Open letter to the Executive Governor of Lagos State

1 week ago 15

Your Excellency Sir,
Suggestion for a Hall of Fame for Lagos State.

Our gratitude for your support of the arts in general and for the state in particular. We thank you, appreciate and acknowledge with sincere gratitude for this profound demonstration of your love for the arts. Speaking from the stage as member of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (OFN) awarded by late President Musa Yar’Adua and a Lifetime Achievement Award endorsed by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and as pioneer President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), pioneer member of P’man, I hereby humbly suggest that we spend some of this money to establish at least a foundation for the ‘Hall of Fame’ for the recognition of Lagos State Artists as a library and museum. The arts world deserves this privilege.

As a Lagos State artist with over fifty years contribution to the profession, I believe that past practitioners deserve to be remembered and honoured so as to inspire the future generations of artistes and the development of arts. A special place should be preserved permanently for the remembrance of our arts’ heroes like: the Lagosian and popular musician who was invited home from London to sing Nigeria into independence in 1960, Ambrose Campbell; also the fathers of popular music in Lagos, Bobby Benson, Ayinde Bakare, the great Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Art Alade and Steve Rhodes.

Not forgetting Nigeria’s Hogan Bassey who was bread and groomed at Olowogbowo at (Elegbata) to become Nigeria’s featherweight champion and later went to Europe where he fought and became Nigeria’s first World Boxing champion and Nap Perigrino whose boxing gym is now the Central Bank of Nigeria. Another great Lagosian from Olowogbowo was Teslim (Thunder) Balogun, one of the greatest Nigerian footballers who was the first to turn professional, also Gbajabiamila of the famous Pan Bank football club. Famous musicians like Victor Olaiya. Also the founder of the Lagos State Lawn Tennis Club and table tennis philanthropist, Okoya Thomas.

There are some other artists whose names have not immediately come to mind who would need to be in the Lagos State ‘Hall of Fame’ like: (Black Scorpion) Benjamin Adekunle, Gov. J.M. Johnson, Alakija (the Big Fish); great entertainers like Ogundele and Baba Sala. Our present needs to recall the past to make a better future for the arts.

This move will also provide work for many artists and for a long time. Photographers, sculptures, film & graphic artists, writers, actors, carpenters, set builders, sound & lightning artists to recall, record and replicate memories of our great past. We should also remember popular female musicians like Francesca Emmanuel, Frances Kuboye. Actresses like Toun Oni (Mama T), Funsho Alabi. Also remember the departed members of the cast of Village Headmaster: Ambassador Olushola, Justus Esiri and Eke Olusola and all the other late members of the cast need to be remembered.

On the touch of culture and tradition, we should remember Baba Ajonoku the 2nd, the Araba of Lagos who I brought on stage of the main bowl of the National Theatre Lagos to present the dreaded Lagos masquerade “Egun Lapanpa” which I am proud to be the first to bring on the stage of the National Theatre.

This artistic and culturally revered high chief appeared and danced with the masquerade Egun Lapanpa in the production of my play “Awero” in 1983. Lagos State remains Nigeria’s commercial capital and would be the most attractive and existing tourism centre of the nation. This Hall of Fame should boost tourism in the state. The artist and the art need space to spread for tourism to grow and such space can be provided on the dotted Islands around: Ibasa, Ibeshe, Imoren, Teddy etc. And developing and revamping the Artist Village within the National Theatre complex. Dancers, drummers, singers, fine & graphic artists, masquerades, musicians, can be settled on this island to provide excitement and interest to tourists and new tenants.

This should ginger the Lagos State Government’s interest to invest and develop the waterways and transportation in that direction. River traffic will direct tourists to these villages and ease the Lagos Island and Mainland traffic. It will also decongest the population. For example, a speedboat ride from the Lagos Mariner to any of the aforementioned villages can only take about 30 minutes and you are at home from work. The tourist would also get a chance to move freely, quickly and see more of Nigeria’s artefacts.

Artists are known for their business acumen and therefore, require experts to handle their investment and profit sharing to develop and to keep the industry alive. Creative artists have their hands and minds fully occupied with creativity and should leave the buying and selling to the businessman, hence, we need show business businessmen. The theatre unit, for example, requires one with the business sense to handle the box office, front of the house, general publicity of production and teasers before play tickets are sold, these have nothing to do with the civil service administration of promoting officers from one level to another. This is where seven General Managers have failed to run the National Theatre entertainment unit profitably.

The theatre needs a knowledgeable theatre practitioner, not academic professors or civil servants with special administrative knowledge. This is why theatre in Nigeria is seen as a failure, while theatres in America is one of the highest money spinners and why New York Broadway developed to off Broadway and off off Broadway with tickets always all sold in advance and full houses registered. Of course, actors are busy and well paid in such a lucrative industry. The arts or show business needs show business businessmen. The entertainment business requires the handlers to be interested in building up the industry. Entertainment is the most comprehensive business in the world. It takes in every aspect of life and therefore needs a profound attention or interest to keep it alive. The arts need the partnership of the government to invest in this development.

For the arts to grow, it needs to use tourism as a motivating partner. Tourism and the government need to stimulate and generate developmental infrastructure. If these teams can invest, there will be an improvement on Lagos waterways by dredging the river paths and activating the surface with speedboats for transportation. Live entertainment during such a movement can generate a lot of revenue for the arts, from the boat rides to tickets in the villages for entertainment and sales of artefacts. That’s why they say: “There is no business like show business”.

Though we don’t sell salt, sugar and cement. The arts, the entertainment industry, or show business requires aggressive marketing and sales campaigns. This is where the Arts’ Council should function actively; otherwise we should cancel the Council. We can’t expect much progress from creative artists without the support of the Arts’ Council and national television/radio. These bodies need to help ginger investment into other businesses for the arts to grow and be financially capable to advance and improve production. Your Excellency Sir, we thank you once again for your generosity and foresight as we look forward to creating hope for a brilliant and prosperous entertainment industry for the state and Nigeria as a whole.

Yours in Arts, Chief Lari Williams (MFR)

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