July 19, 2024
Colloquium

Government has obligation to support culture, arts by investing in it as integral national development pursuits

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  • April 1, 2024
  • 12 min read
Government has obligation to support culture, arts by investing in it as integral national development pursuits
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By Reuben Abati

THE formal classification ‘creative industries’, as developed by the United Nations Development Programme, refers to four key areas: designs, arts and crafts, festivals, and on the cultural side, you have museums, libraries and exhibitions. Then you have the visual arts – painting, sculpture, photography, performing arts, and so on. You also have the functional creations, like interior designs, fashion and graphics. Then you have the print media – books, press, radio, and other broadcasting media. Now, this shows that what we are doing is a broad category in complex and creative expression, and all of these points are major drivers. We can see the advancement in the use of Artificial Intelligence and the use of drones. It has also shown that in dealing with the new reality today, there will be continuous changes in terms of practice and modes of reception.

There is an ongoing rumour as a result of this advancement. With the young people all over the world taking advantage, not just in technology, but also other forms of digital input. Take, for example, Nollywood, which is the third largest film industry in the world. Sometime in 1992, we had that film, ‘Living in Bondage,’ in video cassette. Some of our children today haven’t seen a VHS cassette before, and most of them watch movies on Netflix and other streaming platforms. We have also seen similar advancement in music. Some of us grew up in the days of Fela and Oliver De Coque, and some people would talk about traditional singers like Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade, Onyeka Onwenu, and these people are more familiar to many people, but from the 90s to the 2000s, there was an explosion in the music industry. Today, the Nigerian music is being played in different parts of the world, including the White House, and within the international community, people listen to Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Arya Starr, Tiwa Savage and so on. Many years ago, people wouldn’t have imagined that Nigerian music would become an international brand, so that Nigerian musicians will be taking the stage with the likes of Beyonce and Rihanna.

The fashion industry is also a good example. We have the example of Arise Fashion Show, which combines fashion and design – photography, media and all forms of creativity, being projected into various media platforms. We have all this development between creativity, economics, culture and technology. That’s what we are dealing with. Even if you’re looking at Africa’s contribution within the African space, we account for only just about one per cent of global creativity.

In Nigeria, the creative industry is big business. In 2023, the National Bureau of Statistics reported that Nigeria’s creative sector is likely, by 2025, to contribute about $15 billion to the economy. In 2021, the projection was just $7.7 billion, yet by December 2023, the Minister of Art, Culture and Creative Economy, Hannatu Musa Musawa, indeed acknowledged that the creative industry would contribute at least ten per cent to Nigeria’s GDP. In the second quarter of 2023, the creative sector contributed 2.54 per cent to GDP, according to the statistics, and that’s a lot of improvement, because in 2022, the contribution to the GDP was about 1.1 per cent; earlier, 5 per cent; and a few years earlier, it was about 0.21 per cent, then later, 0.3 per cent. In other words, there is a lot of potential for the creative economy in Nigeria, making it possible for the current ministers of the Arts, Culture and Creative Economy to talk about ‘Destination 2030,’ the objective which is Nigeria everywhere, talking about economic and cultural plan, capacity reform, legislative and regulatory framework, and what we find is that if the creative economy is generally acknowledged, there will be opportunities for job creation and also for making revenue. That’s why there is so much to talk of potential achievement and what is already on the table. In 2017, the Federal Government of Nigeria planted in the creative industry, what is called a pioneer status, and what they don’t know was that they had a direct influence in that industry. Most of our superstars are mainly from the creative sector, whether you’re talking about visual arts, or performance arts, all over the world.

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Dr. Reuben Abati

The question that I seek to ask is, where is theatre? Theatre is a melting pot. It’s a complex of all these other art forms, but unfortunately, it is perhaps the most underserved in Nigeria. Theatre, no doubt, has the capacity to promote culture. Mother Courage and her children is considered one of the greatest plays ever written about peace, anti-war, opposing fascism and Nazism of Germany between 1939 and 1944. Theatre promotes a cause for peace. Theatre confronts us with our delicate emotions and issues that define us, and at the end of the day, we are forced to reflect on our circumstances and we learn to improve. Theatre promotes peace by provoking out thoughts.

I think we live in a Shakespearean world where the contours of global politics have become very problematic. That is why in this occasion, part of my interest should be to talk about how theatre can contribute to the cause of global peace. There is conflict in about 14 countries; Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Hamas. Just as theatre spoke in the Renaissance period, it remains relevant today. As if by a touch of irony, there was a recent attack leading to the death of 137 people in Moscow. Going beyond the fact that we live in a Shakespearean world and talk about the value of theatre. It can be used to teach, mobilize, inform, educate, and in that regard, we talk about the concept of applied theatre. All of us as students studied theatre and development, recognizing the value of theatre and culture, as a tool for development and building the human mind and soul. Theatre can be a force for change and mobilizing society.

Theatre has also been used to promote a sense of community. Herbert Ogunde isn’t strange to us, and Prof. Ebun Clark has written a famous book on him about making the Nigerian theatre. Herbert Ogunde was using the travelling theatre to deal with legal issues, both religious and political, and you remember that his concert, Yoruba Ronu, which was a political sign reminding the Yoruba of the need to unite. In recent times, we’ve had Yoruba Ronu again, within the context of the 2023 general elections when some people thought that the Yoruba people were taking a risk. It’s not just the Yoruba in this case. We’ve all read Yemi Ogunbiyi’s drama, where examples were taken from different parts of Nigeria. There’s an essay by a young scholar, Ngozi Bello, who wrote about the attempt within our narrative to Nigerian girls, to focus more on the men, and she wrote this famous essay talking about the role that women also play.

What I’m trying to say is that theatre is the melting pot. What is the state of the Nigerian theatre here in Nigeria? I was having an argument with someone that it looks like live theatre in Nigeria is dying, and the person said it’s not, and I said maybe it’s not what I thought it used to be. Once upon a time, live theatre was a major event in our lives. The travelling theatre moved from one town to another, drawing crowds in large numbers and people wanted to watch. Even here in Lagos and other places, there were theatres. We had cultural centres that had performances in many states, and what you have when you have a society with a vibrant cultural life, where the creative economy is thriving? In the book, The Theory of the Visual Arts, tells us that serious societies create a leisure space for people, not just to entertain, but to also about their own lives, and I ask this question; what is it that has happened here in this country? Why have we lost the tradition and culture of leisure? Theatre, in this country, has been a victim of economic recession that we have faced. People say that there are numbers of cinemas, but it was different, up till the early 90s where people go to theatres. These days, people are afraid to go out because it’s no longer safe.

The various departments of theatre arts in universities used to have theatre festivals and money will be provided by the department for you to produce plays. As someone who did directing and TV/radio production, I know that when we did those plays, the department will support you. Which of these departments today can support what we did in the past? Abe Igi has been turned into a beer parlor, and the trees are no longer there. We used to sit there to eat pepper soup and discuss theatre, and all of us converge there in the evening before going home. In the National Theatre, you could have four to five performances going on simultaneously and you could choose. This is what has happened to us in this country. All the art and culture departments have disappeared. There are theatre artists and persons in the private sector who are doing a lot, like Segun Adefila; Committee for Relevant Arts, Toyin Akinosho and Jahman Anikulapo; Terra Kulture, where you have Bolanle Austin-Peters. We have quite a number of people like that who have been committed and continue to remind us that the right to cultural identity is a legitimate constitutional right, and theatre is an important part of a heritage that we all share, and that is why in this country today, we still have the National Commission for Museum and Monuments, National Library, National Gallery of Modern Arts, NTA, Nigerian Film Corporation, Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization.

The big question is: what is the state of these institutions? We need to renew the advocacy for the proper centre of the arts, culture and creative industry, and every government continues to pay these services. We use this kind of occasion for advocacy. Many years ago, when we used to meet like this regularly, not necessarily on this occasion, but it will be a vibrant artistic community in the same city of Lagos. We used to argue about something called National Endowment for the Arts. The government has an obligation to support culture and the arts by investing in it, by seeing cultural investment and growth as an integral part of the national development pursuits.

There was a proposal from the movie industry, but up till today, there is no national endowment fund. During Goodluck Jonathan regime, there was something about the Bank of Industry supporting people, but not everyone got support. Today, the Bank of Industry says they’re supporting the creative industry, but you really cannot say that it’s really effective. Under Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, there was something about the Cultural Development Aid which never saw the light of day. What’s more problematic is that Nigeria doesn’t have a definite natural cultural policy. At the University of Ibadan, one of the things we did was to study the cultural policy of countries and to go and do a comparative analysis. You could go to New York and you will find up to 50 theatres operating, and it’s not an accident. The state supports it. In Nigeria, we don’t have a cultural policy, so all this talk of creative industry and all that has no basis. There must be a policy for the activities within the cultural sector, and a meaning to that effort by the government to promote a creative economy that would contribute over 10 per cent to the GDP.

Part of the major problem we have is that the creative sector in Nigeria, they see theatre and culture as entertainment. They only remember the National Troupe when there are dignitaries )to entertain with dances) or there is an event in another country. They will be summoned to put up a performance. We need a more constructive attitude when we talk about the creative economy. The danger we run also is that we don’t put important people in position. When it comes to the creative economy, they say it’s just ‘to dance and anyone can dance,’ and they fill the position with a carpenter. Some of our people are also part of the problem. Do you know there’s a cabal in our creative industry? They’re the only ones who get loans from the Bank of Industry, and are invited to meetings. Maybe the advocacy should start at the level of our colleagues who are very quick to go to Abuja for dinner, and they go there and say, ‘we are the ones in charge.‘ We should use this occasion to remind ourselves of the importance of our past, and also rededicate ourselves to the course of advocacy for proper location of the creative industry as part of the development process in Nigeria, and to ensure that we interface with the authorities and realize that our creative industry isn’t just for creating entertainment.

* Dr. Abati, a TV presenter with AriseTV, theatre scholar, lawyer and writer, presented this keynote address at this year’s World Theatre Day (WTD 2024) on March 26, 2024 at Freedom Park, Lagos. The event had as theme, ‘Unbundling Nigeria’s Creative Economy for a Sustainable Future’

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