interviewBy Nurudeen Oyewole
Lagos — The Nigerian Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) recently held a training workshop for cultural workers in Lagos. The Chief Executive Officer of the Institute, Dr Barclays Ayakoroma, spoke to Sunday Trust on a number of issues in this regard.
Sir, what is the idea behind the NICO training workshop?
The idea of organizing a national workshop for cultural workers was meant to teach them how to organize cultural festivals for improved productivity and socio-economic development of the country. It is also geared towards how to harness cultural festivals in our various communities for economic development. And more importantly, we put the workshop in place to pin-point the fact that these cultural festivals are untapped resources or goldmines that could be explored in a way that would enhance internally generated revenues of various communities and states where they are held. And we are saying that the cultural workers being the key players in this sector, it is pertinent for us to better enlighten them and make them much more functional in this context.
Apart from this workshop, what are the other things NICO is doing to enlighten the populace on how best to preserve the nation's arts and cultural heritage?
Well, we have various enlightenment programmes we organize from time to time. In fact, only recently we organized a national workshop for local government Chairmen, Permanent Secretaries and Commissioners on how best to encourage the preservation of cultures at the grassroot level. Our conviction is that if we share ideas with them, they will help us in driving the message down to the people at the grassroots, most of whom we believe are custodians of cultures in their own rights. Of course, I'm sure you are also aware that we have our training school here at the institute which is not only limited to NICO staff alone but also other sister cultural agencies and parastatals of government across the country. And after such training experiences, the cultural staff often leave the place as better and more informed persons. These people are NICO ambassadors in their various states and communities.
Another approach we have adopted is to enforce the learning of one indigenous language among our students who participate in the training programme. Such indigenous language must be one which is not one's mother-tongue. You must study it and pass the examination and by the time they go back to their respective places, they will help in spreading the knowledge as most of them operate at various zonal levels. So these and many others are ways we have adopted in spreading the knowledge and we hope to sustain the tempo as time goes on. And I think for those who may still not know what we are doing, I think, we are always here for people to come and find out what we are doing at every point in time.
If you are to rate the many cultural festivals being hosted in Nigeria today, what will be your rating?
There is a very serious challenge in the Arts and cultural festivals over the years in the sense that you cannot compare what is obtainable in our country to what takes place in other places. If we are to go into global perspective, you will agree with me that we still have a lot to do. So far, we may give a pass mark to Calabar carnival which has made quite a large of impact in past years. Apart from the Calabar carnival, others have not made much impression because in most cases you just see government pumping in money to host them but with little or no impact at the end of the day.
The potentials are there no doubt but I think we have not fully explored them and I think that is the direction we should be paying much attention to. And from the presentations of various speakers who participated in the programme, I have that conviction that most of the participants when they return to their various destinations, will have acquired requisite knowledge which would help them make right suggestions to their various governments on how best to organize and host cultural festivals in their respective domains.
Despite the growing numbers of these cultural festivals, it appears as if respective state governments have not been able to attract investors to them. What is responsible for this?
Everything boils down to packaging. If you package your festivals very well, then you will realize that people will buy it. Once you have a good product, it must sell itself and how does it sell itself? It is through packaging. It is like going to eatery and going to "Mama Put". The same food you might eat at Mama put and you are asked to pay N200 is the same food you will eat at the eatery and are asked to pay N1, 000. Why? It has been packaged. The cozy environment, the building is okay, the service is attractive, the personnel, among other things.
By the time we start packaging Nigerian festivals, you will see people from different parts of the world visiting us. And I keep telling people that culture is the vehicle that drives tourism. For people to visit your communities or even participate in the cultural festivals, it must be interesting. There must be attraction and the attraction will have to do with packaging. When we package our festivals very well, investors will come in, private sectors people will come in and invest money, government will not just be the one pumping in the money. That is why we are happy recently when the cross river State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke said it is almost becoming self-sustaining. And that in the next two, three years and government will no longer be funding it but only earn revenue from it.
You can imagine if every state government has one unique festival to promote for the world like that, you can imagine the amount of revenue they will be raking from that. You can imagine how foreigners will be trooping in here. Most of them are not like Nigerians who will be working 24 hours a day and 12 months in a year without taking vacation. Some of them may just come and move from one festival to another. That is what tourism is all about. So, the bottom-line is packaging, once we package the festivals well, they will attract tourists and investors alike.
How will you describe the kind of relationship between your institute and departments of theatre arts in the Universities?
Yes. This infact was confirmed by the chairman of the occasion when the workshop began. He said the NICO training school is affiliated to Nasarawa state university, department of Theatre Arts. Also there is a capacity building programme we handle here at NICO here that we do not involve lecturers from most of these institutions because they provide us with academic insights and theoretical frameworks through which most of our works are based. Our belief is that there is always the need to juxtapose theoretical knowledge with practical approach especially from practitioners who are on the field and to that extent, we both exchange ideas. We know quite well that a cultural administrator cannot effectively function except there is proper combination of theoretical and practical knowledge. So in summary I will say there is indeed a synergy of purpose between NICO and those in the academic fields of our respective universities.
How will you assess the enthusiasm of your staff at the workshop?
It is not just our staff. There are directors from other agencies and parastatals who have nominated staff in their respective jurisdictions to also participate in the workshop. And it is a place of other various executives, commissioners, and permanent secretaries in various states to nominate their staff who are also participating in the programme. But I think more than any other thing, it is very important that the sector takes the issue of capacity building like this very seriously and that should not be restricted to those being organized by National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) alone but also those that are organized by some Arts and Cultural departments in universities for the sector. And I think this is very crucial to the development of the industry. So the earlier we start paying more attention to capacity building the better, it is for all of us. We must not forget that the moment the workers acquire requisite knowledge, they begin to function optimally.