Different aesthetics with Tope Babayemi
Of late, the buzzwords “creative enterprise”, “creative economy” and “creative sector” have gained such currency in Nigeria especially among officials of government and players in the corporate sector that one would imagine that the arts and culture scene in Nigeria is vibrant and very buoyant. Yes, there is potential here and there but the bitter truth is that the Nigerian culture sector is in deep crisis and in dire need of intervention.
In the recent past, there has been need, at different times, for government to intervene in critical areas that affect national life such as power, transport and agriculture. I am of the firm opinion that until government looks inwards and tackles the issue of correlation between culture, governance and development, all our efforts at building a strong and virile Nigeria will come to naught. Sorting out this correlation will automatically provide the necessary philosophical underpinning for cultural and other policy and guide public investment in the different sectors of Nigerian life. This approach will facilitate coherent and sustainable development and put Nigeria on a steady path to greatness. It has been proven time and time again, that the arts and culture are important catalysts for development and positive national orientation. Have we not realised that here or are we just paying lip service to nice sounding buzzwords? Not taking culture seriously has dire consequences for development.
Nigeria’s culture sector is in deep crisis and it will take decisive political will to put it back on the right track. In the first place, the level of government spending in the sector is abysmally low with a paltry 2016 federal budget allocation of around N6.2 billion for the Ministry of Information and Culture and over N433 billion for infrastructure. Culture is simply not on the agenda of this government and that is not only unfortunate, it is a crying shame. Mr. President should demonstrate that he understands the correlation between culture and development and empower Alhaji Lai Mohammed to intervene in the sector by massively increasing the federal allocation to his ministry. To do otherwise would be tantamount to sending a man to battle with his hands tied behind his back. I have said this several times in the past. There is no doubt that the minister has good intentions but it is clear that he has inherited heavy baggage that is not of his own making. Government must intervene in culture or we will find out too late that the minister has been given a mission impossible.
The honourable minister should be driving policy in culture to reflect culture’s relevance to the “Change” and development agenda of the administration and to do this effectively; he must be coming with stronger backing from Mr. President and deeper understanding of the situation from his cabinet colleagues. At the moment, the honourable minister is stymied by lack of funds during a period of economic recession and has little choice but to seek partnerships local and international that can help alleviate the situation. The catch 22 is that international partners and donor agencies will only give support on their own terms which are not always necessarily in the interest of local recipients. Also, the corporate sector which always acts on the basis of enlightened self interest will only respond positively when there is measurable value added to their corporate and marketing objectives.
In the circumstances therefore, I believe that a meaningful first step would be the convening of a national conference on culture by the honourable minister. The conference which should be engineered by government should be driven by the creative and corporate sectors as major stakeholders in the Nigerian economy. We need to get all stakeholders to sit down, thrash out issues and develop the right arguments that will justify increased government spending and involvement in culture.
As I stated in a recent communication, “There is no doubt that the sector is in deep crisis as a result of the lack of leadership and direction on the part of previous administrations. Our cultural institutions are comatose, the numerous guilds and in associations the sector are in one crisis or the other, practice in the sector is largely unregulated and professionalism is heavily compromised. A trade and culture summit at this point will not only bring divergent and often competing energies together, it will also help to give direction to government policy in the sector. It should be industry and private sector driven but engineered by government. The potential spin offs are incalculable and its impact will be indelible”
There needs to be broad based conversations between government and the real stakeholders in the sector which should lead us to clearer definition of training, programming, pricing and other policies.