IDEAS Radio 24 January 2020

Drama, the Creative Arts and IDEAS: Joshua Alabi of KiNiNso Koncepts

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, welcome.  The Public Square happens this time every Friday.  And it’s a full house today. The gang … Ayo says it’s not the ‘gang’ any more.  The crew’s here. Ayo Obe champions the Public Square with the IDEAS segment. And then Public Square has the discussion.  Today we’re unified in the conversation around the International day for Education, but we’re taking it from different points of view.  But before I go further, let … before I turn it into a monologue, let’s introduce everyone here. Always great to have Rotimi here.  

Rotimi Sankore: Thank you Aghogho.  You do the introductions.

AgO: Alright, so let me do the introductions then.  Joshua Alabi from KiNiNso Koncepts. It’s great, Joshua is going to be giving us some perspective.  We also have Tu … Afikuyomi. You know what I’ve put as your first name? … He’s from Stears Business …

Ayo Obe: The mind boggles!

RS: No, it’s so as not to cause audience confusion.  So, he’s Tokunbo, but he’s not Honourable Toks.

AO: Is he an Olatokunbo?

Tokunbo J. Afikuyomi: You can use TJ.

AgO: Ok, T.J. Afikuyomi is also here.  He’s from Stears Business. So, it’s not politics, so you know why I was laughing.  And then we have also too, from DPIA, Dr. Adebukola Adebayo. Great to have you join us here today.

Adebukola Adebayo: Thank you.  Good evening.

AgO: Yes, he’s been here on a number of occasions …  And I complete the circle with the host for the IDEAS segment, Ayo Obe.

Ayo Obe: Thank you very much Aghogho.  And I want to welcome listeners to the studio.  I’m very sure that there’s so much to keep you glued to your radios after the IDEAS segment.

But before I get into the discussion with Joshua about the role of the creative arts in public awareness, education and so on, I should say that one of my … our correspondents on Twitter did express some sorrow that the programme only lasts for such a short while, and that we should have some phone-in.  And so I was sort of saying: Yes! You see! My listeners are keen to have me! Then he said: Yes, because I wanted to correct a mistake that you made in your last programme! So I think I should correct that mistake, which was that I was talking … it’s education-related, I should say. We were talking about the decision by JAMB that … to demand what I said was the National Identity Card, and then they later said: Ok, no, you don’t need it.  But what Mr. T.C.P. Whyte said was, that he wanted to correct, was that JAMB asked candidates to get their NIMC, their National Identity … 

AgO: Number, NIN?

AO: No …

RS: Well, in effect, it’s the number.

AO: They need the number.  What JAMB wanted was the number, they didn’t have to have the card.  So I should correct that, in the interests of not … although happily, my misinformation came after the whole issue had been thrown away, which was actually the subject of our discussion.

RS: So we didn’t add to the problem.

AO: So I’m happy that it’s been … that that has been pointed out.  But I’d still like people, would still want people to interact with the programme, even when they don’t want to correct mistakes.  But I do actually also, if I do have them, prefer to get the proper information out there.

But Joshua Alabi is the moving spirit, as far as I would say, behind KiNiNso Koncepts.  I should say that I first saw them knowingly (I’d probably seen them before), but I first saw them knowingly at the year before’s Wole Soyinka Awards for Investigative Journalism, and they did a sketch, which I just thought was so creative, and engaging … for people.  I mean they didn’t have a lot of props, but the way that they made use of it, the seamless way in which the narrative flowed, I thought was very interesting, and what they were doing, Joshua you might want to give us the name of the production and what you were trying to get across to the audience on that occasion.

Joshua Alabi: Yes, I think that was in 2017 or 18?  The title of the performance was: Bull Sense. So, we try to, we play a lot, so we try bring in the ‘Bull’ s.h.i.t. word, and Non ‘sense’, so we try to bring it together and … because we were just really tired of a lot of things happening at that point in Nigeria.  There was really a lot in the media, and a lot as regards politics and civic responsibilities, and the media wasn’t doing a lot to help eradicate some of these things. Instead they were … so we came up with a lot of monologues …

AO: Instead they were doing what?

JA: The media instead, we felt, were, or thought, they were, instead of being a tool for change, they were being a tool for … yeah, business.   Yes business is good, but … it was in the opposite direction.

RS: Not Nigeria Info.

JA: No, not Nigeria Info!  But a lot happened on Instagram, a lot with some TV and Radio.  And we ran a lot of … it was a lot of commentary that we tried to run as regards politics, corruption, accountability.

AO: So do you … when you do this, is your objective to sort of get people to do less of finger pointing and more of recognising where some of these issues arise?

JA: Em … I think both.  Finger pointing, naming and shaming, and awakening the spirit and opening our minds to say: These things occur every day, so we don’t have to wait until it’s me, or it’s you before we begin to speak about, talk about it.  Yes, I’d say we think of it in 360 and …

AO: That’s … in the round?

JA: Yes, in the round.  As it affects me, it affects the other person.  So the fact that it’s affecting the other person today doesn’t mean it won’t come around tomorrow.  So if I do not speak up, if I do not act against it now, if we do not continue to reiterate that there’s corruption everywhere, not just in politics but even in churches, and in school … even the … in schools, then some day it’s just going to come back to you wherever you find yourself.

AO: Ok.  Now of course … we’re here on a radio station, we have an audience I hope, of many many people; newspapers, they also sell in their thousands.  But yours is a theatre company. Why do you feel that you have something to say that will make an impact or reach anybody?

JA: Firstly, I want to believe everyone, we’re Nigerians, we’re Africans, expressive, so we like drama.  We even do drama when we don’t even think about it. So we know that is really appealing to …

RS: I don’t like drama.

JA: You don’t like drama, but you know, in a way we’re all really dramatic, and live theatre is really appealing.  It speaks to both young and old and different class, age groups. And so, using theatre, using drama to tell some of … to address these issues  and not just because we want to address, or we want to make everyone know what is happening, because they know already. So what we’re trying to say is: These are the problems we know that we have, and these are the effects, the consequences, what you do for keeping quiet, and not saying anything.  This is what has happened, and this is what will continue to happen, and it will out blow, it would … it would go beyond limits.

So drama, we feel, we know, is appealing to the audience.  People also want to hear what they have said, what they have been complaining about, on stage.  They want to know that: I’m not the only one feeling this thing. I’m not the only one complaining about this thing.  People feel it too. And they also trust the … strength that drama has in … as a tool for reorientation. So, some people watch drama sometimes and … or they listen to the music, and they have a change of heart.  Maybe not immediately, but for every time they want to take an action, or you want to throw that nylon out of your car; because you’ve seen it in a performance, maybe you will do it … after you will remember, you will think about it.  That picture keeps coming to your mind.

AO: Ok, I should … in the interests of full disclosure, I should say that both the IDEAS segment and KiNiNso – in fact the IDEAS segment completely, KiNiNso in some regards – are being supported by the MacArthur Foundation through the Centre for Information Technology and Development, to bring some of these issues about corruption and fighting corruption to the public.  But beyond theatre, in which people look at you on the stage, what else is it that you do that you think really brings the issues home to people.

JA: So, I would say yes, so far it’s been theatre workshops, talks and advocacy.  Recently last year we’ve been … we’ve created over 20 works that speaks about …

AO: I mean where do you perform them?

JA: We perform them all around Lagos, all around Nigeria, in Kano, in Abuja.  Bus stops. Obalende. Obalende bus stop, under the bridge, we were there for a whole evening and we kept performing and then we attracted all the area boys and the police officers and everyone.  And they watched the performance, and then we had a conversation afterwards. Like … we’re so very … yeah, metaphorical but sometimes we can be daring and direct when we perform. For example, we performed something before the election, ‘At Ilaje’, and there was an issue with the police. 

AO: And what does that?

JA: Ilaje-Bariga in Lagos.  And we invited the DPO, the police officers, we invited them and then we  performed the piece at the market. And they … from … they felt really bad because they didn’t know what to expect, and now they see this.  And they couldn’t leave, they couldn’t. But it was really effective. Afterwards then we had the conversation to say: Maybe you are not corrupt, but you know, these things, you know it’s happening.  And we all can’t continue to say: I am not corrupt, so I’ll keep quiet. No. So, and they … I mean, we go all around Nigeria performing these works.

And the next step for us is … as a company we can’t do it all.  We are attracting young people from universities, from the University of Ibadan, University of Lagos, from LASU and a whole lot of other young people we’ve been calling out to.  I mean the last three weeks, since January 6th … two weeks?  We’ve been having workshops every day.  One is going on as we speak, and they’re all listening to me.  And we’ve been talking about civic … civic and public … enhancing civic and public engagement on Criminal Justice System and Accountability and anti-Corruption.  So we’ve been working on this, talking about it, researching, creating new ideas, creating stories, and we intend to do this for the better part of this year, and by December we hope that we’ve been able to capture the minds of at least 500 young people.

RS: Do you get any pushback at all?  By people saying: These Arts for social change, as opposed for Art for Art’s sake, which is just general igbadun.  Do you get people complaining that: It’s too political o, it’s too … revolutionary?

JA: Yes, people complain about it many times.  But of course, when you have the negative feedback, you also get the positive feedback.  We had one called ‘Join Bodi’ at Okota. When we went to research, to talk to the people, because the … like I mentioned, during the meeting, the polling unit where …

RS: This one was political?

JA: Very political.  And when we got there, a lot … many of the people couldn’t talk to us.  They said: Ah! The OPC people, they will come for us, the politicians will come for us!  And we managed to get our research and the materials we needed from them. When we went back to perform at the same unit …

RS: Was this related to the ballot snatching in Okota?

JA: Exactly, exactly.  And we went back to that same polling unit.  After the performance, many of those who’d refused to talk to us, they recognised us, they came, they saw the performance, they came with their kids.  And after the performance, they brought their children to say: We’re really happy to see this. We want our kids to learn how to speak boldly, how to look at tyranny, how to look at … and say: I dare you!  I know you’re corrupt. To point fingers and speak boldly in the community.

RS: So in other words it’s big on accountability and mobilising citizens?

JA: Yes.  Exactly.

AO: And apart from, I mean you talked about people who had a good reaction, but you didn’t quite finish the story of what was the reaction of the police in feeling (I should put it in inverted commas) ‘somehow’ about the fact that their corrupt activities were being portrayed.

JA: Portrayed.  At first a lot of them were really angry, and they didn’t want to talk to us.  But we followed them …

AO: Really?  But they didn’t stop the performance?

JA: No they did not.   They did not. And they’ve never stopped it.  Once, some military guys came … 

AO: Not even … what about the area boys?  Do they … 

JA: The area boys, so what we do is … what we do is, we have … we buy drinks.  We … you know, to get something, you have to give something as well. So we have some money …

AO: To get their attention.

JA: To get their attention, we buy them drinks, we discuss, we … before the D-Day we always go there to make sure we find the head.  If we don’t find the head, we ask for the most influential guy in this whole area. And then we explain to him, and he’ll be like: “Ki l’en sọ gan?” and all of that, but we make him understand that …

RS: Which is related to the name of the group, KiNiNso, Kininsọ.

AO: What are you saying!

JA:  Exactly.  And that’s how we coined the word.  … And we always find a way, we always make sure we penetrate into their hearts, and then we go for the performance.  And then they, these hardened ones, are the ones who in turn invite the other ones and friends, and say: “Oh, ẹ gba won gba street …”

AO: That they should help them clear the street.

JA: And then they even control traffic for us, and sometimes they control the traffic and tell vehicles to actually hold on.  Sometimes the police, they do that for us too, but after the performance, we talk to them. We make them understand that we are not happy.  We are really young but we’ve been hearing: Nigeria will change since we were born, and it hasn’t changed. And when did you remind your kids that the motto of Nigeria is Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress?  And they don’t even know, and they’ll be like: Oh, Ok. And we … we get to know them, even by talking to them. And we always reach a consensus.

AO: Well I want to thank you Joshua for coming on.  I think it was important that you came on, because … when we are dealing with information and news and so on, we sometimes lose sight of the impact that something creative can have.  A creative thing is not necessarily a true story, but it’s not necessarily a false story. It’s … it’s done to in order to encapsulate certain experiences and to convey certain lessons.  So I think that I’m grateful that you’re able to come on. As I said, I found it very influential.

RS: And quite brave of you and your colleagues.  I mean, that great exponent of art for social change, Fela Kuti: there was this legendary raid on the Shrine … and as they were running in, trying – the police, trying to arrest people … the band kept on playing nonchalantly, that: What haven’t we seen before?  And the DPO just shouted … to his men: Arrest the music! And everybody was like … Ah ah! Baba!

JA: And that inspired something we did with another organisation in … three years ago now, for the MUSON Festival.  We made a musical called: “Fela: Arrest the Music” and it was about this topic that you just raised.

AO: You see, what goes around, goes around.  So I want to thank everybody for listening to the IDEAS segment.  Please continue to engage with us and please stay tuned, because the Public Square is still open, even though they didn’t ring any bells today!