The Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has emphasised that Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, has the potentials to create more jobs for Nigeria's teeming youths and contribute to the growth of the nation's economy.
Lai Mohammed made this statement recently while declaring open the 30th edition of the Annual International Conference of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA), at the Ebitimi Banigo Hall, University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt, Nigeria, saying, ''the opportunities are there for us to grow the film industry, given the necessary synergy”; and that Nigerians can harness the abundant “theatre and cultural resources to create more jobs for our teeming unemployed youths and contribute to the growth of the nation’s economy.''
Speaking on the uniqueness of the location of SONTA 2017 Conference, the Honourable Minister, who was represented by the Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Associate Professor Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, said it was of interest that SONTA 2017 was taking place in Port Harcourt, the UNESCO-declared Book Capital of the World in 2014; in “Unique Uniport”, a university that has made a mark in the comity of academic institutions in Nigeria; and that it was being hosted by the Department of Theatre & Film Studies that was founded by the legendary Professor Olawale Gladstone Emmanuel Rotimi of blessed memory.
He further attested to the fact that “THE CRAB”, which late Professor Ola Rotimi designed, though a small structure by every standard, has produced many Nollywood stars that have been invaluable cultural ambassadors for Nigeria, as a country, telling the Nigerian, and indeed the African story to the world.
The Minister added that, “the exploits of Dr. Sam Dede, Ejike Asiegbu, Bobmanuel Udokwu, Lancelot Imasuen, Julius Agwu, Charles Inojie, Victor Osuagwu, Hilda Dokubo, Rita Dominic, Monalisa Chinda, Charles Okafor, Francis Duru, Patrick Otoro, Bimbo Manuel, Yul Edochie, Walter Anga, Tamara Eteimo, and many other Crabites in Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, cannot be over-emphasised”.
Commending the SONTA organisers, LOC and the choice of SONTA 2017 theme, with the theme: ''Theatre, Economic Recession and the Quest for Survival'', the Lai Mohammed said it was not only very apt, but also significant in the sense that Nigeria has just come out of recession; and it was necessary for artists to look at veritable ways of generating income, not only for personal survival but for the growth of the nation’s economy.
Recounting the achievements of Nollywood internationally, as a film industry that has been adjudged the 2nd largest film industry in the world, after the Indian film industry (Bollywood), in terms of production quantity, the Minister averred that, Nollywood was producing more films than even Hollywood, the celebrated American film industry, and challenged SONTA members who are stakeholders and moulders of the professionals, to ensure that they pay serious attention to quality.
He said all possible channels on SONTA’s proposed Performing Arts Professionals Regulatory Bill (PAPR), which seeks to strengthen the training and practice of the performing arts in Nigeria will be explored, promising that the bill will be pushed forward as an Executive Bill to the National Assembly.
Lai Mohammed noted that, the Ministry, under his watch, has supported several artistic programmes, aimed at repositioning the culture and tourism sector, in line with the Change Agenda of the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration, as exemplified in the involvement of SONTA members in the 2016 Culture and Tourism Summit and the most recent outing of the stage presentation of Wakaa: The Musical, produced by Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters.
He had also recalled the hosting of the 28th edition of the SONTA Annual International Conference in August 2015 by the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), one of the agencies under the Ministry, which, he said was 'the type of collaboration between “Town and Gown” that will foster the development of the creative industry in Nigeria.'
Concluding, Alhaji Lai Mohammed encouraged members of SONTA not to talk about theories and principles alone but to “Walk the Talk”; relate the various theories that have been propounded to practice and ensure that they practice theatre to make money, assuring the leadership of SONTA that the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture will continue to collaborate with them on all programmes that will move the creative industry forward.
Former Vice Chancellor of Benue State University, Makurdi, Professor Charity Angya, in her keynote lecture, which centred on the theme of SONTA 2017, “Theatre, Economic Recession & the Quest for Survival,'' reiterated that, while ''surgical procedures are carried out in the medical hospitals on patients, theatre in the area of performance operates on the society laying bare the contending issues in order to heal the society.''
The university don strongly advocated in her lecture that Nigeria, ''with a monolithic economy that sees falling oil revenue, a nation deeply divided along religious, ethnic and sectional lines; amidst deep suspicions, fuelled by political alliances and a dwindling interest in nation building, the artiste must arise, not only to interrogate but examine and also provide the needed illumination to propel the society towards stated and achievable goals''.
She further charged SONTA members, as theatre artists, to challenge Nigeria, a society steeped in stupor and unwilling to answer the hard questions while looking for answers in the wrong places; adding that, artists need to play the role of exploring, helping to define the collective vision of this country, fanning the embers of cultural values, and providing an alternative vision to the pessimistic futuristic projections of apocalypse of the federating units.
In his Goodwill Message, Distinguished Senator Magnus Abe, who was the Special Guest of Honour and one of the awardees, congratulated SONTA for the feats achieved over the years as he thanked the organisers for finding him worthy of the award.
He stated why he attended the programme, personally: “The main reason I am here is that a man's word should be his bond. When I heard of the process by which this Society choose me for this award and I knew nobody in the society out of the blues, I decided that I should honour them and reciprocate that gesture by being here physically. So, I am here to honour them”.
Distinguished Senator Abe enjoined the theatre professionals to look in the direction of value addition in their profession vis-a-vis training and practice of artists, who would be employers of labour and not job seekers after graduation from the University.
His words: “I want to use this opportunity to call on our Universities not only to produce theatre arts graduates in the academic sense, but to produce graduates, who understand the things that make theatre successful; the directors, the producers, and all the other technical aspects of theatre and of entertainment that actually add value to our society”.
Other dignitaries at the opening ceremony were the Vice Chancellor, Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt, Prof. Ozo-Mekuri Ndimele (chairman on the occasion, represented by the Dean, School of Graduate Studies, Professor Daniel Ogon); Vice Chancellor, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Rivers state, Professor Ndowa Lale (Chief Host at the occasion, represented by Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration, Professor Regina Ogali); Registrar, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Mrs. Dorcas Oto; Council Chairman SONTA and former Vice Chancellor, University of Ilorin (UNIILORIN) and Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Professor Shamsudeen O. O. Amali; National President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Mallam Denja Abdullahi;
Other dignitaries from the University of Port Harcourt were the University Librarian, Dr. Susan Umozor; Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Member of the University Governing Council, Professor Femi Okieremutte Shaka; Acting Head, Department of Theatre Arts, and Convener of the Occasion, Dr. John Yeseibo; Chairman, Local Organising Committee of SONTA 2017, Professor Julie Umukoro.
An entourage from the University of Maiduguri, led by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ibrahim Abubakar Njodi, included the Deputy Chairman, Gombe State Council of Emirs and Chiefs, His Royal Highness, Mai Kaltungu, Alhaji Salleh Mohammadu; Honourable Commissioner for Environment, Gombe State, Hajiya Saadatu Mustapha; Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic Services, Alhaji Aliyu Shugaba; University Librarian, Professor Emmanuel Campbell; Director, Water Resources, Professor John Owu; former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Professor Munkaila; Director, Consultancy Services, Professor Adamu Zirama, among others.