May’s Visit To Nigeria sparks Racist Remarks Against Arts Mogul Bolanle Austen-Peters

It is almost impossible to talk about Nigeria’s vibrant art scene without mention of Bolanle Austen-Peters. The 49-year-old changed paths from law to an arts entrepreneur whose contributions to the Nigerian theatre industry is immense. Since her return to Nigeria in the early 2000s, she has established different businesses, including Terra Kulture, a combinination of museum, art gallery and restaurant all rolled into one, and the Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP) which produced SARO the Musical, a project that went on to garner international media frenzy from outlets like the BBC and Sky News. Following the success of SARO the Musical, Bolanle’s BAP also produced WAKAA! The Musical which turned out to be even more successful than the first. It became the first Nigerian musical ever to be staged at London’s famous West End and the Shaw Theatre where it sold out tickets.

According to the News Statesman, Austen-Peters was being interviewed on BBC UK’s Radio 4 where she spoke on Theresa May’s visit to Nigeria, saying that there is “a disconnect” between Britain and Nigeria, and there has been “no relationship at all” between the two countries, despite colonial history and the Commonwealth, which she said doesn’t bring “privileges in terms of trade, in terms of immigration” to Nigeria.

In conversation with John Humphrys, who has been a presenter on the BBC Radio 4 programme Today since 1987, Bolanle Austen-Peters posited that the UK’s move will be seen with skepticism as they try to rebuild the relationship between the two countries.

“Nothing has been going on for so long, she said. “And then all of a sudden Brexit happens, and then we find the UK trying to come back now and forge relationships that really were separated for a long time. That’s the way most people would view this.”

Theresa May commenced a three-day visit to Africa when she visited South Africa, proceeding to sign bilateral agreements on Security and Defence Partnership, and trade development on the second day in Nigeria on 29 August. Ahead of her visit, May had expressed Britain’s commitment to deepening relations with Africa in light of its preparation to leave the European Union.

British author, journalist and presenter of radio and television John Humphrys pictured at BBC (Broadcasting House), London, UK.
15 May 2013
Photo:  Daily Telegraph/Rii Schroer

Humphrys, after asking another guest Ben Okri, a Nigerian poet and novelist, his view on May’s visit, goes on to suggest that Austen Peters, who is on vacation currently in the UK, should go back to her country. Well, you know what, tell me what you think about this Bolanle; you were born there of course, you trained as a lawyer, you came to this country. Maybe you should go back?”

The journalist was shocked to find out that Austen-Peters doesn’t live in the U.K., and is only in London on vacation.

“..I do a lot here, I bring my plays to London, Austen-Peters replied. “We have a culture that is very vibrant and very rich and we’re people who are very proud. For some reason, we have a legacy that we cannot erase, a relationship with the British Empire or as it were. The truth is if you have a relationship with somebody, you would expect that you would have mutual respect and you would have mutual understanding for the needs of those people. But I think that along the line, something broke. If Britain wants to come back, we are willing to welcome them, but it has to be in a meaningful way, and it has to be in a way that encourages growth on both sides.”

It is not certain whether post-Brexit Britain’s interest in playing ball with a “fantastically corrupt” nation is another tactic that yields fruit only for one party. Whatever the case may be, and regardless of how people like Humphrys may feel, May, who had apologised earlier in March for most of Africa’s criminal laws against homosexuality, had added in a statement, “True partnerships are not about one party doing unto another, but states, governments, businesses and individuals working together in a responsible way to achieve common goals.”