EVERYONE would have understood had Nigeria’s foremost culture advocacy group, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), rolled out the drums to celebrate its 25th anniversary. But instead of self adulation, what the body, also called the ‘culture landscapists’, did last Sunday, June 5 was a critical appraisal of its past activities and reflect on ways of improving, going forward.
Though the actual anniversary was Thursday, June 2, Sunday was when a cross section of Nigerians, who were present at the birth of CORA and others who came on board later, converged to review its activities at a stampede with the theme ‘Voyage of the culture landscapists’ held at Freedom Park, Lagos Island.
While writer, critic and editor, Molara Wood, moderated, the panellists were newspaper columnist, Dr Reuben Abati; theatre scholar and teacher, Dr Tunji Azeez; writer Toni Kan, filmmaker Francis Onwochei and Victor Nwokocha of Arterial Network.
CORA Secretary General, Toyin Akinosho, would not be heckled out of the routine excerpt he reads from books before his opening statement at such events. This time, he read from Malcolm X’s ‘Muhammad Ali’ as narrated to Alex Haley before reliving CORA’s roots and its interventions.
Playwright, director and culture communicator, Ben Tomoloju, who also spoke before the panellists, recalled how the body would send resolutions from its meetings to the authorities for action in the early days. “CORA is a catalyst; the system couldn’t do without statements emanating from CORA; CORA initiated programmes. When the culture policy was formulated and laid comatose, CORA twiddled with it. CORA is always stampeding the establishment. As an agent of enlightenment, we must congratulate CORA. We should also support CORA because we are supporting ourselves. CORA produced a lot of stars, including the late Fatai Rolling Dollars,” he said.
Wood also attested to the goodness of CORA before asking the panellists’ assessment of the group. She said, “CORA was pivotal into my coming into the art life of Lagos. They’ve always embraced me and I’ve always embraced them.”
‘Voice for the voiceless’
Nwokocha, also, was fulsome in his praise of the culture landscapists: “I don’t think there’s any culture advocacy group in this country that would rub shoulders with CORA, especially in terms of giving opportunities to artists. CORA has also been a pain in the neck of those afraid of being told the truth, especially in the culture sector. Some people get stampeded when CORA holds its stampedes; CORA is the voice for the voiceless.”
Drama teacher, Azeez, chose a different tack by focusing on what CORA’s future engagements should be. He said that given CORA’s ability to bring people of diverse backgrounds together, it now needs a permanent secretariat “where the past can be relived.” He recalled how the organization facilitated the emergence of the late Fatai Rolling Dollars from relative obscurity as a security man to the star he became before his passing. Azeez also wondered if CORA has a succession plan, adding that it won’t be a bad idea if it floats a resort for artists.
“CORA is a gift that keeps on giving,” began Kan in his assessment of the group. The writer described CORA, winner of the 2006 Prince Claus Award for Culture & Development as a group that doesn’t know when to stop. On future engagements, Kan suggested establishing a trust fund, resort and making a business space for itself. He also suggested CORA having more structure and a return to documentation of their programs.
Abati, who drew laughter from the audience with “I’m very glad to be back from sabbatical,” also relived the early days of CORA; how it was a platform for upcoming artistes and the generousity of its pioneers. But its successes notwithstanding, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesman says there’s more to be done. He wants CORA to continue reproducing younger people and keep on with its advocacy because of the prevalent anti-intellectualism in the society. He noted that: “There is still a lack of understanding of the role between culture and the society. The struggle needs to continue because issues that led to the emergence of CORA still exist. In fact, we are now in the age of abbreviation and excessive summary and CORA is a platform for people to think. The people managing culture are still not knowledgeable about culture; the challenges are still there. Going forward, there’s a need for more linkages and partnerships because many of the groups in the culture sector operate in silos; if they operate together, the better for all. Also, there’s no continuity in culture; there’s need for budget advocacy for culture and this shouldn’t be at the federal level alone.”
Onwochei continued with the commendations, saying that “10 CORAs are not enough for Nigeria because government sees culture as insignificant.” He disclosed that his decision to move from the stage to TV/film was inspired by the many discussions at CORA events but that though the group has recorded several milestones, it has also slacked off in some areas, especially in producing communiqués after its events and documenting its activities.
“If not for CORA, there wouldn’t have been a dance industry in Nigeria,” noted Muyiwa Oshinaike, who started with the group from its early days. “Almost all discussions at CORA events centred on professionalism and because of this, I was forced to found the Dance Guild of Nigeria,” he added.
‘Ship still on course’
Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academics) of the University of Lagos, Professor Duro Oni also had good things to say about CORA, noting that a lot has been achieved in the culture sector since its debut. He mentioned the group’s marshalling of players in the culture sector to resist the outright sale of the National Theatre as an example.
Former ANA Lagos chair, Dr. Tolu Ajayi noted that the present liberal political atmosphere was not always so and that CORA played its part in bringing this about. He also touched on the poor reading culture and how this can be addressed.
Artist and teacher, Dr. Kolade Oshinowo wasn’t left out from the analysts. He said: “You always come away from CORA forums with renewed energy. It’s been a voyage; it’s been rough and tough but the ship is still on course. They [CORA] should not be left alone; there’s a need for more people to come on board. Then, the practice of issuing communiqués should be renewed. Old age and fatigue appear to be setting in but I would suggest that the quarterly stampede should be revived; it should be elevated. There appears to be some slacking but there’s a need to engage the government more; the interventions of those days need to be continued.”
For actor and teacher, Tunji Sotimirin, late members of CORA like Akeem Shitta should be recognised.
Reacting to Dr. Ajayi’s take on the poor reading culture, Kan disclosed that the editors’ clinic and publishers’ forum were already part of CORA’s program. He also argued that Nigerians read and that it is writers that need to adapt to what people want to read. The publisher of Sabinews however agreed that the internet has changed the face of publishing, with young writers posting poor quality writings on the internet and their unenlightened friends hailing them for “killing it”. “There’s a mutual admiration society,” Kan said while advising young writers to look for experienced mentors and that CORA should do literary supplements in newspapers.
For painter Olu Ajayi, everyone has to contribute to building CORA as an institution. “What’s the succession plan? The leadership recruitment appears faulty as I’m seeing the usual suspects here. I worry about the future and government also needs to display culture as a tool for change,” he said.
The way forward
Responding to the moderator’s question on what CORA should do to ensure a robust future; Nwokocha said the group should look beyond advocacy and begin “decent commercialisation of some of its activities.”
For Abati, CORA should focus on documentation, sustainability in terms of recruiting new people, and institutionalisation of the group; greater sectoral collaboration within and outside the culture sector and policy advocacy.
Azeez opposed commercialisation and urged CORA to remain an advocacy and interventionist organisation. He also wants it to institutionalise prizes and organise scriptwriting trainings for new media. Lastly, Azeez wants the stampedes to focus on socio-political issues and not only culture.
Onwochei called for more support, including financial, for the organization and asked it to continue with advocacy.
Essentially a talk session, entertainment by way of a musical performance by Biodun Batik and Seun Olota was included in the program. There was also a skit entitled ‘Fatai’ by Toyin Oshinaike in honour of the late Rolling Dollars. Fittingly, palm wine and snacks, which were never enough in the early days of CORA, were abundant last Sunday.
Source: Sunday Tribune