Playwright and lawyer Fred Agbeyegbe was honoured as a grand living legend of Nigerian theatre by the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) recently.
The event, held at the National Theatre on July 30, also saw the unveiling of a book ‘The Nigerian Playwright and His Ideology: A Celebration of Fred Agbeyegbe at 76’ and a performance of his play ‘Budiso’ by NANTAP Lagos.
Among those in attendance were: former military administrator of Lagos State, Ndubuisi Kanu; Segun Ojewuyi, an ex-president of NANTAP; Theatre practitioners Jide Ogungbade and Ben Tomoloju; Veteran actor Dejumo Lewis; director Niji Akanni; playwright Wole Oguntokun and filmmaker Mahmood Alli-Balogun. Agbeyegbe’s colleagues from the legal profession, also attended.
Steve Ogundele, national secretary of NANTAP in a brief address on behalf of its president, Greg Odutayo, recalled ‘Uncle Fred’s’ contribution to theatre in Nigeria. Mufu Onifade, chair, NANTAP Lagos also said the event was the first of many to celebrate those “who have contributed to the building of Nigerian theatre. We share the sentiments that it is better to celebrate our heroes when they are alive.” He informed that theatre practitioners who qualify for the living legend series would be individuals over 70 who have contributed to the development of theatre in Nigeria through practice.
Such an initiative was necessary, he said, because (NANTAP) has had to come to the aid of some of our veterans who have been forgotten. It is our opinion that those who have sacrificed their youth for (theatre in Nigeria) must be duly honoured.” Theatre veterans in line for honours in the coming months include: Moses Olaiya aka Baba Sala, Bayo Oduneye and Gbenga Sonuga, traditional ruler and former director, Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture (LSCAC). Tunji Gomez of the Elders’ Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association reviewed ‘Budiso’. “The military is back, but is it for good? That is what the book is asking. It is saying that (in spite) of the apprehension there is still hope. But before you get there, you must fight for it. The judiciary is the last hope of the common (man). When the judiciary disappears, the freedom of the people disappears (therefore) we need a strong judiciary,” he said.
He further observed that, “The author is showing… the brutality of power. What will your generation say about you tomorrow? Gani is gone. We are going but who will take our place? The author is telling you to rise up and fight.” Agbeyegbe later dedicated the book to the late lawyer, activist and one time president of the NBA, Alao Aka-Bashorun. “I’m here to dedicate this little book to the one person who deserves that it be dedicated to him. He is dead and gone but for me he is still with us the same way he was with us at the time of the events that led to the writing of this book, Agbeyegbe said.
“I was commissioned to write this book by the Nigerian Bar Association, but before that I had moved a motion that the then Chief Justice of Nigeria in the person of Sowemimo who was on his way out be not accorded a valedictory session. And I think he stands in history as the one and only chief justice of Nigeria to ever hold that position but was not so honoured.”
Named for power trio
‘Budiso’ was first presented on stage in the 80s and is culled from the names of the three most powerful men in Nigeria at the time, Buhari, Idiagbon and Sowemimo who were: Military Head of State, Deputy Head of State and Chief of Army Staff and Chief Justice of the Federation. The play was intended to commemorate 100 years of the legal profession in Nigeria and to condemn the Buhari/Idiagbon military regime which was notorious for its human rights abuse and arbitrary decrees.
Born in 1935 in the present-day Delta State, ‘Uncle Fred’ began writing plays since age 14 and, along with his artistic director Jide Ogungbade and his theatre company Ajo Productions, churned out plays like ‘Budiso’, ‘The King Must Dance Naked’, ‘Woe Unto Death’ and ‘The Last Omen’. These four plays were staged for a whole month at the National Theatre during AJOFEST, a festival of Arts and Drama initiated and funded by Agbeyegbe in 1986.
He has over 17 plays in his kitty and has been a mentor and teacher to many thespians, some of whom have become household names.