The Culture Minister Industry Practitioners Want
IN spite of the huge successes the culture sector or creative industry has recorded both at home and globally in shoring up the image of Nigeria as a top player, the sector remains the most neglected. Whatever success it has recorded is due to the individual efforts of practitioners in leveraging their creative talents and ability. Unlike in other countries of the world, government is a distant phenomenon that has no affiliation to the sector and its practitioners. This is so because as crucial a thing as the National Cultural Policy of 1988 on which sector practitioners place so much hope in galvanising Nigeria’s economic potential, the policy is yet to see the light of the day by way of implementation.
Successive ministers of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation would seem not to have the capability or passion the job requires. Most of the time, the ministry is regarded as a junior one and anybody sent to manage it regards it as a sort of demotion because its budget is the least impressive. Also, culture is yet to be seen as a serious business that is capable of generating revenue and making impact on the economy. Age-old habits and religious zealotry diehard, as many elite see culture in primitive, ungodly light. Some regard it as fetish or just a bunch of girls swinging their butts to entertain guests at government functions. Beyond that, culture means nothing to them.
But as President Muhammadu Buhari seems set to appoint his long-awaited cabinet at the end of the month, what sort of person should he send to manage culture? What requisite frame of mind should the Minister of Culture and National Orientation have to be able to convert the tangible and intangible potentials of Nigeria and Nigerians into concrete economic value beyond what it is at the moment? Practitioners in the sector lent their voices to the kind of man they expect Mr. President to appoint to move the sector forward.
Prof. Gordini G. Darah is an expert on folklore science and teaches oral Literature at Delta State University, Abraka. He says the fumes of oil and gas from the Niger Delta have blinded government to a better mineral resource that culture represents. He charges that a successful culture minister with a scientific mind that is in tune with modern trends should be the man for the job.
According to him, “He has to be a very competent person, but government’s attitude to culture is very narrow and primitive. But government needs to look at the economic value of culture. Right now, they are only looking at oil wells in the Niger Delta. If America doesn’t want to buy our oil, the various domains of culture can sustain the economy. There is culture as identity and self-sufficient economy. But government’s attitude is, unfortunately, very narrow and backward.
“The Cultural Policy of 1988 is very comprehensive. Consider how much can be generated by festivals alone throughout the country. So, we need somebody with a scientific mind to look at culture in terms of technology and modern dynamics. We need somebody who can convert culture to a self-reliant economic base and as alternative to oil mineral. There was something I said years ago at Daily Times: ‘All minerals perish, but culture remains’!
“It has to be somebody who has a scientific attitude, who does not see culture as superstitious and fetish. What most people don’t know is that culture is technology; they should learn from Apple’s Steve Job. Culture is something that can even help overcome the economic challenges Nigeria faces.
“There’s so much to do, but so little done. If you say you need five million jobs from culture sector, it can be done; we have the population and talent. For instance, if government says ‘translate Things Fall Apart to more Nigerian languages,’ and it puts money down for the purpose, many people will be employed. Government is not thinking correctly; that is the problem. We have the population to generate culture.
“State Arts Councils have no budget to even attend National Arts Festival (NAFEST). We are not generating revenue from those festivals; if it’s in the U.S. or South Africa, they will tell you how much Osun Osogbo Festival generates each year which becomes part of the planning next year in terms of drinks and crafts sold, hotels booked and so on. Look at the economic wealth in children’s books, comics and cartoons for children; this is culture, but nobody is looking at these things”.
PROF. Remi Raji is a poet; Dean, Faculty of Arts, who teaches English at University of Ibadan and is the President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). He says giving government advice has become an academic exercise, as such advice are not usually taken. Like most practitioners, he cannot understand why successive Nigerian governments fail to see the economic wealth culture represents and its unwillingness to tap it.
As he puts it, “These are very uncertain times. Some of us are tired of giving advice, direction to leaders on who to appoint. It has to be the right person who will be in the right place. It has to be someone who represents the interest of the culture community, a technocrat and not a card-carrying member of a party. He has to know how to make it a revenue-generating and value-adding ministry. We are nowhere when it comes to tourism, as it is done in other parts of the world. It has to be somebody who has seen it all. In any case, I don’t know why we must combine the three things together – culture, tourism and national orientation.
“However, in Nigeria the interrogation, the study of culture is not considered a profession at all. Only on a few occasion do they get the right person. But do we need ministers in this country? What we need are local inspectors, and not somebody who sits in an office in Abuja. He doesn’t need to sit in an office; the real change is in the intellectual culture education. In any case, they don’t go for people who practice and have cultural theory experience. They always get anybody – engineers, barristers and what have you. Culture is very secondary if not tertiary in their thinking. Some persons see it as demotion when appointed culture minister. It must be part of the change if we are to change in this country”.
Mr. Kolade Oshinowo is a painter; he taught at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, and was a former President of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). He argues that the man or woman for the job must have passion and vision in tandem with realities in the creative industry.
“We need somebody who has interest of the sector at heart; somebody who has enthusiasm and the vision,” he says. “It must not be somebody going to office as a transit lounge. He must have a lot of vision and passion to see to the development of the sector. The problem is that many see culture as the bottom of the ladder with little attention paid to it.
“In France, culture ministry is the most powerful ministry, as a source of revenue for the government. But in Nigeria people don’t believe in that. So, the next minister President Buhari must appoint must have passion and vision and not just job for the boys; it has gone beyond that. The minister must be visible, somebody who talks and people will listen, a man who has drive and can harness the potentials in the sector”.
Mr. Oliver Enwonwu is also a painter and current President of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). He notes that a certain wrongheaded notion about culture by those usually appointed has continued to bogged down the sector and that a new orientation is needed going forward.
According to him, “The Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation President Buhari should appoint must be somebody well versed in culture, somebody who knows it and is ready to give Nigeria a brand new face, who can give Nigeria a face lift. He must have the capacity and is close to the creative people and does his research well on what to do. I’m not pleased that people who don’t have the knowledge man the ministry. It’s a very peculiar industry.
“For instance, there is no gallery of modern arts in the country. So it must be somebody who has long years in the industry and understands the practitioners and the environment. Yes, it has to be somebody from the culture sector for him to be effective. It’s not out of place; it’s long overdue. We need an industry person who can understand our peculiar needs. Imagine proposing to merge the National Museum and Nigerian Gallery of Art; it’s an anomaly. Now artists are crying out, as they are required to pay before exporting their art. Such levy or tax should only be applied to artifacts not contemporary works of art.
“There is no modern gallery to showcase our works, to see the history of the arts where people pay to see works of modern artists because we’ve had people as ministers who don’t know what to do. So, the minister must be someone who is creative, who has capacity, administrative capacity. It shouldn’t be for people who don’t have experience.
“It has always been food for the boys; that is why Nigeria is where it is today. But I think Buhari wants people who want to work and not business as usual. It’s commendable. Unfortunately, even when they appoint good people, they don’t allow them to work”.
HOWEVER, a former Permanent Secretary in the Presidency, an author, a folklorist and President, Nigerian Folklore Society (NFS) disagrees with the views expressed above. He doesn’t believe a culture minister should necessarily be a practitioner or culture expert, as experience has shown that it could be counterproductive to do so. He sues for a broad-minded individual capable of good judgment for the job.
As he puts it, “A minister is appointed based on his capability. It’s the prerogative of the President; it’s at the discretion of the President. So, you cannot determine in advance who gets appointed. Ministers function on top of professionals. So, it’s somebody who has capacity to give good direction; he doesn’t have to be schooled in that area. The cases of Prof. Olukoye Ransom-Kuti and Tony Momoh are still fresh in mind. They were both resisted by those in health and information ministries, by their own people. Momoh was resisted by media people. It was why he had to write ‘Letters to My Countrymen’.
“So, a minister has to have capacity to deliver good judgment; he has to be open-minded, somebody who is able to coordinate, somebody who is broad-minded enough. It will be narrow for him to also come from the same area of profession. Labaran Maku didn’t have a defense or military background, but he was made Minister of Defence. Sometimes, you need a fairly independent-minded person to succeed.
“Go and take Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya to head culture, for instance, and see if he will not be accused of being biased towards one sector alone; that alone can cripple him and all he intends to do”.
But Prof. Mabel Evwierhoma, theatre teacher and Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Abuja, still believes in appointing a well known culture aficionado as the right man or woman for the job.
According to her, “Apart from the agenda Mr. President has set for himself, I expect him to appoint a full Nigerian in inward thought and outward action. He should be someone known as a staunch culture aficionado who will congregate Nigerian men and women in a global platform of action. He should encourage Nigerians to have a near total taste for Nigerian products, who will help manipulate the youth towards Nigerian culture. He should be someone who can raise our consciousness to a level where Nigeria is seen as the true Nigeria, globally and at home.
“Nigeria needs to be rejigged and it should be the Nigerian who can bring about this cultural reengineering. We can’t be behaving like the white man. The minister must see to it that our Cultural Attaches function in our embassies abroad to enhance Nigeria’s glory abroad. The National Endowment for the Arts should be in place. That fund can pay for that glory”.
Also for Zik Zulu Okafor, who is a journalist, filmmaker and heads the Association of Movie Producers (AMP), “A culture activist should be appointed, who understands what culture is in totality. A nation must be conscious of its culture. Culture is the totality of life of a people; culture captures it. So, the minister must be ready to adjust culture to meet the needs of the digital age that we live in and not just anybody. It’s about projecting our values and communicating these values to the next generation.
“So, it has to be people in the arts, from journalism, from performing arts that should be appointed. Our leaders haven’t been able to understand what culture is. Money budgeted for culture is usually the least because of poor perception of what culture is. It’s not about women dancing. A good culture minister need not look at the budget but how to use culture to generate revenue to make government see culture for what it truly is. When they appoint the right person, every organization and government will begin to take interest”.