'Generation Next' or On Art Education in Nigeria

A slightly belated reference to this very relevant article by Tam Fiofori of Next Magazine: It pretty much reflects my experience of art education in Maiduguri, Kano and Zaria. Only, that many people I spoke to explained the dire state of art education, especially in secondary schools, rather with reference to Islam. Now, looks like the problem might lie elsewhere … or at least there are further, potentially more significant obstacles to be considered.

Generation Next

By Tam Fiofori, 3 July 2009

It was Ayo Adewunmi, a lecturer at the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu; art practitioner; member of the Pan African Circle of Artists (PACA); and a member of the Life in My City organising committee; who raised the disturbing alarm when in his opening ceremony address he dropped the statistical bombshell that “Art is not taught in 80 per cent of Nigerian secondary schools because there are no Art teachers!”

This stark fact is both depressing and ironic in that there are as many as thirty Nigerian universities, polytechnics and Colleges of Education who offer degrees and Higher Diplomas in Art; there are many thousands of economically-successful practising artists across Nigeria, who in over fifty years have established Nigerian Art as a respected cultural phenomenon on the world Art scene.

Enugu itself boasts two tertiary Art schools of repute and has a thriving Art scene of creative artists, studios, galleries and imposing outdoor monumental artworks.

Why then is Art neglected as a serious subject in the curriculum of most Nigerian secondary schools; particularly government-run public schools and, what efforts and plans should be put in place to correct this anomaly and encourage more young students to fully explore their potential talents to become artists?

Professor Ola Oloidi of the University of Nsukka believes that teaching Art at secondary school will make Nigerian youths creatively engaged; and he further makes the plea that if more students are registered in our tertiary institutions to study Art; they will eventually solve some of Nigeria’s unemployment problems by being self-employed as well as employers of labour.

Getting Art teachers for secondary schools and making Art attractive to secondary school students as a future career; are two parts of the puzzle that have to be unravelled.

The history of getting Art teachers for secondary schools in Nigeria dates back seven decades. In his paper on Art Education in Nigeria; presented by Chikwue Eheli of the Ehanufu College of Education, Enugu, at the Life in My City Art Festival; he traced the trail-blazing efforts of Aina Onabolu who literarily battled the colonial administration as from the 1930s to be allowed to teach Art in secondary schools. Eventually, Onabolu was allowed to teach Art at the Methodist Boys High School and Kings College in Lagos.

In his wake came the tradition of Nigerian tertiary institution-trained Art Masters in the top public and mission schools. Ben Enwonwu taught Art at Edo College, Benin City, in the forties and went on to become Nigeria’s first Professor of Art at the then University of Ife.

Bruce Onobrakpeya taught Art from the sixties at St. Gregory’s College, Lagos; and quite a few of his students have gone on to become University-trained and prominent practising studio artists.

One would have thought that given this long tradition, there will now be a preponderance of tertiary institution-trained Art teachers in all of Nigeria’s secondary schools, public and private.

Onyia Ifeanyi who studied Art at IMT Enugu and the Bendel State University, has been an Art teacher at the Urban Girls Senior Secondary School, Enugu, for over a decade. According to him, all the senior secondary school class 1 (SS1) students study Art; while 12 SS2 and 24 SS3 students study Art.

He believes that the standard of Art in secondary schools is going down because of “a serious lack of Art teachers.” He also blames the attitude of parents, school administrators and government for this decline.

“Parents don’t encourage their children to pursue Art as a career by indirectly suggesting other professions. They don’t provide their children art materials. Government will supply science equipment to schools but not art materials and the building of kilns. The principals and other teachers collude to limit the time for art classes.

So we end up teaching our art students theory and theory with little practical engagement. We don’t have enough time for practicals and without practicals they will not love Art,” Ifeanyi observed. He is saddened by the fact that one of his most promising and talented students, a great artist-in-the-making, has chosen to read Law instead of Art in the university.

The student herself is quite coy; claiming that she can be both a lawyer and an artist. I suppose the lure for professional social status is also responsible for the decision of a young tertiary institution-trained practising artist (whose father is incidentally a famous artist and former University Art teacher) to now study Law.

Then there is Nkem who studied General Art and obtained a Diploma from IMT, and then went on to take a degree in Biochemistry. Isn’t it coincidental that all three of these examples are female?

As part of the 2009 Life in My City Art Festival, a two-day Children Art Workshop was organised and held at the Alliance Francaise, Enugu. Most of the participants were SS2 students from Urban Girls Senior Secondary School, Enugu.

A poll conducted by me among them; showed that only three of the twelve participants seriously wanted to further study Art and become full-time studio artists. Eight others had rather unusual ambitions of becoming a doctor-artist, accountant-artist, surveyor-artist and other combinations!

Uche Agonsi was the facilitator for the drawing and ceramics classes. The participants were asked to draw a sitting model within thirty minutes; to drive home the point that drawing is the primary foundation for Art.

They were then put through the techniques of preparing clay for ceramic work; and then asked to produce flower vases and buildings of their own design.

“I want to teach them simple ceramic techniques without much equipment and tools. The idea of the workshop is to create art awareness, encourage young artists on artistic skills and eventually create artists,” Agonsi explained.

An accomplished artist and gallery-owner Uche Agonsi was the fourth-prize winner at the 2009 Life in My City Art Festival competition with his ceramics installation, ‘National Anthem’.

For Chukz Okonkwo, an Art graduate from IMT and a full-time studio artist who taught the participants painting at the workshop, his intention was “to let them know that Art is quite promising and that through Art they can achieve a lot and use their craft to be self-employed.”

Going by the works produced by the participants and put on exhibition at the Exhibition Hall of Alliance Francaise, a lot of these Enugu secondary school children have talent and the promise of becoming good to great artists if they choose to be.

Sixteen year-old Oduche A. Ifeyinwa an SS2 student of Urban Girls Senior Secondary School and workshop participant was very enthusiastic; especially as she “learnt how to paint and use poster colours for designing,” adding that “we don’t learn painting in school.”

She is obviously talented as she already makes leather sandals that sell well and her workshop works show some proficiency. She is determined to study Art at the University and hopefully within a decade she will be a welcome addition to Nigeria’s wealth of young creative artists!

Otherwise, I’m focused on my chapters so bear with me until … well, I’ve already come across the next book that might remit a little review here, but only if I get stuck with my argument (which I don’t hope for) and need a pretext to think in more detail about some minor aspect of my research.


  1. On the same note I should have added this link to a paper on the subject. Here you go:



  2. Also, see this article by Sylvester Asoya: 'Apostle Of Nigerian Art'(The News, 1 September 2008)



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