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COVID-19 palliative: Creative industry still waiting one year after

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor and Omiko Awa
12 September 2021   |   4:10 am
A year after the committee on implementation of post COVID-19 initiatives for the creative industry was inaugurated, artists and culture workers are still waiting for their own palliative. The committee was inaugurated on August 18, 2020.

Music training session at MUSON Centre, Lagos… culture practitioners and workers are still waiting for support after COVID-19 lockdown

A year after the committee on implementation of post COVID-19 initiatives for the creative industry was inaugurated, artists and culture workers are still waiting for their own palliative. The committee was inaugurated on August 18, 2020.

The Guardian learnt from a government source that creatives would need to wait a little longer as government currently cannot fund the package.

The source said that government is still working towards getting the fund needed and when it is available; it will surely be disbursed to creative workers.

In March last year, most cultural institutions closed shop, and events were postponed or cancelled, either voluntarily or as advised by thegovernment. These included libraries, archives, museums, film and television productions, theatre and orchestra performances, concert tours, zoos, as well as music, arts festivals and exhibitions.

Recognising that the pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on jobs and that many individuals were temporarily or permanently out of employment, governments world over began to introduce measures to support workers and businesses affected by the COVID-19 that apply to all sectors of the economy, including those who work in the culture sector.

Governments noted that financial stimulus and charities for artists would provide the fillip for growth. The Federal Government, at that time, had said it was collaborating with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to provide palliative and strategic intervention to the creative industry to cushion the effect of COVID-19 on the sector.

Already, government had put in place measures to tackle the impact, which include different financial intervention including a N50 billion targeted at households and micro and small enterprises. The interest rate was also cut and a moratorium announced on principal repayments for CBN intervention facilities.

The government also announced an additional N100 billion intervention fund in healthcare loans to pharmaceutical companies and healthcare practitioners intending to expand/build capacity, as well as identification of few key local pharmaceutical companies that will be granted funding facilities to support the procurement of raw materials and equipment required to boost local drug production and N27bn to save existing aviation industry organisations and jobs, through a targeted stimulus package and fast track the establishment of a private sector driven national carrier.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, noted that the creative industry is a major plank of the economic diversification policy of the Buhari administration, as it creates the highest number of jobs after agriculture.

“By and large, the pandemic has been very severe on the creative and entertainment industry but the government is reaching out through the CBN to provide palliatives and intervention to cushion the effects of the pandemic,” he said.

Mohammed said because of the challenge, “we have, therefore, decided that instead of addressing this problem piecemeal, we should do so holistically for a more positive outcome,” noting that the creative industry is a very critical sector of the nation’s economy.

Taking a cue from Europe and America, the Federal Government approved the appointment of Ali Baba, Segun Arinze and others into a committee of creative industry stakeholders to advise it on the best way to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 pandemic on the industry.

The committee, which was led by Atunyota Alleluya Akpobome, professionally known as Ali Baba, had Anita Eboigbe of the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, as Secretary. Other members of the Committee were Bolanle Austen Peters, Charles Novia, Segun Arinze, Ali Jita, Baba Agba, Kene Okwuosa, Efe Omoregbe, Prince Daniel Aboki, Chioma Ude, Olumade Adesemowo, Dare Art Alade and Hajia Sa’a Ibrahim.

The terms of reference of the committee included assessing the expected impact of the pandemic on the industry in general and advising the government on how to mitigate job and revenue losses in the sector, as well as to create succour for the industry small businesses.

According to the minister, the committee is also to suggest the type of taxation and financing that is best for the industry at this time to encourage growth and also advise the government on any other measure or measures that can be undertaken to support the industry.

Following the submission of the committee’s report, the Minister gave an assurance, noting, “we will study the report and commence its implementation in earnest.”

While presenting the report, Chairman of the committee and Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Mr. Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, remarked that the report captured every sector of the creative industry.

He explained that the committee put 14 clusters in place and that all stakeholders across board were invited with their contributions captured in the report.

“The immediate, short and long-term remedies for each of the clusters are contained in the report.

“I want to assure you that the entire stakeholders in the creative industry are extremely grateful to you.

“This is the first time in the history of the country that a committee has gone in-depth to know what is wrong and offer solutions in the industry.”

However, Professor Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, Department of Theatre Arts, University of Africa Toru-Orua (UAT), Bayelsa State, is not surprised at the manner the creative sector has been left out, saying, “it is one of the multifarious, inundating signposts of the lip service hovering around the culture industry.”

The theatre teacher said the creative industry palliatives committee “might be rightly likened to a labourer given an assignment to cut a lawn without any implement to work with.”

He added, “If a man does not chart his way before embarking on a journey, it will be an exercise in futility; because he will surely miss his way. Government needs to empower the committee to enable them put in place the necessary frameworks for the creative industry: theatre practice, Nollywood, music sector, standup comedy, events managers, etc., to respond positively to waves of the novel global pandemic. We plan to succeed; or we sit idle and fail.”

The author and publisher, Dillibe Onyeama, said, “the so-called ‘Creative Industry Palliatives Committee’ is precisely that — an idea. Otherwise, the ongoing hydra-headed insecurity challenges would have been squarely contained with creative remedies.

Speaking on the lull the sector is currently facing, Jimi Solanke, a foremost actor and folksinger, said government is not interested in entertainment or the performing arts.

According to him, “government sees practitioners as jokers, whereas in the advanced world their governments know the values of performing arts and would do all in their capacity to motivate them, especially now that performance is low.”

He said, “apart from the fact that we all were locked down, all other part time projects were disturbed as well. I was just starting the construction of my age long dream of a centre in my hometown lpara-Remo, hoping that such a year with such numbers 2020 would be buoyant, but it was a beast of a year. I placed all my money on the construction project. Each day praying for a change and life while the pandemic ravaged the world. Till date, nothing has changed. Only few people hold parties. These days’ parties are not how they used to be. Less cash flow is affecting everyone, the results of the first ever lockdown of the whole world.”

According to Kenneth Uphopho, Festival Director, Lagos Fringe, “we all know how things have deteriorated from bad to worse in recent times, particularly, with creatives, whose livelihoods totally depend on live interactions and human engagements.”

He said, “There are so many theories that can give some perspective to whatever impression I have for government not catering to the needs of the creative industry whether through palliatives or interventions as the case may be.”

Listing government’s insensitivity to the sector, he said, “our sector was already struggling with infrastructure deficit and funding opportunities before COVID-19 hit and then this ‘downturn’ that has followed. The results? Our government said it is looking for money, understandably so, but other governments are passing infrastructure bills and funding their different communities to jumpstart the economy, we are here allegedly enacting policies that are inimical to growth and development.”

Isioma William, traditional music teacher and dance instructor, said, “If we had the palliative (though, it still depends on what the palliative looks like), life would have been easier. We would have created some works, engage ourselves, and most importantly, engage youths in productive artworks. The created artworks could also be used to sensitise the public about the present state of the world, especially those who do not have access to mass media. Secondly, survival would have been easier and we would have been able to take care of families and ourselves.”

Adeniran Makinde, Lagos State Chairman, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) said, “I would not say that nothing much was given to the creative industry, but I think government should have listed the names of the people that they got proposals from. I think they should have published the names of those that requested the palliative.

Godwin Archie Archie-Abia, proprietor Winc Arc Gallery, said, “Creative Industry has been striving on its own or has been making progress on his own. Private individuals have been investing in the industry. Government plays politics with this kind of programme. If you are not a member of their party, nothing for you. Produces more works, at Summer times like this organise art class for young ones during this holiday and exhibit their work thereby giving them exposure. For me, I cry not for palliative, what I’m crying for is the government to give us enabling environment. You can imagine in our Estate everything is people driven. Let them come and do the Road to the Estate.”