Travails of culture in 2020

by Araayo Akande

The COVID-19 pandemic, economic recession and #EndSars protests conspired against culture in 2020.

Players in the sector had expected a better year than the previous but unknown to them; the pandemic would hit them severely. Many activities were cancelled or suspended before Zoom, and other virtual tools were adopted.

The 2020 iREPRESENT International Documentary Film Festival (IREP) was one of the first casualties as organisers postponed it indefinitely just a day to its commencement.
Freedom Park, Lagos Island also suspended activities marking its 10th anniversary because of COVID and the lockdown of recreational spaces by the Lagos State Government.

The Nigeria Prize for Literature sponsored by the Nigeria LNG didn’t happen. The book party that usually precedes it became a digital interaction with the past winners.

Organisers also shifted the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA) to this year. “The African Union Commission (AUC) and the International Committee of the All Africa Music Awards (AFRIMA) announce the deferment of the 2020 edition of the All Africa Music Awards, AFRIMA, to 2021 in the light of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” they disclosed in November.

However, some events happened virtually and physically after the lockdown ended. Culture activist and multi-talented artist, Benson Omowafola Tomoloju unveiled 100 songs he composed and performed. The 100 pieces were in genres including reggae, folk, evangelical and Bolojo.

The 2020 edition of the Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange was a mix of virtual and in-person gathering. It was the same for the Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF), Quramo Festival of Words (QFest), Ake Festival, Lagos Fringe and Abuja Fringe. Dancer Qudus Onikeku’s Afropolis also organised a digital celebration of the 90th birthday of the late Professor Chinua Achebe.

In visual arts, some significant events like Lagos Photo and ART X Lagos happened virtually. ART X was an online-only showcase of over 200 artworks from 44 artists represented by 10 of the leading galleries in Africa and the Diaspora. An extensive virtual program of 13 events further bolstered it. Some other shows, including ‘Ajorin: Dance Metalphor’ and ‘Metala’ were in-person. ‘Facade’, a solo exhibition of paintings by master artist, Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya is also physical and ongoing to April 10, 2021.

The EndSars protest in October that vandals later hijacked was ruinous on the art. Art patron, Yemisi Shyllon lost property at Lekki. Vandals also destroyed the Goethe Institut’s office at City Hall, Lagos Island. One of the brand new Lagos Theatres built by the Akinwumi Ambode administration was similarly burnt.

The Africa Movie Academy Awards also happened virtually in Lagos because of COVID-19 disruptions as did the 17th Abuja International Film Festival.

The Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF), on the other hand, was shifted to this year. “Seminars and workshops for 2020 AFRIFF, themed: ‘Breaking Borders’, has been cancelled due to the effects and uncertainties thrown out from the COVID-19 pandemic and in solidarity of the youths who lost their lives during the Endsars protest,” organisers announced.

Seun Oloketuyi’s Best of Nollywood Awards however held in Ado-Ekiti. Comedian, Mr Macaroni, and actress Tana Adelana anchored the event hosted by Governor Kayode Fayemi.

The 50th birthday of former Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism and Culture, and publisher of TCN, Steve Ayorinde, was a virtual affair. He was honoured with a pan-African zoom webinar conference with the theme ‘Close the gap – For African Tourism to Reboot, Revive and Refocus’.
It was a mixed-grill for stage productions. Some plays were virtual, while others were physical. The yuletide, a peak season for productions in Lagos, had just a handful of shows. These include Bolanle Austen-Peters ‘The Olurounbi Musical’ and Joseph Edgar’s ‘Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again.’

Government, as is wont to do, didn’t cover itself in glory. Stakeholders are still awaiting the outcome of the Committee the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, set up to assess COVID’s impact on the creative industry and advise the government on the best way to cushion its effect back in May,

In August, the minister constituted an Implementation Committee to study the body’s report, but nothing has been heard. Ali Baba (Chair), Bolanle Austen Peters, Charles Novia, Segun Arinze, Ali Jita, Baba Agba, Kene Okwuosa, Efe Omoregbe, Prince Daniel Aboki, Chioma Ude and Olumade Adesemowo were members. Others were Darey Art Alade, Hajia Sa’a Ibrahim, Anita Eboigbe, Oliver Enwonwu, Alhaji Saleh Rabo, Bala Hassan, Ali Nuhu, Tajudeen Owoyemi, Baba Dzukogi, TY Bello and Lanre Da Silva Ajayi.

But the head of the Implementation Committee and Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Segun Runsewe, has been one of the proactive chief executives of culture parastatals. The NCAC successfully hosted the 13th International Arts & Crafts Expo (INAC) in Abuja from November 5 to 6 with Runsewe innovating with a ‘drive-in virtual exhibition’. NCAC also hosted the 33rd National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) in Jos, Plateau State in late November.

The new GM of the National Theatre, Professor Sunny Ododo also signalled that it would be business unusual with the maiden ‘Festival of Unity’. The festival-themed ‘Healing Nigeria’ and held from December 18 to 20 featured colourful performance and visual art displays. The Federal Government had earlier in the year handed the theatre complex over to the CBN/Nigerian banks for redevelopment.

The National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) stirred controversy with its amended 6th Broadcast Code that some stakeholders vehemently oppose. Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka was among those that thoroughly condemned it. In a short statement entitled ‘That NBC Regulatory Code’, Professor Soyinka asked the Muhammadu Buhari administration to admit that it has declared war against the arts and creatives.

Death also bared its fangs in culture house in the outgone year. Highlife great, Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya, the scholars, JP Clark, Tejumola Olaniyan, Harry Garuba and Ayo Akinwale, foremost musicologist, Professor Akin Euba; writer and king, Chukwuemeka Ike, all joined the ancestors. Former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors and Minister of State for Education, Professor Jerry Agada also passed on December 22.

The beat also stopped for musician Majek Fashek, prolific movie director, Chico Ejiro, media personality, Dan Foster and actors Dayo Akinpelu (Alabi Yellow), Kayode Odumosu (Pa Kasumu), Frank Dallas and Toyosi Arigbabuwo.

As we step into the New Year, stakeholders are cautiously optimistic that it would be a better year.

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