Following a successful staging of the 2019 National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) and International Arts and Craft Expo (INAC), the National Commission for Arts and Culture (NCAC) is set to raise the bar in 2020 by reviving the comatose Argungu Fishing Festival. Otunba Segun Runsewe in a recent interview explains his efforts, drives and objectives as the culture helmsman of the country. Excerpt.
The task of uniting Nigeria with culture
What we have in Nigeria is not a problem; it is just a challenge. We just need to respect one another’s cultural difference. I was born and bred in the North; if you tell me that northerners are bad, you are wasting your time. I grew up among them. And what can you tell me to spite the Igbo man, someone I have lived with for a long time? True, we have cultural differences. We need to appreciate those differences. Some countries of the world found that that was their problem and they have addressed it.
One day, I was travelling to China. Someone I met at the airport in Addis Ababa said, “Don’t you see that you are the only one different here?”
And I replied to him: “That is the uniqueness of being a Nigeria. Are you expecting me to wear a suit?”––In all my trips abroad, I am always dressed in my native dress.
Today, I am dressed like an Hausa man. Yesterday afternoon, my attire was from Rivers. In the evening, I wore a Tiv dress from Benue. When I was in Benin, I stood before HRM Oba Ewuare II in full Benin prince regalia. It made it easier for me to blend with the locals. We must come together and believe that what each one of us has is our collective strength. That is why I came up with the concept of cultural diplomacy.
NAFEST is one of the strong tools of unity in the country. In 2020, we are going to resuscitate the Argungu fishing festival after 10 years of abandonment. We will make a bold statement that it is a festival of unity. It is arguably a foremost cultural event in the country endorsed by UNESCO. NCAC will support it henceforth.
Improving the culture sector
The way we have packaged INAC now, sponsors will soon start coming to us. When I used to package the Abuja Carnival, if we did not get anything at all, we would get N250million sponsorship. One bank was constant with N50m every year. With what we have done with INAC, about six countries have declared their readiness to play a greater role in next year’s edition. I have set up a template for the agency. But you know Nigerians way of doing things: “The last man started this; the new man wants to kill it off so he can start his own.” When I got to NCAC, I didn’t kill NAFEST; I built on it. I looked at AFAC and said: “We cannot be doing Africa when we have over 200 embassies in the country. Let’s go global.” Now we have more countries from Europe, Asia, Latin and Central America participating. By infusing international standard, we have an event similar to what is obtainable abroad.
At the time I was removed from NTDC, I was in Dubai. On my return, I met the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and said: “Sir, let whoever would replace me understudies me for three months.”
On that Dubai trip, I was approached by a company in Spain who wanted rushes of our cultural activities. They wanted to pay the agency $250, 000 annually. NTDC had acquired an OB Van for the purpose. Nobody understudied me and we lost that $250, 000 income. We lost everything.
At NCAC, I have developed the products. People now say the products need to be supported. I can assure you the National Assembly is in full support of this sector now.
Working on Nigeria’s image abroad
Once at a press conference in London, a European said: “What can you say about the criminal tendencies of Nigerians?” I asked her: “Can you differentiate a Nigerian from a Ghanaian or a Togolese?” She said: “You all look the same.” And I told her: “That is it. It is not every black man on the street that is a Nigerian.”
In China, I had a platform to speak and I affirmed Nigeria’s integrity. This is my view to the society: Anyone caught in fraudulent activity abroad should be brought back to Nigeria; they should not leave him in the city, but rather take him back to his local government and parade him round the town so people would know which family he comes from.
The problem is, most people when they get back, they are honoured with chieftaincy titles and celebrated. They get their audacity from this, that after all, if I am caught, I would just be deported back home.
Some few years ago, while we were in London for World Travel Market (WTM), a Nigerian was deported from London. Two weeks later, he was back in London with a different passport and a different name. The British thought they had deported him and expected the Nigerian authority to take it up. But right from the Nigerian airport, this man settled his way out and was back in London in two weeks. Who would take us seriously? We shouldn’t forget that one character can destroy the integrity of a country. We need to start to expose these unscrupulous characters to save the image of this country.
Steering the World Craft Council
Since I was handed the mandate to lead the World Craft Council, Africa Region, I have been doing my best to unite Africa. Cameroun recently registered on the platform. I have four other countries on ground. Next year, I will be on the road networking Africa’s craft.