The National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, which was in doldrums for lack of theatrical activities, came aliverecently with the maiden edition of Festival of Unity. With Healing Nigeria, as theme, the three-day colourful event, held from December 18 to 20, 2020.
The General Manager of National Theatre, Prof. Sunday Ododo, speaking on the festival, said year 2020 has been very turbulent, starting with the Covid-19 pandemic that came early in March down to the lockdown and, while the country was celebrating coming out of the lockdown, the #EndSARS protest came up.
According to him, these were serious challenges for human activities, especially in Lagos, which was one of the volatile areas. Ododo noted that they had to come up with a concept — the triple P, which stands for Pandemic, Protest and Peace — to effectively put their dream into action.
He revealed that the Festival of Unity, the first of its kind, emphasised unity, “reminding us of where we are coming from, our focus as a nation and our desired destination to secure concrete future for our children.” Being the maiden edition, Ododo disclosed that his team received applications from both state and private troupes from all the states, but they had to scale it down.
Assuring stakeholders that the next edition will be better and bigger, Ododo said: “We had to design the modalities to create activities that will endure and bring back the lost memory of the National Theatre. What is very exciting for me is that the key industry players were very much supportive and this shows that we are accepted and that National Theatre is recognised as their home.”
He revealed that National Theatre has the capability to correct societal ills and offer therapy for health and rehabilitation, adding that Festival of Unity was organised to remind Nigerians of the popular mantra, ‘our strength as a nation lies in our diversities.’
According to him, it is expedient to also calm the nerves of some clusters of ethnic bigots beating the drums of war and needless acrimony in Nigeria.
“By our mandate, we recognise the use of theatre band drama as a potential tool for social change and nation building, being a popular medium as it is direct, immediate, affordable and combines instruction with entertainment.
“We came up with this idea of collaborating with principal stakeholders, professional association, guilds in the industry, Nollywood, filmmakers, dance groups and theatre troupes in this mini-theatre festival extravaganza.
“It’s aimed to remind us that our strength as a nation lies in our diversity, and a united Nigeria focuses with a common goal of building a new Nigeria with no oppression,” he said.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, represented by Dr. Olalekan Fadolapo, Registrar/Chief Executive Officer, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) at the opening ceremony said the festival will promote peace, unity and harmony, as well as celebrate life.
The minister noted that the event came at the time Nigeria was coming out of the devastation; downturn and psychological damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the #EndSARS protests.
“This programme will indeed promote peace, unity and harmony, as well as celebrate life.
“We are a unique nation, blessed with vibrant and highly creative nature, and it is for this reason that Mr. President is not leaving any stone unturned in creating jobs for the youths,” he said. He described the fiesta as another avenue for the youth, particularly those living in Lagos, to showcase their creative abilities.
He said: “Our unity as a nation is non-negotiable, we must be united in purpose, resolution in action and be determined in our will.”
For Mufu Onifade who coordinated the exhibitions, the festival served as platform for artists to showcase their works and called on art masters and upcoming ones to come on board the train.
He disclosed that aside the festival that the venue would be open for artist to exhibit their works. Commending organisers, Ifeanyi Eziukwu whose troupe, Just Theatre, presented the play titled, Just The Two Both Of Us, noted that the event was very rich in performances and also a motivation for upcoming thespians to share stage with notable actors and actresses.
He disclosed that young and upcoming artist(e)s across different genre of performance had a field day, saying it is a privilege now that COVID-19 pandemic is inhibiting the creatives from performing before a large audience.
Commending the General Manager, while drawing the curtain to a close, the chairman of the festival, Prof. Duro Oni said in just four months Professor Sunday Ododo has turned around the fortune of the national theatre, adding that it is unfortunate that it is at this point that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Bankers’ Committee have decided to commit some funds for the renovation and the rehabilitation of the National theatre.