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Stella Oyedepo and the unfulfilled dream

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For the arts and culture community, it has been wailing unlimited with the passing on of the General Manager of National Theatre, Dr. Stella Oyedepo. The late Oyedepo, whose death occurred April 22, 2019, during a ghastly motor accident, while returning from an official assignment, was barely a year in office as the culture edifice’s boss.

Only last Wednesday, food vendors in Abe-igi, the popular relaxation ànd hangout in the facility, declared a day of mourning. Aside from putting on black dresses, they did not open shop, because of what they considered as mark of honour to the late Oyedepo.

Speaking with The Guardian, they said, “Mama (a name they often called the late Oyedepo) brought back life to the theatre. The human traffic here now owes much to her. This place was dead before she came but she turned it around.”The vendors said they were not compelled by anybody, not even the management of the facility but were morallybound to honour the dead.

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In his tribute, Kwara State Governor-elect, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq,described her death as one loss too many to the state and Nigeria as a whole.“We are devastated by the sudden death of this Amazon who had not only served our state meritoriously as executive director of the Kwara State Council for Arts and Culture but was on a national assignment to revive the iconic National Theatre, Iganmu,” according to a statement by AbdulRazaq’s media aide, Rafiu Ajakaye.

The theatre teacher and former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Management Services, University of Lagos, Prof Duro Oni, said, “the demise of Dr. Stella Oyedepo is indeed a sad day for the arts and culture sector in Nigeria. My senior colleague, Prof. Femi Osofisan was the first to call me wanting to get more information as to the rumoured death of Oyedepo. I promised to call him back while I put across a call to the National Theatre in Iganmu, only to get confirmation. Another call came through from Prof. Olu Obafemi.”

The academic said, “Stella Oyedepo was a quiet and unassuming culture icon who had been around the culture and arts scene for decades. For many years, she was the Director of the Kwara State Council for Arts and Culture, an organisation she ran very effectively.

“She was a consummate writer and was known to have published some 30 plays and directed scores more. The arts and culture sector has lost yet another major player in the sector in perhaps an avoidable accident, coming back from an official assignment in Cross River State. Her appointment, about a year ago, was widely saluted. May her gentle soul rest in peace and may God grant the family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.”

The theatre practitioner and dance expert, Isioma Williams, said, “with Oyedepo’s arrival to the National Theatre, I felt relieved, hopeful and my game plan was to watch you from afar, as her systematic facelift of the edifice began to draw me closer … Your death is unbelievable and unacceptable, as I still find it hard to believe and accept as rumour that finally became a reality. I still asked how? Why you? And why now?….but who am I to question the giver and taker of life? Sleep well, as I commit your exit to Almighty and All-knowing God …. Adieu, Dr. Stella Oyedepo.”

The radio Television Theatre and Art Workers Union of Nigeria (RATTAWU) Lagos chapter, in a statement, said: “With a heavy but sad heart, we join the rest of the world, particularly the entire National Theatre family and the culture community to share in this grief and loss of a very vibrant and resourceful Nigerian, an entrepreneur par excellence, a fruitful manager of resources. We pray God to give the family of Oyedepo and the entire culture community the fortitude to bear this loss.”

For Biodun Abe, Director, Business Development, National Theatre and former president of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NNTAP), “Oyedepo’s death has brought agony among staff who were hopeful that the facility would return to its 1980s and 90s status. The place had begun to attract desired traffic ànd productions were being staged regularly. Indeed, this is not the best of times for us here. Her death just reminds me of Osofisan’s Birthday are not for Dying. She died the day it marked one year of her appointment. It is really dream unfulfilled for mama.”

Ahead of her resumption at the National Theatre, Lagos, the playwright and culture administrator had said her mission and goals for the place was to turn it around.Before she assumed office as General Manager, the complex was an eyesore, as the surroundings, including the canal, were filled with refuse of different materials. Everywhere smelt. Apart from dirty surroundings, the perimeter fence was in a dilapidated condition, while the edifice was an environmental nuisance.

The situation on ground had also become worrisome for people within the premises. Shop owners saw the place as a security risk and a clear danger to lives and property in the neighbourhood.Residents of Costain, Apapa Road, Ijora and the environs had even called on government to clear illegal structures around the facility, which they alleged, had become a haven for criminals.

Area boys had converted the place to their place of abode, using the canal as toilet at night, and illegal structure as home.Though pleased with the opportunity to serve on a national scale after excelling in Kwara, the GM knew the decision to make her the prima donna of the nation’s foremost culture complex, which had been headed in the past by culture practitioners such as, Jimmy Atte, Professors Femi Osofisan and Ahmed Yerima, was an onerous task that would require the best of her ability.

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And she was totally committed to delivering for all players in the culture sector, as well as the generality of Nigerians, assuring that there will be improvements in the fortunes of the theatre.“Our artistes are part of the stakeholders of the National Theatre. Therefore, they need to be encouraged in order to fulfill the mandate of the National Theatre, which is to promote cultural events in the society. The management of National Theatre will be partnering other stakeholders to restore the complex to its former pride of place in the entertainment industry in the country,’’ she had told The Guardian in a previous encounter.”My dream is to turn this place around. I want people to bring back our audiences who have fled to other venues.”

Since August 2018, there had been a series of activities to attract visitors to the venue. Stage productions such as, Salem Touch Production’s staging of Ahmed Yerima’s Ade Ire and directed by Lekan Balogun and Lekan Balogun’s Ojuola directed by Dele Oluwa Vincent and Ms. Josephine Igberaese-led Creative Centre staging of children’s drama. Phinny’s Talent Studio had also presented an art show for kids and teens. Films are also being screened. Oyedepo saidthat the management of the National Theatre had begun the rehabilitation of the theatre’s transit camp.

Her message for those who had found shelter in alternative venues was: “Come back to the theatre to do your shows.”
She believed, no matter what the avant gardists called the stage and no matter how equipped they appeared as performance venues, National Theatre remained the starting point for artistic encounter.In recent years, many artists in the country’s independent scene have been turning their backs on the National Theatre, because of what they considered as poor state of the facility. They preferred staging their productions in environments away from the theatre, sometimes, extending their performance beyond the artistic space. Little wonder, every crossroad, derelict building, factory floor or wasteland has now been turned a ‘natural biotope for creative expressions’

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