The Director-General, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) and President, World Crafts Council, Africa Region, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe in this interview with STELLAMARIES AMUWA speaks on the need for Nigerians to appreciate the country’s culture.
What are NCAC’s plans for 2021?
We have a lot of plans for 2021 but also note that we have statutory programmes like INAC and NAFEST, we are doing a lot of training in this sector. Some of our programmes depend on the situation in the country, some depend on collaborations with other agencies or stakeholders or if the president makes a pronouncement which involves culture, then we have to build on it and enlighten the people. Apart from that, we are collaborating with the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) to meet them at the point of orientation. We also have the Diplomatic Night where we bring together all foreign diplomats in Nigeria to showcase our hospitality as a people. We synergize with every willing sector in a bid to make Nigeria a great nation.
A lot seems to have changed about Nigerian culture compared to some decades back, what is responsible for this?
I thank the LEADERSHIP family for supporting us up to where we are today because in whatever you do if you do not get the people to support it becomes a wasted effort. Culture is about the people, our music, our food, our heritage, our fashion, culture portray who we are. Before now, a lot of Nigerians didn’t understand that our image as a people also connects with our culture. For a very long time a lot of our youth were buying the European culture, it would interest you to know that recently we found out that over four million Nigerian youths are involved in drug abuse, all of these count on our cultural values. Before, you could caution someone else’s child and it was okay but today some parents can even take offence. I grew up in Kaduna with Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo people and we all lived together like one family, no discrimination whatsoever, now we have lost those values. I have childhood friends like Kabir, Suleiman, Aminu, Bashir and a host of others who were Muslims and northerners while we are Christians. Then we celebrated Christmas and Sallah together, what happened to those good old days? We must learn to tolerate one another, God that joined us together knows that Nigeria is great. A lot of things are taking new shapes with the type of cultural values we are imbibing in our young people. Only last week, the Director General of NYSC, Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim, paid us a courtesy visit on how we can get our youth to reconnect our culture as a people. Our culture is very rich but for a very long time we have not stayed connected to it. So, for me, since I got to office the first thing I did was how to re-awaken the consciousness of our people in making sure that culture is part of the values we should cherish.
NCAC held a seminar last year on steps to curb the rising cases of rape, gender-based violence and how to restore Nigeria’s ethics and values among young people, how often should we expect such programmes?
I want to use culture to unite Nigerians and build a stronger and better nation. We are looking at collaborating with one or two agencies, we want to make it a national programme. It will interest you to know that rape is becoming a bigger pandemic in our society and we must understand most times the victims becomes victimized. Somebody who is raped might never get out of the trauma till death so we must protect and guard the values of our women. For me, since we had that programme and follow up the rape incident has reduced by over 25 to 30 percent, that means we are making progress. The issue of immorality is sometimes connected to rape, some of our ladies go out half naked on the streets, we are telling them that this is not part of our culture, our culture is about respect, dignity and giving values to what is our own. Since we had the programme so many organizations have come up to partner with us and we are happy to make a tremendous impact on the people.
Let’s talk about the ‘Kaduna Sex Party’, you were very vocal in condemning the act and also lauded Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s action, tell us what really happened.
Most people do not know the meaning of sex party but they need to see the advert. I can tell you authoritatively that I know it. I have been in tourism for years. In 1994, The Gambia and Senegal rejected sex tourism, what was rejected in 1994 is what they tried to bring to Kaduna. Sex party and other forms of sexual assaults are evil and criminal, they are plans from the pit of hell to destroy our children and pervert our society. Two major columnists in Nigeria dropped their columns that period because they did not understand why Nasir el-Rufai did what he did. The day that demolition was carried out two nude clubs in Abuja were closed down. People do not understand the meaning of sex party, it means rotating women on the dance floor, that was what they said in the advert, “come with your condom, STD test, no forced sex”.
Secondly, the greatest and biggest crime in the whole world is immorality and sex party constitutes over 59 percent. People did not understand, somebody called me and said if people dress sexy to a party why should it be an offence, I smiled so I had to enlighten him that it’s not about dressing but about the highest level of immorality. On the dance floor you have sex with a lady then push her to the next person he does same with her and they keep rotating ladies, are we dogs? Our women should be respected. Sometimes our people do not understand the gentleman approach over things except you go hard on them, for me whichever way the governor uses to stop the crime is fine.
Talking about our culture being our pride, some schools, especially in Abuja import their school uniforms when we have qualified fashion designers who do not have jobs, why is this so?
I have always been an advocate of patronising Made-in-Nigeria products. You can recollect when the governor of Ogun State declared that every school should use local fabrics, I commended him because that will help build capacity. I will commend any governor that adds value to our culture. A lot of Nigerians are yet to understand the chain reaction of this sector, if you sell a barrel of oil only a few families will gain from it but if you empower 20 artisans in this sector, close to 200 families will be reached positively. Buy our home made fabrics, be patriotic, I use this platform again to appeal to schools to take advantage of our local fabrics, we must all contribute to make Nigeria great.
NAFEST was held in Edo, Kaduna, Port Harcourt and lately Plateau State, when are you planning to hold NAFEST in the South East and West?
NAFEST is a project that came up after the Civil War in 1970, it was said that we should meet and agree on two products that can help to re-orientate Nigerians and change our attitude. Culture and sports were taken, since then, the issue of hosting is like hosting the World Cup. You have to bid, no sentiments. What we do is to open the bids. In this process, we have trained over two million Nigerians in skills acquisition, this is the only sector that nobody is a failure, everybody is a winner.
Can you give an update on NCAC’s permanent site?
It is a shame that in the whole of West Africa, Nigeria is the only country that does not have a cultural market. When I got into office, I stopped intrusion into NCAC’s land. I have succeeded and I must give credit to three distinguished Nigerians who have helped this agency. Today the Minister of FCT, Mohammed Musa Bello, has warned that government land should return to the government and they should give alternative land to the contenders. The Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has done very well, knowing that the said land is a government land, he took action and of course the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, also gave us great support. The good news is that in the next one or two months the cultural market will be opened to Nigerians and it is going to create over 2,500 jobs and I can tell you that Nigeria has benefited because the value of that land is worth about N9.8bn. So, with the new move, in the next couple of months we will open a brand new market where most of the diplomats can go for shopping.
How do you relax?
I play golf to relax. Playing golf is a natural therapy people do not know. Golf exercises your heart and keeps your heart rate up. This will naturally lower your risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular issues, as well as potentially lowering your level of bad cholesterol. Experts say regularly playing golf may even lead to an increase in life expectancy. Golf is Covid-19 compliant because when playing golf there is natural spacing.
Tell us a little about your family
I am lucky to have a lovely wife, a good wife is a domestic nurse who keeps your home front safe. I am blessed because she appreciates my busy schedules. My wife designs my dresses and colour combination, apart from God my wife makes me look good.