In the past, Nigeria used to see culture from the prism of entertainment and colour it adds to events and periods of merriment. However, with the dwindling income from oil and unpredictable nature of the world oil market, the Federal Government has been making efforts to diversify the economy and create other means of generating foreign revenue and grow the country’s GDP. Industries such as telecommunications, agriculture and mining have seen massive government investment to grow their industries and make them foreign exchange earner for the country.
However, one sector that has been neglected despite its manifest impact as a veritable source of foreign exchange is the culture sector. Culture, as we know, is the way of life of a people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music and arts.
In the last 10 years, the Nigerian music industry has been on upward ascent. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), an international accounting and auditing firm, projected that sales revenues from Nigeria’s music to be in the region $88 million by 2019. However, many believe it was much more than that.
This is just from the music industry. The Nigerian movie industry, Nollywood, has a wider impact. The gross runs into billions of naira. These were all achieved with little or no help from the Federal Government.
Funke Akindele’s Omo Ghetto (The Saga), released on December 25, grossed N468 million in the box office in less than two months.
Outside music and movies, the Nigeria’s arts and craft industry generates billions of dollar annually. Njideka Crosby, the daughter of the former information minister, the late Dr. Dora Akunyili, sold one of her art works in 2017 for three million dollars. This is about N1.2 billion.
Chief Nike Okundaye of Nike Gallery runs international gallery that runs into billions of naira.
Local handicrafts are not only beautiful; they embody our identity as a people. Kano, for example, has a tradition of textile and leather craft works. It has a history that goes back hundreds of years when works from Kano craftsmen and artisans were taken to Europe through the Sahara Desert and erroneously label Moroccan leather. This mastery and artistry is still very much present. They come in different colours and forms of enthralling art works.
These are multi-billion dollar businesses that need government support to be effectively harnessed. These art pieces could be used for interior decors, as well as to embellish attires.
Knowing the intrinsic values of these artworks, some craftsmen use them to express different realities. These are cherished by both locals and international visitors. They could be major source of foreign exchange.
All over the country, hardly do international tourists and visitors come into the country without making efforts to take some of the art works home.
In addition, Nigeria, by virtue of it’s diverse languages, boasts of rich and diverse cultural festivals that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It is a prime tourism product that needs proper packaging and marketed for lovers of cultural tourism. During the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the idea was to use culture to sell Nigerian tourism. The rich and colourful Nigerian culture was seen as an area of comparative advantage in selling Nigerian tourism since no country on earth could boast of cultural diversity as Nigeria’s culture.
However, despite these abundance of rich culture and craft, the industry has not been fully and maximally harnessed to yield the desired economic impact. It has become germane for government to revisit the culture sector vis-à-vis tourism for the sector to be maximally exploited for the country’s good.
With all these put together, Nigeria has a multi-billion dollar industry that is not being adequately harnessed.
The Director General (DG) of National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), Otunba Segun Runsewe, recently, during the induction of newly appointed ambassador, talked about Nigeria’s tourism economy. He talked about Nigeria’s rich culture and its potentials to diversify the economy, and attract foreign investment and enjoined all the envoys to be in the forefront of promoting and engaging the many foreign nations and their people about the robust and rich Nigerian cultural economy, waiting for collaborations and partnerships.
He noted that the federating 36 states have very rich, unique and diverse cultural attributes and contents which cannot be easily found anywhere in black Africa the world.
According to the NCAC DG who also doubles as President Africa Region World Craft Council (WCC), the Nigerian arts and crafts sector is a gold mine waiting to the fully discovered and tapped for export, empowerment of the rural persons and artisans.
He said: “We have shown over the years that Nigerian culture has the capacity to enthrone peace and promote harmony to a world troubled by many irritations and uncertainty. It is within your call to put this attributes to the use of Nigeria and your hosts for the good of mankind.
“Our culinary skills and fashion is another strategic attraction to which most nations and peoples you are posted would want to know more and appreciate,” Runsewe explained further, adding, that Nigerian indigenous languages totalling over 450, spoken across the length and breadth of the country, stands as veritable evidence of Nigerian uniqueness in the map of black Africa and the world in general.
“These are basic diplomatic ingredients and cultural values that can be used effectively to tell a refreshing story about Nigeria and help change the negative narratives of Nigerians and Nigeria abroad,” Runsewe said.
The culture economy is not all about singing and dancing. It is creating world class products rooted in Nigerian and African culture. Chief Chinwe Ezenwa of Lelook fashion house is at the forefront of selling African culture and craft as a foreign income generating activity. She said: “The desire to engender pride in our African heritage and to revive rare, artisanal fabrics inspired us. We began with local artisans in Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana to create apparel and accessories that were modern and trendy, yet undeniably African. Through these efforts, local retailers once again began taking pride in carrying locally made products, which caught the attention of international audiences. The demand grew. And so did our dream.
“We envisioned a brand that celebrated and honoured African tradition but through a lens that is distinctive, modern and of quality. It had to be bold; it had to be extra-ordinary. Our philosophy is simple – Do well, do good. We are seeking to place a daring and passionate stamp on the market place. We have attended several trade fairs and exhibitions around the world and have made statements in fashion. We were at trade mission/exhibitions in Washington, Atlanta, Detroit and Pittsburgh in 2013, trade fair/exhibition in Dubai, UAE in 2013, Nigeria-Canada Investment Conference /Exhibition Toronto in 2013, Lagos International Trade Fair in 2014, Ghana International Trade Fair Accra in 2014, Magic Fair at Las Vegas, among others.”
Many stakeholders in the culture and tourism industry are calling on the Federal Government to harness this rich industry to help the Nigerian economy.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic offered opportunity for the nation to reposition Nigeria’s culture industry through the Federal Government supporting the sector with stimulus package to restart after the one years of inactivity as a result of the pandemic.
The Federal Government had come out with a bail-out for the creative industry for the culture and tourism sector. So far, nothing has come out of it. While their counterparts in other parts of the world and being propped by their government to stand and restart, in Nigeria, the culture sector, including the tourism industry is starting from the scratch.
Without this essential support from government, it will take many more years for Nigeria to really feel the impact of the culture economy.