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In new NCAC, our focus is to create wealth, jobs through culture

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Durbar display by the Zazzau Emirate at last year’s NAFEST

Otunba Olusegun Runsewe is the Director General of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), a parastatal under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. He has been at the helms of affairs since April 2017. He speaks with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR (Arts and Culture Editor) on the creative industry, forthcoming NAFEST and INAC; and why tourism and culture sector should work together to move country forward.

• Culture Is The Product For Tourism Marketing
• We’re Ready For NAFEST, INAC

There is a sudden focus by NCAC on skill acquisition and training. What could have led to this?
Let me make it very clear, our major mission is to create more jobs. That’s the focus of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government: to empower the people and make this sector a relevant one. For a very long time, nobody has been able to give the technical details of the importance of this sector. I have met about three governors, and the three of them extremely impressed me. Why? Maybe nobody has been able to explain to them, but the moment I did that, they keyed into it. There’s a secret in Africa that we haven’t been able to take advantage of, that is, understanding the benefit of our population to the cultural and tourism sector. It’s a big secret. This is the only sector that can easily reduce crime and poverty and make lives better for Nigerians, because anywhere in the world you have population, the next thing is to make use of that population. Why did I say that? It may interest you to know that in this sector nobody is useless. Even if somebody failed his examination in school, he’s not useless. You don’t need PhD or even HND; you just need to be enlightened. Other parts of the world have taken advantage of the creative industry.

The Council is using the Akwaaba platform to showcase the strength of the country including, its cultural potential. The travel market has been on for 14 years, this the 14th edition, we have Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, The Gambia, Ghana, South Africa and five other countries. Our job is to ensure that everybody that comes to our country has a lasting impression about our hospitable country, and also, to let them know our culture. So, we don’t allow this kind of platform to waste. You can imagine, Dubai took almost half of this top floor. So, if a country that recognises culture and tourism like Dubai is here to showcase what it has, we must take advantage of that. We used the opportunity provided by the event to train Nigerians in our free skill acquisition programme. We are training people on skill acquisition free of charge. Areas of concentration include, bead making and others. This is part of how to empower the people, and we give certificates at the end of the training. In Abuja, we tried it and we were shocked that most of the people we trained have opened shops after the training and if this is given a serious backing, I’m sure crime rate will reduce in this country. We met three girls in Abuja and they were prostitutes and we took them out of the street and they have left prostitution and have now found something that gives them hope.

AFAC is now INAC and industry watchers are wondering why the change?
When I was appointed, I sat down and analysed and critiqued what African Arts and Crafts (AFAC) expo was giving out, and don’t forget, I’d represented Nigeria in nothing less than 40 foreign exhibitions and I’m talking on the strength of my exposure. Currently, I’m the president of World Craft Council, African Region, so, posterity will never forgive people like us, if we go out of this country, and see them do it well, and we come back and cannot impact our knowledge, that’d be a shame. We have almost all the ambassadors of different countries in Nigeria and you’re telling me to be addressing only African delegates, no, Nigeria is big enough to network with the world. So, I now looked at the benefits of us having AFAC and the benefits of having International Arts and Crafts (INAC) expo and I saw that INAC will do more good to Nigeria and I went for it; by the grace of God, come November 17 to 24, Nigeria will see what it is to have an exhibition to showcase the fundamentals of the country and we’d make history with that.

Let’s talk about NAFEST. It took time before the Chief Executives of Culture (CEC) meeting was held and there was fear that the festival might not hold eventually. But two weeks ago, the meeting held and NAFEST is set to thrill everybody again.
The network of NAFEST was directly with the directors of culture in the state. When I came in, I said no, you couldn’t be doing a programme of national interest with just these people. That’s culture chief executives and directors. First and foremost, National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) started in 1970, after the Civil War; the idea was what could be used to unite the country back and they saw culture as the major product and it was agreed that NAFEST should kick-start the process; now, for a very long time, the directors had been the engine room of the festival, non negotiable. But the commissioners were the brainboxes. Neither of these could work without the other and I took a step further, and I said ‘we must go to plead with the governors, because we don’t need to leave everything with the directors, though, a lot of them have good intentions, the person who would give it all the feasibility and support is the governor. So, I took it upon myself to see Governor Nasiru Ahmad el-Rufai of Kaduna State, and he gave me his words that Kaduna was prepared. Anybody who is close to el-Rufai knows he’s a man of his words and really, before we got to Kaduna, he’d instructed the secretary to government of Kaduna who, held a series of meetings with me, and in fact, I also had meetings with the Chief of Staff. Before, it was not the case. It used to be the NCAC and the directors. In the economy of today that we’re trying to improve, we need to tell the drivers in the states benefit that this sector would bring and then, they will see the importance. So, el-Rufai gave the approval and said we’re hosting. I’d like to use this opportunity to commend the Emir of Zazzau, who came out with one of the best Durbar outings since the 1940s. People really came out, even foreigners. We had a fantastic outing in Kaduna, and this was, because the governor was committed and gave directives.

[FILE PHOTO] Nyesom Wike

We also met another very active commissioner in Rivers State, the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Tonye Briggs-Oniyide. She immediately connected to the governor, Nyesom Wike, and he, I’d quote his words, said, ‘if there’s anything I could do to better the lives of Rivers people and add value to what the people are doing, why not?’ So, he accepted. Coming to your question, the narratives are changing, it is no longer the usual NAFEST. The festival, those days, used to look like inter house sport, this would not happen under my leadership. We’ve brought some level of change that could be seen in the festival. We might not have felt this impact in last year’s event, because we just had the first edition of the new idea of NAFEST in Kaduna State. Now we’re going to Rivers. The governor gave another overwhelming support for a good NAFEST. Let me borrow from his words, he said, ‘Otunba we’re going to host the best NAFEST ever’. Governors are beginning to key into this programme, and here, we are on our way there. We’re already talking with about three governors now for the 2019 edition, and by October 18, we should be announcing the date. So, what you should know is, to start what I’m doing is not easy. It’s not just the issue of knock and nail. We’d be in Abuja for INAC and the first ever exhibition that will be held in Nigeria. And I want to tell Nigerians that we have what it takes. The problem has been the lack of courage to ignite the power.

What should we expect in Rivers?
I have got a fantastic relationship with Rivers, so Nigerians should expect what they have never seen before, the NAFEST in Rivers State.

Do you think the funds readily available in the ministry will be enough to sustain such a project you have in mind?
In most cases, the funds are not there. We get them through goodwill. Yes, I’m not ashamed to say we owe some people. If everybody will wait till government gives 100 per cent fund, we won’t do our work. Anybody who believes that government hasn’t given fund let him leave and give the job to others. The little you’ve been given, if you use it judiciously, government will be happy to give you more. Yes, I agree with you, but I’m ready, I’m one out many people. I’m so committed to the cause. I’d go for whatever is good for this country at any cause. I’ve done it several times. There was a year at the World Travel Market in London. We didn’t have money. I went and got facilities and I hosted it. When we got fund, we paid them. That’s the reason why you need to build goodwill, credibility and integrity so when you tell people, help me I’d get back to you. Once you get back, you have already built integrity. But when people give you assistance and support and you don’t get back, that’s where the problem is.

There has always been this notion or I guess, with you moving one side, you’ve been able to prove one point with this Akwaaba Travel Market that you’re not just for culture, but that you believe in the marriage of culture and tourism. What’s been that bane that culture and tourism people are trying to outshine each other and act like family…what’s been the challenge?
It’s because a lot of them don’t understand. I’m a tested technocrat in the system, why should I be worried about that. I’ve been in tourism before. Culture is the brand; brand is what becomes an identity, which tourism is supposed to sell. Tourism has two major functions, marketing and promotion. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand. Let me use a local saying, culture and tourism are palm oil in which you eat good yam. Nobody can separate them. You have to develop the products for tourism to market. That’s why government, in its wisdom, had National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), which is supposed to work with the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) to know the areas they need to develop capacity. While culture, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) should work with National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO). Unfortunately, everybody is doing too many jobs, but if we understand one another’s functions, it would be easy. To me, I agree with the notion, but with me, there’s no tension.

For some days now, I’ve been receiving calls. The Gambia confessed that ‘Otunba, since you left tourism, there’s been vacuum, and did you know you terrorised the whole of Africa when you were DG? We thought you were fighting us, but we realised you were fighting for whole of the region and we’re grateful to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that you’re back.’

Akwaaba is a unique platform, but people didn’t understand. If I didn’t stay with Ikechi Uko, the organiser of Akwaaba, a lot of people would have destroyed it. In fact, a lot of people have said I own the event, but one quality that I have is, I don’t listen to what people say, because, as an African proverb says, ‘if you listen to all the noise in the market, you won’t buy what you went there to buy’. So, you have to be determined. Not everybody will believe in what you’re doing, but you have to believe in yourself first, and know that if you make a difference they’d commend you. To me, Akwaaba is the biggest travel market in West Africa. It has done very well. I also have my product, but did I compete with Akwaaba? No. Akwaaba is flying on a different altitude from the altitude of NAFEST and INAC. But we all need to work together to move this country forward as one opportunity is not enough. We need all opportunities a great country with over 180 million people.

In 2006, you were in charge of the Abuja carnival, it was seen at the time that tourism took over what should have been a culture function…
Then, we had a minister who also understood the industry. Abuja Carnival is being misunderstood. If a minister has a work to do, he will look for who can deliver. Ambassador Frank Nchita Ogbuewu, an Igbo man, knew Otunba Runsewe could deliver. And if you have another person who cannot meet up to that, you leave the person out. It’s only in this country that we envy one another, what you need to do is to put the person to understudy me so that we can develop capacity. Then, Ogbuewu said I could do the job and I did it. After I left, all these issues came up. And today, because of unnecessary politics, the carnival is not as it should be. When you have a product like carnival, and you allow a gap, you’d need like five to 10 years again to regain, because the number of sponsors, who believed in that product would have declined. In other climes, at this level now, they’d have brought people to understudy me and work with me in order to have the same flow. This is a sector that you don’t depend on academics alone.

That’s why it’s called a creative industry. In other parts of the world, even in medicine, specialists will take it upon themselves to get new doctors to understudy. It’s not about just going to school, but by having the practical knowledge. We need to remove sentiments and allow the best and our country will be great for it. What happened with Abuja Carnival was unfortunate, but however, I must tell you this, the initial plan of the President was for the carnival to run for five years and it would now be deposited to the states as product of generating and creating jobs.

Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival is 179 years old; Brazilian Carnival is 66 years old, while Notting hill is 39. When I was in charge of the Abuja Carnival, you can ask the hoteliers, I got jobs for them. When it comes to marketing, you either have it, or you don’t. I can tell you how many tourists came for Abuja Carnival, because for the hotels, we told the tourists the amounts they’d pay. Every country of the world has one strategy of selling its products and it’s called in research analysis, strengths and weaknesses. For a very long time people talk about weaknesses of Nigeria, I’ve refused that; I talk about Nigerian strengths and opportunities. That’s how the country can grow.


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