History’s changing face at Cultural Centre

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OLUFEMI ATOYEBI writes about the Cultural Centre, Ibadan, a centre of quality entertainment

The imposing structure called Cultural Centre in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, can be seen from anywhere around the circumference that makes up the boundary of the Mokola Hills on which it is set. In the 80s and 90s, the centre was home to prominent artistes, cultural displays, stage performances, art exhibitions and other cultural works, with star performers like Moses Olaiya, popularly called Baba Sala, the late Duro Ladipo, Oyin Adejobi, and Ojo Ladipo, regularly entertaining and educating people. Jimoh Aliu, Yemi Elebuibon, Lere Paimo were also regular faces there. Designed by one of Nigeria’s most talented architects, Prof. Demas Nwoko, in 1977, the Cultural Centre was erected to complement the FESTAC 77 project, which brought large number of tourists to the country. The vision was to bring visitors and artistes who were in the country for the festival to Ibadan in order to have a first-hand feel of other parts of Nigeria apart from Lagos, where the event took place. Sadly, the former centre of cultural activities and the arguably busiest relaxation point in Ibadan now lives in its shadows, with a structure begging for usage and its obsolete fittings clamouring for replacement. Instead of the elegant and graceful environment that once showcased the mental picture of architectural and government vision, the Ibadan Cultural Centre is now referred to as an archaic establishment that has passed its usefulness. The scenic location, large car park that has the capacity to house at least 500 vehicles, a large hall with 1500 seats and two other halls, the artefacts carefully placed on the walls and other art works placed at its entrance are not only relics of its days of glory but a reminder that the place of the centre in cultural history is threatened.

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The city of Ibadan is home to parks, a zoological garden, a botanical garden and various amusement centres. But while owners and managements of these places of relaxation are improving on their brands to meet modern architectural and visual demands, the Cultural Centre wanes in quality. Age and time have washed away the paintings on the outer walls while its large spaces are no longer filled with cultural glamour. Designed with a huge power generator in 1977, cost of maintenance and neglect of the edifice have invited darkness to the corridors leading to the theatre halls and offices. In place of the big power generator is a small one that provides faint light to some of the offices. And it works only for a few hours a day. Also, a shortage of staff can be felt from the outlook of the environment.

The structure and students of African arts and religion are not the only victims of the decay,artists who showcased their works regularly in the happier days have suffered economic hardship.

Around the Dandaru area overlooking the centre lives a street artist, Bob Shina. His art name according to him is Nature Shines. He captured the loss and cultural waste occasioned by the structural decline of the centre.

“I was a kid when the centre was established and it inspired me. I create art work and derive a lot of inspiration from natural art. In five minutes, I could think of 20 art designs based on what I saw people doing. Creatures like frogs, ants, domestic animals were sometimes my source of inspiration. I have made paintings of Nigeria’s cultural heroes and great actors who appreciated me. I made a living selling them every weekend at the centre. That was when people visited in large numbers in the 80s and 90s. The inspiration died with the decline of the place. I am not the only one pained by the neglect,” he said.

Director of Theatre Management, Oyo State Ministry of Arts and Culture, Mr. AdekunleAgboola, however, gave a different opinion. He told our correspondent that contrary to the belief that the centre was in sharp decline, activities still hold there. He said the centre was going through a stage of improvement and that responses showed that the place of Cultural Centre in history remained intact.

He said, “The ministry was established in 1977 through an edict to propagate, promote and preserve cultural values in the state. We have five departments established to execute the objectives. They are performing arts department, planning, research and statistics department, visual arts department, theatre and business management department and technical unit.

“We have resident performing artistes who are talented artistes. They stage dances, music and dramatic performances regularly at the theatre. The visual arts department has equally creative people who engage in sculpturing, painting and so on. These are signs that the centre is functioning well.”

For a while, the management remained without a leader until last week, when Supo Kosemani was chosen by Governor Abiola Ajimobi as the board chairman. Agboola said Kosemani’s coming would breathe a new life into the centre.

“The state government has not neglected the centre. A new chairman was recently named which is a welcome development. Recently, Wole Soyinka’s play, King Babu, was and watched by a large crowd at the centre. It has also staged Prof. Femi Osofisan’s adaptation of the late D.O Fagunwa’s Ireke Onibudo.

“Since January this year, we have staged plays like Aoleye, Ogbori Elemoso and so on. Women of Owu, written by Osofisan, was also staged for secondary school pupils. The idea was to assist them in preparation for their final examination since the book is part of the syllabus. We are making efforts to preserve our cultural heritage and the position of the centre in cultural world.

“Regular lectures are delivered here where notable playwrights and lecturers in African studies speak about diverse topics that relate to culture. Prof. Akinwumi Isola and Akintunde Ayeni are on the list of notable people expected to deliver lectures at the centre soon. Ayeni will speak on the relationship between orthodox and modern medicine,” Agboola added.

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