African countries showcasing their culture at the event

Jonathan Eze likens the arts and culture sector to rough diamonds and urged government and the private sector to consider its economic imperatives with increased allocation and investments

Many see arts and culture as simply nice-to-haves. They myopically consider the aesthetic values rather than looking beyond the pleasure and satisfactions that the sector provides.

But in reality, arts and culture are beyond dancing, drumming and painting or even weaving. They are just as important as well-maintained roads, bridges and other social infrastructure. Arts stimulates the minds with new ideas and experiences, they give the opportunity to become more creative. Arts and culture are infrastructure for the mind.

A vibrant arts and culture community is the easiest way to make money and re-bounce or consolidate any economy. A better reason why the economy needs a strong cultural scene is that it helps to attract and retain labour. This is especially important for cities trying to draw smart professionals from around the world. The best and brightest workers are global citizens, and if they (or their families) are not pleased with the cultural amenities, they won’t come.

It is therefore economically imperative for the Nigerian government, the National Assembly and private sector to invest in arts and culture.

Delightfully, the country has a ministry for same but most importantly is a dedicated government agency, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) that is adequately equipped with human resources that can help government spearhead this resurgence of a seemingly dormant sector.

If what was demonstrated in the last quarter of 2017 under the man many often refer to as Tourism and Culture doyen, Otunba Segun Runsewe, could be given proper interpretation, then proper funding of the arts and culture sector is the surest platform for yet another diversification of the country’s economy.

Between September and October last year, a spirited and welcomed effort was made by Runsewe-led National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC) to reposition the culture sector within the expected parameters of possible economic game changing efforts with platform of research and development (R&D) to help guide its bankable future.

His first enduring step to lift the sector out of penury and bleak future is through the provision of seed funding of about 300 million naira provided by Bank of Industry (BOI) which clearly changed long held perception that culture is about mere dancing and drumming. That critical intervention was not lost on the powers that appointed Runsewe to use culture to create jobs and empower the artistic community in Nigeria.

Though the business of NCAC is to forward and surety the names of individual or corporate organisations in the sector to process and use the BOI fund to generate more business and employ help hands, Runsewe’s message to government and Nigerians can only find meaning in the fact that Nigeria’s culture content needs good money to get good hands to propel a competitive arts and culture products and market same within and outside our shores.

For a long time, the media broke tradition placed this breakthrough on covers of most national newspapers and the World Cultural Council took note. Runsewe also listed a rebranded African Arts and Crafts Expo and the National Arts and Culture festival as key drives of a new full blown culture economy in 2018. That event with over 30 international countries presence cannot go unrated as one of the biggest event of 2017.

Nigeria can truly get it right with these prime NCAC culture events as next oil if this administration could go beyond rhetoric and support Runsewe’s effort to restructure NCAC. Indeed, herein lays positive insight into 2018 for culture and tourism revival for Nigeria.

Again, the grains of temptation is to see the NCAC effort rubbing off positively on rural economy, empowering arts and craft makers, sculptors and creating dance and drama entrepreneurs, thereby restoring our long lost moonlight gatherings at village squares and community based entertainment calendar.

Apart from providing the nation some commonsense lessons in ease of doing cultural business, the game plan finds sustainable bearing on providing jobs and empowering government presence at rural areas. Cultural festivals as business and to which NCAC wish to introduce into the Nigerian economic recovery plan do have a feature of research and documentation window which can be leveraged to coordinate sustainable Master Plan for the sector.

Do we then begin to project what to come in terms of human capacity development, profit expectation and bankable investments if NCAC sticks to this vision statement? At a burst to grow population of about 180 million people with active workforce of about 60 per cent, the road to our economic recovery through culture and tourism activities looks attractive and interesting, very interesting in 2018.

The hospitality sector is another goldmine that can help the economy financially. As earlier stated, the pangs of suffocation in the hospitality sector largely encouraged by multiple taxation and absence of key drivers of the business such as security, regular power supply indeed add up to present a bleak future for the sector.
However, weak naira and a daring and never say die population with huge appetite and hunger to discover new things, will possibly lead investors to gradually reverse trends of investments in this sector.

There are hopes of emerging budget hotels, apartments and hostels with most rural communities as beneficiaries of this trend. Herein lies future investments and presence of hospitality sector beyond 2018 as Nigerians in urban areas are gradually getting fed up with same, same hospitality services and pollution in city centres across Nigeria, I can bet on apartments and hostels competing with hotels for patronage in 2018. One lesson which the downturn of the economy has taught most homes and corporate organisations with limited budgets on travel and holiday is to cut down on luxury stays and bank on outfits and services that could provide middle line services and facilities without drying out the pocket. This pocket friendly expectation and projection will possibly influence the message to repackage our hospitality services and market same outside our shores. Is there anything here that Nigeria may teach the world of hospitality? 2018 is sure full with surprises on all legs and fronts.

To harness the potential of this sector, the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) has to imbibe the capacity to coordinate and empower new and old entrants to flourish in the tourism environment just the way Runsewe did when he sold Nigerian tourism to the world. The extant law of NTDC even though was challenged in court in 2013 by the Lagos State Government, the drivers of that critical government tourism intervention organisation remains the major problem of tourism in Nigeria.

So the best way to go and what to expect is a strong presence of NCAC providing the needed platform for service providers in the industry to interact and share experiences. We can’t live in denial to the fact that government policies do one way or the other manifest to critically shape any aspect of the Nigerian economy. All the postulations that tourism is a private sector driven initiative has never received balanced appraisal of when and what empowers the private sector to be at the fore front of this expectation.

Until, stakeholders address this question with an open mind devoid of half- truths and deceptive manipulation of official instrument of national business engagement, this industry and the investors will continue to grope in darkness.

The industry outlook in 2018 sure gives something to cheer about but it will be modest achievement presenting Nigeria as a gift destination with potential to provide gains to government and investors if Nigeria could manage well the process of tourism rebound.

This fact can therefore not be overemphasised. Nigeria can make a mountain out of the seemingly mole-like art and culture sector. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, should accord a prime place to NCAC. He should as a matter of urgency empower the agency with campaigns and opportunities that will enable Runsewe translate the successes he had at NTDC also to NCAC.

In the same vein, the National Assembly should increase budgetary allocation to this arts and culture agency so they can roll out their plans and blueprint for the New Year. The recent and consistent campaign to be non-oil dependent can begin with this sector and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari would have reaped the benefits of investing and resurging the arts and culture sector.

Beyond rhetoric, the agency can tap from the wealth of experience of Runsewe and turn-around the seemingly comatose sector to a rejuvenated one.