Evwierhoma: A Literary Icon At 50
Women-centred drama, theatre and performance have made considerable gains in Nigeria but mainly at the level of theory and few performances that are largely cocooned to the ivory tower.
That was the submission of Professor Sunday E. Ododo ofTheatre Arts Department, University of Maiduguri, Borno State.
Professor Ododo was speaking on his capacity as the Keynote Presenter at Mabel @ 50 Conference in honour of Professor Mabel Evwierhoma, who turned 50 years on May 7.
The event brought together who is who in Nigerian art community, especially from the academia and Theatre and Performing Arts in particular including Professors Olu Obafemi, Ojo Bakare, Julie Okoh, Irene Salami-Agunloye, Tracie Utoh-Ezeajugh and Osita Ezenwanebe. Also at the event were government officials including the Director General, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC).
Speaking on the title of the conference, Nature and Nurture: Women-Centred Drama, Theatre and Performance in Nigeria, Professor Ododo defined nature and nurture as twin words that are essentially associated with the developmental process of human beings.
He noted that while nature emphasises the innate and inherited qualities of the individual, nurture engages the human behaviour as determined by the environment and other acquired personal experiences.
He went on to state that Nigerian theatre has its evolutionary history that is located in innate culture and has grown, acquiring values of entertainment forms of other world cultures to sustain and reinvent itself.
According to him, a plant with its distinct nature has enjoyed the nurturing of many hands, values, ideas, experimentations, traditions and the constantly changing socio-historical realities of human’s existence.
He added that women-centred drama, theatre and performance are part of the nature of Nigerian theatre. “It is from this larger context one can appreciates the unique contributions of women in the nurturing of Nigerian theatre, the growth of women-centered drama, theatre and performance, as well as the role of men at the centre of that creative development”.
For him, time is ripe for Nigerian womanist ideologists to the gains of their literary contributions by taking the campaign directly to the relevant audience.
“It is time to share these gains amongst Nigerians by opening up new performance spaces that can attract large audience turnout; we should take our message to the rural dwellers and engage other relevant agencies in this advocacy”.
He decried that though in the theatre, ideas to create new worlds for humanity to learn from are cultivated but such worlds are often not nurtured to manifest their full potentials for our gains.
According to him, “when we nurture our world, it would give birth to new ideas and ventures. There are times of flourishing and abundance, when life feels in full bloom, energized and expanding.
“And there are times of fruition, when things come to an end. They have reached their climax and must be harvested before they begin to fade. And finally of course, there are times that are cold, and cutting and empty, times when the spring of new beginnings seems like a distant dream.
“Those rhythms in life are natural events. They weave into one another as day follows night, bringing, not messages of hope and despair, but messages of how things are. It is when we know how things are that we can take a stand to either live with them or change them”, the Prof. Said.
He however hoped that participants would emerge with ideas on how best to push women-centred issues in the country.
“As the conference opens, without pre-empting its outcome, it is therefore my hope and belief that the participants would come up with fresh strategies for addressing women-centred issues in Nigeria and how to get majority of Nigerians to key into feminist theatre advocacy.
“I especially look forward to seeing how feminist theatre can help in the recovery of the Chibok girls and how the first senate president can emerge as predicted by Irene Salami-Agunloye”.
To sum up, Ododo chose to align Evwierhoma with her feminist ideology in practical terms. Having been in close professional and family association with her since 1987, he believed he could confidently describe her as an eloquent example of hard work, resilience, honesty, integrity, industry, capacity, resourcefulness.
“She is God fearing and has genuine commitment to her calling. In all these, she is unassuming, humble and humane. To a large extent, she lives by what she advocates and to that extent, she is an inspiration to many people and a pride to womanhood.
“This genderist is also a motherist; this quality manifests clearly in many social works she has been involved in and community services rendered. In our postgraduate class at the University of Ibadan, she was the youngest but assumed the motherist role for the class, feeding us occasionally from the kitchen of Princess Theodora Ewemade Tobrise (her mother).
“The reward of motherhood is not essentially in reaping from the proceeds of that effort directly but the satisfaction of contributing agents of change for a better humanity”.
Adding: “The life of Mabel Evwierhoma should be the greatest inspiration for female emancipation and not necessarily her writings. At 50, she has recorded modest but loud and engaging achievements; as a Professor, author of books, cultural activist, Dean of Arts, Fellow of SONTA and moulder of character.
“She has a status that cannot be wished away; a presence that is compelling and commanding; an intellect that is admired and respectable; a heart that is compassionate and accommodating, a husband that is loving, caring and very supportive; children that are responsible and responsive; a home that is peaceful and inviting.
“All these attributes position Evwierhoma as a phenomenal success worthy of emulation. She sits comfortably on this high pedestal today out of due sacrifice, self-denial, hard work and determination to reach her goals; and not a product of any gender friendly/sensitive legislation in favour of women.
“If this is the kind of female militancy you preach, you have my support. This is how to earn the gender equity you advocate.
“ It is my submission therefore that no woman (and indeed no man) is subjugated or repressed but our self-imposed repression is the barrier that stands in our way to our lofty destinations. I say to our women, rise and take a stand like Evwierhoma and your story will never be the same again”, Ododo admonished.
Earlier, Chairman of the occasion and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power, Godknows Igali, acknowledged that the celebrant has achieved so much at 50. He added that the fact that so many people have come to celebrate her was an indication that God has used her to impact others.
“Today, this audience is presented with a proud mother, a proud wife, a proud sister and a scholar of no mean repute”, Igali said.
Presenting the citation of the celebrant to a large audience was the Secretary, local organizing committee, Mrs. Roseline Yacim. The citation read:
“Mabel Itohanosa Erioyunvwen Evwierhoma of Ukpiovwin in Udu LGA was born on May 7, 1965 to late Peter Omoviroro Tobrise and Theodora Tobrise (neé Aiwerioghene). She had her primary education at Abadina Primary School, University of Ibadan, 1970-1975; Secondary education at the Federal Government Girls College, Bauchi between 1976-1981 and Higher School Certificate in 1983 from Federal School of Arts and Science, Suleja.
“She proceeded to the University of Ibadan from where she obtained a B.A. in Theatre Arts, Second Class Upper Degree in 1986; M.A. also in Theatre Arts in 1988.
“She was a Tutorial Assistant briefly in the University of Ibadan between 1989 and 1990 and obtained her Doctorate Degree in 1996. She joined the services of the University of Abuja in 1990 as an Assistant Lecturer.
“Between 1990 and 2005, her career as a lecturer progressed and she was promoted full Professor in 2005. Her area of specialization is Dramatic Theory and Criticism with a bias for Gender, Women and Cultural Studies.
“She has so many publications to her credit. They include, With Gbemisola Adeoti, After the Nobel Prize: Reflections on African Literature, Governance and Development (2006); Essays and Concepts on Society and Culture (2004) and Issues in Gender, Drama and Culture in Nigeria (2002).
“Others are Female Empowerment and Dramatic Creativity (2002); Nigerian Feminist Theatre: Essays on Female Axes in Contemporary Nigerian Drama (1998, 2014). With Biakolo, E.A, A.L. Oyeleye, as M.I.E. Tobrise, Countdown to Senior School Certificate Examinations and Literature in English (1990).
“Aside core theatre publications, Prof. Evwierhoma has many other publications in the area of feminist aesthetics and woman-centred approaches to drama and society totaling 22 book chapters, 17 journal articles, one research monograph and review articles.
“These are in journals and books as chapters. These publications are both local and foreign. Other areas of her publications include conference proceedings, monographs, book and film reviews and contributions to newspapers and magazines.
“Her career Progression include Head of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Abuja between 1998-2000; Deputy Director, Consultancy Services Unit, 2001-2003; Deputy Director, University of Abuja Centre for Gender Security Studies and Advancement, 2005-2006; Director, Development Office, 2007-2011.
“She also served as the Project Manager, World Bank assisted STEP-B Project from 2008 to 2014. She is currently the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Abuja”.
The highlights of the day were the public presentation of Festschrift and cutting of birthday cake.
The Festschrift titled, Gender Discourse in African Theatre in honour of Evwierhoma is a 38-chapter book edited by the Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Barclays Ayakoroma and Tracie Uto Ajeajugh of Nnamdi