I wish to formally welcome you to this historic occasion of the Opening Ceremony of the 28th edition of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA) Annual International Conference, hosted by National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) here at the Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

Your Excellency, Mr. President, let me, on behalf of the Management and Staff of NICO, use this opportunity to congratulate you once gain for your assumption of office as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You commitment to entrenching good governance in Nigeria, which had led your to offer your good self for service to our dear country over the years, is a pointer to the fact that with perseverance, we will get to the Promised Land.

This conference is making history because it is the first time an Institute, outside a conventional university, is playing host. It is also the first time the SONTA Annual International Conference has an array of special guests of this calibre.

On the part of NICO, the presence of former President, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd), GCFR, is prayer answered. Your Excellency, the Local Organising Committee decided that you graciously chair this occasion for two main reasons: On the 17th of August, 1993, you signed the law setting up National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), with the mandate of sensitising Nigerians on culture related matters. Coincidentally, that day happened to be your birthday. The implication is that, NICO is one of your special birthday gifts to Nigeria. Secondly, this programme is taking place in NICO’s birth month and there is no better way than to go back in history to appreciate that patriotic act. We thank you; and welcome you wholeheartedly.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, in line with its mandate, NICO has been carrying out sensitization programmes in the bid to harness culture for national development, in line with the World Decade for Cultural Development (1988-1998). Some of our programmes include, NICO Training School academic courses leading to the award of diploma and postgraduate diploma in Cultural Administration, National Workshop on Repositioning Culture Workers for Improved Productivity, Promoting Nigerian Dress Culture, Nigerian Indigenous Language Programme, Promoting Reading Culture, NICO Cultural Clubs in Schools, National Quarterly Media Workshop for Arts Writers and Editors, and National Conference on Culture, Peace and National Security for Traditional Rulers and Local Government Chairman, among others.

This conference is in line with the mandate of NICO to partner relevant agencies in sensitizing Nigerians. Thus, the choice of the theme, “Repositioning Nollywood for the Promotion of Nigeria’s Cultural Diplomacy and National Security,” has been informed by the need direct the attention of states that could significantly contribute to their internally generated revenue (IGR) through the platform of the Nigerian film industry.

We believe that Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Enugu, Imo, Lagos, Oyo, and Kano are states that could ride on the platform of film production and marketing to create jobs and generate employment for our teeming youths.

As a point of fact, Abia State has Pound Road marketing hub, just like Anambra’s Upper Iweka Road and Lagos State’s Idumota and Alaba markets; Enugu is the original production base for the industry or Delta State, which through her professional directors has gradually become a production hub; Bayelsa State has been behind the success of the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA); Oyo State is a major production hub for Yoruba films, just as Kano for Hausa films, to the extent that film scholars now talk of ‘Yoruwood’ and ‘Kannywood,’ respectively.

For Management and staff of NICO, I wish to state that through your support of The Barclays Force, we can proudly say that we have opened a new vista in the annals of SONTA.

And for SONTA members, this is a new era. We have changed the face of SONTA Annual International Conference. If we have performed well, please tell others; but if you feel there are areas that we have not fared well, whisper to us.

On this note, Your Excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you all and God Bless You.