Fresh crisis threatens Culture Ministry
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)
The timing seems to be very odd. And the stakes too, have suddenly become very high in a hitherto grade ‘D’ ministry of culture, where no ministerial nominee ever rejoices when appointed minister of culture. Recent happenings in the culture sector have become source of worries to stakeholders, especially artistes, dramatists, gallery owners and patrons of the art.
Following these developments, the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP) is wondering why the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation wants to ‘destroy the harmony and positive changes going on in culture sector. Is it that we abhor progress or why destroy a good thing backed by law?’
According to a statement by NANTAP signed by its national president, Greg Odutayo, the association is deeply worried by fillers from the culture sector, especially the harassment and intimidation of some directors of the parastatals in the ministry. It decried the actions and called on President Umar Yar’Adua to ensure that henceforth, board of parastatals in the culture sector must be populated by professionals in the industry as well as representatives of professional bodies. “We must professionalise the cultural sector. Mr President Sir, please find other jobs for the politicians who want to destroy our cherished sector…
“What is however of great concern at NANTAP is that instead of commendation what we are seeing and perceiving is a culture (pardon the pun) of harassment, intimidation and persecution. These guys are being harassed, embarrassed and out rightly being intimidated for the good works they are doing.
Joe Musa and his directors have been picked up and arranged by the EFCC for embezzlement of funds that even the parastatal does not have as budget. Can you embezzle money which you don't have? The matter is before a judge of competent jurisdiction and we in NANTAP are waiting and watching. We have the firm belief that the judiciary which is the last hope of the common man will as usual live up to its billing when the time comes. We have no fear in that,” the statement said.
The association observed that the hitherto comatose and non-performing parastatals have suddenly become juicy oranges for the picking by some politicians who are being encouraged to bring out the daggers to destroy the hard work that is being done by members of the artistic community who have been saddled with the tasks of developing the various parastatals. It said government made the mistake of putting round pegs into round holes by appointing qualified artistes to head the various parastatals namely - National Theatre/Troupe with Prof. Ahmed Yerima, Centre for Black Arts and African Civilisation (CBAAC) with Prof Babawale and National Gallery of Art - with Joe Musa among others.
”That was the major mistake because now we all can see that those supposed dry parastatals can indeed perform. These three practitioners have indeed shown that the sector can shine and can be places of pride for us as professionals and practitioners. What is however worrying in the NANTAP is that instead of commendation what we are seeing and perceiving is a culture (pardon the pun) of harassment, intimidation and persecution. These guys are being harassed, embarrassed and out rightly being intimidated for the good works they are doing,” according to NANTAP.
The statement noted that recently Joe Musa and his directors were picked up and arranged by the EFCC for embezzlement of funds that even the parastatal does not have as budget, asking whether one can embezzle money which he doesn't have. It assured that since the matter is before a judge of competent jurisdiction it would wait and watch. We have the firm belief that the judiciary which is the last hope of the common man will as usual live up to its billing when the time comes. We have no fear in that.
But what “wat we cannot tolerate is the intention of the chairman of the board of NGA, Peter Eze, a lawyer who should know better wanting to set up an administrative panel to probe a case that is already before a court of competent jurisdiction. We call on the chairman to listen to the voice of reason and let's all await the trial and judgment. We in NANTAP condemn the unfolding development and will resist it with all that we have. We reiterate that Joe Musa and his directors are innocent until proven guilty. Mr. President has not suspended them from working neither has the honourable Minister. The Chairman of the board of NGA should stick to policy formulation (if they have the requisite knowledge) and stop trying to do the day to day administration of NGA.”
On the planned changes in the management of the National Troupe and
The National Theatre/National Troupe headed by Prof Ahmed Yerima, NANTAP stressed that the National Theatre is currently the event venue of choice for a majority of events in Lagos today. And that as patrons of the art and stakeholders in Nigeria can attest those two bodies have never had it so good. It therefore wondered why the Ministry of Culture & Tourism wants to destroy the harmony and change going on in that sector of the culture.
Continuing, it added: “Is it that we abhor progress or why destroy a good thing backed by law? In 2000, with the dilapidating state of the National Theatre, government decided to concession the National Theatre. But under the advice of the then Minister, Ambassador Franklin Ogbuewu that a merger of the National Theatre and the National troupe would enhance and improve the revenue generating base and capacity of the organization and also with the pressure and support of the stakeholders, Mr. President in Council in 2006 approved the merger of both parastatals into one. The Council memo of ref. No. is EC166 (2006). The merger was to achieve the following:
Streamline areas of duplication(b)National Troupe serve as a revenue generation organ of the new parastatal
(c) Create job opportunities for Nigerians
(d) Enhance the facilities of the National Theatre so that it can meet international standards..
”With all sense of responsibility, we in NANTAP can see and has commended and will continue to commend the Minister, the Ministry and the management of the National Theatre/National Troupe for the wonderful work that they have done so far and achieved. We will also be the first to shout at the roof top if these organs of government are about to derail. We in NANTAP want the honourable Minister to know that we will resist any attempts at merging those two organs back - National Theatre and National Troupe. Like the Americans say "If it aint broke, don't fix it".
The association warned that it would not tolerate disruptive elements who want to come and take over and benefit from a split of the Troupe and the Theatre, adding that if they are looking for work, they should go else where. Culture sector, it said, is no more a place to reward party loyalty.
It recalled that Decree No 47 of 1991 was what formally established the National Theatre and the National Troupe of Nigeria noting that government’s original intention was to have both organisations function as one, hence the clause in the decree establishing them that there should just be one governing board for the two organs just as there is only one decree for them. “If government wanted them to operate separately, they would have established them under separate decrees.
The merger has yielded fruit as repairs have commenced since 2006 on the National Theatre when the incumbent, Prof Yerima was appointed as substantive Director-General for the merged organization. The greatest dividends of the merger has been the gradual refurbishment of the four major halls, the restoration of the National Theatre as a place of dignified events and the increase in the standards of performances by the National Troupe because of the provision of facilities in the National Theatre.
“Today the once sorry sight that was the National Theatre has begun to attract blue chip companies and multi-national organizations and world class international events. We in NANTAP strongly hold that in the interest of the nation and in the interest of the cultural sector as well as the new status of attracting interest both local and international visitors and events to the theatre, we must leave those two organs the way they are. Artistes in Nigeria will make those organs ungovernable if government refuses to listen to us,” the association said, noting that ‘we also have it on good authority that Prof Babawale of CBAAC is the next in line to be rubbished. We are waiting and watching. Let those who have ears hear.’