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Once upon a National Troupe of Nigeria

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Tar Ukor

The Federal Government of Nigeria spends N9,132 of taxpayers money every minute and N219, 178 everyday to service inefficiency and non-performance of Tar Ukoh-led National Troupe of Nigeria.

This is a staggering sum racked up from the current debt stock, which soared from N21.68 trillion to N22.4 trillion in June.

In the last one year, there has been no single performance by the troupe.

A staff of the troupe, who pleaded to remain anonymous, claimed that since 2017 when the current Artistic Director (AD), Tar Ukor, came in they have not done any rehearsal, let alone performance. 
 
“Why give him that money? Is he going to spend the money on a troupe that is not doing anything? What is the money for?”

Last week, government released the first tranche of capital votes to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), but what has come, as a surprise is that the Troupe received 95 per cent for not doing anything in the year.

The capital vote of the agency is N85 million, while it received N80 million, which is against the service requirement.

Stakeholders and industry watchers are asking whether it was as a result of commitment, loyalty or what.

In line with public service requirement, every parastatal is expected to receive 10 per cent of its capital vote in the first tranche.

Many are surprised that Ukor doesn’t operate from Lagos, where the troupe is based. “He has never operated from Lagos.

See, if you calculate the number of times he has been to the office, it would not be up to one month. He only comes when there is a board meeting and when there is a hearing of the case he instituted against five principal staff of National Theatre.

He was here last week and immediately went back,” said a staff of the troupe.

Some of the staffers and stakeholders who spoke to The Guardian said from the era of Bayo Oduneye to Prof. Ahmed Yerima, the troupe was focused and enjoyed direction. Since Ukor came in, the place has been a ghost yard.

Though, its activities had gone down over the years due to poor funding, it had become worse under Ukor.

“The place has practically died,” said a staff. “You can imagine the last time drum beats were heard here was when the man was welcomes as the new AD. We don’t have rehearsal or do anything. We just come here to mark time.”

For Tunde Olaoye, MD/CEO at Unicorn Media Productions Ltd., the National Troupe has only succeeded in being a shadow of itself. Like many other government parastatal, it has derailed from its core objectives and deliverables, thereby, turning itself to an occasional circus theatre.

The theatre artiste said, “National Troupe should be a self revolving and reinventing institution that would be wholly run professionally.

A self-sustainable structure should be put in place for its core entertaining, informative, research and archival potentials.

It should also be national and vibrant like it was in those formative and developmental years under Hubert Ogunde and Bayo Oduneye.”

According to him, “by now, the National Troupe should have had up to five separate troupes of different age grades with separate developmental strategies and local and international engagements.

It should stop depending on government handouts that hardly come, engaging artists on adhoc/contract engagements that do not secure their future. This impairs commitment. A profession is a lifelong commitment.

That is largely responsible for the low mortality rate of artists. Hence, many shy away giving it their all.

Or better still us the National Troupe as a ladder to independent professional practice or free ticket to greener pastures overseas.”

He believes, “the National Troupe should be run by real professionals not academic or political jobbers who have never manage a drama troupe and lack the business acumen to run an institution of that magnitude. The business of arts must be taken more seriously not politicised.”

According to Dr. Akpos Adesi, a playwright, lecturer and the Registrar of Isaac Jasper Boro College of Education, Sagbama, Bayelsa State, “The Troupe has been able to meet the artists community in a way. But it has its limitations in that regard being a government agency.”

He said, “in terms of performance of as a government body with all its lackluster activities associated with government establishments, this is because I don’t see it as being able to meet up with the dynamics of contemporary art that could major up to global yearnings.”

Adesi added, “it has outlived its usefulness. Time was when it met the aspirations of not only the artists’ community but the Nigerian public, today is a different ball game.”

He continued, “what stops the troupe from spreading its tentacles in line with the vision of Prof. Adelugba who believed that considering the heterogeneous nature of Nigeria such a spread would have best suited our peculiar circumstances.”

Yemi Akintokun, who runs a repertory theatre in Ibadan, says, “some years back, when the economy was good, the troupe tried its best to prove that it could stand at par with other.

I think, if well funded they could do better. One way is for the troupe to write state governors.

Out of 36, I know 12 will accommodate them and each state adapts some scenes that would fly and make the host enjoy the performance. It won’t cost them much.”

Akinkotun said, “I don’t know how Yerima did it. He got funded kind of. It’s not about disbanding; it’s about restructuring and funding.

They, on their own, should be blamed. I perform at the Woke Soyinka Arts Theatre of the University of Ibadan.

It does not really cost much to put up play, because I had undergraduates as members. I don’t keep the purse we share what we get.

Yes, it cost so much to produce a play on repertory, but with government taking care of staff salaries, they could do better by having productions, which cost less.”

Akintokun said, “those improvisations and towards a poor theatre of Jerzy Grotowski learnt in school would come would have been helped, but you know our people they will inflate everything, those improvisation we learn at school will not come in handy anymore. They are not proactive at all.

This election time would have a good time to educate us all as with National Orientation and other agencies to put up productions.”

Cultural Diplomacy as a significant policy of the present Federal Government is the mainstay of the troupe. It has exhibited this by its successful cultural exchange tours of more than twenty countries so far.

By the early 1970s, there emerged need for establishing a National Troupe of Nigeria.

Invitations for Nigeria to participate abroad in different festivals, trade fairs and cultural exchanges also brought about the awareness of the need for a collection of different dances from the states for the purposes of honouring these invitations.

Equally too, with the advent of FESTAC ’77 and the entries of different countries of their National dance ensembles or cultural troupes, it was evident that Nigeria needed a formally established cultural troupe that will engage in international tours on behalf of the country and that would also be addressed as the National Cultural Dance Troupe of Nigeria.

Chris Olude, with a group of dancers and musicians, formed the first National Cultural Troupe of Nigeria.

What, therefore, became formally known as the National Troupe of Nigeria was approved for establishment at the Council of Minister’s meeting in November, 1981.

The objective at the time was to enhance the cultural development and artistic creativity of the nation.

It was also to establish a national repertory system, which was to satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of the professional theatre, dance and music practitioners.

By 1988, with the launching of the Cultural Policy for Nigeria, the National Troupe of Nigeria was formally included in the policy as a formal arm of government.

It was initially run as a branch of the Performing Arts Division within the Federal Department of Culture under the supervision of the then Sole Administrator of Culture, Col. Tunde Akogun (rtd).

During this same period too, government approved the appointment of Hubert Ogunde as the first Artistic Director / Consultant for the Troupe. He was to organise a formal formation of the National Troupe of Nigeria.

Chief Ogunde was to also embark on what was later to be tagged, ‘The Ososa Experiment’. This later became the nucleus of the artistes of the National Troupe of Nigeria.

The objective of the Ososa Experiment was to prepare Nigeria’s representation for the Commonwealth Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland and to also convince government that a group of artistes could be put together, organised and trained for the specific purpose of performance and future representations of Nigeria in both national and international engagements.

The success of the experiment thus led to the formal establishment of the National Troupe of Nigeria in September 1989.

In 1991, the Troupe haven thus developed was granted the status of a full-fledged parastatal by Decree 47 of October 1991 titled, ‘The National Theatre and National Troupe of Nigeria Management Board Decree.’

Over the years, the Troupe has been involved in a lot of programmes and activities that have brought fame and honour to it.

The training of artistes from all states of the Federation and FCT for two years.

These artistes will in turn go back to the States to train other people. The Troupe is involved in Training the Trainers programme.


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