By Japhet ALAKAM
Last October Nigeria , the most populous country in Africa celebrated 50 years of its existence as an independent nation. And in the spirit of that golden jubilee celebration, many individuals and groups rolled out drums for the great event.

And still in that mood one group that felt that they will not be left out in the celebration is the Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Akoka and only last week,  as part of their own contribution towards addressing the nation’s problems the faculty organised a conference tagged; Another Gathering of the Tribes: 50 Years of Nigerian Political Independence as appraised by the Humanities.

The conference which kicked off on the 2nd of Dec. at the Afe Babalola hall of the University ended on the 4th of December and featured conference , plenary  and discussion sessions.

Present at the opening ceremony were Prof. F.N. Ndubisi, Prof. Duro Oni, Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, Prof.Victor Ariole, Prof. A.E.Eruvbetine, Prof. Jide Timothy Asobele, Prof. Kareen King Aribisala, Dr. Chimdi Maduagwu, Solomon Azumuran, students and a host of others.

Papers were presented by eminent scholars on the journey so far, among them were : From Geographic Expression to Nation Space: Nigeria and the Challenge of Nation Building by Prof. R.T.Akinyele; Human Rights in Nigeria: Do We Have it? By Prof. F.N.Ndubisi, Roundtable discussion, Humanities and Nation Building chaired by Prof. T. Akachi Ezeigbo, Another Gathering of the Tribes:0 %Years of Nigerian Nationhood as appraised by the Humanities by Temidire Oba-Adarabierin  among other papers.

The conference according to the organisers of the conference was meant to use Wole Soyinka,s commission-ed Independence play, A Dance of the Forest to investigate Nigeria’s journey fifty years after that eventful birth of the country called, Nigeria.

In his opening remarks, Chairman of the occasion and representative of the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Duro Oni, Dean of Arts  disclosed that there were celebrations that indicated the mood of the people. And in that direction, Soyinka was selected to present a play which he did at the point of celebration. In the play the geographical areas and diverse nature of the society were recreated.

Continuing Oni stated that the conference,” Another Gathering of the Tribes is looking at that play A dance of the forest written by Prof. Wole Soyinka about 50 years ago.  He recounted that it was that production that kicked off the celebration of Nigeria’s independence.”

Continuing he added that  “Soyinka was specially commissioned to direct a play for Nigeria’s independence and using the 1960 mask directed a play which he titled, A dance of the forest. 50 years after we want to see whether we are still dancing in the forest or we are out of the woods in Nigeria.”

According to Oni, himself a redoubtable theatre scholar, “In the play when the tribes gathered in the forest, there was the need to do something as a symbol of unity and so, it became a problematic issue, instead of presenting the illustrious heroes as kings, they were presented as dead heroes.”

Premising his remark around that illogicality, Oni further argues that “the events happening in and around the country today reveal that there are many things that are wrong with the system and we do hope that very soon we will stop dancing in the forest and get out of the woods and be part of the comity of nations that are making good progress and development.”

In his key note address, Prof. A.E. Eruvbetine, a veteran teacher and professor of English gave an overview of the play , A dance of the forest. According to him,” the play raises many issues and places them on a shockingly revealing perspective. The perspective is filled multi dimensional implication because the forest is complex filled with riddles.  There was a dance and human beings were involved in it but the human beings that partook in the dance did not do that on their own violation and that he likened to human existence in the journey of life. The play was set in the Yoruba nation and the author used his environment to symbolize Nigeria and Africa in general.”

Continuing, he stated that “the play was an artistic representation of our past and present. Their level of participation reveal the way some of our heroes lived. The play assumes that in the dance of life, we are all struggling and the major act is violence.”

On his own part, the chairman of the organising committee, Dr Chimdi Maduagwu stated that the conference is precisely a gathering of Nigeria. “We decided to hold a national conference and give it an international touch and appraisal from the angle of humanities and selected Wole Soyinka’s Dance of the Forest to give us a kind of framework on what we want to do.”

According to him, the theme was inspired by an earlier novel by Fagunwa which was translated by Soyinka. Since we are looking at the nation state called Nigeria and we are looking at 50 years of existence of Nigeria.  It is proper for us to look at how the country has faired right from the production of the play 50 years till date.”

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