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34 — Vanguard, MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2019

Five Cowries

Initiative launches

creative arts




By Osa Mbonu-Amadi

Call it the convergence of art,

education, and water

transportation in Lagos, and

you would be absolutely right. That

is what took place on 10 April 2019

at the official launch of Five Cowries

Initiative’s 2019 theme, “My Story

of Water”, at the Five Cowries

Terminal, Falomo Roundabout,

Ikoyi, Lagos.

But what are the connections

between art, education and water

transportation? Founder of Five

Cowries Arts Education Initiative,

Polly Alakija, explains:

“In my role as the chairperson of

Lagos State Council for arts and

culture, one of the conversations we

have been having is how to bring

arts and culture to a very broad

audience. So that led to

conversation about bringing arts

into public arts infrastructure.

Everyday there are 13 million

commuters in Lagos State, and

they may spend an average of 5

hours commuting. How do you

make that commuting experience

better for people? And one way of

doing it is making that passage

richer and more enjoyable, and

what we can do is to bring arts

into the infrastructure.

“Around the world you have

similar programs, you have art

in airport; you have art in

underground in London, in buses,

and art in train stations. So that

was the beginning of that


‘My Story of Water’ offers an

inclusive route to education;

enhancing teaching skills in the

State for positive educational and

environmental outcomes.

The launch brought together key

stakeholders in the private sector,

as well as government, education,

art and civil society.

In Lagos State alone,

approximately 25% of children

drop out at primary level and 60%

do not complete secondary

education. Ensuring that all children

have access to education has the

potential to transform lives and is a

vital component in building the

human capacity that is central to

the State, and the country’s future

economic development.

To address this, the Five Cowries Arts

Education Initiative (Five Cowries)

was founded in 2018 by muralist,

artist, educator and children’s book

author, Polly Alakija with co-founders

Yemisi Mokuolu [Director, Hatch

Ideas] and Damilola Emmanuel

[Managing Director, Lagos State

Waterways Authority (LASWA)] in

partnership with Teach For Nigeria,

LASWA, Lagos Metropolitan Area

Transport Authority (LAMATA),

Jackson, Etti & Edu (Legal & IP

Advisors) and africapractice

(Communications Advisors).

Five Cowries aims to offer an

inclusive route to education that

makes learning fun and improves

school attendance and results by

enhancing the quality and capacity

of Arts Education and teaching skills

in Lagos in order to have a positive

impact on educational outcomes

such as improved numeracy and


Speaking further, Polly Alakija said

“creativity is the currency of the

future. Our initiative aims to fuse

the 3Rs (reading, writing, and

arithmetic) with the “4Cs” Critical

Thinking, Communication,

Collaboration and Creativity, as we

believe that a knowledge of how to

use language creatively are vital

tools in successful communication

and collaboration”.

Cowries is working closely with

Teach for Nigeria to increase

teacher capacity. As the first and

only organization to partner

young leaders from diverse

academic backgrounds in an

extended service initiative, Teach

For Nigeria – delivery partner for

the Five Cowries Initiative –

recruits, trains and supports

outstanding young leaders to

teach in underserved schools, in

low-income communities. Arts

literacy is proven to help children

to develop design thinking,

enhance creativity, improve

collaboration and develop critical

thinking. It also acts as a strong

mechanism for improving

attendance rates, as interactive

and visual teaching methods

increase children’s engagement

L-R: Yemisi Mokuolu, Co-founder, Five Cowries Initiative (and Director, Hatch Ideas); Ladi Lawanson, Honourable

Commissioner for Transport, Lagos State; Steve Ayorinde, Honourable Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and

Culture, Lagos State; Polly Alakija, Founder, Five Cowries Initiative and Oluwadamilola Emmanuel, Managing

Director, Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) at the 2019 launch of the Five Cowries Arts Education

Initiative, held in Lagos.

levels and so, desire to participate.

The Five Cowries Initiative will

help build the capacity of Teach

For Nigeria Fellows to enhance the

creative skills of their students.

Chairman Teach for Nigeria,

Gbenga Oyebode, in response to

questions about the partnership, said,

“Teach for Nigeria focuses on

education and leadership; our aim

is to close the gaps around

educational inequities. We

understand the impact of our

activities on beneficiaries’ lives and

are always on the look-out for new

approaches for sustainable impact,

which is why this partnership with

Five Cowries Initiative is important”.

How poetry, songs pulled down

30-year dictatorship in Sudan

…the lessons there for Nigerian women, youths and the Army

By Osa Mbonu-Amadi,

Arts Editor

From time unknown to man,

the mass of society has

been engaged in an endless

war with some agents of Lucifer

who attempt to, and often succeed

in plundering it. Nevertheless,

history is replete with examples of

climes where the masses have

organized themselves and

overthrown the predatory

governments of those plunderers.

The latest example now is Sudan.

What makes the revolution in

Sudan special and of interest to the

arts is that like the Biblical walls of

Jericho which was blown down by

trumpets, Sudan’s vicious dictator,

Omar al-Balshir was chanted out

of power with poems in the mouths

of women and youths.

The heroine of the revolution, 22-

year old student of engineering and

architecture, Alaa Salah, who

•Alaa Salah addressing

sudanese women protesters

largely initiated the protest and led

the struggle, said she went to ten

different gatherings last Monday

and read a revolutionary poem:

“In the beginning, I found a

group of about six women and I

started singing, and they started

singing with me, then the

gathering became really big,”

Salah recounted. She said the

poem helped boost morale and

inspired demonstrators. One line

of the poem that generated the

most reaction is: “The bullet

doesn’t kill. What kills is the

silence of people.”

There are numerous lessons to

learn from this monumental event.

First is that no matter how long

evil may last, it will one day be

overthrown. So time has come for

dictators, predators, plunderers

and manipulators of the people to

give up, repent and allow

goodness and equity to prevail

towards a better life for the


The second lesson is for the

Nigerian military. All dictatorial

regimes in the world had been

sustained by the country’s armed

forces. The dictator or group of

men had always collaborated and

conspired with the military to

plunder the resources of the

country and hold its citizens to

ransom as long as possible. The

evil governments of Adolf Hitler,

Mussolini, Stalin, Idi Amin,

Mobutu, Kabila, Sani Abacha,

Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir, just to

name a few, had all been vicious

partners of the armed forces of

those countries.

Just like in the first lesson, the

power of light always ultimately

triumphs over the power of

darkness. The military was

invented to be the defender of the

constitution and the lives and

properties of the people, not

dictators. Whenever the armed

forces pitches tent with the

dictator, it becomes an abuse of

what it was created to do.

The Sudanese Armed Forces

may have been suppressing similar

protests before, but this time, for

whatever reasons, they did not

suppress the female and youth

protesters who used poetry and

songs to chant out Omar al-Bashir.

The Nigerian military, therefore

needs to learn to be on the side of

the people, and not on the side of a

president who abuses his powers

and rides roughshod on Nigerians.

We also saw that there were no

ethnic divisions among Sudanese

protesters. The people stood as

one to fight a common enemy.

And because they were united,

even the military was wary of

them. Omar al-Bashir did not fall

from space, neither was he a

foreigner. He came from an

ethnic group in Sudan, but that

ethnic group did not match the

street of Sudan in defence of

their “witch hunted” brother.

Nigerians must learn to unite,

stand as one to fight their

common enemies. Hunger,

poverty and death as being

presently experienced by

Nigerians have no ethnic


A revolution will take place in any

country the day the people of that

country decide they are fed up. That

is another important lesson for

Nigerians. After 30 years of

tolerating military dictatorship,

Sudanese women and young people

decided that their ‘mumu don do’

(that their stupidity and

complacency have come to the

brim). It can happen here also if we

are truly fed up with being without

electricity and of burning our hardearned

money on fuel inside power

generators; of being hungry and the

poverty headquarter of the world;

of being the 6th most miserable

people in the world; of dying in the

hands of Boko Haram, Fulani

Herdsmen and bandits; of plying

on the worst roads in the world; of

unemployment; of having illfunded

schools and hospitals; and

in fact, of living in a country where

nothing works due to incompetent,

corrupt and selfish leaders.

There are also huge lessons for

our women and Nigerian youths.

About 70 percent of the protesters

in Sudan who helped bring down

Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule

were women. Throughout history,

women have been known to be

powerful. The historically

popular Aba Women Riots of

1929, a strategically executed

anti-colonial revolt organized by

women to redress social, political

and economic grievances, is a

testimony to that. Instead of

endlessly whining over

inconsequential issues and

begging to be given more roles in

government, women and young

people who are hit hardest by the

rot in Nigeria today can lead a

protest and galvanize the country

towards a lasting revolution.

Salah’s iconic picture which

went viral on the internet and

became part of the last straw that

broke the back of Omar al-

Bashir’s 30-year dictatorship, was

also taken by a woman, Lana H.

Haroun, a pianist, guitarist,

singer, songwriter, composer, and

photographer, completing the

cycle of art and women-inspired

Sudanese revolution.

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