Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and founder of Tony Elumelu Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu, at the signing of one of the many MoUs and initiatives that have remained unrealisable
Credit must go to the resilient practitioners of Nigeria’s creative industry if there was any upward swing in 2017. Unlike what happened in the past when they spent time lamenting government’s near lack of interest in the creative sector, practitioners had come to the simple conclusion that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is simply ‘the more the government talked, the less it did’ and stopped wishing for things that would never happen. They dropped expectation that government was willing to aid the growth and development of the creative industry and instead became more resourceful and exploited various avenues to remain in business.
And their decision not to be ‘sweet-talked’ by the visible and eloquent Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, paid off. From music, to film, to publishing, to theatre and to fashion, the practitioners simply went about their normal businesses. They broke box office records and won awards both at home and abroad. Ironically and in each of these feats attained without government’s inputs, Minister Mohammed claimed credit for his government’s ‘wonderful policies.’ Practitioners also improved on existing production and distribution facilities and those with enough financial muscles, built and established cinemas and performances spaces. By December 2017, about 30 cinema screens had been added to the existing 105 screens. These are still inadequate, especially given Nigeria’s population and considering that South Africa, with a relatively small population, has over 1,000 cinema screens.
But the practitioners had looked forward to a good year. Their optimism was fired by the fact that Mohammed, who took over the reigns of the Ministry of Information and Culture since November 2015, was in-charge and having spent a year in office, would have thoroughly understood the challenges stunting growth in the culture and tourism sector. The expectation was that in 2017, the minister would take steps to articulate a new roadmap that would ultimately change the fortune of the sector. They also expected that having showed, through speeches that he delivered at functions, a thorough grasp and understanding of the knotty issues that attended the culture and tourism sector, 2017 would be a year of deliverables rather than more rhetoric.
However, observers credit the minister for initiating numerous programmes and for taking steps to articulate some form of roadmap for the sector, like his effort to get government to include the creative industry on the list of pioneer industries status. With this initiative, practitioners, who are into film production, distribution and exhibition, are eligible to get pioneer exemption from taxes for a period of three to five years. They had also thought that the partnership he struck with the police to fight piracy, along with his other effort to encourage state governments, foreign investors and local entrepreneurs (Tony Elumelu Foundation, for instance) to work with stakeholders in culture and tourism sector in order to create a viable industry would produce results, but the opposite was the case, as none of these yielded the slightest practical gains for the industry. The pioneer status for the industry has not attracted a single investment while piracy has continued unabated and it has cost practitioners losses in resources and man-hours. Observers also argue that the minister has not been able to end passivity on the part of government; his pledge to drive the regulatory agencies responsible for the industry in such a way that practitioners would experience growth at the desired rate ended as a mere pledge.
Indeed for most part of 2017, government, through the Ministry of Information and Culture, pursued wrong priorities. There were repeated instances of bureaucratic bungling that inevitably led to a waste of scarce resources and time. Or how does the minister explain the decision of government to put up the National Theatre for sale when the minister had variously declared that the cultural edifice would not be sold or concessioned? How would the minister explain the fact that almost two years after, the artistes, who had their works destroyed at the annex of the National Theatre at the directive of the former General Manager, Kabir Yusuf, are yet to be compensated or their studios rebuilt, as the minister promised. How does Mohammed explain the fact that the cultural and tourism agencies under his watch have been working at cross purposes, with each trying to outdo the other even with glaring administrative and leadership inadequacies.
INDEED, the current recession plaguing the creative industry shows that the minister only thinks of the creative industry, when, as an observers noted ‘for photo opportunities.’One clear example of bureaucratic bungling that has plunged the creative sector into further distress was the decision of the Federal Government to appoint what a an observer described as ‘round pegs in square holes,’ as heads of some agencies in the creative sector. In a statement that was curiously issued in April by the Presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, instead of the office of the minister or that of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), President Buhari approved the appointment of five new Chief Executives for parastatals in the culture arm of the ministry. The release by Adesina named the singer, Tar Ukoh as General Manager of National Theatre and National Troupe of Nigeria and the sacked former DG of National Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), Otunba Segun, as Director-General of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC). Others whose appointment were announced are Dr. Chidia Madueke, as Managing Director of Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC), Adedayo Thomas, as Director General of National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) and sacked former Commissioner of Culture and Tourism in Lagos State, Mr. Folorunso Coker, as DG of NTDC.
The news of the appointment of these culture heads threw the entire sector into confusion. There were jeers over the appointments. The strange decision of government to appoint one head for both the National Theatre and the National Troupe, when both agencies are supposed to be governed by two chief executives was most laughable. Also, the decision to appoint Tar Ukoh, who is believed to be in his late sixties, and the reappoint Runsewe, as Director General in a ministry that he was sacked from over four years ago, has further fuelled speculations that perhaps the appointments were not made in consultation with the Minister of Information and Culture, who should ideally recommend those to be appointed, as Chief Executive Officers to the President.
The conclusion stakeholders drew was that those who authorised the appointments did not observe due diligence. If they did, they would not have recommended Madueke, a medical doctor, to head such a technical agency, as the Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC). This would be the second time a non-professional would be appointed to head the film development agency. Chidia’s predecessor, Dr. Danjuma Dadu, is a building engineer. Stakeholders, who have decried this manner of appointment into an agency that requires the networking capacity of a time-tested professional, say they consider it a slap on their faces if the ‘change’ the Buhari administration promised the sector is in ‘replacing a building engineer with a medical doctor’.
With Ukoh’s appointment since April, things have gone from bad to worse at the National Theatre. The culture edifice has been grossly under-utilised, with no culture activity undertaken ever since his appointment. Staff and practitioners in the industry have since April been waiting for the new Artistic Director to heed Mohammed’s directive to move to Lagos from Abuja to manage the National Theatre. A source at the theatre hinted that since his appointment in April 2017, Ukoh had only reported to Lagos twice and worked for two days at each instance. The source also alleged that he “runs the edifice by telephone conferencing and by Skype and is believed to draw a princely monthly allowance from both parastatals, as ‘duty tour’ allowances for operating from Abuja.”
Stakeholders want the minister to solve the many contradictions that trailed the appointments. But while at that, they want him to effect changes in the remaining culture agencies before he is outsmarted again. The tenures of many of those still holding forth, as Chief Executives, have long expired. The few who have a year or so into their first term tenure have absolutely proven inefficient in running the affairs of their respective parastatals and yet the minister appears hamstrung to do anything about them. Clearly, these were politically-motivated appointments that have combined to rubbished the culture sector once again.
Chief Ferdinand Anikwe still holds sway at the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) in spite of the fact that stakeholders have variously tongue-lashed the former Enugu State Permanent Secretary for his ineptitude.
While reviewing Anikwe’s one-year tenure last year, theatre scholar, Abel Atudore, described Anikwe as ‘the worst Chief Executive Officer to be appointed to CBAAC’. According to him, “CBAAC was high up there in terms of relevance, first with Professor Duro Oni and then with Professor Tunde Babawale. Professor Babawale was at the verge of attaining African Union recognition for the CBAAC before his eighth year tenure expired. He led a CBAAC that organised conferences and programmes on black arts and civilization. In fact, at a point the name CBAAC was synonymous with the ministry. But what do we have today? A CBAAC that is neither here or there, a CBAAC that has been turned to an employment centre with more staff than programmes that it undertakes. I have followed CBAAC enough from the 1990s to this point to reach the conclusion that the fellow there now is the worst Chief Executive Officer to be appointed to CBAAC.”
A culture journalist, Akin Baderu, was even more caustic in his evaluation of Anikwe’s tenure so far at CBAAC, when he said, “that man is a round peg in a square hole. He has snuffed life out of CBAAC and may kill CBAAC completely if he continues to hold sway.”
ALTHOUGH he has served out of his tenure and has since handed over to the most senior director of institute, National Institute for Culture Orientation (NICO) did not fare any better under Dr, Barclays Ayokoroma. Industry analysts say that the institute stuttered under Ayokoroma, who spent eight years as Executive Secretary. Although the institute occasionally holds programmes, those programmes as some of his staff suggested, are merely ‘self-serving and self-seeking programmes’, which as they further alleged, were designed to secure a comfortable post-retirement position for the playwright and theatre director in the academia. Staff of NICO point to Ayokoroma’s decision to establish a performing arts troupe, regular and needless partnership with the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artistes (SONTA) “even to the extent of sponsoring their convention or acting as convener of their conferences” and his sponsorship of the current efforts to rejuvenate the National Universities Theatre Arts Festival (NUTAF), as some of the many self-serving schemes that Ayokoroma committed scarce funds meant for cultural orientation of the Nigerian people on. Although some of his supporters say that Ayokoroma performed well, as he has held more programmes than any of his predecessors, his staff at the NICO wonder why the minister allowed Ayokoroma to complete his tenure in spite of the fact that he completely ran out of ideas on how to run an institute that is fashioned as the engine room of culture.
The National Gallery of Arts (NGA) under Abdullahi Muku was also comatose. The agency has not been able to successfully organise any event, not even the annual arts expo, ARESUVA, a programme, which Muku, a business administration graduate, inherited from his predecessors. Muku appears to be immovable. Members of staff of NGA complain that he spends time and resources lobbying successive ministers to keep his job whereas the gallery under his watch, in the estimation of many artists, has not lived up to expectation. A notable visual artist, Olasupo Martins, had observed, “If you want to know the state of the NGA under Muku, visit the Aina Ainobolu Gallery in Lagos that was built and maintained by Muku’s predecessors and see how he has allowed the structures there to remain in a state of disrepair. Only a non-artist can allow the only gallery the NGA owns to remain in such a state of disrepair.”
Also, there is nothing happening at the National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism Studies (NIHOTOURS), where Chika Balogun holds sway as Director-General. If NIHOTOURS slept under the former Director-General, Munzali Dantata, it is presently snoring under Balogun, who was appointed DG from her position, as Special Assistant to the former Minister of Culture, Edem Duke. Those who had predicted that Balogun would cause the fortune of the engine room of hospitality and tourism services in Nigeria to dip soon as her former boss secured the job for her were right after all. Informed observers have said that her grasp of what it takes to run NIHOTOURS remains suspect.
They maintain that a training institution like NIHOTOURS needs a thoroughbred professional, preferably an academic, with bias for tourism and hospitality. Sadly, Balogun is lacking in all these. There is need for a new broom at the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). The NCMM did not fare any better under Alhaji Usman Abdallah, who held sway since 2009. Those who are knowledgeable about museum matters say the former Director-General lacked the capacity to supritend over such an important repository agency like the National Musuem. But with the appointment of Mr. Onuegbu E. Obiora in acting capacity, it is hoped that the museum will experience rejuvenation for the benefit of stakeholders.
The Executive Director of National Film and Video Censors Board (NVCB), Alhaji Adedayo Thomas, seems the only one, among the recent appointees, cut out for the job and this is probably because of his background in theatre arts and policy development. He has, in a few months, shown concern for the well being of the film and video industry. He has showed determination to address the issue of distribution, speedy classification of movies and the vexing issue of unauthorised distribution of unclassified movies and so on. Thomas will do well to computerise the operations of the board and to digitise film classification as well as licensing of exhibition outlets.
WHILE the minister’s aim should be the cleaning up the culture arm of the ministry for effective service delivery to the creative sector, stakeholders expect that he would, in the next couple of months, address the challenges militating against their professional and career fulfillment. For 2017 to be any better, the stakeholder urge the Minister to work at fast-tracking the establishment of the National Endowment Fund for the Arts, and facilitating introduction of Tax Rebates, as incentives for sponsors of arts and cultural offerings, ensure the formal launch and operation of the Nigeria Cultural Policy, give prime place to the cultural sector in budgeting processes since it has capacity to create massive job opportunities, establish infrastructure and relevant facilities to back up the mobility and diversity of the creative industry, ensure a proactive enforcement of copyright laws so as to make the creative industry lucrative to practitioners, and give artists deserved visibility in matters concerning their trades in government appointments.
Other include providing easy access to facilities that can enhance professionalism in film production – the kind of access that would make it possible for producers to deploy public infrastructure like airports, courtrooms, police and military formations in production processes, engage the country’s vast human resources in literature, movies, fashion, music, theatre, TV programme, visual arts, etc as tools for building Nigeria’s image abroad, encourage the setting up of more training facilities and give incentives for acquisition of professional knowledge and skills and setting up machinery for the effective monitoring of all cultural agencies to ensure that they are well managed and performing to the best interest of the artistes and industry practitioners.