Address by the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at the 30th edition of the Annual International Conference of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA) held at the Ebitimi Banigo Hall, University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt, Nigeria
- It gives me great pleasure to be here at the University of Port Harcourt, in the Garden City, on the occasion of the 30th edition of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA) Annual International Conference, SONTA 2017.
- I have been reliably informed that this convention also marks the 35th Anniversary of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA). Incidentally, most of the visioners are not around now, but I thank all of you for running with a dream that came to light as far back as 1982.
- SONTA 2017 is unique in several ways. First, it is taking place in Port Harcourt, the UNESCO-declared Book Capital of the World in 2014. Second, it is taking place in “Unique UniPort”, a university that has made a mark in the comity of academic institutions in Nigeria. And third, it is being hosted by the Department of Theatre & Film Studies that was founded by the legendary Professor Ola Rotimi of blessed memory.
- Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I can attest 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 our dear country, telling the Nigerian, and indeed the African story to the world.
- 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.
- Nollywood has been adjudged the 2nd largest film industry in the world, after Bollywood, the Indian film industry, in terms of production quantity. It means that Nollywood is producing more films than even Hollywood, the celebrated American film industry. The challenge before stakeholders, including SONTA members who are moulders of the professionals then, is to ensure that we pay serious attention to quality.
- The opportunities are there for us to grow the film industry, given the necessary synergy. Put simply, we can harness our theatre and cultural resources to create more jobs for our teeming unemployed youths and contribute to the growth of the nation’s economy.
- Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is on record that since my assumption of office, as Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, the Ministry has attached great premium to the strategic position of SONTA Members in the development of the creative industry. This informed the invitation we extended to some SONTA Members to be actively involved in the 1st Culture and Tourism Summit that was organised by the Ministry at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, in April, 2016.
- To sieve and process the contributions from the academia, the President of SONTA, Professor Sunday Enessi Ododo, was appointed a Member of the Summit Implementation Committee, which was constituted. I am also aware of SONTA’s proposed Performing Arts Professionals Regulatory Bill (PAPR), which seeks to strengthen the training and practice of the performing arts in Nigeria. We shall explore possible channels to push it forward as an Executive Bill to the National Assembly. Furthermore, apart from various critical stakeholders’ meetings, the Ministry, under my 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.
- The most recent outing of the stage presentation of Wakaa: The Musical, produced by Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters, had the endorsement of the Ministry. It is gratifying to note that the grand finale of the performance on Monday, 2nd October, 2017 at the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, had the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, GCON, in attendance. This is a strong indication that live theatre is indeed being resuscitated in Nigeria.
- Also, one of the agencies under my Ministry, the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), hosted the 28th edition of the SONTA Annual Conference in August 2015. This, I must say, is the type of collaboration between “Town and Gown” that will foster the development of the creative industry in Nigeria. Let me use this opportunity to enjoin all well-meaning individuals and corporate bodies to partner SONTA in its various programmes and publications.
- Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, there is no gainsaying the fact that the theme of SONTA 2017, “Theatre, Economic Recession and the Quest for Survival”, is very apt. This is in the sense that Nigeria has just come out of recession; and it is 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.
- I want to use this opportunity to encourage members of this august body not to talk about theories and principles alone. Let us “Walk the Talk”. Let us relate the various theories that have been propounded to practice by ensuring that we practice theatre to make money. I believe that the Nigerian audience is in search of live theatre, and you have the keys to unlocking the doors to provide such services. In this regard, I want to assure the leadership of SONTA that the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture will continue to collaborate with you on all programmes that will move the creative industry forward.
- I wish to commend the Management of the University of Port Harcourt, under the leadership of the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ndowa Lale; the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, Professor Femi Okiremuette Shaka; and the Head, Department of Theatre and Film Studies, Dr. John Ebimobowei Yeseibo, for accepting to host this all-important conference of creative thinkers and for being good hosts.
- On this note, I wish to declare the SONTA 2017 Annual International Conference holding here in UNIQUE UNIPORT open. I wish you very fruitful deliberations and thank you all for your kind attention.