Who Is A Culture Minister?
By Segun Ojewuyi
TRUST me, the premise is simple. Artists are fueled by a burning passion to create art — expressive and qualitative art that conveys the ennobling power of deep thought and penetrating insight, balanced with beauty. Artists — Nigerian artists not excempted — also want to make a dignified living, the kind that respects and provides the sanctity necessary for creativity to flourish. Where there is talent, good training and tenacity of purpose, such a combination of critical artistic and commercial success, should not be hard to find. Often the artist just wants to be able to keep the creative work unhindered, maintain a responsible family life and foster good citizenship.
Opulence is not a requirement, but also not anathema. The artistic life is a cause not a curse, it is one of service not servitude, nobility not futility. It is a life that is just as worthy of every breath, every second and minutia of creativity and labour that the artist puts in, as well as every accolade and Naira that the recipient cohesive civic community invests. There are models of such partnerships and success stories in the developed world. Making art is and must be vital to the well-being of society, community and country, just as the sustenance of the artist is and must be embraced as a necessity for societal identity, prosperity and health.
We are a very unhealthy society. Our common treasures and processes of human creative activity and imagination, have been worn down by attrition through many years of unimaginable physical and emotional violence. We cover the full range - terrorist crimes, pogroms, kidnappings, robberies, contract assassinations, high brow stealing from the people’s coffers, political muggings, religious brigandry etc.
Our country is in one of the worst throes of psychological maladjustments in our history. Swarms of our humanity are deeply wounded and the blood clots are just beginning to show.
Imagine what the landscape will be in five years, if we do not make a change. Now more than ever, we need immediate intervention and rehabilitation — physical and emotional. Some would argue that we need seven Halleluyah’s with multiple baths in the baptismal and all-year-round ramadans. I say goodluck to them.
While we are focused on building new infrastructure for steady power supply and rebuilding our economy, while government continues to wrestle with transparency, we must remember that central among the remedies for that necessary collective societal rehabilitation, we need the arts, we need a renewal of our artistic and cultural imagination to fuel new growth, a new egalitarian Nigeria. Art is how we explore the difficult terrains of our national character.
Culture is how we stabilize our individual and collective morality. And without character, without integrity, our growth experiments will fail and we will merely continue to drift into darker depths of horror and disintegration.
In a democracy, government must be a dependable provider of service for the people and the corporate community must be a model of responsible citizenry, with long-ranging and clear sighted participation in the creation of the ennobling environment for the development of the arts and the artist. This should not be hard to embrace and nurture, if we are truly intent on building a rich and healthy nation.
It is time to revisit the infrastructure of artistic and cultural production as we now have it. Our cultural production and artistic expression at the grassroots in our villages seem to be holding well, even if not all healthy. Nigerian artists are not insular and they have responded with imagination to the vagaries of our postcolonial intersections with the world. This courageous productivity has, however, been shortchanged by an infrastructure that should be supportive but instead is more destructive. As at this juncture, government and corporate partnered intervention in the development of the arts and artists in Nigeria, will rank a miserable 2 on a scale of 10.
Garba Ashiwaju (late) and Aig Imokhuede deserve some credit as Federal Directors of Culture who midwifed a number of parastatals, ideas and policies into Government’s participation in our national cultural and artistic agenda. We have a few motivated and productive executives running a number of those parastatals, vigorously exploring the ideational frontiers for our national cultural growth. The Center for Black Arts and African Civilization, National Institute for Cultural Orientation and in fits of seasonal brilliance the National Commission for Museums and Monuments are some of the most progressive of these parastatals. We have a cultural policy that is functional, if not totally adequate, and we have an arts community that is vocal even if not well organized.
The appointments of the Federal Ministers of culture have become the pawn of political gifts by a succession of short-sighted Nigerian administrations. The Ministry of Culture unlike all the other ministries, seem to have become a hibernating station for neophytes and political office seekers who use the ministry to appropriate huge funds for future political campaigns and entertainment expenditure for their extra-curricular.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s promised transformative agenda for Nigeria will only be fully realised, when he genuinely commits to a deep and radical campaign for the health of Nigeria’s artistic community and production. Jonathan must move away from the traditional process of political gifting and party quotas, to find an active leader from the artistic community — particularly in the portfolio for a Culture and Orientation Minister.
So perhaps we should seriously revisit the definition of not just what a ministry of culture stands for, but most pertinent, what makes a Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation? We should also interrogate what responsible corporate citizenship means for the arts and how the minister’s role should be seen in that picture. For the most part, we should be reminded that we are in the 21st century with its multiplicity of variables and our 20th century models may not be adequate anymore.
I suggest that we interrogate the commission of our nationally appointed cultural agents and agencies, particularly in the face of their collective colossal failure to affirm for our local citizenry, the proven direct correlation of art and culture to societal health and development. It is time to howl up the utter dereliction of purpose by our Ministers of culture in projecting what is good about us, about our people, about our Nigerian humanity with our arts and cultural expressions.
When our languages, dances, writers, poets, musicians, actors, directors, sculptors play second fiddle to foreign imports, our humanity is subjugated to second class humanity. It should be disturbing enough, that our Ministry of culture and our embassies abroad have become mere clearing centers for same old festivals and ‘diplomat - ease’ of the last quarter century, instead of being the hotbed of new ideas and cultural trends that cast Nigeria as a healthy nation of bold, innovative and highly productive people.
Our angst should be roused when our Minister of Culture and National orientation is a mute bystander in the national discourse for a culturally viable and democratic Nigeria. We should now boldly ask those who nominate and appoint our minister in culture and orientation, what they look for, what questions they ask, what skills they demand of a nominee to be appointed.
Is he one who spends an entire tenure sitting over the funneling of contracts for T-shirts and things of such petty ilk? Is a Minister of culture synonymous with the master of ceremony for government’s hedonistic adventures and self-glorification? Are we against the grain to advocate that such a man or woman be a known and passionate advocate for the ethical subtext of our constitution and a provocateur in the corridors of ideas and national discourse — deploying art and its beautiful agency for growth and national well-being? Rather than a central humongous national legislative office holder, not unlike the fat-bellied and sycophantic agent of a Politburo, shouldn’t the minister be one who is committed to serving the arts community, an active fund-raiser for the artistic and cultural expressions of our artists outside of government? Should he/she not be versed in the whims of international cultural diplomacy and public affairs — an erudite thinker, speaker and a deep well of innovative ideas?
As he, Mr. President, considers the zoned list of nominees for the culture ministry, we urge that he shares with us his criteria for that man or woman in whose hands we submit our well being and growth, for the next four years or so.
Prof, Ojewuyi is a professor of Theatre arts at the Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, USA. He wrote this article under his Column ARTEFACTS, which made its debut today in The Guardian, Lagos
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