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‘I believe that leadership has failed in this country, it is time to try followership’

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With many enthralling theatre productions to his credit, Joseph Edgar, a self-acclaimed Duke of Shomolu, has impacted and is still impacting the Nigeria creative sector positively, particularly theatre production with exciting plays that are changing the narratives about the country.I n this interview, Edgar, who is also a serving investment banker, speaks to OBINNA EMELIKE on Nigeria’s leadership issues, why his plays trail the country’s history, and are infused with salient messages, his new theatre productions for the year, future ambitions among others.

For those who are meeting you for the first time, who really are you?

My name is Joseph Edgar and I am The Duke of Shomolu.

You are a man of many parts. How do you marry your investment banking with your passion for theatre production?

I have not left banking. About 70 percent of my working hours are in investment banking. But because investment banking is confidential and a profession that deals with a lot of sensitive things, it cannot be in the public space like that, while theatre is more public. This is why any time you see me in the public, it is for theatre. So, there is no transition from investment banking to theatre. I am still an investment banker and still do my theatre productions.

Read also: Duke of Shomolu production stages ‘Fajuyi’ in Lagos this Sunday

Your plays have so many themes and lessons on leadership and nation-building, why?

Well, I believe that leadership has failed in this country. We have tried leadership since 1960 till date and it has failed. Now it is time to try followership. In doing that we must educate people and that is why we started the idea of selling the stories of leadership to our people, the history of our people, leaders of our past and recent past so that people can understand where we are coming from as a country. This is in preparation for us to enter politics and push a different narrative of what we are seeing now. For instance, when we staged Baba Kerere (Lateef Jakande), former governor of Lagos State, it dawned on me that Baba Kekere just died two or three years ago. I mean recently. It now dawned on me that my social media person did not know who he was, 60 percent of cast and crew did not know who he was, they know Lateef Jakande Road, they know Lateef Jakande estates, but they did not know why that road is named Lateef Jakande. So, these stories we are telling now are beginning to bring back our culture and history to a new set of Nigerians who ordinarily will not have access to these stories because they are not being taught in schools anymore like I heard. So, I see you young people come to our shows and say, whao! So, this is the story of Zik in the Naira note and so on. So, it is dual; to tell these stories, enlighten people and prepare them for a new crop of leadership since leadership has failed us since 1960.

Why use theatre to tell the stories when there are other creative media?

It is because these stories are very powerful. Some people say Edgar, why are you not purring them on TV, but when you watch a movie, it is different from theatre experience. Theatre is cost effective. Putting a production together is quite expensive, even more expensive than some movies, (I could be wrong).Our present theatre production cost us N46 million, that is three movies. But getting distribution outlets for the movie is where the challenge is, publicity, media and marketing as well. But for us, once you get your budget right for that production, you are done. That for me is a low hanging fruit, coming from investment banking. I had friends who left banking and tried to shoot movies and entered into serious trouble because the loose ends in movies are plenty. I had a friend who worked with an insurance company and he had to borrow money to shoot a movie. He shot it end to end; everything was fine, apart from sound. He had a feature length movie but no sound and the guy went bankrupt because he borrowed money. So, safe investment is top among the reasons we choose theatre.

Do you think returning History to the school curriculum is right?

It is very right. The thing that the government does not realise is that the atmosphere has changed. When we were growing up, the government could control thought processes because they had NTA and FRCN. But now and with the internet, all you need to do is to search the web and all the information you need will appear. Removing History in the curriculum was a way of control by the government. As Nigerians, we should begin to put energy in serious things by understanding where we are today in terms of technology, the new economy and policies. At the end of the day, we may put all our energy in fighting the government to bring history back and utilising scarce resources in that pursuit, which to me is meaningless. I have a young friend who sat in his house and built a secondary school curriculum end to end. For N2000 per term, you will get secondary school education from JS1 to SS3 and he will register you for WAEC with his money. Some people in Lekki now register their house-helps to the platform instead of the conventional school. The guy has over 49 teachers who recorded themselves in different subjects for easy learning. So, a house help will spend two hours every day learning from the recorded lessons. The guy is doing the easy learning platform in Nigeria and Rwanda. At the end of the day, he is educating people without the government and those people will write the WAEC examination. This is technology, it is now the dawn of followership. So, our challenge in the Duke of Shomolu now is how we can leverage followership to push what we are trying to do without losing the essence of theatre because I watched some productions on TV and they feel different in my eyes. Channels TV showed Fajuyi, our theatre production, end to end for one hour in Ekiti State. I don’t know who paid them. But with the little clip I watched, I did not have the same feel like the live show. For us, history is very key. A nation without its history is lost. History is key and that is why on our own, about 70 percent of our plays are ticket free and we don’t charge gate fee outside Lagos. That is our contribution to preserving our history and heritage.

How do you sustain your productions considering the free gate entrance?

In investment there is something we call up sell. So, there are two sides; the ticket, and the sponsorship, but the budget is in the middle. I sit with my production manager and he gives me the total cost of our production and I go to the other side to upsell and to get as many sponsors as possible. For instance, we are doing Kashimawo on March 31, 2024. I can start to sell from now to March 31st and there is no limit to what I can sell. So, if my budget is N40 million and I raise N70 million, it is not anybody’s business as long as the show is done. So, if I cover that budget and a little for my staff members, then I can open the gate. When we did Sardauna in Abuja, in the story, Professor Ahmed Yerima came from an angle most Nigerians never knew. There is a part of that story they don’t like talking about in public, which is the part Sardauna’s wife tried to save him. So, when the captors came, the wife jumped in between them. Prof was warned not to show it. Now, he came from an angle of Sardauna’s wife having a relationship with Awolowo’s wife (HID) and we never know that. Then, when they came to Lagos, while the Ogas were in the room fighting, they were in the market doing women’s things. So, when the problem started, Sardauna’s wife told her husband that she met Awolowo’s wife and they discussed and she promised to reach out to her husband. So, when Prof wanted to tell the story of the killing, the hall went black and we heard bullets but did not see when the woman jumped in-between the killers and her husband. It was Professor Ojo Bakare, during Fajuyi, who now came to show Lagos the woman being shot. We did the first Sardauna show at NICON NUGA Abuja and we paid N10 million for the hall and put gate fee at N20,000. We discovered that a lot of Hausa people who couldn’t afford the gate fee were outside and the message is about being lost because of N20,000 gate fee. Uche, the boy who played Sardauna, is an Igbo boy. He has Sardauna’s charisma and physical appearance, even without costume; you will think he is Sardauna.

We had 26 Sardauna grandchildren in the hall, some met him, while others did not. Immediately Uche came on stage, they started crying, thinking they had seen their grandfather on stage. Seeing all these, an Igbo boy acting as a Fulani man on stage, I told them to open the gate for all the people outside to come in and see the play because the message has to be told. We have already made our money because we had sponsors. In the show, the Hausa people filled the hall again and when we introduced the guy who acted as Sardauna as Uche, their cheers were unimaginable. They were taking pictures with him after the show because the guy got Sardauna’s ascent, height and appearance. That is how we can afford to do those shows without gate fees.

Which of your many productions reflects more of the reason you are in theatre?

I think it is Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again. It is the production that speaks to history, leadership and politics. If the foundation of the home or the society is not right, you can’t get it right. Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again speaks to real life situations that Nigerians face on a daily basis at the domestic level, home, workplace and everywhere. This year, we are talking about prostate cancer, 2 out of 10 Nigerians above the age of 40 will have prostate cancer, by 60 years, 6 out of 10 will have prostate cancer. So, invisible is an epidemic, but we don’t know. But it has a cure when dictated early. Very few people will come out to say ‘my thing’ is not standing again. That is what Charlie Boy did and I wrote about it and I put it on the play. Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again addresses very critical societal issues people will not talk about such as divorce, premarital sex, adultery, DNA and other issues that people will rather wish away. Some people used to attack me after watching my plays. Some will say that they saw themselves in the play. That play is a mouthpiece to society in different life areas. I am very passionate about that play.

There seems to be no musicals in your stage productions, why?

It is not deliberate. I work with a very small pool of directors, (about four or five) because I expect to have a certain standard in the productions. When I have a play, the director I choose will come back to me to say I want to do it as a musical. I think with the kind of story we are trying to tell musicals will make the message blurring or water it down. I have seen people that went to see a play and they have a feel-good expression, but when they come to us they say whoa! There is a sense in it and they will want their children to come and watch it. I have a friend who is an executive director in a bank; he used to bring his children from abroad every December to watch our plays. One experience that I like so much is one very old woman came to watch our play Ogiame Erejuwa with her grandchild and she saw herself on set and she did not believe it. She was a very small four-year-old during Ogiame’s grandfather’s wedding. She was the one that carried the gift. She told her grandchild that is me, that is me. It was awesome for me. There was a man that came to watch Awo and said as a child I used to bring food to Awo in Calabar Prison so I connect with that story.

What production are you doing this year?

We are doing Kashimawo. We are supposed to bring back Fajuyi but there are many stories to tell. The Kashimawo we are doing is not June 12. We are trying not to be obvious. When we did Awo, people thought they were coming to see Awolowo, but it was the wife they saw. That woman used Awo to live her life. Maybe she was born when she was born. If it is today, we may be seeing the first Nigerian female president. She was powerful and the first woman to hold a broom at a political rally; the broom that APC is parading around now. She was sweeping her shop when they said Nnamdi Azikiwe had arrived and she unconsciously ran to the rally with her broom to meet Zik and she held that broom throughout the rally. She was the first to merge political parties East and West. For Kashimawo, that is MKO Abiola, we are not going to talk on June 12. We are going to start from when he was born and the spirituality around his birth. We are going to deep Yoruba mythology, D.G Fagunwa’s forest to bring all the Yoruba gods, the incantations and proverbs, we are going to look for the meanings of the proverbs and then kill it with his experience in Scotland. Every other thing he did after Scotland, he had fulfilled his destiny in life and that is why he died the way he died because his time had come. So, it is going to be a very deep traditional story that will bring out the spirituality of Kashimawo. There is a spiritual trend among our leaders that nobody has been able to look into. All our leaders have spiritual missions. If you look at the circumstance of their birth, how they moved and how they lived. About 90 percent of us come to the world to just pass, the other came differently. If you read Zik’s story, MKO, Jakande, their lives are different from ours. Obasanjo’s own is very obvious and very mysterious. There were three women that followed him from birth till today. He sees those women, interacts with them and that is why people think that he has seven lives, he escapes death every time. Obasanjo came from abject poverty so also Awo, MKO, Zik and the others.

For us in Kashimawo, I want to know why a man who was richer than Dangote died the way he died. He had a private jet in 1972 and he was the first man in Africa to employ a white pilot; he paid £500,000 in 1972. I want to know why he was more powerful than heads of states, why he insisted against his wife’s advice to make that ultimate sacrifice. It is that play that we want to show this Easter.