‘We’ve changed the narratives of culture administration’
The fear about what becomes the outcome of the summit began to manifest during the first plenary session that featured Prof. Wole Soyinka as keynote speaker. One of the commentators had expressed the hope that the first national summit on culture and tourism put together by the Information and Culture Ministry to project the country’s vast endowment in creative and tourism industry and map out strategies for their turnaround would not become another jamboree.
The fear was justified by the open secret that similar events in the past yielded no fruits as documents in form of communiqués and resolutions reached at such forums remained on the shelf in government quarters gathering dust.
But participants dispersed Abuja after the three days summit (held between April 27 and 29, 2016) with the assurance from the Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed that the summit was the demonstration of government’s quest for alternative sources of revenue, hence its theme: Repositioning Culture and Tourism in a Diversified Economy, so, it wouldn’t be another jamboree.
And barely one month after the summit, the interim report of the implementation team empaneled by the minister has emerged. Responding to a question on the conference at an exclusive interview session with The Guardian on May 25, 2016 in Abuja, he said, “Immediately after the summit, the first thing I did was to set up an implementation team. And the Chairman of the team has just come to deliver their interim report containing long and short term strategies to achieve the recommendations of the communiqué:
“Resuscitating the Presidential Council on Tourism and making it the driving force for Tourism. I have just received the draft copy of the report of the implementation team. He came to show me the copy for us to clean it up… you can see we spent about one hour going through it. So, we are working… apart from resuscitating the Presidential Council, we must also establish the Tourism Satellite Account (TSA) to measure the contribution of our Tourism to the country’s GDP in partnership with local stakeholders; we must start promoting Nigeria as tourism destination using ‘Fascinating Nigeria’ campaign; we must promote Nigerian dress culture; we must transform the national museum to complement efforts at promoting Nigeria as a destination…. The summit was never a jamboree. We are working assiduously to implement all the recommendations.”
If not for anything, the quality of attendance and rich debate and discussion, he noted, should be acknowledged by stepping up efforts to prove the cynics wrong this time. “We invited stakeholders to the summit. Who are these stakeholders? The academicians, practitioners, tour operators, aviation industry, the movie industry, the entire entertainment industry… Given the quality of papers presented… We had representatives from every sector of the industry. To me, the summit was one of the best-attended summits where from day one till the end, we had the full house… So, we are determined to implement its recommendations.
Alhaji Mohammed however, dismissed the suggestion to add ‘tourism’ to the nomenclature of the Ministry. In fact, the suggestion was captured in the communiqué, thus: “the current name of the Ministry does not properly portray Nigeria, as a country where culture and tourism is at the front burner of development. The Ministry should be renamed, ‘Federal Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism’, to adequately reflect its mandate.”
To him, the debate about the name is needless. “I was in Abidjan for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation conference. When I introduced myself as Minister of Information and Culture, the Secretary General of the UNWTO, a Jordanian said, ‘Oh! That was my portfolio in Jordan too before I became UNWTO scribe.’ Also, in some climes like in Egypt for instance, it is the Ministry of Aviation that is in charge of Tourism, it varies from clime to clime. But the important thing is that, culture drives tourism, but above all both of them need to be driven by information. If you look at all things we have itemized to do, we need a lot of advocacy, promotion… it is about information. It is an extremely needless controversy especially when a country is faced with the need to reduce the cost of governance.”
He confirmed the news that the government would reconsider the report of the Presidential Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies as a way to reducing the cost of governance.
“Indeed, there is going to be merger of many parastatals. Today, we have over 500 parastatals, by the time this exercise is over, we will have around 300 or 350 parastatals. Many parastatals are duplicating the work of the others. We need to cut down the cost of governance. Circulars will soon be given out.
“For instance, if you are a member of a board or chairman, you can’t meet more than four times in a year! And we have put a peg on how much it can be given to the chairman and members to travel. The government is very serious and concerned about the cost of governance. Another issue that is being considered is that all MDAs will be asked to work with certain travel agencies who are ready to give us between five to eight per cent discounts and from that we hope to safe about 8.8 billion naira… So, the government is serious and committed to run a lean government.”
Asked to make a categorical statement on the National Theatre and the proposed entertainment city, he said, “One point is clear, the government is not selling the National Theatre! And it is not privatizing the National Theatre. And it is not concessioning the National Theatre. But the government has, before I came in, gone through the process of getting a preferred bidder and a reserved bidder who will now develop the fallow areas around the National Theatre and turn it into an entertainment city. Very soon, that memo will go to the council.”
Would there be leadership change in Culture and Tourism sector as it happened in information? He adjusted his seat and kept quiet for seconds. He later said, “Change is dynamic and change is always happening. The only thing that does not change is change! So, as and when they need to be, they will be changed, there is going to be restructuring, so, anything can happen especially with the expected merger that is going to be carried out very shortly.”
Alhaji Mohammed appeared to have a clear vision of where he wants the ministry to be in the next two, three years. “Well, our mission statement is very clear, that we are going to leverage on the information and culture to bring about a paradigm shift in the way Nigerians do things – we will use culture, information, entertainment, music, movie/film to truly change the way we do things. But we are going to ensure that we leave this industry better than we met them. And God willing, by the time we leave, we would have been able to address issues confronting filmmakers such as piracy, lack of funds, lack of infrastructure such as studios, enabling environment, the culture sector, we are already working with various foundations for capacity building and ensuring that our creative industries are developed and enabled so as to put more people to work… Already, a committee on Motion Picture Practitioners Council of Nigeria (MOPPCON) has been set up and very soon they would submit their report so that the law will be passed that will regulate the industry.
“In the area of museum, we are already working with Lagos State government, we are partnering with them to build us modern museum; we are also looking at the private partnership participation in Museum, so that we may concession out the management of some of our museums to private sector as it is done in other parts of the world. In tourism, the industry is seeing as a veritable vehicle to provide jobs and this is why we are resuscitating the Presidential Council on Tourism, we are asking for infrastructure so that many of our sites would become attractive to tourists. Generally, we take our mandate very seriously and we believe that if we can continue at this pace, we should be able to achieve most of our objectives before the end of our tenure.”
On Change Begins With Me campaign, he hailed the appointment of Dr. Garba Barri as chief executive officer for National Orientation Agency (NOA). “He will head the campaign. We are working in conjunction with, interestingly, The Guardian to host a summit on national rebirth, values and ethics and this will be a prelude to lunch our Change Begins With Me campaign. The first assignment of the new chief executive of NOA, Dr. Garba Barri is to workout the modalities of the summit, we are going to brief him on how far we have gone and together we are going to lunch that campaign.”