Last week, the Theatre for Development Centre (TFDC), a Nigerian organisation that has worked closely with IDS for many years, lost four of their leading thinkers, Professor Jenkeri Okwori, Professor Samuel Kafewo, Dr. Martins Ayegba and Aisha Ali, in a fatal car accident. It is a devastating loss and we offer our deepest condolences to their families, friends and colleagues. Their aspirations for transformative social change in Nigeria and their contributions to this goal through research and practice will long influence the work of IDS.
TFDC’s work in Nigeria: Community members discussing issues in a drama
TFDC’s work on citizenship, participation and accountability was pioneering, making significant contributions in the field of violence mitigation and social action. Within this work TFDC has been, and continues to be committed to innovation in creative participatory practice, working with storytelling, drama, video and digital media to enable transformatory political processes for marginalised groups. The IDS Participation, Power and Social Change research team has worked with TFDC for over ten years, notably as a collaborator on the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability, and more recently as part of the Participate initiative.
In response to the accident, a campaign was launched to raise money for life-saving surgical treatment for Jenkeri. Since the tragic news that he has passed away the fundraising efforts are now to be directed towards burial costs and support for the families of all involved. IDS is encouraging staff, students and alumni to support the campaign.
Share your tributes
Through this post we hope to open a space for those whose lives and work have been touched, to share tributes for Jenks, Sam, Martins and Aisha in memory and with reflection. Please join us. You can add your tribute in the comments box at the bottom of this blog post.
‘What an extraordinary and dreadful loss to TFDC, to Nigeria and to the world. As a researcher with the Citizenship DRC during its wonderfully productive years, I have only warm and happy memories of the group: Steve, Jenks and their colleagues brought brilliant dramatic skills to their work on citizen engagement in Nigeria, but also vibrancy, wit and style to the DRC as a whole, forcing us to rethink what we meant by participation and communication, and making everyone laugh even while confronting serious and poignant issues. Their work is an inspiration and I hope so much that it will continue, even if it can never be quite the same with such important colleagues lost. Meanwhile my thoughts are with the families and friends of those who died, with the TFDC members left behind.’
Melissa Leach. (Institute of Development Studies, UK)
‘The work of Jenks and other colleagues at TFDC has inspired thousands of communities across Nigeria and across the world. The creativity, the energy, the dedication to issues of making citizenship real, deepening democracy, promoting rights and accountability of this group have had a huge impact on the lives of many. The death of three team members, and now of Jenks, are a huge loss. I had the privilege of knowing and working with Jenks for over a dozen years. At workshops around the world, he has always been willing to listen, to teach, to share. His humour, his drama, and his insights have enriched us all. He and all of the colleagues at TFDC will be sorely missed. May the legacy and spirit continue to inspire.’
John Gaventa, (The Coady International Institute, Canada and Institute of Development Studies, UK)
‘Samuel Kafewo was an inspiring, dedicated and thoughtful member of the Theatre for Development Centre, and with his colleagues will be greatly missed for their vitally important work using theatre as a vehicle for social and political change. A few years ago Samuel wrote an article for a special issue of Development in Practice on community media, reflecting on his experience using participatory research and theatre to strengthen citizen engagement. He combined focus groups, interviews, theatre exercises, and a method called Community Action Planning – all within a complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious political context – and with humility and insight he showed us the great promise of these methods to open dialogue and reduce conflict and aggression.’
Jethro Pettit (Institute of Development Studies, UK)
TFDC work: Participatory Ethnographic evaluation – note separate discussion with women in the background of the image
‘It is really so sad to hear that Jenks didn’t make it and has passed away. His commitment, passion and struggle for social justice will be missed by all. I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Jenks around ten years ago and he was such a source of inspiration to me and everybody who knew him. The passing of four key members of TFDC is a great loss to Nigeria and to all of humanity. We can now only hope that the legacy of their work will continue to inspire those who knew them and also influence the next generation. My thoughts are with their families and with Steve and his colleagues of TFDC.’
Lyla Mehta, (Institute of Development Studies, UK)
‘Jenks is one of the first people I met after I came to work in at IDS in 2003. He is not someone that is easily forgotten—his work with theatre is well-known in Nigeria and beyond, and he, as a person, is full of life, creativity and fun. As I got to know Jenks over the years, I realised that his courage and sense of humour have been shaped by his commitment to challenging unaccountable power in Nigeria. This is not a commitment without risks, and he has faced repressive authority with a smile. He is an amazing actor, but his sharp insight into situations is one of the things that I admire most about him. I watched him perform an impromptu sketch at a meeting of donors in which he lampooned the ‘fragile states’ tag so often applied. He soon had them all laughing nervously, and no doubt later thinking about why. He is passionate about theatre, and about working at the local level to use theatre to encourage debate about issues and problems that matter, later taking those dramas to policy makers to press them on similar issues. The loss of four of TFDC’s staff including Dr. Martins Ayegaba, Prof. Samuel Kawefu, Prof. Jenkeri Okwori, and Aisha Ali is a tragedy for their families, colleagues and friends, and it is also a huge loss for their country and for the causes of social justice that IDS supports.’
Joanna Wheeler, (Recently of the Institute of Development Studies, South Africa)
‘Four good people have been taken from the world. Words cannot adequately express the heartbreak and devastation that this event brings to so many people. Let us strive to continue working for the causes that Jenks, Samuel, Martins and Aisha all contributed so much of their lives to, so that their tragic deaths are not in vain.’
Gill Black, (Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, South Africa)
‘I met Jenks and Sam at a five-day workshop in Abuja. They moved me by their passion for work and theatre, and inspired me to learn from their experiences. Deeply personal stories they shared about theatre, family and more, their positive outlook to life and their calm, yet lively presence will inspire us forever.’
Anusha Chandrasekharan, (Praxis, India)
In loving memory, we would like to share Professor Jenkeri’s vision of ‘Theatre is Sunlight’ that he told through a digital story made in 2013 in Abuja. Jenks shares his aspirations for development and change through his own personal journey in a way that is unique to his belief in creative expression:
Please get in touch with Thea Shahrokh
for more information or for contact details for TFDC.