As many Nigerians take to the street in defiant mood, following the victory of our new president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, the nation overflows with glorious sounds of our music and the ferocity of our dances. Even prior to the elections on 28th of March, our billboards, radio and airwaves were inundated with all sort of creative communications.
Yet, as I hungrily scan President-Elect Buhari’s recently circulated 100 days covenant with Nigeria. It is sourly disappointing to find that music and dance, the arts, culture and the creative industries in general, have been left out of those issues worthy of mention in our new government’s development strategy. Since this is the time to speak of ‘change’, l must keep my heart open, welcome our new president elect and be the ‘Change’ I want to see. On that note sir, you are wrong for trivializing the importance of the arts, culture and the creative industries to our nation’s growth.
On Culture and development.
Sir, no civilisation is built on crude oil, or the sheer might of the guns and well-tarred roads alone. Civilisations are built on stories; on the myths that shore them up and the tales they tell themselves of their origin and collective destiny.Standards and values are an integral part of our cultures; hence, culture should be the bedrock supporting every development.
Sir, in your 100 days covenant – which is a laudable document since it shows your determination to deal with matters of development – a lot of attention was accorded to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) on matters relating to the youth. But sir,without a parallel programme that gives voice to those segments of society that often do not have one, any development or policy innovation, may eventually be stifled by the very same citizens for whom they were built.
Sir, I believe that a healthy society must strike a balance between the stable needs of the individual and those of the collective. And while our material needs are crucial, in the end they cannot be made to weigh more than the mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of the individuals within the society. A development strategy that gives a bold space to culture and the arts may not only include growth in material numbers, but also a range of non-monetized benefits,upon which your youth and ICT programs may easily fly.
The underlining philosophy guiding culture and the creative industries may come at the centre of most of our urgent issues as a nation, for it relates to wide range of issues, including but not limited to youth unemployment, empowerment, security, leadership, economic diversity, tourism, infrastructure development, urban planning, foreign policy, social cohesion and nation building.
The Impact level.
Let me remind you sir, that by 2013 Nigeria’s population had reached about 174 million and more than a half of that number were between 15 and 34 years old. Unfortunately, as the youth population grows, so does the unemployment rate, leading us to a poverty level of 46%. In fact,unemployed youth was at approximately 11.1 million in 2012, and two-thirds of those figures are aged between 15 and 24. To my understanding sir, these unemployed – and often undereducated – youth are not, and do not have the capacity, to be massively engaged with ICT.
It is especially with young unemployed people that the creative industriescan have a significant impact. The industry already plays a huge role in creating concrete avenues for young people to explore and develop on their creative energies, even without the required infrastructure. This sector has already had a huge transformative power on our creative economy. Nollywood alone boasts an annual revenue of NGN522 billion, and is a source of employment for thousands of Nigerians. Never mind the impact of other parts of the sector such as design, new media, performing arts, publishing, and the visual arts.
Sir, the history of Nigeria is a testament to the solid position of the arts to national development. Today we hear of Nigerian writers who are being translated into various languages all over the world, our musicians areperpetually celebrated and emulated worldwide, Nollywood is widely distributing our culture beyond boarders, Nigerian fabrics and fashion design continue to grow on the world stage. Nigerian visual artists, dancers, comedians and actors have done much to make our reputation international.
My dear sir, self realization is what we all seek in our various endeavours, and there is nothing more profitable to a young nation as ours, than creating conducive spaces for the young to experiment and to test out and express their ideas.
CHALLENGES for policy makers.
Our cultural revival is, therefore, the attempt to empower our people to taking their rightful place, not just on the global cultural map, but in the aim of transforming Nigeria itself into a viable participant in the global economy. For this to happen however, it is necessary to first establish the extent of the creative energies in our society, and the possibility of transforming them into tradable commodities, both internally and externally. To compete in a globally creative economy, we must expand our centres of cultural education.
Sir, a major challenge to policy makers, is establishing what these potentials are and developing strategies for actualizing them, another challenge has been the ability to mobilize the creativity of young people and harness them for growth and development. The only way we can increase our competitivity and be mainstreamed into the global creative economy, is to expand our knowledge base and promote innovation, by mobilizing and empowering our youth to be creative. While our national policies on culture and tourism have largely focused on promoting cultural activity and artefacts, they have failed to effectively link culture with business, in order to build a sustainable industry.
Sir, governments all over the world that are serious about diversifying their economy, see the importance of developing their creative industries, but their difficulty has always been in adapting an appropriate funding model. Sir, let me affirm that building cultural infrastructures and subsidizing the arts is not a luxury, because the eventual social and economic benefit is always higher than the investment. While only 1% of the world’s creative enterprises ever get to the point of being able to fully fund themselves, subsidization always come either through private or public funding, or a partnership of the two. What is most important is the government’s political will, to strengthening tax legislation that makes it attractive for corporations to finance the industry. Having the right policies, structures and infrastructure in place is the key to any successful implementation.
The Brazilian Cultural financing example.
Through my various travels around the world, I have inquired into various practices, and the Brazilian cultural financing model is what I find most adaptable to the Nigerian reality. The SESC project (Serviço Social do Comércio) orCommercial Social Service, is a private, non-profit entity linked to the chamber of commerce in each Brazilian city where it operates. Protected by the Brazilian constitution, SESC owes its enviable position largely to a financing model that is unique in the world. The organization derives its budget from a 1.5% payroll tax imposed on and all employees and collected by all Brazilian companies. As the Brazilian workforce of nearly 200 million people expands, so does the organization’s social impact.
Just like Nigeria, Brazil is a federation, a vast country which until recently privileged the few.At the heart of the SESCs and the Brazilian government’s vision is social inclusion; bringing excluded individuals into the fold of basic citizenship and civil rights through cultural actions. In a way, given the extent of SESC’s activities, it has functioned in Brazil as a supplementary culture ministry where every citizen is an active stakeholder.
It is worth noting that the opening of any SESC centre in a Brazilian city represents a significant growth to urban development and social cohesion, given the facilities for leisure, education and culture that it simultaneously offers the local population. This is in starkcontrast to Nigeria, where malls and shopping plazas are taking over the role of public meeting places. The result is the erosion of our societal fabric and of the misunderstanding of our ‘public space’; traditionally it is to be a cohesive space that removes the borders, which keep us insulated from one another in daily life. Ours is now being transformed into a competitive field for self-identification through mass consumption.
The Private sector and my recommendations.
Though the responsibility for initiating and supporting growth in the creative economy rest with the government, private initiatives must however, drive the creative economy if it is to be sustainable and unencumbered by the inevitable stillness of governmental bureaucracy.The ministries of culture and tourism, commerce and industries, science and technology must all collaborate to drive a national strategy for the creative economy. The Ministry for Commerce and Industry should be given the especial interest of mobilizing Nigerian companies to support the creative industries, as a viable tool for diversifying Nigeria’s non-oil exports.
In conclusion sir, your war against corruption as reiterated in your 100 days covenant with Nigeria must not leave out this sector. Arts and serious artists must be offered a respite from the tyranny of profit and commercial demand, but must be encouraged to experiment in finding ways to maintain its focus on our cultural evolution and community involvement in arts, culture and creativity.
The cultural dynamism that is allowed to undergird our economic stabilityand the importance that this new government places on talent development, creative goods and social inclusion, will ultimately make our culture a valid pathway for the exercise of the nation’s soft power, both internally and internationally.
Sir, I believe that we, as a nation, have all it takes to be a major contender in global soft power, with the growing success of Nollywood and the Nigerian music industry, contemporary dance, visual arts, the literary arts, and our fashion industry, a way has already been paved to create wealth and new jobs, and as well make our society better known and better understood by ourselves and by others.
Qudus Onikeku is a Nigerian national. He is the founder and creative director of the QDanceCenter | Creative Culture Support Foundation in Lagos, Nigeria – This article was first published on politicalmatter.org