Different aesthetics with Tope Babayemi
had been appointed development consultant and festival director for the 2nd National Film Festival under the distinguished chairmanship of Mrs. F.Y. Emanuel (CON) and had in conjunction with the festival organising committee, developed a programme for the film festival which we were mobilising resources to produce. One of the activities in the programme was an open air viewing of Nigerian films on the lawns of the National Theatre sponsored by Guinness Nigeria Plc. The film, Critical Assignment, which Guinness had sponsored, was on the bill of films to be shown. There was only one problem; Power. There had been no electricity at the National Theatre for eight months. I therefore approached Cummings West Africa to come on board and be a part of the festival. I needed, at the minimum, a 250kv generator to power that element of the programme. Unknown to me, Cummings West Africa had been making fruitless effort to secure business with Guinness so, when Mr. Scizas, the Cummings WA general manager told me that he would be happy to provide power if I could secure a seat for him at the high table where Chief Rufus Giwa, the late former chairman of Guinness would be seated at the gala and awards night, I gave him assurance that he would be sitting right next to Chief Rufus Giwa. I got my generator for 10 days, plus 1,000 litres of diesel. Mr. Scizas was seated next to Chief Giwa and scored bull’s eye. Cummings WA and Guinness Nigeria Plc entered a business relationship occasioned by their mutual involvement in the arts.
It was particularly gratifying for me as development consultant and festival director of the 2nd National Film, to see how the arts could be used as a bridge between corporate organisations, adding good value to enterprise. But, that is not where the story ends. When the generator got to the National Theatre premises, the technical crew wanted to be gratified before they would connect us. I was disgusted and gave them a piece of my mind. These were salaried public workers on pension and they wanted gratification before they would do their job. It is an example of what happens in our cultural institutions and how some of those who earn salaries to promote culture actually undermine cultural promotion.
I am highly selective about what cultural events I attend nowadays and when I saw the effort the promoters of the Adire Festival and Iroko Awards put in to produce their event that held recently in one of our cultural institutions, I just had to attend. It was a great outing and I was very impressed with how a Nigerian that lives in London, Chief Omotunde Komolafe, managed to galvanise the interest of local partners and organisations to produce the event. I was curious to know what it cost to hire the venue and was horrified to discover that the organisers were charged premium fees without provision of any support services.
That is the problem; no professional service delivered for fees paid to government coffers. It happens all the time but it is not right. If you don’t believe me, ask independent promoters.
We have had enough of the rhetoric, we need substance. We need to professionalise the management and promotion of culture, not politicise it.
Our cultural institutions must, as a matter of necessity, identify and adopt business models that promote efficiency and productivity without compromising their statutory mandates. Everyone appears at the moment to be operating in ‘survival mode’ with government agencies paying salaries and staff emoluments without visible projects or activities commensurate to benefits and privileges derived from government employment. That is poor corporate governance and a short-changing of the Nigerian public. I often ask friends in the public sector would you run or work in this organisation the way you are doing if it was your father’s business.
We must insist on measurable productivity from our cultural institutions and they can only deliver by investing in the development of human resources. We need to look into staffing to ensure that the right pegs are in the right holes. It is not unusual nowadays, to find science graduates with ‘good connections’ working in government cultural agencies, adding no value but collecting instead of earning salaries. Our cultural institutions must also develop organisational and business cultures that support their mandate. What is the sense in the News Agency of Nigeria running an events centre in the precinct of the National Theatre under the guise of promoting IGR when halls are lying fallow at the National Theatre? Hello!!! What is the sense in promoting Fuji music and wedding receptions in purpose-built exhibition halls? Is it to improve IGR? At what cost? Why, for God’s sake would you put government officials with no entrepreneurial instincts or experience in positions requiring subject specialists? These anomalies must be corrected or the culture sector will be unable to contribute effectively to the current administration’s development agenda. Worse, the administration would be responsible for bringing more confusion to a sector already in crisis.
There is also a perception developing among independent promoters that government at all levels, is getting too closely involved in direct promotions instead of working with independent promoters who can catalyse entrepreneurship and help to fertilise a creative economy. Oftentimes, ideas are stolen from independent promoters and with government backing and executed poorly. Government officials should not become promoters, they should drive policy.
I wish everyone a prosperous 2017.