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Tour Guide Nigeria is a means of showcasing to the world Nigeria's beauty. It showcases the rich cultural heritage of the country, the delicious cuisines, the beautiful people, interesting places, the wild life and the tours and hospitality organizations. It also talks about the problems facing hospitality and tourism development in Nigeria and tries to proffer solutions to the ones it can.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Culture and Tourism Remain Untapped Gold Mine in Nigeria

Rasaki Ojo-Bakare

Professor Rasaki Ojo-Bakare is a Nigerian playwright, scholar and choreographer, who has sown the seed of drama in many Universities as a lecturer, including the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Uyo and Obafemi Awolowo
University, Ile Ife. Six years ago, while in the University of Abuja as an Associate Professor, Head of Department of Theatre Arts, Bakare was appointed the Artistic Director of the Abuja International Festival and raised the stake of the yearly festival.
Following the establishment of a new set of universities by the Federal Government few years ago, the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, beckoned on Bakare to join the institution where he is now the Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. Though a virgin land, it didn’t take Bakare a long process to nurture the Theatre Arts Department of the University and brought the new institution into limelight through performances. In this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, the celebrated and well travelled culture ambassador spoke about the rot in the arts, culture and tourism industry and the need for the federal government to come out with fresh template to rescue the sector and make it contribute meaningfully to the country’s economy
• I Spent Two Years in The Gambia Setting Up their National Troupe
Your career in arts and culture industry has traversed theatre practice, academics, administration and consultancy. How have you been able to cope with all of these?
Let me start by saying that I think the biggest secret to all of these is the fact that I align myself with nature. Right from the time I was a kid, I was privileged to be able to know through the Almighty creator the artistic deposits in me. Even as small as I was then, I was able to realise that I am a natural carrier of the seeds of performative arts and somehow, I made up my mind early enough to just be what I was created to be. So, I was very resolute and positively stubborn that I close my eyes to other fields.
I was not prepared to do any other thing apart from practicing performing arts, teaching it, intellectualising it, creating it, directing it and performing it. I think that is the biggest secret. And while growing up, I think I have mastered this and didn’t get derailed or confused.  Looking back now, I have come to realise that the best one can be is what one was created to be. So, I’m not playing someone else’s role in creation, I’m playing my own role in creation. And once you are doing that, it becomes like magic and part of you because what you are practicing is your own nature, you are doing it effortlessly.
That is why since I left secondary school, even before I gained admission to the university, I have been practicing theatre.  After acquiring university education in the field and further studies to doctoral level in the same area, I started teaching and intellectualising it by teaching students who are willing to develop their careers in the field. Today, when I look back, I can only give thanks to God for giving me that wisdom early in life because it has been a smooth ride all the way. Of course like every human endeavour, there have been turbulent periods but one thing that is clear is that I have been able to combine a robust practice with scholarship at various levels with ease. With this, I can conveniently say that I am where I was made to be by the creator.
Like I said at the beginning, knowing what I had flair for, I was not interested in any other field apart from this one God wants me to be. Again, I don’t do things in half measure, I give whatever I do absolute focus, so I don’t do things that I cannot totally commit myself to. Therefore, Performing Arts, whether it is scholarship or practice, defines my life. I don’t have any other life outside this sector and so I concentrate on it fully.  This, to me, is the reason I have been able to go this far and achieve what I have been able to achieve despite the many tasks that  confront me daily in the course of bringing out the best out of my chosen career.   

No doubt, your achievement in this area must have paved way for you to be able to serve at the National Troupe and the Abuja international Carnival. What is your experience at the National Troupe?
Before I went to the National Troupe of Nigeria as Acting Assistant Director of Drama, I had served in The Gambia from 1994 to 1996. I was the chorographer and technical director in charge of the National Troupe of The Gambia. I was in Banjul for two years; first to establish the country’s National Troupe and second, to handle it for two years. After the expiration of that contract, the country wanted me to continue with the National Troupe.
At the same time, The Gambia Ministry of Information offered me appointment to come and establish the Performing Arts Department of their university, which was just taking off then. Meanwhile, their National Television was also just taking off at the same time. As a matter of fact, my face was the very first face that was beamed on The Gambian national television. When they were looking for material to test run the television station, they came to record my production in Banjul which was a short drama on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which I called Jangoroji. That was how they refer to the virus in their local language. It was a 30- minute drama which the national troupe conceptualised to educate the people on the epidemic. That was how my face was picked, introducing the Jangoroji on the station. 
With that, the television was thinking of drafting me in, the country was willing to renew my contract with the National Troupe and the University of Gambia also wanted me. But I returned to Nigeria because of the passion I have for my country. I had told the authorities of the Ahmadu Bello University where I was lecturing before going to The Gambia that I would return. That was why the university gave me the two-year leave of absence to go. Therefore, when those offers came in The Gambia, I thought of the need to be a man of integrity by honouring my words.

On returning to Nigeria, the Ahmed Yerima-led National Troupe of Nigeria, thought of what I did with the National Troupe of The Gambia and what I had been able to do in Nigeria, and then considered it necessary to invite me to join the National Troupe of Nigeria so that they could benefit from my experience. Prof. Yerima thus convinced the Federal Government to get me into the National Troupe in any directorial capacity, and fortunately, the position of the Assistant Director Drama was vacant and the minister then got me to fill that capacity. By then I was Head of Department at the University of Uyo, where I also took leave of absence and joined the National Troupe.
We should not forget that every footballer wants to become the coach of his country’s national team and so I felt fulfilled to the extent that I didn’t mind to cut my university career short. The National Troupe for God’s sake is the culture equivalent of Super Eagles. In my view, the troupe should also be bringing whatever the Super Eagles of Nigeria is bringing to the country. The National Troupe should even bring more because here we are talking about our culture, different from football which was borrowed from another culture. The things that the National Troupe is asked to invent are the things that originally belong to us.
With that belief in my mind, I joined the troupe with great expectations but I soon discovered that the politics of the place at that time was more than the work that was being done and I had to leave. I discovered it was another civil service contraption, not what it should be. Let me quickly add that the problem is not with those who are there, it is the way the system was designed from the beginning. It was not designed to succeed.  That is the truth. If the National Troupe should serve Nigeria the way it should serve Nigeria, it needs a total overhauling. The entire structure must be redesigned from the beginning. If the structure of the Troupe is correctly designed, the country would have a lot to benefit from the troupe.

What lessons did you learn from all of these and what suggestions will you give as the likely way out of the quagmire?
I left the National Troupe after that little spell in 2001 and eight years later, precisely in 2009, I was again appointed Artistic Director of the Abuja International Carnival. It was a different experience entirely but again because most of these institutions are not properly structured, there is always a problem. The state carnivals like Calabar, Port-Harcourt (Carniriv) and Lagos have well defined carnival structures. In Cross Rivers State, there is a Carnival Commission. If this can be done at the state level, what then stops the Federal Government from having a National Commission for National Carnival? What we have is conceived to be part of the ministry; a carnival secretariat tied to the ministry.
An artistic director who is to work on the carnival is brought from outside but has to work with the ministry according to the existing rules and regulations and contraptions, with other challenges the ministry is encumbered with already. Some of the problems that limit the ministry get naturally carried over to the carnival secretariat. So you discover that carnival secretariat does not have its own purse and rules and so they get subjected to the politics of the ministry. Now if the administration is not what it should be, how do we get the best from the carnival?  Again, it is a continuation of what characterises most government establishments in Nigeria. With my experiences so far, I have been able to establish that the foundation of all these is corruption. Establishments in Nigeria are structured in a way that corruption can fester.

But despite these, you handled the carnival for five years. How were you able to manage it this far?
We thank God again for the personal commitment of those of us that were involved. Let me emphatically state that in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, there wouldn’t have been a carnival in Abuja but for the personal commitment of those involved. From the state directors of the troupes to those that worked with me at the carnival office in Abuja, there was total commitment. I must also mention the personal commitment of our stakeholders in all the states of the federation and the FCT, who were keen on making success out of the carnival despite challenges.

The state directors were specially committed because of the personal contact and relationship we had with them from the carnival office. They saw it as a project that must not fail because we are all friends and professional colleagues. Some directors of culture would come with artistes of 500 and above from their states with N500, 000 and their state governments expected them to spend a week in Abuja. They are expected to build costumes, build floats and provide accommodation for their crew. But because of professionalism and passion, the directors of culture from the states were determined to succeed and from our end at the Carnival Secretariat in Abuja, we kept encouraging them on why they should be committed.
Some state directors would get to Abuja and would not be able to pay for accommodation and result to sleeping in primary schools with their artistes on mats. We should not forget that some of these people are level 16 officers from the states. The permanent secretaries and the directors from the states, including those who worked with me in the carnival office, are the heroes and heroines of that era. They were the ones that made us achieve the little we achieved.
Nigeria is at the stage when every stakeholder is talking of diversification of the economy. What roles do you think culture can play in the non-oil sector?
Look, culture and tourism can feed this country. Without oil, we can use tourism to drive development. When I was handling The Gambia National Troupe, I discovered that the country called Gambia does not have anything apart from culture and tourism. Gambia earns everything it earns from culture and tourism. This is not what I heard but what I participated in. When I was in Gambia, the egg we ate was imported from Poland.
That is, the stamp of Poland was found on every eggshell. They were importing egg from Poland, rice from Libya, yam and garri from Nigeria and Ghana. The only thing they have produced in The Gambia is the long bread and tea. However, the county is working because the revenue they earn comes from culture and tourism is huge. What does The Gambia have that Nigeria does not have? Our tourism potential in Nigeria is huge but government is not sincere and professional with the handling of the sector. This is because most of the time, wrong people are appointed to head the ministry. It is politics you see instead of a professional development of the sector.
With oil boom, it is easier to lazy about oil business and make or rather steal money.And so, everybody forgets about other sectors. Nigeria does not need oil to survive. Culture and tourism can feed this country very well. All we need is genuine intention from government and the will to do what is right. Nigeria should stop behaving like a suicidal husband whose wife is pregnant and instead of engaging the services of a gynecologist; he is engaging the services of a dentist. If you do that, you must patronise the mortuary.
That is what Nigeria is doing. Our problem, in simple terms, is that we put square pegs in round holes. Yes, government may have good intention, but it is important to take the correct action. We should realise that not all actions should be politicised. There are people who are not politicians but are hard core professionals in their fields. If these people are engaged, they can make this sector to begin to work for Nigeria. And Nigeria will surpass the countries that called themselves the great nations of today in no distant time. I believe we have everything it takes to achieve this.

How do you rate the National Council for Arts and Culture today, vis – a - vis its strategic role of promoting the country’s diverse arts and culture?
The new Executive Secretary of the council, Mrs. Dayo Keshi, has turned the place around positively. The place was asleep for a long time, but with the appointment of Mrs. Keshi, a quiet and positive revolution that will reposition the council for effectiveness is going on.

Having worked as a consultant to many states, do you see them playing active roles in the reengineering of these cultural values?
Without sounding immodest, I have worked with most states in the country as a consultant.  It is that experience that exposed me to the quality of what the Almighty deposited in Nigeria. All the states whose governments cannot pay salaries are ironically sitting on untapped tourism treasure. It is only when a governor that is aware of these treasures comes into office that you see attempts at developing culture and tourism in the states. Once the wrong guy is elected, the projects are discontinued. That is the problem with the states.
How can we market the sector to the world?
The first step is to develop the culture and tourism products we want to market to the outside world here Nigeria. We must develop and package them before we move on to promote and market them very well. Nigeria is almost not existing in the area of marketing and promotion of what we can offer the world in terms of culture and tourism and that is bad.  Let me cite a recent example. There is a beautiful advert running on NTA International to market Nigeria and I wonder why it cannot be on BBC and CNN. Even Nigerians outside these shores hardly watch NTA International, not to talk of foreigners.
A similar advert by South Africa will be more prominent on international news channels rather than local platforms in South Africa. Beyond this, we are not having good presence online and you will see small countries like Kenya, The Gambia and Tanzania making various strong statements on various social media platforms. The fact that we can be lazy and make money from oil has almost crippled our sense of creativity and innovation. That must change for Nigeria to see the change they so much desire.
Credits: thisdaylive

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  1. This is lovely... I wish all would read this and be enlightened... Nice work dearie