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Honours for founding fathers

They were there when it all started. They gave their all to make it work. Fifty years on, their efforts have etched an enduring legacy in the world of arts, giving birth to an outstanding edifice for all to see. Welcome to the grand celebration of the “New” Department of Creative Arts, University of Lagos (UNILAG), which feted its founding fathers and others who have contributed to its advancement over the years. EVELYN OSAGIE writes.

It was a banquet of awards. It was a feast of creativity garnished with professionalism. The masters came to dine and wine – the takings, a gold-plated key.

The week-long feast of music, comedy, play, seminar and exhibition climaxed with the awards of excellence to founding fathers and others.

As they arrived at the Department of Creative Arts of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), they scanned the edifice. It is the Department of Creative Arts reloaded. They beamed with pride – their years of commitment and perseverance have paid off.

They smiled and walked into the department’s Theatre Complex, with heads raised in poised satisfaction. Past memories kept flooding back. They were home with honours.

Full with dignitaries, especially from the arts and entertainment worlds, and students, a grand reception was awaiting them. This was the day they dreamed 50 years ago. They beamed at protégés and students in acknowledgement as they were cheered to their exclusive seats. The ovation was at its loudest as they took their seats.

“Welcome home!” screamed the compere, Mr Olatunji Sotimirin a teacher in the department. “We are proud, honoured and happy to have you with us.”

And the masters and founding fathers, Prof E.J. Alagoa; Eze Ijikala II, Prof Edward Nnanyelu Laz Ekwueme and Prof  Abayomi Barber, nodded in response. Each had played key roles in ensuring the creative legacy lived on. Alagoa was the first director of Centre for Cultural Studies; Ekwueme was the first Head of the Department and Barber built the department of Visual Arts and after retirement, remained a point of reference.

Along with others who had made immense contributions to the growth of the department, they were treated to a feast tagged:  Homecoming cum “Grand Celebration of the “New” Department of Creative Arts”.

The award recipients were divided into four groups: former lecturers/directors that contributed department’s growth. In addition to the founding fathers, they included Prof Akin Euba; Prof Ebun Clark, two-time director of the Centre for Cultural Studies; Prof Dele Jegede; Prof Bode Osanyin, who was represented by Lilian Osanyin; Prof A.V.E. Anthony V. Ekwemezie Mereni;  Prof Duro Oni,  who served as Director and later as Head of Department; and others served either as directors of the Center for Cultural Studies or as Head of Department, and Prof Abayomi Sherriffdeen Adetoro. The contributions of General Overseer of the Mountain of Fire ministries, Dr Daniel Kolawole Olukoya; Dr Bruce Onobrakpeya and Chief Yemisi Shyllon earned them the “excellence award”; while Mr Demola Olayiwola’s meritorious service to both the Center of Cultural Studies and the Department of Creative Arts got him “long service award”.

The department also honoured journalists who had done their bit. The Nation’s Assistant Editor (Arts), Mr Ozolua Uhakheme was part of the last group of recipients. Others included former Sunday Editor of The Guardian, Mr Jahman Anikulapo; Mrs Tolulope Lamidi of Television Continetal; Mr Tajudeen  Sowole of The Guardian and Ms Chioma Okpara of Nigerian  Television Authority (NTA).

The feast brought together former lecturers and past students. They were elated to meet with their predecessors. It also featured performances from the former students, who have become icons in the entertainment industry.

When in 1975, the authorities of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) established the Centre for Cultural Studies that later metamorphorsed into Department of Creative Arts, they did not imagine how far it would go. But those men did. They gave their sweat and blood, envisioning a future where their products would rule the arts world. And so, for Igwe Ekwueme, now a monarch, and his contemporaries, it was more like a “harvest of dreams”.

“I am very glad to be here today. We have come a long way from where we started. Fifty years after, I am proud to be honoured and be asked to be part of this. We have performed greatly and produced many excellent performers in whatever genre – all icons in their own rights.

“This centre has taken tours to different parts of the world. I hope the department would continue to grow from strength. I am proud that here are members of the certificate class that rose to be profession and great artistes and icons,” he said.

Recounting the old days, the traditional ruler said it was not an easy task, ensuring that high standards were maintained.

He recalled: “It was rough then but we were determined. It gives me special pleasure to see Abayomi after a long time because even before there was Creative Arts Department, there was African and Oriental Studies and from this small school was formed, the Centre for Cultural Studies.

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“There was the late Ayo Bankole, myself and Alagoa, later others were added to us and we then started the Performing Arts Troupe in 1974, and 1975, Centre for Cultural Studies was born. It is good to see what our efforts had become.”

After leaving UNILAG for the Niger Delta, Alagoa said his experience at the institution paid off. “Coming back here, the memories of the time when I was here all come back to me. I am glad at what it has grown into. Moving from Lagos to the Niger Delta, it was like another country, but the experience I gathered from here were very useful,” he said.

Former lecturers and students also shared the experiences. It was the old versus the new as each sought to outdo the others in their reminiscences. But the performance/recollection of popular comedians, Helen Paul and “Princess” Damilola and Wole, graduates of the department, were particularly engaging.

Wole took guest down memory lane. While declaring the greatness of the contemporary and future artistes that the department would yet produce, he reminded guest of its great past. Guests sang with him, Abe Igi Orombo, when he sang  some popular Yoruba folksongs and nursery rhymes.

While Comedian and DSTV host Paul involved the audience in a mind game by mimicking different lectures in voice and action, Princess encouraged young ones to keep their dreams alive by paying attention to the teachings of their lecturers.

“Theatre is now very  sweet and easy. But in our time it wasn’t so. We were competing with others for space. We were drilled and tasked; and would in most cases rehearse under trees and in the open because of space. Today all that has changed,” Paul said.

Princess said: “The trainings I got from this place are what have kept me going. At that time, I hated it because they were tedious; the lecturers would drill you. But in the end the trainings I received have taught me discipline and determination.”

Olota, thrilled guests with his performance of a popular hymn, Then Sing my Soul and the late Bankole’s Iya, saying: it gives me great pleasure to be back home.

The award ceremony, like other activities marking the Homecoming, was meant to bring together “those who have worked so hard to create the foundation on which the department is built”. It also marked the end of the tenure of the Acting Head of Department, Dr Peju Layiwola, which was from August 1, 2013 to July, 31, 2015.

Having produced alumni that have distinguished themselves in the fields of music, performing arts and the visual arts, Layiwola said the occasion was also a scorecard for the department and reflection on the progress it has made.

She said: “It is a time for us to recall institutional memory and in many ways thank those who have invested time and resources in shaping and people since 1975. We are celebrating the homecoming of several persons who have served in the Department of Creative Arts and also others who contributed immensely to the old Centre for Cultural Studies from which the Department evolved in 1997.

“This event is coming at the close of my tenure as Acting Head of Department The multilayered event heralds our entry into the new Creative Arts Complex, a complex which has the most iconic mural in the University of Lagos.”

While listing the names of its alumni, Dr Layiwola added: “The award is shaped as a key. This is metaphoric of the awardees valuable contributions to humanity. Speaking metaphorically, they are the keys that have and is shaping many lives. Notable amongst these alumni are Patricia Uwaje-King of the midnight Crew Fame; Famed classical act, Pat King of the Midnight  Crew  fame, Olota; Seun Olota; Mo Cheddah, Femi Brainard; Pricess Tessy Iyase-Odozi; Wole Ojo; Kachi Nochiri; Seun Ajayi; Princess; Paul, Mercy Aigbe; Segun Adefila; Dare Art Alade; Stella Damascus and many more.”

Also, 40 popular arts/entertainment icons also received honourary mention, including the late Afolabi Alaja- Browne; Dr Sheri Ajasin; Stella Monye; Olu Adeniregun; Amos Oludotun; Olu Amoda; Ras Kimono; Cybil Amuta Kimono; Richard Bucknor; Francis Igboke and Margaret Henshaw Dacosta.

Other activities of marking the Homecoming events include lectures on Traditional Textile/Contemporary Art by Art Historian and Research Fellow at Boston University and Clark University United States, Prof Jean Borgatti; and What about Art Markets in Lagos (Early XXIth Century) by Dr Emmanuelle Spiesse Fourchard, a Research Associate lecturer and, LAM of Bordeaux (Science Politiques). There was also art confab introspection on Dele Jegede at 70 by the Society of Nigerian Artist (SNA). Bolaji Ogunwo’s Art Exhibition also held at the Theatre Complex. There two performances on different days: Felix Okolo’s The Walking Stick as directed by Felix Emoruwa and Wole Soyinka’s Kongi’s Harvest by Crown Troupe of Africa.

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