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Maiden Enina Theatre Festival In Benin Boost For Arts, Culture Sector

For three days, penultimate weekend, the Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub, Benin City, capital of Edo State capital, renowned for its warm hospitality, rich cultural heritage, and deep-rooted historical traditions, was agog with theatrical and cultural performances showcasing also the huge array of talents that abound in the state, as the maiden edition of Enina Theatre Festival took centre stage.

‘Enina’, which means humanity, aims at projecting the goodhearted nature of the Edo people inherent in their rich culture, thereby creating avenues for the youths of the state to embark on careers in the creative industry, through monetizing of their skills via gated performances. Organised by the Edo State Skills Development Agency (EdoJobs) with the support of the German Government and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)-SKYE programme, the three-day festival, themed “Performing Diversity, Staging Inclusiveness”, and held on August 25 to 27, featured theatrical and cultural performances, workshops, conversations, masterclasses, carnival, exhibition and other activities in a lively, carnivalesque atmosphere.

The Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub, Benin City, was launched in 2021 by the Edo State Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, to boost the creative industry and as part of efforts to sustain programmes and reforms to ensure Edo youths realised their fullest potential. In all, there were seven play productions, namely: ‘Azagidi: When gods die’, ‘Mama Bendel’, ‘Yet Another Raft’, ‘Joromi’, ‘Let Me Die’, ‘Leke Leke, and ‘The Struggle’.

There are also performances by a Benin-based music ensemble (X-Factor Orchestra), Edo State Arts Council Troupe, Inneh Theatre, and Benin Choral Society and Philharmonic, respectively.

Speaking at the festival, the Edo State Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, said the decision by his administration to focus on culture as one of its six priority areas hinges not just on the sector’s ability to preserve and pass on Edo’s culture to its future generation, but more so, on theatre’s ability to build a vibrant creative economy for the state, “As Edo people, culture is so unique to us. We are about arts, and we are about culture.

What we our partners GIZ and the hardworking staff of Edo Skills have done is to work with us, and help mobilize resources to focus on culture. “We are doing several things in the area of culture.

As you know we are focusing on building a whole cultural district, with the Museum for West African Art (MOWAA). We are building galleries, other spaces, building storage spaces for artefacts and artworks. “But we are also focusing on things like theatre, films and other creative fields, that is why we spent time and money to convert this facility, the Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub (VUCH), into a sound stage. That is why we invested in studios (recording and mixing studios), for those who are into film and music to produce their works.

“This evening is the beginning of what we have planned, in terms of the creative industry in Edo State. Our Benin Film Festival is now an annual event. Now, we also have a theatre festival,” the governor said. The festival provided about 1,000 temporary jobs for participating Edo youths, over 100 of whom were trained in the various aspects of theatre, from costume designing, directing, acting, stage management etc. at a 21-day boot camp organised by Edo Skills with the support of GIZ-SKYE.

The boot camp culminated in the youth’s Significantly, six of the seven plays showcased at the festival – ‘Azagidi’, ‘Joromi’, ‘Mama Bendel’, ‘Yet Another Raft’, ‘Let Me Die’ and ‘Leke Leke’ – in addition to the construction of the stage used at the festival.

Also speaking at the event, the Head of Projects, GIZ, Skill Development and Youth Empowerment at (SKYE), Mr Tobias Wolfgarten, who was impressed by the youths’ performances and the stage design, highlighted the importance of vocational and skills development in the creation of jobs for Nigerian youths, stressing that skills development can plays important role in Nigeria’s economy. “Not all are open to vocational skills acquisitions, as they are viewed by some as menial labour.

There is nothing wrong with getting one’s hand dirty with work. Skills and vocational training, he stressed not only address the needs of the labour market but further has reverberating effects, compared to graduates with skills that are irrelevant in the nation’s economy,” he said. According to him, by bringing the right people – the private sector and government – within the last five years of working with the Obaseki government, GIZ aims at structuring skills development to address the needs of the Nigerian labour market. Such efforts, he said, have not only yielded in the annual Enina Theatre Festival and the Benin Film Festival, but the latter will see a film-cultural exchange between German representatives in the film and theatre industries visiting Nigeria, and Nigerian students visiting Germany – a mutual knowledge and experience swap that will aid the growth of Edo State’s creative industry. “Our role is first, to support skills development, training, activities or companies that can strive and find people with necessary skills to grow their businesses in the sector.

We like to bring the right people together,” said Wolfgarten. In his goodwill message, the representative of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Mr Christian Brugger, urged Nigeria to promote and utilize the enormous talent inherent its young, energetic and motivated population. “Young people should be trained and empowered to generate income with their passion and talent. We (Switzerland) support the government in vocational education in Edo State and in underlining the importance of practical skills to boost the local economy. We will continue our engagement with the SKYE project together with Germany as a co-donor, and in partnership with GIZ, as implementing partner,” Brugger said.

In her keynote address, renowned scholar and lecturer at the Department of Theartre and Communication Arts, University of Jos, Prof. Irene Isoken Agunloye, spoke on theatre and creative industry’s ability to create jobs for Nigeria’s teeming youth. She noted that in South Africa, the creative industry generated between 162,809 and 192,410 jobs, equivalent to 1.08% to 1.28% employment in the country, contributing about 2.9% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, adding that that after its refurbishment, the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, will create 16,000 jobs. She commended the state government’s investment in theatre and the creative industry, in the form of ENINA Festival and the landmark structure VUCH, which she said are proof of its conscious and deliberate effort at deploying theatre in the creation of jobs. She, however, noted that more needs to be done to ensure theatre is effectively leveraged for employment. Efforts, she said, must be concentrated on the exploration and exploitation of the relationship and interconnectivity of theatre and education – through the development of an educational curriculum that incorporates entrepreneurship.

She further recommended investment in training and building capacities of young people; the establishment of annual prizes to encourage and promote female playwrights and locally produced plays; and finally, the consolidation of the tuition of the Drama section of the Cultural and Creative Arts curriculum through the employment of theatre education graduates. A major feature of the festival are the workshops and masterclasses which were held simultaneously in two days respectively, with the President of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Israel Eboh, fta, who engaged the participants on the Business of Theatre; renowned actor and acting coach, Nobert Young (Stage Directing); Deputy President of NANTAP and lecturer in University of Abuja, Esther Onwuka (African Dance & Choreography); consultant, development sector professional, Ngozi Obigwe Kunuji (Grant/ Proposal Writing for Creative Industry/ Theatre; and notable actor, poet and educator, Fadekemi Olumide-Aluko (Acting: Stage/Screen). There were also panel sessions (Conversations) on Building a Sustainable Theatre Ecosystem in Nigeria: The Imperative of NonGovernmental Partnerships/Sponsorships, with the MD, EdoJobs, Violet Obiokoro, Executive Director, Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub and Sound State, Violet Ohonmoime Okosun, notable artist, Chuma Anagbado, and notable theatre producer, Joshua Alabi, as panelist, Chuks Omessah as moderator; and on Creative and Cultural Arts Curriculum: A Global Consideration Using EdoBest, with the Commissioner of Education, Edo State; renowned children theatre producer and actor, Bola Edwards, Dr. Kennedy Edegbe, and others as panelists, with Ogiemwen Osemwota as moderator.

Highlights of the Festival also include Governor’s Award and the Heartbeat Theatre Bootcamp graduation ceremony. Written and directed by Godswill Osose Jatto, Leke Leke is a contemporary Nigerian play that delves into the complexities of familial concerns and how this might impact on a child. The story centres around Osas who is influenced by her challenging upbringing and strives to break away from the burden of her familial past. As she endeavours to rise above her circumstances, she becomes entangled in a cycle that mirrors the very life she seeks to escape. Leke Leke highlights the intricate interplay between personal choices, parental influence, and our social reality. The Struggle, written, choreographed and directed Dan Kpodoh, is an actionfilled drama with lessons of peace, nonviolence and good governance. Tired of the sufferings of his people, Miebi goes against King Ikiriko, the corrupt Amayanabo, and leaves his family behind to journey to the creeks, braving the angst of the Militants from his community in an attempt to turn things around and bring the gun-toting youths back home. However, the youths are angry and determined set things right their own way… Angry at the Government for neglecting them, angry at the companies for polluting their lands, and angry at the Amayanabo for enriching his own pockets instead of the development of the land and people. Written by Pedro Agbonifo Obaseki, ‘Azagidi: When gods die’ evolves from the fateful encounter between two people who promise each love till eternity: the man, the greatest dueler, and the woman, the daughter of a god. Power like love intoxicates and drives the story to fatality. Directed by Osarumen John Igbinidu and Olajide Jolayemi, the play highlights power as the bane of mortal men and re-images love as deceit. It responds to our communal ability and individual humanity. The play was performed by participants of the GIZ/SKYE, Edo State Government and EdoJobs- sponsored The Heartbeat Theatre BootCamp.

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