Otunba Olusegun Runsewe is currently the Director General of National Council for Arts and Culture. This detribalised Nigerian who speaks virtually all local languages was famous for his trail blazing roles during his stint as the DG of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC). He is reputed for his ability to create a river out of an oasis anywhere he works. He speaks with Jonathan Eze about his lifestyle, and talks about the forthcoming African Arts and Crafts Expo (AFAC) 2017
Share with us a little of your background
I was born in Kaduna to the family of Pa Bankole Runsewe from Ogun State. I attended St. Michael Primary School, Kaduna, before proceeding to Vohoeven Technical College Minna, now Government Technical College. I hold an MBA in Marketing from Edo State University; Higher National Diploma in Management Studies from London School for Executives. I also have a diploma in Public Relations from London School of Management Studies and a professional certificate in Estate and Property Management from Kaduna Polytechnic. Also, by providence, I am a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations; chairman, Board of Nigerian Institute of Journalism; fellow of Institute of Management; and Association of Business Executives, London.
You served as Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation for almost eight years. How did it all start?
I have been a consistent phenomenon in Nigeria’s media, culture and tourism in the last three decades. I worked as marketing manager at the New Nigerian Newspaper and rose to the position of general manager. I also worked as head of public relations (Media) National Theatre; managing director/chief executive officer, Sports Weekly, and was publisher and editor-in-chief of National Network Newspapers. I was also privileged to be the media coordinator, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2013, in Abuja. To the glory of God, I was appointed as executive director of National Orientation Agency in 2000, a position I held until I became the director general of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation. I also hold several traditional titles from different parts of the country: Danbura Kabi, Kebbi State; Obiagu – Igbo Ukwu, Anambra State, amongst others.
What is your philosophy about life?
What life has taught me in all these years is to thank God, wherever I find myself. To make things better despite challenges in life, you must thank God for today because there can’t be champions without challenges. God owns the next minute of our lives. So, we should enjoy the best of every minute of our lives because nobody knows what will happen next.
So, how do you unwind?
Unwinding is very important to the body. If you stand up with me on the dancing floor on a good day, I’ll give you a run for your money. Life is worth celebrating. You can never know what tomorrow will bring.
You play golf these days. Tell us about the sport.
I discovered recently that some golfers do not attend church. Then, I coined a word that there are two G’s. The capital ‘G’ is God but the small ‘g’ is golf. So, the capital ‘G’ comes first but the small ‘g’ can come anytime. It is not as important as the capital ‘G’. It’s just a swag way of praising God and that we must not compare God with anything. You cannot give the time of the capital ‘G’ to the small ‘g’. You can never see me playing golf on a Sunday morning. I cannot give what is for God to anything inasmuch as I love to play golf. We travel to Oturkpo, Sen. David Mark’s golf course to play golf sometimes and we played on Saturdays and Sundays only. On Sunday, other golfers would be looking for me because by then, I was already in church. It was later they would tell me they were searching for me.
I told them I could not sacrifice my Sunday morning for anything. There and then, about four people changed their attitudes of playing golf on Sunday morning. Most of the Muslims I played golf with, when it was time for prayers would tell me to wait. They would say their prayers and continue. There is over $6bn that would be going into golf by 2019. The money is ready in the international golf circle. I want Nigeria to get a chunk of it. Meanwhile, only two African countries are making moves to get their shares of that fund coming into golf. The countries are South Africa and Zimbabwe. With the effort I have put in, Nigeria is in one of the calendar line of countries that will benefit from the money.
I started playing golf six years ago. Golf is a holistic game and I want to plead with Nigerians who have not discovered golf before the age of 50 to connect with the game. It is the only game that you play and your body chemistry communicates on just one swing. Golf shows who you are. If you want to know an introvert or an extrovert when a golfer hits the ball, it tells much story about the person standing behind the ball. Golf brings out the character in everyone. It’s a unique game. In golf, we play 18 holes, if you play 18 holes with a lady or a gentleman, you will know that person more than when you live with the person for 18 years. The 18 holes are about four hours and the four hours tell the story about every individual.
Golf is said to be a game for the rich only, isn’t it?
In 1937, there was a guy called Rocky Miller. He was a staunch golfer. He granted a journalist an interview and he said to the journalist, ‘Let us meet on the golf course.’ The journalist got there and met many prominent people. That incident also contributed to people’s perception that golf is a game for the elites. No, golf is for everybody. I will give you this analogy. In golf-kitting, we have the standards of a Mercedes, a Lexus, a Lamboughini, a Jaguar and a Keke Napep. If you think you cannot afford any of these big-time brands, you can go for the smaller brand. That is why people misunderstand what golf is all about. Are you aware that to play polo, you need a horse? Do you know that you can play golf with two or three clubs; it depends on who you are. If you want the best, you can get the best but would pay a price for it. So, I want to remove the assumption that golf is for the elites only.
Your style of dressing is unique. How do you create them?
Life is to be enjoyed. My wife loves designing clothes and does many things for me. I want to look good on every occasion; from colour combination, to branding, to brand identity, I want to look unique. I love it. Even when I come out to play golf, people see a different outlook in the golfing environment. I love designers; I love to look good and I will pay any price to look good.
How will you describe your tenure at the NTDC?
My tenure at the NTDC was a watershed in the development of Nigeria’s tourism sector. My team’s aggressive tourism marketing campaign, anchored on the catch-phrase ‘Tourism is Life’ gave the industry unprecedented national and international visibility. The tenure positioned Nigeria as one of the leading faces of tourism and a preferred destination in Africa. With consistent annual exhibitions at international tourism expositions like FITUR, Madrid Spain; ITB Berlin, Germany, Arabian Travel Market, Dubai; World Travel Market Oakland London, etc.
What are your achievements?
I want to modestly state that I left my footprints on the sands of Nigeria’s international tourism. I will allow my records to speak for me but to be candid; my team and I initiated new ways of doing things that stood the agency out. Workers’ welfare was also a priority. My tenure in office witnessed the harvest of commendation letters by the Nigerian Tourism Corporation, including those from the World Travel Market, London and FITUR, Spain. I was also the pioneer chairman of Abuja Carnival Planning Committee, the edition adjudged by the international community to be the best organised since its inception. The Nigerian Tourism Village, which we put together during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, was rated as one of its kind at the event. I believe in innovation.
What are the innovations you are bringing on board for this year’s African Arts and Crafts Expo (AFAC) 2017?
We are bringing so many strategic innovations some of which you will see during the event. Let me just say that, first, we are redesigning the exhibition venue which is the arts and craft village and it will have several state-of-the-art facilities like a media centre, exhibition stands, free internet service within the venue not to mention the various countries that will be showcasing their unique cultural identities. Over 25 countries and 150 exhibitors will be on show. It will be an expo with a unique difference in terms of participation.
We understand since you came on board at NCAC, you have introduced hashtags like #timeculture. Do you also plan on trending AFAC as a hashtag on social media during the event?
Yes; we have to carry the younger population along in everything and that’s why we are going to have maximum social media presence. The hash tag #AFAC2017 is already trending on several Twitter handles and when the event starts proper, we shall upload activities on a daily basis and everything about AFAC 2017 to expand the conversation among Nigerians.
How do you hope to leverage on AFAC?
We will obviously strive to make each year better in terms of organisation and preparation. As far as AFAC 2017 is concerned, we are putting everything in place to ensure it is a huge success after which we will sustain the momentum to ensure culture takes its rightful place in Nigeria as the new crude oil. Don’t forget over 25 countries will participate in this year’s event. Each will have special days dedicated for them to showcase their unique cultures while engaging with over 150 exhibitors. They will also patronise made-in-Nigeria goods and services during their stay. There is no better way of attracting foreign direct investment.
What is your plan on addressing some contemporary issues the call for restructuring with this year’s edition of AFAC?
We are going to use the opportunity of this year’s AFAC to propagate the indivisibility of Nigeria which statesmen like Awolowo, Sardauna, ZIK of Africa bestowed on us. They fought courageously to make us a united nation. This year’s edition of AFAC will preach our diversity of culture to demonstrate that we are better as one than otherwise. Those contemplating division are doing so in their selfish interest, not in our collective interest as a nation. For a long time in Nigeria we have always been talking about our weaknesses. It is time to show the world our strength by harnessing the opportunities our unique culture as a people provides, and we will do just that with AFAC 2017
What is being done to ensure the venue of the event is secure?
I am an apostle of the saying that the best security comes from God. Be that as it may, we are already in partnership with the Nigerian Army, the police, civil defence and some other para-military outfits to ensure there is no security lapse in the course of the event. I can’t provide all the details of what we are putting in place but we are committed to provide maximum security at the venue.
How prepared is your team?
It will interest you to note that the entire management and staff are anxiously waiting to witness what could presumably be the best AFAC yet in the history of Nigeria. The innovation we are bringing on board is surely going to impress the world.
How much does a pavilion cost?
You see even with the unique standard and artistic design of the pavilion, surprisingly we still maintain the old price of N40,000 for NGOs and N30,000 for states.
How do you hope to replicate what you did in NTDC at AFAC?
We are going to maintain our style of excellence. We have been in the vanguard of making use of our local artefacts in staging world class exhibitions. I can assure you this year’s AFAC is going to be explosive in terms of standard. The time has come for us to depart from the traditional way of staging exhibitions to a more acceptable world -class model. That was the thinking while I was in tourism. Now it is time to take culture to another level.