……Abuja Arts and Crafts Village being repackaged
Otunba Olusegun Runsewe stands in the unique position of heading the National Council of Arts and Culture (NCAC) after making a mark as Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC). In this interview with, Kemi Yesufu, Runsewe, whose known for being innovative, speaks on the impact made by Nigeria hosting a major cultural exhibition during the World Cup. He also spoke on the MoU signed by his agency and the Bank of Industry to provide funding for players in arts and craft sector. Also discussed in this interview is the controversial closure of the Arts and Crafts Village Abuja.
What are the gains of Nigeria showcasing its culture at the World Cup?
We have been able to open a new chapter in terms of attracting tourists and increase people’s interest in visiting Nigeria. We said from the onset that Nigeria will not be going to Russia to only display its sophistication in football. We said, we will use the World Cup to promote Nigeria’s strength in terms of telling the world about our heritage as a people in culture, crafts and art. A football match lasts for only 90 minutes and we were thinking, how do we sell Nigeria after the match? In the past, most countries sell their culture to the world using opportunities such as the World Cup, but Nigeria hasn’t done the same. So, this is the first time an African country has gotten the kind of mileage we got in Russia. We actually reawakened the consciousness of people that Nigeria has to tell its own story now and not allow others do it.
You always described culture as an untapped gold mine, hence your marketing the county’s selling points. Can you give an estimate of how much Nigeria can make from this sector annually?
Take for instance, we have just gotten N300 million from the Bank of Industry (BoI) for the sector. It’s difficult to be talking about what we can earn as a country without first, making significant investment. What we have succeeded in doing is to get seed money from BoI. So for the first time in Nigeria, we have come up with seed money for culture. Now we can say that we can get many things done in the sector, with this first significant investment, I can now confidently say that culture has the potential of contributing about 6.5 percent to the country’s GDP yearly.
Have you designed programmes for women and young people form a large group in the culture sector?
Our young people and women are our primary focus. They will form the largest circle of beneficiaries for the BoI fund. This is why we are putting everything in place to ensure that at the end of the day, women and young people benefit from the fund and they can compete for the money that is spent locally and internationally by culture aficionados.
What are your plans to ensure transparency in the management of this fund?
We will serve as facilitators. The artistes will be getting the fund directly from BoI. All we are saying is that, we will be monitoring the beneficiaries to be sure they use the funds they receive judiciously, for the purpose it was given.
The Arts and Crafts Village opposite Sheraton Hotel Abuja has been under lock and key for months. You got the support of the House of Representative after explaining that you needed to reposition the centre and stop criminal elements who operate within and around it. But the traders sent packing have complained that they were badly treated and that when the centre is re-opened, the stalls will be offered to the highest bidders. What is the true position of things?
We cannot continue to run the centre in a way that other countries have moved on from doing. We are saying, we have to change the way things are done. The centre will serve as the beauty of Nigerian culture when it comes back to stream. What we have done is a new design (opens picture of architectural design), which is world class and when it’s completed will be used to showcase the best of Nigeria to the world. It’s gonna be one of the best arts and craft centres in the world.
Do you have time frame for when this project will be delivered?
We will follow the rules. We won’t do anything illegal. We have contacted some of the best hands, when it comes to building a modern arts and crafts centre. We have the relevant government agencies and banks involved. We will present all of these plans and arrangements to the minister (of Information, Culture and Tourism ). We have to do things properly. I just showed you the design we will be working on. Everything is ready and we will follow due process. Everything will be done to have a final product-a centre that will be one of the best on the continent and the world.