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ART AS AN ALTERNATIVE INVESTMENT: THE PLACE OF NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR MUSEUM AND MONUMENTS

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Courtesy of Alex Duru, Curator, National Museum of Unity, Enugu

Art collection is the systematic accumulation of works of art by private individuals and public institutions such as museums. We should note that historically a close connection exists between private and public collections.

Museums in Nigeria

Most of the objects that form part of the collections in our Museums in Nigeria predate the establishment of Museums. These objectives were an integral part of the traditional, social, political and economic systems and so were functional and highly treasured by those who owned or kept them. They were owned communally or individually and were in the holdings of traditional rulers, chiefs, titled men, priests, cults and social groups individuals.

The use and thereby influence of some objects which were efficacious as symbols of power and authority went beyond their place of origin. Such was the case of the ‘Ofo’ of the Eze Nri system and the Arochukwu long juju in Igboland. Again, some of these objects were focal points for the celebration of ceremonies and in some cases annual festivals such as the fertility figures of the Afo people in the Plateau area of Nigeria. All these led to much coming and going and therefore much interaction in a bid to consult the spirit abiding in the object so as to gain cure and blessings from their spiritual forces.

The museum in Nigeria as in most parts of Africa is a colonial creation. By the beginning of the colonial period in the 19th century, the museum movement in Europe and America had carved out for itself a befitting place as a renowned institution holding and exhibiting objects in such spheres of knowledge as Arts, Natural History, Geology, Anthropology, Mineralogy, and so on. As exotic cultural items were brought in from the colonial territories, European museums became more interesting and attractive, especially to the scholarly class. Therefore, museums were recognized as an essential aspect of western civilization that needed to be transferred to Africa as part of the civilizing mission.

In Nigeria, attempts were begun as early as the late 1930s by some British officers, namely, Messrs. K.C. Murray, E.H. Duckworth and A. Huntcook and others to establish Museums. This was borne out of the need to preserve cultural items in the country against the threat of destruction by the new Christian converts who had no need for them any longer and that of exportation by unscrupulous art dealers. At that stage, the museum they conceived as to be rural, functional and responsive to its immediate environment. But as a result of the difficulties encountered by exponents of museums during the preliminary period, the museums that were finally established were urban-centred and therefore addressed themselves more to the elites and tourists. They were also addressed mainly to the fields of Archaeology and Ethnography. Archaeology was added as a result of many accidental finds that were discovered in different parts of the country, which produce a lot of objects. Thus, on July 28, 1943, the museum came into being with the inauguration of the Antiquities service, where the management of museums was placed.

Today, museum involvement in Nigeria has increased in scope and type. Apart from Antiquities and Ethnography, museums in Nigeria are now involved in other areas such as Natural History, Warfare, Colonial History and Modern Art. The Antiquities services have therefore been expanded and given more responsibilities under the name, National Commission for Museums and Monuments. The commission controls over 34 museums. Some of these museums are specialized ones such as the National War Museum, Umuahia and the Colonial History Museum, Aba in the eastern part of the country and the Colonial History Museum Lokoja. It also caters for over 67 scheduled monuments found all over the country.

Apart from the museums run by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, the federal government of Nigeria established two other museums at the National Art Theatre after the Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture (FESTAC) of 1977.

These are the museums of the centre for Black African Civilisation and the Museum of Modern Art. The former houses mainly the materials from different parts of Africa and beyond which were assembled during the FESTAC and conduct research on African Culture. There are also museums run by other bodies like institutions of learning, State governments, individuals and corporate organisations.

The museums run under the National Commission for Museums and Monuments have a wide range of collections and the guiding spirit of their service is to principally create cultural awareness and infuse the idea of unity into the people. But also, part of the functions of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments is the collection and exhibition of modern art, offering of advice and permission for operating private collections/museums and giving permits for archaeological excavation and for the exportation out of Nigeria works of art that are not considered antiquities.

For this latter reason, the commission offers exhibition advice and space on its premises to contemporary artists to exhibit their works. Such exhibitions are given the widest possible publicity through the Commission’s mailing lists and other prints and electronic media. The aim is to attract as many clienteles as possible to come and enjoy the displayed Artworks and purchase those that appeal to the visitors according to their taste. It is in this respect that the Commission’s work relates to art as an investment because not only do we create the enabling environment for artists to display their works for sale but the museum also has the statutory authority to give permits for the export of such purchases.

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Arts

LONDON MUSEUM RETURNS LOOTED BENIN ARTEFACTS TO NIGERIA

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Benin-Africa-Art-Western-Museums

A small museum in south-east London has begun the official process of returning looted Benin artefacts to Nigeria.

The Horniman Museum, which houses a collection of 72 treasured items that were taken by force from Benin City in 1897, officially handed over ownership of the artefacts to the Nigerian government on Monday.

The Horniman described returning the looted objects as a “moral and appropriate” response after a request from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

There are still questions about whether thousands of items which were held at large institutions globally, including the British Museum, will ever be sent back.

However, the first six objects which were returned included two Benin Bronze plaques from the royal palace which were handed over to Nigerian officials at a ceremony marking the transfer of ownership of 72 looted items.

The items were taken from Benin City by British troops in February 1897.

Nick Merriman, chief executive of the Horniman Museum and Gardens, and prof. Abba Tijani, the NCMM’s director general, were asked by journalists ahead of the official handover if they were frustrated at the British Museum’s apparent reluctance to hand over the 900 objects it had held for more than a century.

Merriman, who said the Horniman had been an “excellent example” of leadership, stated that, “Journalists who ask me about the Benin return always want to ask me about the British Museum.”

“I would rather talk about what an excellent example the Horniman is rather than answer questions about the British Museum.”

The six objects selected in consultation with the NCMM as being representative of the collection of 72 items form the first wave of physical repatriation of Benin objects from the Horniman.

A new agreement between the NCMM and the Horniman will allow the remainder to stay in Britain on loan for now, with a second phase of physical repatriations to follow in due course.

Professor Tijani later explained that about 5,000 Benin bronzes were currently “scattered” around the world.

He said that he is hoping that talks with various institutions may result in deals that could herald the items being returned from places including Germany and the U.S.

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WHY UZODINMA ‘WELCOMED’ BUHARI WITH OSADEBE INSTEAD OF WARRIOR, CHIMEZIE

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Right from January 14, 2020, up until now, the people of Imo State have continued to live in suspense with their governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma. The relationship between Governor Uzodimma and Imo voters simulates that of two adults in a forced union. The governor does not lose any opportunity to flaunt, like a wife from a privileged and influential home, her status.

Imo people believe that their governor was not their original intention, but forced on them by unexpected pregnancy outside wedlock.

That could explain why ever since the Supreme Court pronounced on the 2019 governorship election appeal that sacked Hon. Emeke Ihedioha, Governor Uzodimma has been struggling to win the confidence of the people, even as he rubs the fact in that despite their reservations, he remains their governor.

Using the foregoing as a backcloth, it could be understood why the recent visit by President Muhammadu Buhari came exactly one year after a similar visit in 2021. Governor Uzodimma and his supporters in the All Progressives Congress (APC), wanted the world to see the President’s visit as evidence of the governor’s political savviness instead of as a makeup visit to right the wrongs of the previous stopover.

And, as happened last year, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) proclaimed the legendry sit at home (SAH), which many have described as part of the Biafran calendar in Southeast.

Unlike the usual Monday SAHs, the decision of the IPOB leadership to slam a SAH on Tuesday September 13, 2022, took many surprise, even as it was given different interpretations: While some observers held that the SAH was targeted at President Buhari’s visit, others argued that the Governor Uzodimma orchaestrated the SAH so that the president’s visit could be without chance occurrence.

Those who expressed that sentiment remarked that the governor stoked the shift of IPOB leader’s trial from October to September 13, ostensibly to instigate IPOB to make their usual declaration.

Recall that in the more than three-year long bitter-sweet relationship between Imo people and Senator Uzodimma, IPOB had been on the forefront in writing off his administration as antithetical to Igbo socio-political interest.

Although there was no official confirmation that Governor Uzodimma had a hand in the shift of Kanu’s trial date, the IPOB’s statement outlined its intentions for declaring SAH on a Tuesday.

In the statement dated September 10, 2022, and signed by Emma Powerful, the IPOB spokesperson, the group declared: “The global family and movement of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) under the command and leadership of our indefatigable liberator, Mazi Nnamdi Okwuchukwu KANU, wish to announce to the general public, especially Biafrans, that Tuesday September 13, has been declared a day of civil action in the form of Sit-At-Home in Biafra Land.”

Powerful noted that the Tuesday, September 13, 2022, civil action was very important for two reasons, “First, Our Leader’s Appeal Court hearing that was supposed to be on October 11 has been brought forward to September 13, 2022.

“As usual, we call on Biafrans and lovers of freedom to demonstrate our solidarity with our leader, who is bearing our yoke in detention for over a year now. IPOB never issued a new directive to Biafrans, but is simply implementing an existing order to lock down Biafra Land any day the Leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra will appear in court at Abuja.

“It was based on such agreement with our leader that informed the suspension of the initial Mondays sit-at-home declared by IPOB leadership in August of 2021. It is imperative that our people understand this and go about their daily work and businesses on Monday and get prepared for Tuesday the 13th of September 2022, because Biafraland will be LOCKED DOWN COMPLETELY.

“Secondly, it has come to the knowledge of the leadership of the Indigenous People of Biafra that the vulture in IKONSO HOUSE in Owerri, the Imo State Government office has decided to insult the memories of our gallant men and women and of the youths of Imo State that he has been murdering in collaboration with the Nigerian terrorists in Army, police and DSS uniform by inviting Buhari to Oweeri the Imo State capital Tuesday September 13, 2022, the very same day the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra Mazi Nnamdi Kanu will be appearing in Court. What an affront and insult upon the land of Biafra and the people of Biafra.”

Consequently, that fateful Tuesday 13, when President Buhari’s aircraft touched ground at the Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, Governor Uzodimma felt relived and seemingly fulfilled that he was killing two birds with one pebble: First, the President’s visit helped the governor to clear the pervading impression that President Buhari swore never to visit Imo State on Uzodimma’s watch as was being pandered by opposition in the state.

It could be recalled that shortly after President Buhari’s visit to Imo State last year, his remarks that he would consider before accepting another invitation, supported the impression that Governor Uzodimma tricked the President on embarking on the visit.

The President had remarked: “I am overwhelmed by this reception; overwhelmed in the sense that, when I accepted the invitation by the Imo State governor, who wants to justify investments the government has done to the people, I thought I would see the bridges, the roads and a few renovations.

“He didn’t tell me he was going to get the whole Igbo leadership here. So, in the future, when he invites me, I’ll know what to do.”

Also, apart from claims that the President was disappointed by the scant projects executed, opposition alleged that the projects were mostly uncompleted. This was just as the President’s attire was made the butt of ribald jokes on the social media as keyboard happy youths called for the arrest of the tailor who put together the Isiagu piece, particularly the President’s trouser.

In the Presidency’s efforts to come to Uzodimma’s aid, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, released a statement, explaining that Buhari’s closing comment was carefully taken out of context.

Adesina had stated: “We have observed that President Buhari’s concluding remarks at the meeting with South East Leaders during his one-day visit to Imo State is being deliberately contorted and twisted out of context.

“The purveyors of disinformation want Nigerians to believe that the President bluntly told Governor Uzodinma, ‘‘I’ll be careful with your future invitations. They have adduced different meanings to the phrase, contrary to the context wherein the President spoke during his successful dialogue with leaders of thought from Igbo land…”

The Second Coming
ON his second coming precisely one year after, it was a dapper President Buhari that walked briskly and majestically in a contrasting all white caftan, in a manner suggesting a response to all those that won’t mind their business and focus on his attire.

There were near silent whispers of “hey, he appears to be younger and smarter.” But, the height of the pantomime was during the breaking of kolanuts, which is a welcome ritual in Igbo land.

President General of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Ambassador George Obiozor, informed the august visitor that breaking kolanut in Igbo land is a sensitive and tricky business. Governor Uzodimma used the interlude of the kolanut breaking to speak in idiom, which Chinua Achebe describes as the oil with which elders eat words in Igbo land.

Why the governor chose late Osita Osadebe’s Osondi-Owendi, was not lost on many of the dignitaries present, who are aware of the tenuous relationship between the governor and his people. In Osodi-Owendi, Uzodimma was passing a subtle message to IPOB and the opposition that he does not give a damn.

Osondi-Owendi translates loosely to different strokes for different folks, but in the context of the hanky-panky politics of Imo State, the governor seems to have given up on his efforts to warm his administration into the hearts of Imolites.

Apparent from Buhari’s visit to Imo State also, was the fact that the governor was not apologetic about his membership of All Progressives Congress (APC), which has a low acceptability rating in the zone. It is such setting that would have spurred Christogonus Obinna Opara (Warrior of Oriental Brothers) to render his Jide nke gi kam jide nkem, onye ana na ibeya (keep to your lane).

Had Governor Uzodimma wanted, he could have brought Bright Chimezie of Zigima Sounds. The problem with that alternative is that instead of taunting his opponents, Chimezie would have reminded the governor Onuru ube nwanne agbalaoso (be your brother’s keeper) or Meere ndi obodo iheoma si gi n’obi (Serve your people with a sincere heart).

However, oblivious of the coded political diatribe, President Buhari felt at home as he met with Southeast leaders present, even as he declared that in spite of daunting odds, his administration has performed extremely well since it came on board in 2015.

And, as if echoing the Osondi-Owendi lyrics, the President lamented that those who should have been vociferous in marketing his administration’s marvellous deeds are regrettably silent.

Dignitaries present at the reception included, the Deputy Senate President, Omo-Agege; Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Idris Wase; Minister of State for Education, Goodluck Nana Opiah; the Deputy governor, Prof. Placid Njoku; Chairman of Elders Council of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; a former military administrator of Imo State/Foreign Affairs Minister, Maj.-Gen. Ike Nwachukwu (rtd) among others.

While recalling his government was welcomed into office by a multiplicity of economic challenges, including dwindling oil prices, crude oil theft, Boko Haram insurgency, among other drawbacks, the President declared: “To be frank with you, I blame the Nigerian elite for not thinking hard about our country. Between 1999 and 2015 when we came in, I will like people to check the Central Bank and the NNPC, the average production was 2.1million bpd. Nigeria was earning at this time 2.1 million times, but look at the state of infrastructure, look at the roads, look at the railway, it was virtually killed. Power, we are still struggling.

“But, when we came, unfortunately, the militants were unleashed, production went down to half a million bpd. Again, unfortunately, the cost of petroleum went down from $28 to $37.”

Referring to his previous visit, Buhari noted that his appeal for support to Governor Uzodimma to bring progress to the state was bearing fruit, which could be seen in the infrastructural growth recorded by the administration.

The governor in his welcome address had noted that, but for the prompt intervention of President Buhari, bandits and hoodlums would have overrun the state. He informed the President that, “your prompt intervention helped to restore peace and order in our state. But, for your timely, prompt and fatherly intervention through the security agencies, bandits and hoodlums would have overrun Imo. For this, I also say thank you Mr President.”

While remarking that his administration’s goal is to leave Imo better than they met it, Uzodimma noted: “We refused to be distracted by pockets of insecurity and social media blackmailers and propaganda, especially those that are politically contrived.”

He noted with glee that the Owerri-Okigwe Road, under construction, traverses seven councils, leading to Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and other states, adding that construction of most of the roads undertaken by his administration, including Amucha-Njaba erosion area on Owerri-Orlu road, were abandoned because of their topography.

However, taking on the governor, the opposition PDP described the President’s visit as a meaningless jamboree and waste of public funds, explaining that Governor Uzodimma lured Buhari to the state to commission uncompleted projects.

Although the state governor outlined that the President was coming to commission the first phase of the Owerri- Okigwe Road, and the Owerri- Orlu Road, PDP decried the rush to inaugurate the projects when they were still ongoing.

In a statement by the state PDP publicity secretary, Collins Opurozor, the party declared: “For the avoidance of doubt, the Imo State House of Assembly Complex, the best in Nigeria, was built and commissioned by Chief Sam Mbakwe in 1983. The project was handled by an indigenous firm, Okigwe Construction Company, owned by Chief John Enyogasi.

“For Imo PDP, therefore, Uzodinma’s attempt to take credit for Mbakwe’s landmark project is an intolerable dimension to his insult and disrespect to Mbakwe, and it is the most audacious attack on the memory of the late respected leader.

“What makes the issue more outrageous is that President Mohammadu Buhari, who Uzodinma has concluded plans to bring for the festival of shame, has always been known for his abiding disdain for the progress and development of Imo State.”

While the opposition continues to wail and rail, Governor Uzodimma will continue his Osondi-Owendi till October 2023, when the voters will have the opportunity to introduce their kinsmen, Oriental Brothers and Warrior’s Iche na mmadu bu eghu (who is fooling who)?

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Entertainment

[DRAMA] DAN KPODOH’S INTERPRETATION OF OLA ROTIMI’S ‘GRIP AM’

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Scene from the play

The name Dan Kpodoh has deservedly etched himself as one of the proponents and vanguards of the renaissance of live theatre performance in the city of Port Harcourt and by necessary extension the Niger Delta region.

By Don Kester Oshiarome

Through his Active Play House, Dan, a script writer, choreographer, artistic director, Festival curator and Event Manager, has produced and hosted with consistency performances in the last few years. Some of his productions which are usually laced with dance and music, include but not limited to; Bolobolo, _The Struggle_, Biokpo, _Unbroken_, _The gods are not to blame_, etc. His choice of scripts for productions reveals his artistic commitment to socio-economic reconstruction. Whereas he addressed the burning issue of domestic violence which I describe as the scourge of the marital space today in _Unbroken_, however, for the most part, Dan’s artistic endeavor tilts toward the ideological dramaturgy of the Osofisans and the Fatundes because evident in his thematic construct is the passion for the liberation of the Niger Delta from the shackles of depravity underdevelopment.

A scene from the play

On Sunday, 11th September 2022, Dan Kpodoh took another giant stride with his cast and crew to bring to live theatre enthusiasts in Port Harcourt and environs, one of Ola Rotimi’s classics in the comedy genre; _Grip Am_.  For those not familiar with this very popular script, it is an adaption from vernacular into Nigeria Pidgin English by Ola Rotimi. For some it may have been nostalgic entering the auditorium and perhaps with an air of predictability (that feeling of knowing what to expect). But with dexterity and artistic license, Dan Kpodoh tweaked this comedy into a musical somewhat, suggesting that the present transition in theatre development in Nigeria into Musical Theatre is gradually becoming a norm.

The play started at 05:07 pm; 1 hour 37 minutes from the earlier advertised commencement of 3:30 pm, at the Arena Event Centre, Tombia Street, GRA, Port Harcourt. No thanks to the heavy downpour. The hall was half full; comprising mainly of theatre practitioners, who came to show solidarity and support for one of their own. The main show was preceded by rib cracking jokes by the duo of Angel the Laff (pioneer, Port Harcourt Comedy Club) and Kunle Tatafo (of the Funky Four). They both reeled out spontaneous jokes which relaxed and prepared the audience for what was to come; more laughter and entertainment.

Scenes from the play

The play opened with a Sunny Neji’s hit track, _Tolotolo_; incidentally that was the name of Alabo (the protagonist) and Warri’s neighbor. The director set the play in the Niger Delta, judging from the names of the protagonist and his wife; Alabo (played by Alfred Fadar Otite) and Warri (played by Favour Nabofa). Tolotolo (played Doubra Agwana) is depicted as a ‘been to’ character, in her speech, nuances and mannerism. But we would discover later that all was for show, she’s never been anywhere but her community. Whereas the Arena is proscenium in orientation, Dan from the outset was not pretentious about his avant-gardist approach to directing in the manner he broke the fourth-wall, introducing his first character on stage from the audience. That singular act created a tacit intercourse between the audience and the actors on stage.

In terms of content, the director made superfluous insertions of social issues, phrases, words, jokes and malapropism into the original dialogue, all in a bid to evoke laughter and indeed it resonated with the audience. So we heard issues like PVC and its importance to good governance going forward. Songs like _Enjoy_ by Tekno, Alpha Blondy’s _Sweet Fanta Diallo_, and of course ‘Carry me dey go, carry me dey go my father house’ (from a skit creation that has gone viral on social media), etc, were freely but appropriately used to the delight of an appreciative audience.

There were three entrances that were innovative for me; the first was that of the Angel (played by Olivia Chinwendu Onyeji) heralded by George Frederick Handel _Halleluyah Chorus_. The Angel appeared on stage spotting a medicated  glasses, when asked why, she replies that she doesn’t see correctly. That generated guffaw on stage and in the auditorium. The beggars’ entrance was equally exciting, though unexpected; it added fervor to the dramatic piece with its sonorous songs. However, the entrance of Death (played by Jessica Oluebube Sunday) was the show stopper. Death was introduced with his team, all clad in black and danced in unison to a parody version of Michael Jackson’s track, _Billie Jean_. It was a lively performance. The landlord (was played with panache by Dan Kpodoh). His interpretation of the role held the audience captive especially with his phrase uttered in Yoruba-English; ‘Nor dey S’out’ (shout). Deinmoara James Profit played the typical Ijaw woman’s role effectively too, accent and all. Wisdom Edet as Skiddo, the landlord’s son gave a good account of himself in the few moments he graced the stage. Overall, the acting was excellent.

Don Kester Oshiarome

Ultimately, this was a successful show performance wise. Although there were deliberate attempts at slapsticks by some actors to elicit laughter, it didn’t take anything from the general performance. Alabo (Alfred Fadar Otite) didn’t manage his voice properly, he was shouting in an attempt to project, even with a lapel mic. That was a disservice. If this play ran for 3 days, I doubt he would have retained his voice. Also, the actors played for the most part on the same plane Down Stage, that wasn’t good directorially, as it robbed the play of the needed depth. The Set was as simple as austere as it can be but was too neat like a new project about to be commissioned. The technical director could have aged it a little though. The costumes and make up and sound were on point. The play ended with Kizz Daniel’s anthem; _Buga_.

Like we have always advocated, we should be collaborating and not seen as competing with each other. We should support one another. To that extent, I salute Crabites who defied the rain to patronize one of us. It is okay to acknowledge Boma Kiri-Kalio who single handedly bought 20 or so tickets to share to friends. Also, Mr Yibo Koko, gave an open invite to every member of cast and crew of Seki to attend the show at his expense. Indeed Dan was enthralled by the solidarity.

In all, the feedback attests to the fact that the audience had value for their time and money. Congratulations to Dan Kpodoh, Cast and Crew of _Grip Am_, and the Active Play House on another successful outing.

POSTSCRIPT

Finally, thanks Dan for asking me to do this review. It reminds me of what I consider the best definition of a critic yet; “critics are like manure, they smell but you need them to grow”. Dan is one who is ready to grow, and grow he will.

Don Kester is a creative arts critic and writer based in Port Harcourt

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