The eclectic roles which Drama and Theatre play in nation building were again listed recently at the inaugural lecture delivered by Professor Foluke Matilda Ogunleye at the Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU) Ile-Ife, Osun State. As a major discipline which comprises many disciplines, Drama and Theatre, according to Ogunleye, is capable of building human souls for the general aim of sustaining social, cultural and economic development.
Ogunleye who is a scholar of repute in the fields of Theatre and Media at the university, used her inaugural lecture entitled Thespians and Cineastes as Engineers of the Nigerian Soul, to celebrate writers and dramatists. She used the lecture, among others, to affirm that Theatre is indeed, a noble and respectable discipline whose practitioners have over the years helped in developing the nation. She noted that her lecture is ‘a celebration of the theatre and Mass Media as functional tools of societal change and nation building.
It also emphasizes the fact that studying Drama is not an exercise in jesting and display of ‘contortional’ powers as so many uninformed would have us believe.’ While asserting the moral relevance of plays by dramatists and writers, the scholar, who presented the second inaugural lecture by the Dramatic Arts Department of the university (After Professor Wole Soyinka’s in 1980), also urged Thespians and Cineastes to continue to address problems of society through their works. She noted that through watching the plays, viewers are involved in moral and ethical choices, which enable them freewill to decide for good or for evil.
But as responsible people who belong to an equally responsive discipline, theatre practitioners and filmmakers should help rebuild the already ‘crumbled moral and socio-political base of modern Nigeria’. They should also seek to assist society to develop positively, and by so doing improve its moral tone. In the words of Ogunleye who turns 50 later this month-the same way the OAU turns 50 this year-there is need for all and sundry to utilize all resources and opportunities to engineer and re-engineer the souls of Nigeria and its people.
Ogunleye while tracing the history of Theatre and Drama in Nigeria also commended the achievements of the Dramatic Arts Department of the OAU since inception in 1976, paying homage to its founding fathers such as Professors Ola Rotimi and Wole Soyinka, among others. She equally acknowledged the roles of the pioneers of the Traveling Theatre, popularly known as Alarinjo, noting their socio-cultural and historical relevance to the development of the Nigerian nation. On the list of heroes and heroines of this era are Hubert Ogunde, Kola Ogunmola, Duro Ladipo, Ojo Ladipo, Adunni Oluwole, Funmilayo Ranko, Moses Olaiya, Akin Ogungbe, Oyin Adejobi , as well as scholars of the genre such as Professors Joel Adedeji, Ebun Clark,Dapo Adelugba, Biodun Jeyifo, Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, and many others.
As a theatre and media scholar, Ogunleye also observed that Nigerian filmmakers, particularly those whose paths have crossed OAU, have contributed immensely to societal and entertainment growth. She noted the metamorphosis from the folk tradition to the Cinema and the home video film trend, which has now transcended several cultures including Yoruba, Igbo and the Fulani-Hausa. Here she also addressed the nomenclature called Nollywood, describing it as a strange name foisted on Nigerian video film industry by foreigners.
According to Ogunleye, motion picture practitioners, as a way of properly re-imaging the industry, should adopt a brand name such as NaijaFilms. Explained Ogunleye ‘’Naija is a slang word derived from the name Nigeria. It could either mean the nation, Nigeria, or the people, Nigerians. It is proudly and lovingly used by Nigerians from all walks of life to denote a sense of oneness and pride for the Nigerian heritage.’’
On her feelings about the way male dramatists and filmmakers treat women, Ogunleye expressed her disaffection to the denigration of the female folk. She affirmed ‘’Traditionally, the role of the woman is seen as that of a subordinate to man. It limits the woman to a very narrow place within the society; and this is reflected in the film media through a portrayal and projection of negative female stereotypes ...such as the woman as a whore, as a witch, as a termagant, as a low income earner....’’. While citing the role of dramatists and filmmakers on the Nigerian polity, Professor Ogunleye observed that more work still have to be done to change the status quo. Although she admitted that politicians and rulers have been sufficiently criticized by theatre artists and video film producers, efforts must be made to keep leaders and politicians on their toes. Said Ogunleye ‘ an important artistic medium like the film cannot escape the political imperative. In a very important way, such media should perform the informal role of the watchdog, conscientizing and sensitizing the common man about issues of governance and what their roles should be in the promotion of democratic values in society.’’
At the end of the well-attended lecture, which was presided over by the OAU Vice Chancellor, Professor Bamikale Omole, guests were treated to a theatrical performance and refreshments at the Pith Theatre in the Department of Dramatic Arts. Among the guests were notable scholars drawn from OAU and neighboring universities, Professor Ogunleye’s husband, Engineer Segun Ogunleye as well as the lecturer’s siblings, including Professor Tayo Adesina of the History Department, University of Ibadan, Mr Femi Adesina, Deputy Managing Director of Sun Publishing Limited and Dr Olubiyi Adesina, a Consultant Endocrinologist.