Fifteen years of uninterrupted democracy and 54 years of nationhood may not have given many Nigerians any cause to smile or celebrate. But for the arts and culture sector of the economy, there is something to cheer about. Agozino Agozino has been following the trend of the nation’s art scene. His report.
Nigeria, long before the advent of colonialism had a rich, vibrant and artistic culture, expressed in archeological excavation of the Nok culture, the Igboukwu bronze and brass cast and other forms of creative expressions. The advent of colonialism resulted in the theft of a significant number of these masterpieces from the country.
Most of them are now found in museums in Europe, while some museums in Britain have an elaborate Benin bronze head stolen from the ancient Benin kingdom, the seat of a rich metal work culture. The kingdom was brought to its knees by a British naval expedition in the 19th century.
However, despite policy flops and executive administrative somersault, the scenario in the nation’s art sector has not been all that bad as individuals, private and non-governmental organisations seem to have taken the challenge and forced themselves to achieve some level of success, even beyond the shores of Nigeria. The last 54 years coincide with the leap forward of Nigerian artists, writers, filmmakers as well as the period of improvement in the global ranking of the country’s cultural festivals and tourism sites.
Some achievements recorded by Nigeria
Although, no one knows why the name Alauiyu Odan Sidi, former Emir of Zaria is not popular in Nigeria’s art history today, history has it that he was a notable poet in his time. His gift, ironically, contributed to his removal from the throne. He was deposed and exiled during Lord Lugard’s British colonial administration of Nigeria because of his fiery anti-colonial poetry in the Northern part of the country.
Another star was the late author, Peter Nwana who captivated the Eastern parts of the country with his popular novel Omenuko. Nwana’s novels, written in Igbo language pioneered a literary movement that set the platform for what was known, in the 1950s through the 1970s, as the Onitsha Market Literature, the forerunner of modern Nigerian literature.
Other less-mentioned outstanding figures were Ogali Ogali, Orlando Iguh and others. Ogali’s Veronica, My Daughter, was well known at home and beyond the shores of Nigeria. His provocative literary works, reportedly provided inspiration to a crop of young anti-colonial activists who also evolved into remarkable writers, fiery journalists and political activists. Among the Ogali protégés were renowned men like Mokwugo Okoye, Osita Agwuna, Adegoke Adelabu and Mazi Mbonu Ojike.
The contributions of these writers to the development of Nigerian literature, through their books, essays, newspaper columns, among other interventions, also appeared not to have been well noted by promoters of the country’s art.
Other writers that left indelible marks in the sand of literary time, included Daniel Olorunfunmi Fagunnwa (who signed as D.O. Fagunwa). His literary works inspired many of the post-independence writings in the country. Fagunwa, who reportedly got drowned while trying to cross the River Niger, in former Eastern region, had, between 1939 and 1961, published about six novels in Yoruba. Drawing largely from Yoruba mythology, Fagunwa did not only set a pace, he succeeded in winning and, retaining a large readership till date. His popular play, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, was translated into English by Wole Soyinka, as the popular work, Forest of Thousand Demons. Although, purely mythological, Fagunwa’s books offer rich moral lessons.