Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Segun Runsewe was recently re-appointed for a second tenure. Runsewe whose unique history as former Director-General of the Nigeria Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) spoke to Kemi Yesufu on how the agency plans to contribute to job creation in the post COVID-19 economy. He also shared the highlights of his first tenure, controversies around the takeover of the Arts and Culture Centre by his agency and his confrontation with popular cross-dresser, Idris Okuneye better known as Bobrisky.
What are your major achievements in your first term?
I would rather prefer that stakeholders analyze my first term in office… but I was shocked to my bone marrow when former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusgeun Mimiko called me after not seeing him for about three years to say, “ I think it’s time for me to call you to commend you for doing your job excellently well”. The most important thing is for people watching from the outside to critique your work and commend you when they are impressed with what they see. Suffice to say that we aren’t harnessing the marketability of our many cultures in Africa. If we had respected each other’s cultures here in Nigeria, they wouldn’t be any of the rancor we are witnessing. To a large extent, we have lost our cultural values….take for instance, the rate at which people are being kidnapped, I can tell that this form of criminality is alien to us. As a people, rather than kidnapping and holding people for ransom, we protect each other and seek for the common good. Before, nobody cared about where you come from, what religion you practiced, all people wanted was for them to live in peace in their communities. The current situation is the main reason, I came up with a program on cultural diplomacy. If you understand your neighbour’s culture, you won’t easily be offended by him. Secondly, diplomacy is sending a message to your neighbour without offending him/her. Soft diplomacy is sending a message without offending sensibility. But to going back to the core of your question, I inherited two programmes, the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) and AFAC. I changed Africa Arts Expo (AFAC) to International Arts and Crafts (INAC) Expo, why should we restrict a programme to Africa when we have over 170 embassies in Nigeria? INAC and NAFEST are the biggest brands in my sector. I have also prioritized the celebration of Nigeria’s identity on the international stage, hence my announcing an art competition to celebrate the Kelechi Iheanacho and Ndidi Wilfred, both players celebrated their team winning the FA Cup by displaying the Nigerian flag. I also introduced skill acquisition during NAFEST, just like I introduced a health outreach as part of INAC. Two thousand people benefited from the outreach. I will soon be launching the ‘Nigeria Beyond Oil’ initiative. Our goal is to have ordinary Nigerians to attract local and international patronage.
Many know about the battle I fought to get back NCAC cultural centre here in Abuja. When I resumed office, the centre had already been given out. Nigerians should know that Shehu Yar’Adua Centre, PTDF headquarters and Silverbird Galleria were part of our land. These big edifices were part of our land, yet they still wanted to take part of what we had left. I resisted the move to take what is left for our cultural centre. I vowed to fight with everything to stop the land grab. I knew I had to do this because Nigeria is the only country in West Africa that doesn’t have a culture market of international standard. I can say I have won this battle because the minister of the FCT, Mohammed Bello has said he will not give government land to any individual. The House of Representatives Committee on Culture and Tourism came to see things for themselves. The matter is before EFCC. When I took over office, we met 26 stolen vehicles at the centre, four AK-47 riffles, cocaine and weed (marijuana) for sale-all at the centre. All of these items were taken as exhibit by the police. My insistence on keeping government land for the people led to a judge giving an order against me. Why should I be arrested? It should rather be written that Otunba Segun Runsewe fought for land that belongs to the people of Nigeria. I told journalists in response to the news of my ordered arrest, that I would be glad to be the first government official to be arrested for fighting for land that belongs to Nigerians, even those unborn. It is on record that I wasn’t arrested and today, I can say the battle has been won. We are talking about land worth about N8.1 billion. The idea behind the Abuja culture market (centre) was to give allocation(s) to as many Nigerians to sell our culture to world and not for any big person to take over, as well as rent out the shops to people with money. I am committed to job creation. There are too many young people, graduates included, who are unemployed or under –employed. When I open the culture centre about 500 jobs will be created. So we need to upgrade the centre, make it secure, as majority of foreign visitors go there for shopping, same for Nigerians. I hope that by the time we resolve all the issues with security agencies, the centre will be re-opened to the public. Nigerians will celebrate me for how the centre has been re-modeled.
Plans for second term:
I will definitely do better than I did in my first term. I don’t want to make a long list of promises like politicians do and are now asked questions by the public. But I can assure you that I will do much better than I did for my first term.
What role will NCAC play in helping Nigerians earn an income in the post COVID-19 era?
We were alive to threat that Covid-19 posed, hence our full participation in distributing items that helped people stay protected during the height of the pandemic. We distributed face masks and hand sanitisers to the police, the media and others. We also organized activities during the pandemic, one of them was the drive-through event held at Sheraton. We had guests from 32 countries at the event. We had NAFEST in Jos with Covid-19 restrictions in place. So, we will support our people by teaching them skills to survive the post COVID-19 era.
Challenges faced by NCAC and expectations from government to help the agency perform its role:
I am not one of those government officials who complain about challenges. I see challenges as platforms to excel. If I am to list our challenges, I will be deterred. I believe very strongly that if you plan to excel, you should understand that challenges will come. What story will you tell if you didn’t face challenges?
Why I confronted Bobrisky, held a seminar against rape:
I am a spiritual man, as a Christian I hold on to my spirituality without fear. This is why I confronted Bobrisky. I also held a seminar against rape because rape is quite alien to our culture. Do you know that rape is almost a bigger pandemic than Covid-19? Do you know that rape survivors are sometimes stigmatized instead of receiving support?
Why was your confronting Bobrisky so important?
My taking on Bobrisky was a cultural battle. Do you know Bobrisky wasn’t just hosting his birthday party? The party was a cover up for the launch of the African Chapter for cross-dressers and homosexuals. But this isn’t acceptable in our culture. Cameroun, Uganda and many other African countries have laws against homosexuality. Let me tell you, God is not happy with any country that tolerates homosexuality. When I was to confront Bobrisky, people called me, saying the ‘boy is strong, don’t get into a fight with him’. I asked them what power does he (Bobrisky) have that is higher than the law? So, I issued a statement warning against his plan…I said people can practice homosexuality in the confines of their homes, but they shouldn’t bring it to the public to influence our young ones.