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Culture and tourism development… more talk, less action

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie, Abuja
23 May 2017   |   3:35 am
The stagnation and indifference witnessed in the culture and tourism arm of the ministry of information and culture, sends negative signal, not only to the art community but the nation’s cultural landscape.

Former President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Professor Olu Obafemi

The last two years has no doubt, recorded the dullest moment in the history of culture and tourism in the country’s public sector. Admitted though that successive governments have failed to realise the potentials of arts, culture and tourism to national development, and had consequently underfunded it with impunity, the level of neglect that culture has suffered in the public sector in the last two years is unprecedented.  With seven parastatals under culture and two others in tourism, the last two years have recorded the poorest season in terms of programmes and activities.

Unfortunately, rather than think outside the box, some chief executives have resigned to fate in anticipation of improved budget while their tenure in office runs. Some of the worst parastatals in terms of programmes and activities include, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMN), Center for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), National Institute for Cultural Orientation  (NICO) as well as National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR).

As vibrant as the Commission is in other parts of the world, that of Nigeria has remained docile while the managers wait for public sector funding to put life into it.

Aside the fact that new programmes were not initiated in the agencies under culture,  several old ones have been abandoned for reasons blamed on lack of funding.

Even the few annual events that have managed to be consistent in the cultural calendar such as National Festival for Arts and Culture (NAFEST); Abuja National Carnival as well as African Arts and Crafts Expo (AFAC) have continued to dwindle in scope and attendance, all due to lack of government funding and improper packaging and marketing.

In spite of the fact that Abuja Carnival 2015 was cancelled for reasons handlers have not clearly explained, that of 2016 fell below expectation. It couldn’t pass for, even, local government festival as it attracted about 10 states out of the 36 states in the federation.

Other outings such NAFEST and AFAC also suffered robust programming and huge attendance. The abysmal record had been blamed on poor funding. The absence of the Minister in some of these annual events has also reduced affect public’s rating of the sector to that which holds no economic prospects.

For instance, the absence of the Minister at the opening ceremony of NAFEST 2016, which held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital, was interpreted to contradict perceived Government’s desire to use culture and tourism as one of the pillars of its economic diversification project. Also, it sent a discouraging signal to prospective investors about government’s commitment to the sector.

It was expected that a government, which pledged to diversify its economy, using the country’s only major tourism product – culture, as a tool, should begin by giving boost to those tourism products with both funding and physical presence at such major festivals and other cultural events.

Although, several agreements have been signed and promises made, much has not been seen to be happening at the Ministry level as regards culture and tourism. It was obvious that many Nigerians, especially members of the art community were not comfortable with the merging of information and culture ministries, the appointment of Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the spokesperson of the government in power, was however seen, initially, as a consolation.

The expectation was that he would use his position to take culture and tourism into national and global prominence. Unfortunately, while the country has been missing in several international tourism fora since 2015, in the guise of trying to look inward and promote local tourism, not much has even been achieved in the promotion of local tourism.

The obvious is that government has lost grip of cultural festivals that promote local tourism. One and a half years after the appointment of the Minister, the initial apprehension and insinuation that the merger was a deliberate attempt to further marginalise the sector, is fast becoming a reality.

The stagnation and indifference witnessed in the culture and tourism arm of the ministry of information and culture, sends negative signal, not only to the art community but the nation’s cultural landscape.

It should be recalled the then Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation once had both a substantive Minister and a Minister of State. Within the tenure of these two Ministers, several annual programmes were introduced and the ministry recorded increase in activities at both local and international levels.

The same ministry appears to have been reduced to an appendage of the Information Ministry with the allegation that the Minister pays more attention to Information at the expenses of Culture. Reference was made to the swiftness with which change in leadership of all the information agencies was effected shortly after his appointment in November 2015. Such long over due leadership restructuring did not happen in culture and tourism sector until last April and the impression in the public domain concerning the new appointments indicated that the minister was sidelined.

Meanwhile, the Minister appeared, initially, to have a clear vision of how to turn around the sector. Not too long after assumption of office, precisely between April 27 and 29, 2016, the Minister had organised a three-day summit on culture and tourism, with the theme, Repositioning Culture and Tourism in a Diversified Economy.

The summit was meant to create blueprint for the diversification of economy through culture and tourism. The size and quality of attendance gave out the summit as a successful outing, in addition to far-reaching resolutions that emerged. Indeed, hope was raised that succour had finally come to the sector.

However, one year after, the waiting game for the implementation of the decisions reached at the summit continues. Former President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Professor Olu Obafemi, blamed the woes of the sector on successive governments that lacked minimal idea of how to harness the potentials of the sector. He wondered why government couldn’t mainstream culture into its programmes for better results.

According to him, a society that is fast experiencing erosion of values, such as Nigeria, should have made its culture sector most vibrant by deploying its instrumentality towards promotion of core values. He regretted that the Ministry has failed to appreciate the crucial role of arts and culture, even in the administration’s fight against corruption.

He also described the merger of Information and Culture Ministries as a calculated attempt at victimizing the culture sector. “Culture has been victimized in that double-edged ministry of information and culture. For a long time, culture was made an appendage of information and this can be responsible for the relegation of culture.”

Obafemi, however, admonished the government in the present circumstance, to save culture, not only by enhancing its annual budgetary allocation but also, separate it from that of information so as to give it a pride of place.
For the culture and media expert, Ben Tomoloju, however, the Minister should not be totally held responsible for the misfortune of the sector.

Tomoloju’s position was that though the Minister has a sense of purpose, administering the arts and culture requires special knowledge of the dynamism and potentials of the sector.

He said: “The Minister has a sense of purpose but he is in a terrain that he has not been completely used to. Culture is not all about the capacity to sensitize people or the capacity towards propaganda; culture is virtually to instill discipline in the people about their ways of life.

“That is the reason culture and art are so connected because art speaks and edifies the soul, leading it to graduate to the level of sublimity.” Adding: “Minister Lai Mohammed is doing his best because he has to scatter his capacities along other lines.”

Popularly called Ben T., the playwright and journalist was, however, not surprised at the downturn of events among parastatals. He attributed some of the factors to lack of synergy among the agencies under the umbrella of culture and tourism, stressing that chief executives have converted their respective agencies to kingdoms.

“There was a time when parastatals did not have to convert their respective agencies to their kingdom. There was synergy among them. When one had a programme, others sent representatives as an umbrella cultural public sector.

“Once the idea of freedom is taken out of it, the implementation of cultural policy would be mobilized rather than each going its different direction”, he said.

Tomoloju, while congratulating the new chief executive of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Segun Runsewe, specifically urged him to return NAFEST to its past glory – a national festival vested with intensive festival expressions, involving carnivals, visual art exhibitions, poetry, music, dance and other cultural activities.

“The new D.G should target a NAFEST that could be recorded and sent to foreign embassies as Nigeria’s cultural expression.” For other parastatals, he admonished their heads to take another look at the mandate of their agencies with a view to reposition them for challenges of 21st century.