The Executive Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, has charged the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA), the umbrella body of theatre scholars in Nigeria, to leverage on the enormous achievements of Nollywood in order to reposition the theatre industry for greater heights.

Governor Obiano gave the charge, Thursday, 10th November, 2015, at the Opening Ceremony of the Society’s 29th Annual International Conference held at the University Auditorium, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Unizik), Awka, Anambra State, with the theme: “Theatre, Culture and Change Management in Nigeria”, saying that the theme was in line with his administrations’ change mantra in the past two and half years.

His words: ”When we talk about theatre, change and culture, we in Anambra State have been able to change the indices of Anambra in Agriculture, in terms of rice production, infrastructure and development of tourism potentials in the state.”

The Governor, who was represented by the State Honourable Commissioner of Information and Culture, Hon. Ogbuefi Nna Chukwucheta, averred that it was the measure of progress recorded in the state that made Nigerians, that is, Nigerian Theatre Artists, to believe that Anambra is one of the safest and socially accepted places to host the 29th SONTA International Conference.

Highlighting one of the achievements of the Nollywood industry within and outside the country, as an industry that has given Nigeria great visibility and recognition, Obiano further enjoined theatre scholars to multiply the effect of Nollywood because, to him, there was no greater ground with credibility for Nigeria in the world than Nollywood, and pledged his unflinching support to take arts and culture to greater heights.

Earlier in his address, SONTA President, Prof. Sunday Enessi Ododo, commended the Governor for his kind gesture and hospitality to SONTA, saying that the Society was impressed with warm reception given to the umbrella body of theatre scholars in Nigeria.

Ododo also reiterated the essence of the theme, which was in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s leadership agenda of change and how theatre artists can key into the agenda that was yet to be tapped, hoping that at the end of the conference, the change agenda of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be well articulated through the papers that would be presented.

The Vice Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Professor Joseph Ahaneku, appreciated  SONTA for giving the University the hosting right, as he wished the Society fruitful deliberations and a wonderful stay in the University.

The Convener of the 29th SONTA Conference, and Dean Faculty of Arts, Unizik, Prof. Tracie Utoh-Ezeajugh, had lent also welcomed all delegates, encouraging them to participate actively because, in her words, ”the conference was heavily packed, thought provoking, and had artistic exhibition that would keep them till the end”.

Meanwhile, it was a harvest of awards at the 29th SONTA International Conference as some members were decorated in academic gowns; just as awards were given to deserving members, who have served the Society meritoriously in different capacities.

The awards included Lifetime Achievements, SONTA Fellows, Outstanding Supporting Theatre Artists, SONTA Creative Writing and Music Awards, Community Service Awards, and other professional contributions in the theatre and culture sector.

The opening ceremony was well attended by dignitaries from the academia and stakeholders in the theatre profession, notable among them were, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), Nnamdi Azikiwe University (Unizik), Awka, Prof. Charles Esimone, who represented the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Joseph Ahaneku; Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration), Unizik, Prof. Carol Arinze-Umobi; the Chairman on the occasion, Prof. Emeka Ezeonu; Keynote Speaker and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Management Services), University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Duro Oni; 2-time Vice-Chancellor of University of Ilorin and Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Prof. Shamsudeeen O.O. Amali; Professor Ayo Akinwale of the University of Ilorin; and former Chief of Staff, Benue State Government, Prof. Saint Gbilekaa of the University of Abuja.

Others were Director, Institute of African and Asian Studies of the University of Calabar (UNICAL), Prof. Chris Nwamuo; Winner of the 2015 LNG Prize for Drama, Prof. Sam Ukala of Delta State University, Abraka; Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Jos (UNIJOS), Prof. Tor Iorapuu; President, International Institute of Theatre Arts Critics (IITAC), Prof. Emmanuel Dandaura of Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK); and Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation(NICO), Assoc. Prof. Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, among others.

Nwagbo Pat Obi & Dimgba Njideka

NICO HQ, Abuja