The 30th Annual Convention and International Conference and celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA), an umbrella body comprising of theatre elites, scholars and professionals in Nigeria, ended recently at the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Rivers State, with the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), Ekiti State, being given the hosting right for the 31st Annual International Conference in 2018.

The 30th SONTA Annual Conference, which took place at the Ebitimi Banigo Hall, Abuja Park, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), from Wednesday 1st -3rd November, 2017 has as its theme ”Theatre, Economic Recession &the Quest for Survival” handed over the hosting right to the Federal University of Oye-Ekiti (FUOYE), Ekiti State after the bidding by University of Abuja (UNIABUJA) led by Prof. Saint Gbilekaa and University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) motivated by the Vice Chancellor’s request for hosting right respectively failed.

The out-going SONTA President, Professor Sunday Ododo from the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), in his address gave a brief history of SONTA and how in 1992 the founding fathers came together at the University of Benin to set up the society in order to advance the training and practice of theatre artists and allied professionals whom over the years have made the society proud and have been placed in leadership positions in SONTA, Nigerian Universities and in Government.

Prof. Ododo however, recounted the striking low and high moments of the body. One of the low moments according to him ”was the road mishap that consumed three of our members and a student in one tragic swoop on 7th February, 2014: Prof. Jenkeri Okwori, Prof. Sam Ayedime Kafewo, Dr. Martin Ayegba and Nna Aisha Ali…. All of the affected people were from the same institution, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, Kaduna state, and the accident claimed them in active service for ABU and SONTA.”

Some remarkable high moments the University Don said was that, barely four years old of SONTA as a scholarly and professional body, one of its valued members, Wole Soyinka, was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. More so, within the last three decades, some of the SONTA members had assume prominent political positions in national affairs such as Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher, former Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Ambassador to two different foreign missions; Prof. Saint Gbilekaa, former Chief of Staff to the former Governor of Benue State, His Excellency, Gabriel Suswam, Alhaji Aliyu Akwe Doma, former Executive Governor of Nasarawa State.

Ododo further intimated that some members also had effectively headed and managed key parastatals in the culture sector. Such members were Prof. Olu Obafemi, Former Board Chairman, National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM); Prof. Femi Osofisan, Former General Manager and CEO, National Theatre; Bayo Oduneye, Former Artistic Director, National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN); Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Former Artistic Director, National Theatre and Abuja Carnival; Prof. Ojo Bakare, Former Director General, Abuja Carnival; Prof. Duro Oni, Former Director General, Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization(CBAAC);Martin Adaji, former Artistic Director, National Troupe of Nigeria(NTN),Ruben Abati, Former Senior Special Adviser on Media to President Goodluck Jonathan; Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma, current Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO).

In University administration, SONTA members had become deans, directors, provosts and most importantly Vice Chancellors among whom were Prof. Shamsudeen Amali, first Theatre Artist in Nigeria to become Vice Chancellor, University of Ilorin (UNIILORIN), Kwara State& Nasarawa State University Keffi (NSUK), Nasarawa State respectively; Prof. Charity Angya, first Female Theatre Artist to become a Vice Chancellor in Benue State University, Markudi (BSU), Benue State; Prof. Austin Asagba, Vice Chancellor, Western Delta University Oghara (WDU)Delta State; Prof. Duro Oni, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Management Services), University of Lagos(UNILAG), Lagos State; Prof. Musa Dauda Enna, two term Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration), University of Jos (UNIJOS), Plateau State; Prof. Austine Anigala, current Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic), Delta State University, Abraka (DELSU), Delta State.

Highlighting that Professors Ahmed Yerima and Sam Ukala were proud recipients of the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature worth $100,000 (One hundred thousand US dollars), and that only last year Prof. Femi Osofisan won the highly coveted Thalia Prize of International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC), the first time such award was given to any black or African writer or critic. Prof. Emmanuel Dandaura, who is current IATC global Vice President; Prof. Olu Obafemi, President of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) , among other SONTA award recipients and nominations.

Concluding, Ododo urged the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the Special Guest of Honour of the occasion, Senator Magnus Abe, Representing the Rivers South East Senatorial District of Rivers state to push for the Performing Arts Professionals Regulatory bill to be passed into law through the instrumentality of the Executive (Presidency) and Legislature (National Assembly) arm in order to shape and galvanise the growth of training and practice of theatre arts in Nigeria.

He added that, Federal Government, arts patrons, philanthropists and well-meaning Nigerians should invest in erecting and equipping theatre buildings across Nigerian Universities because for him ”the theatre is the theatre practitioners’ laboratory of interrogating and simulating human issues; the theatre is also a temple of justice where matters of national concern are x-rayed and dissected with utmost objectivity for valid verdicts; theatre is a centre for cultural approbation and condemnation; what we are and what we want to be as a people are better understood and internalised for external actions through the theatre because of its potent grip on human intellect and emotions.” because if only the facilities for theatre training in Nigerian universities are overhauled and optimised the nation can derive maximum benefits from these theatre values.

Dignitaries at the Opening Ceremony were Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, (represented by Visiting Associate Professor Nasarawa State University Keffi (NSUK), and Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Dr. Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma); Chairman of the Occasion, Vice Chancellor, Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Port Harcourt, Prof. Ozo-Mekuri Ndimele (represented by Dean, School of Graduate Studies, Professor Daniel Ogon); Chief Host of the occasion and Vice Chancellor, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Rivers State, Professor Ndowa Lale (represented by Deputy Vice Chancellor, Administration, Prof. Regina Ogali) Registrar, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Rivers state, Mrs. Dorcas Oto; keynote speaker and former Vice Chancellor, Benue State University Markudi (BSU), Prof. Charity Angya; Council Chairman, SONTA and former Vice Chancellor, University of Ilorin (UNIILORIN) and Nasarawa State University, Keffi (NSUK), Prof. Shamsudeen O.O. Amali; and National President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Mallam Denja Abdullahi.

Other dignitaries from University of Port Harcourt University Librarian, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Dr. Susan Umozor; Dean Faculty of Humanities and Member of the University Governing Council University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT), Prof. Femi Shaka; Acting Head, Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) and Convener of the Conference, Dr. John Yeseibo; Chairman, Local Organising Committee of SONTA 2017, Prof. Julie Umukoro,

University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) entourage included Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ibrahim Abubakar Njodi; Traditional Ruler and Deputy Chairman, Gombe State Council of Emirs and Chiefs, His Royal Highness, Mai Kaltungo, Alhaji Salleh Mohammadu; Honourable Commissioner for Environment, Gombe State, Hajiya Saadatu Mustapha Al-Kebbi Kaltungo; Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic Services, University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Borno State, Alhaji Aliyu Shugaba; Special Guest of Honour, Senator Magnus Ngei Abe; University Librarian, University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Borno State, Prof. Emmanuel Campbell; Director Water Resources, University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Prof. John Owu; former Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Prof. Munkaila; Director Consultancy Services, University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), Borno State, Prof. Adamu Zirama; Head, Department of Public Administration and Consultancy Graduate Records, University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID), among others.

Njideka Dimgba

ES Office NICO, Abuja-FCT