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Networking Nigerian arts, crafts beyond oil economy

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Deputy Editor
31 October 2021   |   4:14 am
The lingering economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, no doubt, is disrupting traditional financial inflows, especially, in sub-Saharan Africa, and as experts noted, it is equally revealing “the need to strengthen domestic resource mobilisation in the region.”

PHOTO: travelstart.com.ng

The lingering economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, no doubt, is disrupting traditional financial inflows, especially, in sub-Saharan Africa, and as experts noted, it is equally revealing “the need to strengthen domestic resource mobilisation in the region.”

This unprecedented shock to the world economy, they said, has shown the volatility of financial inflows that African nations are dependent on: Indeed, foreign direct investment (FDI)—an increasingly important source of development financing traditionally rooted in oil, gas, and infrastructure projects— has declined approximately 12 per cent and 25 per cent in sub-Saharan and North Africa, respectively, between 2019 and 2020.

Reports have it that remittance inflow, which millions of African households rely on to support their families, has equally declined by 12.5 per cent throughout sub-Saharan Africa over the same period.

However, one sector whose strength can be properly exploited in these lean times is the creative sector. Though neglected for too long, the economic downturn brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many to seriously reflect on its neglected assets and need to explore them for sustainable economic exploitation.

The key strength of this sector was brought to bear at the just held International Arts and Crafts (INAC) Expo in Abuja.

Initiated in 2008 as a yearly event by the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) with the aim of showcasing the country’s rich and unique collection of arts and crafts, it is an avenue to promote the country’s rural economy.

Director-General, NCAC, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe believes that, “culture, arts, craft, entertainment, textile and their use is where the next oil money will come from. And the best way to do this is to source new business alternatives.”

Over the years, the expo’s objectives has remained the same, promoting the export of arts and craft to the international community, sensitising investors on the need to invest in the sector as a way of encouraging enterprise development and export oriented production, and providing a channel through which Nigeria and participating countries will make known their policies and investment opportunities in the sector and many others.

From October 13 to 15, 2021, arts aficionado, culture missioners, tourists and guests from Nigerians and the international community converged on the lush green garden of Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Abuja, to sensitise entrepreneurs on the need to promote and invest in the creative sector while showcasing their rich and unique collection of arts and crafts to the globe.

Themed, Networking Nigerian Crafts to the World, the 14th edition of the expo, a drive-in show, attracted representatives from a lot of countries such as Argentina, Bangladesh, Cuba, Spain, Venezuela, India, China, and other countries, also featured scintillating popular and traditional music performances by Ejiro and Friends, Emma Sax, Ogun Cultural Troupe, Afri Theatre and cultural music and dances from the participating states.

The high point of the expo was the investment forum, which held on Friday, October 15, 3021. The participants were unequivocal as speakers – Evelyn Edosomwan, and Akachukwu Emeka – at the Investment Forum led by former spokesperson of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Reuben Abati, pointed out that except Nigeria became a centre of production, it would be difficult to overcome its challenges of overdependence on monoculture economy.

The theme of the forum was: Diversification of Nigeria’s economy beyond oil. Abati said: “The diversification of the economy is one of those subjects long-talked about, long in coming in terms of realisation – a perennial target of many talk sessions, and yet, not much has been done about this proverbial magic wand that is supposed to help reset the economy and provide a stronger footing for economic growth and development.”

At the forum, artisans, craft entrepreneurs, visual artists and all the intermediaries in the supply chain were advised to constantly strive to improve the quality of their products and services, the production processes, their brand identity and the effectiveness of their marketing strategies, if they wish to improve their business performance, productivity and competitiveness.

They noted that if artisans and visual artists are to get a fair return from their creativity in the marketplace, it is important for them to follow a planned and systematic marketing strategy. They also said that the highly competitive nature of the marketing process compels each country to protect culture-based goods as a substantial part of its national cultural heritage.

This is especially relevant for many developing countries and countries in transition, in which the role of the craft and visual arts sectors can prove to be pivotal for sustainable development and poverty reduction.

Abati, who was the keynote speaker, threw some posers: “Why has the discovery of oil in Olobiri in 1956 failed Nigeria? Why is Nigeria trapped in the equivalence of the Venezuela-like oil curse? Why has oil brought Nigeria more misery than joy? And where does the creative industry fit into all that? Can the creative economy save Nigeria, humanise Nigeria, or serve as a catalyst for further possibilities that can advance the goals of sustainable human development and economic prosperity?”

He drew a parallel between Nigeria and Venezuela’s tragic conditions, saying that Nigeria is like Venezuela with fantastic destinations, but, unfortunately, wrong politics and insecurity in both countries hardly encourage visitors to visit them. He, however, identified insecurity as a hindrance to the country’s tourism potential.

According to him, politics could sabotage the best policies, noting that leadership was critical in policy implementation. He cited Dubai as a lesson in leadership, thinking and moving beyond oil. He stressed that culture should be a vehicle for growth in the face of the dwindling revenue from oil.

Abati identified music, movie and literature as areas Nigeria has made remarkable impact but called for adequate funding, which he described as the missing gap. Nigeria, he said, must provide opportunities that could produce more Soyinkas, Achebes, and Chimamandas.

Director of Culture, Nasarawa State Ministry of Information Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Glory Ashikeni, described the expo as a marriage between local and foreign producers of arts and crafts, which provides healthy competition for participants.

She noted that unlike Kenya and South Africa, where tourism thrives, some Nigerian producers of arts and crafts were not meticulous enough in their finishing.

“One recurring challenge in the creative industry these days is that some of the younger ones are not showing interest in the business because they do not see it as money spinner. In fact, they are in a hurry to make it,” she said.

While Mary Akor of Women and Youth Empowerment Initiative, Maraba, Nasarawa State, believes there is need to more out to encourage local crafts. She said, “Nigerians like foreign arts and crafts and had it been we had so many foreign exhibitors, very few people would have visited our stands.”

Head of Gallery and Exhibition, Federal Capital Territory Council for Arts and Culture, Mr. Ewenyi Abdul, said what Nigerians were looking for in foreign countries could be produced and consumed locally.

“We need to invest more in our cultural products. If Nigeria invests more in arts and craft, it will generate more revenue, create job opportunities and encourage Nigerian creatives to do more,” he added.

Chief Executive Officer, Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture, Mr. Oladusi Komolafe, said Nigeria was blessed with talents in arts and crafts that should be translating to financial gains for the artists and the country.

Executive Secretary, Jigawa State History and Cultural Bureau, Mr. Yusuf Ahmed-k-Jarma, said Jigawa State, which exhibited leather, metal works and ceramics at the expo, had enjoyed more patronage from the international community in attendance than Nigerians. “Since the expo opened, we have only seen the international visitors come to buy our arts, but Nigerians have shown little interest in buying.

“This is the time to wake up and promote our local products for wealth creation,” he added.

Though attracting and retaining consumers is a daunting task in an overcrowded marketplace, where consumers find ample choice and alternatives and where competitors are constantly searching for successful product trends, Ogun State, who emerged the overall best at the event, is leading the pack on this.

Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Culture and Arts, Olusegun Olaotan, said the presentation was to sensitise investors on the need to invest in the state as the Governor, Dapo Abiodun, was providing the enabling environment for growth of businesses in the state. He noted that over the years, adire has gone from iro and buba to various designs and it has become materials for export.

He said adire holds an important key to the development of Ogun and Nigeria, which, he said, informed the state’s choice of INAC to market adire to the world. “Don’t forget that Governor Dapo Abiodun recently launched the adire.com for adire makers and buyers in Ogun State and Nigeria at large.

“The website was created to position the state’s adire merchants in a global market, thus, ensuring economic viability and sustainability for their trade,” he said.

With adireOgun.com, Olaotan added, “anyone, anywhere could log on to the website, window-shop and buy any adire material of choice. In other words, this will catalyse trading in adire globally. And, of course, by using the website, an interested user is guaranteed to buy original and top-of-the-class adire from the globally-acknowledged home of the product.”

Speaking glowingly of the Tongeji Island, which shares boundary with the Republic of Benin as a tourism destination that can compete with the best in the Caribbean, he said: “It is located in the Ipokia Council. An island that is five minutes to Port Novo in Benin Republic by boat and 50 minutes to Badagry in Lagos.”

“What we saw at the Ogun State night is a clear reflection of a governor and leader who is determined to leave the state better than he met it. And through the local adire fabric economy, jobs are created and industry sustained. Governor Abiodun has even brought in the culinary offerings, a perfect hold for the Ogun people noted for its unique Ofada rice variant, very healthy and good for export,” Runsewe added.

Ogun State, beside being the overall winner, also won the second position for best ornament decoration, first position for best exhibitor in e-marketing for creating an online website to market the state’s local fabric, adire.

It also emerged the best in Special Day participation, took first position in best designed pavillon and best product design in textile.

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