Clinton Village: Untapped Potentials, Idle Staff, Empty Offices…
THE euphoria of having the world’s most powerful president visit their village was palpable. For weeks, the federal government got the community and its people ready.
Roads were rehabilitated to enhance access and the environment was cleaned. And so, on Sunday, August 27, 2000, Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States of America with his daughter, Chelsea, made a historical entry into Ushafa village in Bwari area council of the FCT, as part of his state visit to Nigeria.
The inhabitants had believed that their lives would change for the better, following the visit. But 15 years down the road, expectations at Ushafa, Christened Clinton village, have not been met. The village is blessed with resources that serious minded governments, world over, would have turned into money-spinners, boosting the living standards of the people.
Regrettably, the huge deposit of clay and ceramic, sourced from the Zhigogi River by Ushafa residents, is taken for granted. The Ushafa Pottery Centre, a major site Clinton visited, apart from the palace of the Hakimi (village head), Mallam Mohammadu Baba, is falling apart.
The villagers had hoped that their craft would ride on the crest of that visit to global acclaim and patronage. But a visit by The Guardian to the facility revealed a sad scenario.
Activities there, at the moment, may be put at about 20 per cent. All the huts designed to enable women work and keep their crafts are under lock and key. More worrisome is the possibility that men and women engaged in the art could take their skills to the graves without passing on same to the younger generation.
The result: a heritage of fine pottery lost to negligence and policy shortfalls. Properly managed, Ushafa could be a tourist destination. The Centre could also be a practical learning centre for students of Arts and Design, as well as a research hub.
Since Clinton’s visit, notable world leaders, like former President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, and former Swiss Vice President, Ruth Metzier, have come calling during official trips to Nigeria. The United Nation Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, also visited the Centre, drumming up support for policies that would empower women.
MALLAM Mohammadu Baba was chief when Clinton visited the village. Baba, however, could not attend to the reporter, as a result of a meeting with his chiefs. Pictures of him and Clinton adorned the wall of the lounge. Danlami, a guide and an interpreter, volunteered to take the reporter to the Centre.
At the facility, The Guardian met Joseph, said to be the manager of the place. But he “was not in a position to comment on the state of the place”. He directed inquiries to the Arts and Culture Centre where he said the Director of Arts would take questions. A woman whom the reporter had met before the manager emerged from his office had expressed disappointment at the state of the Centre.
She said staff of the place and villagers, alike, had hoped for a boost in their fortune, following Clinton’s visit.
The story at the Arts and Culture Centre located at Area 10 is not different. The edifice, named after renowned novelist, Cyprian Ekwensi, is a massive structure designed for the display of cultural products from Ushafa Pottery and similar places around the FCT and the country.
However, religious bodies, such as Christ Embassy, One Way Assembly and Treasured Life Family Church, now utilise its halls. Attractive brown brick huts, originally meant for display of artefact, are now occupied by small business owners.
It is commonplace to find barbers, business centres, customised card designers and others occupying the huts.
The main building has a medium-sized arts gallery where paintings, ceramics, woodworks and other artefact are displayed for sale. According to a woman who took the reporter for an artist, the gallery’s sources of materials are individual artists and persons working in the Centre, and who have studios within the complex. She said sales have been low in recent times, despite the fact that the gallery opens every working day.
Somewhere on the first floor is a museum, featuring the ethno-history of the FCT. In it is displayed the Nok terracotta culture of the land’s native inhabitants. On the second floor is a library.
It has empty reading spaces and empty shelves. The books available are obsolete literatures on arts. No visitor was seen at the gallery, museum or library while the reporter was on ground, only members of staff whiling away the time, waiting perhaps for bank alerts confirming payment of their salaries. Most of the offices were either under lock, or without a soul.
Staff were seen either chatting away, sleeping on couches or with legs stretched on chairs. The lack of enthusiasm towards work in the office of the Director was equally glaring. People were either talking away or listening to soft gossips on radio. The Secretary to the Director said her boss was not on seat.
Asked to be given her telephone number, so that an appointment could be booked, she declined. Despite pointing out to her that the media should have access to the Director, a public servant, and that journalists even hold interviews with Ministers and Heads of Agencies on phone, the Secretary remained adamant.
At last, she said the Director could only receive visitors on Tuesdays and Thursdays, urging the reporter to reschedule a visit. On second thought, the reporter asked whether the Deputy Director could be reached for comments. The Secretary pointed out the office of the Deputy Director, one Mr. Danjuma. The office, however, was under lock.
The next office to it was empty. The inner office revealed a man with legs stretched out on another chair. For a second or two, after the reporter woke him up, his internal memory card struggled to display its files. He was incoherent. Putting his acts together, this conversation ensued: “Please, I came to see the Deputy Director Arts.” “His office is next door to your right.” “I have been there, but the place is locked.” “Maybe, he is not around.” “So, is there any other officer I can speak with?” “No.
Come back and see him.” And the siesta continued. AT another office where some ladies were chatting away, one of them told the reporter to see the head of the ceramic department, one Mr. Lawal. Although he was on ground, he cited Civil Service rule of hierarchy, saying he could make no comment. The reporter would have to see the Director, he submitted.
Anxious to have a beefed up story before going to press, a second visit was made to the Centre on a Tuesday, as suggested by the Secretary to the Director. But again, the boss was not around. When the reporter reminded the Secretary that it was she who said the Director could be reached on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she answered: “I only told you those days are her visiting days.
That is not to say she would be on seat on those days. She is not around now.” Another visit to the Hakimi met a brick wall. He regretted he would not be able to comment on the Centre. According to him, he has granted interviews to many journalists on the state of the village and the Centre and had been quoted out of context.
In view of this, he said, the Chairman of Bwari area council warned him never to speak to the press again on the matter. Baba apologised for making the reporter come back a second time. He craved the understanding of the reporter over his inability to read. He added that it was the Chairman who said he read papers and saw past interviews he (Baba) had granted and thus called him to order. Right there, in the palace, the reporter made several attempts to call the chairman on his mobile phone but his lines, both, were switched off.
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