‘Culture patronage should not be exclusive preserve of elite, expatriates’
Culture promoter and tour operator, Oladipo Jemi Alade, has had considerable success in the tourism industry. However, culture promotion was his first love and the result of that interest was the establishment of Oak Garden Culture Centre on Lagos mainland.
“Oak Garden is an offshoot of my travel business,” he says. “I came to understand the fact that in most cities around the world, where tourism is thriving, there is always a place to go to experience the culture of the country. For example, if you go to Kenya, you have what they call the Bomas, which is a cultural centre; the same thing in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, you have the Zulu Village, but such a centre is missing in Lagos, though we have some centres such as, Freedom Park and Terra Kulture, all on the island, they don’t really portray much of our culture. That’s what informed my setting up a culture centre.”
Unlike most cultural centres in Lagos, Alade’s Oak Garden is situated in the mainland of Lagos, specifically in Alimosho, which is the most populous area of the state. According to Alade, this would compensate for the almost non-existent cultural centres in the mainland area.“What informed the decision is very simple,” he says. “Lagos is a population of over 20 million people and if anything cultural is happening, where do you find it? In Ikoyi or Victoria Island, because it’s assumed that the so-called middle class and the upper class are the ones who can afford to pratonise culture. Amongst the common people, a place like this is lacking.”
According to him, making cultural patronage an exclusive preserve of a few privileged class is not desirable for a country like Nigeria in the long run, with the fast pace with which cultural values are being lost daily. While stating his belief in the powerful force with which culture can influence people, Alade argues that “by situating the cultural centre in the most populous local government in Lagos, you will be able to reach a critical mass of the people and then you can influence them.
“What we do is that we want to bring back the lost values of Nigerians. We have a lot of traditions and cultures in Nigeria and since we are losing them at a very rapid rate, the whole idea is that you have a place where you can showcase all the different aspects, like the music, dance, drama, theatre, food, fashion, which have to do with the culture of the country. By having a centre like this in a place like this, it will influence a larger number of people than having it on the island, because Victoria Island is exclusive. When you go to Freedom Park, you discover that the bulk of patronage is from the expatriate community.”
Impressive as Alade’s intentions are, the question of business sense of the enterprise may arise. How keen would the low-income earners be in patronising culture, which in modern sense, seems like a luxury? He is, however, of the opinion that one needs not expend huge sums to have a feel of one’s culture.
According to him, “It is a challenge, but not necessarily. Culture is a way of life. Why should it take so much to experience your own culture? You don’t need huge sums of money to experience it. We’ve been having theatrical performances here and people have been coming around.His ultimate intention, he reveals, “is to promote Nigerian culture as nobody can tell our stories like ourselves,”adding it does not speak well of the nation to have promoters of Nigerian culture being foreigners, as foreign culture agencies like British Council, Alliance Francaise, and Goethe-Institut are currently doing. He calls it cultural imperialism.”
He states, “let’s promote our culture. In Lagos, for example, you have cultural centres like the Alliance Frantaise, Goethe-Institut, and they even help to promote our culture more than we do. How can you have the French promoting Nigerian culture in Nigeria more than Nigerians? What’s wrong with us?”
He continues, “the irony of the whole thing is that if you know the Western culture, they will take what is yours and package it and sell it back to you. You don’t see anything wrong with that? By now, we should be telling our own stories. We now live in the digital age; we are very lucky that we have social media platforms, which can help us tell our own stories. When are we going to wake up to the reality that we cannot live under the auspices of other people? Why can’t we use all that we have for our own good? If we want to face reality, even our natural resources don’t belong to us anymore because it’s the West that is exploiting them, buying them and then selling them back to us. We need to wake up. We want to catch up with the West, but common electricity we don’t have. Is it the money we don’t have? No.”
Culture’s huge potential, according to Alade, has largely been neglected due to successive governments’ fixation on petroleum’s earnings, which he says has impacted negatively on other sectors. For players in the culture sector like Alade, government is missing an opportunity to tap into goldmine.“I believe strongly that if Nigeria has to turn around, it is the culture sector that will do the magic, because culture is so powerful and diverse,” he asserts.
He, however, does not mince words when pointing to the lack of cohesion among players in the industry, as another factor militating against the growth of the culture sector, noting, “One of the things that I have discovered is that a typical Nigerian is very individualistic. He is always thinking about himself, and finds it difficult to support something if he is not the one leading it. It is all about ego.
“We have to grow it up to a critical level, a critical mass that can now influence the society. It will take time to get to that level. But how many of the people you want to talk to will listen to you? We don’t have the wherewithal to make it happen. That’s what I’m saying; it takes a critical mass. People like us operating on the same frequency have to get to a critical mass to influence the whole scenario. Without numbers you can’t do much.”
Alade is unequivocal about a change of mindset in order to foster desired growth in the industry, as in all sectors of the Nigerian economy, adding, “the mindset of the people is also important. Don’t forget that our people are very ignorant, even amongst the culture-conscious and educated people. In fact, culture-conscious people are the most ignorant. If you go to the traditional places you will be surprised that people are very knowledgeable.”
He then goes philosophical, when he declares, “in the mind of a Nigerian man is a split personality. When it suits him, he is a westerner. When it suits him, he is an African. That conflict is in the mind of every one of us. These are the challenges. Let the society accept that we have failed and start from the scratch. But people will tell you: you can’t reinvent the wheel!”
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