ARt & OUTrage 3

For Beauties, They Sacrifice Arts
BY JAHMAN ANIKULAPO
HERE is a proposal. And it comes highly recommended by common sense; seconded by patriotism.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the governments of Cross River and Rivers States should be counseled (or compelled) to release whatever is left of the money they had earmarked for the Miss World Beauty Pageant, as initial deposit for the National Endowment Fund for the Arts. In doing that, they should pull along all the financial supporters, corporate and individual, of the pageant.
And let no one come up with that incredulous excuse that the “Nigerian government has no financial commitment to the Miss World project”! That's too cheap an explanation.
Why the proposal?
The beauty pageant with its package of pleasures brought baggage of pains to a good chunk of the nation’s art and culture workers. Though it did this unwittingly, it visited its discomfort in an uncanny way.
Particularly emotive in this matter, is the fact that the soul of the primal feast of arts, the National Festival of Arts and Culture, NAFEST, was largely mortgaged so the beauty show could breath.
For the comfort of the beauties, the bulk of Nigerian youths in various disciplines of the arts who participated in the 2002 edition of the festival last month in Port Harcourt, suffered discomfort.
While the queens slept in choice hospitality property, the artistes found a home in the open yards of the Integrated Cultural Centre in Port Harcourt, with its inadequate conveniences, courtesy the wisdom of the hosts. It was pathetic!
Rivers State Government which volunteered to host the festival claimed it was broke and could not assist the festival's national secretariat in providing a befitting welfare facilities for the legion of contingents from 24 states of the country.
The state's culture officers in various interviews confided in journalists that the government was conserving fund for the state's leg of the Miss World. Said one “You know this is the Culture Minister's homestate as well as that of Agbani Darego, the reigning queen, so we cannot afford to perform lower than it is expected. That is why we are reserving all our energy and resources for that pageant”.
Culture commissioner, for the state, youthful Emma Deyaah offered a similar explanation on why it was even impossible for the state to invest adequately in publicity that would have ensured good turn-out of the city's folks at the 10-day festival.
Standing few meters from where majority of the artists, many of them about his age and some older than him, the commissioner waived off further questions on what was apparently a general disinterest by the state government on the welfare of the artists and plight of the festival organisers.
“We invited the people with the little resources voted for the festival, but we cannot go and bring them from their houses if they don't want to come”. Said the commissioner when told of the dismal attendance of the city's folks — who normally are great fans of artistic endeavours — at the opening ceremony and subsequent events of the festival.
Accommodation for the hundreds of artist-delegates was at the National Youth Service camp which “is too far, dirty and lack light, water, functioning toilets and is mosquito-infested. In fact, it is not habitable for a decent person”, complained director of one of the state's contingents. She expressed disappointment in the attitude of the River's government… “they are behaving as if they don't know what hosting the festival entails before picking it up.
“In the past, the hosting state always ensured that at least the delegates, the artists have good accommodation even if they couldn't help in other ways”.
“All they say is they are short of fund because they still have to host the Miss World… And this is supposed to be the home state of the Minister. It’s a shame”, chipped in another director.
River's State seemed not to have read the script well before jumping on the festival's stage. It thus left the organisers high in hope but dry in purse even though it drummed its chest for having being magnanimous enough to accept hosting revival of the national feast that had gone into comma since 1998.
The state's failings were not helped by the attitude of its culture bureaucrats. The state's council for arts and culture it was obvious, had no real role to play in the operation of the festival as its head Arthur Pepple appeared helpless most of the time. According to an official of the council, the council director was not even in the caucus of the state's committee for the hosting of the festival.
A senior culture worker and journalist added a different dimension: “Maybe because the Minister is from this state, they just with the governor, took things at high level and forgot the leg-men, which ought to have been led by the state's council for arts. I am not sure that the commissioner himself knows much about what is going on in the festival”.
The Culture and Tourism Minister on its own, had spent the whole year on one dream: hosting the Miss World. It appeared no other song could get the ministry to move. For the pageant, several trips had been made abroad to market the pageant with the Minister as the chief speaker…. It happened in London, in Berlin…
The ministry could not come up with any reserve for the national festival as could be gleaned from the lean presence of its operatives. Out of the nine other (apart from the NCAC) parastatals in the ministry, only three could attend the festival; and they probably were facilitated to Port Harcourt by the NCAC itself. The rest mostly from Lagos in contrast to what used to obtain, were absent.
The fact is, throughout the year, they have not been receiving their due votes. Many of them have had to cancel schedule programmes. Things have ground to silence in the culture sector. There is no money, says the ministry, but each time, there is a tourism function abroad, its officials is there to trumpet Miss World and Nigeria's stake in the pageant.
Yet it is repeatedly claimed that the Nigerian government has no hand in sponsorship of the pageant… “it is purely a private initiative”, claimed government officials. Such implausibility.
Emma Arinze head of the National Council for Arts and Culture and Festival Director claimed “this is the first NAFEST that will be run entirely on support from private sector, we didn't get a kobo from the government”. He wanted the idea to sink as perhaps the new direction that the festival secretariat would be looking in subsequent editions, and he proceeded to reel out the backers such as TotalFinaelf, Niger Delta Development Commission, African Continental bank, MTN, United bank for Africa, Chisco Transport among others.
But it is improbable that a cultural project that is not-for-profit can do entirely without governmental support. Especially when it addresses 'culture of dialogue' —a theme that is most imperative to current national quest — the government has both statutory duty and moral obligation to invest in the festival. Otherwise, private sponsorship of all the entire aspects of the festival could inadvertently lead to anarchy of intent, in which case, the sponsor subverts the direction of the piper and his tune.
And in spite of the long list by Arinze, it was certain that the corporate bodies gave supports more in kind; not much in terms of the real fund needed to run a festival of that magnitude.
Those that ought to have really bankrolled the festival, were busy running after Miss World, a private initiative smartly packaged as a national project.
The 16th NAFEST held November 2 to 9, a clear two weeks before the world beauty queens ventured on these shores. It brought the citizens, artistes, politicians, professionals from diverse fields in the economy, from 24 states together to explore the theme Celebrating The Culture of Peace, Dialogue and Reconciliation.
The theme is deliberately chosen to “draw attention to the need to institutionalise tolerance for differing opinions and attitudes in the body polity”, said Boma Bromillow-Jack, the Culture and Tourism Minister and chief host of the festival, who added “Such a culture of tolerance is expected to serve as effective mobilisation towards enshrining peace and national growth”.
Interesting enough, in its history, it was about the first time that the festival had gone back to its very foundation; the very essence of its beginning as a platform for re-knitting the over-stretched fabric of unity of the Nigerian union.

THE festival had begun in 1970, as an initiative of a group of young Nigerian culture workers and intelligentsia who, moved by a patriotic zeal, thought that the pains, sorrows and tensions unleashed on the national psyche by the 30-month (1967-1970) Civil War could be assuaged through the balm of artistic expression steeped in the cultural wealth of the divergent peoples of the country.
At this time, Nigeria (less than a decade old) was one house on a sadistic self-destruct mission. Its soul had been battered and its body on the verge of dismemberment. A thick cloud of bloody drama veiled its psyche. There was no sign of hope for its continuation as one united nation. And those who mediated in the crisis were almost resolved that even if a new peace fabric was sewn for the embattled country, it would soon be worn out.
It was in this huge sea of hopelessness and dementia that the group including Maitama Sule, Segun Olusola, Erhabor Emokpae, Paul Uriel Worika and a host of others under the aegis of Nigeria Art Society conceived the idea of a feast of artistic and cultural expressions. They discovered that though the centre could no longer hold and anger reigned in the hearts of one-time friends and brothers, tongues could still spare time for songs and feet embrace the rhythms of life. Through culture the ember of anger could be doused, they resolved.
In 1970, the very first all Nigerian festival of arts was staged in Lagos primarily to accomplish the mission of consolidating the end of the civil war on culture platform. The message was simple: “Let’s be friends again. Let us bury our differences, drop our weapons, let us celebrate the virtues that bind us — our dances, music costumes, rites, masks, and cultural ideas”, according to Olusola at the colloquium event of NAFEST 2002.
For note, there had been precursors to the 1970 festival that was specific on unification of the various components of the nation.
“The festival has its root in the various local festivals. The All-Nigeria Festival of Arts, which in its early stage was limited to visual arts — paintings, crafts, sculpture, pottery — was however, its forerunner the scope of participation was also limited to the few schools and colleges where art was taught. The trend and scope were expanded leading to a spectacular festival in 1947 in which many schools and colleges participated. The transformation in its feature was manifested in its growth to encompass other sectors of Nigerian society beyond educational institutions...
“It was in 1970 that the first Nigerian Festival of Arts was actually staged in Lagos. The fourth edition was held in 1974 as a rehearsal for the 2nd World Black Festival of Arts and Culture (Festac 77) held in 1977”, stated NAFEST 90 — National Creativity Fair (Special Publication).
Also as part of its history, Nigeria’s first ever National Festival Week was organised in Lagos from April 28 to May 1, 1965 and it featured drama, folk music, folk opera and traditional dances. The objective no doubt, was to harvest the best of materials from all over the country that could represent Nigeria of the first Negro Art Festival in Dakar, Senegal, the precursor of FESTAC 77.
It is instructive that majority of the members of the Nigeria Art Society that mounted the 1970 festival were key operatives in the Nigerian contingent to the Dakar festival and they later played major roles in the FESTAC.
In conception and execution, the NAFEST 2002 in Port Harcourt therefore reenacted the very fundamental objectives of the national feast particularly the 1970's feast of unity. Arinze, expatiated on the theme as deliberately chosen to mollify the newfound culture of conflicts and violence that is engulfing the nation.
And in ambience of operation, Port Harcourt '02 came up at this time the pulse of the nation jigs to the rhythm of national disintegration, when the various components are stocking arsenals, materially and otherwise, to prosecute certain wars lodged in the deep recesses of their psyche and brawn.

INEXPLICABLY, it is this ritual of mending cracks in the national fabric, which the government and their friends in the corporate market decided to shun.
They preferred the razzmatazz of the catwalks to the engaging rhythms and dances steeped in the very core of their cultural being. They loved the pretty, slim-sony, leggy faces that stirred their libido than the heavily clad performers in intricate steps that would task their cerebrum.
Indeed, the morbid testimonials of the Nigerian political elite as a set of philistine who live more in their brawn than the brain have been affirmed by the contest for priority between the national festival and the beauty pageant. But the arts have always had to contend with even more profane priorities in the scale of preference of successive governments.
For instance, the arts and culture have always had to trail behind sports and state banquets in budgetary allocations and government supports.
It had been so all through the military regimes. And the Fourth Republic chaired by the very man who in many forums acknowledged the mileage that FESTAC achieved in up-swinging Nigeria’s image globally as a potential superpower in Africa, is irredeemably committed to not only stifle growth but ruin the very little resources left to the culture sector.
Year 2002, there was almost zero allocation to the sector. And in the 2003 proposed budget, there is no capital allocation for the Culture and Tourism sector.
But wasn’t the same Federal government saying few weeks back, that Tourism has, for the first time, been lifted to join the league of the favoured?
Tourism, Culture's spouse in the current ministerial wedlock, was mentioned as one of the six priority areas that the 2003 budget would favour! Yet, in same budget proposal, there is no plan for capital investment in Tourism!
It is attractive to spin sarcasm that the listing of Tourism among the six key sectors was something whispered to the President as pillow talk. Recall that the First Lady has since assumed role as 'Mama Tourism'. And as a precedent, Baba had September last year, shocked his critics when on occasion of the World Tourism Day he broadcast a speech. It was the very first time; an epoch indeed. Never mind that the speech was just a collection of the usual words without a heart.
Oh yeah, it could be possible that the listing of Tourism in the league of six, was inspired by the reality of the impending Miss World Beauty Pageant, which one of the President’s senior cultural bureaucrats told a bewildered CNN journalist at a tourism show in Berlin, was “the greatest cultural achievement so far for Nigeria.”
This might be true anyway.
The Miss World crown sure dwarfs Wole Soyinka’s 1986 Nobel prize in Literature; Achebe’s string of innumerable awards for the sheer brilliance of his brain products as well as the many literary and honourary awards that artists and members of the intellectual class have earned on the strength of their talents and skills — to the glory of their fatherland.

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