Different aesthetics with Tope Babayemi
On 4, October 2016, I attended the signing of a memorandum of understanding on capacity building in the Nigerian culture sector between the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and the Tony Elumelu Foundation. It was tagged “Nigeria’s Creative Industries Partnership Agreement between the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and the Tony Elumelu Foundation”. The venue was the VIP Room at the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. In attendance were the Honourable Minister for Information and Culture and his team, Tony Elumelu and officials of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, a speaker (perhaps a director) from the British Council UK, selected members from the Nigerian creative sector and the media.
I was away in the North when the invitation came and would not have attended but I bowed to superior logic from a variety of friends, colleagues and contacts that I should attend to fulfil all righteousness and be seen to be engaging with the establishment in spite of personal unease with the pace of negotiation regarding the illegal demolition of the Artists’ Village and assault on a resident on January 23, 2016. I attended the event and left feeling more convinced than ever that we will not advance appropriately and meaningfully in the Nigerian culture and creative sector until we convene a national creative industries conference.
In my experience as an arts manager in Nigeria, I have not come across a more passionate and responsive minister of culture as Alhaji Lai Mohammed. I know because as coordinator at the NCAC Artists’ Village at the National Theatre Annex, I have had the opportunity to relate with him on a few occasions and I can vouch for his passion and personal commitment to effect change and real development in the sector. However, I am beginning to get weary about the potential of the “Nigerian Factor” to negatively affect the good intentions of the current minister. The charlatans and political jobbers have reinforced and are already making inroads into the thinking and actions of government.
The guests at the signing of the MOU consisted mainly of staffers of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, government officials and maybe 30 known faces in Nollywood. I did not see or meet any visual artists, dancers or musicians of note. I am sorry but a lot of those young men and women in red ties and smart clothes had no business being in that environment pontificating to seasoned professionals on entrepreneurship. Well, it obviously served the purposes of government and was definitely a PR winner for the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
That event also convinced me that the honourable minister needs a game plan that has currency with his constituency. To have currency, the game plan must be a result of interactive, participatory dialogue and consensus secured between ALL stakeholders including government, the development sector, the private sector and practitioners. The only platform that can organically evolve that game plan is a national creative industries conference. Let government mobilise resources or let the Tony Elumelu Foundation fund a conference where government, funders, partners, administrators, managers, producers, promoters, regulators, associations and artists can sit down, thrash out issues and chart a coherent course of action for the development of the creative industries in Nigeria. Anything less may be nothing but paying mere lip-service to good sounding words.
The minister needs a game plan to proffer the right arguments to Mr. President and his cabinet colleagues to secure increased state funding for his ministry which was allocated a paltry N6.2 billion in the 2016 budget whilst infrastructure in the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing got a budget of over N433.4billion. Without the political will from government to intervene and invest massively in the creative industries, we will end up discouraging real and potential partners and investors. Worse, we may end up sending our well-meaning minister into battle with his hands tied behind his back. That would be a disaster and would be setting the hands of the clock backwards. Government intervention at the level described above will of necessity discourage potential time and energy wasters whose intention is to feather their own nests rather than engage in partnerships that work.
We need to move away from the “begging bowl” approach to development in the creative industries and promote the nobility and relevance of the sector in the process of meaningful national development. We also need to promote best practice and sustainability in the sector so that our best is always visible to potential partners and investors.