Presidential inauguration and Nigeria’s culture performances
At the inauguration of President Bola Tinubu at Eagle Square, Abuja, on May 29, 2023, Nigeria’s culture evidently stole the show from the pomp of power transition on display. From living homes across the country, Nigerians were proud of what the various dance and performance troupes offered the global audience, which had come to felicitate with the ritual of power transition in the country. From the various colourful costumes to the dance styles, the masquerades, the drummers, the stilt dancers, the acrobats, the colourful horsemen or durbar, it was a show of cultural immersion. The performers showed why they are probably the best in what they do culturally.
Unlike what Europe offers in terms of modern dances that tend to be mere calisthenics, the dances offered to the global audience were uniquely African and spoke to the spirit of Africa’s ancestors, who bequeathed these dances to their progenitors. And these dances and performances have remained pristine and unadulterated. Therein lies their continuing mystique and appeal and the interest invested in them all through the ages. Even when the world is cruising on in the 21st century’s fast lane, these ancestral heritage are not in a hurry to be left behind or modified in manners that will betray their authenticity, as belonging to a glorious past. Indeed, they are fast ahead of even the 22nd century bullet train yet to arrive.
But then that again is the worry. It was what culture promoter and teacher at Florida State University, U.S., Dr. Kole Odutola, amplified not long ago when he said that Nigerian, nay African culture, is difficult to monetise because it is always in your face; its commonality and ubiquity is why it doesn’t make its promoters and performers enough money to sustain the art. Who spends money on a commodity that willingly offers itself to you unasked and for free? That’s the crippling question. And the question the performers at Eagle Square might ask themselves after the show is: after May 29, 2023, what next? When is the next performance that will put monetary reward in their performance and pocket? When will the next gig come?
And this is at the heart of Nigeria’s culture dilemma. Appealing, yes. Fascinating, yes. But rewarding, certainly not! It’s still street theatre at best for which proscenium theatre is alien. Which is also the challenge. How do you monetise such open-air theatre with the audience gaining free entry and free exit? More importantly, who harnesses all the performance troupes into one unit for the purpose of making money out of them in a theatre-setting through ticketing? How does culture generate money in an impoverished economy even if it’s organised enough in a formal theatre setting? Circus shows in Europe and America are nowhere near the allure of Africa’s performances, yet they get far more monetary reward for their troubles.
Will the assemblage of performers from all parts of Nigeria at the inauguration ground wait for another four years to be called upon again to showcase their unique performances at Eagle Square and other state capitals across the country? How does that lone arrangement guarantee survival? This is the question facing leaders of communal performance troupes across the country. After one such lone and far-flung performance, what next?
Now that Tinubu has taken the mantle of leadership, and fondly watched the captivating displays on offer by the various troupes, what should be his commitment to culture promotion? When would a national theatre be built in Abuja, the country’s capital city? How would culture be treated in his era? Will he toe the inglorious path of his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, for whom culture did not exist? Or like Lai Mohammed, who sat on culture but only saw to the information part of the ministry he supervised? Indeed, what is the sense in lumping culture and tourism under the same ministry as information? Clearly, only a government that paid scant interest in culture could have permitted the aberration that happened to culture during Buhari’s tenure. Will Tinubu turn a new leaf and breathe a new life into culture and tourism?
The inability of past governments to appoint core culture practitioners and administrators into the ministry of culture and tourism has been its bane. It has almost been square pegs in round holes without results. It’s why it remains another government MDA that organises fringe festivals and shows that do not have bearing on the lives of real culture producers making the country proud locally and globally. Tinubu must break free from appointing a minister for culture and tourism as another job for the ‘boys’. It’s more than a job; it’s life for millions of Nigerians, young and old. It provides real-time jobs on a daily basis for Nigerians, but it has been paid scant attention over the years, because the managers are rudderless and have no clue how culture functions, muchless how to harness the vast opportunities inherent in the arts and culture sector. Time to turn a new leaf is now!