Youngsters Shine At Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange Festival 2015
The 2015 edition of the yearly Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange (WSICE) project held from July 12 through 14. The annual programme was initiated in 2010 and debuted on the 76th birthday anniversary of the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka who is described as the “quintessential artist and symbol of our humanity”, by the Executive Producers of the project, Nigeria-based Zmirage Multimedia Limited led by Alhaji Teju Kareem and U.S.-based GlobalNewHaven led by Professor Segun Ojewuyi.
According to the Producer of WSICE 2015, Haneefat Ikharo, this year’s was the sixth edition of the project for the Nobel laureate at 81, and it took place solely in Abeokuta Ogun State, his birthplace, made possible with the timely intervention of the Ogun State Government who hosted the project and all its participants. The producers were on the verge of cancelling the programme due to funding challenges.
The theme for this year was ‘Justice and Freedom: Essential Conditions for Humanity,’ and was chosen because justice and freedom are the two fundamental concerns of Soyinka in his career of promoting better humanity not only in his literary writings but also in his interventions in local and global socio-cultural and political discourses.
Unlike last year’s celebration which was a milestone for both the project at its 5th when Soyinka turned 80, this year’s edition was directed more towards the exploration and exploitation of the power of storytelling as an art form that can be deployed to propagate moral values in a society that is riddled with poor child upbringing in the midst of a chaotic educational system.
Two headline storytellers were present to conduct storytelling Workshops for the project participants and secondary school students in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital.
Mrs. Theodora Ulerie (aka Auntie Thea, also popularly called “The Mystic Storyteller”), who hails from Trinidad & Tobago, and another accomplished storyteller, Mrs. Noma Sodipo (aka Auntie Noma) who is one of Nigeria’s most prolific storytellers and creator of the popular TV show ‘Story Time with Auntie Noma.’
The message of the storytelling workshops is simple, “Self-awareness is the prerequisite of peace among people. Reasoning, tolerance and understanding are cornerstones of peaceful lifestyles.
The individual through self-education must strive to eradicate ignorance in order for understanding and comprehension to reign in one’s life”.
This was the message organisers sought to inculcate in all youths through the WSICE, especially the participants in the Senior Secondary School Essay Competition.
This year, there were 81 finalists, all of them secondary school students selected from over 20 states of the federation after a selection process that went through over 250 entries.
The essay competition participants wrote the final essay on the topic “Justice and Freedom: Essential Conditions for Humanity” on July 13, the birthday of Soyinka. Judges included a lecturer in the Department of English, University of Maiduguri, Dr. Razinat Muhammed, who announced the results on July 14 at the Office of the Governor of Ogun State.
Winners of this year’s WSICE are Master Onwuha Nnaemeka Daniel of Government College, Umuahia, Abia State, who took the first position, Master Anigbo Stephen Chinedu of Christ the King College, Onitsha, Anambra State, second and Master Onmonya Prince Dan of Mount St. Gabriel Secondary School, Makurdi, Benue State, third place.
The winners were awarded scholarships worth N150,000, N100,000, N75,000 respectively and they also went away with a mini laptop computer each. All the 81 finalists went home with a copy of Wole Soyinka’s Ake: The Years of Childhood.
The students and officials of the WSICE2015 were hosted at the Governor’s office by The Deputy Governor Chief Mrs. Yetunde Onanuga and the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Taiwo Adeoluwa. Also in attendance was Ogun State Head of Service Mrs. Modupe Adekunle. Onanuga accorded the guests a warm welcome. She also presented the scholarship, gifts and trophy to the winners.
After the photo session with the 81 participants and Ogun State officials, all the participants proceeded to Ijegba, the country home of Soyinka where a Theatre Arts lecturer at University of Ibadan Dr. Tunde Awosanmi was waiting to give the finalists and officials a tour in the absence of the celebrant Soyinka.
Knowing that he would be away, Soyinka left a written message for the children which he insisted should be read by Dr. Razinat Muhammed, the head adjudicator for the essay writing. In the message he urged the young ones not to despair with the current state of insecurity in the country, but admonished them to remain patriotic, discipline and focussed on their future even while holding leaders accountable to behave responsibly.
Soyinka also gave each of the guests a copy of A Poet’s Guide to Mandeland, a collection of poems by various authors but compiled and read into a recorded CD by him.
IN the evening, the 81 participants, alongside over 500 Ogun State students, were all dressed in traditional adire attires to participate in the ‘Do Your Own Thing’ contest which included cultural display, debate, competition, Spelling Bee, Reading Competition, etc.
The highlight of the evening was the stage presentation of Kongi’s Harvest, directed by Segun Adefila for Crown Troupe of Africa. Poetry performances was by Efe Paul Azino and Samson Apata, and the dance drama by the Ogun State Cultural Troupe. The venue was held at the Forest Amphitheatre, Ijegba.
The dance and drama event was well attended by many government dignitaries, top actors, actresses, musicians, theatre educators and practitioners alike.
Prominent among those in attendance were Lagbaja, the masked musician, Tunde Kelani, the fimmaker, the soccer legend, Segun Odegbami, the theatre director Niji Akanni among others. Soyinka’s son, Ilemakin gave the vote of thanks before the birthday cake was cut.
By July 15, it was clear the 81 student participants had bonded and were reluctant to bid each goodbye. They scrambled to collect each other’s contact information.
No doubt, the primary aim and objective of the WSICE — fostering unity and understanding amongst different cultures was achieved! Organisers singled out Ogun State Government led by Senator Ibikunle Amosun without whom the 6th edition of WSICE would not have been a reality, Smridus Hotel for support and Air Peace for appreciation.
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