BY OMIKO AWA
SHE was everywhere at the Freedom Park on Broad Street, Lagos, to make sure the children’s art competition of the Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF), with the theme, The Vision Of The Child, went on well. In the final days of the heritage festival you would also see Foluke Michael, the Festival secretary at the Civic Centre, Lekki, venue of the awards and dinner organised to honour those whose paintings depicted the inner longing of children in the streets, putting final touches to details.
The Principal Partner of Caterina De’ Medici Africa has since 2010 been coordinating the painting competitions — after the government of Raji Fashola restructured the components of the festival since it was last staged in 2002 — but the 2012 edition saw the introduction of Child Art.
Foluke before now had organised painting competitions for adults where winners were taken to Italy to compete with others and win prizes. “We have held competition for adult artists in the past editions where we gave out cash prizes amounting to $57,500 and as well promote winners aside from Nigeria, taking them to festivals in Italy. One of them, Sam Ebohon from Edo State, even emerged the overall best in the Caterina De’ Medici painting competition in 2009.”
Ebohon emerging overall best, according to Foluke, did not only earn him a laurel, but made Caterina De Medici, Italy, to develop interest in the Nigeria’s art and economy. “It made the management to want to know more of the people and the country that produced such a great artist; and that later translated to the company investing in our economy,” Foluke says.
Following the desire of Lagos State government to up the ante of LBHF with new offerings, Foluke working under the supervision of Prof. Wole Soyinka, introduced the Child Art segment to the festival.
“Since we had organised painting competition for adults in the past, we decided to add Child Art as we are always looking for other areas to explore — aside music, culture. Professor Soyinka then decided we carry the children along, make them tell us what they know about their environment, their vision of it. He actual gave the topic: The Vision Of The Child. It was meant to see how the children could relate or interpret happenings in their environment through painting. So, we went ahead to choose the very young ones from nine to 12 years old,” states Foluke.
Were the children selected from schools in highbrow areas of Lagos?
“No,” she retorts. “We sent letters to all the 57 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs). We were much more interested in children who reside in the rural areas, but not many of them responded; the schools, especially public schools were skeptical about it, but now they have seen the results, I believe they will be part of it next year.”
DURING her interaction with the schools, Foluke, a facilitator at the British Council Creative Enterprises Programme (CEP), organised for youths and women in Africa, discovered that all is not well with the country’s public schools.
She notes, “teachers from public schools were lackadaisical and showed no commitment to the programme. They may be thinking of the poor working environment or the economic situation of the country, but I must tell you they have the stuff; people like us passed through them. I attended rural public schools both for my primary and secondary schools, I studied with candle and lantern lights. If with such schools I am what I am today, think of the result when teachers in the public schools in the cities are motivated.”
With this assessment, is there any hope for the Nigerian child?
“Yes, with what those children did, I am convinced that there is a future for this country. If children within the age range of nine to 12 could interpret peace as saying if persons A, B and C put in this or that, there will be peace; this tells me the children know what to do; one even drew old and new Lagos, and another, the map of the country with people surrounding it. This shows the children are conscious of their environment and even the politics. The interpretations they gave their drawings were beyond their ages; they reasoned like people of 18,19 or even 20 years old, which means we must sit up in this country, because these children are conscious of the goings-on. We must encourage them, give them the right environment to grow, so that we may get the best of them.”
According to Foluke, “if we must have a better tomorrow, we must invest in the today of the children; imagine what these nine to 12 year-old children will be in 10 years time with their wonderful ideas. They would end up being inventors; the inventors in America were not those that made A’ Grades in schools, rather they were the ones that studied their environment and realised the need to create something to improve on it, and their creations to date are still in use.”
What are the gains so far?
“They are numerous and can’t be immediately measured”, the Federal Polytechnic Ilaro-trained civil engineer notes.
“My company came to Nigeria through art and culture, and now we are moving into agriculture, wooing others in Europe and across the globe to come here and invest on the various potentials in the country. In Italy, platforms such as these are used to let investors watch competition, see art and culture of the people. You can only bring captains of industry together under a relaxed atmosphere with the help of art, music, entertainment and others; so, we entered into investment opportunity in Nigeria through art and culture,” she informs.
ASIDE from arts, Foluke is also involved in a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation that stages seminars in rural areas, empowering youths and others.
Formed in 2000, the NGO, Women Empowerment and Youth Organisation (WEYO), is currently coordinating youths, women and farmers in Ekiti, Ondo and Ogun states to promote agriculture.
“WEYO was formed to look into the various communities to bring out what can be turned into money that will enhance the life of the people living there. We ran a lot of seminars within the southwestern states and looked into garri (cassava flakes) processing and adire making. We went into the nooks and crannies of the states seeing how we could be of help to young people, especially women. It was even in cause of the project that the Italian-based Caterina De Medici invited me to develop young people for a competition; and the outcome of that relationship is Caterina De Medici Africa, and the child art competition,” she says.
According to Foluke, “once the tourism potentials are put in place foreign investors will come, in fact, they are looking for where to invest their money, they are travelling across the globe looking for something new. We read on the pages of newspapers that government is bringing investors to the country, but in the real sense of it, how many of them have you seen come to look at the oil palms or other resources?”
BORN April 8, the daughter of a school head, Foluke a civil engineer, a motivator and lady of many parts recently allowed her birthday go unnoticed.
“ I am going to celebrate a fulfilled birthday only when I wake up to see 1000 Nigerians happily working in a farm, I want to wake up to see Nigerian kids compete favourably with their peers anywhere in the world, see them invent machines. I want to see the Nigerian youths attain great heights and celebrated within and outside the country; that is my dream, a dream of having Nigerian art and culture celebrated across the globe, a dream of attracting investors to the country, a dream where the agriculture sector flourishes. When all of these are achieved I would climb to the rooftop and have a grandiose celebration, but until then, my birthday is just a level.”
She philosophises, “so, for me, everyday is plus one. I have a goal and each day I look at my project plan, I ask myself what have I achieved, how many people have I positively impacted on and how many things have I been able to do. And with each passing day, I realise I still have a long way to go.”
Foluke says, “I am unique in my being and spiritual in the interpretation of life. If I am born to bless my generation and I am not a blessing to at least two people, then I am not fulfilled. For me, you need to discover who you are, make yourself a blessing to others, think less of yourself and impact on the lives of people you daily come across.”
The head of the LBHF secretariat, retorts, “I see people living abroad as being comfort driven, I am not comfort-driven, but value-driven. I have been to many places across the globe with the social amenities working, yet I have to leave those sweet comforts for my home in Nigeria, where one has to stay without electric power for days, drive in death-trap roads and others, but I refuse to stay in those countries with their amenities because I am not comfort-driven. “ I am going to celebrate a fulfilled birthday only when I wake up to see 1000 Nigerians happily working in a farm, I want to wake up to see Nigerian kids compete favourably with their peers anywhere in the world, see them invent machines. I want to see the Nigerian youths attain great heights and celebrated within and outside the country; that is my dream, a dream of having Nigerian art and culture celebrated across the globe, a dream of attracting investors to the country, a dream where the agriculture sector flourishes. When all of these are achieved I would climb to the rooftop and have a grandiose celebration, but until then, my birthday is just a level.”
“Comfort-driven people run from the realities on ground, and in attempt to run away from the realties, they end up enslaving themselves in the foreign countries they have run to. I don’t want to be a slave, I want to be value-driven; a value driven person has no comfort, may not even have money for those little comforts, but is always focused because he has a goal to achieve. So, I want to be a blessing to my generation, I want to function effectively in my place of primary assignments. You can only be fulfilled when you are in the place of your primary assignment; it is the lack of this knowledge that make so many people trapped in a job they do not like, doing one thing day after day, when they ought to be out there as an employer of labour.”
Any regrets so far? “Regrets! No, I have none. I see every challenge in life as a steppingstone to greater heights. Each time I fail, I do sit down to find out why I have failed and the lessons I learn from it move me on. So, for me; there is no regret!”