Arts and Culture Editor SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE

The Argungun Fishing Festival in Kebbi State is one of the nation’s leading tourist attractions. This year, it holds between March 12 and 15. Apart from the usual events, one special event will feature in this year’s edition of the festival. The special event is to celebrate the Dan Jikan Kabi, Peter Igho. It is the beginning of a series of events lined up to celebrate the 60th birthday of Peter Igho and his impressive career in the Nigerian television industry which winds up as 60 is the mandatory retirement age in the nation’s civil service.

A day after the festival winds up, there will be a special dinner put together by friends and associates in Lagos. The Abuja version holds on March 22. Coincidentally, Igho shares the same birthday with his alma mater, University of Ibadan which was established the year he was born. On March 27, he will be heading there for a double celebration – his and his alma mater’s birthdays. The following day, the exact birth date, his Victoria Island, Lagos home will play host to fireworks display that promises to be as impressive as his distinguished career. The following day is slated for the birthday thanksgiving service at St. Gregory Catholic Church, Obalende, Lagos while reception of guests follows at the Air Force Officers’ Mess at Victoria Island. He will spend March 30 with his friends at the IBB Golf Course in Abuja where he is a member.

Peter Igho has good reason to celebrate life at 60. When one speaks of the television industry in Nigeria, it is impossible to name the top ten people without his name being included. He has won the movie industry award. At work he won the Director General’s Best Executive Director’s Award. Nationally, he holds the National Award of MFR. Looking back at his journey through life, he said, “The people we grew up together, especially those who had more privileged backgrounds, where are they today?”

His journey in life is like a script – a lot of which he wrote. It is one of positive outlook, determination, hard work and most especially talent triumphing over initial challenges.

Peter Igho was born on Easter Sunday, March 28, 1948 in the mining city of Jos in northern Nigeria. Of Urhobo parentage, his own father had lived in Jos from his youth where he worked as a miner.

“The mining industry then,” Igho recalled, “wasn’t much better than it is today. Sometime digging would be carried out for several weeks only to find out there is no mineral at that particular site. Meanwhile one would have spent much money paying labourers doing the digging. When there was success we had good life. My father was not rich but he was comfortable.

“One thing told me how things were financially in those days. It was the state of our accommodation. We lived in this face-me-I-face you kind of accommodation. Whenever things were in good shape, we occupied four rooms. When things took a downward turn, we managed two rooms, a situation that led to our things being piled up along the passage and corridor.”

Of course, two rooms should be sufficient for a modest family. What was then the problem? Was it that his father had a large family?

Asked how many children his father had, Igho surprised this writer with his response. “When we got to around 35, I stopped counting. But I think in all we were around 45.”

Legendary wouldn’t one say? The senior Igho married four wives of which Peter Igho’s mother who had six children was the first. But the definition of his siblings is unconventional just like it is in many parts of Africa.

“Apart from biological children,” Igho explained, “there were children of my father’s brothers and other relatives who were either dead or still alive. Beyond this, we even had children of neighbours living with us. We were treated equally as children. In fact, when I was growing up, I was closer to one of my step-mothers than my mother. She had some delay in having her own children. So, I was the one who was close to her. Coincidentally, I was born on a Sunday, when she finally had her own son, he was born on a Sunday. Beyond this, when I went for my baptism, I chose the name Peter. He too on his own chose the same name when he went for baptism. So, in the family, there are two Sunday Peter Ighos. To differentiate, people refer to us as Sunday Peter Bida and Sunday Peter Lafia.”

As Igho narrated the story of his growing up, one could perceive the joy of the recollection. It was a warm morning and we endured the heat as we chatted. The idea of postponing the interview did not appeal to any of us.

The first time it was to hold the drugs he was taking for typhoid which had put him in a state in which he could not really undertake it. We only spent time in his sitting room chatting mostly about his younger days when he took time off from University of Ibadan to night-crawl in Lagos visiting leading night spots like the late Bobby Benson’s club.

Another schedule was scuttled despite chasing him to his Victoria Island residence and to the local and international wings of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. He had an urgent flight to take to Abuja. Schedules and postponements followed and at a point in time he was out of the country to attend to an eye problem that required surgery.

During this eventual session, more than once the unassumingly friendly Igho more than once expressed his appreciation “for your endurance.” As the interview ended, he was asked when he would be leaving for Abuja. The answer came without hesitation: “The moment you leave now.”

Whatever energy propelled Peter Igho through life seems not have diminished at the age of 60 – at least not noticeably. One can only imagine what the below average height entertainment legend was like growing up. He, however, spoke about his life with fervour. “My childhood years were some of the happiest in my life.” He said. “Although we were not rich, we were happy. I recall that I wore shoes only during Christmas.”

His childhood also prepared him for what he became in life. From the stories his parents told him, the books that were read to him and that he read and his frequent visits to the cinemas, Igho developed a passion for the stage. Late theatre legend Herbert Ogunde came to Jos around this time for a drama production. Igho said this production had such an impact on him that it was one of the factors that shaped him into what he later became.

After primary education at a Catholic school in Jos, he proceeded to a Catholic secondary school in Kaduna. “In those days,” he recalled, “if you attended a Catholic school, you would learn Igbo because most of the teachers were Igbo. If you attended an Anglican school, you would learn Yoruba as most of the teachers were Yoruba.”

Beyond perfecting his Igbo which he had grown up with alongside children of Igbo people whom his parents lived with in the same neighbourhood, Igho began his sojourn into the creative world while in secondary school in Kaduna. In school, he was one of the best English students. He was also active in literary and dramatic activities winning the prize in the Kennedy Essay Competition organised by the United States embassy then.

After his secondary school examinations in which he secured the much coveted division one, he proceeded to pursue higher school certificate at the same institution. When he completed the HSC, he taught for a while in the school during the months between the final examination and resumption date at the university. This period can be said to be the beginning of his career in entertainment.

“While teaching there,” Igho recalled, “the principal called me and said, ‘Look, you are interested in literary activities, why not organise an inter-house drama competition among the students?’ I took up the challenge selecting plays like The Incorruptible Judge for the houses. But I faced a challenge. There was a house that had no play. So, I took up the challenge of writing a play for the house. The play was entitled Gods of the Ancestors. As it happened, I left to resume at the university before the competition took place. When next I saw the principal, he congratulated me. Surprised, I asked him what he was congratulating me for and he told me that the panel of judges that sat at the competition adjudged my play the winner.”

With such interest and background one would have expected Peter Igho to study theatre arts at the university. Yes, he wanted that but University of Ibadan did not offer theatre arts as a major course then. So, he opted to study English with theatre arts among others as a subsidiary course.

There was just no way his creative mind could have rested while in the university. Even in secondary school, he had formed a music band named The Heart Renders where he played the piano and accordion and was the lead vocalist. Now in UI, he and some like minds put together what has remained arguable the greatest band in the history of UI, The Q Mark. Its inauguration which the authorities were generous enough to allow them use the famous Trenchard Hall came as a surprise to many on campus as people were wondering when they formed the band and where they had been rehearsing. “We were rehearsing deep in the bush behind the campus,” Igho said.The Q Mark performed at different occasions on campus and outside the proceeds of which went into payment of equipment rentals and a little earning that supplemented the financial base of the generally financially challenged band members.

Peter Igho secured employment before leaving the university in 1972. As it was in those days, prospective employers came to the campus to recruit. Igho opted for the civil service.

“During the interview,” Igho told The Nation, “they asked me if I was prepared to serve in the northern part of the country. Obviously they only paid attention to my name and added that to the fact that I had schooled in Yoruba land. They didn’t know I had grown up in the north raised by parents who spoke Hausa and Fulani fluently.”

They finally posted him to the Northwest State. Upon resumption at Sokoto, he was posted to a teachers training college at Bida. A sleepy town, Bida was a sharp contrast to Ibadan that Igho was coming from. But before long, he had turned the town into a hub of activities that attracted people from far and near. Again, it was his talent and interest in entertainment that gave birth to this.

Bringing in students from a nearby female school – hardly a conceivable idea then – he wrote and produced a drama piece that was to run for six days. It ended up running for six weeks. Then the community demanded to see it. That one ran for a month. By then the fame of the presentation had spread throughout the state leading to a state-wide tour. To cap it all, the state governor requested for a command performance. It went on to be the state’s entry that won award at the 1974 Festival of Arts and Culture. This feat led to its being one of the plays chosen for performance at the Festac ’77 for which the ’74 was preparatory.

Despite his promotion in the teaching sector in 1974, the Ministry of Culture which organised the festival struggled and succeeded in attracting him to be one of the pioneering staffers of the NTV, Sokoto that took off in 1975. He was the one-man drama department.

In 1977, the different television stations in Nigeria were brought together under the new name NTA. In 1978, NTA organised a competition among all the stations. Perceived as an outpost, NTA Sokoto’s entry’s winning the competition came as a surprise to not a few. The entry was Moment of Truth written and produced by Peter Igho. This led to his being selected to produce a series aimed at promoting the ideals of the Federal Government’s Operation Feed the Nation (OFN). The initial one-page material handed over to him is far from what Nigerians later saw in Cockcrow at Dawn.

To produce Cockcrow at Dawn, Peter Igho approached a village head that his father had had a relationship with as a miner. That made the series the first of sort completely on location in Nigeria apart from it being the first network soap in the country.

After producing about 38 episodes, NTA decided Igho would be more useful at the headquarters in Lagos. As a result, in 1983, he was promoted a General Manager in charge of network programmes. Peter Igho’s experience in production soon came to the fore in managing network section forever transforming that area of television broadcasting in Nigeria.

“Upon my arrival in Lagos,” Igho said, “I saw a lady rehearsing a production. I told her to see me after rehearsal. She was Lola Fani-Kayode. That was how the network production, Mirror in the Sun, came on board. I soon brought other regional productions on board the network ship. Samanja from NTA, Kaduna; The Village Headmaster from the west; and The Masquerade from the east, which became The New Masquerade.

“Others like Behind the Cloud also came on board. No doubt, 1983 was the beginning of the highpoint of network programmes in Nigeria. We ended up with a network programme nearly everyday.”

To appreciate iconic stars in the industry, Igho began the Stars of the Tube which featured musicians like Ebenezer Obey and Eddie Okonta in 1996. In 1997 he was transferred to NTA Enugu where he served as General Manager until his return to the headquarters as Executive Director in charge of production in 2006. Thereafter, he was moved to the marketing section where he handled the marketing of such projects as the English Premier League. It is from this department that Peter Igho is ending a most outstanding career at NTA.What next?

Having being denied enough time with the family and for rest due to the nature of his chosen career, Peter Igho intends to spend some time resting. Since 1972 when he joined the civil service and 1975 when he joined the television industry, it has been all work. No doubt he deserves it. Thereafter he intends to go seek other ways of, as he put it, “earning my daily bread.”

Of course, he intends to remain in the industry operating in the area of content, marketing and consultancy. As it happens, his children, all of whom had graduated, are in such fields as movies, animation and musicals.

When he was asked as a parting shot to recall any sad moment, the nature a man who has lived his life on stage came forth: “I read a lot of books while growing up – Greek classical and Shakespeare inclusive. This and other things I have experienced taught me that events of ones life cannot be isolated. The total person is a product of all he has gone through, good and bad. So, my tears and smiles all come together to make Peter Igho who he is. If you ask me what I’d like to alter if I were to live my life all over again, I’d tell you nothing.”

What a fulfilling way to end a career in a particular sector of the society. But Igho’s career is not ending yet. He is simply changing gear to move to the next level!

What’s the next level in education?

March 18, 2008

This piece was first published as a photo story in The Nation, Lagos, on March 11, 2008

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Emmanuel Eni is no doubt one of the foremost Nigerian artistes in Germany. A poet, playwright, painter, sculptor and stage performer, he comes home regularly to host events just as he is never less busy in his Germany chosen base of operation.

Not long ago, he appeared on Deutsche Welle, Germany’s version of British BBC and America’s VOA, in a joint interview with German Foreign Affairs Minister and the new Vice Chancellor Dr. Claus Walter Steinmeier to discuss new education system in Sub-Sahara Africa. Guess what the new education system is? Education through the media! Photo left shows Eni with the Vice Chancellor.

Dark days behind enemy line

February 26, 2008

First published in The Nation, Lagos

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Title: 888 Days in Biafra

Author: Samuel U. Umweni

Publishers: iUniverse

Date of Publication: 2007

No. of Pages: 220

Price: $24.95

Prison of any form is not a desirable residence. In war time, however, the terrible turns petrifying.

Sam Umweni was heading the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in Benin City when the Biafran forces overran the city in August 1967. In the confusion that ensued, he, like many top officials, went into hiding. Words of assurance from the occupational forces brought him out. Thereafter, he and some others responded to a summon to meet with the new authorities. That was on August 12, 1967. As it turned out, the “meeting” lasted till January 12, 1970.

888 Days in Biafra is Unweni’s memoir on his experience during the Nigerian Civil War that lasted from 1967 to 1970. Opening with Acknowledgement, Foreword written by Pius Oleghe in 1976 and a Prologue, the book is divided into eleven chapters. The closing part contains Epilogue, Appendix and Index. It is also spiced with photographs seasons in Umweni’s life surrounding the period and those of his “souvenirs”, mementos of his prison experience.

In the Acknowledgement, Umweni paid tribute to God and people who were helpful to him during his incarceration while Prologue gives a brief biographical sketch of the author.

The book opens with historical background of the crisis that rocked Nigeria and the events leading to the Civil War. One of the first major encounters of the war was the invasion of the then Midwest Region by forces of the secessionist Republic of Biafra. This was despite the Region’s declared neutrality in the crisis, a situation made possible by the semi autonomy the federating regions enjoyed in Nigeria then.

The declared intention of the invaders was the “liberation” of Midwest Region. Thereafter they would move on to “liberate” the Western Region and throw Head of State Yakubu Gowon out of Lagos.

With a pseudo-government put in place, a meeting of the Midwest Executive Council was summoned by Colonel Victor Banjo who headed the “liberation army” at the State House in Benin City. Being personally invited albeit amidst threat of his immediate family paying the price of his not showing up, Samuel Umweni was one of those who responded. Others who were to form the quartet that would cross the Niger in Republic of Biafra that fateful day included Mid West Region Commissioner of Police Joseph Adeola, Olu Akpata and Joseph Imokhuede. It is noteworthy that these three were Edo speaking – like Umweni himself – members of the Council who showed up for the meeting. Samuel Umweni remains convinced that he was betrayed by his Ika Ibo assistant.

The four were informed that they were to have a meeting with top officials of Biafran government in Enugu and were driven across the Niger that night.

Initially there were pretences. Top officials including rebel leader Odumegwu Ojukwu either visited them at their hotel or received them. The was permanently put on hold until the fall of Enugu after federal troops had chased the invaders out of Midwest Region. When they were evacuated along to Awgu, the courtesy began to dissipate. Eventually the pretence ended. They were separated and sent to different prisons. Umweni ended at Okigwe Prison.

As the war progressed and towns had to be evacuated due to pressure of federal troops, they were moved and brought together at Umuahia Prison. The author also served term at Ntueke Detention Centre which he describes as “the gates of hell.” It remained his home until the end of the war.

In war time, things are bad enough. It was horrible in Biafra. What with the federal blockade and the reality of the fact that the Igbo who spearheaded the rebellion are a landlocked people.

Right from the beginning, the crises that followed the first military coup in Nigeria and led to the Civil War had their roots in tribalism. With the declaration of the Republic Biafra, the multi-dimensional nature of the national question came to the fore. The Ika Ibo, seeing themselves as part of Igboland collaborated with Biafra. The illusion soon evaporated as the real Igbo began to manifest arrogant discrimination against all non-Igbo in the republic. The Onitsha Ibo who had always regarded themselves as not being fully Igbo suffered as well as other minority tribes of what is now referred to as South South.

As Biafra lost battles especially on these fronts, people from the areas were herded to the prisons, detention centres, firing squad and the gallows in droves.

Isolated, Biafra suffered all sorts of lack. This situation grew continuously worse as the war progressed. Commodities like salt virtually disappeared. Whatever aid agencies like International Council of the Red Cross and Catholic mission brought were fought over, stolen and rationed out in merger proportions. “Sabo” meaning saboteurs, as Umweni and his co-travellers were tagged suffered worse than the ordinary citizen.

Facing the antagonism of gaolers both the humane and outrightly demonic, forging friendship and alliances with people like Professor Chike Obi and Senator/Justice Daniel Ibekwe who were fellow detainees and other facets of prison life are documented in 888 Days in Biafra. The degradation, deprivation, filth and deaths of inmates that progressed with the war in figure and different attitudes of different prison officials are all there.

In presenting his memoir, Samuel Umweni with the wisdom years bestow on he who has been fired in the kiln of affliction speaks rather than write. One gets the feeling of a man telling his story at the informal gathering of say contemporaries.

Beautifully packaged, 888 Days in Biafra reflects how publishing has grown in Nigeria although in the United States of America. However there are errors like capitalisation of words unnecessarily and misspelling which more careful editing could have eliminated. These slips are however covered by the flow of the story.

The author did not attempt to be an erudite analyst. He rather presents his experiences during the war as he perceives them. Things like discrimination against Protestants by mostly Catholic Igbo that someone who was not there would not have imagined were painted vividly. Although he mentioned his wife’s betrayal in the course of his incarceration, the reader’s curiosity goes unquenched as he closes the story at the point where he finally returned to Benin City when he regained freedom.

In the Appendix, Umweni presents brief information about 57 major characters in the story. The Index section too becomes helpful for the researcher. But one wonders why the chapters have titles but these titles are not written in the contents. You simply have chapter numbers.

Coming 37 years after the end of the Civil War, 888 Days in Biafra, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, is a reminder that that period of our history cannot just be swept under the carpet. Like Wole Soyinka’s The Man Died that tells the Nobel Laureate’s experience in federal custody during the same Civil War, this documentation of a man’s experience tells us we must join Ellie Weisel in his “we must not forget” philosophy. Maybe then we can resolutely say, NEVER AGAIN!

An exceptional gathering

February 26, 2008

First published in The Nation, Lagos

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Rich in distinctive cultural heritage, the Yoruba people at home and in the Diaspora often manifest their values in unique dimensions. Now, in what promises to be a celebrated gathering, they are coming together from all over the world to celebrate the first ever Yoruba Festival of Arts and Culture (WOFEYAC). The clarion call is “Let’s go home to celebrate” as Fatherland beckons

With Professor Wole Soyinka and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as ambassadors, the World Festival of Yoruba Arts and Culture scheduled for April promises to be an uncommon gathering of the nation as the man behind the project, Alaroye publisher Alao Adedayo, told Group Arts and Culture Editor, SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE

His sojourns around the world exposed Alao Adedayo to cultural trends among his Yoruba people scattered across the globe. What he saw left him not only worried but also inspired. So after sharing the vision with his top team at Alaroye, a stakeholders’ meeting was quickly summoned. The purpose of which was to work out modalities for hosting a cultural festival of the Yoruba peoples.

Legal practitioner and Islamic leader Dr. Lateef Adegbite, former Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife Professor Wale Omole, cultural icon and former Nigerian ambassador to Ethiopia Chief Segun Olusola, Oodua People’s Congress founder Dr. Fredrick Fasehun and retired General Alani Akinrinade were among personalities at the stakeholders’ meeting. All South West state governments were represented.

“The whole thing began in June last year,” Alao Adedayo told The Nation. “I was out of the country in May. During the trip, the erosion of cultural links of our people abroad came up again and again. I can’t say how it actually happened… that is how I got the vision. But it was on my return to the country after the trip that we at Alaroye decided to organise a festival of Yoruba arts and culture.”

It goes beyond cultural concerns. Alaroye is at the forefront of indigenous language print medium in Nigeria. A Yoruba language, its patronage is predominantly by the people of the South West Nigeria. In Adedayo’s words, “It is the Yoruba people who had brought Alaroye to where it is today. And it is Alaroye that has brought us to limelight both home and abroad. So, the festival is part of our giving back to the society where we got everything. It a gesture of appreciation and social responsibility.”

When Adedayo shared with those present at the stakeholders’ meeting, his proposed Festival of Yoruba Arts and Culture nomenclature for the proposed event earned an addition. According to Adedayo, “Those present said if we were planning to bring organise an event that would involve people from all over the world, while no name it so? So, ‘world’ was added. Hence the name World Festival of Yoruba Arts and Culture (WOFEYAC).”

One of the people who could not make the first stakeholders’ meeting was Wole Soyinka who was out of the country at the time. On his return, he placed a call to Alao Adedayo to be updated on developments. After another trip abroad, one of the first things he did on his return was to call Adedayo again to get updated. The events that took place at the Ake Palace Ground at Abeokuta last October 2 therefore came as no surprise.

On October 2, 2007, the logo of WOFEYAC was formally unveiled at a ceremony the had in attendance the crème de la crème of Yoruba sons and daughters from all walks of life. The ceremony also doubled as the official announcement of Wole Soyinka as the Global Ambassador of WOFEYAC.

As the Alake of Egbaland Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, Professor Wole Soyinka and a handful of other dignitaries came out of the residential section of the sprawling palace complex to the Palace Ground, an open events venue with VIP sitting area, drumming and singing resounded in the air. The excitement was infectious. By the time the events proper took off, nobody was left in doubt of the enormity of what was happening – a landmark event that those present will proudly announce their witnessing when culture historians refer to it in future.

The front row of the seating that was several rows deep would convince anybody that the organisers were serious. If King Suny Ade represented the Yoruba musical constituency its royal sector was ably represented by the Alake and the Olowo of Owo Oba Folagbade Olateru-Olagbegi. The intellectuals? Dr. Lateef Adegbite was present while Professor Akinwunmi Isola, Yoruba author and linguist delivered the lecture of the day. Oodua People’s Congress founder Dr. Frederick Fasehun who sat alongside business moguls said the opening prayer – of course, in the traditional way. Representatives of the South West states’ governors later took their turns to deliver solidarity messages. Scintillating performances by the cultural troupes of Lagos and Ogun states gave a foretaste of what one can look up to at WOFEYAC.

This was not the first time Alaroye was gathering Yoruba leaders together. Beginning from 2002, the publishing house has organised a series of forum tagged Gathering of Yoruba Leaders. These forums boasts of having great names in Yoruba land present at different times and in different capacities. Among these are Professor Bolaji Akinyemi who delivered the lecture at the first forum, Chief Richard Akinjide, Pa Abraham Adesanya and Pa Emmanuel Alayande who sent a representative. Others are Dr. Lateef Adegbite, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, the Alaafin of Oyo, retired Generals Adeyinka Adebayo and Alani Akinrinade, Otunba Gani Adams and Dr. Frederick Fasehun who never missed any session.

“We organised Gathering of Yoruba Leaders to bring together leaders of thought in Yoruba land to ponder on issues of unity and progress of the Yoruba people,” Adedayo said. “We were concerned with creating a vision for the future development of our people.”

Adedayo said the Alaroye team was concerned by the state of affairs in the land whereby a people with great potentials for development had been reduced to their present state because of what he described as self interest of the leaders. Immediate gratification, he said, had taken the place of planning for say the next sixty years.

“It would be stupid for any set of people to start thinking of separation in Nigeria today,” he said. “We have gone beyond that level. What we are saying is that the Yoruba people have the potentials of becoming more economically powerful, politically developed and socially advanced than any other group in Nigeria.”

According to him, the reason for this is not far fetched. Its root is in the early education of the Yoruba people which produced among them professors and doctorate degree holders at a time when some other groups were yet to reach out for university education. He referred to two pointer during the colonial era. “Way back in 1945, late sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo wrote a book challenging the presence of colonial rulers in Nigeria. Education is a tool of liberation. It is a fact that because of the edge the Yoruba people had in the area of education they were the administrator running the government in the north and part of the east during the colonial days.”

Regrettably, gains of the gatherings could not be consolidated. According to Adedayo, “The gatherings brought great promises. For example, it was at the first gathering that Chief Richard Akinjide raised the issue of two thirds and called upon those who might have been aggrieved to let’s put it behind us.”

The two thirds issue was when Chief Richard Akinjide representing Alhaji Shehu Sagari of the National Party of Nigeria whose 1979 presidential election victory had been challenged by Unity Party of Nigeria presidential candidate late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In what not quite a few Yoruba consider betrayal of great mischievous proportion of Yoruba interest, Akinjide went before the election tribunal and in what would earn any mathematician a Nobel Prize calculated two thirds of nineteen states. Twelve states and two thirds of one!

Gestures such as Akinjides and promises of united front for progress ended up falling on their face as soon as political jostling for power took over.

“We had thought the leaders would steer Yoruba people in the right direction,” said Adedayo. “But we have discovered that it was wrong not to also try and carry the people along.”

WOFEYAC which is scheduled to hold in April in Lagos and Abeokuta simultaneously is an attempt at this.

Alao Adedayo went further to paint a vivid image of second motivation for WOFEYAC. All over the world, there are Yoruba people who had travelled abroad to better their lots in life. Most of them, he said, did not plan to stay long. They only planned to stay maybe five or ten years. At the end of the day, lack of concrete achievements keep them there for long.

Offspring of these Yoruba people end up growing up not as Yoruba. Apart from the fact that they are in different cultural environment, there is the problem of their parents who do not have the time to raise them. They are brought up by foster parents such as day care centres as the parents have to go to work early and return late. By the time they grow up, there is nothing in them resembling Yoruba heritage. Some, contends Adedayo, end up marrying people from other countries and getting to settle down in places like the Caribbean.

The fate of these people is different from that of earlier Yoruba Diaspora of the slave trade era. Completely uprooted in groups and settled permanently, the latter held on to their cultural heritage. The Diaspora of this age is made up of individual sojourners whose plans never went beyond going away for a few years.

To convert this disadvantage into an advantage, the Alaroye crew believe the World Festival of Yoruba Arts and Culture is a veritable tool. Drawn back to their roots, these scattered Yoruba will become part of the movement to move the Yoruba nation forward.

While Professor Wole Soyinka who according to Adedayo hardly stays more than two weeks at a stretch in Nigeria is mobilising the outside world, former Lagos State governor Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been named the National Ambassador of WOFEYAC. His own former presentation in this capacity is billed for next month.

Adedayo explained how these choices were made: “Prof. you know is an arts man, a cultural man. His itinerary takes him all over the world. He is therefore well positioned to spread the message. At the same time, we need someone who can take the message to all parts of Nigeria. I am talking of someone who has access to places like the presidency and national assembly because we need to present a clear image of what we are doing before people will come to the wrong conclusion that it is paganism. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is well positioned for this.”

The event itself is billed as a cultural fiesta featuring different aspects of Yoruba life – dance, music, festivals, arts, food, just name it. While groups like Yoruba Council of Elders have representatives on the planning committee, Professor Wande Abimbola is the link with the Ifa devotees. Talks are on with Osun State government to stage a mini Osun Festival. All governors in the South West are patrons while traditional rulers are life patrons. Either as part of the steering committee or as advisers, hardly is there any part of Yoruba leadership that is not involved in WOFEYAC. Adedayo explained that this was to carry everybody along.

Egypt’s role as a base of Black civilisation brought the country in as it is expected to send a cultural team. Countries of West Africa with Yoruba presence, Europe and the Americas are sending delegates. In fact, there are groups in the Caribbean who are requesting that the dates be moved forward a little to enable them prepare better.

In the entrenched Yoruba cultural habit of wrapping even the most serious notions in fun and excitement, the payoff of the festival is Omo Yoruba, e je ka rele odun o. Yoruba sons and daughters, let’s go home for festivities. Homeland beckons. No doubt millions are bound to respond.

Death on the rails track

February 26, 2008

First published in The Nation, Lagos

Railway lines in Nigeria are death traps where a good number of precious lives are lost regularly as Group Editor (Arts and Culture) SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE reports

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Kingsley was his name but everybody called him Akilapa. His body builder’s frame and six feet height led to his being nicknamed Akilapa, the well-built one. His body that was found on the rails track close to Agbado Station in the suburb of Lagos this early morning was a far cry from the glorious body that housed the youthful thirty something. The left leg was severed close to the hip. The rest of the body, mangled and twisted in awkward angles, was about twenty feet away.

Akilapa’s physical body had been wasting away for several months. The first son of parents each of whom owned a house at Agbado, he was regarded as privileged. After all this is an area where not quite a few cannot afford to rent a single room. A bricklayer by profession, he was married with three beautiful children.

Then he got hooked on alcohol big time. He would start hitting the bottles – bottles of local gin soaked in different kinds of roots – before sunrise. Where he would sleep at night was not assured as he might as well crash at any open shed or the frontage of any house too drunk to carry himself home. It became so bad that one could hardly get him to execute a job except one woke him up before daybreak and stuck to him till the job was completed.

This took a toll on his physique. He started losing weight and the texture of his once luscious hair thinned just as his eyes became permanently bloodshot. Not quite a few of his erstwhile “close friends” and even some family members drew away from him.

As the six o’clock train took off this morning, hardly did anybody had the premonition of the event that was about to occur. Alas, not too long after its departure attention of people in the neighbourhood was drawn to the crushed body on the rails track.

Family members quickly made arrangement to collect the body, whatever was left of it, for a quick burial. It would have been another trouble to allow the railway unit of The Nigeria Police whose post was nearby lay hands on it. Officially, a payment of 20,000 naira would have to be paid to collect the body. Then the family would had to pay for mortuary services nor matter how long the body was there while the police carried out its investigation. Of course, there would be unofficial “settlements” of officers in charge of the case.

The spot where Akilapa died was just some eighty or so yards from where Mama Bola lost her life. A mother of four, she was a trader at Osodi Bus Stop in Lagos and lived at Agbado area of Ogun State. Every morning she woke early to take care of her children and then hurry to her trading post. The train was a more practical means of mobility for her just like many others in the area. A train ride was much cheaper. At fifty naira a trip, it was about half the bus fare. What is more, it takes one off the path of notorious traffic jams on the roads.

Like other days, Mama Bola took care of her children and set her husband’s meal on the table. After bidding members of her family and neighbours farewell she headed for the railway station. Thank God two trains were expected to run this day so the rush for ticket was not as bad as it usually was. Commercial vehicle operators have a way of jerking up their fares when only one train or none at all was running.

She obtained her ticket just in time to jump into the train as it was pulling out of the station. Holding her handbag in one hand and her GSM in the other, she had enough trouble holding the on the handle bar on the side of the door. She managed to hold it and climb the rather high steps that run up virtually vertically. By now the train was on the move. Then fate played a dangerous game on Mama Bola. As she scaled the last step her handset fell from her hand.

Whatever went on in her mind within the following seconds is now lost forever, buried with her. Considering the height of the coach floor from ground, it would have been foolhardy for an athletic six-footer to dream of reaching down to pick a handset even as the train rolled on. But that was that was what this woman did. The result? Her loose wrapper got caught in one of the rolling wheels. She was pulled out of the coach and sucked into the rolling wheels. The family had to bring the coffin to the location to collect the pieces that became of her body.

A policeman attached to one particular railway station police post who spoke with The Nation on condition of anonymity said it was difficult to give figure of how many lives were lost on the railway lines in a year. People generally try to get the bodies off the rails track without reporting to the police. This is to avoid the expenses and stress associated with collecting a corpse from the police. The cases that end up at the police station are generally those in which the deceased is killed where there is nobody knows him to collect the body immediately. Such bodies sometimes lie on the spot for long hours before they are spotted by maybe another train and report is filed as people are not wont volunteer to go and report such incidents.

Deaths that occur on railway lines are results of different factors. The number of casualties also vary. Take the case of the one that occurred at the railway cross at Oyingbo some years back. The Toyota Coaster bus was fully loaded and it took off from Oyingbo bus stop heading in the direction of Apapa Road. Destination, Orile/Mile 2.

As if the devil was determined to soak the railway with blood, soon after the bus rolled out of the park, its engine packed up. This occurred right on the railway track. All attempts by the bus driver to restart the engine proved abortive.

Lo and behold, an express train was rambling up from either Apapa or Ido station heading north. When the driver saw that he could not manage to get the vehicle started and move of the way of the rolling mammoth, he simply opened the door, jumped out and took to his heels. Noticing this, his conductor borrowed a leaf from his boss and took off. A couple of passengers seated near the driver’s door and the only exit door of the long bus succeeded in getting out. A couple of others jumped out through the windows. Of course, the panic senseless rush to get out got people getting stuck as everybody wanted to be the first out of danger’s way.

The train rammed into the bus midriff. By the time it had gone through, the mangled metallic corpse of the bus laid some ten feet from where it stood earlier. A metal pole by the rails track was what actually stopped it. Sighting it, one could hardly said if it was a Coaster bus or a smaller Volkswagen combi bus. The corpses that were recognisable were indeed very few out of the over twenty causalities.

A good number of people while stuck in traffic hold up are careless enough to wait right on the rails track despite the fact that the driving code forbids it and it is a traffic offence. When the GSM means of communication came newly, a young man driving a beautiful BMW car nearly sacrificed himself at the altar of “hello, hello”. He was so busy on the phone while driving that either he did not realise he had reached the rails crossing or he did not connect the deafening blaring horn he heard with a coming train.

He was lucky enough only a small part of the tail end of his vehicle was caught as the train kicked it out of its way and moved on. Double lucky: youths in the area knowing that the train’s driver would file a report and the police would come to tow away the car helped push it into a fenced compound where it remained hidden until the owner came back for it. Yes, it took quite a couple of hours before he came back. Stunned by the impact of close brush with death or scared of authorities’ reaction, he simply jumped out of the car and took to his heels immediately after the accident occurred.

Traders across the nation see railway stations for what they are – booming business sites. Usually markets are established close to railway stations by communities that are lucky to play host to such stations. What is supposed to be a blessing however becomes a curse as traders spread their wares up to right on the railway line. Their belief is that they can always pack up and leave the tracks at the approach of trains. This does not always happen like this as deaths are recorded regularly among these traders. One of the reasons is that they sometimes mistake express trains for local shuttle ones. The former are going long distances and move at a speed that is much faster than the latter.

According to officials of Nigerian Railway Corporation who shared with The Nation, another cause of deaths is stationary coaches. When a coach is parked at a station and the engine has been driven off, people tend to view it as harmless and spread their wares on the tracks. The officials said there had been cases in which these coaches rolled away on their own without any engine to stop them nor drivers to hoot any horn. Before emergency steps could be taken to halt such runaway coaches, only the shouting of people nearby alerted others and sometimes a few lives would have been lost before the macabre movie rolls to an end.

It is said that he whose relative is crushed by a train has no explanation. Would he say the relation was deaf he could not hear the train’s deafening horn? If this were so, was he also blind he could not perceive such a giant contraption? In a situation where the fellow happens to be deaf and blind what of the mere vibration of the ground at the approach of the mighty means of transportation? Folly is always a strong factor in deaths on the rail track.

Probably the most foolish way go on the rail track is one that is very common in Lagos. A good number of train passengers are low income earners with their unique lifestyles. At the stations in the morning you would find not a few intending passengers patronising paraga joints before boarding the train. These are mostly outdoor outlets where cheap spirit and cigarettes are sold. One for the road, some end up consuming some 150 naira worth of paraga the local gin soaked in roots supposedly for the purpose of treating malaria, back ache or general purpose healing plus enhanced sexual performance thrown in for good measure. In the course of this the man might bring his account balance to a round figure of 200 naira with cigarettes that normally go with alcohol.

Now hear this: a man who has just blown 200 naira on feel good will then stand by waiting for the train without making any attempt to purchase the 50 naira ticket. This is what negates the argument that people one found sitting atop coaches like some actors in a B-rated Bollywoon movie do for lack of financial power to obtain tickets. These people wait for when the train it already rolling out of the station to jump aboard.

Not a few had dropped to their deaths in the course of boarding train in this manner. Others fall off the roof as it is a favourite position for those seeking to evade officials who go around checking tickets. The fate of these people is not helped by the fact that level of alertness would have been lowered by the alcohol in their systems. To add to further danger their precarious position, they enjoy freedom up there to smoke marijuana without restraint!

A Lagos banker once argued that train drivers are simply heartless. He recounted a journey he once made to the north. A passenger did not realise that the express train was not scheduled to stop at the station where she wanted to drop. At the last moment she pulled the alarm bell to alert the driver. The train was able to pull up for her to disembark.

Another accusing finger pointed in the direction of Nigeria Railway Corporation and its management and staffs is the state of facilities. Although they rightfully point accusing finger at the government lack of funding for the sector, the truth remains that NRC facilities are at best dilapidated and in many cases outdated. Modern trains in the world make rail transportation in Nigeria look like a tour of Jurassic Park of transport development.

Kingsley AKA Akilapa’s death brings in another dimension to the story of deaths recorded on our rails tracks. At the very least, his death looked suspicious.

This writer saw the corpse less than thirty minutes after a train was supposed to have crushed it. Nothing in the body indicated a fresh corpse. Akilapa who had emaciated due to alcohol abuse had become swollen. No only this, the body had decolourised taken on the dark parlour of a cadaver that had lost heart’s function at least hours before. The most damning evidence to support this suspicion was that despite the several feet over which the train dragged the body cutting it in bits, there was no sign of a drop of blood on the scene. Beyond this, the corpse had lacerations that although fresh were not as fresh as those made during the encounter with the moving train.

The point then is that it is definitely not all bodies found on the rails track are victims of actual train accidents. Ranging from mischievous trigger-happy cops to armed bandits, hired killers, ritual murderers and other dubious elements, the rails track provides an avenue for disposing of a body without raising suspicion.

Did Akilapa fall victim of any of these people? Or did he just drop dead around someone’s compound and the person devised the clever was of disposing of the body without causing himself unnecessary stress? The questions remain hanging.

People The Nation spoke with on the matter all agree to one thing – deaths on the rails track in Nigeria is a manifestation of the decay in the country. Improved transportation system and economic empowerment of the people, better law enforcement system and social reorientation combined will no doubt reduce these accidents.

When these will become parts of the dividends of democracy is what Nigerians are waiting for. For now… ouch! A new victim has just probably been recorded!

Isedale’s journey to Christmas Eve groove

February 26, 2008

This material was first published in The Nation, Lagos

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Isedale 

Last December, Isedale and De Cowries and other artists go on stage launch the next level of their musical pursuit. His is a fusion of traditional rhythm and elements of classical jazz. Alliance Francais first put him on stage. Then Felabration at the Afrika Shrine last year confirmed his worth. The crooner cum instrumentalist spoke on his journey so far with The Nation Group Arts and Culture Editor PRINCE SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE

When his name was announced as the next performer during last year’s Felabration, an event set aside to celebrate the life of late Afro beat king Fela Anikulapo Kuti, hardly did anybody know what to expect. He was billed alongside other artistes both worldwide famous ones and obscure ones. But what kind of name is Isedale? Could it be another imitation of Lagbaja?

The opening glee was a fast rush of heavy African percussion reminiscent of acrobatic masquerades’ shows. It is a hot charge that seemed a thunder on assignment in the dry season. The musicians, instrumentalists and dancers skimped onto the stage with the same gusto skipping like dervishes. The choreography reflected coordinated complex moves that could only have been born out of rigorous rehearsals.

At the head of the team was Isedale himself. Standing at six feet, dark skinned and well built, he was the archetypal African male image. Surging with energy that befits a poster boy of African personality, he moved so deftly that at times members of his Cowries band had difficulty moving with him as he changed from one mode to another.

The fast tempo drums work lasted only a few minutes. It was brought to an arresting halt that created an eerie silence. The audience did not know what to do – applaud or wait for the next. Before anybody could resolve what to do next, the musician changed gear.

Blaring horns ushered in the mellow ballad that followed. Lagbaja has succeeded in incorporating traditional drums into his Felaresque Afro calypso. But this was something else. Both the rhythm and the predominance of percussions in their raw forms spoke of deep-rootedness in African tradition.

Then the lyrics.

Any child who grew up in traditional African village knows about the folklores the entertained, enlightened and instructed young ones in Africa of those days. One form of folklore is what the Yoruba people call alo apagbe in which call and response songs go with the tales. Imagine presenting it through a modern musical orchestra ensemble and you would begin to perceive what Isedale is all about.

The king put together a special reception to receive a unique guest. The festive gathering was to welcome Isedale. No, not Isedale the musician although pun was intended. The Isedale is :tradition” personified in the track, Teremina. The difference between sweet potato and Irish potato is as clear as that between the heads of an elephant and the buffalo. Thus Isedale blended witty lines with mumbling additives to chart out his conviction that African traditional culture remained superior to modern pop culture.

He is actually a product of the tradition he celebrates. His father was a peasant farmer and the mother a petty trader. They could hardly afford to train him and after his mother died an aunt took him to a neighbouring West African country where he had a first taste of people often encounter when they stake their destinies upon promises of mortals.

His father was also a musician who had his own band. “He played molo,” Isedale said, “which some people sometimes call sakara. It is a genre that has more or less disappeared completely by now.

“My father taught me to play drums when I was eight and a half years old. In those days, someone would actually carry me on the shoulder while another would hold the drum for me to dish out my stuff.”

Even at that early stage his prodigious talent was manifest. The community had a number of were bands that would go round in the morning to rouse up Islamic faithful early to prepare sari during the fasting month of Ramadan. The leader of one band took particular interest in young Isedale. He would take him out to perform with his band even that early in the morning. Isedale’s father was not happy about this development. He had lived a hard life and concluded that life as an alagbe begging minstrel was not for his son. Although he taught Isedale to play drums he insisted the young boy must aspire to acquire western education and seek career far from the music industry.

Primary school was at the village while secondary school he began there was concluded at Ota when he went to stay with one of his sister to get exposed to life beyond the limited horizon of hamlet – more or less a farmstead – where he grew up. Thereafter he headed for the technical college to study computer. This he did not conclude as an aunt resident in a neighbouring West African country invited him over with the promise that he would continue his training there in a better set up.

Isedale soon returned to Nigeria as the promises made were nothing more than empty shells. Frustrated, he drifted up and down swimming in the slime of lack and emotional pain. Depression was his daily companion.

A friend he had known before leaving Nigeria introduced him the his brother who was a sailor. Without any maritime training, he was brought on board as a cook. In the course of this, the friend’s brother who was the captain started breaking him on the rudimentary principles and practical of handling a vessel. It was when he moved to another sea-faring fishing vessel that fate brought him in contact with a captain who himself was a saxophonist. The man encouraged him not to abandon music and so when the crew of the vessel were dismissed alongside their captain Isedale came back home to turn to music.

Meanwhile, an incident occurred upon his return from his first sailing trip. When he was leaving home to pursue his career, his pauper father was able to put together 300 naira for him to transport himself from Ogun State to Port Harcourt where he was to report. Upon his return, a mysterious eye problem made the chairman of the company give him money and put him on a flight to Lagos from Port Harcourt to go and treat himself.

As he landed in Lagos, the eye problem just disappeared. “It just disappeared. It was as if it was never there.”

Well he was home anyway. So he headed for Agege where his fiancé, a lady he had met during his computer training, lived with her family. It was upon getting there that he was met with the devastating news of his father’s death. Having lost his mother much earlier in life and seen what the father had to go through to make sure he became something in life, it was difficult to handle. The 5,000 naira he had packaged as a gift for his father now went into funeral expenses!

Isedale was trying to put together a demo when fate brought in contact with the man who would become his manager. Together they have put together a formidable band of trained professionals and cut at least three solid tracks.

It was the manager who introduced him to the French Cultural Centre in Lagos where he was first given an opportunity to perform live on stage during their celebration of Fela. Incidentally his next engagement was Felabration at the Afrika Shrine. He could not honour invitation to perform at the World Music Day concert put together by the French Cultural Centre as elements within PMAN insisted only “registered” artistes could perform.

Tonight, Isedale goes on state at the Community Hall at Alagbado, a suburb of Lagos that is the location of a major railway station. Other upcoming artistes too will be on stage with him.

“What we plan to do,” he explained to The Nation, “is to try and raise fund while at the same time creating more awareness about our music. We need the fund to put finishing touches to and get our first work into the market.”

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.