10 Small Steps to Spark Nigeria’s Sickly Tourism Sector

Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, High Chief Edem Duke and Executive Director, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Ms. Sally Mbanefo

Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, High Chief Edem Duke and Executive Director, Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Ms. Sally Mbanefo

Tourism in Nigeria has stagnated for as long as I can remember. In the last few decades every new government has promised (but failed) to breathe life into the sector, even when it is clear that tourism is a key driver of many economies in Africa and around the world. Annual budgets for the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation have clearly not improved the situation. As a result, what ought to be a multiple, even if seasonal, revenue generating industry for the state and federal governments, and a failsafe source of empowerment for Nigeria’s unemployed body of youths is in dire straits. Year in and year out, government officials tend to focus on the big picture, when in actual fact the solution lies in small steps; so here I propose 10 simple (and practical) steps Nigeria can take to ‘spark up’ the ‘sickly’ tourism sector.

1.’Think Local’ for starters:  Granted, tourism is driven by the  private sector (the active local hospitality industry is clear proof of that) but there is a lot the government needs to do and that is to invest more to restore and maintain the hundreds of national monuments and landmarks around the country. When this happens, Nigerians will take more interest in these attractions and be more disposed to visiting same without any reservations, which is currently the case. Nigerians surely love good home-grown stuff. Look at the music and movie industries. The average Nigerian on trips overseas would rather go in search of local foods than anything else.

2.Slash foreign trips: For a long time, federal and state officials have had the mistaken belief that all of the problems afflicting Nigeria’s tourism can (and will) be solved with a ‘magic wand’ of foreign trips. They feel once they see how things are done abroad, they can return to Nigeria and then go right ahead to transplant the formula on home soil and all shall be well. So they go to every international travel show with the added officialese of “seeking foreign investors.” Investors have other means of finding out where to invest, thank you very much. They don’t need sweet-talking government officials, except of course, they want to do some underhand deals. So, junk the jamboree and create the enabling environment and investors will flock.

3.Identify Nigeria’s Holiday Capitals: Lagos has had the longstanding reputation of being Nigeria’s commercial capital; and Abuja, by virtue of the Three Arms Zone, is the country’s administrative capital. That’s business and governance, which can be described as ‘work’, taken care of. In the same vein, we need de-facto cities in the six regions of Nigeria to be named our country’s “holiday capitals”, our playground, so to speak. The cities to be so named will combine physical beauty with ease of access and will require the federal government partnering with the state governments to develop hospitality and leisure facilities to the point where Nigerians can see them as their getaway destinations, places of refuge. Create incentives for the private sector to also throw in their investible cash. In no particular order, my six recommendations are: Osogbo (south-west), Enugu (south-east), Uyo (south-south), Jos (north-central), Katsina (north-west), and Yola (north-east).

4.Stimulate beach Economy: By virtue of the Atlantic Ocean, Nigeria has hundreds of kilometres of coastline, which stretch into beaches. Sadly, those beaches are packed with filth and some are even environmentally hazardous owing to shipwrecks. Take a trip to Ghana and see how they have turned beaches into playgrounds and revenue yielders. A Nigerian arrived from London recently after several years of sojourn and headed for Bar Beach on Victoria Island. He almost fainted at what he saw. . Nigeria’s domestic tourism will get a significant lift if we can ensure more attractive stretch of beachfront.

Nigerians love the outdoors and beach outings are common leisure pursuits. With the beaches cleaned up, Nigerians would flock there, not only during festive periods but also to relax, and everything connected with “beach economy”—beach wears, picnic stuff, photography, etc. will grow. The West has fashioned the bikini as a standard beach wear. To a reasonable extent, South America and the Caribbean Islands also have homegrown substitutes. A subtle way to promote the Nigerian brand identity (among other options) is to create a variety of outfits suitable for beach outings, something other than bikinis, t-shits and three-quarter shorts. And I see a great deal of potential for this in our brilliant variety of indigenous fabrics.

5.Raise and Train tour guides: At the last count, I have travelled to 30 states in Nigeria and in the process visited countless tourist attractions. Except for the self-empowered guides I have met in Badagry, at nowhere else on my trips – from Abeokuta to Bauchi and to Yenagoa – have I been shown around by independent local tourist guides. They have often been civil servants attached to the various state tourism boards and agencies. But the simple truth is that every Nigerian school leaver or graduate can be trained over a short period to be a tour guide and then assigned (or attached) to any of the tourist attractions in the country. What tourist guides need is a level of enterprise and thorough knowledge of the locality they are based in, and they are empowered for life.

6.Publish guidebooks: I was part of a team that researched and produced a standard tourist guide for Lagos State, which is soon going to be in circulation. It’s a handy companion for tourists; to decide for themselves where they’d love to visit while in the city. This is a good move but I dare say that there is need for more like this across the states, and the earlier governments realise this, the better the prospects for domestic tourism. Tourists need guidebooks when they plan or decide to visit a country new to them. They need to know everything from its geography to its ground rules; they need to know what’s hip and what is forbidden. But except for the uninspiring brochures issued by governments at all levels, Nigeria hardly has any guidebook in circulation now (NB: I have published three travel books to date, all of them self-funded). So every prospective visitor to the country depends mainly on the established guidebooks published overseas (The Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, Bradt, etc.).

7.Embrace Social Media: Countries serious about promoting their local tourism assets have identified that social media platforms are key to their marketing and promotions agendas. While Nigerians constitute the largest number of people online in Africa, Nigeria’s tourism promoters have not embraced this trend as yet, when many countries have done very well in this regard. There are many tourism promotion sites and blogs managed by Nigerians already; it will be great to have the government agencies liaise with them to take make the country’s tourism work.

8.Encourage Adventure Travel: This is best handled by either the private investors or local government councils. I was 24 and a corps member in Plateau State when I started to travel around Nigeria. First, I visited Gombe and then Borno States, where I spent roughly a week apiece; I have never forgotten my experiences in those states and I still long to return. I continue to travel within the country nearly two decades on, howbeit professionally. With Nigeria’s immense youthful population, the country’s lovely landscape ought to be an attraction to youths in their 20s and 30s keen on adventure travel. And I dare say that he NYSC year is an excellent ‘gap year’ for Nigerian youths to explore neighbouring cities, towns in the states they have been posted to serve.

9.Build budget hotels: To encourage the younger generation to travel extensively within the country means that cheap accommodation and hostels must be sufficient to cater to this demand. Also, when the masses travel, their hospitality requirements differ from the preferences business travellers, who prefer to lodge in exquisite hotels. Nigeria needs a lot more budget hotels for its leisure and adventure travellers; same for middle-class families going on vacation.

10.Produce short documentaries: Destination-specific documentaries will do a lot to boost tourism appreciation in and outside Nigeria—by locals and foreigners alike. There are a couple of attempts on television by individuals and private enterprises at the moment; but commendable as they are, collectively they have not even scratched the surface as yet. To stand a chance of going viral (today’s term for ‘widely watched’), the documentaries should be packaged in the format of the musical videos (short running times and catchy visuals). And in keeping with the current trends, these documentaries will travel farthest if they are published online and in versions compatible with mobile phones, where they can be shared easily.

Awofeso (@PeluAwofeso) is a travel journalist, blogger and publisher of waka-about, an arts and tourism focused magazine.

New Artistic Director named for MUSON Centre

Tunde Jegede (Photo by Sunara Begum)

Tunde Jegede (Photo by Sunara Begum)

Ahead of the 18th edition of the annual MUSON Festival, Tunde jegede has resumed as the new Artistic Director at the centre’s office in Onikan. A composer, multi-instrumentalist and musician par excellence, Jegede takes over from Mr. Thomas Kanitz, a German, who was noted for his exemplary service while at the Centre.

Jegede is assuming duties just as the MUSON Festival committee gets set to release the full programme of the festival. The 10-day MUSON Festival (Oct. 16-26, 2014) will, as usual, feature a potpourri of high quality artistic and cultural productions.

The Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) was formed in 1983 through the interaction and commitment of some friends who love and appreciate classical music. Sir. Mervyn Brown, then British High Commissioner in Nigeria and Lady Brown, along with other distinguished Nigerians— Akintola Williams, Louis Mbanefo, Ayo Rosiji, Rasheed Gbadamosi and Francesca Emanuel—thought it wise to stimulate the interest and awareness of Nigerians, especially in Lagos to the richness and elegance of classical music.

The motive was also to promote the understanding and enjoyment of classical music; to educate children and the youth in the performance and theory of music, encourage interaction between Nigerian and non-Nigerian musicians, encourage performance of serious music with emphasis on classical music, and as well provide facilities for realization of the objectives and raise funds from persons and organizations for the realization of the objectives.

JEGEDE: A Brief Profile

Born in 1972 to a Nigerian father and an Irish mother, Jegede had his education at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (1990-1992) and Purcell School of Music (1981-1999). His appreciation of African Diasporic culture was initiated and nurtured at the famous Keskidee Centre, Britain’s first Black Arts Centre. From an early age he was exposed to resident and visiting artists who worked in a multi-disciplinary mode such as Bob Marley, Walter Rodney, Edward Braithwaite, Angela Davis and Linton Kwesi Johnson. It was here, his path as an artist began.

Jegede’s apprenticeship in African music began in 1978 and was further developed in 1982 when he first went to the Gambia to study the ancient Griot tradition of West Africa, with Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, Master of the Kora (the Harp-Lute found in West Africa). The Jobarteh family are one of five principle musician families within this unique hereditary Oral tradition, which dates back to at least the 13th century.

His appreciation of Western Classical music began with his grandfather’s love of Bach and by observing his work as a church Organist. Tunde also studied Cello from the age of eight and over the years was taught by esteemed luminaries from the Classical world including: Alfia Bekova, Elma de Bruyne, Joan Dickson and Raphael Wallfisch at the Purcell School of music and later the Guildhall School of music.

In 1988 Tunde became fascinated with Jazz and worked and toured with ex-members of the Jazz Warriors founded by Courtney Pine & Cleveland Watkiss. He formed his own Jazz Ensemble, The Jazz Griots, with the sole purpose of exploring the connections between African and African Diasporic forms of music.

In 1991 he pioneered African Classical Music in the UK with the first ever-national tour of the African Classical Music Ensemble, which nurtured his burgeoning composer credentials. In 1995 a BBC TV documentary, ‘Africa I Remember’ was done on Jegede’s music and centred around his orchestral work. In this programme he performed new compositions alongside the London Sinfonietta, which was conducted by Markus Stenz.

Besides his outstanding achievements in music, he is also author of two books: The Silenced Voice (1987); and African Classical Music (1994) both published by Diabate Arts. He has numerous articles, journals, lectures and conferences of international accolades to his credit.

Beauty from Ashes

A ‘green’ museum aims to save the environment, one waste at a time. Story by Pelu Awofeso

The Recycler: Lanre Tejuoso standing in front of one of his installations at Aroko green Museum

The Recycler: Lanre Tejuoso standing in front of one of his installations at Aroko green Museum

Olanrewaju Tejuoso is sobbing as he talks about Restoration, one of many installations he has crafted from trash and is on display at the Aroko Green Museum in Abeokuta, capital of Ogun State. He has spent the past hour walking me through the exhibits, explaining the inspiration for and meaning of each when we get to this spot where Restoration is mounted.

In addition to all sorts of found items stitched one to the other, Restoration is pockmarked with holes. This moment is a trip down memory lane for the artist and the pain it arouses is written all over his face.

“The holes were created by termites. I discovered the damage when I began to put the pieces together,” he says, trying to hold back the tears. “I had spent a long time working on it and I could not imagine exhibiting such damaged work to an audience.” Though shaken by the experience, Tejuosho still willed himself to join the pieces together and he came off the episode learning a lesson: “If you want to show the world that you have passed through ups and down in life or that you have accomplished a lot, then you must have signs or scars to show. This is the message I want people to draw from looking at this piece. The termite holes, with their rough and irregular edges, are the scars in this case.”

 

'Restoration' (by Lanre Tejuoso)

‘Restoration’ (by Lanre Tejuoso)

'Local Market, Foreign Goods' (by Lanre Tejuoso)

‘Local Market, Foreign Goods’ (by Lanre Tejuoso)

On the day I visit, Tejuoso is wearing a native cap and a collarless indigo-dyed shirt (in blue and black hues) over a pair of faded blue three-quarter jeans, a style that I later find out is now almost uniquely his. He is introduced to me by fellow artist Olusegun Adeniyi, and a moment later we are in a taxi heading towards the museum; on our way, Tejuoso speaks about how he stumbled upon the building (in October 2012) which now houses his creative collection, the hard work of clearing the pile of rubbish inside and the days of scrubbing and scratching that went into transforming the place into the clean and airy space visitors see now.

“There was red mud and rags everywhere; even the terrazzo floor was all covered with grass,” he says gently, his voice almost strained, from guiding a dozen guests through the installations earlier. “But thankfully, over time, I have been helped by friends and supported financially by a local pastor who, to my joy, is a keen supporter of the arts.” Now a year old, the museum is stuffed with Tejuoso’s clever (and at times philosophical) art; from the smallish Those who dine with the Devil positioned delicately at the entrance—the doorways and window panes are bare—to the huge Megacity, which I instinctively assume to be a clear reference to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital.(“No, it is about any megacity in the world,” he clarifies later.)

Crusader for the environment

Tejuosho’s concern for the environment and his interest to preserve it began by chance in 2009 when, while riding in a taxi with a friend in the university town of Nsukka (south-east Nigeria) —where he then lived—he flung an empty sachet of water out of the window. He was immediately reprimanded by one of the car’s occupants, who educated him on the non-biodegradable nature of the nylon sachet. “That was the first time someone sat me down to lecture me on the environment,” he says.  “I never thought of having a museum on the environment. Now I have a passion for the environment and this museum grew out of that passion.”

That passion, and the delightful art in the museum, seeks to help enlighten people about how society can make a thing of beauty out of what are generally considered to be disposable. In totality, it is also about the economy, politics and so much more. “It is about humanitarian service, it is about the destitute among us, it is about the solid waste that are a danger to the environment and how they can be reformed into something more useful to the society,” he says.

But long before that fateful day in Nsukka, Tejuoso had been creating art with objects he picked up from refuse dumps. “I started working with waste sometime in 2000 when I was in the College of Education here in Abeokuta but I didn’t know anything about installation art or if they could have meaning. That was before I got into the university (He studied Fine Art/ Education), when I was influenced by the art of so many people I met.”

At the university, one of Tejuoso’s lecturers was the acclaimed installation artist El Anatsui, whom he describes as “a personal mentor”. In the early years, Tejuosho’s creations were based on the concept of rest and so he made use of sleeping-mats a lot and a good number of his works imitated Anatsui’s; but a decade on, Tejuoso’s art has matured with him and the works inside the Aroko Green Museum show an artist who is now comfortable in his own skin, conditioned by his multiple influences and who has developed a style that he can call his own. “The bar codes, which one finds on the packaging of many consumer goods nowadays, are what I am using for my designs now, because many of the materials I pick from the refuse dump are bar-coded,” he says.

Green Classroom

An installation by Lanre Tejuoso showing disused wraps of sweets, beverage and biscuits

An installation by Lanre Tejuoso showing disused wraps of sweets, beverage and biscuits

Tejuoso’s works are a confounding yet soothing mix of disused household items and discarded packaging of consumer products collected from Abeokuta’s refuse dumps and environs; if anything, the works show in colourful detail our present—and mouth-watering—consumption habits as Nigerians, a silent interaction between producer and consumer and, more critically, a collision of competing brands. There is everything here: from wraps of confectionary and noodles to airtime recharge cards and beverage cans. Awoko Green Museum might as well be a classroom to study consumption patterns and brand preferences.

The museum’s collection might be all engaging but they are no consolation for the versatile mind that is Tejuoso. They have taken all and every available inch of space available and the artist is thinking of expanding. After a half-hour travelling through Abeokuta’s dusty suburbs, I literally feel a breath of fresh air when I step into the museum, housed in a three-bedroom apartment in an abandoned building on the outskirts of town. Compared to the sunny weather and activity of the peasant population outside, the museum is cool, quiet and calming on the inside, the effect of the surrounding shrub.

“This is the only place I have for now and I am managing it. I have run out of space to add more works, so I am looking for a bigger place,” he says as he tells me the message behind the installation titled Inner Strength, a three-object piece placed side by side in much the same way that medallists do at the Olympics. It is a tribute to self-motivation and success. “What I am saying here in essence is that it is not our father’s assets that determine what we become in life, but what God has deposited in you and what you make of it,” he says, referencing Jamaican Usain Bolt’s astonishing achievements in global athletics in the last three years or so.

“Poverty of the mind”

Much of Tejuoso’s art, it appears, explores shared life experiences and serves as a check somewhat to our collective excesses, but he is also a public affairs commentator. In some of his works, Tejuoso speaks directly at African leaders: “They should please behave like mad people sometimes,” the artist says explaining the installation titled Eru Were. “If you have observed mad people you would have noticed that they guard their belongings jealously, though it is mostly junk. Can our leaders learn to do same with the people they govern, with the resources in their countries? As far as we know, they are not doing that.”

In yet another subtle installation titled Poverty of the Mind, Tejuosho addresses the corrupt tendencies of the continent’s leaders. It is a plate of coins placed on a blue cooler-box containing a stack of sweet wraps. “You see someone who has packed enough goody-goody into his pockets and yet still steals from the national treasury,” he says as we move to the next work. “The problem of the African nation is not that we don’t have money—we have enough; but the truth is that there is no amount of what you grab can make you better but the amount of lives you can impact in the society.”

Lanre Tejuoso with guests inside the Aroko Green Museum

Lanre Tejuoso with guests inside the Aroko Green Museum

 

Scriptural Art                                                                                                                                     

If he is not thinking of scripture to get inspiration for the next work, Tejuoso finds the push he needs to create by tapping into the stories of some of Nigeria’s world renowned creative spirits. For instance, he produced A Note from Kongi, few months after glimpsing the cover of Soyinka’s latest published play Alapata Apata. Tejuoso thought it was a mouthful, especially as the book title is not words in everyday use. “The title of the book changed everything about my conception about the man,” he says. “I thought he was completely Anglicised and didn’t think he understood or spoke any words of Yoruba.”

I am amused to learn that a good number of Tejuoso’s works have been inspired by verses of the Bible. In fact, his mat/rest series is based on Mathew 11: 28 (“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…”). Born into a Muslim family, the artist is now a Christian. “I love reading the Bible. I use scriptural reference for my art,” he says as we stand in front of Lonely Thoughts, a creation based on the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

There is yet another one symbolically titled Owo Ni keke Ihin Rere (Literal translation: money is the vehicle of the gospel), which consists of a worn Bible and 50 Naira note mounted on a bicycle that has lost its front wheel.

“Beyond the physical display those visitors see, I believe that what I do here is a divine calling that the creator has assigned me to do,” Tejuoso says. “What pastors do on the pulpit, I do at Aroko Green Museum.”

TOURISM AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT: THE BADAGRY EXPERIENCE

Tourists pose for photos at the Badagry Heritage Museum

Tourists pose for photos at the Badagry Heritage Museum

Badagry town is situated on the western tip of Lagos, the former Nigerian capital, and is famous because of its slavery heritage. Tourists, Nigerians and foreign visitors alike, troop there to explore not just the relics of the horrendous trans-Atlantic slave trade that spanned at least three centuries and the museums established to preserve its memory, but also the heartwarming legacies of European missionaries (Christianity, Architecture and Schools, to mention but a few) as well as the surviving indigenous culture and religion.

I travelled to Badagry for the first time sometime in 2002, when the “Badagry Heritage Museum”, symbolically housed in a single-storey prefabricated building built by the British in 1863, was commissioned and its doors open to the public. Since then I have returned a couple of times for various reasons, including sightseeing and research trips; but in 2010, I started to take daylong excursions to the coconut-rich town.

Tourists visiting the elegant palace of the Akran of Badagry, one of Nigeria's first-class kings

Tourists visiting the elegant palace of the Akran of Badagry, one of Nigeria’s first-class kings

Badagry is the only place in Nigeria I know where the locals—the youths mainly—have been the key drivers of tourism activities. The daily influx of tourists in the past decade has birthed a clique of resourceful local tourist guides, who take their jobs seriously, because it has proven to be a source of constant income. What’s more: they tell the local history—and the story of slavery—with relish, and this has ensured a steady stream of tour buses.

One of Badagry's resourceful and tourist guide Anago James Akeem Osho lectures tourists about slavery in the compound that once housed 40+ slave cells known as "Brazillian Baracoons"

One of Badagry’s resourceful and tourist guide Anago James Akeem Osho lectures tourists about slavery in the compound that once housed 40+ slave cells known as “Brazillian Baracoons”

One of the most thrilling moments for tourists in Badagry is the boat ride across the Lagoon. The boats help the community generate regular revenue

One of the most thrilling moments for tourists in Badagry is the boat ride across the Lagoon. The boats help the community generate regular revenue

In 2012, taking inspiration partly from The Gambia and one or two countries in East Africa, where the initiative has proven successful, some of the existing tourism services providers in Badagry, including crafts makers, boat operators, hospitality businesses and motorcycle-taxis, among others, then operating independent of one another, formed a collective known as SCATE (Small-scale Allied Tourism Enterprise) to better co-ordinate all the tourism activities in the town and enhance the linkage between tourism and economic empowerment.

Badagry receives a steady stream of tourists, including Nigerians and foreign visitors. This has helped to keep the local tourism activity alive

Badagry receives a steady stream of tourists, including Nigerians and foreign visitors. This has helped to keep the local tourism activity alive

“Our objectives cut across economic, social and environmental considerations,” one of the initiators told me. “SCATE is an opportunity to create jobs and serve as an intervention for the good of all our members.”

One of SCATE’s founder-members told me that the local tourism practitioners, for instance, have agreed to deduct and save a tiny percentage of the daily revenue from the boat rides across the Badagry lagoon (it takes tourists to the Gberefu Island, from where they walk to the infamous ‘Point of no Return’) to be spent on low-budget projects that impact positively on the community.

Badagry is fringed by coconut palm trees, which the locals utilise to weave all sorts of arts, crafts and tourist souvenirs. These baskets, woven locally from palm fronds are used by the farmers and traders to pack and transport produce and purchases.

Badagry is fringed by coconut palm trees, which the locals utilise to weave all sorts of arts, crafts and tourist souvenirs. These baskets, woven locally from palm fronds are used by the farmers and traders to pack and transport produce and purchases.

“We recently invested part of the money in stocking the health centre,” one of the guides told me. “We have been talking to our people, young and old, educating them about the contributions the visiting tourists are making to Badagry town. We encourage them to continue to be friendly and welcoming to visitors, because the more these people come, the more money that comes to the community. We see that they are taking our advice and we have noticed an improvement in indigene-tourist interactions.”

slave chains preserved from the 15th century and housed in a family-owned museum is one of the reasons tourists flock to Badagry

slave chains preserved from the 15th century and housed in a family-owned museum is one of the reasons tourists flock to Badagry

Hubert Ogunde: A Visit to the Tiger’s Empire (3)

Hubert Ogunde: As it was with the father, so it is with the son

Son of his father: Kunle David Ogunde

Son of his father: Kunle David Ogunde

On our way out of the bungalow housing the fledgling museum, we stumbled on the renowned filmmaker Tunde Kelani. He was headed towards what I was told by the Bose sisters used to be the rehearsals room in Pa Ogunde’s days (his actors were there six days in a week, perfecting their roles), now serving as set for Kunle Ogunde’s first feature film, ‘The Snare’.

“You know him?” younger Bose asked as they greeted each other and exchanged smiles.

“Oh yes—everybody knows TK.”

“Okay. He was one of the first cameramen our father trained.” Now, that I never knew.

Soon we got to the rehearsals room, already throbbing with activity. It was a rowdy setting as a largely Nigerian cast, dressed in fancy traditional costumes (they’re about to shoot a village scene), and a largely foreign technical crew, dressed in their T-shirts and shorts, prepared for the afternoon’s filming. The high-definition equipment, apparently shipped in from the UK for this project, gleamed in the distance. I had never been on a film set before, so it was a pleasure to see how the world of make-believe worked. Outside, the support staff went back and forth to fetch all other things needed on the set, including new costumes and accessories.

The Snare, the movie

The Snare, the movie

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Shortly, the younger Ogunde picked up the megaphone to address everyone. ‘The Snare’, he explained, is a sci-fi, futuristic thriller about a young African who has used advance a DNA bio-technology to help improve the quality of life in his community and by so doing save many lives. His genius has caught the attention of a foreign organization and they want him to come over and work for them.

“So what we are filming today is the sendoff and the community is giving him the gift of an ark because he describes himself as the Noah of his generation,” Kunle announced to the seated crowd. “So as you are seated here, you are dignitaries and special people of the community who have come to honour this man and to thank him for all he has done.”

Kunle had considered filming these scenes in other locations—Badagry and Benin City—but while out scouting in those places he found them unsuitable.  “That’s where my religious sentiments come in,” he said at a press conference later in the day. “I prayed for God’s guidance and direction, and God told me ‘Don’t leave your family out of this—go to Ososa. When I saw here, I said ‘wow!’—it was like heaven opened. That’s how we came to film in Ososa. Choosing Ososa has been a tremendous choice for me.

“I found out that everything I was looking for—in terms of setting, support and equipment is here. Our dad has done a lot. In fact, I am a hundred times, a thousand times proud of him. He’s done a lot of work. I was awed by what he has put in place in this neighbourhood, by the vision he had 20-25 years ago. There is better equipment available here, so I told my crew not to ship any to Nigeria.”

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Elvon Jarret being made up on the set

Elvon Jarret being made up on the set

Budgeted at one million pounds, Kunle started work on ‘The Snare’ in 2010. Other scenes will be filmed in Morocco and some countries in Europe. “God has taken care of 80% of that for us,” Kunle, who attended the film and television school in Berkensfield, England, said. “We have all the post-production equipment and studios set, everything on 35mm from end to end.

At that moment I recalled what the older Bose had told me earlier about the older Ogunde. “He was a perfectionist; he worked with an all-white crew, some of the best hands in the industry then, and he wouldn’t mind to spend his last kobo to get it right. He once sold part of his land to fund ‘Aiye’.

Hubert Ogunde: A Visit to the Tiger’s Empire (2)

Hubert Ogunde: A different kind of polygamist

A young boy IN oSOSA wears a T-shirt inscribed with the title of one of Ogunde's films--JAIYESIMI

A young boy IN oSOSA wears a T-shirt inscribed with the title of one of Ogunde’s films–JAIYESIMI

“Our father had so many wives but I won’t tell you how many they were,” older Bose, who retired from the Lagos State public service, told me at the onset of the tour, both of us standing in front of portraits of Ogunde and his parents, all placed in a exposed corner of the sitting room.

Shortly, she was joined by the younger Bose and both of them began to tell me of how closely-knit the family was—and still is. “He had many children but you wouldn’t be able to distinguish one from the other,” older Bose said. “All of the children took any of the wives as our mothers. If you asked me, for instance, who my own mother is I can introduce any of them to you. That was the life we all lived. It is one love that has bound us together.”

The younger Bose, a proprietress at a Montessori School in Ogun State, chipped in: “He had loving wives. They were always there for him in his lifetime and even after his death they are still there for him. As for the children, despite the fact that we are all from different mothers, we still work together with love”

Minutes into the tour of the estate, it became clear that the Ogundes pride themselves in the fact that they have remained united nearly 25 years after the death of the patriarch; year after year, they have returned to Ososa to either mark the anniversary of his death or during the Christmas season to bond. On such occasions, the villagers come around and the family pays courtesy visits to the king’s palace, among other engagements. They also get together to watch the few epic films Ogunde produced in the latter part of his life. “When he died, people said some nasty things; they said ‘we give them one year, they will go their separate ways’, but instead we are waxing stronger,” younger Bose said.

L-R: Kunle David Ogunde, Tunde Kelani and Richard Ayo Ogunde in Ogunde's Ososa home

L-R: Kunle David Ogunde, Tunde Kelani and Richard Ayo Ogunde in Ogunde’s Ososa home

Beyond their mothers, both sisters credited their older brother, Sir Richard Ayo Ogunde, the Baba Oba of Ososa, for this feat of togetherness. According to younger Bose, “He has done a very good job of coordinating the children and ensuring that the estate is what it is now. And God is still using him to move the estate forward and bless all of us.”

The narrative flipped again to the wives, with older Bose leading shedding more light on how Ogunde related with his women at home, like watching their favourite television programmes together and sharing story ideas for future productions with them. “He never did anything solo. He consulted his wives when he had flashes of inspiration, and they offered their own opinions,” older Bose said. “Our father loved his wives despite the fact that they were many. He was concerned about each and every one of them. I think commitment is one thing he got from his wives; he showed them love and they reciprocated with love too. He was everything to them as they were everything to him—they were the secret to his successful shows.”

In rounding off what was becoming a tale of one man and his many wives, young Bose said almost in a whisper, “They loved him so much that they even found new wives for him—they knew his taste, they did their research and they found the right women for him. Even the girlfriends knew the wives and there were no quarrels whatsoever. His polygamy was a peculiar kind; there were not many like it.”

By this time more people milled about in the expansive compound and inside bungalow, looking at the various Ogunde exhibits and memorabilia—turntable records and cassettes, film scripts, costumes, award plaques, film posters and many more. Ogunde’s trademark waist-high traditional drum, Ilu Agba, stands stoically in a corner of the parlour; and black-and-white images of his stage productions—some of them with equally famous actors of the time, like Duro Ladipo and Moses Olaiya—speak volumes about a long life spent acting out stories.

 

Preserved for Posterity: Beaded crown from one of Ogunde's film from the 1980s, "Ayanmo"

Preserved for Posterity: Beaded crown from one of Ogunde’s film from the 1980s, “Ayanmo”

It’s on record that some of those stories ruffled not a few feathers, from his early anti-colonial native operas to the very politically tainted plays post-Independence. So influential were his plays that his group was banned a couple of times. Older Bose recalled once when he was approached by politicians who tried to bribe him so that he could change the plot of a particular political play at the time (The ‘Yoruba Ronu’ episode in the old Western Region). He never did. “He was a man of integrity and he taught us to also be that. Our father never did anything for the sake of money. We take after him in that regard. None of us will do anything for money. That name Ogunde is the one thing our father bequeathed us with—we are not prepared to soil in in any way.

Hubert Ogunde: A Visit to the Tiger’s Empire (1)

Hubert Ogunde: The Repentant Charmer

A memorial in honour of the late Huber Ogunde in is hometown of Ososa (on the Lagos Ijebu-Ode highway)

A memorial in honour of the late Huber Ogunde in is hometown of Ososa (on the Lagos Ijebu-Ode highway)

Art decor/ painting in front of Hubert Ogunde's country home in Ososa

Art decor/ painting in front of Hubert Ogunde’s country home in Ososa

“My father died clinging to a Bible on his chest.”

That’s Kunle David Ogunde talking to the local media about the distinguished filmmaker Hubert Ogunde, who passed away on 4th April 1990. Based in the UK, he was in Nigeria recently to shoot some scenes of his first feature film (titled ‘The Snare’) and he chose to address a press conference at the end of it. “It was a great way for a man to leave this planet, to call upon God his creator and prepare the way for where he is going in the world beyond.”

A couple of hours earlier, two of Kunle’s sisters, both of them named Bose, had taken me on a tour of the Ogunde estate at his country home in Ososa, Ogun State. The tour started in the filmmaker’s living room, now the heart of the museum being put together by the family ahead of the 25th anniversary of his death, took me through the big twin rooms housing the vast wardrobes from some 50 years of stage and film productions, a rehearsal room, apartments for wives, children and production crews, a clinic and ended, an hour later, at the spot where two of the vehicles that served Ogunde’s traveling theatre decades back are parked, almost like guards near their owner’s grave.

The tour included a brief stop inside Ogunde’s private room, because the sisters wanted me to see the adjoining ‘prayer room’. (Unfortunately, the room is locked.)

“People believe that he doesn’t pray,” the younger Bose said, after we gained access to the main room. “Yes, he was a traditional man but he later converted himself. One fateful day, he took the decision to do away with all his charms—he put everything inside a lorry, drove into the bush by himself and that was the end of it. When he came back home, he converted the room at his home in Alagomeji (Noble Street), where he kept those charms, to a prayer room. That was many years before he died but the public didn’t know—they thought he died a traditionalist.”

Ogunde, it must be said, was only doing what came naturally to him. His parents were traditionalists, so he wouldn’t have had to look too far off to draw inspiration for his numerous creative outputs later in life; the influences were, literally, close to his chest.

According to the sisters, Ogunde’s spiritual zeal intensified to the point that he prescribed a fasting regime in his household. “We used to do white fasting in the family—we broke the fast with cooked corn and coconut,” younger Bose recalled, her face brightened by the memory.

“He told all his children that the only thing we should hold onto is God, because he had used all these charms and realized that they never really worked,” said the older Bose. “He believed that the herbalists who had the potent ones were already dead. As a matter of fact, he had a nasty experience with one man in Ibadan. The man made some juju for him; papa used them for some time but they didn’t achieve much. They failed him.”

Ogunde Productions--The Tour Bus parked inside the late actor's country home in Ososa

Ogunde Productions–The Tour Bus parked inside the late actor’s country home in Ososa

Ogunde's tomb in the premises of his country home in Ososa

Ogunde’s tomb in the premises of his country home in Ososa

My gaze shifted from the sisters to the bathroom door, which is slightly open and showing part of a bathtub. A water heater hung a few feet above it. Everything in the room, the sisters told me, is as Ogunde left it—the king-size bed, the sofa, the wardrobe and the air conditioner (“It’s still working up till now. We have not repaired or changed it since he died. Even the generator outside—our father had taste.”).

There are also costumes worn by Ogunde’s character in some of his films about; along with his personal clothes, they are dry cleaned as often as necessary, every three years on the average. Somewhere on the wall an academic robe hung from a hanger.. “That’s what he wore when he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Lagos,” the younger Bose said.

All the clothes are, surprisingly, in good condition in spite of the passing of time, in this case 24 long years. “It is our mothers we have to thank for that,” older Bose said. “They are the ones who have brought them out regularly to let them get some air and sun.”

At that point, the sisters turned to one of the room’s walls and lifted up a light blue cloth. Beneath it was a large frame; on it, linear diagram shows the family tree, all of Ogunde’s wives on one level and all his children per wife below that. I got a couple of seconds to scan the passport-size photos by each name before the veil came down and we stepped out of the room, headed out to the next stops.

EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY (11 ‘FUNtastic’ Things to do in Badagry)

The folks at @TravelNextdoor have announced the next excursion to the historic town of Badagr; it comes up on Saturday 9th August 2014. To book a seat on the tour bus, or to get more details on the excursion, email travelnextdoor@yahoo.com or call 0807 0999 670.

@TravelNextDoor have been taking tourists–Nigerians and foreighners–on regular excursions to the town famous for its history of slave trading since 2010 and they have built quite a reputation for that over the last few years. We thought to share some highlights of what it means to be part of that 12 hours (8am-8pm) spent outdoors, enjoying the very best of #nature, #culture and #history that Nigeria has to offer.

NB: click on the photos to view a larger version of the photos

1. Take a boat cruise on the Badagry lagoon

1. Take a boat cruise on the Badagry lagoon

2. Take a splash in the ocean waters

2. Take a splash in the ocean waters

3. Relax (or read) at the beachside

3. Relax (or read) at the beachside

4. Take a leisurely stroll on the beach sands

4. Take a leisurely stroll on the beach sands

5. Network--make new friends

5. Network–make new friends

6. Preserve the memories--take lots of photos

6. Preserve the memories–take lots of photos

7. Taste the local delicacies

7. Taste the local delicacies

8. Enjoy the best of nature

8. Enjoy the best of nature

9. Visit Heritage sites (palaces, museums, etc)

9. Visit Heritage sites (palaces, museums, etc)

10. Learn something new about Nigeria and its rich history

10. Learn something new about Nigeria and its rich history

11. Take a second cruise on the lagoon

11. Take a second cruise on the lagoon

 
PS: Picture credits: Oluwakemi Ojo, Dr Raphael James, Adededi Olalekan (@stylomedia), @TravelNextDoor

The Preacher-Man Died (Review of Wole Soyinka’s ‘Camwood on the Leaves’)

"Camwood on the Leaves"--the set

“Camwood on the Leaves”–the set

"Camwood on the Leaves"--The Cast

“Camwood on the Leaves”–The Cast

 

Camwood on the Leaves, a radio play by Prof. Wole Soyinka adapted for the stage by Kenneth Uphopho‘s Performing Arts Workshop & Studios to mark the playwright’s 80th birthday, has a slim cast of six but it packs a punch—there is no dull moment, from the first scene to the last. In fact, Camwood is one of the few plays I have seen where the audience is so fully absorbed in the unfolding drama that they are keen to see what happens next.

Here’s the story: Ishola, the 16-year-old son of a hunter-turned-preacher, has got Morounke, the 15-year-old-daughter of a wealthy and influential chief in the community, pregnant. Both families are shocked and upset by the news and the young man is the butt of every form of attack conceivable, verbal and physical. He is the outcast in a society that thinks little of what children think or feel, or what they choose to do with their lives without their parents’ consent, especially when they yield to “immoral temptations”.

For one, the Reverend couldn’t stand the fact that his oldest son has chosen to join the masquerade society and roam the street “with pagans” in the day and when they offer “bestial sacrifices” in the dead of night, when he should be more active in church and attend Sunday school dutifully—like children his age are expected to do.

“Ishola has brought nothing but shame and disgrace to this family,” the father says to his wife, Moji, during one of his many fits of anger. In one scene,, in between kicks and punches, he looks Ishola in the face and tells him: “You are a child of sorrow, you are completely lost. You have sold your heart to the devil.”

Morounke’s parents were unrelenting in their own attacks on the Reverend’s household, invading his home at will and threatening fire and brimstone while he meditated in the church.

“He has led my daughter astray,” Ngozi, Morounke’s mother, wails.

“No one bears any love for him in this town,” a visibly angry Chief Olumorin declares, justify his decision to send touts after Ishola, who has by then fled from home to seek refuge in a hideaway in the forest.

Mother and Child--Ishola and Moji

Mother and Child–Ishola and Moji

Embittered--Morounke and parents, Chief and Mrs Olumonrin

Embittered–Morounke and parents, Chief and Mrs Olumonrin

In the turmoil both families have been thrown into, it is Moji who stands as the voice of defiance and reason. She is a mother’s mother through and through, a mother every child wants on their side when the world is against them. Ishola is cursed throughout this play but he soon develops a thick skin to the countless abuses that comes his way; and not strangely, Moji is the one who wears the grief on her sleeve. She sheds all the tears that should come from Ishola’s eyes. When Reverend loses his cool, which happens often, it is Moji who tries to calm him down; when the Olumorins rant and rave, it is Moji who stands up to them, sometimes appealing to their sense of understanding—to no avail.

“My son does not deserve curses—only correction,” she cries at one point.

“We must rescue him. We can’t drive him out in shame,” she says at another.

 

Adolescent Lovers--Morounke and Ishola

Adolescent Lovers–Morounke and Ishola

Fathers at War--Reverend and Chief Olumonrin

Fathers at War–Reverend and Chief Olumonrin

Though Ishola impregnates Morounke and turns his back on Christianity to embrace traditional worship,  his own way of asserting coming of age, Moji sees her son’s actions as an innocent slip, a failing anyone is prone to, though she never fails to talk sense to the heady boy when she gets an opportunity. “If you could model yourself on him (Reverend), others will follow your footsteps,” she tells him in the sitting room one day when the Reverend is away.

Ishola, now past caring what becomes of his parents, is unrepentant. He has joined the Masquerades’ ‘choir’ and there is no going back. “Why don’t you raise your hand and kill me? Why break me in pieces?” a crestfallen Moji is heard saying.

While both families are at each other’s neck over the unexpected pregnancy, the young lovers couldn’t care less if the heat consumed their parents; now cohabiting in their own little nest in the forest, they both hold fast to their mutual affection. And evidently content in their own little universe, they go snail hunting at dusk, chattering happily and content just hearing each other’s voice.

Throughout the play, the actors take us from one peak experience to another—right to the very end. As often happens when humans are deaf to reason, the worst happens. When all has been said and (un)done, what series of dialogues and fighting couldn’t settle a bullet did. Reviewed by Pelu Awofeso (@PeluAwofeso)

The Stallion--Moji

The Stallion–Moji

Wole Soyinka (at 80): The Colourful, Outstanding Moments in Abeokuta

It all began with the 80 kids (finalists of the #WS80 National Essay Competition) dressed in the bright colours of their respective ethnic groups, all seated inside the June 12 Cultural Centre in Kuto, Abeokuta. A moment later, singer Edaoto Agbeniyi’s walked in decked in a rich green ankara print buba-and-sokoto (and a very black guitar case hanging on his back); then there was that unforgetable flash of a smile from #WS80 producer, Lilian Amah-Aluko shortly afterwards.

It seemed like someone opened the floodgates of the rainbow as every single activity of the Nobel laureate’s birthday celebration onwards shifted into higher gear, including the palmwine reception and the trip to the awe-inspiring open-air amphitheater inside the ‘Ijegba’ Forest, where the play “Dance of the Forests” was to be performed.

Here are a selection of our most outstanding moments from Abeokuta as the world celebrated an African Icon. By Pelu Awofeso

 

Nigerian kids dressed in local traditional costumes

Nigerian kids dressed in local traditional costumes

Celebrant and Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka inspects the set of "Dance of the Forests"

Celebrant and Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka inspects the set of “Dance of the Forests”

A guest at the #WS80 event is all smiles just before the palmwine-laden reception

A guest at the #WS80 event is all smiles just before the palmwine-laden reception

Journalist and spoken word poet Akeem Lasisi performs a love medley titled 'Udeme' to a rousing applause

Journalist and spoken word poet Akeem Lasisi performs a love medley titled ‘Udeme’ to a rousing applause

Jamaican dub-poetry grand-master Mutabaruka is looking all regal with actress and #WS80 producer Lilian Amah-Aluko

Jamaican dub-poetry grand-master Mutabaruka is looking all regal with actress and #WS80 producer Lilian Amah-Aluko

Ogun State Commissioner for Culture & Tourism, Mrs Yewande Amusan, pours Yeni Kuti (Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's first daughter, a serving of palmwine

Ogun State Commissioner for Culture & Tourism, Mrs Yewande Amusan, pours Yeni Kuti (Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s first daughter, a serving of palmwine

PR maestro Steve Babaeko and professional photographer wife, Yetunde at the palmwine reception for #WS80

PR maestro Steve Babaeko and professional photographer wife, Yetunde at the palmwine reception for #WS80

For as long as anyone will remember #WS80 celebrations in Abeokuta, there will always be reference made to the spooky evening trek through the 'Ijegba' forest and the haunting yet pleasant 80 old women at the 'gates'

For as long as anyone will remember #WS80 celebrations in Abeokuta, there will always be reference made to the spooky evening trek through the ‘Ijegba’ forest and the haunting yet pleasant 80 old women (all dressed in white wrappers and headgear) at the ‘gates’

old women at the gates

old women at the gates

folklore musician, Edaoto Agbeniyi

folklore musician, Edaoto Agbeniyi