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Former President Jonathan’s Art Bonanza can only aid corruption

The gentleman meant well for the promotion of Arts and Entertainment Industry, but the checklist guiding the accessibility of this “hope grant” has been rendered near impossible for the practitioners—the artistes.

I wonder how many actors, dancers, creative writers, sculptors or fine artists have the kind of establishments and requirements as demanded by the Bank of Industry to make progress and growth in today’s Nigerian Entertainment Industry. When President Jonathan made this offer about four years ago, I hastened to congratulate and thank him in my “OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT” published in a number of national dailies.

Training institutions

PRESIDENT JONATHAN INAUGURATES  ARMED FORCES RADIO STATION IN ABUJA

I went ahead to suggest what could be done with the money to build a viable Entertainment Industry, such as building the Hall of Fame, theatre auditorium in local government areas and the restructuring and organizing of the Entertainment Industry including training institutions for performing artistes instead of Theatre Arts jamboree in universities.

By the way, the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) should have the capital say in disbursing some of this grant to worthy and qualified artistes. That is why the Arts Council or the Ministry should decide who qualifies to access the grant. As it is with the stringent conditions made almost impossible for the “artistes”, very few businesses let alone entertainment companies can fulfil these requirements. How easy would it be for an artiste seeking support to produce a movie or stage play to find answers to the checklist from the Bank of Industry demanding the likes of:

1. Evidence of Availability of Collateral Property With Valid Title
2. Valuation Report on the Property Proposed as Collateral
3. Copy of Draft Technical, Management, Equipment Supply and/or Joint Venture Agreement

All being part of 25 such requirements.

This makes room for fraud when the beneficiaries, possibly companies that have nothing to do with the Arts, importers and exporters, sugar and cement companies, ask for waivers which will lead to rustling of hands. And if this is not cradle for corruption, then what is? I hereby recall my article, “OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT”, June 2011. There has been no response nor progress to the suggestions made in the letter to the President which has dashed the hope I nursed of a rapid growth of the Entertainment Industry.

There is hope for Nigeria’s Entertainment Industry: Yes Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is the first Nigerian president to award cash for the development of Arts in Nigeria. So let us design the set before we switch on the footlights, as we start the countdown to ‘the Build Up’ of Nigeria’s Entertainment Industry.

President Goodluck Jonathan has laid the necessary foundation; indeed provided vivid hope for a viable industry. There is no medicine like hope they say, no incentive so great and no tonic as powerful as expectation for something tomorrow. Hope is the dream of a waking man. Nigerian Artists awake!

Entertainment industry

Let’s wake up to the start of the building of a broad based and vibrant Entertainment Industry. Let us keep artists employed by building auditoria, Hall of Fame, Training schools for stage and movie performers. Build an Arrowhead at ‘Camwood City’ with Tinapa as city centre of our own Broadway and beef up Tourism with shows.

These will provide work and evoke creativity from sculptors, painters, poets, indeed writers and musicians, to beautify and adorn the nation with lyrics and colours. How better can we rebrand Nigeria and identify a great African nation with the insignia of originality but by our talented and creative artistes mobilized?

Artist’s welfare: over the years, Nigerian artists have been clamouring for endowment funds 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 three decades, artists have been advocating for ‘Endowment funds’ for the practitioners and surviving hope, while ministers of Arts and Culture are busy entertaining the ‘entertainers’ with the game of ‘musical chairs’ taking turns to trip out and around the country, making no meaningful changes or even attempts to recommend the need for the government to make such security to be effected, so that artistes can look forward to some financial benefits at old age even though artistes don’t retire. Also, in case the worst comes to the end; such as grinding to a halt, they could at least ave decent burials. Artists like the great Orlando Martins, the first Nigerian actor to perform in Hollywood America, he performed alongside great actors like Ronald Reagan, who later became America’s president. He came home and died unsung.

He could not get a befitting burial because such happenings were not provided for. Nigeria’s first pop Music Ambassador, Ambrose Campbell, who played Nigerian Pop Music-Highlife, in the ‘West End’ of London, in the fifties and sixties, and who was the guest artist invited home officially to entertain at Nigerian’s independence celebration in October 1960, was sent back to London from a sickbed. He recovered and played High-life music 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 Afrobeat Musician Orlando Julius, and actor/musician Jimi Solanke, and wrote in my column, ‘Stage and Screen’ in the Vanguard Newspapers consistently for three years, quoting him “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 for his grave. There was no means for funds to help convey his remains home. Another great Nigerian musician Fela Sowande, the first classical musician to score a Nigerian folk tune into classical music in Nigeria, also died unsung and equally buried in America.

Here at home Garuba of the village Headmaster, Toun Oni MON, Funsho Alabi to mention but a few, died and their families and friends had to be sought to buy coffins and manage to give them artists’ funeral rites’ of CANDLE LIGHTS PROCESSION, SONG AND DANCE. Despite the fact that the late Toun Oni, popularly known as Mama T was awarded a national Honour, ‘MON’ 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 “double wahala for dead body” and national embarrassment for artists and art lovers.

When footballers and athletes go abroad and win one or two games and return with a medal, they come home to rewards of houses, and naira handshake and streets named after them. Late sculptor Ben Enwonwu deserves an exhibition hall or city square named after him, so too Ogunde, Fela Anikulapo etc. The government should take cognizance of the fact that when artists achieve recognition high enough to merit national awards, their financial status are not the same as governors, politicians, successful businessmen or civil servants who also got honoured.

The artist only has the sweat of his toil over the years to show, and therefore should be supported to be comfortable. If therefore the Endowment funds were in place, some of these miseries and disgrace would have been taken care of by the Arts forum.

Since 1963 when the national Honours exercise started, there has not been up to 5,000 awardees overall, neither had there been up to 100 artists so honoured. It wouldn’t have been too much for such awards to go along with cash to cushion their lives and mop their sweats for the rest of their working days.

Medals had made more enemies for them than friends. Already such dedicated artists were ostracized from families and friends and what could have reconciled them would have been the magnet of money, to invite and celebrate their reunion with relations, friends, and neighbours, and to encourage the younger generations with such talents. Artists are parents and they pay rent. Medals don’t exempt artists from payment of school fees. National honours to artists should at least relieve them of such burdens seeking for homes and transportation or their children’s school fees, and save them hawking paintings and writings to pay their rents. Artists National Awards should be accompanied by substantial amount of national currency.

The major and prime issue is the appointment of ministers of Arts and Culture who have no bearing with the Arts. Most Culture and Arts Ministers see their first Duty to be the CUTTING DOWN of Arts budget because they live in the past; in the era of “Beggars Licence” and have not woken up to the sophistication of modern presentation in Arts. Ministers and Commissioners of Arts should be initiated into the understanding of Arts. Since Prince Mommoh as information and culture minister, the only other concerned person in the affairs of the Arts nationally was Colonel Tunde Akogun the sole Administrator who managed the Arts in the military era, when the ‘Cultural Policy for Nigeria’ was published.

No minister has endeavoured to translate the policy or execute it to the comfort of the artists. Let’s not wait till they are dead only to be remembered for the laughter they gave the masses when they lived. Now their unidentifiable graves are covered with dead leaves. (Shakespeare died over five hundred years ago, today; his grave is decked with fresh wreaths from all over the world, believe it nor not, EVERYDAY. Art should be valued). The great writer George Bernard Shaw said “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable”. Even the world’s most notorious warmonger, Adolph Hitler, appreciated and rose in defence of Arts, and in his words said “Anyone who sees, and paints the sky green and pasture blue ought to be sterilized”.

Let me here appeal with the last stanza from my poem-VALUE
“Love them alive
so when they die
they would have lived valued.”

Once more we acknowledge and appreciate the award with all sincerity as we deservedly receive the award for ‘consistency’ and ‘staying power’ while surviving on hope. We commend Your Excellency for the wisdom in identifying and acknowledging the long-suffering Nigerian Artist. In turn Sir, we wish to reciprocate by recommending your Excellency for an award as Professor of Psychology and Therapeutic Medicine, (PPTM)

Finally, I wish the incumbent President Mohammed Buhari a dust up of this grandious expression and in his policy of change, restructure the art and entertainment industry ready for the enormous task of swelling Nigeria’s economy.
Stage and Screen


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.