Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is, undoubtedly, a passionate lover and patron of the art. Even when he was the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, state craft never constrained him to relegate the artists to the background. He had a wonderful rapport with the Nigerian artists. For example, on 17th March 2011, he sent an invitation to Greg Mbajiorgu and other selected Nigerian artists. Excerpt from that invitation reads, you are cordially invited to an evening with the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan GCFR. This special dinner eventually took place on 21st of March, 2011 by 7pm at Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos. Again, on 24th of November 2014, a customized invitation was extended to Mbajiorgu and other selected Nigerian artists by the same President. The invitation reads, The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, cordially invites Greg Mbajiorgu to an evening of the celebration of the creative industry in Nigeria with the theme “Creativity Moving Nigeria”. The event took place on Friday 28 November, 2014, at Eko Convention Centre, Eko Hotels and Suites V.I Lagos. Before the above invitations, a special recognition and opportunity was granted to Mbajiorgu by the Presidential Task Force on Power to present his play- Towards a New Dawn at the presidential banquet hall, Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.
The above invitations and recognitions depict Goodluck Jonathan as a consummate friend and patron of the art. Because of the palpable evidence of Jonathan’s love for creative art, the editors of the Golden Jubilee Compendium on solo performing art in Nigerian theatre boldly acknowledged him not only as their patron and rearguard but also as a true father of the nation’s creative art industry. This justifies the special presentation of the forty-two chapter book on half a century history of solo drama in Nigeria to the former president at his home base- Presidential Villa, Nicton Road, Kpansie, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
During this special book presentation, the Lead Editor of the book, Mbajiorgu, informed the former President that in a continent messed up by all kinds of political, religious and socio- economic aggression, where poverty, insecurity, multi-channel television programmes and films, have made the multi-cast live theatre a wilo-the-wisp, the solo drama becomes one viable and major reliable and affordable means of theatrical engagement. He further stressed that in perilous times like ours, the solo drama is an urgent and poignant instrument for theatrical discourse and cognitions; it has the ability to demonstrate, interpolate, persuades and insinuate its audience towards considering crucial behavioral change and necessary actions. He maintained that as Jean- Paul Sartre would say in his book, Literature and Existentialism, the one man show in the context of our time, is “our shell and our antennae; it protects us against others and informs us about them. It is the prolongation of our senses, a third eye…to look into our neighbor’s heart”.
Mbajiorgu equally told the former President that the book, 50 Years of Solo Performing Art in Nigerian Theatre: 1966-2016, which he co-edited with Dr. Amanze Akpuda, was not a product of one man working in isolation, but a crucible of many efforts and diverse ideas emanating from theatre scholars and historians, theorists, critics, actors, directors, theatre administrators and scenographers. A brief sample of contributors includes Professors Kalu Uka, Ahmed Yerima, Emeka Nwabueze, Chimalum Nwankwo and Ademola Dasylva. Others include Ben Tomoloju, Amanze Akpuda, Norbert Oyibo Eze, Benedict Binebai, Kenneth Eni, Obi Okoli, Akpos Adesi, Rudolph Kansese, Uche Nwaozuzu, Chidi Nwankwo, Hyginus Eze, etc.
In his response, the former President expressed elation that the Nigerian-based Ghanaian Artists- El Anatsui- who is one of the most celebrated global figures in the contemporary art scene, contributed the lead blurb to the book. He was also thrilled that a work of such magnitude was conceptualized and realized in this difficult period. He also commended the fact that the authors were able to put the history of solo drama in Nigeria in correct perspective and hoped that a similar book would be produced for stand-up comedy, which at the moment, lacks serious academic attention. Former President Goodluck Jonathan equally applauded the editors for dedicating the book to renowned theatre icons like Wole Soyinka, Athol Fugard, Dapo Adelugba, James Ene Henshaw, and Kalu Uka. Finally, the former president urged us not to fail to contact him whenever the public presentation and launching of the book will take place. The trip to Yenagoa was indeed a memorable one, characterized by Jonathan’s usual sense of friendship and profound air of hospitality which will linger in our memory for a long period of time.
- Dr. Norbert Oyibo Eze is a former Head of Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka