A FAMILY REUNION

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In an ambience brimming with fliers-sharing ushers, well-groomed and animated delegates, the National Summit on Culture and Tourism held at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja last week proved to be the miniature market place of shared ideas to reposition the creative and hospitality sectors of the economy as enviable revenue earners. Yinka Olatunbosun reports on the three-day cultural deliberations

The fierce-looking barking dog at the entrance to the security-tight venue was not the only hurdle to cross that evening of the gala night which ushered in the three-day summit convened by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. The personages waiting at the lobby of the Transcorp Hilton had different businesses to do, either being registered or screened as accredited delegates and this reporter belonged to the latter group. There were those who killed time with striking poses for photography on the red carpet; certainly not selfies.

While waiting outside the Congress Hall, the eclectic collections of artistic works in literary, fashion and visual ensemble came into view. Later that evening, after this reporter’s visual feasting, the Minister made a tour of the scenery. A good number of us had reasons to glare occasionally at the cutlery on the table as well as the change in the items listed in the programme. Many delegates had just arrived that day with justifiable measure of hunger.

Meanwhile, the time for dinner had passed by but no waiter was in sight. Instead, some well-clad ushers shared fliers of the National Troupe of Nigerian’s entertaining dance production of “Nigeriana’’ to acquit us with the show and its assortment of performers on stage.

Sitting close to some actors in the movie industry afforded one of the opportunity to know how the audience was reacting to the cultural display. But between the delayed culinary pleasure and the predictable dance performances from the National Troupe, it was difficult to determine the actual cause of the grumbling in the hall at an event compered by the Nollywood actor, Francis Duru whose attempt at comedy wasn’t a bad shot.

Then the Minister’s welcome address cheered up the audience more especially when at the end of it, he revealed that the dinner had been delayed on the wise counsel of some all-knowing individuals furnished with the understanding of the law of simple proportion in event-dining that the audience in the hall would deplete at the same rate as the heap of food on the meal tables. That said, the Minister himself allayed the fear that it was to be a night of speeches.

“We are gathered here today not necessarily to re-invent the wheel but to add value to what has been bestowed to us by nature; hundreds of years of rich culture and heritage, diverse tourist sites and timeless monuments. This offers us a good opportunity to have a year-round festival calendar,” he said, explaining the reason for the theme of the summit, namely, “Repositioning Culture and Tourism in A Diversified Economy.’’

He declared too that the quick strides towards diversifying the mono-product economy had led to a collaboration of the ministry with the British Council and the Tony Elumelu Foundation to shift from paying lip service to the sectors to harnessing great potentials.

“In our entertainment industry, much work has also been done in the past few months. We have met the key stakeholders in the music and movie industry, both in Lagos and Abuja. Earlier this month, we set up the ministerial committee on the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria (MOPICON) with the view to fast-tracking the process of passing the MOPICON bill into law.’’

Not long after his opening remarks, the buffet was declared open and the hysteria that followed was quite legendary. The next day, the National Troupe returned to stage. Ironically, the side-comments at their show were far more entertaining than their stereotypic outing which had been preceded by the screening of a special ten-minute documentary on the economic prospects of culture and tourism.

President Mohammadu Buhari who was scheduled to declare the august event open was represented by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah who reiterated the federal government’s commitment towards ensuring that enabling policies and infrastructure are put in place to aid the development of the sectors.

“Many countries have relied on culture and tourism to earn revenue. Tourism contributes to the peaceful co-existence of the people’’, he said.
He also observed that when the economy was recently rebased, culture topped the list. Hence, with the right policies and attitudes, the future is bright for Nigeria.

Graham Sheffield was the bearer of goodwill message from the British Council. Using the UK example, he spoke on the bulk of revenue that the culture and tourism sectors catch fetch a country. He reaffirmed the commitment of council in building capacity through trainings for stakeholders to develop requisite skills.

In the same vein, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Tourism and Culture, Senator Matthew Urhoghide voiced his optimism in the non-oil revenue sectors.
“It is hoped that scholars and stakeholders will do their best in providing jobs and enhance socio-economic development to meet our economic challenges,’’ he said.

The Permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, Mrs. Ayotunde Adesugba who sat beside the Minister at the summit, expressed her gratitude at the huge turnout of stakeholders for this crucial reunion that paraded past Ministers of Culture and Tourism, former state governors and cultural advocates.

Prof. Wole Soyinka was represented by Dr. Wale Adeniran as the chairman of the first plenary session, equipped with a powerful address that the delegates didn’t anticipate. The same respectful silence that Soyinka would have evoked in the hall was there as Dr. Adeniran delivered the written address titled, “The Killing culture of the neo-nomadic’’ which drew attention to the security challenges of the nation. Reminiscing on his “bouts of tourists exploration’’ with late Ambassador Olusegun Olusola in the pre-war 60s, Soyinka’s remarks on the herdsman crisis was a pointer to the major challenge that confronts tourism. He worried about the cycle of impunity that fuels recurring violence in some parts of the country.

“I have yet to hear this government articulate a firm policy of non-tolerance for the serial massacres have become the nation’s identification stamp. I have not heard an order given that any cattle rearer caught with sophisticated firearms be instantly disarmed, arrested, placed on trial and his cattle confiscated. I have yet to encounter a terse, rigorous, soldierly and uncompromising language from this leadership, one that threatens a response to this unconscionable blood-letting that would make even Boko Haram repudiate its founding clerics,’’ he stated.

He made reference to the recent invasion of his Ijegba forest home in Abeokuta by hoofed invaders while he was away from Nigeria. His claim is a proof to all that no part of the country is less susceptible to crime as long as impunity is a governing factor.

Mr. Donald Duke, a former Governor of Cross River state delivered what was meant to be the second paper during the first plenary session, without a sheet. He had walked and talked tourism for some years and under his watch, his state became the leading tourist destination with the longest cable train in West Africa, cleaned and tarred roads, ranches for cattles, state policies on tourism with international standards as bench marks.

At first, his theory and policy of “condom and bible’’ was received with apprehension but it formed the basis for the modus operandis in many hotels. Hoteliers were to place both in the hands of customers as they lodge. The “condom’’ is to take care of unwanted pregnancies, abortion, mortality rates in pregnant women as well as population explosion whereas the “bible’’ is a reminder for guests to show respect for moral practices.

Perhaps, some reports by foreign media may have amplified Nigeria’s security situation as many tourists still fear to come to Nigeria. Duke remarked that inspite of South Africa’s souring figures of HIV patients in the world and the crime rate in the city of Johannesburg, tourism still accounts for a substantial amount of the country’s revenue. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the tourism industry directly contributed ZAR102 billion to South African GDP in 2012, and supports 10.3% of jobs in the country.

One of the discussants at the plenary session called for the implementation of the Dakar Plan of Action on cultural activities, which Nigeria is signatory to, as key to the development of the culture sector. This was matched by the view of the Director of Policy Analysis, Research and Statistics, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr. Paul Adalikwu who called for some remediation measures that would support public and private partnership for strong investment promotion drive.

With a call to the floor for contributions, the chairman, Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), Mr. Tony Okoroji urged the management of the National Troupe of Nigeria to developed new performance styles that embrace contemporary traditions in dance, acting and other stage artistry to compete favourably with international counterparts.

In the communiqué signed by the Chairman, Communique Drafting Committee for the summit, Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma, it was agreed that the culture and tourism jointly cuts across other sectors such as agriculture, business, transportation, information, technology, aviation, health, sports and hospitality. To develop these sectors, policies at all levels are non-negotiable.

Part of the recommendation made by the stakeholders is the adornment of national buildings, corporate offices and edifices as well as Nigeria Mission houses abroad with artworks by Nigerian artists to make strong cultural statements. Stakeholders also called for the celebration of cultural icons, living and dead, to inspire young people to aspire for success on the basis of merit.

It was also recommended that community theatre projects, musical concerts and visual designs should be explored as tools of national orientation. The importance of research and documentation was stressed in the communiqué as means of producing credible culture and tourism statistics as well as the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA). Stakeholders are seeking government’s engagement with them to conclude the nationwide Mapping of Creative Industries whose pilot was conducted by the British Council, National Bureau of Statistics and Society of Nigeria Theatre Artists (SONTA) in 2013. They also called for the harmonisation of the bills establishing the Motion Picture Council of Nigeria and the Theatre Arts Regulatory Council at the National Assembly.

They concurred on the view that the umbrella ministry for the sectors should be renamed as the Federal Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism and proposed that the Federal government should establish a befitting National Theatre and a National Museum for the nation’s capital, Abuja as obtained in other capital cities of the world.

In addition, the fashion and cuisine industry in Nigeria should be packaged and marketed to the world to generate revenue. The stakeholders also revisited the FEC 2010 memo on “Promoting Nigerian Dress Culture’’ by ensuring that civil servants dress Nigerian on Fridays.

They also recommended that religious tourism be tapped for revenue through taxation policies and a rekindle interest in Nigeria’s traditional religions. It was also agreed that the Federal Ministry of Information and culture should engage the Nigerian Centre of the International Theatre Institute and SONTA on “Triple I Project’’ to stimulate growth and development in the sector.