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Dear Mr. President, The Debt You Owe The Creative Community

My dear President,

I acknowledge that the current electioneering season must have stressed you taut – mentally, psychologically, physically, emotionally… Especially with the multiple battles you have to fight on so many fronts, not unimportant the seeming formidable opposition you face with those who appear totally desired to wrest power from you, in spite of your ‘accomplishments’ on many fronts. And to add the current regime of economic depression which has seen the Naira on a tailspin like a fickle feather without a will. Yet I must seek – or insist on stealing bit of your undoubtedly divided attention – to continue the dialogue we began in 2013 on the debt you owe members of the creative community. After waiting two years for you to show sign that you would indeed begin to honour your self-authored promises to the community, I had issued the memo below in January 2013 to remind you of the debt but you seemed to have chosen to ignore the memo. That is strange indeed!!! Curiouser still, I was bemused to notice that few days to the botched February 14 elections, you had congregated a similar meeting with members of the community, ostensibly with the intention of once again seeking their support for your second term ambition… Perhaps out of love or respect or simply for their individual pecuniary gains expected from you, members of the creative clan had gathered again in their ‘Sunday Bests’ to honour your call…. Were they going to remind you of the debt you owed them? Were you going to apologise for your failure to have honoured your four-year old promises? Well one cannot be sure… I was told you did not eventually show up at the meeting!!! In any case, a promise… is a debt… is a debt… I have reissued the memo below just so to remind you, even as you prowl the streets and our hearts asking for a second chance in the villa on the rocks of Aso Village.

 

 THE MEMO

YOU will of course remember that august dinner you had with a gathering (someone put the number at about 450 people) of members of the creative community on March 21, 2011 in the then newly opened banquet hall of Eko Hotel & Suites in Lagos. It was such a memorable event that you certainly could not have forgotten. It was a meeting, or rather a dialogue that was initiated by your office through your senior aides. It was said that you desired to have a dialogue with members of the community because you genuinely (perhaps then) believed  that your objective to create jobs for a large number of Nigerian youths can be easily achieved through a systematic harnessing of the various and dynamic resources in the arts and culture sector of the economy, otherwise called the Creative Industry.

A few months earlier you had launched the Bring Back the Book initiative, at which the potentials of the creative sector was spotlighted; where you shared the reading podium with one of the icons of the community, Wole Soyinka; and later danced with some of the leading lights of the entertainment industry.  These were unprecedented Presidential moves, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to many when you called the meeting of the community.

And so great was the enthusiasm of the creative entrepreneurs and workers that they responded in large number to your dinner invitation. The meeting had been auspiciously called in the heat of the run-up to the 2011 election, which was to consolidate your hold on the presidency. This timing indeed gave rise to suspicion in some quarters that the dinner meeting was probably yet another  gimmick by you to score some political advantages over other contestants for same office of president of the Federal Republic.

Though they were aware of the snide remarks that flew recklessly from the wagging tongues of your opponents and adversaries, the creative artistes and workers still turned up in their numbers from various parts of the country, some came in their Sunday best. They came because they trusted; because they believed that you were not the typical Nigerian politician, who is quick to bleat promises but is usually not ready to deliver on such self-authored pledges.

At the Presidential parley were represented virtually all the disciplines in the art, through their professional bodies. Speakers are for Movie, Bond Emeruwa, then president of Directors Guild of Nigeria (DGN), and coordinator of the Coalition of Nollywood Guilds and Associations,  CONGA;  Television, Busola Holloway, president of Independent Television Producers Association of Nigeria (ITPAN); Kannywood, Alhaji Sanni Muazu; Theatre, Greg Odutayo, president of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners; Broadcasting, Mo Abudu; Visual Arts, Uwa Usen, president of Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA); Writing, Dr. Sunny Ododo, vice president of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA); Theatre Academics, Dan Daura, President Society of Nigerian Theatre Artistes, SONTA; Music, Admiral Dele Abiodun, president of Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria (PMEAN); Fashion, Frank Oshodi, president of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), and Folk Theatre and Films (Yoruba), Victor Ashaolu, president of Association of Nigerian Theatre Practitioners. Other speakers included Amaka Igwe (TV & Film), Segun Arinze (Actors), Zeb Ejiro (film), Peace Anyiam (film); Stephanie Okereke (Nollywood) and Emmanuel Isikaku for film marketers and distributors; Ali Baba (Comedy) and Chief Tony Okoroji, Chairman Copyright Society of Nigeria, COSON.

And so one after the other —— even before they had tasted the generous food that was provided by your office — representatives of the various creative art organisations and some select eminent artists, including Octogenarian visual artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya, mounted the stage to share the challenges hampering the realization of their professional dreams and attainment of the full potentials of their vocation with you.

The various speakers had mentioned the challenges militating against their professional and career fulfillment.

 

The movie makers spoke majorly about issues of distribution, piracy and the need for the need to facilitate the passage of the Motion Pictures Practitioners Council, MOPICON that has remained buried in some foggy officialdom; the activation of the Film Policy among others. The Visual Artists wanted galleries to be created all over the country as well as the passage of the Visual Arts bill stranded for years now at the National Assembly. The Theatre Artistes asked for building of Theatres in all local government areas to create employment for the practitioners and the youths. The musicians called for serious sanctions against pirates. The Fashion Designers spoke about the need to encourage local designers to compete well with international counterparts while Television producers urged the State to ban corporate organisations from using foreign models in their copies to be published in Nigeria

In a summation of the various presentations, Culture Communicator and Advocate, Ben Tomoloju, speaking on the platform of the Coalition of Nigerian artists, CONA (which coordinated invitation of majority of the participants) urged the your  presidency to beat the records of past administrations and leaders by:

  • fast-tracking the realisation of the National Endowment Fund for the Arts; and facilitating introduction of Tax Rebates as incentives for sponsors of the arts
  • ensuring the formal launch and operation of the Nigeria Cultural Policy;
  • giving prime place to the cultural sector in budgeting processes since it has capacity to create massive job opportunities;
  • establishing infrastructure and relevant facilities to back up the mobility and diversity of the creative industry;
  • ensuring a proactive enforcement of the copyright law so as to make the creative industry lucrative;
  • giving artists deserved visibility in matters concerning their trades in government appointments; and
  • engaging the country’s vast human resources in literature, movies, music, theatre, TV programme, visual arts, etc as  tools for building Nigeria’s image abroad.
  • creating a Book Commission to take charge of all state matters dealing with issues of Books, Reading and Writing
  • setting up machinery for effective monitoring of all cultural agencies to ensure that they are well managed and performing to the best interest of the artistes and creative industry practitioners.

At the parley, where on your insistence you were flanked by artists (and not politicians or contractors) such as Prof. Bruce Onobrakpeya, Onyeka Onwenu, Chief Mrs Nike Okundaiye and others — you were seen taking copious notes as each individual speaker made his or her point.

That gesture was rare of most Nigerian leaders — in any case none of the past head of states can be remembered to have ever called such an epoch meeting with the creative community, whom in their philistinism, they often regarded as pests of discomfort or at best, irritants. They would rather sit in the comfort of Aso Rock and tricked the artistes to come visiting — or a self-seeking culture or information minister to score some selfish points would initiate such meeting. At such encounters, the President or Head of State was not sure to be listening.

 

There was the legendary case of one head of state who after delaying a group of visiting writers for over five hours in the hollow chamber of the rock, declared — after a meeting that lasted exactly 17 minutes — that he wasn’t sure why the writers were visiting anyway; that he would have loved to spend the time meeting with farmers “because the farmers provide food and you writers cannot write if you were hungry”, and he broke off in that infamous sinister, derisive laughter.

But that was a digression, really.

Yes, you took note; and when it was your turn to respond, you earned lavish applause as you threw aside a speech that had been prepared for you by your aides; and decided to speak extempore to address the worries and desires of the artists community. You said you felt moved by the various presentations and you wished to vow that you would do everything to address their needs.

You even said if it was possible you would want such a meeting to be held on a fairly regular basis because you were convinced the issues raised were very serious, and needed to be addressed if your campaign objectives of breaking the nation’s economy free from its deadly tie to the mono-economy of oil, and generating employment for the youths would be realised.

In your passionate response you remarked:

“These are not issues of campaign; I should have spoken to you earlier. I’m not listening to you because I’m standing for elections. After April, we’ll hit the ground running. In the next four years, I want to move the country forward to where it should be. As a nation, we want to look at all sectors of the economy, especially those sectors where jobs can be created within the private sector.

“Today, I’ve spoken to Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), okada riders and many others. But I told them that I have a major and personal interest in the arts and entertainment industry right from my short stay as Bayelsa State governor. I had intended to establish a special secondary school for the arts… This is because I believe it is in the creative arts sector that we can create jobs for our teeming youths and fast track our economic growth; and that’s why I am committed to the sector and seeking your suggestions as people in the private sector on what we can do to move the sector forward.”

“There is a lot the sector can give if government can support it, especially Nollywood, to earn foreign exchange. However, we don’t tend to take it very seriously; but every president should take the sector seriously. I’m happy at the beautiful presentations today.

“I think certain institutions in the sector are headed by wrong persons, and that we need to address. Government is probably too far from the creative industry. Government needs to be closer to the creative industry. The key thing mentioned here today is piracy; without handling piracy, you cannot progress. It seems existing legislations are not strong enough. We need to strengthen the laws and a set up body to handle it”.

IT is however worrisome that two years after you made such promises, and kept the expectations of your audience that lavish night on steam, you are yet to lift a limb to actualize any of the vows. Rather you seem to have descended to the crass class of the typical Nigerian political leaders who have professionalised the act of lying effortlessly to their own people; those experts at deceits and cheating.

Yes, Mr President, what indeed has changed? The Culture and Tourism sector — home of the creative industry —  remains bogged down by a confused, selfish, and wasteful bureaucracy both at political and technocratic level; the various instruments (policies) needed to give the sector liver to contribute to job creation and growth of the economy remain unrealised; there is unhealthy, umproductive relationship among the various parastatals under the Culture Ministry — which of course, stall any meaningful progress; and an even  much wider gulf exist between the public and private segments of the sector.

The men in power in the sector seem content with establishing fiefdom, and carrying deadly arms of tricks to defend same, than working for the good of the Creative Community — under your watch!!!

It seems that the sector is not destined or programmed to benefit from your self-authored Transformation Agenda!!!

Well, Mr President, many of those who listened to you that night, and who would rather hang on hope that Mr. Goodluck Jonathan is different from the bad-behaving Nigerian leaders, remain resolute and steadfast on faith that in this new year, and as the second anniversary of that epochal ‘summit of creative artistes’ with their president approaches, you would open the file and hit on the keys to actualising your promise(s).

By not acting on the said promises, Mr President, you may be giving base to your opponents and political adversaries who declared  the meeting a decoy campaign strategy,  designed to earn undue electoral credit. And if they were eventually proved right, Mr President should not expect to score such cheap points in the future when you attempt to advance your political career.

By not fulfilling the promise, Mr President should know you have broken many hearts and that is a serious crime against the toiling souls of those that honoured the invitation; and those hoping on your words of promise.

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