By Lari Williams
YES, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has given hope to the development of Art in Nigeria. So let’s design the set before we switch on the footlights. We start the countdown to ‘the Build Up’ of Nigeria’s Entertainment industry.
President Goodluck Jonathan has laid the financial foundation by giving vivid hope for a viable entertainment industry. There is no medicine like hope they say, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation for something tomorrow. Hope is the dream of a waking man.
Let’s wake up to the start of the building of a broad based and vibrant entertainment industry. Keeping the artists employed, building auditorium, Hall of fame, Training schools for stage and movies performers, build an Arrowhead like Camwood City with Tinapa as the nucleus to beef up the tourism industry.
Welfare: Over the years, Nigerian artists have been clamouring for Endowment fund to provide security and dignity for practitioners. Now is the time to build the foundation, starting from the welfare of the practitioners. Indeed, for well over two decades, artists have been advocating for endowment fund for the practitioners while several federal ministries of Arts and Culture wallow in ‘their game of musical chairs’ taking turns to trip out and around the country making no meaningful changes or even to recommend to the government to make it possible for such security to be effected, so that artistes can look forward to some financial benefits at old age; though artistes don’t retire.
Also in case the worst comes to the end, such as death, they could at least have decent burials. Artists like the great Orlando Martins, the first Nigerian actor to perform in Hollywood America, and alongside great actors like Ronald Reagan who later became America’s president, came home and died unsung after a few years.
He could not get a decent burial because such happenings were not provided for. Nigeria’s first pop music Ambassador, Ambrose Campbell, who played Nigerian pop music in ‘West End’ in the fifties and sixties, in fact he was the guest artist invited home officially at Nigeria’s independence in October 1960.
He was sent back to London from a sick bed. He recovered and played High life in London and America until he was 84 when he started to appeal to the Nigerian government to help him come home. I personally spoke with him in his dinky little apartment in Hollywood where i visited him in company of Afro beat musician Orlando Julius and actor/musician Jimi Solanke, and wrote in my column ‘stage and screen’ in the Vanguard Newspaper consistently for 3 years that he said ‘’i want to come home”. Ambrose Campbell died at 87 and was buried in America.
No Nigerian minister or government official knew his grave or sent a wreath. There was no means nor funds to help convey his remains home.
Another great Nigerian Fela Sowande, the first classical musician to score a Nigerian folk tune into a classical music in America also died unsung and equally buried in America. Here at home, great actors like Garuba of Village Headmaster, Toun Oni, Funsho Alabi, to mention but a few, died and families and friends had to rally round to buy coffins and manage to give them artists’ funeral rites with candlelight procession.
Despite the fact that the late Toun Oni popularly known as ‘Mama T’ was awarded national Honors, her corpse was tossed from church to friends and to family and delayed for days before finally sending it to her grave. It was a national embarrassment. When footballers and athletes go and win one game and return with a medal, they come home to rewards of houses, and naira handshakes and streets named after them.
Ben Enwonwu deserves a hall or city named after him, so too Ogunde, Fela E.t.c.. The government should in fact take cognisance of the fact that when artists achieve recognition high enough to merit national awards; it is not the same as governors, politicians, successful businessmen or civil servants being honoured.
The artist only has the sweat of his toil over the years to show and therefore should be helped to be comfortable. If therefore the Endowment fund was in place, some of these miseries and disgrace would have been taken care of by the Art forum.
Since 1963 when the national Honours exercise started. There has not been up to 10,000 awardees neither had there been up to 100 artists so honoured. It wouldn’t have been too much for such awards along with the medals that caused them more enemies than friends to be followed with financial support.
Already such dedicated artists were ostracized from families and friends and what could have reconciled them would have been the magnet of money, to cushion their relationships with friends and neighbours, and encourage the younger generations of talents.
Artists are parents and they pay rent but medals don’t pay rent, nor school fees. National Honours to artists should at least relieve them of such burdens as homes, transportation, their children’s school fees, and save them hawking paintings to pay their rents or hopping on buses to performance venues.