6 mins read


Good morning friends of the Performing Arts Department.

I feel quite happy to be amongst you this morning, at the University of Ilorin’s Department of Performing Arts. My links with your Department date back to the very early years of the 1980s. I was consolidating my experience as a Broadcast journalist, producing/presenting programs about contemporary social currents for the radio; while the Department too was entrenching itself as one of the best Departments of its kind in Nigeria.

Your Department was always a reservoir of talented individuals, ideas and artistic endeavours which enriched our own programs on the radio. On the other hand, I had no doubts in my mind, that your Department found our programs very valuable outlets to reach the community beyond the University system.

In the course of our symbiotic relationship, we built very useful friendships and acquaintances with several generations of students, not to forget the lecturers: the much lamented Prof. Zulu Sofola, who was always a cultured participant in several programs I made for Radio Kwara, RFI and the BBC; Prof. Akanji Nasiru, who has remained a Dear friend; Ayo Akinwale, Bode Omojola, Tony Afokhai, Elo Eleyae and a host of others. When I made a broad sweep unto the shores of hindsight, it became impossible to reject your invitation – despite the very short notice you gave me.

According to the plan of the lecture, I am to speak on “the Performing Arts and the Electronic Media in a Depressed Economy”. It is as exciting a plan as it is very broad. I can only outline my thoughts in the course of speaking to you, with the hope that at the end of my talk, we would collectively explore how best our different but related fields of endeavour can continue to survive the hard times in our country today.

Some days ago, one of your students came to visit with us at KWTV. She was surprised to discover that we also use such technical phrases as “risers”, “flats” etc. in the television world. She probably thought those were phrases exclusive to the theatre. I went out of my way to explain to her certain basic facts about the evolution of our electronic media.

When Radio made its debut in the first decades of our century, some of its earliest practitioners came from the world of the theater. They naturally imposed on the medium a lot of the praxis and language that evolved out of theatrical performances. Those transfers continued, with the emergence of television about fifty years ago. This background is important, because we must realise that the performing arts have always strongly impacted upon the electronic media in many ways; as a source of talents, source of materials, etc. While in turn, many individuals trained to work as performing artists, have often adapted their training for better exploration in the more dynamic electronic media of radio and television.

During the 1960s in Nigeria, Radio Drama came to a remarkable height with such outstanding personalities as Wole Soyinka, Ralph Opara and a host of house hold names of the period. Those were indicative of the relationships between our media and arts during the early days of our country. Those relationships entered a period of flowering during the post – civil war period, when Nigerian went through a boom in virtually every aspect of our national life.


During that period of boom, more radio and television stations came on stream, and in practically each one of these stations, there was a Drama unit, which more often than not, was manned by a graduate of theater from the many new universities which also opened in the period. At both ends, we took for granted, the fact that we were there to relate with ourselves in one broad platform of performance, which was driven so powerfully by the confidence attendant upon the economic boom that was all around us in Nigeria.

The bottom was to drop out on us, during the 1980s, when Nigeria’s economic boom not only halted, but went into sharp decline, that was to be characterised by the imposition of a Structural Adjustment Program on the country by the Bretton Woods Institutions. The logic of the new arrangement, was the erosion of the whole social fabric that gave rise to the movement that we experienced in the preceeding period of boom.

As the period of depression has deepened, the electronic media which did so much to assist the growth of the performing arts gradually began to suffer seriously from the shrinking levels of funding of the various programs of the stations. The budgetary cuts meant that there was little money meant to fund drama and local soap operas which often gave jobs to young graduates of the performing arts/theater, from our universities.

If you recollect, Nigerian productions such as “COCK CROWS AT DAWN’,

“WINDS AGAINST MY SOUL”, “MIRROR IN THE SUN”, etc. were remarkable representations of the positive trends that actually represented the halcion days of the positive collaborative relationships between the performing arts and the electronic media.

The advent of SAP also meant the emergence of full-blown commercialism, which meant that what mattered was not providing the platform for the flowering of the talents being trained in our universities. On the contrary, TNCs were importing into the country second-rate Mexican and American Soaps, which dont help us to develop our own theatrical and media infrastructure in any sense.

 But in accordance with the canons of the new fangled commercialism, they at least brought in money for the electronic media.

The truth is that the electronic media are caught up in a serious bind. The shrinking budgetary allocations to these media, represent a major difficulty in our endeavour to continue to assist the growth of the performing arts, because television, for example, is a very expensive business to run. Now all the electronic media depend largely on advertisements to survive. The truth is that in a period of crises, the first item of expenditure companies cut, is that going to advertisement. That is always the trouble that we constantly have to confront in the electronic media.

I believe that despite the seemingly gloomy scenario that I have painted, the performing arts and the electronic media would have to – and in fact are – learning to adapt in the context of the depressed environment within which they operate. If we look around us today, a bourgeoing video industry has emerged in Nigeria. This industry has continued to witness an impressive expansion despite the depressed economy in Nigeria today.

The booming home video industry has all the characteristic of the “gold boom” in the American wild west of the early decades of this century. We are witnessing some very good quality home video productions, which point out that many performing artists are adapting their training to the home video format; we are also harvesting very bad quality videos too, as dilettantes and quacks attempt to cash-in on the boom.

I made a report for the BBC about the Nigerian video industry sometimes in 1995, and discovered that more than 30 new titles were entering the market each month. Since then, the industry has expanded almost beyond description. The most positive current, in my view, is that there is a preoccupation with the exploration of Nigerian themes.

As part of a collaborative survival strategy, television stations across the country, including KWTV which came on air on March 12th, have been entering into production – sharing agreements with performing artists, in order to help defray the costs of their production or to help subsidize the cost of advertisement of their productions. By using our media, they can at least reach many potential viewers.

In turn, we are paid a fixed percentage of their box office takings; that way each party at least gets something out of the difficult situation in the country.

My own belief is that for the performing artists and the electronic media to continue to survive and find relevance in the depressed economic times in the country, we must become more creative, more innovative and more daring in the exploitation of the unique advantages of our different genres. Again, the reality of the times, is that with shrinking resources, our audience would naturally become more discerning in the pleasures they spend their hard-earned monies on.

We are exploring ever never methods of packing our programs on KWTV to ensure that our viewers find viewing of our channel on a daily basis “De rigueur” We are constantly asking ourselves just what is the most innovative way to present our various fares to the viewers. What is the best current which would appeal to the discerning viewer? Can we sell such programs to the advertizer? Can we be as socially relevant as we have set out to be with our materials?

These different questions have arisen because we cannot take our funding by government for granted. There isn’t just money anywhere to waste on a television station or any other media, for that matter that cannot creatively explore its inherent advantages to survive the depressed economic climate in Nigeria. This reality of learning to creatively adapt, faces both the electronic media practitioner as well as the performing artist. These are the lessons that life has taught us in post – SAP Nigeria, which has remained enmeshed in its economic depression.

As you celebrate your week therefore, I urge you to reflect deeply upon the state of the performing arts in Nigeria today. I am not inviting you to a state of lamentation or self – flagellation. On the contrary, I challenge you to find much better ways to become more relevant through your arts, for the eventual betterment of our country. This I believe is the heart of the problematic of creativity and innovation, that can move us beyond the crisis phenomenon of contemporary existence.

Thank you very much for your attention!

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