‘We have inherited colonial legacy that we are too brain-dead to dismantle’
‘Artists selling themselves, profession cheap to promote politicians’
‘Nigeria’s culture exports must quit lamenting problems to help out those they left behind’
By Godwin Okondo
ONLINE and cloud radio, Spirit of Nigeria Radio had its recent weekly ‘Culture Train’ arts and culture programme. It was specifically focused on Nigeria’s culture sector 62 years after Independence. The aim was to find out how the sector has fared in terms of contributing to shaping the nature , character and narrative of the Nigerian society. The programme had as theme ‘Art and Nationhood,’ and held virtually on October 1, 2022.
‘Culture Train’ featured prominent individuals plying their trade in Nigeria’s arts and culture sector, as producers (theatre director, Makinde Adeniran and Founder of Crown Troupe of Africa, Segun Adefila), culture communicator and programme anchor, Mr. Jahman Anikulapo, culture scholars and critics (Dr. Kole Odukola of University of Florida, US, and Dr. Sola Adeyemi of University of London, UK), book and library promoter, Mr. Richard Mammah, and culture journalist and publisher of online culture news platform, AnoteArtHub, Mr. Anote Ajeluorou, among others. These personalities shared their thoughts on the milestones Nigeria’s culture sector has attained, the role government in promoting or undermining it, and what needs to be done to take the sector to the enviable height of its promised potential.
President, Network of Book Clubs and Reading Culture Promoters (NBRP), Mammah said, “The pressures of governance and demographics trying to acquire voters cards show that we are gradually getting back to the centre. Even public agencies and institutions are beginning to listen and find ways to support book clubs. Governing Nigeria doesn’t mean that one can just throw orders around. We secured another book club in a public library in Abak, Akwa Ibom state; they they hold regular reading sessions in the library. We met the librarian to see how we can build on this, and it’s working very well at Abak. There are opportunities and we can’t just abdicate the driving seat for anybody. We are Nigerians, and we are entitled to participate in nation building.”
For the Secretary, National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Adeniran, advocating for a place for theatre is a task that must continue, so it is captured in policy document that would drive it.
“One cannot cease being an activist in Nigeria unless he has given up,” he said. “There are more people coming into the work, and the standard is growing, but we lack adequate infrastructure to make it work and this all boils down to inadequate policies. There is a common saying that theatre isn’t common around the world. The intellect of Nigerians tells me that theatre is one big business that the government is yet to tap into. We need to sell them something that would make them go back to opening their books.”
Adeyemi decried the attitude of culture practitioners, urging them to rise above pettiness and shun selfishness and serve the nobler virtues of culture. He also accused artists promoting politicians at election campaigns of selling themselves and their profession short. He also noted that rather than Nollywood queueing to be favoured by film streaming platform Netflix, Netflix should actually be the one scrambling to sign collaborative deals with practitioners in the industry, and berated them for belittling the enormous powers they have.
According to Adeyemi, “We have done quite a lot as artists in Nigeria. We have the largest film industry in Africa, and our produced theatre is five times more than any other African country, but the problem with us is the content. Are we making statements that would create new ideas? What are we doing about our museum artefacts? Where are our books?
“There are books published in Nigeria two years ago that are now out of print. What do we sell to people in government to arouse their interest in arts? We need to reposition and make ourselves more relevant. We don’t have the money needed to do whatever we want. Can we really collect and promote what we have done? We are now putting everything on Netflix, but we have more products and they should be pleading to collaborate with us.
“We have bodies that speak for the arts in Nigeria, but why have we stopped? We are selling ourselves cheaply to promote politicians. Is that what we should be doing? We need to get our own independence from the government. We are doing a lot, but we Nigerians are selfish. I become embarrassed by the response I get from the people I send to do things. We are trying our best to promote art. I set up a publishing house to print books for Nigerians for free, and I know how much I’ve spent and lost, but I am doing this for the future of Nigeria.”
According to Odutola, “Nigeria is going through phases, so is Nigerian culture and arts. Today, everybody wants to accumulate wealth or have something to dig into. Looking at the background of our nation, we don’t think like we are under imperialist forces. Nigeria was created in a way that it cannot compete with the global commons. You can look to individuals who can feed themselves and leave the rest who made sure Nollywood is where it is today. I’m a concerned observer in this matter. Are we engaging or staying in the pockets of the capitalist?
“Our education system is not geared towards facilitation of the arts, but giving students a job to do. The universities do not train artists that choose to work for the government. Mass communication and speaking for the government are two different things. We have inherited a colonial legacy that we are too brain-dead to dismantle.
“Nigeria is ripe for a stage and screen support agency. You don’t have to deal with area boys, LASTMA, and signage people. This agency will take care of it. We are all living below capacity. I teach on weekdays and grade during the weekends, and the thing about Nigeria is that the problems keep growing. I try to get African-Americans to come to our side, deliver them to Nigerians to see how we can collaborate.”
According to Adefila, “When we started the troupe 26 years ago, we saw a tradition we wanted to be a part of, but there were no consistent theatre performances, so we thought of having a resident theatre, and I think there has been tremendous improvement since then. People brought live theatre to my hometown, and theatre happens everywhere for 365 days. Today, it’s difficult to get theatre spaces for a performance. There is a starvation or no requirements to sustain the theatre.”
FOR Ajeluorou, Nigerian art, literature, film, theatre aren’t where they should be yet, but they have made quite remarkable progress in spite of the absence of structures and the attention of government by way of financial support and policy formulation to drive the sector. He said there was need to encourage government to buy into the sector. He also charged Nigerian culture exports like the Odutolas, Adeyemis, Nduka Otionos, and all those who fled abroad to quit lamenting the problems they left behind, but to start thinking home by pooling financial resources together to form a grant-giving body that will help bail out home-based practitioners like the Adefilas, Adenirans and many others still struggling to make culture happen at home.
“People who had experienced lack here at home, and who left for greener pastures in other countries are now sending money back home to take care of their families,” Ajeluorou said. “Knowing what is happening, what our culture critics and scholars like Odutola and Adeyemi and others can do is to come together to intervene in all the things we have been lamenting about here. Why can’t they set up a body, a think-tank and pool their resources together to intervene and give grants to practitioners back home? That’s about the only way people in government will notice how grossly it has neglected the sector if they see such intervention coming from outside. Our ‘away culture people’ should quit lamenting and start doing things to embarrass our government into action by initiating things like giving grants to home-based culture practitioners for production.”
On how to tell politicians or arouse their interests in the arts, Mammah said, “We should tell them that this is our country, and we won’t just let them run off without doing what’s beneficial to us. We should tell them it is much easier than it is because if the culture space is working, it will generate revenue and respect for the country. We should tell them we need them to contest to support the sector the same way they contest for our votes, and we need to stand our ground on this matter.”
Addressing the same subject, Adeniran said, “We need to tell them all they have been lying about and striving to do. We can help change the narrative because they need the arts to sell the country out there. The only power we can put to (good) use is the soft power (in our arts). If there are no proper policies, nothing will work. We have to be able to hold the government to account to that reality, or all these little help we are asking will come to nothing.”
Nollywood actor, Jude Chukwuma said, “We can hold them responsible when we realize the power we have. Our minister of culture makes policies that drive money into his pocket, not the sector. The more we realize the power we have, the more we are able to talk to those involved. The law appeals to reason, but art appeals to sentiments to override the law, and we should use this to the advantage of the people without talking to government.”
Summing up, Ajeluorou said, “Talking to politicians (about culture) is like holding a dialogue with the deaf. The least we can ask them to do is to fix the economy. Unless those in the arts can go into politics themselves, politicians would not do anything to help the arts, because they don’t know what art is. So let them enact the long-awaited culture policy, but importantly let government fix the economy, and once the economy booms, support for the arts will come in the form of sponsorship, which is what the sector needs. Government is brain-dead to culture, except when its officials need dancers to entertain them at events – that’s government and politicians’ idea of culture – scantily clad girls shaking their bottoms at them!”
“I would ask them to leave our art alone, but to fix the culture policy and we tell them what we want, and we do our work,” Adeyemi said.
Odutola also shared his thought on what needs to be done to better reposition the culture sector 62 years after independence, saying: “We need to create an environment for artists to talk to themselves. The peculiarity of the African situation is that the house has to organize itself. We as artists need to create a people-centred policy. We are at the level where the art body should be thinking sub-regionally. The art is a tool for organization. The government is not good at execution of its policies. I would ask that the artists tell them (government) to be allowed to organize our house, so we can say something to them.”