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Sorry, messy state of Nigerian cultural centres

By Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Anietie Akpan (Calabar), Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia) Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Ibrahim Obansa (Lokoja)
28 November 2021   |   4:02 am
When the popular Cultural Centre in Mokola, Ibadan, Oyo State, was commissioned in 1977, it was the toast of culture enthusiasts. It enjoyed huge patronage.

Temporary site of Abia State Council for Arts and Culture

• Mokola Cultural Centre Looks Abandoned,
• Ori-Oke Part Renovated By Private Company,
• Imo Govt Yet To Give Subvention To The Council Since Eight Years,
• The Cross River State Cultural Centre Shadow Of Its Old Self,
• The State of Arts culture in Kogi State,
• Enugu Has No Cultural Centre

When the popular Cultural Centre in Mokola, Ibadan, Oyo State, was commissioned in 1977, it was the toast of culture enthusiasts. It enjoyed huge patronage. The story, is now, markedly different. Efforts by the Governor Seyi Makinde’s administration to reposition the facility have not yielded much.

When The Guardian visited the centre, it looked deserted. However, it was observed that a part of the facility had recently been touched making the place an ultra-modern recreational event centre. There is a new experience, but definitely not theatrical in that centre, which include, a market, standard car park, a new central gate, stencil branding/permanent visibility and many more, offering unique experience which is a destination for relaxation, fun and excitement.

Speaking on the centre, the artist, Prince Odunlade, said much still needed to be done to restore the glory of the edifice.

Odunlade, who was the first professional artist to perform at the centre in 1979 with Ademola Akintola, said: “The edifice commissioned in 1977. Duro Ladipo was here in Oyo State being the Artist-in-Residence at that time. The place was meant to be where people could visit to celebrate their culture and learn about Oyo State.

He said, “it should be opened up more for practitioners,” adding: “It is a gold mine but the gold can’t be reached under the current circumstances it is being run.

“To get the best out of the centre, professionals should be allowed to run it, bureaucracy should be removed in managing it and should be made independent.”

Speaking on the centre, the Oyo State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Dr. Wasiu Olatunbosun, said the state government had put up adverts for investors to bid for the concessioning of the edifice, “but so far, the state has not received bid from any firm with financial muscle and expertise.”

THE story of Cross River State Council for Arts and Culture is not any different. The cultural centre, which used to be one of the best cultural monuments of Cross River State, is in decay.

Though the main auditorium is still there, it’s facilities like the central air conditioner, lighting system and few others have collapsed.

The Guardian checks revealed that the main theatre, which in the past hosted memorable events, has a broken stage, poor lighting and disjointed wire connection system due to years of neglect.

To make the place functional and more attractive, the state government privatised the cultural centre and leased to a private firm and it’s hoped that broken down facilities would be restored.

“First of all, Gold Mine actually administered the cultural centre for a couple of years before we came in and the contract expired on March 15, 2017.

“We took over the facility from ‘Gold Mine’ in a very poor state but from that time till now, we have tried to keep the place clean.

“If you talk of poor maintenance, I know I can quickly identify the broken stage with one or two leakages. These are capital-intensive repair works but we intend to change the stage to a standard stage,’’ the commissioner said.

The regular Sunday to Sunday that used to hold there has stopped, which prompted An arts enthusiast, Arit Okon, to say, “we are really missing the fun at the cultural centre. Usual shows that used to hold there are no more.”

Okon appealed to artists and government to come together and make the place lively again because “that is one place we go on Sundays to catch fun and relax.”

A VISIT to the office of Abia State Council for Arts and Culture in Umuahia, the state capital, revealed that the facility is in a messy state.

The council operates from an uncompleted, abandoned building in the premises of the state’s publishing corporation, the publishers of Ambassador Newspapers. The bus, which used to convey the artistes, famous cultural dance hasgrounded.

According to the General Manager Abia State Council for Arts and Culture, Mrs. Joy Dike, “COVID-19 and the global security challenge have reduced our performances and aspirations for higher output.”

It was gathered that the state government was making efforts to relocate them to a befitting office as well as address their other challenges.

Dike said the state’s arts council’s sole function is to preserve, propagate and present the vast culture of Abia people for posterity/ future generations.

“Our major challenges are COVID-19 and the security situation globally, which have reduced our performances and aspirations for higher output.

“Our governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Ikpeazu, has been very supportive. He sponsors most of our outings and has promised to address our challenges and inadequacies including re-locating us to a befitting Office.”

The general manager said, “we, therefore, expect increased patronage. We are not owed salaries for which we are very grateful. We would appreciate the Council being given more cultural attendants and officers to understudy the married dancers.”

ESTABLISHED by the 1980 Act of Parliament of Imo State House of Assembly, the Imo State Council for Arts and Culture, during the administration of the late Sam Mbakwe, is in a mess.

The 73-member staff is not finding it easy operating. While some are paid in staggered form through e-payment, some have not received their emoluments since eight months. In fact, six of such workers were yet to be paid for eight months for reasons not known to them.

The accountant general said he was not in charge of such payments, as they have been contracted out.

The council’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Cally Chinedu Ahanonu, said that the council stopped receiving subvention during the administration of Rochas Okorocha.

According to him, there has been no “strong encouragement since then till the present administration.”

He also decried the non-release of funds for the national and international festivals, stressing that last year, National Festival of Arts and Culture, government managed to sponsor the contingent to the festival, which held in Jos, Plateau State.

His words: “ For the past eight years, we have not received any subvention. For that number of years, the government has failed to encourage users to participate in both national and international cultural festivals. We no longer enjoy our hazard allowances, which other arts councils enjoy under RATTAWU regulations.”

Ahanonu said the council was under staffed with only 73, lamenting that no waiver for employment was yet to be approved by the State Government.

KOGI State Arts Council for Arts and Culture was formally established by Edict 5 of January 3, 1995. Precisely, the arts and culture came into being on August 27, 1991, the year the state was born.

It started as a very vibrant outfit, particularly, the performing troupe, which has won several laurels both nationally and internationally.

However, the fortunes of the group dwindled due largely to successive government’s neglect, even as the Governor Yahaya Bello-led administration said it was poised to raising the bar to restore it’s once vibrant nature and make it one of the most vibrant arts culture in Nigeria.

The birth of the arts council was without government edict backing it up as a government establishment until the above date.

At inception, a secretary, Mr. Amos Tutu, headed the council. For many reasons raging from apathy on the part of government coupled with lack of facilities, the arts council became inactive.

During this period, the troupe was established twice and scraped for inactivity and lack of dynamism.

In an attempt to revive the agency, Adavi Abraham of the National Troupe of Nigeria and Prof. Enesi Ododo of the Performing Arts Department, University of Ilorin, now the General Manager of National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, were hired to conduct screening, interview and selection of potential artistes for the troupe.

According to the Kogi State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Salifu Isah Idachaba, arts and culture has become one of the most dynamic cultural troupes in the country.

Speaking recently, Governor Yahaya Bello reiterated his commitment to deploy massive investments into culture, tourism and hospitality industry to enable it become the major driver of the economy.

Determined to change the narratives of culture and tourism trade in the state, he appointed a nine-man tourism intervention advisory committee to be headed by Otunba Segun Runsewe DG National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC,) as chairman.

In his remark, Runsewe who appreciated Governor Bello, said that he would work with other members of the committee to reposition culture and tourism in Kogi State, while assuring him that his dreams for the state’s economy, particularly in culture and tourism would be a reference point in Nigeria.

ENUGU State does not have a cultural centre. But there is a Ministry for Arts and Culture being funded by the state government as well as the National Arts and Culture belonging to the Federal Government.

Investigations by The Guardian revealed that the presence of these establishments not withstanding and the continued interest of the state in arts and culture, there is no centre to deepen knowledge about and issues of arts and culture of the people of the state and beyond.

An official of the Ministry of Arts and Culture in the state, told The Guardian on condition of anonymity that they had written to the state government on several for a cultural centre, but this has been to no avail.

She stated that the state government showed interest in building a cultural centre during the administration of Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani at the Enugu International Conference Centre, regretting, however, that the “abandonment of the project affected the projects.”

“If they had continued work at the International Conference Centre, we would have had one that everybody will be proud of. That cultural centre has not been completed and it is unlikely that the present administration of the state is thinking about it. The Ugwuanyi administration has not shown much interest in the International Conference Centre and on the long run, the Cultural Centre. That is the way it is for the state,” she said.

Asked whether such centre was important for the state, she explained: “A centre of such magnitude will house an art gallery, an exhibition centre, lecture and drama theatre, cultural objects and several other things. At the moment, what we normally do is to groom people for cultural exhibition and competitions. We cannot say they get opportunities to learn new things and grow in that area.

“So many of the younger ones don’t have knowledge of what transpires with the culture of their people. They need to know and it is only through these centres that they will learn. We need to be conducting art and cultural shows and conduct visits for our children, but these are lacking here.”

She said that the council would continue to press on the state government to see the need for a cultural centre, stressing however that, “We think that their attention is not here because, the minimum wage approved in the state has not been extended to parastatals. We are not part of the minimum wage and hence, it will be difficult to start thinking of such centre when they are not thinking of including us in the minimum wage.”