Prof Sunday Enessi Ododo, fsonta, MNAL;
President, Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA),
Delivered at the Opening Ceremony of 30th Annual International Conference of SONTA,
at Ebitimi Banigo Hall, Abuja Park, UniPort (Permanent Site).
1st November 2017; 10am.
Prof Sunday Enessi Ododo, fsonta, MNAL;
President, Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA),
Presidential Address by Prof Sunday Enessi Ododo, fsonta, MNAL; President, Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA), delivered at the Opening Ceremony of 30th Annual International Conference of SONTA, at Ebitimi Banigo Hall, Abuja Park, Uniport (Permanent Site). 1st November 2017
SONTA, our dear Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists is thirty-five years old this year. When in 1982 our founding fathers came together at the University of Benin to birth a society that will advance the training and practice of theatre artists and allied professionals, many of us holding leadership positions today in SONTA were just freshers in the University. We are therefore excited and grateful to God for helping us to sustain a vision they etched thirty-five years ago.
As expected of any society of a people, there would be high and low moments; indeed, we have had our own fair share of these moments. The most striking low moment for us as a body was the road mishap that consumed three of our members and a student in one tragic swoop on 7th February, 2014: Prof Jenkeri Zakari Okwori, Prof Sam Ayedime Kafewo, Dr Martin Ayegba and Nana Aisha Ali. It is not that we have not experienced death in our fold before and after this particular incident, but all of the affected people were from the same institution, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), and the accident claimed them in active service for ABU and SONTA.
I want to seize this moment to recommit all our deceased members into the soothing hands of God Almighty for their eternal rest: Joel Adeyinka Adedeji, the first PhD holder and first Professor of Theatre Arts in Nigeria; Zulu Sofola, first female playwright in Nigeria and first female Professor of Theatre Arts in Africa; Pa John Ifoghale Amata, first President of SONTA; Jide Malomo, 4th President of SONTA; Dapo Adelugba, the director of Nigeria’s drama entry in FESTAC ’77 – Langbodo by Wale Ogunyemi; Ola Rotimi, Sonny Oti, Amatu Braide, Yakubu Nasidi, Foluke Ogunleye, Emma Ebo, Regina Ode, Taiwo Oladokun, Onukaba Adinoyi Ojo, just to list a few that readily come to mind.
Some of our remarkable high moments include the following:
- Barely four years old as a scholarly and professional body, one of our valued members, Wole Soyinka, was awardedThe Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, "who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence".
- Within the last three decades, some of our members assumed prominent political positions in national affairs. We had legislators in two former Presidents of SONTA – His Excellency, Prof Iyorwuese Hagher (who later became an Honourable Minister of Federal Republic of Nigeria and Ambassador to two different foreign missions); and of course Prof Saint Gbilekaa, who also became Chief of Staff to the erstwhile Benue State Governor, His Excellency, Gabriel Suswam. Dr. Tunde Lakoju was in the House of Representatives a few years back. Alhaji Aliyu Akwe Doma became the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State. Some of our members effectively headed and managed key parastatals in the cultural sector. Prof. Olu Obafemi was the Board Chairman of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments; Prof. Femi Osofisan was General Manager and CEO of National Theatre; Bayo Oduneye was in charge of the National Troupe of Nigeria as the Artistic Director, before Prof. Ahmed Yerima succeeded him and later had to oversee the National Theatre and the Abuja Carnival; Prof. Rasaki Ojo Bakare took over from him as the overseer of Abuja Carnival; Prof. Duro Oni was in charge of the Centre for Black and African Arts & Civilisation (CBAAC); Mr. Martin Adaji also had his stint as the Artistic Director of the National Troupe of Nigeria; Dr. Reuben Abati was Special Adviser on Media to President Goodluck Jonathan; Dr. Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma is the current Executive Secretary of National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO); the list is quite long….
- In University administration many of us have become deans, directors, provosts and most importantly Vice Chancellors. To a profession that many erroneously misunderstand as an enclave for jesters and alawadas and thus not considered fit for any serious responsibility, the art world went ecstatic, when Prof. Shamsudeen Onyilokwu Onche Amali was announced as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, thus becoming the first Theatre Artist in Nigeria to be so appointed. For doing so well, he was appointed as the second ever VC of Nasarawa State University, Keffi. His achievements as astute administrator certainly corrected, the hitherto wrongly held impressions about theatre artists. After him, many other VCs have emerged from our folds – Prof. Charity Angya, as the VC of Benue State University, Makurdi, thus also becoming the first female Vice Chancellor from our fold and indeed the first in BSU. Prof. Austin Asagba also became the VC of Western Delta University, Oghara. Prof. Duro Oni was a Deputy Vice Chancellor (Management Services) of the University of Lagos and currently in the race to become the next VC in November. May God crown his efforts with successes. Prof. Musa Dauda Enna served for two terms as Deputy Vice chancellor (administration) at the University of Jos. Prof. Austine Anigala is a serving Deputy VC (Academic) in Delta State University, Abraka.
- Professors Ahmed Yerima and Sam Ukala are proud recipients of the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature which is worth $100,000. Only last year one of our SONTA Life Members, Professor Femi Osofisan won the highly coveted Thalia Prize of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC). That was the first Thalia award to any black or African writer or critic. This has been followed by a corresponding increase in the recognition of works of African playwrights by major theatre festivals in Europe and Asia. I am delighted to state that from November 2-6th 2017, my award winning play, Hard Choice alongside the works of Wole Soyinka and three other African playwrights will be exhibited for the first time in the highly respected World Cultures Festival in Hong Kong. I must at this point commend the efforts of our own Professor Emmanuel Dandaura whose exploits at the IATC level is behind these feats. His recent recognition and ascension as global vice-president of the International Association of Theatre Critics portend greater gains for SONTA and African theatre generally. Also, SONTA Fellowship Screening Board Chairman, Professor Olu Obafemi, ascended the presidency of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) barely a year ago. We are happy that under his presidency SONTA has harvested two fellows of NAL (Professors Sam Ukala and Duro Oni) and over six new members have already been inducted into the academy. I am also privileged to have been elected as a member of Prof Obafemi led executive body.
- With the presence of these calibre of people in our folds; seventy-five professors and a growing membership strength of above four hundred, SONTA has emerged stronger and well-focused and cannot but command deserved attention and respect. Within the last two decades we have featured prominently in national discourses, workshops, creative industry mapping projects and implementation committees on culture and tourism. But we sure need greater space to direct the cultural wheels of this nation towards a more fruitful harvest.
- As President of SONTA in the last four years, we dedicated ourselves to implementing and enriching the strategic plan of SONTA we inherited in 2013, and also created new developmental pathways. Accordingly, SONTA is now fully registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). We now have stronger administrative structures and a rich constitution to direct our affairs and operations. SONTA website ( is richer in information; it is interactive and engaging. Our single membership register has been cleaned up and published for the first time. SONTA now has endowment of prizes for creative competitions, which is in its third edition, and endowment for postgraduate research support scheme specifically designed to encourage the emergence of more female scholars in theatre studies. We have added over 26 titles to the SONTA publications series including a new journal, Scene Dock: Journal of Theatre Design and Technology; all achieved without TetFund support. The process of indexing and digitizing our Nigerian Theatre Journal as an on-line journal is ongoing. Fourteen universities in Nigeria and Ghana benefited from our Library Support Outreach Programme (LSOP) with books donations in handsome quantities. During our tenure 25 of our members became professors, 10 presented inaugural lectures, six (6) became Deans of faculties and three (3) elected as University Council Members. For the first time, a government agency, NICO, hosted our international conference and AGM at Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja. We hosted the 1st Meeting of Nigerian Professors of Theatre Arts, which yielded a rich document to make theatre arts curricula more responsive to the needs of the industry. SONTA now has beautiful robing gowns; exotic medallion of authority for SONTA President; lapel pins for different categories of SONTA membership; permanent membership certificates have been produced and being collected. Under our leadership, SONTA spearheaded the synergy of critical stakeholders like NANTAP and IATC to revive the National Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF), which was moribund for well over a decade. Ladies and gentlemen, due to these giant strides, SONTA enjoys more national and global recognition today, our processes are now better organised and the theatre as a profession is better understood. These are some of our modest achievements.
As a society, we are happy to note the positive inclination of the current Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, towards culture and SONTA. In recent history, Alhaji Lai Mohammed ranks very high as the culture minister that relies heavily on intellectualism and expertise to drive the cultural goals of our nation. He has also engaged with SONTA more than any of his predecessors. We are grateful and expect that the coast of our developmental interactions would expand more. We earnestly believe that under your tenure, our Performing Arts Professionals Regulatory bill will enjoy Executive push to the National Assembly and become law, which we believe will shape and galvanise the growth of training and practice of theatre arts in Nigeria.
We want to also use this medium to call on the Federal Government of Nigeria, arts patrons, philanthropists and well-meaning Nigerians to invest in erecting and equipping theatre buildings across Nigerian Universities. The theatre is our 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; the 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 it potent grip on the human intellect and emotions. Our nation can derive maximum benefits from these theatre values only if the facilities for theatre training in Nigerian universities are overhauled and optimised. The theatre is key to human understanding, socio-religious tolerance and economic wealth. The federal government should therefore firmly embrace the theatre to foster its economic diversification agenda.
The theme for the 30th edition of our international conference is “Theatre, Economic Recession and Quest for Survival”. It is our modest contribution to the national agenda for economic emancipation for the Nigerian people. We believe that the creative attributes of Nigeria are potent enough to drive high yielding economic returns for Nigeria. Without pre-empting the outcome of the conference, I know our governments at various levels shall benefit from the suggestions and recommendations of this high profile gathering of theatre elites, scholars and professionals.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to end my address by letting you know that this conference will be the last I shall preside over as SONTA President. My four-year tenure as President ends tomorrow for a new era to begin. I hereby want to thank you all for your faith in us and genuine support for our administration these past four years. In our imperfect assessment, we believe we have made our modest contributions to reposition SONTA for a better today and a greater tomorrow; we hope this self-assessment fits into your own perfect judgement.
As we celebrate our 35th year of SONTA’s existence I want to also pay glowing tribute of service to past presidents of SONTA:
Pa John Ifoghale Amata, fsonta
(1st SONTA President, 1982 - 1986) Deceased
Dr Olu Akomolafe, fsonta
(2nd SONTA President, 1986 - 1991)
Prof Iyorwuese Hagher, OON, fsonta
(3rd SONTA President, 1991 -1993)
Dr Jide Malomo, fsonta
(4th SONTA President, 1993 - 1995) Deceased
Prof Ayo Akinwale, fsonta
(5th SONTA President, 1999 - 2004)
Prof Saint Gbilekaa, fsonta
(6th SONTA President, 2004 - 2009)
Prof Emma Dandaura, fsonta
(7th SONTA President, 2009 - 2013)
I recognize that you have all laboured and toiled hard to lay a formidable foundation and structure for SONTA. It is on this foundation and structure that we have also laid our blocks of investment for growth in the last four years. If the beauty of our efforts shines out, it is because the design and frame you collectively handed over to us is right and extant. On behalf of our members, I salute you all past presidents for your service to SONTA.
Permit me to thank all SONTA Executives whose support and dedication made all our achievements possible. I am particularly lucky to have worked with two Deans as Vice Presidents, Professors Alex Asigbo and Tor Iorapuu, and another Dean as Secretary General, Prof Gowon Doki; SONTA Editor, Prof Ameh Akoh practically slaved with me to expand SONTA publication profile; our Treasurer, Dr Asabe Iyeh kept our treasury well in the face of scarce resources and rising needs and demands; Drs Suru Damisa, Tayo Arinde and Jonathan Mbachaga, and Tosin Kooshima Tume also gave their best; everyone in our exco sacrificed for SONTA and posterity shall bear testimony to this. All our elder statesmen, I appreciate you all for support and useful counsels. Our Chairman Board of Trustees, Prof S.O.O Amali, I will not forget in a hurry all those early morning phone calls to discuss SONTA and prayers for our wellbeing. God reward you for your genuine service for SONTA. At this point, I want to specifically appreciate my predecessor, Professor Emmanuel Dandaura whose unwavering support, dedication and counsel made the job of taking our professional body to a higher pedestal lighter for me and other members of the executive. He took instructions from me and carried out assignments for SONTA without hesitation but he was also my greatest critic and his criticism gave me more options to work with. I am confident that if we sustain such warm relationship and unity of vision between our successive leaders, our collective goal of SONTA emerging soon as a more formidable professional body and highly respected regulator of performing arts training and practice in Nigeria will be realised. In the same vein I wish to pledge my availability and total dedication towards supporting the next executive committee to succeed. In my honest view, it is in continuity of programmes and mutual respect for our past and current leaders lie our strength and ultimate growth.
In the last four years I have literally been on loan to SONTA from my employer. The office of SONTA President has become very demanding and toll-taking, I managed to cope because of the astonishing cooperation and loud support I got from my home base. One man made this possible, Prof Ibrahim Abubakar Njodi, my Vice Chancellor, University of Maiduguri. Whatever positive impact we may have made in SONTA, I partly owe it to your inspiring style of leadership built on hard work and creativity with dogged insistence on perfection. Thank you sir for releasing me as an ambassador of UNIMAID to the creative industry in Nigeria. My VC sir, now that you have come to see us at the apogee of our creative calling, I am confident that that ultra-modern theatre building you promised us shall commence forthwith. The theatre is our laboratory of creative experiments and with the execution of the innovative and resourceful design you have approved, UNIMAID shall become the theatre hub of Northern Nigeria. My immediate past Dean of Arts, UNIMAID, Prof Mohammed Munkaila, I thank you for your generous patience with me and the engaging discussion we regularly have on how to lift our society. I must reveal too that my SONTA assignment enlisted every member of my family as errand tools for SONTA, while they also adjusted to my many days out of home pursuing the goals of our dear Society. Today as I begin to wind up, I salute you all for your consistent support and genuine love for my progress. Whatever accolades I receive from this national assignment, I return to you Monica, my wife, my personal person and lovi dovi for your endurance and sacrifice for SONTA. Most of all, I give God all the honour and glory for what He has done for SONTA using us as a veritable vessel. I also want to acknowledge all the genuine support we have received from all our members, individuals, some government agencies, and the University of Port Harcourt in hosting this conference and AGM.
On this note, I heartily welcome SONTA members, conference participants and our valued guests to Port Harcourt, traditionally known as Ígúọ́cha, the rich garden city with a plethora of fortunes. Enjoy the conference and the bustling city of Port Harcourt.
Long live Nigeria
Long live SONTA
Thank you for coming.
Prof Sunday Enessi Ododo, fsonta, MNAL