Thursday, 7th December 2023

Culture, tourism development, tasks before Lai Mohammed

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja
25 August 2019   |   4:08 am
With the retention of Alhaji Lai Mohammed as Minister of lnformation and Culture, stakeholders in the culture arm of the ministry have called on the minister to pay more attention to the sector this time around.

Theatrical display by members of Footprints Academy, Lagos. The culture sector needs a lift from the ministry to do more…

With the retention of Alhaji Lai Mohammed as Minister of lnformation and Culture, stakeholders in the culture arm of the ministry have called on the minister to pay more attention to the sector this time around.

During the first tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation were merged with that of Information, which led to a gaping hole in the sector’s performance between 2015 and 2019.

Recall that the need to properly position the culture and tourism sector for job creation and economic diversification necessitated its seperation from information and national orientation, where it was originally domiciled, in 1999, by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration.

Consequently, merging them the second time, particularly at a time when the nation is in search economic lift is considered a disservice to culture sector, as well as, an indication that government does understand its potential.

Obvious in the past four years is the minister’s strong attachment to information responsibilities. He sparingly attended to culture functions, including major national programmes.

In a nation where citizens meticulously read government’s body language, the continuous absence of the Minister of Culture from national cultural events such as the National Festival for Arts and Culture (NAFEST) as well as the International Arts and Crafts Expo sends serious signals to the private sector on government’s position towards the sector.

Although the original plan was to use the information arm as the basis for promoting culture, not much was achieved in that area.

With little or no supervision over parastatals, the past administration witnessed serious apathy on the part of chief executives of culture in terms of programming.

There was also failure on the part of Alhaji Mohammed’s administration to articulate properly, issues surrounding the Cultural Policy of Nigeria.

Although successive ministers of culture have played lips service to the document that forms the bedrock of a viable cultural sector, it was hoped that it would see the light of day with a vocal minister such as Lai Mohammed.

Until the change of guard recently at the National Gallery of Art (NGA), the parastatal witnessed the worst form of apathy on the guise that it was not properly funded. Programmes and activities were on the lowest ebb while then Director General felt unperturbed.

The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), the biggest parastatal in the culture sector has remained a sleeping giant with those at the helm of affairs groping in the dark on how to effect positive changes.

The situation in the culture and tourism segment of the ministry is further complicated by the fact that most of the chief executives are on acting capacity.

In fact, some of them have been on acting capacity for almost two years. Mr. Louis Eriomala for instance, was appointed acting Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) in December, 2017 while his counterparts in National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) and National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Alhaji Momoh Kabir and Alhaji Abdulkarim O. Kadiri, respectively were appointed in August, 2018.

Also among the acting chief executives is Dr. Simon Ikpakronyi, who was appointed earlier this year to man the National Gallery of Art.

Within these months of acting, it was expected of the minister to appraise their performances with a view to either confirming them if found capable or replace anyone considered not fit for the job but this was ignored while the sector suffers for it.

Yet, many believed that stagnating them on acting position beyond rationale, poses serious distractions as they are constrained from taking certain decisions or actions.

Former Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation and currently Head of Theatre Arts Department, University of Africa, Toru-Orua (UAT), Bayelsa State, Professor Barclays F. Ayakoroma, expressed the implications of abandoning chief executives on acting capacity.

According to him, there are lots of constraints on the part of the person who is serving on acting capacity.

“There are a lot of things that he cannot do in acting capacity, which is equally affecting the performance and morale of staff. So, when the person is not doing well, there is nothing anybody can say than wait till action is taken. I think there is need to address that with his coming back as a minister.”

He also noted that delayed acting period eventually allows for over stay in office since the tenure start counting from the date of confirmation of appointment.

The implication is that the sector will have to contend with a poor performer for so many years.

Ayakoroma expressed the need for him to see the potential in the sector and should not view his posting to the ministry as a punishment.

“I always say that a chair as high or low as the person sitting on it. He can elevate his chair in the culture ministry or can bring it down. Everything has to do with perception.”

Ayakoroma is not comfortable with the merging of information and culture into a ministry. He believes that culture and tourism should have a ministry of their own while information and national orientation stand separately.

“If I were to advise Mr. President, that is what I will advise him so that culture can drive tourism very well”, he stated.

However, in spite of his shortcomings, many still believe that Alhaj Mohammed demonstrated passion for the culture sector.

According to the Director, Institute of Strategic and Development Communication, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Professor Emmanuel Dandaura, the Minister demonstrated great confidence in culture compared to others that have operated in such marriage between information and culture.

The academic applauded the ex-minister for literary moving his office to the ministry on the recognition that there were neglected untapped potential therein.

“Even though we did not go beyond the drawing board, that confidence he demonstrated in the culture sector is something we should give to him.

However, he flayed the former minister for not showing enough commitment towards implementation of some resolutions reached by stakeholders.

“I have not seen much of the implementations of the resolutions we took as stakeholders during the national roundtable of culture and tourism, expect that in the area of tourism, we have moved further to having a visa on arrival policy but there are so much that we have provided to drive the culture and tourism sector.

“Two bills that the executive was supposed to present to the National Assembly were not taken there. One of them is the Performing Arts Practitioners Regulatory bill while the other one has to do with the movie industry.

“Until you begin to regulate this sector, you cannot make it attractive enough for investors because where there is no standard, no investor can predict the risks inherent there.”

The Prof therefore expects the incoming minister to move forward with the pilot study sponsored by the British Council in terms of mapping of Nigerian creative industry.

“We have done the pilot and it looked very promising and we have since left it to the ministry to take necessary steps towards ensuring that we have strong verifiable information on the amount of money the country’s creative industry is contributing to the nation’s economy.

“We saw the contribution when we did that pilot survey. The National Bureau of Statistics was able to capture a few sub-heads from the culture and tourism sector that were not captured in the quarterly survey they do.

“Culture and tourism sector contributed in a major way towards the rebasing of the economy which put us ahead of South Africa.

“The then President Goodluck Jonathan acknowledged that clearly. Imagine what would happen if we are able to effectively map the contributions of this sector and capture it into the formal economic profile of the country.

“Our economy is bigger than what it is but we don’t know because we have failed to map the major area that holds a lot for us.

“Until you do the nation-wide mapping, you cannot establish something acceptable.

“Finally, I expect the incoming chatters pertaining to culture that Nigeria has acceded to but up till now, have not been given teeth because there are no enabling laws to facilitate their implementation.

“These are some of the things I expect to see from the next minister”, Dandaura stated.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI

For the former Director General, National Troupe/National Theatre, Professor Ahmed Yerima, one of the major tasks confronting the incoming minister is streamlining of various cultural parastatals with a view to curtailing overlapping of programmes.

His words: “There is the need to have the parastals properly established. My observation in the past four to five years is that parastatals are over lapping in their responsibilities.

“The National Troupe is supposed to handle performances but every other parastatal has put up a performance unit. The new Minister should streamline functions of each parastatal.

“He should also dissolve the governing boards and ensure that only those who understand the activities of the parastatals are appointed. I am not saying that the government should not take care of political loyalists but those who steer the ships should make contributions.”

Yerima also canvassed the need to restore the glory of Abuja Carnival. He decried that a cultural product meant for national unity has been reduced to a point of national segregation by states that are struggling to host their carnivals.

“States carnivals are now competing with the national carnival and gradually, the national carnival has died.

Noting that programmes and activities have generally gone to the lowest ebb across parastatals, he blamed it on incompetent chief executives who hardly understand what to do with agencies entrusted to them.

“Most of the chief executives don’t even border to read the decrees or acts that set up their parastatals. They will claim to know what to do but they are not articulating their ideas properly. So, once they work with international bodies like the British Council and it is discovered that they lack ideas, these people will never want to work with them further.”

Stressing that there are professionals who understanding the sector better, the Prof tasked the incoming minister on ensuring that chief executives read the acts establishing their respective parastatals as well as their mandates and return to him with their stipulated functions.

However, looking at the list of ministers, Yerima maintained that none has any knowledge of the workings of culture and tourism. This situation, he lamented, has been the bane on the development of the sector over the years.

For the country to change the fortune of the culture sector and make it appealing to investors, Yerima expressed the need for President Muhammadu Buhari, to show interest in the sector and ensure that it is properly funded to carry out its mandates.