Stella Oyedepo: Untimely demise of a restorer

Less than two months after one of the nation’s most outstanding academics, writer and public intellectual, Professor Pius Adesanmi died in the crashed Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 737 Max 8 Flight 302, the Grim Reaper has struck the Nigerian art community again.

This time, its victim was General Manager/Chief Executive Officer of the National Theatre, Dr (Mrs) Stella Moroundia Oyedepo, who died in an auto-crash on Easter Monday, April 22 around Itele-Ijebu, Ogun State, on her way back to Lagos from an official assignment.

Her sudden demise sent shockwaves through the entire arts community, with many yet to come to terms with the fact of her death. A day before her unfortunate passing, she had shared an Easter message with friends and loved ones, wishing them many more years of the celebration but not knowing that it would be her last.

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“Jesus is risen. Hallelujah! Let’s embrace the spirit of love and sacrifice as demonstrated by our Lord Jesus. Happy Easter! Wishing you several more glorious celebrations IJN,” read the message she sent to this writer on Easter Sunday.

Sadly, she won’t be celebrating any more Easters as death struck right in the middle of an essential national assignment that she had quietly and efficiently been undertaking.

The late Oyedepo, one of the country’s leading female dramatists, was appointed GM of the National Theatre on April 10, 2018, and in a year and some days in the saddle, brought radical transformations to the national edifice which before her resumption, was an eyesore with overgrown lawns and dirty surroundings.

She disclosed in an interview before her official resumption at the Theatre in 2018 that restoring its lost glory would be her goal, especially as she was the first female GM to be so appointed after culture luminaries, including Jimmy Atte, Professor Femi Osofisan, and Professor Ahmed Yerima.

“The lost glory must be brought back. It was a great place in those days; where we showcased FESTAC ’77.   We will look at infrastructure, programming and other things that will help us restore the lost glory. It’s the cultural showpiece of this nation, so nothing will be allowed to tarnish its glory. We will start work and aim for the sky,” she had said back then.

True to her words, she hit the ground running, starting with the beautification of the environment and fixing of the toilets. Gradually, the edifice became attractive to both producers and visitors again with a series of activities happening since last August. Salem Touch Production of Ahmed Yerima’s ‘Ade Ire’ directed by Lekan Balogun and Balogun’s ‘Ojuola’ and the Josephine Igberaese-led Creative Centre staging of children’s drama happened there. Phinny’s Talent Studio had also presented an art show for kids and teens while films also started being screened.

However, Oyedepo still wasn’t satisfied. She wanted more and kept forging ahead in her mission. Earlier this year while revealing her plans for 2019, she reiterated her message of restoration.  “The National Theatre, under the new management led by my humble self is determined to bring back its lost glory. Our mission for 2019 is to make the beautiful edifice a prime place of entertainment, and cultural exhibitions. We are determined to bring back the traffic, and the iconic structure will be a beehive of activities,” she had said.

Sadly, death chose to stop the author of 30 published plays including ‘The Greatest Gift’ (1988); ‘Beyond The Dark Tunnel’ (1992); ‘Don’t Believe What You See’ (1994); ‘Worshippers of Naira’ (1994); ‘See’ (1997); ‘Doom in the Dimes’ (1997); ‘A Play That Was Never To Be’ (1998); ‘My Daughter Is An Egg’ (1998); ‘Alice oh! Alice’ (2000) and ‘The Mad Doctor’ (2001) amongst others, from realising her goal.

Before taking up the National Theatre assignment, the 65-year old taught at the Kwara State College of Education and later served as Executive Director/Artistic Director of the Kwara State Council for Arts for 17 years. She radically transformed the State’s Performance Troupe such that it became a permanent fixture at cultural events across the country. The state excelled at various editions of the National Festival of Arts (NAFEST) where she was always noticeable with her eye-catching headgears. However, unlike the exploits she recorded in Kwara, death has stopped her from completing her restoration job at the National Theatre.