By Anote Ajeluorou
Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan made a token gesture to the arts and culture sector by honouring some of its members with national awards. The numbers of those recognized swelled considerably compared to previous administrations. Yet 54 years after Nigeria’s independence, the vital arts and culture sector remains on the margins of government’s thinking. What has so far been achieved in the sector has been on individual basis and self-motivated.
But the future of the sector remains precarious, especially with culture ministry only focusing on bogus festivals and carnivals that have little or no impact in moving the sector forward. The ministry’s festival and carnival organisers largely make efforts to give those actively working magic in the sector a wide berth. Some stakeholders shared their views on how to move the sector forward for optimum growth.
Dillibe Onyeama is the convener of Coal City Book Convention noted, “The arts/culture sector is deserving of greater government patronage. A significant increase in the numbers of its workers in future National Honours lists would be a good incentive in the drive for nation-building.
“However, the Federal Government has not been entirely bat-eyed in its perceived duties to this productive sector, whose workers provide an essential social service to the country by the very nature of the varying creative disciplines pursued. The National Theatre, the National Council for Arts & Culture, The Nigerian Prize for Literature sponsored by Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas company, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation are just a few of the notable Federal Government institutions that have strived to demonstrate practical appreciation of the intrinsic value of arts and culture in the quest to create a viable society.
“The essence of art is to nourish the roots of a culture, a means of addressing humanity. Art reflects creativity, which involves aesthetic sensibility, emotional reverberation, and a flair for expression. It is upon the sweat of artistic and cultural expressions, recognized and celebrated in the world’s public gaze that a government parastatal is established as a national monument, a magnet of the tourism industry, and a means of livelihood for the many civil service hands employed to enhance the image of government in its laudable celebration of local talent.
“Certainly there is great prestige in government recognition. The paltry selection of arts and culture workers in the Federal Government’s recent National Honours List, however, exposes a discreditable bat’s eye for priorities. Yes, there is already the glory of world recognition for the artist’s genius for painting, or music, or poetry, or philosophy, or architecture; but, still, that is not to say that he is not also eligible for further recognition by his home government – which the National Honours Award symbolizes.
“If the fortunes of the Nigerian Arts/Culture sector can be said to have dwindled since independence, certainly it is not out of proportion with the other fields of human endeavour suffering the rigours of the ongoing global recession. If the economy improves, however, and there is an inference of stagnation in the Arts/Culture sector, then it is in line for emergency Federal Government intervention, having regard to the country’s super-rich cultural heritage and enviable outpourings of local genius from sundry branches of the Art industry.
“This class of genius is overdue for the anointing of National Honours Award, and this should be reflected in greater numbers in future after this abysmal showing”.
For Ayo Adewunmi, who is the Head of Department, Graphic Design Department, Institute of Management and Technology and Art Director, Life In My City Art Festival, Enugu, “There is no reward for the diligence and hard work demonstrated by the arts and culture sector operators rather what they receive from the government is neglect. ‘Anonymousity‘ characterize the identity of the artists from the pre- colonial era. The philosophy which still exists subtly in the minds of the citizenry explains why the artist is not given his due recognition, his creativity is considered adorable, but his identity undeserving of recognition. Thus, since the traditional period, artists strive continually for relevance, but hardly ever realize it.
“In the first and second decade after independence, art professionals fought their way to relevance and got seemingly recognizd by the government. Consequently art and culture flourished just for a while. By the 1990s the prominence and respect attained gradually disappeared, owing to the military junta of the era.
One of the reasons attributable to the draggy socio-economic development of the nation is the neglect of the art and culture sector.
“Art is central to national development; we can draw inference from the developed nations. Here, lack of art appreciation has impaired the development of the sector and indirectly the growth of the economy. The result of government’s insensitivity to the sector is apparent - muddled art curriculum in junior schools which is devoid of any clarity and which undermines the visual art and thus destroying creative foundation. Our landscape speaks volumes of how “artistically uninformed” we are, with hundreds of tourism sites and events waste away due to glaring abandonment by the government. Amazingly, government officials and heads of art and culture institutions regularly visit other countries to patronize similar sites.
“Given this background, I would say asking for National Honours for the operators of art and culture sector,” will be asking for too much”. We should ask ourselves, how many of the professionals from the art and culture sector have been appointed as Minister or Directors-General for relevant ministries and parastatals? Does it mean there are no competent and deserving individuals from the sector? Far from the truth! But again, it only reveals the mind of the government. Added to this point is the concern about the credibility of national awards, the (dis)credibility of the awards is substantiated by the rejection of the Award by some credible individuals. Consequently, the exclusion of deserving art and culture operators from the National Honours Award may not only signify its failure, but also substantiate the fact that the Awards have lost their glory.
“The art and culture sector has done, and is still doing so much to expand its fortune frontiers, if there has been any failure; it weighs more on the side of the government. The art and culture sector should not expect much until there is attitudinal change in respect of art appreciation and re-awakening of the government to its responsibilities towards the development of art and culture. The ‘anonymousity’ of the Nigerian artist as it was in the traditional period subsists in the contemporary Nigeria society, which in the word of Prof. Ola Oloidi is ‘artistically uninformed’. Nevertheless, the artists should remember that their identity is not defined by the National Honours Award; rather, it is defined by their determination, dedication and creative passion. This, definitely, is the character that must be sustained and which the government will necessarily have to latch on whenever it decides to wakes up”.
A researcher in the culture sector, particularly Nollywood filmic genre at pan Atlantic University, Anuli Agina, “The future holds five times less of what it holds for the power, education and manufacturing sectors. I think the education sector is the most important for the growth/civilization of a people; and the power sector, the most important for manufacturing and employment. In Nigeria, we need education, constant electricity and manufacturing in that order. If there are prospects for those three sectors, then the future is bright for arts and culture. If not, I'm afraid, the future cannot be better than it is now.
“But if the principal actors in arts and culture break free from their longings for government money (especially Nollywood), then they can generate for themselves the revenue and goodwill they need for sustenance and relevance (haven't they done that already, you might ask?). I do not think artists should pride themselves with receiving national honours (Soyinka and Achebe have left good examples in that regard since such recognitions appear to be a cover for many other negligence).
Secretary-General of Committee for Relevant Art and organisers of Lagos Art and Book Festival (LABAF), Mr. Toyin Akinosho also noted, “Culture producers don’t need the national honours, as presently determined. A work of art shines through the darkest recesses of corners. And we need to stop equating government with the Presidency and engaging more with the shop floor; bureaucrats who handle segments of culture administration. Let’s forget the arts for a minute; there are people in the oil industry who have been awarded marginal fields for 11 years and still are unable to create value out of it but they get so called National Honours the umpteenth time as “captains” of industry whereas people who have built badly needed infrastructure out of the little they had are not considered”.
For Dr. Sunny Awhefeada is of Department of English, Delta State University, Abraka is optimistic that the future of the arts and culture in Nigeria is bright “whether the Federal Government bestows honours on writers and culture workers or not. Remember that the Nigerian establishment is ever suspicious of writers. Recall the embarrassment the Federal Government suffered when Chinua Achebe rejected a National Honour in 2004. Again, Wole Soyinka recently rejected the Nigerian Centenary award for good reason. So the government will not gladly look in the direction of the arts except on the eve of election when it will promote another sham in the name of Bring Back the Book as it did in 2011. Nigerian writers and culture practitioners do not need the Federal Government's award to excel.
“So far our literature has grown commendably, the sphere of fine arts has blossomed and the theatre is flourishing. However, there are hindrances occasioned by the failed economy. Talking about Nigeria at 54, one can confidently say that the arts and culture sector has done the nation proud. Scholars and critics should continue to guide our artists regarding future direction. The media also has a role to play in the sustainability of the arts. The Association of Nigerian Authors as well as The Nigerian Prize for Literature should also be commended for their roles. They should not relent. The fact that Port-Harcourt was chosen as World Book Capital for 2014 attests to what the sector has done for Nigeria. The sector does have so much to crow about”.