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Stakeholders chart new course for NAFEST @ Abuja Conference

By Osa Mbonu-Amadi

“May I welcome you all to this First National Stakeholders’ Conference on NAFEST. You will agree with me that after 35 editions of incredibly amazing outing, we certainly need to review, reflect and re-strategize for the years ahead. I wish to thank you all for keeping faith and for remaining steadfast and committed to the festival agenda. Let me also express our profound appreciations to the governments of the 36 states and the FCT administration for the support and political will without which it would have been impossible to sustain the festival.”

The above words were part of the conclusion of the paper titled CULTURE AS A TOOL FOR REVAMPING THE ECONOMY: AN AGENDA SETTING, delivered by the Director-General of National Council for Arts & Culture, Otunba Segun Runsewe, last week at the 4-day NATIONAL STAKEHOLDERS’ CONFERENCE ON THE REVIEW OF 35 EDITIONS OF NATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS & CULTURE, NAFEST, held in Abuja from 5-8 December, 2023.

Otunba Runsewe described Nigeria as a country endowed with rich cultural resources. “We have all it takes to reposition our nation with our diverse cultural resources,” he said, re-emphasizing that the cultural sector has the capacity to contribute significantly to the country’s GDP.

He said our cultural diversity and various cultural products offer unique opportunities for “artistry, craftsmanship and entrepreneurial skills that can be developed, showcased and marketed to drive a robust cultural industry.

“It is in the light of the foregoing that the National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC, under my leadership is vigorously pursuing cultural programmes to open up the industry; unbundle, harness and develop latent skills, talents and capacities that would lead to the emergence of a vibrant cultural economy for Nigeria,” Runsewe said.

Otunba Runsewe’s paper set the tone of the conference which brought together various stakeholders in the Arts and Culture sector, including commissioners and directors of culture and history bureau in the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory, FCT; members of professional associations in the culture sector, the media and members of the pubic.

Among the objectives of the conference was to reflect on the past 35 editions of the festival with a view to assessing its strength and weaknesses; how has it fulfilled its goals of uniting the nation, as well as articulate strategies for improving on its content and form.

Another important objective of the conference was coming up with policy framework and agenda for enhancing the visibility of the culture sector and reposition it as a key player in the nation’s economy. The conference was also meant to set agenda for state Arts Councils and History Bureau on development of craft markets in the states; emphasizing the development of one iconic cultural product in which they have comparative advantage; areas to explore for funding assistance and partnership; platforms available for international cultural exchanges and training programmes; packaging, marketing and promotion of Nigerian arts for value addition; come up with a national blueprint for uniformly driving the Arts, Culture and the Creative Industry for employment generation and wealth creation, and galvanizing the socio-economic growth of Nigeria.

Two other papers were presented at the technical session. One of the papers, presented by Mrs. Franca Idemudia of Clevenard Global Media International, was titled “E-Marketing Cultural Content Beyond Borders”, while the other, titled “Explore, Understand, and Appreciate Nigeria Culture Through Photography” was presented by Mr. Ade Dayo.

Franca Idemudia’s paper, which urged Nigerians to take advantage of the revolutionary e-marketing platforms to market our arts and culture, was an innovative idea introduced into the sector by Otunba Runsewe. To sell Nigerian culture and tourism resources, Idemudia advised, we need to leverage on the opportunities offered by the internet platform, especially the social media. She said the sector can reach Nigerians in the Diaspora and the entire global cultural market with her cultural resources through online platforms. She agreed with Otunba Runsewe and everyone else at the conference that culture and tourism are inseparable. Nigeria, she said, is magnificently endowed with arts, culture and tourism resources that can be harnessed to drive the process of economic development.

At the end of the first plenary session, the conference was broken into eight syndicate groups whose reports and recommendations were later presented at the second plenary session where they were rigorously interrogated and scrutinized, producing the following resolutions:

Skill acquisition is critical and strategic to the empowerment of stakeholders in the sector and the development of arts and culture industry. The conference therefore recommended skills acquisition training programme, especially for women, youths and the physically challenged through structured processes of formal education, informal and traditional skill transfer, apprenticeship, etc. Accordingly, Nigerian cultural products should be carefully packaged and aggressively promoted through platforms such as digital marketing, creation of galleries and the participation in travel markets, etc.

The conference observed that the concentration of the states in the development of one unique product in which they have comparative advantage will enable the states package and market the Iconic product, attract investors, increase internally generated revenue, enhance public-private partnership and reduce unemployment. The conference therefore recommended that this strategic approach should be vigorously pursued by the states.

The conference also noted that cultural exchange programmes can engender unity in diversity, promote international diplomacy for peace, enhance the cross-fertilization of ideas and promote international trade. In light of this, it was recommended that there should be structured international exchange programmes and synergy between local and international NGOs to facilitate this process. Funding for this could be sourced from government subventions, self-sponsorship, local and international donor agencies, among others. The conference also appreciated the efforts of the D-G of NCAC for the proposed training in China of 370 youths from the 36 States and the FCT.

The conference underscored the importance of cultural markets in the states as a means of employment and wealth creation, preservation of the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria and the establishment of one-stop-shop for cultural products. Therefore, the establishment of cultural markets in the states to be domiciled in Ministry of Culture and Tourism was strongly recommended.

The conference identified sources of funding of the culture sector to include government, the private sector, multinational organizations, development partners, donor agencies and charity organizations. It lamented that government has never taken a deliberate step to fund the culture sector. It was therefore recommended that these sources of funding should be explored by the states, while stakeholders like NATOP, NANTA, RATTAWU, etc., should work with relevant cultural agencies of government to mount sustained advocacy in order to push for the implementation of the National Endowment Fund for Arts. To achieve this, industry players must work together, and embark on programmes that will not only make them relevant, but indispensable stakeholders in the task of nation building.

Submitting that culture provides the content for the development of tourism, the conference stressed that culture and tourism are intricately interwoven and therefore inseparable. So, the conference recommended that culture and tourism should remain as one ministry, both at the federal and state levels, to complement each other and contribute meaningfully to the diversification efforts of government.

The conference observed that leveraging technology and e-marketing presents a pivotal opportunity to project the arts and culture sector and make money from it. Consequently, it was recommended that the sector should develop marketing mindset, ensure adequate marketing of identified cultural products to attract relevant funding. Identified products should be properly packaged for presentation and salability at the local and international market place. States were therefore encouraged to take advantage of e-marketing opportunities offered by ALEPH and CLEVENARD and other relevant social media platforms.

The National Festival of Arts and Culture, a flagship programme of the National Council for Arts and Culture, remains a veritable platform for fostering national unity, peace, mutual understanding and cooperation among Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic group, culture, creed, tribe or tongue. It should, therefore, be sustained and strengthened.

NAFEST should be developed to the status of a festival that needs no introduction and which encompasses all-year-round activities. The festival should target different relevant audience such as Diaspora Community, members of the academic community, the tourism sector, etc.

Programmes which can boost economic activities in the states should be introduced into the festival in a way that missing the hosting of the festival by a state would amount to missing a lifetime economic opportunity.

Participants commended the leadership role of Otunba Olusegun Runsewe (OON) in the sector and noted that he has brought his wealth of knowledge, dynamism and innovation to bear on galvanizing the sector to greater visibility and development. The NCAC DG and his management team were specifically appreciated for evolving the First National Stakeholders’ Review Conference on NAFEST after 35 editions to enable stakeholders interact, brainstorm and articulate a blue print for successfully driving the sector.

Participants were encouraged to take the outcomes of the conference seriously by promptly implementing the recommendations.


“How has NAFEST fulfilled its goal of uniting the nation?”

This question, broached at the very beginning of the conference, is the overriding objective of NAFEST. NAFEST, we are always told, was established in 1970 to heal the wounds of the Civil War and unite Nigerians. Unfortunately, this question was conspicuously left unanswered by the conference.

If there were assumptions, or beliefs, that NAFEST had achieved this objective of uniting Nigerians, did the 2023 general election and the aftermath of it not shatter such assumption or myth? This question is valid because Nigerians became polarized and divided more than ever as a result of the ethnic profiling of a particular section of the country before and during the 2023 general election.

The ethnic profiling was followed by threats and actual violence unleashed on people from that particular section of the country. There were also both explicit and implicit comments by many Nigerians and politicians from other sections of the country – many of whom had hitherto used the platforms of NAFEST to preach unity amongst Nigerians – saying that the candidate from that particular ethnic group must not be allowed to emerge as president of the country because they fought a civil war against the rest of the country.

Even after the election, that particular profiled ethnic group was grossly sidelined in federal appointments, and threats to their lives and properties have continued, especially in Lagos State where they have made huge investments in trade and real estate. Without doubt, after the civil war, the 2023 general election, whose negative impacts are yet to fully unfold, became the next most divisive event in the history of Nigeria!

If 35 years of bringing different ethnic groups to Abuja, or to another state hosting NAFEST to come and dance, could not prevent the ethnic profiling and violence inflicted on a particular ethnic group, can we say that NAFEST has fulfilled its goal of uniting the nation?

If the assumed unity of Nigeria, supposedly engendered by 35 years of NAFEST, could fly in the face of the heist and atrocities of the 2023 general election, what guarantee can there be that NAFEST will any time soon, patch up these divisions and fresh wounds opened by the 2023 general election?


Ministry of Art (or Arts), Culture and Creative Economy?

Question was also raised on why the newly created federal ministry is called the Ministry of Art (instead of Arts), Culture and Creative Economy, while the Council under it retains the name, National Council for Arts and Culture.

Generally speaking, when the word ‘Art’ is used, it refers to visual arts (painting, sculpture, installations), hence we speak of Art Exhibition. But when we say ‘Arts’, it is understood to mean all the departments of arts – music, dance, drama, movie, films, literature, painting, sculpture, installations, photography, etc.

Those who argue that it does not matter need to be reminded that a Senate President of Nigeria was removed from office because of discrepancy in his name – Evan and Evans.

During the debate that ensued after the observation was made at the conference, someone said he read English in the university; that Ministry of Art… is correct. He was asked, “in which faculty did you read English? His answer was: “Faculty of Arts”!

The call card of another person, the National President of Society of Nigerian Artists, who argued that ‘Ministry of Art…’ was correct, shows that his office is located at the “Arts & Culture Complex, Area 7, Garki, Abuja!

Banks will not allow an account holder access to his or her money if there is discrepancy in the account or identity card, such as ‘s’ missing in one of the names on the identity card.

Many of us who went to the university have had the experience of being denied registration by the registrar on account of discrepancies in the names of our basic qualifying certificates.

Moreover, in grammar language, a word or phrase may be “correct” in describing a thing or an event, but not apt. There is also something called collocation in grammar. “Arts” normally collocates with “Culture”, hence “Arts and Culture”. Art and Culture is both a misnomer and a discord to the ear.

Success or failure starts from name. Your surname cannot be Evans or Martins and your children are bearing the names, Evan or Martin. Similarly, we cannot have the Ministry of Art & Culture…, while the agency under it is called National Council for Arts and Culture” – it is a recipe for confusion, disaster, or both.

If the ministry, in spite of our argument, believes it is right in choosing “Ministry of Art…” as its name, then it should change the name, “National Council for Arts…”

to National Council for Art.

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