With Sight Set on Priority Projects,  Sodangi Takes over at National Gallery 

With Sight Set on Priority Projects,  Sodangi Takes over at National Gallery 

With the recent resumption of a new director general, the National Gallery of Art seems set to stir back to life. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke writes 

Strong are the indications that Ahmed Sodangi’s official taking over the helm of affairs as the National Gallery of Art’s new director general on Tuesday, March 5, heralded an end to the parastatal’s somewhat prolonged hiatus, which, so to speak, has metaphorically kept it running on a “pilot light” and consequently out of the industry’s radar. There could, therefore, not have been a more plausible explanation for the reported palpable enthusiasm at its Abuja headquarters than that handover ceremony.

Talking about the gallery, which is more often referred to by its initials, NGA, its staff had every reason to eagerly anticipate this new chapter. This has been the case ever since the former director general’s tenure, which began on September 1, 2020, entered its final throes. Recall that the NGA was established as a government parastatal following the country’s 1988 Cultural Policy requirements, which in turn were in line with UNESCO’s endorsed directives under the World Decade for Cultural Development. Its emergence, buoyed by Decree No. 86 of 1993 and its 2004 Amendment Act, eloquently attested to Nigeria’s commitment to cultural enrichment.

As for any lurking doubts about Sodangi’s capability to transform and steer the ship of this federal government agency—one that has often been overlooked as tangential by the creative fraternity—they ought ordinarily to have been dispelled by his lustrous antecedents as a project officer at the Bank of Industry. The bank, it seems, prides itself on its track record of sponsoring visual arts endeavours. Of course, not less important is the fact that holding a bachelor’s degree in business management from ABTI-American University, Yola, and a master’s degree in management and international business from Birmingham City University, UK, further burnished his credentials and also stood him in good stead for his new task.

Recalling his unexpected visit to the NGA for a first-hand evaluation prior to the official handover, Sodangi, during a phone conversation the day after his official resumption, decries the lack of synergy caused by the physical segregation or fragmentation of the parastatal’s departments and subunits, which are spread over multiple buildings. “Creativity is captured when likeminded people are put together to have that process,” he stresses to back up his previous assertion to the effect that this kind of working environment impedes collaborative creativity.

To shed more light on this matter, he notes that the director general’s office is housed in a different building and that the different departmental subunits are dispersed over multiple floors, which creates an environment that is detrimental to the collaborative spirit that is essential for fostering innovation, particularly in the dynamic field of the visual arts. This strengthens his case for a centralised arrangement for the gallery, which previous CEOs have consistently urged. Naturally, a configuration like this ought to enable the bulk of the NGA’s art collection, which is presently hidden in storage facilities  to find a fitting and motivating display that honours its importance. “Art is not meant to be stored. Art is meant to be displayed,” he insists.

Interestingly, the quest for a national edifice—one that can be deemed befitting for the nation—seems to have already received the nod of approval of the current culture and creative economy minister, Hannatu Musawa, for whom the project seems to be a top priority, signalling a potential shift in focus towards fostering a more innovative and collaborative workplace atmosphere at the NGA. “We also want to see how we can have an office building to accommodate most of our staff and directors, so that you will know that you are in a gallery setting,” he further clarifies.

Naturally, there are additional considerations bordering on staff welfare, which he aims to tackle through appropriate communication in the form of briefings from the various departments. And because the realm of management is one that is incredibly diverse and expansive, he highlights the fact that there is always a management component in every field, regardless of its technicality. Hence, he believes that his background in management complements his position as director-general, which implies the overseeing of the daily operations of the gallery—one that requires skillful and seamless integration of the various areas of expertise. “So, my job makes it easy. All I have to do is bring these together and harness all the potential so that we can have a collective vision of what we want to do.”

Furthermore, it is pertinent to note that his ancillary qualification in international business aligns with the NGA Establishment Act for Repeal and Re-enactment’s ethos—an agenda he intends to champion as top priority. This intent was already crystal clear as he received transition documents from his predecessor. Emphasising the significance of passing the bill through the National Assembly, he highlighted the challenges faced by an institution with limited resources managing extensive programmes. In simple terms, the whole point is for the gallery to evolve into a profit-generating entity, a goal hitherto hindered by the existing legislation. Transforming it into a vital source of revenue and foreign exchange for the nation is at the forefront of his vision.

Sodangi, of course, understands that successfully navigating this process of transforming such a bill into law at the National Assembly also underlines the need for diplomacy, protocol, and public relations efforts, all of which hinge on the collaboration between the NGA and stakeholders. Back in 2021, the NGA and the Society of Nigerian Artists developed a joint committee to address concerns in the existing NGA Establishment Act and the proposed amendment dating back to 2007. Their collaborative efforts culminated in a unified bill, now poised for swift consideration and approval in the National Assembly.

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