New Cultural Appointees as Elixir for Nigeria’s Creative Economy 

The recent appointments of seasoned actors in the cultural space position Nigeria’s creative economy for a significant transformation. Yinka Olatunbosun reports

The cultural community in Nigeria has always been a close-knit one where murmurs of displeasure can easily be heard. Once an appointment is made, cultural hubs—physical and virtual—naturally become the unplanned town halls for conversations around them. Phone calls follow. The dust finally settles. Everyone minds their business, or so it seems. This trend seemed to have ticked off again the moment the current president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, announced the list of new cultural appointments. The air of excitement and anticipation was mixed with questions about what this portends for the cultural scene.

Starting with the appointment of creative entrepreneur Obi Asika as the new Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, the creative community sees in a recognisable face: “one of us,” so to speak. Not a professional from another field delivering paper-perfect lines or regurgitating mere rhetoric full of propaganda. Asika has made a name for himself in the annals of history as one of the most influential figures in Nigeria’s creative sector.

As the founder of leading communications agency Dragon Africa and co-founder of Social Media Week Lagos, Asika has engaged in the promotion and enabling of opportunities in the media, sports, entertainment, and technology industries, both locally and globally. He knows show business like the back of his hand. Right from the days of Storm Records, he has navigated the music scene before music production became Nigeria’s most treasured non-oil export. He has seen a lot of up-and-coming artists acquire international recognition. On the strength of his insight into the creative sector, he has been the master of masterclasses and a showstopper at stakeholders’ forums.

But he isn’t alone in the vehicle of progress for this underrated sector with huge potential. Other appointees include Tola Akerele as the Director-General of the National Theatre. This art and design executive has owned a cultural hub in Ikoyi for 21 years, known as Bogobiri House. Musicians, young and old, have found their voices inside the intimate section of the Afro-centric building that houses a library, gallery, restaurant, and art shop. Her template for a cultural hub has been replicated over the years in most parts of Victoria Island. She had designed Bogobiri from materials sourced locally, thus demonstrating how discarded materials can add aesthetic value.

Needless to say, Akerele is an interior designer (KLC School of Design, London, and Parsons School of Design, New York) with an expansive love for creativity. More recently, she set up Soto Gallery in Ikoyi to connect visual artists with collectors. The iDesign office sits atop the gallery. One of the prominent projects iDesign Office executed in interior design is that of EbonyLife Place, Victoria Island, Lagos. Her venture into the National Theatre is well timed. After the iconic cultural destination had been handed over to the banker’s committee, it was clear that the edifice would no longer be a ‘Sunday crusade’ ground. The National Theatre will serve the purpose for which it was built—a platform to showcase talents, rich culture, and dynamic artistry.

It was sheer excitement when Shaibu Husseini, a seasoned journalist, performing artist, cultural administrator, PR expert, media expert, and film curator, was announced as Director-General of the National Films and Censors Board. A serial juror in many arts and culture events, Hussein has been a rallying figure for the stage, screen, media, and academics. In 2010, he published his book, titled Moviedom, which narrates the developmental stages of the Nigerian movie industry, otherwise known as Nollywood.

This man of wit was the head of the jury in 2017 at the Africa Movie Academy Awards, amongst other adjudication roles.

Busy as a bee, he never fails to pick up a call. Perhaps his appointment is the most celebrated among the creatives because, finally, the creative sector is being governed by professionals who are not just bystanders of the fun parts of the cultural scene but persons of pedigree with hands-on experience in the field.

Then, there is Aisha Adamu Augie, appointed as the Director-General of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Culture (CBAAC), who is a Nigerian photographer and filmmaker based in Abuja. A native of Argungu Local Government Area in Kebbi State, she won the award for Creative Artist of the Year at the 2011 The Future Awards. Her work traverses documentary, fashion, and aerial photography. In truth, CBAAC needs a documentarian like Adamu-Augie. Remember how challenging it was to assemble all the articles of history from before FESTAC ’77?

Like the National Theatre, CBAAC has suffered some setbacks over the years. Falling freely from an enviable height of hosting international confabs on issues of interest to Africans and diasporans, CBAAC was struggling to maintain its revered status. Rather than relying on media whitewash to create a good image of itself, CBAAC now has the opportunity to be revamped with a combination of youthful energy and the wisdom of this experienced culture worker who boasts of native intelligence—a quality that is highly inflammable under the influence of a tech-enabled work environment.

Then moving on to Ekpolador-Ebi Koinyan’s appointment as the Chief Conservator of the National War Museum, which has raised eyebrows in some quarters because many thought the museum could use a curator and archivist that can revolutionise the way history is presented to the public. The Nigerian National War Museum in Umuahia showcases the military history of Nigeria with relics from the Biafran-Nigerian Civil War. Housing a collection of tanks, armoured vehicles, ships, and aircraft all from Nigeria or the defunct Republic of Biafra, this heritage site symbolises the evidence of the internal war in Nigeria from 1967 to 1970. Koinyan’s expertise in project management is expected to bring all the operations of this historical monument together for a smooth sail, as it has in Rwanda, Germany, Japan, and other countries that have survived the war period.

In the same vein, Ahmed Sodangi’s appointment as the Director-General of the National Gallery of Art and Chaliya Shagaya’s appointment as the Director-General of the National Institute of Archaeology and Museum Studies require a certain degree of ingenuity. These institutions are in dire need of forward-thinking leadership that can strengthen ties with international cultural organisations to deliver programmes and projects that empower artists and promote historical artefacts, respectively. More collaborative projects should be developed to minimise reliance on public funds where necessary. In that way, funds saved from projects can be conserved as grants, prizes, or donations towards research and documentation.

Without a doubt, much is expected from Hajiya Khaltume Bulama Gana as the newly appointed artistic director of the National Troupe of Nigeria. The National Troupe deserves to have Broadway status. Hence, attention needs to shift from just overseeing productions. The troupe needs to recalibrate by partnering with theatre and film schools to fish out fresh talents in the areas of playwriting and screenwriting. Instead of rehashing old productions, there should be new plays that project our current socio-political and economic realities. To be sure, many government-owned theatres in the UK have resident writers who can bring oven-fresh ideas to life. Nigeria is not in need of talents but of opportunities to thrive.

For Otunba Biodun Ajiboye who got appointed as the Director-General of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation, there is so much work to do. There is a discord between the older and younger generations in this country. A few minutes on X (formerly Twitter) will convince you. Our sense of history had been lost due to the permeating influences of western culture. Respect, dignity and a good name should be restored as national treasures. Stakeholders need to have an urgent meeting because “No Gree for Anybody” cannot be our governing mantra in a state of affairs that revolves around a “me-first” attitude. With Ali Nuhu as the Managing-Director of the Nigerian Film Corporation, we hope to see a continuity of the revitalisation that the corporation had seen some years ago. Efforts should be geared towards retrieving discarded footage that could yield huge financial rewards for the state.

Needless to say, Ramatu Abonbo Mohammed, who is now the Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, needs to meet with digital archivists and cultural activists to chart new directions for the parastatal.

The onus is on cultural journalists to critically assess cultural institutions and report on their strengths and weaknesses in order to foster national development.

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