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With N100 billion economic stimulus, Yibo Koko set to transform Rivers’ tourism landscape

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Koko

Theatre artiste and famed comedian, Mr. Yibo Koko, has been given a new task by Governor Nyesom Wike to serve his home state, as Director General/Chief Executive Officer of the carefully-structured Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA). He is set to make a mark, using culture and tourism products to change the narrative of the state, through a N100 billion grand scheme

Ostensibly, the Niger Delta question has moved from the rhetoric and is gradually assuming historic proportions. There are enlightening high points at every turn; from the days of Justice Udo Udoma, who championed the COR (Calabar Ogoja Rivers) State Movement, to the armed struggle of Major Isaac Adaka Boro and the massive mobilisation launched by Ken Saro-Wiwa.

The narrative of the region has generated and dominated discourse in different fora, with stakeholders, gatekeepers and concerned citizens proffering solutions or proactive measures toward addressing the issues confronting the region.

One of the recent forms of agitation was intellectual (dialogue), which threw up issues of resource control, 13 per cent derivation and fiscal federalism. Despite these proposals, one of which was approved — 13 per cent derivation — coupled with the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs charged solely with the development and deployment of the resources derivable from the region for its overall benefit and development, these rather gave rise to violent agitation, resulting in pipeline vandalism and illegal refining of crude.

However, these activities have further destroyed the ecosystem in this region. It is as bad as it can be, presently. But one can only imagine what the future holds for our children. A journey through our communities and creeks would tell the story of a future that awaits us.

One man has now decided to do something about it. The more he ponders on the devastating state of his region, the more he queries past actions. That man is Yibo Koko, but it is difficult to stamp a single title on him.

To some, he is one of the top comedians, who gained fame on the Opa Williams’ Nite of A Thousand Laughs show and publicised the musical comedy genre. To another set, he is a prominent filmmaker with movies such as A Clean Woman, which fetched him accolades, including an Outstanding Achievement in Film Making Award at the 42nd Brooklyn Arts Council International Film Festival, Long Island University, New York.

In the creative space, he goes by a slew of titles: concept designer, creative consultant to mention a few. Perhaps, the most popular appellation that people easily connect with is a dramatist.

The graduate of Theatre Arts from the University of Port Harcourt, who was once head of Production, African Magic MNET West Africa, is famous for his theatre productions, particularly Seki, the dance drama which Koko created and directed 23 years ago.

The drama was originally performed as Owu-Amapu-Ti and had its first showing at the Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos, on May 27, 1998.

Seki has over the years become an identity, a badge of honour for the Niger Delta region, traversing different cultures to bring to the stage the spectacular colours, clatter and culture of the riverine region.

It was the preferred choice for the 2018 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) opening performance, and when the company wanted to entertain and educate its Big Brother Naija contestants last year on Nigeria’s rich culture, Seki was the best option.

Beyond the drama and splendour, Seki is multilayered with historical themes.

“Seki as a dance form is designed to elicit in the audience a nostalgic feeling of pristine proportions,” he explains. “To achieve this objective in design, the scripting of Seki, took into cognizance the traditional ethos of the Ijaws, Igbanis, Ikwerres, Ogonis, Ogbas, Egbemas, Ndonis and others of Old Rivers state in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria.

“Select distinct dances and songs, masquerades displays were put together to retell a narrative almost obfuscated by the vagaries of modernity as expressed in pop culture, etc; which almost annihilated or render extinct the rich cultural mores of a people vibrant for their allegiance to their cultural heritage.”

A notable draft of history presented in the drama is the origin of the American tap dance. Koko argues that the dance, which was popularised globally by African Americans, in the salty 19th Century, originally came from the old Rivers State in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria with the use of the Igbiri (traditional rattle).

“The unique sound that issues from the Igbiri transcends the American antecedence of the tap dancers’ shoes historically,” he says.

Rivers Boat Regatta

Dance is inarguably deeply ingrained in Koko’s DNA. It is not unlikely to find him giving tutorial classes on cultural dances on social media. However, with Seki, the dramatist’s ultimate goal is to change the narrative of the Niger Delta as an area rife with militancy.

“Wither the humongous sums already released over the last few years for the development of the region? How and for what were these monies deployed by our leaders? One-kilometer roads that last but for a season and breakdown due to poor quality work? Or the servicing of political appointees?”

He adds, “However, as a region, we must be real with ourselves to say; we are miles behind in terms of development (structures and infrastructure). Blaming it on the difficult ‘terrain’ would not suffice.”

The urgency to change that perception, which in recent times is on a lower level, has notched up since Koko was appointed Director-General; Rivers State Tourism Development Agency (RSTDA)

For long, the creative industry has been relegated but since its rapid growth in the past few years, including contributing to the Gross Domestic Product of the country, there’s been an increased interest in Nollywood that was acclaimed the second biggest employer in Nigeria by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

With oil losing its relevance in a pandemic ridden era, Koko’s proposal for a creative economy might be welcoming to pundits who have for long campaigned for the revival of the arts scene in the state.

Though the creative artiste has been actively engaging informed persons from different parts of the industry on Instagram with the RSTDA Chats, he is using his Seki dance as a touch point to promote his cause.

“We have pioneered and pushed a fresh narrative for the region through the Seki Dance Drama in what we style ‘Creative Economy: A Region Beyond Oil,’” he says.

“Through our performances thus far, we have proven that the majority of youths who have become cheap recruits for oil bunkering, cults, kidnapping and political thuggery can be creatively engaged and their latent talent harnessed.

“We have discovered that the creative industry is a huge canopy that can accommodate all manner of professionals from administrators, engineers, marketers, accountants, designers, to make up artists.

This can also ameliorate the unemployment rate among a teeming tribe of graduates,” he explains.


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