A professor of dramatic theory and criticism and current Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Abuja, Abuja, Nigeria, Professor Saint Tsavnav Gbilekaa, has posited that, “art is inevitably political because it evinces a form of social consciousness or ideology which either charts the course of effecting societal transformation or delays it”.

Gbilekaa stated this as the Inaugural lecturer of the University of Abuja’s 20th Inaugural lecture with the topic: “Theatre and Politics: The Critic and Social Consciousness in Africa Theatre and Drama”, under the distinguished chairmanship of Professor Michael Adiukwu, the Vice-Chancellor, University of Abuja, at the Main Auditorium, Faculty of Management, Main Campus of the University, on Thursday, 23rd of June, 2016.

Introducing the lecture, Prof. Gbilekaa traced the origin of literary drama in Africa/Nigeria, dating from 1863 during British colonialism in Nigeria with a broad policy of the three “Cs” – Christianity, Commerce and Civilization and how the doctrinal literature got a boost with the production of concerts between 1866 and 1876.

Discussing the paper in details, the astute theatre scholar, citing Augusto Boal, from the book, Theatre of the Oppressed, established the relationship between theatre and politics, saying: “All theatre is necessarily political, because all the activities of man are political and theatre is one of them…. Those who try to separate theatre from politics try to lead us into error and this is a political attitude.”

In his analysis, Gbilekaa opined that, since art is inevitably political, evincing a form of social consciousness or ideology, “both the artist and the politician deal with the same subject-human beings and human relationships in a human world”; and that, “the artist is inevitably a politician because in dealing with human relationships, the artist is dealing with the operation of power in his society including who controls that power, who maintains it and the use to which that power is put”.

He was of the view that Nigerian theatre has been overtly political from its inception, as Hubert Ogunde, Wole Soyinka, JP Clark, Ola Rotimi, Sonny Oti, Zulu Sofola, and Wale Ogunyemi, highlighted in their plays and literary works; adding that it later became ideological and revolutionary with playwrights like Femi Osofisan, Kole Omotoso, Harry Hagher, Olu Obafemi and others in the 70s and 80s.

According to him, this ideological and revolutionary trend took another turn with the emergence of Theatre for Development (TfD) with playwrights like Ngugi Wa Thiongo championing the course for social consciousness in alliance with the aspirations and yearnings of the poor masses.

saint2The erudite professor, “the only living Saint”, as he is fondly called by friends and colleagues, who is the immediate past Chief of Staff to the Executive Governor of Benue State (2007-2015), did not fail to recognise the place of those categorised as Nigeria’s third generation playwrights, especially, Irene Salami, Barclays Ayakoroma, Sunday Ododo, Alex Asigbo, Tracie Utoh-Ezeajugh, and Ojo Bakare, among others, who have contributed immensely in creating social consciousness in Nigerians.

Dignitaries in attendance at the 20th Inaugural Lecture included, former Vice Chancellor, University of Abuja, Prof. Nuhu Yakub; former Vice-Chancellor, Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi, Prof. David Ker; President, Society of  Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA), Professor Sunday Ododo of the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID);  Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) & Associate Professor at the Department of Theatre and Cultural Studies, Nasarawa State University Keffi (NSUK), Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma; and Head, Department of Theatre & Cultural Studies, Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Hajiya Lantana Ahmed.

saint1Others were Professor Ayo Akinwale of the University of Ilorin (UNIILORIN); Dean of Arts, University of Jos, Prof. Tor Iorapuu; former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka (UNIZIK), Prof. Alex Asigbo; former Dean of Arts, Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi, Prof. Gowon Ama Doki; former Head, Department of Theatre & Cultural Studies, Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Prof. Emmanuel Dandaura; former Head of Service, Benue State Government, Mr. Terna Ahua; and Prof. G.O.C Nzedibe of the University of Abuja.

It would be recalled that the 18th Inaugural Lecture in the series of the same University was presented by an astute professor of theatre arts and feminist studies, Prof. Mabel Evwierhoma on the 21st January, 2016.

Njideka Dimgba

Corporate Affairs Unit

NICO, Abuja