History of CAIB Festival
IN THE BEGINNING…
Once upon a time in January or so, 1999, a vibrant young man had returned from Maiduguri, Borno State, northern Nigeria, to his village, Ubaha Ezike in Eziawa community, Orsu local government Area of Imo State, eastern Nigeria, to see his proud, jubilant and hopeful peasant mother. He had just rounded off his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), and was now ready for the Nigerian labour market.
He had not been to the village for many years and now, as a young graduate ready to face life squarely, the young grad and ex-youth corps member needed the fellowship, advices and blessings of his poor but industrious illiterate parents who fought hunger and hardships to give him a quality higher education-the best gift any child could get in life from their parents.
That creative dude was Francis Umendu-Odupute, a recent graduate of the department of Fine and Applied Arts, in the famous federal University of Benin (UNIBEN), Benin City. His mother, Stella, was still basking in the euphoria of producing her first graduate when Francis walked into her room the following morning to behold a lot of childish doodling in off-white chalks on the walls of the room in the old house. They were definitely the handiwork of a restless, inquisitive but creatively daring child of say 4 years. Apparently irritated by the rough, puerile manner in which the walls were somewhat messed up with the kindergarten life sketches and caricatures, and being aware that there were no kids currently living in that house with his mother, Francis queried, “Mmaa” (his usual style of calling his mummy), “ who on earth did all these on the walls?” His mother walked in, looked at the wall, simply smiled and quipped, “Was it not you? You did all that when you were young.”
Francis blushed and took fresh, pensive and investigative gazes at all he was seeing on the wall: stick figures and thumbnail sketches of human caricatures in dramatic shapes andhumorous gestures resembling the works of a pre-school artist. The young Art graduate and illustrator thought within him, “…it is really true that a child’s dominant interest is his natural future and destiny, everything else is disciple learned over time”. A 29-year old graduate of Fine/Applied Arts with a ‘”Second Class Upper Division” (2.1) IN PAINTING, for the first time in his life saw the genesis of his artistic passion, where and how it all begun: in a little hut in an obscure village east of the Niger! It dawned on him he had been drawing and cartooning from infancy. From then on, Francis was fully persuaded he has a divine purpose to fulfill through Art and creativity, and that what he needed now were passion, exposure, audacity, heavenly wisdom and a commitment to delivering excellence with an attitude.
Between 23rd and 25th May, 2007, the first regional expert meeting of the Media for African Women’s Rights (MEWOR) project was held in Nairobi, Kenya, at the instance of the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) and FAHAMU (Networks for Social Justice), and brought together media professionals in community radio and select media houses from 11 countries of East and West Africa including Burundi, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and the USA.
The project aimed at developing a series of radio programs and cartoon strips/comics to create widespread awareness about the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (the AU Protocol). A dual approach was envisioned in the MEWOR project to be able to reach out to diverse audience and eventually achieve broadened knowledge about the AU Protocol and, ultimately, changes in attitudes towards women’s human rights at community/grassroots level and among policy makers, namely: the synthesis of RADIO DRAMA PROGRAMMES, RADIO CURRENT AFFAIRS PROGRAMMES, and CARTOON STRIPS/COMIC BOOKS to target youths mainly.
Francis Umendu-Odupute, (popularly known by his fans and friends as FRANCODUS),a professional artist, andhead of the Cartoon Section, Editorial Department of The NIGERIAN OBSERVER Newspapers in Benin City, Nigeria, was one of the participants invited for the experts meeting and was, in the course of the meeting, appointed to lead the cartoon working group for the production of the MEWOR comic book series spread awareness of the African Union PROTOCOL on the rights of women in Africa. His terms of reference included to prepare a one-year work plan for the comics project, recruit talented cartoonists, script writers and other partners/stakeholders - women groups, NGOs, the media, etc, from across the participating African countries, in consultation with FEMNET, FAHAMU.
On Wednesday, 19th of September, 2007, FRANCODUS was a guest speaker at his alma mater, the University of Benin (UNIBEN), Benin City, during the “National Association of Fine and Applied Arts Students (NAFAAS) Week 2007, with the theme: “HUEFORMISM’07”, where he was to deliver a lecture entitled, “CARTOONING FOR THE MEDIA”. After the exhilarating lecture, during Questions and Answers session, the cartoon journalist was placed on the hot seat by the UNIBEN Art students. Some demanded tangible proofs on how mere cartooning alone could actually be something a university graduate can depend on as a career in today’s austere and poverty-filled Nigeria. Some wanted to know how FRANCODUS managed editorial censorship as a cartoonist in a government-owned media house in a country where corruption is apparently institutionalized. Others contended that cartoons and comics were unpopular in Africa and that there were hardly any formal stimulating platforms for cartoons and comic arts nor were there any popular cartoon events or exhibitions held anywhere in Nigeria to promote this genre of visual Art in Nigeria, and wondered if the guest lecturer could bell the cat of starting a cartoon exhibition in Benin City or elsewhere in Nigeria. Yet others wanted to know “how can I make editorial cartoons?”, “how can I get my cartoons published in the newspapers?”
On May 29, the following year, with the support and collaboration of the Edo State Arts Council, an arm of the Edo State Ministry for Art, Culture and Tourism, and a few other corporate partners, FRANCODUS put up the first recorded cartoon exhibition to ever hold in Benin City for several years, as part of activities to mark the 2008 Democracy Day in Nigeria.
The exhibition tagged, “NAIJA, CORRUPTION & THE 7-POINT AGENDA: DILEMMA OF A NATION” was opened and chaired by the incumbent commissioner for Art, Culture and Tourism, Dr. Patrick Ojeboboh, featured guest speakers and key-note addresses, and lasted for three days. Visitors to the exhibition included government functionaries, UNIBEN Art students and lecturers, media practitioners and local Art enthusiasts, etc. The exhibitor sold only one work at the end of the exhibition, and it was a painting which was one of the supporting artworks on display.
Verbal and written comments on the advocacy cartoon/painting exhibition included things like “Excellent...this is a virgin concept…you would do better if you involve others cartoonists”. FRANCODUS banked on those remarks to strategically initiate the community-based Art association known in Benin City as FIC Development Advocacy Through Art (FICDATA).
Later in 2008, while he was in the middle of mobilizing some African cartoonists, journalists, NGOs and other collaborators for the MEWOR Comics project, FRANCODUS was told by FEMNET and FAHAMU to discontinue with the comic project because they had “no sufficient funds” after production of the radio drama series in South Africa which was anchored by Daniel Walter, another participant at the expert planning meeting in Nairobi, who lead the radio drama working group.
However, building FICDATA to become an Art-based social development catalyst and advocacy Art group he could engage in mobilizing fellow African artists, mass communicators, creative writers and other stakeholders for the sponsorship, production and circulation of the MEWOR comics project and other related initiatives across Africa, became the major fillip for FRANCODUS deciding against jettisoning the MEWOR comics project entirely.
On the 6th of June, 2008, FRANCODUS received an invitation from COMIX35 in Albuquerque, NM, in USA, to assist in realizing the “AFRICAN COMICS PROJECT” a new pan-African project launched by COMIX35, to be written and drawn by Christians from all over Africa for African audience/readers. Potential African contributors and existing African publishers were requested to assist in choosing appropriate names and titles for the comic books. At the end of the day, no fewer than 8 cartoonists, from Nigeria, Kenya, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, South Africa, etc, were recruited by COMIX35 in the making of the pilot edition of the African comics anthology under two titles: “THE GOOD SHEPHERD” and “LIFEGATE COMICS AFRICANA” (the latter name was suggested by FRANCODUS). Each contributor later got shipments of the comics for distribution/sales in their respective countries. The success of the COMIX35 project and the networking that followed showed FRANCODUS that it was possible to mobilize African cartoonists and comic creators to realize the MEWOR project and any other similar ones for the benefit of the artists and others. He decided to revisit the MEWOR comic project involving some of the fellow contributors for the COMIX35 “African Comics” project.
Nate was right. However, FRANCODUS eventually could not make the conference for financial reasons. But the determination to initiate a platform for the development and promotion of African cartoons and comics as a catalyst to reengineer the African society knew no bounds in the heart of the Artist, Cartoon journalist cum Arts reporter. He kept building links locally, regionally and internationally within the cartoon/comics and Visual Arts communities and media forums such as participating in the annual WORLD PRESS CARTOON contest in Portugal; the Int’l Tourism Cartoon Competition in Turkey; the Int’l Graphic Humour Contest on Technologies by the Barakaldo Cultural Agency; the annual Tehran Int’l cartoon biennial in Iran; the Cordoba Int’l cartoon festival in Argentina; the int’l Cartoon awards in Australia; the Brazilian Int’l Graphic Humour & Comics contest, and a host of others.
Through these international cartoon and comics events/contests, FRANCODUS began to personally see his cartooning career in a global context; he also discovered that African participants hardly ever win any major prizes mainly because of the jinx of being under dogs with too little continental presence and contributions in global cartoon, comics and graphic humour events. The few who participated often didn’t seem to match up with the technicality and dexterity and expertise of their colleagues from advanced countries. Besides, while their western and Mid-eastern counterparts display lots of guts, audacity and verve in the graphic expressions of their subjects (as published in their local media) there was the apparent feeling of media censorship and self-cautiousness in graphic information delineation in the published works of most African cartoonists suggestive of the repressive, suppressive and volatile African media environment they work in.
All of these challenges and predicaments of African cartoonists the foreign juries who award the prizes hardly know much about nor can relate much with (since none of them are Africans nor work in African environments-most of them are from the advanced countries with freer press, more respect for human rights and freedom of expression as well as more enabling economic environments and frameworks). What has become very clear, however, is that these international cartoon event organizers, sponsors/ promoters, audiences, policy makers, etc, are greatly missing the African content in and contributions to the evolving trends and innovations in this universally effective and money-spinning industry as well as the cultural exchanges, social networking and business opportunities attached to it at a global level; they believe that African comics and cartoons have not been properly developed and represented in their events for many years, and some of them were making efforts to support initiatives aimed at changing the status quo.
COMIX35 in the USAis acclaimed to have blazed the trail of helping African Christian Cartoonists and Comic artists awaken to the need for more locally-made comics and graphic literature in Africa, with the sponsorship of the “African Gospel Comics” project in 2008, involving only African Christian cartoonists, including FRANCODUS. But prior to that milestone by COMIX35, FRANCODUS had an earlier “understanding” with the leadership of the Christian Comic Arts Society (CCAS) in Temple City, California, USA, in 2007, to establish an African franchise of the organization, through the Beautiful Feet International (BFI), the faith- based organization he founded and has been spearheading since December 6, 1998 in Nigeria. After receiving documents on the “Dos and Don’ts” necessary for the replication of CCAS in Africa from Eric Jansen, president of CCAS, USA, the “BFI Kreative Brainz Klub” , an art, literature and media outreach arm of BFI, branded a new name and logo for the ‘franchise’, christened: CCAS-AFRIK.
On December 8, 2008, as part of activities to celebrate the 10th year anniversary of the BFI ministry in Nigeria, members of FICDATA partnered the BFI in organizing an international group advocacy Art exhibition entitled, “OPEN HEAVENS”, hosted and supported by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, at the Museum ground, King’s Square in Benin City, Edo State. The international group art exhibition which was chaired by the chief host and Curator of the national Museum, Mr. A.O. Areo, featured works from a wide spectrum of participants, including a cartoonist, an architect cum comic artist, sculptors, painters, university Art students, a female university Art lecturer and ceramist (now head of the Art department, faculty of Arts in the University of Benin), a popular Nigerian Artist/gallery owner as special guest Artist/exhibitor as well as one work from a comic Art enthusiast from New Jersey, USA, Vincent Bellizia, also a friend of the BFI.
The exhibition curator, FRANCODUS, formally introduced and inaugurated a pan-African Christian comic arts group by the name: CHRISTIAN COMIC ARTS SOCIETY AFRICA (CCAS –Afrik) , a ‘franchise’ of the Christian Comic Arts Society (CCAS)in temple City, CA, USA, at the event. He revealed plans by the BFI and FICDATA to embark on a “Visual Tracts” and “Gospel Comics” project in collaboration with CCASS AFRIK, COMIX35, and other prospective partners across the world, beginning from Nigeria. However, more than three years after, neither the BFI nor the FICDATA teams have hitherto made appreciable success at effectively mobilizing enough skilled African cartoonists and comic artists for the project, for reasons not unconnected with funding, dearth of competent African Christian cartoonists and comic artists willing to volunteer their knowledge, skills and time without sufficient monetary prospects. Those contacted across the sub-regions either declined acknowledging receipt of posted mails/emails or reply to say they had so much work on their hands to join the network.
THE DILEMMA: TO GO WHERE THE PATH LEADS OR TO RATHER GO WHERE THERE IS NO PATH, AND LEAVE A TRAIL?
With the Cartoon and Comic Art industry in Africa continuously being precluded and undermined by all the prevailing circumstances above, FRANCODUS felt there MUST be a way to break the jinx, THERE MUST BE A WAY OF CHALLENGING THE STATUS QUO AND DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY AND BENEFICIAL FOR POSTERITY... There was the increasing restlessness to personally break out of the box and take his cartoon career to the next level. Consequently, he set up his first private website (www.francodusart.com) with the help of Bobby, a close Christian friend, in 2008, to approach his Visual Art practice in a global context. He also embarked on a research on what other African press cartoonists may have done in the past regarding the issue of providing a common front/platform to promote African Cartoonists and improve their contribution to the liberation struggles and social change in Africa as members of the fourth estate.
Curious to know if such efforts once existed in Africa, succeeded or failed (and why…) to possibly guide him on how to go about initiating a project that would not only sustainably result in a better motivation of African press cartoonists like himself, but also better promotion and representation of African Cartoon and comic Art internationally and set agenda for new frontiers in business opportunities/collaborations in visual literature and pictorial communication in African mass media, business communities and development information enterprises, in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),NEPAD and the UNESCO Social and Human Sciences Sector’s (SHS) investments in innovative ideas in favour of Africa’s development in the new decade.
The Artist, cartoon journalist cum Arts reporter was of the conviction that an African continent thriving socio-politically and economically with Art –infused information frameworks and graphic communication, digital multimedia gadgets, web cartoons, mobile comics, cartoon animations, and graphic humour is both possible and inevitable, considering Africa’s place in global economy and socio-political renaissance.
From his personal experiences and engagements, FRANCODUS realized that visual art, in collaboration with other development players and stakeholders like the media, the architectural, the manufacturing, educational, cultural, governmental and socio-economic sectors, etc, could give strategic and efficacious voice to a vast number of issues and concerns on human development and welfare globally via visual literacy and pictorial communication. Alas! The deteriorating relegation and neglect of cartoonists and the cartoon/comic art genre by the Nigerian (and African) Visual Art communities and their sponsors/partners was impacting negatively on the development of the sector and the financial empowerment of those plying the trade for a living in a society with much need, much market and much financial prospects for picture-supported communication in educational and development information management.
FRANCODUS’ research led him to a 4-page report possibly posted on the website way back in 2000 by Andy Mason about a cartoon journalism workshop held between 8-10 November, 2000, at the University of Botswana, in which cartoonists from seven African countries gathered to “discuss common issues, share the secrets of their profession and talk about the possibility of setting up an association of African cartoonists.” According to the report, “The first of its kind in the region, the Cartoon journalism workshop was organized by the Department of Sociology of the University of Botswana, and jointly sponsored by the University of Botswana and WACC.”
The report said some of the common challenges the participants at the workshop faced in their various African countries was editorial censorship and repression which undermined press freedom and precluded the growth and value of cartooning in Africa as a whole. It noted that a key objective of the workshop was to stimulate discussion about the idea of a regional association of cartoonists that could benefit African cartoonists by facilitating networking across geographical divides, amongst other mileages. But whether or not the whole plan saw the light of the day, FRANCODUS could not tell. He had to do further researches.
THE LAST STRAW
Everything came to a crescendo/denouementwhen on Friday, 4th December, 2009, FRANCODUS received a ‘Global Media Award for Excellence in Population Reporting (Editorial Cartoon category) from thePopulation Institute (PI), in Washington D.C., USA. The award made front page news in The NIGERIAN OBSERVER Newspapers, the Silverbird radio further spread the news ACROSS THE SOUTH-SOUTH GEOPOLITICAL REGION OF NIGERIA. BENCHMARK magazine later did a one page story on the award winner.
Within the first quarter of 2010, FRANCODUS received various visits phone calls in his office with requests from colleagues, acquaintances and strangers alike-parents, teenagers and university students- asking to teach them or their wards the Art of creating cartoons and comics.
In a bid to give back to the Nigerian society in his little way, the global media award winner started a free CARTOON CRASH COURSE for interested youths, university students on industrial training at the Nigerian Observer newspaper house, some female journalists of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Edo State Council, etc, in Benin City, beginning from May 20, 2010 (his 40th birthday…) which still runs till date. It was not a new or hard task for FRANCODUS as he has a history in the Art of tutoring youths and Art students and children on cartooning; it has been a part of him since February, 2000, he was employed as a cartoonist by the BENDEL NEWSPAPERS COMPANY LIMITED (BNCL), publishers of the OBSERVER titles. His small Art/cartoon office in the editorial department has been a beehive of creative adventures in satire and humour mongering where, from time to time he had batch after batch of students on industrial trainings from the Mass Communications and or the Fine/Creative Arts departments of the federal University of Benin (UNIBEN), the Edo State-owned Ambrose Alli University (AAU) in Ekpoma, the federal Polytechnic, (Auchi Poly) in Auchi ( all in Edo State), the Delta State University (DELSU) in Abraka, Delta State, and other institutions across Nigeria.
Apart from enjoying sharing his artistic skills and experiences freely to empower youths as the leaders of tomorrow, FRANCODUS also initiated the MIDWEEK LEISURE page with which he partnered some stakeholders in Nigeria, e.g.,Lift Above Poverty Organisation (LAPO), the Beautiful Feet International (BFI), A. Aigbadon & Sons (Nig) Ltd, etc, to establish The OBSERVER Leisure Readers Club (TOLRC) and organize various Cartoon/comic Art and literary competitions, youth talent hunt forums and the “SPOT & CAPTION” cartoon contests. These initiatives helped many youngsters develop their latent Artistic and creative writing prowess and consequently attracted more readership and popularity to the State-owned newspaper, The NIGERIAN OBSERVER, across Nigeria. When the management of the BNCL, FRANCODUS’ employers, noticed this impact on the company’s marketing strategies, a letter of “Commendation” was given to FRANCODUS on September 20, 2001, for his innovative initiatives in the media house; he was promoted to the post ofPrincipal Cartoonist from where he later became Head of the Cartoon section. Some of the university I.T students and other youths in secondary schools who FRANCODUS trained later served briefly as contributors/ freelance cartoonists with The NIGERIAN OBSERVER, including Vivian Akengbuda ( a.k.a VOE, the only female amongst some 13 students who received free trainings between 2000 and 2005 alone), Festus Amowie (a.k.a FESRAP), Jerry Obeahon, Dennis Onwujiogu, Nathaniel Nsikak, Chuks Emeka Ogbonnah, Kingsley Odiboh, and many more.
Within the last quarter of 2010, a fast-growing FICDATA (now locally registered with the Edo State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, and branded as a community –based, globally focused Art association promoting social development, creative and cultural tourism, etc., with more emerging Nigerian Artists coming on board) entered into a number of collaborations and creative synergies with some local NGOs, media organizations and Rights groups in Benin City, in view of actualizing the dreams of bringing African artists together to use the universal language of Art (Cartoons and graphic humour, etc) to communicate for positive social change. Such innovative collaborations brought FICDATA in contact with the National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Edo State Chapter, with an agreement to jointly facilitate the processes for the production of the MEWOR regional gender advocacy comic book series. The BEAUTIFUL FEET INTERNATIONAL (BFI), through its Art, literature and media ministry arm, also joined in the MEWOR project, with a view to reaching out to needy women and to take advantage of the opportunity of the collaboration to recruit African Christian artists for the proposed BFI gospel comics project being supported by COMIX35 in the USA.
Lastly, the AFRICAN PRESS CATOONSYNDICATION COMPANY (APCSC), joined the synergy before the end of 2010, and sold the idea of an international cartoon event to promote cartooning culture and visual literature in Africa, while properly showcasing and encouraging the development of the art genre in African and global media in the context of reinventing Africa via Artistic solutions and graphic communication with humour.
With like-minds from these sister small groups frequently meeting together from time to time at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Center to interact and share information around Art, a third FICDATA group advocacy art exhibition on the state of the Nigerian ENVIRONMENT resulted at that venue on the 26th of November, 2010, as part of a major national event- the maiden Oba of Benin Green Award. GREEN NEWS, environmental activist/media organization and the organisers of the Award, granted members of FICDATA permission to feature a supporting Art exhibition contributing to the national debate on the ecological crises in the society, through the prism of graphic humour, satires, cartoons, paintings, sculptures, etc. Some 10 young African artists and FICDATA members took part in the advocacy group exhibition entitled “FICDATA 3: OUR ENVIRONMENT IN A STATE OF EMERGENCY”. It was the third official advocacy art show of the FICDATA showcasing the works of some emerging African artists, and had in attendance many guests/viewers including the Minister for Environment,Hon. John Odey, who represented the President of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, at the event. Hon. After taking a guided tour of the art exhibition, The Environment Minister was engaged by men of the press to comment on the messages of the artworks as related to the issues on hand. Earlier on during the guided tour of the artworks on display, the curator of the exhibition, FRANCODUS, told the honourable minister and all dignitaries present that the exhibition was a part of strategies by FICDATA members to contribute to national and international issues and debates through visual Arts. The exhibition featured cartoons, paintings, sculptures, metal works and satirical illustrations on environmental matters bedeviling the Nigerian society and the rest of the world.
On Thursday, 3rd February, 2011, the APCSC and the FICDATA convened the first groundbreaking, planning/artists mobilization and sensitization meeting in Benin City, Nigeria, to discuss the nature and content of what is today known as the CARTOON AFRICA INTERNATIONAL BIENNIAL FESTIVAL (CAIB-2012), debuting in Lagos, Nigeria, in 2012. The proposed logo sketched by FRANCODUS, was passed round, critiqued and later adopted for the event. Tim Aimufua, a seasoned cartoonist and graphic designer was assigned to do a compugraphic artwork of the logo to add special effects. The NAWOJ (Edo State) was represented at the meeting by its chairperson, Mrs Ijeomah Umeh, who reiterated the association’s interest in the MEWOR cartoon book project because its potency in massive awareness creation and reorientation to youths of Africa on ending all forms of violence against African women and girls.
Earlier in January, 2011, Trevor Hill, a media partner of FRANCODUS in Canada, Publisher of the Global Free Press (GFP) and director of Hill Communications Canada (HillCom) in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, had set the ball rolling for international sponsors and partners for the CARTOON AFRICA INTERNATIONAL BIENNIAL(CAIB) festival by offering a two-year in-kind support via handling of the media relation materials and publicity for the festival in North America, hosting and running of CAIB festival website and web community information network, event planning consulting and CAIB merchandise sales facilitation in North America and Europe via the internet-all on the bills of GFP and HillCom respectively as foundational sponsors in Canada, for the CAIB festival. By mid- April, 2011, in consultation with the festival team leaders in Nigeria, Trevor had hosted, designed and fully launched the CAIB’s official website, finally setting the stage for the CAIB festival event planning and fund raising logistics and, ultimately, the fulfillment of an age-long dream, the success and sustenance of which You have a great stake for the future of African cartoon/comics industry!
…and the CAIB story continues (or has only just begun?)
Success is a journey; a progressive journey. So, join us! Donate, volunteer and or partner us today for the success and sustenance of CARTOON AFRICA INTERNATIONAL BIENNIAL FESTIVAL/CONTEST, as there is no such thing as singular success anywhere. Sustainable social-economic and political CHANGE, creative productivity and high moral capital development are non-negotiable. It begins with you and me!