Dance expert and Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Prof. Rasaki Ojo-Bakare, speaks on the state of the arts and culture industry, AKEEM LASISI writes
What is your assessment of the creative industry in the last few years?
In terms of availability of talents and quality of works, I am happy with the industry because of the contributions of many of our artists. They are improving on the existing works. But the efforts of the younger generation and those of us who belong to the older generation are not complemented by government support. Therefore, what you still see in the industry is poverty and lull in many quarters, as if nothing is happening.
In terms of government having a grand idea of how to move the industry forward, I will say that it is nil. Individual expressions in art do not build an industry. We need a serious institutional, especially governmental support, but we are not getting that. This is sad for me because I am a supporter of this administration. In fact, it has virtually killed the arts and culture as nothing is happening. Take for example the Abuja Carnival I handled for five years. Since I handed over in 2013, we don’t know what has become of it. NAFEST (the National Festival of Arts and Culture) is no longer the festival we used to know. I thought that in the spirit of change, government would put the affairs of culture on the front burner by activating the Endowment Fund for the Arts and ratifying the Cultural Policy.
This government should take a risk and invest in the creative sector and see if it will not yield returns on investment. In fact, government must intervene via funding, employment of competent people in right places, stimulating investments, among others. But many heads of agencies in the industry cannot identify the products in there, let alone appreciate how to produce, package and market such products. It is as bad as that. Because of ignorance, they don’t know how to sell their organisations to government and let government have confidence in them.
What is your opinion on the proposed sale of the National Theatre, Lagos?
The problem with the creative industry in Nigeria is that of ignorance. There is ignorance on the part of government, there is ignorance on the part of many of the people that government chooses to administer the industry, and there is ignorance on the part of relevant institutions and people, too.
If you, as a government, cannot appreciate the value of a product, can you have a genuine commitment towards promoting it? Ignorance is killing the sector. You put people who are ignorant in positions of administration and you are expecting miracles from them. Many of them don’t know how to sell the arts. They cannot even identify the products they want to sell. When you talk about a product, they always think in terms of butter and bread or cars and coke. They don’t appreciate the spiritual and cultural essence of culture and they don’t appreciate the need to package art products to yield even the financial gains. When you don’t even know something exists, how can you make anything out of it?
In this century, some people are still shocked when they hear that I am a professor of dance. They ask: How can someone be a professor of dance? They have to ask because, as far as they are concerned, dance is all about shaking bodies.
Back to government, look at the case of the National Theatre that they say they want to sell too. Does that not baffle you? It is because of ignorance and the disrespect they have for the sector. As unkempt as the national stadia in Abuja and Lagos are, has the government sold them? Why must every government insist on selling the National Theatre? Government has to move out of the position of ignorance – at the national, state and local levels. It should do the needful for the culture industry to realise its potential. There is technicality in how you sell art and culture. When you realise this, you will see how profitable the industry is.
How are courses in cultural studies (literary, theatre, visual art) fairing in the academia?
There are new creative works by scholars all over the country. More departments of literary and theatre arts and cultural studies are springing up. Almost every new university that is established runs those courses. Interestingly, courses in these departments are heavily subscribed. The enterprise of teaching and acquiring knowledge in these fields is growing, but we are heavily incapacitated. The extent to which we succeed in research and others duties depends on the availability of fund.
In other words, we are succeeding, but this is relative, given the circumstances in which we work. Personally, nowadays I do more work in the university than on the field. But I’m still very visible on the field. I just completed a production of Ojukelekun in collaboration with acclaimed actor and producer, Dele Odule. In 2017, I handled three highly successful productions, which is though a far cry from my record way back. But this is because I am currently heavily tied down with administrative duties in the university.
How much of entrepreneurial training does your varsity offer its students?
That is the focus of my department in the university. Our curriculum is a little different from those of old varsities. The focus of our training in art in our departments is to teach our students how to do. The university has an entrepreneurial tilt. So, that reflects in what we do in the departments. We emphasise skill and do not just load students with general information. Our curriculum emphasises specialisation for students as from 300 level.
As the Dean of Postgraduate Studies, you are expected to do things differently, especially in resolving perennial delays that characterise many postgraduate programmes in older universities. How are you handling all this?
I am lucky to have a lot of experiences, having worked in older universities such as the University of Calabar, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; University of Abuja, etc. and I had the opportunity to study the structures of the postgraduate studies of the institutions. I will build on the strength of those varsities, borrow from what they are doing and avoid where they have lapses. We are going to stick to universal rules and standards. Also, we are going to be very fair to the candidates.
If a candidate is not a material for a Masters degree programme, we kick him out. If a candidate is good for the programme, he should finish within the stipulated time. There cannot be a third alternative. The same goes for PhD programmes. The School of Postgraduate Studies, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, will be different from others. We will not produce scholars that will be injurious to the intellectual health of the nation.
You have traversed the town and gown as a theatre scholar. How much of the field works impacted on your career growth?
Without my extensive works on the field (dance, theatre and culture industry), I would not have been what I am today. My scholarship has been greatly influenced by my practice. There is no data or research that is current than what you get on the field while working. Between 1989 and now, I have worked in almost all states of the federation. I have run dance, theatre, training workshops and productions almost in every corner of this country. As far back as the 1980s, I was consultant choreographer to Cross River State, co-director to the late Basil Effiong. As a youth corps member, my personal community project was the establishment of the then Anambra State Performing Troupe in Enugu. I did that with the late Nelly Uchendu, a singer who supervised the project on behalf of government. When the late Nelson Mandela of South Africa visited Enugu in 1992, the troupe performed and that was its first outing. The state retained the troupe and that is what the present Enugu State inherited and built on.
For five years, I was the consultant to Rivers State Troupe and led them to national festivals. I was also a consultant to the performing troupe of Ogun State. Then I moved on to Nasarawa State for the experience I see as the watershed. All the productions that brought Nasarawa to its winning laurels at national festivals were done during my era. I have done the same for Ondo State for about a decade. However, I did it for my state Ekiti only briefly. Of course, I have been in charge of Imo State troupe as a consultant, Akwa Ibom State and many more including private troupes such as the International Centre for the Art, Lagos, led by the late Ambassador Segun Olusola.
Outside of Nigeria, I was in charge of The Gambia National Troupe from 1994 to 1996 under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Technical Aids Corps. Also, I have worked with the National Theatre and Troupe of Jamaica under the cultural exchange programme. I have led Nigerian troupes to international festivals such as the North Korea Festival in 1997 where we won gold. In 1999, we were in Austria, on the platform of ICAL. We took Salt – a 30-minute version of the production there and we came first. We took Ahmed Yerima’s Yemoja to Mexico and Nigeria also won gold. I have directed three inauguration performances of three presidents. In fact, I wrote and directed the Voyage for the Umaru Yar Adua inauguration, a performance which later toured the world. The list is endless. With these, a high percentage of what I teach in class is derived from the field.
I am glad that a younger generation of artists such as Segun Adefila, Dayo Liadi and Kudus Onikeku are doing a very good work in spite of the challenges here and there.