Last week, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture invited technical and financial bids for the execution of some capital projects in line with the approved budget for the 2016 financial year.
According to the bid notice published in some national dailies and in the tender journal of government, the ministry, in accordance with the Public Procurement Act 2007, requested qualified firms to obtain bids for four projects namely, the construction of cultural industry centres in Badagry, Edo State, Adamawa State, and the construction and renovation of structures at the Federal Government Press (FGP), Lagos State. However, the bid notice did not state what the ministry meant by ‘construction of cultural industries’ or specific scope of the projects. It merely requested qualified firms to submit bid documents to the ministry for processing and they have up to February 20, 2017 to turn in the bid documents.
Although this is not the first time such items would show up in the ministry’s capital project, stakeholders are at a loss why the construction of some amorphous cultural industries would be a priority to a ministry that has a number of abandoned projects it should prioritise on finishing. They wonder why the minister would allow civil servants to rail-road him into taking on new projects, when he hardly has enough time to start anything new since his tenure in the ministry is at the pleasure of the president, whose body language suggests that there might be a cabinet reshuffle any moment now.
Some stakeholders had expected that whatever funding is available to the ministry should be spent on seeing to the full implementation of problems militating against growth in the sector, including implementing the revised Tourism Masterplan, the revised Cultural Policy, variously described as a beautiful document, but which is yet to be implemented, and the raging issue of National Endowment Funds for the Arts. Could the minister have forgotten so soon that in some of the many interactions he has had with members of the culture community, stakeholders have mentioned the challenges militating against their professional and career fulfillment?
The moviemakers have majorly lamented about distribution, piracy and the need to activate the National Film Policy and the need to facilitate the passage of the Motion Pictures Practitioners Council (MOPICON) among others. The visual arts sector has continued to campaign for more galleries to be created all over the country as well as the passage of the Visual Arts Bill at the National Assembly. Theatre practitioners are asking for the building theatres in all local government areas to create employment for the practitioners and the youths. The musicians have called for serious sanctions against pirates while fashion designers speak about the need to encourage local designers to compete well with international counterparts. Stakeholders have also called for fast-tracking the realisation of the National Endowment Fund for the Arts and facilitating introduction of Tax Rebates as incentives for sponsorship of the arts.
Stakeholders have also called for the formal launch and operation of the Nigeria Cultural Policy and canvassed a situation where the cultural sector can be given a prime place in budgeting processes since it has capacity to create job opportunities. Besides, practitioners have made a case for a proactive enforcement of the copyright laws so as to make the creative industry lucrative and also the setting up of machinery for effective monitoring of all cultural agencies to ensure that they are well managed and performing to the best interest of the entire creative industry.
In fact, they argue that the absence of a Cultural Policy and the National Endowment Fund for the Arts has created so much confusion in the sector, adding that it was the reason the culture arm of the ministry lacks focus, why proposals such as the National Craft Advisory Council has not been inaugurated, why there is so much confusion about the relationship between the National Theatre and the National Troupe – two parastatals founded by same decree – Decree 47 of 1991.
Only recently, the issue of the National Endowment Funds for the Arts was revisited but nothing has been heard about it again. Between the minister, Mohammed, and the entire culture sector, there should be a well-articulated document that would be driven by the relevant policy department of the ministry, in this case, the department of culture, which is sadly being decimated into four other departments just to create positions for some civil servants.
OBSERVERS are agreed that, affairs in the culture arm of the ministry used to be saner with just one Department of Culture. Then, the department had oversight function over the culture parastatals in the ministry. It was in their brief to draw the minister’s attention to any parastatal that was not sticking to its mandates, as enshrined in the enabling acts and decrees. Indeed, as some stakeholders have even corroborated, if the culture arm of the Ministry of Information and Culture crawled in 2016, it was because of the obvious schism among the culture parastatals as well as the struggle for territorial control, which the Department of Culture couldn’t properly advise the minister to eliminate. Apparently, there is so much in-fighting and duplication of efforts and resources within the culture arm of the ministry.
For instance, some of the parastatals like the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and the National Institute of Cultural Orientation (NICO) have set up performing arts units and a cultural troupe respectively instead of concentrating their energies on craft and culture development and on cultural orientation since there exists a National Troupe within the same ministry that was statutorily set up to promote Nigerian culture in music, dance and drama.
If there is another agency in the habit of struggling for control of another’s territory, then it is the National Tourism Development Commission (NTDC). Whenever the commission attends functions abroad in the name of tourism promotion, they hire groups to perform at such events other than the National Troupe set up for the purpose. Indeed, NTDC is one parastatal that the minister must beam his search light upon. Stakeholders have maintained that NTDC has not only been wrongly managed in the last 10 years, but that the priority of directors-general that have run the commission in the last 10 years have had misplaced priorities that have stunted the the development of tourism sector, with the result that tourism has failed to drive culture or verse versa. There have been complaints about the management of NTDC. Rather than concentrate on developing domestic tourism and being responsive to the aspirations of stakeholders of the sector, NTDC has largely been run as ‘personal enterprise’. That is why it was something of cheery news when government relieved Mrs. Sally Mbanefo of her job as the commission’s Director-General. Stakeholders say they expect that a technocrat as an administrator, with vast experience in the field of tourism should be appointed as a replacement for Mbanefo, who obviously knew nothing about tourism development.
So, rather than start any new projects that have vague objectives, observers want the minister to commit himself to ensuring that he takes the sector and most of its ‘abandoned’ projects to their logical conclusions before embarking on any new ones. As it stands, cultural industry centres in Badagry, Edo State, Adamawa State, and the renovation of structures at the Federal Government Press (FGP), Lagos State, are bogus projects with dubious intentions a ministry with a lean purse has no business indulging in.