Lagos Business Angels: Marketing Nigeria on Berlin Stage

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie

20.04.2012 / The Guardian, Nigeria

THEATRE lovers in Berlin were enthusiastic about the stage production that opened last Tuesday in the City. That probably had to do with the well-articulated title  Lagos Business Angels. Although it could be a task trying to comprehend the direction of the production from the title, many actually concluded in their minds that it would have to do with Nigeria’s most beautiful girls. The take-off time was 7.30pm but lots of the audience were seen lurking around the Hebbel AM Ufer, venue of the performance as early as 6pm either to purchase tickets or anxiously wait for the commencement of the performance.
At the exact time, members of the audience were ushered into the theatre. For an average theatre-goer, more was expected in terms of stage decoration, scenic designs, lighting effects and artists’ costumes. But that was not to be; the stage was almost bare and the total scenario best describes Jerzy Grotowski’s Towards a Poor Theatre, which allows for integration, discarding of masks, revealing of the real substance and the totality of physical and mental reactions.
The ‘stages’ were many and the audience had to move in groups from one ‘stage’ to the other. In fact, it was a very big departure from a conventional theatre performance.
IN FACT, it was a live documentary performed by real people, using their real names. It has no connection with the Aristotelian philosophy of an artist being three times removed from truth.
The cast comprised seven Nigerians, two Germans and one Austrian. They included Oludolapo Babs Ajayi (Estate Developer), Frank Okoh (German Machine), Frieda Springe-Beck (EFCC Boss) and Victor Eriabie (Pastor).
Others are Olabiyi Olugbodi (business and career consultant), Oluwafemi Ladipo (shoe manufacturer), Jude Fejokwu (Investment Advisors and Research), Uwe Hassenkamp (IT Solutions Expert) as well as Dr. Silke Hagen-Jurkowitsch (Lace fabrics seller).
Each of the cast stands or sits on his or her own stage, waiting for the audience to market his or her product or services using the medium of entertainment.
The tour was organised in such a manner that no group clashes with another. As a group leaves the ‘stage’, another files in until all the groups, totaling about 10 completed the tour.
While Ajayi explores Nigeria’s immense business opportunities in real estate and attempts to educate his audience on the viability of the housing sector, Frank Okoh, the automobile dealer, otherwise known as German Machine, seeks German’s investment in the ever-thriving Nigerian automobile industry.
Springe-Beck, a German, resides in Lagos, Nigeria. Having fallen victim of fraudsters and recovered her money with the assistance of Nigerian government through financial crimes institutions, she stands to convince her kinsmen that Nigeria is still a safe place for business investments.
Her role is that of re-branding Nigeria. She concludes her part by emphasising that fraudsters constitute only a very inconspicuous percent of Nigerians and should not hamper business interest in Nigeria.
“If you look round my office, you will see photographs of past and present chairmen of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). I represent the EFCC and I am here to tell you that fraudsters in Nigeria are not up to five per cent of the population of Nigeria. It is a safe place to do business,” she informed.
For Eriabie, the pastor, Nigerians are very religious people. By relying greatly on supernatural assistance for daily sustenance and survival, most people patronise the church, making it a lucrative venture. His message, however, drawn from the scripture, is ëcourageí with which all challenges are confronted.
Without ornamentation and stage embellishment, their messages are clear and well defined — that Nigeria is an investors’ haven and a land of immense possibilities considering its teaming population.
WHILE speaking to The Guardian at the end of the performance, Ajayi, said the idea of bringing professionals from various sectors of Nigerian economy to Germany to give information about their areas of expertise was aimed at creating awareness about business opportunities in the Nigerian economy to German investors and public.
His words: “By the time the audience has gone round to about 10 different business concepts, he will have a better idea of what the Nigerian economy is all about and how to find business opportunities in the Nigerian economy. Not just that; they will also have experts, who can advise them on how to do their business in a safe way. That is what we are trying to achieve.
“I am not a theatre artiste but I did that to achieve one thing. I realised that if I try to put up trade exhibition, people might not be interested, they would not have the time to come and listen to Nigerians but with this, we have succeeded in attracting a lot of people, who ordinarily would not want to listen to Nigerians. Having listened to us, they will in turn sell the ideas to their families and friends. That is the message.”
The German performance also showed a departure from Nigeria, where live theatre culture is at the brink of extinction due to lack of patronage and support from the government and the affluent.
He said, “I believe that people look at the role of arts and culture such as music, film and theatre as that which influence people positively or negatively. However, this particular production has been designed to counter the negative impressions a lot of Germans have about Nigeria’s business environment.
Once you talk about Nigeria, they think of 419, drug and a lot of bad things but this is a departure; it is to let them know that those bad people constitute only an insignificant portion of the entire Nigerian population. So, this is to counter that negative image and I believe it has succeeded in doing that.”
THE production was the original concept of Dorothee Wenner, a film director, who majors in documentary. She stated that she was motivated by the energetic and enterprising spirit of Nigerians to produce Lagos Business Angels.
She stated, “I am making a film similar to this. So, I cannot talk about film concept. But the idea is that we were fascinated by how energetic and enterprising Nigerians were but you need a lot of dramatic skills to convince people to become your business partner. Now, the way Nigerians do business is very different from Germans. Germans are calm but Nigerian people are very outspoken. That is the reason we brought them to the German stage to sell their business potentials.”
Meanwhile, three Nigerians out of the stage cast are participating in the new film — Ajayi, the real estate manager; Ladipo, the shoe manufacturer; and Okoh, the automobile dealer.
“They will be going round to meet the real business people in Germany. Some of them have influenced something that you have seen tonight. This very theatre is like a documentary version because the real people acted themselves. Everyone is himself or herself in a condensed version”
Three different directors, owners of Rimini Protokoll Group, famous in Berlin for documentary theatre, handled the production. They include Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel.
Steph Ogundele, Secretary General, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Art Practitioners (NANTAP) was the Nigerian coordinator and research personnel. He organised the Nigerian business community from where the cast was picked.
He was also in Berlin to see the final production and he believed it achieved its aim of bridging the business relationship between Europe and African, particularly between Nigeria and Germany closer. He stressed that although the impact might not be felt now, it would definitely yield positive results for Nigeria in the nearest future.
The intention was to bridge the business relationship between Europe and African, especially between Germany and Nigeria because of misgivings about corrupt tendencies amongst Nigerians, bad governance, fraudulent activities and other social vices, which is the image an average German has about Nigeria.
If you look at the sponsorship of the project such as the Mayor of Berlin, Capital Trust Fund and others, they know that there are lots of businesses to be tapped but their minds need to be reoriented and drama is a strong tool for achieving it.