Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, has attributed his success in public service to the grace of God and commitment to any assignment assigned to him. In this interview with Saturday Sun, the former Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and current President of World Crafts Council, Africa Region, amongst other issues, revealed his love for women and good things of life.
There seems to be much talk about arts and culture now since you took over the NCAC. How did you achieve that?
First and foremost, look at my hands, they are up. Some people even believe I have some things I use. Please, it is the grace of God, which is bigger than any other thing. That is number one. Number two; I am always committed to anything given to me. I am not the best. I am only opportune. And most of us who had opportunity, we didn’t use it well. Posterity will never forgive most people. Posterity will never, ever forgive most people.
One of the biggest sentiments of this country is that people get jobs and they are waiting to be patronised. The job you get is for you to serve the people. It is not for the people to serve you. But we have gotten this thing the other way round. For instance, any job you give to me, I don’t cease in praying to God to give me success. But it is unfortunate in our country. Every success you make, your enemies increase by two percent. So, you need to create a room for two percent nuisance value for you to make the right projection.
One of the fundamental problems of leadership in Nigeria is that leaders give job to people and they are waiting for the leaders to come and do the job for them. The story you will hear is: This job they have given to me, there is no money. If there is no money, leave it. Others are looking for where there is no money to do a job. The fact that you wake up from your house and you have a place to go, your blood pressure has reduced. There are people that made First Class degree; they don’t have jobs till today. Maybe that is their destiny. But you who have a job, how do you justify it? One thing that normally touches my heart is that any job you give to me, I will account for it either now or later. So, when you give me a job, I go all out to do it and make sure I do it well because if I don’t do it well, my conscience will judge me. If you take me to refuse dump, I will make sure I repackage the refuse and make a statement.
I am disturbed about the present persistent erosion of our cultural values today. I grew up in the North. Then, there was no discrimination on account of religion or ethnic differences. We all lived together as one. But today, it is unfortunate that sentiments along religion, ethnicity and culture are being introduced into our society. Under my leadership in NCAC, we will revisit our cultural value system with a view to changing the narratives and repositioning Nigeria on the part of cultural rebirth. The Project Nigeria must not fail.
You are known to be an advocate of non-oil revenue earnings for the country. How do you think arts and culture can indeed contribute to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?
There is a popular saying that ‘My people perish for lack of knowledge.’ It is not lack of knowledge, but lack of culture. I am giving it to you today. You see, we have to understand that we as a people, we have a culture. The fundamental problem is; we have not respected each other’s culture. We have not been able to know that everybody has a cultural strength. If today, I respect your culture and you respect mine, there will be less conflict and there will be fewer problems. A people who don’t respect their culture or believe in their culture are like a tree without leaves. The late Chief M.K.O Abiola will always say “You think you are more intelligent than everybody. But let them give you a barber’s clipper. You cannot barb the head of a man in his absence no matter how good you are. The person you want to barb his hair must have to be present to give the shape of hair you want to barb.” You must believe that everybody has a shape of their culture. This may sound new to Nigerians: The day we start to respect each other’s culture, that will be the end of all these crises. So, culture is the platform of having peace, unity and good coexistence. With that, economic strength will build up. No matter how strong the economy of a country is, if there is no culture of peace, understanding and tolerance, forget it. I have said it that oil is good, but culture and tourism is better because oil is exhaustible, but culture and tourism is inexhaustible. That is the true position.
The leadership of Argungu Emirate visited you recently in Abuja on how to revive the Argungu Festival. How achievable is this? And what do you intend to achieve with the local organizers?
The biggest thing I fear in my life is failure. I don’t want it around me. How achievable is it? It is very, very achievable.
You have always been a man without scandal in public service. What is the implication of the recent indictment of your agency by the auditor-general’s report?
I will answer that question in this way by telling you that only a mad man will be throwing stones at an unripe mango. Otunba Runsewe has become a ripe mango who has become the envy of people who don’t want the progress of Nigeria. I am the first Nigerian to be President of the World Crafts Council; I am right now the chairman of China-Africa Association; I am the chairman, board of trustees of the Nigerian Union of Journalists. So, if they don’t throw stones at me, who will they throw at?
Now, to come to that issue, audit reports are not an indictment. That is number one. Audit reports are just materials to check what is wrong to be corrected. The people made a mistake by going to town that I have been arrested; I have been indicted. No! There is a medium now that is electronic. You can reach the world in one minute. They reached the world in one minute. In the first place, calling my name on an audit report is wrong. It is an agency. So, they said that I have been indicted and I have come out to tell the whole world that I have not been indicted. I was appointed in the year 2017. The report they are talking of is 2015 and 2016. And again, there was one thing they missed in the whole movement. There is one fundamental difference in audit report – on-going projects, which nobody can touch. If they appoint you today does not mean you will change an on-going project. That is one. Number two, there is a difference between an on-going project and a new project. The reason why I have been out of scandal is because I have put this job before the Almighty God and I have put in my best. And people have seen the sincerity of what I want to achieve.
As a public figure and a lady’s man, how do you manage advances from your female fans?
If you call me a lady’s man, you are not far away from it. The late Chief M.K.O Abiola, I quote again, says “if you don’t like women, you may never get a good wife.” And any man who doesn’t like women, what will he like? I love women with passion because my mother is a woman, my daughter is a girl, and my sister is a lady. Women are the biggest gifts God gave to this world for multiplication. So, if I don’t like women, how do I defend the Bible? The Bible says go to the world and multiply.
You have never been seen wearing anything short of Nigerian attire and fabric. Does it mean you don’t wear suit or designer dresses apart from agbada, buba and sokoto?
No foreign tailor will get my money again.
When did you start on this?
It must be in the last 25 years. Look, I am not happy with Nigerian bankers the way they wear suits. I am not happy with Nigerian pastors the way they put on suits. Thank God the pastor of my Church now goes between suits and native attires.
So, what do you do with the bankers?
The bankers must come back to reality. Do you know that Nigerians buy the highest number of suits in Europe than any other African country? I did my research five years ago. I went to Debenhams, I went to Primark. I have been to over six shops. They showed me their receipts. Nigerians buy the best suits all over the world. One of our economic problems today is caused by the number of suits we are buying abroad. If Nigerians buy native dress, we will empower our tailors at home.
You are a golf freak. When do you have the time to play golf and participate in other sports?
Let me give you a top secret here today. Golf is one sport that Africans started too late. Between now and the year 2025, there is $600 billion in golf circuit. What has Nigeria got to offer? What can Nigeria make from it? As at today, nothing! We are not even in international circuit of golf.
Are we getting there at all?
It is I, sitting down here that is trying to make that reach. One of the biggest problems is that in Nigeria, we have not been able to identify one major factor that develops golf. Is it training pro or a playing pro? There are some pros, they don’t go to the field to play and they only train. It is not every pro that can go and be making millions. Some with their exposure can only go for training. I am trying to work on that in Nigeria. We have over maybe about 10 million Nigerians playing golf now.
Where are they located?
They are in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and Jos.
And not even in Benin?
And Benin! Thank you. Five of them! And every golfer goes to buy the fabrics abroad. I don’t use foreign stuffs to play golf. I use the local stuffs to play golf. If you check, the Oba of Benin is a great Oba.
Does the Oba still play golf?
What I think the Oba is trying to do now is to do a small golf course in the palace.
Is the Oba forbidden to play golf outside the palace?
No. I spoke with the Oba. The Oba does not even mind going to play at the golf course, but the people in the palace are not too happy to see the Oba going to expose the royalty before a golf course. So, I support going to get a place for him within the palace. But the Oba of Benin is one Oba I will never forget. He is a great man. In fact, I will recommend every international person who comes to Nigeria to pay a visit to the Oba. The Oba is a great man. The Oba launched the first ever cultural outfit for golf in Nigeria. The Oba also is the one who launched the first book on golf courses in Nigeria. So, the Oba, as far as I am concerned, has paid his dues.
How about the Ooni of Ife?
The Ooni of Ife has a wonderful cultural tourism friendly resort of world class. During my last visit, a lot of stakeholders were very impressed of the quality and standard of the resort. These are the kinds of brand that can sell Nigeria to the world.
I salute the courage of the Ooni of Ife in the development of the Culture and Tourism sector.
Any state governor doing something in the area of culture?
Governor Wike of Rivers State did something to unite Nigeria culturally by promoting all the states that participated in the 2018 NAFEST in Port Harcourt. His Excellency made a donation of ₦5million to all the states that participated in that edition of the festival, irrespective of party affiliation or any other personal or parochial interest. The development of the culture sector in Nigeria was his primary consideration. His Excellency has also built the best cultural centre in Nigeria as a mark of his commitment to the development of the sector. I commend him for the support he is giving the sector.
In the same vein, the Plateau State Governor has promised to showcase one of the best National Festivals of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) in the history of Nigerian cultural calendar. He has also promised to expand and make bigger the Cultural Golf Tournament.
During this NAFEST in Jos, the Governor will be launching the 37 Wonders of Nigeria.
I am also very impressed that the Governor is making every effort towards the completion of the Cultural Complex in Jos as venue for
All roads lead to Plateau State, the home of NAFEST in October, 2020.
How about your favourite football club?
My favourite football club is IICC Shooting Stars and Ranchers Bees of Kaduna.
What are your favourite foods?
This depends on the time. If I have my way in the morning, I take pap and akara or moi-moi. In the afternoon, if the job tension allows, I can tell you that one of the best foods to take which even some of the foreigners have found out, is amala. They call it amala feli feli with egusi soup. It is even medicinal. It cleanses your body. In the evening, once it is not too late, I can get beans with plantain.
What is your normal day like?
My normal day is first, I give praises to God for making me see that day and for making me overcome all the challenges of yesterday and pray for a beginning of a good day. Most of us Nigerians take sleeping and waking up for granted. I am not one of them. If you visit a regular hospital, you will know that all these posing and everything that we are doing, it is because we still have good health. You will see somebody who has money, I am talking of good money, and he is looking for a way to even eat one meal in a day. So, my normal day is, first give praises to God, and go into the world, believing the challenges will be overcome. If by evening, I have a little time to relax, I relax. Please, don’t dare me on a weekend. On a dancing floor, I will give you a hit for your money. I love dancing, I love good things.
What genre of music?
Certainly, it is traditional music. It is not all this music that our children are playing these days that if you are not careful, you will think somebody has convulsion when he is dancing to it.
Have you ever had low moments in public service?
There is no way you can be in a system without any low moment. It is not possible.
Can you recall any?
No. For anybody who believes in God, you don’t think of yesterday, you think of tomorrow, how to move forward.
How about high point?
My best moment was Nigeria hosting CHOGM in 2003 and I was the coordinator.