Squinting at a Crowded World: Genius and Madness at Play

IMG_0479.jpgThere will be more stylized artworks. Finally, it will be total abstraction. The world has gone mad. The script becomes more and more complex by the day that shows that it is so- it is the bane of contemporary existence! We are the noise. We live the noise. The little things don’t matter much anymore. The artist of today tries to recreate these feelings, the intensity of white noise creating static. We will be famous for showing the zeitgeist of now. Here, it starts from Lagos, the centre of the hullaballoo. Occasionally one makes sense of the nature of things, and winks knowingly at the other. It’s a standpoint that differentiates Sense and Nonsense; a time gap too. The millennial took over while I slept. In a daze, my contemporaries are playing ‘catch-up’. The gift is prophetic, making loud declarations. Art must be understood in the context of its time. Of course some ‘art’ are not meant for now.IMG_0077web.jpg

Way to go in Makoko

Map of Lagos, Nigeria showing urban areas, lag...
Map of Lagos, Nigeria showing urban areas, lagoon, harbour, port areas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This could be my subtext for the ongoing photography exhibition Where We Live at the Floating School in Makoko, Lagos.

More pictures from MAPS (Murder At Prime Suites-the movie)

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Jumafor Ajogwu, Keira Hewatch, Joseph Benjamin, Chelsea Eze and Eneaji Chris EnenG

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Keira Hewatch

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Chika Ike

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The producer Jumafor Ajogwu being interviewed on the red carpet.

All photographs courtesy James Maduka aka M.dox

EXPLAINING THE EXHIBITION: AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND BEATITUDES

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The need to create a different narrative arose from a conversation with Joan Egwuterai, manager, communications and external relations at Lagos Business School. She wanted to post something about the exhibition. I had directed her to my blog, but she found that my first writing was more an autobiography than an explanation of the works in the exhibition, the intentions of the artist etc. I had narrated stories leading to this present day, and occasionally mentioned works whose themes connected with my experiences. The works to be exhibited would speak for themselves, I explained, a notion learned in final year at Nsukka defending my works in a presentation to our painting professor Udechukwu and fellow painting students. After several well-received defences, I saw how my classmates waited to hear my last defence. Looking at the eager faces longing to be satiated, I suddenly had a strange nudge to deflate their enthusiasm. I suddenly felt a strong revolt against the entire session. It seemed to have been created to favor glib talkers over the more introspective artists. One could have easily defended bullshit.’ After many years of speaking about my work, I had come to the realization that if my work didn’t speak, then why should i? I had failed’, I said. This presentation was my shortest.

In this exhibition, as in my works, I have always believed in the communicative powers of art. My works are like my children, with a life separate from me. They will live on in new environments, disconnected from me, interpreted differently by any audience. I enjoy that aspect- of the work being ‘read’ by other people. They usually come up with entirely new perspectives and thus, expand my appreciation and understanding. I was researching the common elements that cut across all the past art styles and movements in final year. In studying Surrealism and Dadaism, I got interested in the theories of Jung and Freud. From then on, I believed that the art object as a product of both conscious and unconscious processes has readings that go beyond the initial suggestions of the creator/artist. Art spills over and blossoms, flails or flies, depending on one’s perspective and personal history.

A neighbor who had served as a military doctor on the Biafran side of the civil war had seen my happy and beautiful paintings (I had just finished a self-portrait titled Golden child, 1996; and Egwu Amara dancers, 1996). The doctor was an austere and dry-looking fellow who never smiled. His son, who had newly entered Nsukka, suggested that his father would be interested in me painting a portrait. When I met the doctor, he showed me the most shocking images from Life magazine (I think) the black and white photographs of kwashiorkor-stricken families. He commissioned me to paint the portrait of a starved mother suckling her bony child. The poignant message of the image influenced my notion of beauty. I soon started painting provocative and sometimes dark images. The idea was to aim at the strongest emotions, not usually the most pleasing. I began thinking of the human tragedy and Man’s vanities.

I communicate artistic practise as going beyond traditional genre and labels. This is informed by the fact of the artist being a strong conductor of all human experience. His touch is felt in every field of endeavor. Of course this is seen more clearly in the life of Leonardo da Vinci. In 2003, Dilompri (aka junkman of Africa) created sculptures from discarded clothes and refuse he picked on the streets of Lagos. He later created a performance titled How the Tailor Died, 2005 which showed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He had earlier told me how the artist could dance, play music, sew clothes, write, sing and sculpt in conveying messages. I have gathered together my many sides in the spacious foyer of Lagos Business School-paintings, photography, drawing, and sound. Sound as the key element has an inferred voice-in the communication and provocation of the senses. One enjoys the waking sounds of dawn- the chirp of birds, the twitching of insects and the sounds of people rushing to their workplaces etc. In sound, I understand the few lessons from secondary school days in Okigwe-the repeated beats that form harmonious sounds, the melodies, the composers etc. Looking at the pulsating rhythm of music graphs and the distances and points in pages of sheet music, I was fascinated by the logical progression of music. It was pure Maths and Reason. I had been thrilled by the film August Rush, 2007 and loved the music of Enya, Tchaikovsky and Handel. Hence, in creating experimental music for this show, I felt a freedom liberated by studying histories and changes that moved canons into future relevance. I chose themes like Revolution Bang, Water and Roads, Area Boy, Hunger Wars, and God and Man and created intuitively like one tuning the guitar by the ear.

Another interest is in presenting photography as art. I scored high grades in drawing classes in Nsukka. I did a balancing act of making good portraits on one hand, and painting stylized or abstract form. . Although secondary school did not prepare me to accept photography as art, I learned the joy of photography from Chidi Abarikwu, a classmate who owned an analogue Canon camera. One wonders when photography will be taught alongside graphic design, painting and sculpture at both elementary and secondary school levels. Mr James Efekodo, an educationist, friend and mentor whom I met working at Whitesands School, Lekki had suggested that the time had come to rewrite the art curriculum of secondary schools. His long years of experience teaching had informed the understanding that there was still a gap between art and photography in our society.

 In Nsukka, I bought a camera to snap people for my pastels and oil portraits. I also made extra money snapping people at social events. I now use photography as my medium, over the painted realistic portraits, to balance my stylized work which seemed to be ‘art’. I recall Chika Okeke-Agulu chiding me for berating my work as a portrait painter, explaining how it can be quite serious work.Image

              Abii Woman, 2011.

Image              Foundation for a new church, 2012

After being told that painting had nothing new to offer, I was faced with two options- to either abandon traditional painting as a whole; or to continue painting in traditional painting styles. An obvious choice, undertaken by many, is the first option. Of course I chose the second.  I strongly believe that Africa has not built its traditional history enough to move forward. The destruction and decay of national monuments showcase how we are tragically loosing cultural and historic monuments. It is inevitable, as Abayomi Barber said in an interview he granted me (2007). The problems of conservation and preservation of art works are also due to a lack of properly trained staff, Barber added. Since graduating in 1997, I realize that we did not get adequate preparation for life after the university. There were no courses like the Business of Art, Curating, and Preservation of Art etc. that would create a better environment for practicing art. I had gone through some of the so-called-galleries, and now preferred personal interactions with collectors. The middlemen who would have helped out are nowhere to be found.

Engaging the Enemy: The Voices of Interrupted Lives

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Creative practice and political crusading could well be the sub-theme for this exhibition. Through the ages, the role of the artist in society has been revised in various ways. From cave art to tomb art; shrine art to church art; homes to churches; Art has been the tool of hunters and magi, magicians and politicians, priests and the affluent in society serving their immediate needs and to answer the peculiar questions of their time. Interrupted Lives is a timely intervention that showcases the work of Creatives working in present day Nigeria, artists who live here, and who have, through the trauma of existence and malady and decline of the Nigerian dream, create critical works evaluating Experience, Society, Identity and the Affecting Politics. ImageAs art movements emerged, artists constantly tried to rewrite the status quo of Art. In defining the role of Art, Picasso famously said that ‘painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defence against the enemy’. The seven artists in the third art exhibition of the Lagos Book and Art Festival-Jelili Atiku, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, Tola Wewe, Sam Ovraiti, Duke Asidere, Abiodun Olaku, and Uche James-Iroha seem to have identified the ‘enemy’, and formed an ‘attack’ line. ImageShocked society is frustrated by the anguish of our times-oil subsidy issues and bomb blasts, fuel and visa queues, anti-corruption wars and the crisis of leadership. Jelili Atiku, a sculptor and performance artist who graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria is perhaps the most vocal in his protest performances against the flawed political fabric of Nigeria. The Program Chairman of the Committee of Relevant Art, Jahman Anikulapo calls the performances of Jelili Atiku ‘a revelation in the life of LABAF’, and thus, has exhibited him in three of their past exhibitions. Born in 1968, Atiku felt the first sense of loss at an early age. His father, a soldier during the Nigerian Civil died upon his return from the warfront. The poignant story of the circumstances surrounding his father’s death came to him from his mother. Early after graduating from Zaria, Atiku recalls the beatings he received from military men when he tried to enter his uncle’s petrol station at Ejigbo, Lagos. He soon understood the gestures of the human body in trauma; and soon began using the language of the body in Performances protesting against the political state of the nation. As a ‘multimedia political artist’, his works have been featured in exhibitions across the African continent and in Europe. The principle preoccupation, as Jelili Atiku sees it, of the artist is to expand human consciousness of the ills in Society through his work. Politics dictates, and the artist counters.

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In January 2009, Uche James-Iroha was given the Prince Claus award in recognition of his work as a photographer. The University of Port Harcourt graduate of Fine Art majored in sculpture, but upon graduating, took to photography, becoming a pioneer member of Depth of Field, a group of photographers that included Kelechi Amadi-Obi. Uche James-Iroha has chosen to investigate space and light using the photographic medium to create strong conceptual black and white images. He believes that colour distracts from the importance of what is being said. Over the years, he has been exhibited at the Goethe Institut, Lagos, at the Biennales in Dakar, Senegal; and as one of the artists that represented the Nigerian exhibition in Manchester at the recently concluded London Summer Olympics. In 2010, he edited a book of photographs and drawings titled Unifying Africa, illustrating football’s relevance and calming effect on the troubled societies Imagein Africa. This artist is a major force that has informed a wider acceptance of Photography in Nigeria as a key medium of expressive artistic content. His committed practise has, over the years, influenced a new stock of light-stalkers who have embraced the immediacy of the translation of ideas inherent in digital photography that allows multiple writings and investigation of Line, Light and Space.

The myriads of aborted dreams, forced exiles, nomadic border crossings, and dislocation has numbed the psyche of youth in Nigeria. As the artistic part of this exhibition of the Arts, the conveners of the exhibition, the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA) presents this group of artists whose practice typify the communicative creative response to the times we live in. Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo, in an introductory post on Interrupted Lives (on her Facebook wall) pointedly notes how artists seem to have turned from narrative that engage the issues of the day that affect Society at large; preferring instead to represent individualistic ideals, interrupted lives. In shock, artists seem to have withdrawn into personal worlds and longings, and allusions to the dissipation of the human spirit. Their response and discourse is an outcry that questions the numbness and reticent undercurrent one feels sustains tolerance of these chaotic days. When these voices merge, the effect is the deafening scream of Interrupted Lives.

Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo has consistently confronted existential issues-gender differences, the plight of women in Society, and the state of the nation. One recalls the poignant title of one of her past exhibitions ‘Not Ready to Walk Away’, a defiant grandstanding against the daunting odds that featured poetic phrases that described her multi-coloured textural works.She studied Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and majored in Painting. Since then, Nwosu-Igbo has shown a strong sense of poetic interpretation and tongue-twisting in the themes of her paintings and installations, crowning it with a publication of poems. Two factors come to play when confronted by her work- the theme of her works, and the physical presence of the art work.

On occasion, Nwosu-Igbo shows containment and a bias for the Nsukka School preferred referencing of traditional Uli, and paints the familiar partitioned windows filled with symbols drawn largely from traditional Uli art forms; but rises again to soar with powerful installations that engage Space in an emotional, personalised design that delimits the lines between Art and Audience. When she breaks free from the limiting positioning within the context of Nsukka Uli (as often happens in her installations and poetic verse), her works gain a new strength that synthesizes Experience into a personal revelation and discourse with her environment. She is married to Uche Edochie, a young painter who gained prominence in the late nineties and whose works had much patronage and success in Lagos galleries. Her engagements as curator of exhibitions (particularly for recent LABAF exhibitions) and agitator for critical contextual evaluation and collaborative work between artists have increased her prominence and visibility in the Nigerian Art scene.

In October, at the opening of the art exhibition titled The Ankara Portraits, of Gary Stevens’ art works which opened at the Omenka Gallery in Ikoyi, one had a rare meeting with Abiodun Olaku. He confessed that it has been a while since he last attended an exhibition opening, and then explains a political commentary that applies to an understanding of his landscapes. With a long list of collectors waiting, it is hard to assess a sizeable number of his works in one location for either an exhibition or a comprehensive reading. Abiodun Olaku studied Art at the Yaba College of Technology. Upon graduation, he teamed up with other artists to form the Universal Studios of Art, located in grounds of the National Theatre, Lagos. Over the years, many young artists have worked as apprentices under him. This has given him a first-hand witness of the weakness of the formal system of art education in Nigeria. At various times, he has been quite vocal in his assessment of the content and material of Art, its subject and presentation, and the poor management of the Arts. His poignant landscapes stress the atmosphere, and are realistic documentations of the environment. Building up monochromatic colour, he glazes over the work to achieve the trademark luminance. Colour is last applied after the right contrasts between light and shade has been achieved. Olaku consistently illustrates the changing seasons, the trail of light passing through exuberant, popular human life-of horse riders, durbar, and a love for the outdoors.

Tola Wewe, alongside Sam Ovraiti and Duke Asidere are some of the Independence generation artists (so-called by Jess Castellote in his blog A View from My Corner when writing on popular Nigerian artists born within that period) Following a lucrative season and years of success as one of the most exhibited and patronised painters working in Nigeria, Tola Wewe was appointed Commissioner for Arts and Culture in Ondo State. Born Adetola Wewe in 1959 in Shabomi-Okitipupa, he studied Art at the University of Ile Ife. He is one of the founding members of the Ona group of artists. His study of the Ijaw water-spirit mask and the narrative of Yoruba folktales have led to an outstanding body of work interlaced with Ona symbols. One senses the awareness of the works of the Oshogbo artists and traditional adire cloth motifs, and a close affinity to the rainforests and mangroves around him. His canvas is engaged with the vegetal patterns of his space, and translates a modern realisation of native tales. During his Masters’ degree program at the University of Ibadan, his research into the Ijaw water-spirit mask precipitated in the re-evaluation of form. In his words, he is ‘the vehicle, and they are the drivers’. He mirrors the environment in a possessed flow of energy, ‘communicating with the spirits of the ancestors’. This analogy ties his work to that of Suzanne Wenger, an artist who worked in nearby Oshogbo. Her renovation of shrines and other paintings bear the markings of that spiritual linkage, albeit in a more profuse way, that Tola Wewe talks about in explaining his creative process. Wewe’s recreation of the moonlight tales of his childhood addresses the new man in society, spotlighting the experiences and ideas of the creative person.Image

Duke Asidere has maintained a vibrant and expressionist palette of colours in his paintings executed in open air on the streets by his studio at Egbeda, Lagos State. After graduating from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, he received a Master of Fine Art from the same school that enabled him to lecture for a short while at Auchi Polytechnic. His works show a familiarity with the works of Ben Osaghae and Gani Odutokun, who he acknowledges are strong influences on his work, alongside the works of the Expressionists. In an interview with Tajudeen Sowole, on Duke Asidere’s 50th birthday anniversary, he bemoaned the ‘laid back attitude of artists’ in addressing issues related to the state of the nation. Artists’ commentaries have ignored (to a large extent), the political intrigues of post-military era Nigeria. Duke Asidere’s works emit the vibrant energy of creative ingenuity, and soul-searching of an artist living in troubled times. The positive and negative spaces are balanced intuitively without reliance to familiar paradigms of perspective, with a firm knowledge of the human form that arguably surpasses that of some of his better known contemporaries.

The tendency to relate the image of the Man emerging from the turbulence and disaster of our Politics and Times seems to be a recurring theme in the work of the artists presented in Interrupted Lives. The narrative has become a personal address of shared aspirations. With a shared experience of lecturing alongside Duke Asidere at the Auchi Polytechnic, Sam Ovraiti has a formidable reputation as an international water-colourist. Born in Zaria, he studied General Painting and Art at Auchi Polytechnic, Edo State, and later moved on to the University of Benin where he acquired a Masters in Fine Art. The associations reveal an appreciation of realistic form (as witnessed in works from students of the University of Benin); a spatial application of colour irrelevant to considerations of formal depth (as in the works of the other colourists of Auchi Polytechnic) His works exhibit a personal sense of balancing of shapes in the landscapes that are the occasional subject of his work either relating to experience, or rendition of the human form.  He allows the expressive properties of his chosen medium, be it watercolour, oil colour or acrylics, to add character to his work, and deliberately reveals the gestures involved in the picture-making process. He have inspired artists from Auchi, notably Chika Idu, a water-colourist from the same school whose paintings show a stylistic association. Ovraiti wields a great presence on the Lagos Art scene, and is member to many of the Art associations. He has also attended workshops for artists, particularly the Harmattan workshops of Bruce Onobrakpeya which has become a regular stop-over. The workshop is a retreat inspired by those organised by Uli Beier in Oshogbo, a meeting point for artists that has created productive collaborations. Ovraiti’s works has strong similarities with those of Ike-Francis, his friend and fellow painter who studied at the Universities of Port Harcourt and of Nigeria, Nsukka. This amazing similarity is in the interpretation of human form, particularly in their paintings. Ike-Francis ventures into multi-media installations while Sam Ovraiti has focused on a traditional painting style that continually promote a very modern culture as evidenced in the fashion statements of his models.  Image In realising the theme of the exhibition, Nkechi Nwosu-Igbo has highlighted some of the most vibrant and active artists in Lagos, people whose works show a deep reading of the nuances and turbulence of their times. The Committee for Relevant Art has again shown a commitment to promoting critical platforms for artists to evaluate their output, to access their role in Society. A similar intervention was the interactive session at Bisi Silva’s CCA of photographs from the strikes against President Jonathan’s subsidy removal gift on New Year’s Day. Hopefully, in coming days, more artists will articulate their angst into creative outpourings that will bring the needed change in our sociopolitical world. Honestly, we are all part of the deluge, a community of people with truncated dreams, living interrupted lives.

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With the theme Narratives of Conflict, the 14th annual Lagos Book and Art Festival will remain open from 16th- 19th November at the Freedom Park, Lagos Island.

EDC RESTRUCTURING SMEs for GROWTH, AND OTHER CONVERSATIONS

RESTRUCTURING AND RESTRATEGISING for SMEs
On 20th September I was at the Small and Medium Enterprises Conference, hosted by the Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan African University, which event took place at the Main hall of the MUSON Centre. It wasn’t like I could pay my way through for the N10, 000 per head attendance fee (it coincided with a time I was trying to settle bills for the Clay Wall Limited, my one year old office in VGC. I got into the venue out of goodwill, really, and I must have enjoyed it more than those who paid-the event saw me scribbling on the provided notes like my life depended on it!  At that point, I guess that was what it was. And in an accidental way, I got invited to the Conference by an in-law with whom I had shared how I was restructuring the business (The Clay Wall Limited). The seminar seemed to key into my state of mind at the point, as my interest peaked at the similarity of themes-in my personal email with this friend, and in the topic of the conference.
There were presentations and Q and A sessions that helped us entrepreneurs gain deep insight into the workings and mind-set of major business players. We were about 500 entrepreneurs present, all eager to hear from the distinguished panel answers to questions about how they grew their businesses to become major leaders in their fields of specialization; revenue generation to help brand and position the Small enterprise; effective causes of failure/success in business etc.
The first idea that struck me was that of Business Location and ownership of the Business Location by the Entrepreneur. That got me drifting on the persistent idea coming to my struggling business of relocating to Eastern Nigeria, where my family owns substantial properties that are uninhabited. I was at that point of decision in the business where I was wondering whether to continue in the Business or look for paid employment in some gallery.
One of the discussants, Tokunbo Talabi , CEO  of Superflux International Limited, a manufacturing company that has grown from a two-man team to become an employer of over 250 staff, spoke about three major ideas that affect doing business anywhere-Strategy, Structure, and Culture. Being the Art man, my ears pricked at the very word ‘Culture’, and about local paradigms that have eaten into our society, and inhibited growth of enterprise in Nigeria. An entrepreneur should always go beyond negative paradigms that are propagated in the actions and activities of people in his locality; and have an international mind and appreciation of best-practise as eschewed in more successful economies.
Questions about expansion and partnerships were asked, but there was a general idea that such partnerships must be entered into with great caution; and best with contemporaries with like aspirations. Expansion which involves others is good for the business. Since there is a dearth of well-trained staff in Nigeria, one has noticed how many local companies and key multinational companies spend heavy resources in training staff. Tony Elumelu, Chairman of Heirs Holdings Limited, illustrated how he continually trained staff, and stood in on the appointment of staff for a conglomerate like UBA (when he was CEO). He asserted that it was necessary, and gave him opportunity to share the aspirations and dreams that made the brand a success.
On an aside, the answer came to me about brand identification and questions arose about brand growth. The entrepreneur should articulate his vision, mission and core values from the onset. The brand for the Creative person is himself, and when the brand survives on the good name accrued over the years, it behoves one to only do his work well. I have, on occasion, given myself the caveat that ‘this was the best that one could have done at the moment, in their peculiar circumstances’.
For one of the speakers, Finance is everything. This pregnant phrase was explained out to the eager entrepreneurs who sat and looked on with glazed eyes and open mouths- there seemed an uneasy silence from the awestruck audience. The speakers all had fantastic resumes, and some of them paid tribute to the impact their alumni, Pan African University, had on their businesses. The event was not only about garnering accolades for themselves (which came aplenty) it was a way keeping a commitment to supporting its MBA and EDC students in growing their businesses and opening meeting points with key players in the business world for networking and marketing possibilities. There was a shared familiarity with the speakers as members of the audience would occasionally hint at more than a formal knowledge of the antecedents of some of the speakers whom they questioned. One such question came from a man who seemed to have worked in a business, who wanted to get answers as to how Tony Elumelu lured some key players to join in his vision of growing UBA into a multinational banking institution. He wanted answers as to how Mr Elumelu got the best staff to become part of his team. Tony Elumelu mentioned how he continually met with staff, eliminating that servant-master relationship that is common in other businesses; and kept on indoctrinating staff (the Boss is a preacher of sorts)
The Creative must be a great socialite, who will embrace people through and in his work; who works ‘inside’ his passion. The very word ‘passion’ was personified by Clare Omatseye, keynote speaker and Managing Director of JNC International Limited, whose company provides high quality medical facilities. ‘Passion is the starting point’, insisted Mrs Omatseye, and this must be supported by a great customer care.
An interesting idea, which was challenged by some of the speakers, was the paradigm that states that ‘the customer is always right’. They explained that, away from the customer, the entrepreneur must realise that the company’s staff are ‘golden’, as they are the ones who push the dream forward, who share the dream with the entrepreneur; allowing for more moments of relaxation by the business owner.
What is the reason for being in business (buzzness)-to add value, to cater for the changing needs of insatiable consumers in every society? And yes, it is good to ‘be hungry’. Listening to the audio book The 49th Law of Power by Robert Greene, one can easily understand how the aching hunger in the hearts of entrepreneurs has driven growth, created innovations, and pushed inspiration a notch higher at all times. Hunger is an essential element for the Fearless Spirit, a need to succeed beyond his present circumstances, the ability to work out on a deal, if the entrepreneur finds it unsuitable for his vision.
Discipline is key, and one must always remember to suspend gratification, to pay self last. Peter Bamkole, Director of EDC and moderator of the conversations with Tunde Titilayo, and Tony Elumelu, led the conversations and clarified some questions from the audience. He continually pointed the conversations in relevant directions, and spoke of plans for creating a funding scheme that would not use the prevailing paradigms to lend to small businesses. He spoke from a background of interacting with entrepreneurs in the classroom for almost a decade(EDC will be 10years old in a few months’ time) There was a general understanding that no genuine business could survive if it needs to pay the requisite 30% interest to a bank. The entrepreneur was advised to look inwards for funding-to friends and family who already have one’s interest at heart.
Location is an important aspect to be considered as a business should have auxiliary businesses that could support the business; and there should be market within easCreating an identifiable, outstanding  niche will go a long way also, while the entrepreneur must keep developing capacity. He must move in the relevant circle of his business contemporaries, join and participate actively in professional bodies and at events where his business and the competition are showcased.
The understanding of Location and its importance in doing business has metamorphosed with the growth of the world-wide web. This key element in present times has also altered the meaning of personal identities and boundaries; cultures and recent neo-global ethnicities.
The entrepreneur must identify the key success factors in his chosen business, find his niche, and be willing to engage the competition when called upon. This can only happen from a sense of best practises, and by a fearless spirit. These interactions, as at every other forum, one must take to advertise and promote the business.  Think deeply about your competition.
One of the speakers, Tim Akano, who runs the a first class, top-ranked  I.T. company called New Horizons,  offered free online I.T to participants. Like the other speakers, his C.V. ran long, showing an apprenticeship in many multinational companies.
This theme hit the heart of the challenges facing most of the audience-SME Funding-POSITIONING BUSINESS FOR INVESTORS and covered by David Nwankwo, MD/CEO Leasing Company of Nigeria. He spoke about angel funds and the challenges facing SMES. He discussed how the fear of loss of control stops many SMEs from borrowing from the capital market. There is also a fear of disclosure of company secrets. Although leasing is a solid way of funding, the unclear regulatory environment and lack of efficient legislative to back leasing are strong hindrances. The huge operating costs of running SMEs cause a lot of failure amongst upstart SMEs. Borrowing from non-banking institutions is rampant.
Mr Nwankwo asserts that there are huge opportunities for SMEs that choose to be more competitive. The future is bright as funds from various places are coming for SMEs. To access these funds, SMEs must show a business track outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the business.  To make the business more attractive to investors (the speakers generally alluded to the Business as a beautiful Bride), the entrepreneur must show that there is a growing demand for the product. For instance, I have noticed that, with the proliferation of cameras has come a growing need for better composed portraits. Photography and Art must move beyond the ‘point and shoot’, quick fix products, must preoccupy it with deep thinking, and planned work. In a wonderful way also, the demand for such work outweighs the supply in the open market. Many of my fellow Creatives (professionally trained artists) prefer the fast, old-school gestures for expressing themselves, and cling on to a dying culture when it comes to Portraiture, as if, for instance, that the advancements made in Photography never happened.  In starting my business, I intended to build a watering hole-a meeting point for Creatives (artists and writers who graduated from Nsukka); to allow for internships and short periods of industrial training for students. I want to grow a team of like-minded thinkers who can then be engaged to work with me in my studio.
To underline aspects of the SME that a potential investor may be interested in, let’s follow these outlines:
1.    Outline: The entrepreneur must show the magnitude of his vision;
2.    Money: Show where the money is, how the money will flow into the business;
3.    Share: Be ready to share ideas, resources etc;
4.    Profitability: what is in it for the investor?
5.    The entrepreneur must have a good market understanding, and invest in Communication and Branding;
6.    Goodwill: what does the entrepreneur own (have to offer);
7.    Put together pictures, referrals and other relevant material that show the approval ratings for the business;
8.    Innovation:  how scalable is the idea;
This entire gist drew the opposite thinking idea- what if the investor does not get attracted to the business? Somehow, throughout the session, this question had been answered in varying forms by the speakers, because summarily, all the questions asked by the audience were motivated by that question. The speakers had narrated their formulas for success- hard work, passion, self-development and knowledge of one’s chosen field, resilience, discipline, building the right team that will sustain and replicate the brand’s dream, and so on. The entrepreneur needs to know how to bring a distinctive flavour to his brand, and be willing to outsource. He must deal with mental laziness, and demonstrate cash flow and commercial viability of his business.
These and many more ideas spun in my head as I enjoyed all the sharing of experience and goodwill; encouragement and intelligent questions. In fact, Mr Tony Elumelu so enjoyed answering questions from the audience (at some point he wondered aloud whether the session was being recorded: he saw the whole experience as very educative- an opportunity generate useful material for mentoring) that he had to be stopped by Peter Bamkole.
The Pan- African vision of Tony Elumelu was inspired by an understanding of the power of economic transactions in integrating political geographies, as business is really about the movement of goods, and people. Since retiring as CEO of United Bank for Africa, Tony Elumelu has moved on into philanthropy, and also established the Tony Elumelu Foundation for this purpose. The Foundation, for him, is an opportunity to mentor, to build strong teams, and to encourage upstarts. He recently created a twitter account (@TE_Foundation) which he takes seriously, receiving and answering questions from people, and sharing his life ideals.
Business is a journey to be taken one step at a time. Before giving up, the entrepreneur should give a 5 year gestation period and create a rolling development plan. He must build structures, stay low-profile (financial discipline), and evaluate his location. to give access to funding for SMEs, Peter Bamkole announced that the EDC had plans to roll out an Enterprise Development Fund, an idea mooted by Tunde Titilayo, who also went on to promise donating the bulk sum for jump-starting the Fund.
Business combinations help in many ways, in helping one to align with the best interests. In planning, the entrepreneur must break his vision down into stages, and put a timeline to achieving these goals. Many private businesses have virtually disappeared with the death of the charismatic initiator, the owner. To forestall this, Mr Elumelu puts premium on creating a strong working team; bonding with staff, with an understanding that Success, to a large extent, depends on the team; and finally-mentoring for succession. At crucial times and points of decision-making, the entrepreneur must see these 5 elements as key-Customers, Investors, Staff, Regulators, Self. He should see how self only is a one-fifth of the whole process of decision-making, and be magnanimous enough to consider how the other four elements will be affected by the decision.
Addendum
I wanted to share the lessons learnt with fellow sojourners who trod the wavy creative path, seeking to carve a niche in the major discourse of today, to earn a living, to professionalise their creative practise without becoming merely commercial, populist; to those who, due to unforeseen circumstances could not be in the MUSON to hear the things I heard. I also deemed it necessary to do a sketchy reportage, to, particularly, my friend and brother Fabian, whose idea it was that got me to the event. Thanks to my friend at the door who let me in; and the unknown bike man who is an important part of my days in Lagos, helping me meeting deadlines.  I am still in one piece to write this.
Anthony Nsofor, Studio Master, THE CLAY WALL LIMITED, SUITE C228, IKOTA SHOPPING COMPLEX, VGC, LAGOS. Email: anthony.nsofor@yahoo. com

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