It was such a cozy afternoon in the city of Ibadan on the day slated for showcasing the miscellany of arts, talent and intellect at Lead City University.
Located on the border of the largest city in Africa (on several hectares) one is greeted with an inciting serenity which flows so naturally through the fields, lawns, administrative blocks and departments. Just yards to the gate is a lawn that spans over appreciable latitudes, housing a volley ball court, a lawn tennis court and a twin basketball court where the stage play ‘The Night Before’ starring Wale Oyelola, Balogun Janet, Samuel Osaro, Ogege Paul, Jimoh Michael and Anthony Leigh took place.
‘The Night Before’ is the modification of ‘The Night Before Graduation’, an article Professor Bode Sowande wrote in his university days to address the murder of the first Nigerian student in a students’ demonstration in 1971. It was also his first creative imprint that was accepted by a London publishing company.
Born in May 1948, the renowned playwright and founder of Ori Olokun Acting Company is one of the foremost second generation writers (in Nigeria) who infuse political undertone in their writings. He has written several other plays, performed on several international platforms and has won several awards. In this (short )interview, he states the basic principles that can change the fate of a common man in the society.
You wrote ‘The Night Before,’ many years ago and it seems to lay the foundation for your success in theatre. What motivated that?
Well, I was a final year student at the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University and we had a lot of experiences. I was very much involved in student union politics and the college media. I was the editor-in-chief of the university magazine. However, a lot of momentous things were happening in Nigeria at the time and the first student ever to be killed in students’ demonstration was Kunle Adepeju. He lost his life in UI. And this was something that I witnessed as an actuality. As a result of that, I wrote an article called ‘The Night Before Graduation’. Then my friend and president of the student union Moyo Ogundipe who now teaches at Bowen University, suggested that the title should be changed to ‘The Night Before’ and that was how the play was written. It reflected what we were going through at a time. And then the play gave birth to another play called ‘Farewell to Babylon’ and ‘Flamingo’. ‘Farewell to Babylon’ was published as a volume of plays and ‘Flamingo’ was also published as a volume of plays. So, it’s a play that can be called faction—a mixture of fiction with reality. Unfortunately, Nigeria doesn’t seem to have changed. The events seem to be repeating themselves…students are still demonstrating, the problems are still there.
Life after school is something young graduates struggle with. Do you think the government is doing a whole lot about this?
You see…I have learnt at least from many years of life after school. When you are a student, your dream should be very bold and rich. And I’m saying this from experience. Your dream should be limitless. You must not say this is a fantastic dream and just let go. Even if you dream of building a spaceship, you must hold on to it. You may not believe this but it is the dream you have while in school that determines what happens thereafter and all the government needs to do or what you want the government to do is to create an environment where that can happen. But now, Nigeria has moved through various political revolutions that have created the private and public sector. So you can combine the two to achieve your dreams. But if you go through school without dreams, that’s where the problem lies. It’s really about how creative you are with your dreams.
When you were done writing your first play, were there issues getting that published?
Yeah…it was first given to a Nigerian publishing house and I was told it was too slim to publish and then I went for my post-graduate in the UK and it was there I then gave it to Longman books that was based in the UK. The editor got in touch with me and asked if I could add one or two plays to make a volume. You know that was a promising answer and that was how I got it published.
Is this your first time in Lead City?
Yes. I am quite impressed by the things I have seen here. I also salute the courage of the school. I can see the dream and I can see the material challenge of the proprietorship, I can only wish the school great fortune. It’s a beautiful campus, quite neat and tidy, very well architectured, very well planned and I just worry, you know, how they sustain the school. This is money. But my conclusion is that the profit will come many years after and it can’t be what they have now. I am also impressed with their media section. I have been to their potential radio station and I have seen the various faculties. I feel all of this is of very high standard.