No point setting culture agenda that will be ignored, says Onobrakpeya
Foremost printmaker, teacher, mentor and promoter of artistic excellence among young people, Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, is not a happy man as Nigeria celebrates democracy day and two years into the life of President Muhammadu Buhari-led government. He is not happy that the arts and culture sector has not seen any improvement in its fortunes through dedicated government’s efforts through policy and sundry commitments that could trigger the abundant talent in the sector.
However, Onobrakpeya does not hold Buhari’s government responsible for the failure of poor politics and policies. Government’s failure to respond to the yearnings of culture, he notes, pre-dates the current government, and he says he’s tired of making any public commentaries on what government needs to do to move the sector forward.
The octogenarian said Nigerian culture workers have repeatedly been so deceived by previous governments it has become a mockery to attempt to suggest what subsequent governments should or not do. According to him, what the current government should do, if it is genuinely interested in promoting culture, is to look at stakeholders’ submissions over the years on the way forward and promptly take action. He added that there was nothing fresh or new to be suggested that had not been advanced before now. What has largely been the bane, he notes, is how the sector’s needs have consistently been neglected and ignored by subsequent governments.
For the visual arts sector, where he plies his trade, for instance, Onobrakpeya argues that representations had been made repeatedly on the provision of galleries in all parts of the country for artists to exhibit their works. However, such suggestions have gone unheeded, with the result that a majority of artists are shut out from showing their talents and gainfully employing themselves. Also on Onobrakpeya’s wish list for government is the implementation of Nigerian Cultural Policy, which he says, has been lying dormant since 1998, with numerous revisions made over the years. Provision for the establishment of an Endowment Funds for the Arts, according to Onobrakpeya, is one exciting instrument that should help galvanise the sector to unimaginable height. Nevertheless, such lofty heights remain unattainable because of government’s lack of vision and will to do the needful.
For Onobrakpeya, governments have demonstrated sheer lack of interest in the sector such that he now only concentrates on his work of teaching, mentorship and providing avenues for young artists to hone their skills through his Harmattan Workshop at Agbaro-Otor and other avenues. He says he is no longer interested in offering solutions, as government’s inability to act over these years wasn’t because of a lack of ideas from stakeholders or options, but because of sheer unwillingness and disinterest in the sector that has brought and continued to bring so much goodwill and international diplomacy to the country.
For a country whose politics is so bad coupled with a poor manufacturing base and largely dependent on import all through, Onobrakpeya argues that the culture sector is the only sector with identifiable viable export potentials. He wonders why any right thinking government would choose to neglect such sector and still continue as if nothing is amiss.
The elder statesman argues that he would rather concentrate on his work and allow younger artists and groups such as Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) and Guild of Professional Artists (GFA) to continue to advance the advocacy needed to rouse government from slumber to do its work. He tasked all the groupings in the arts and culture sector to organise seminars and symposia that would continue to put government in the spotlight so it wakes up to its duty. He also tasked the media to partner with advocacy groups to keep the tempo of advocacy high, saying government needed to wake up to its task of galvanising a sector already performing on its own, which needs small prompting to attain its full potentials.
For Onobrakpeya, celebrating Democracy Day could only be meaningful to the community of artists – writers, filmmakers, dramatists, musicians, visual artists, dancers – until government begins to listen to their yearnings expressed through position papers presented all through the years.