“For education, the arts, culture and entertainment.”
For virtually all of its almost 60 years of serving the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Ibadan, the Wole Soyinka Theatre has kept true this motto as a hub of cultural entertainment and major laboratory.
Hitherto known as the arts theatre before it was renamed after its first African head of department and Nobel laureate in July 2018, the historical structure, the oldest institutional theatre in Nigeria, and perhaps, in Africa, has produced huge human resource, Africa’s creative and culture industry, as well as the media, civil service and other sectors.
Aside from many of the big names in the creative industry, including Nollywood, either taught or passed through its portals and stage as students, the theatre was reputed for hosting big film shows, epic drama productions and other cultural creative expressions.
But the facility lost its attraction and past glory as its physical condition deteriorated embarrassingly due to long years of neglect and poor maintenance. With a stuffy interior due to lack of air conditioning, obsolete lighting system, bare wooden stage without remote-controlled curtains or backdrop, torn roof and ragged seats in the gallery, and stinking, filthy toilets, patronage by theatre-goers not only dropped significantly, students in the department lacked the requisite equipment for practical training that would prepare them to match global standard practice.
Although some old students, in the 90s attempted to restore the former pride of the old heritage by renovating the dilapidated structure, installing cooling system and refurbishing the furniture, among other things, situation had particularly degenerated in the past 15 years!
But thanks to a recent major a facelift it got from media mogul and philanthropist, Otunba Deji Osibogun, theatre lovers can now look forward to enjoying marvellous shows at the theatre and the students a conducive learning environment when school resumes.
Himself a distinguished alumnus, Osibogun recently upgraded the decrepit building, restoring the lighting and cooling systems, renovating its basement and toilets with the borehole and two overhead water tanks now functional. A carved lettering of Wole Soyinka Theatre now also sits atop the frontage of the building as its new sign name welcoming visitors to the theatre!
The Chairman, Space Network, a major player in film and broadcasting industry, who handed the new-look entertainment hub to the university on Monday, November 9 at a colourful ceremony marking his 65th birthday anniversary, said he decided to help the department in reciprocity of its role in making him and to promote the theatre-going culture, which had begun to die particularly in the city. “So many of us have taken from the Nigerian society, but have failed to give back. I believe in the spirit of give and take and I want to make heaven. I want the new generation of students to gain and experience what we did in terms of quality training facility and environment, which are missing now.”
The University of Ibadan Vice Chancellor, Prof. Idowu Olayinka, the academic community and other stakeholders were ecstatic over Osibogun’s gesture. Olayinka thanked him not only for the huge funds spent on the renovation, but also for his tenacity and time sacrificed in supervising the project to completion.
An elated Associate Professor of Dramatic Literature, Languages and Literary Studies Department, Babcock University, Dr. Solomon Iguanre, who used to be a student of the department remarked: “The import of a theatre, rehearsal or dance studio cannot be over-emphasised in the pursuit of a degree in theatre or any of the performing arts. These are the laboratories for practical experiments and a medium for creative expressions for both the students and the lecturers. Theatre or any other creative discipline is practical -oriented and it takes a very strong synergy of a well- developed theoretical pedagogue and a state-of-the-arts facility for a thorough, total and purpose-driven practical curriculum. The provision and maintenance of such facilities become necessary for immediate accessibility for both the lecturers and the students as this will foster the aura of robust impromptu as well as planned creative endeavors throughout the department.”
The ‘armoury’ of a theatre arts department is not just the library but also a well-equipped and functional space for creativity. The arts theatre played a very significant role in the birth and development of Laffomania Organisation during our days in the Department of Theatre Arts and efforts should be concentrated at improving the existing practical spaces and creating even more.”
The National Merit Award winner and one of Africa’s most prolific playwrights, Emeritus Prof. Femi Osofisan, urged the department to take good care of the structure to prevent it from deteriorating.
Constructed in 1955, it became active at the takeoff of the School of Drama in 1963 under the late Geoffrey Axworthy, an Irish Briton and pioneer director of the school. It had also been used by some of Nigeria’s artistic legends including, Profs Soyinka, Osofisan, John Pepper Bekederemo Clark, Zulu Sofola, Ola Rotimi, Dapo Adelugba, Bayo Oduneye, former Artistic Director, National Troupe; Jimi Solanke, Tunji Oyelana and Wale Ogunyemi for staging of some of their great works. It has also produced several generations of redoubtable thespians including, Kunle Bamtefa, Bimbo Akintola, Tunde Euba, Femi Ogunjobi and others now pillars of the popular Nollywood.