United by Creativity


Yinka Olatunbosun gives an eye-witness account of the recent signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and the Tony Elumelu Foundation in Lagos.

The snaky road leading up to the Entrance A of the National Theatre, Iganmu was lined by an assortment of cars belonging to the various stakeholders in the creative sector, representatives of the United Bank of Africa, the Tony Elumelu Foundation and the media. The gathering which took place on October 4 at the cultural ground was to make public their synergy in strengthening the culture sector of the economy. The event, trumpeted by the Ministry of Information is indeed a milestone for the government and the corporate sector in their shared responsibility of developing the creative industry.

Naturally, when you spot an entertainer at a public event, you’d instinctively think of him or her performing. But Dapo Oyebanjo popularly known as D’Banj, clad in blue blazer, didn’t arrive with a band or his famed harmonica. It was serious business as he was later invited to the podium to join the team of stakeholders who witnessed the signatories to the MOU as they perfected a new contract to advance the sector.

Before then, the Minister of Information, Alh. Lai Mohammed had expressed his delight at seeing the end to the months of laborious work on his part and the Elemelu Foundation. A meeting of culture stakeholders was subsequently called after the signing to keep the stakeholders abreast of the development. Back to the podium where he stood, the Minister disclosed that the deal began as a discussion in April.

“Let me thank the Chief Executive Officer of the Tony Elumelu Foundation. Ms. Parminder Vir, OBE, and her entire team for their tireless efforts in putting together this partnership agreement,’’ he began.

The Minister, who has been a frontline advocate of the creative industries since his assumption of office, had maintained repeatedly that the creative economy can contribute more substantially to the nation’s gross domestic product, become a huge foreign exchange earner and provide employment opportunities for the youths.

“Little wonder, then, that the creative industries have turned around the fortunes of California, Mumbai, Turkey, Brazil, Dubai, Australia and making them economic giants. We can replicate same here, with the support of partners like the Tony Elumelu Foundation. Our Nollywood is one of the three largest film industries in the world. Our music is fast becoming the most travelled music anywhere in the world. Our TV market with little or no formal production ecosystem is the largest on the continent. Our over 170 million people, 24 million TV households and the fastest growing mobile data penetration on the African continent constitute huge advantages. As a matter of fact, the ongoing digitization of television in Nigeria, which we are also undertaking, can create at least one million jobs in three years,’’ he declared.

To this end, the Minister reached out to the Foundation and other cultural organisations to help the industry build capacity and attain its full potentials. The result is an interchange of business knowledge and technical expertise. One of such cultural organisations that has supported the government in this quest for nation building is the British Council. On August 24 this year, at Edinburg, Scotland, the minister signed an MOU with the cultural organisation.

“It is a delight to know that the Foundation has bent over backwards to accommodate the creative industries within the bigger Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme, which has the purpose of identifying, over 10 years, a total of 10,000 African start-ups and entrepreneurs with ideas that can generate at least 1,000,000 new jobs and contribute at least 10 billion dollars in new annual revenues across Africa. This is the kind of visionary enterprise we need to fuel sustainable development across the African continent, and we are happy to be working with this Foundation,’’ he stated.

For those who are curious to know the specific details of the MOU, it contains incentives for the creatives and access to funding alongside the provision of enabling business environment. According to the minister, a plan to convene a Creative Economy Task Force is in the pipeline as part of policy changes in the partnership.

Meanwhile, reactions had trailed the historic partnership. The stakeholders at the ceremony drummed for the support of the government in fighting piracy because they are aware that their output, even with the availability of funding from the corporate sector, is threatened by the cycle of impunity granted to the intellectual thieves who live large at the expense of artists.

A veteran thespian, Joke Silva, in her brief remark, marveled at the negligence of the National Theatre, frowned on its under-usage or misuse and championed the clamour for a total revamp of the cultural space. This was followed by Nollywood producer and director, Zeb Ejiro’s comment on the need to tackle piracy headlong.

Aremo Tope Babayemi, the co-ordinator of the South-West chapter of the National Council for Arts and Culture and a cerebral artist, commended the minister and the Tony Elumelu foundation for the partnership but voiced concern on the political will of the federal government in building a strong creative sector.

“I think this is laudable and a step in the right direction. I need to see a political will from the highest echelon of government. I will give you an example. The budget that the minister is working with for the sector is 6 billion. Can you compare that to over 400 billion allocated to infrastructure? It says clearly where the art and culture industry is placed in the thinking of the federal government at the highest level. I admire the passion of the Minister and his drive.

But after 35 years of practice as an artist across continents, I know that if actively in this country we stop promoting the begging bowl approach to developing the sector, that will be fantastic. There is an essential work to be done in capacity building to appropriately position practitioners as contributions to the economy and national development. “The current curriculum in our art institutions is defective. They don’t teach proposal writing and budgeting and all the areas that equip the artists with the requisite skills to compete with other professionals. We need to separate the line between the amateur and the professional. I’d rather we face those areas than emphasizing enterprise,’’ said Babayemi.