Culture As a Tool for Revamping The Economy, Strengthening The Naira

Director General of NCAC, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe

Director General of NCAC, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe

By Segun Runsewe

There has been no time in the socio-economic evolution of Nigeria that the naira, the nation’s national currency, has been under such a severe pressure than as it is today. With the exchange rate of one US dollar to less than one naira in the 70s, the exchange rate of the naira to the dollar today has risen beyond 1,000 to one US dollar. This phenomenal fall in the value of our currency beginning, from the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) Regime, till today, has continued to negatively impact on all spheres of our national life, challenge our cultural values and call for a comprehensive value re-orientation.

As a free market economy, the value of our nation’s currency would ultimately be determined by the market forces of demand and supply. This has implication on our level of consumption of foreign goods and services and by extension, our values. In those days when the naira commanded remarkable economic power at the global market, our values were right; our attitudes were positive and our personal dispositions were supportive of our developmental aspirations. We were a nation committed to Agriculture as the mainstay of our economy while aggressively embarking on solid mineral exploration to drive a diversified economy. We were a people imbued with positive sense of purpose and productive hardwork was our national work ethics and our unique selling point. We were proudly Nigerians in our attitude to work, in our consumption, our dress culture and in all that we did. We witnessed relative economic stability, social harmony and development because we believed in and espoused the tenets of our culture.

Today, the story is different. We have thrown our cherished cultural values overboard. In place of hardwork, we have embraced laziness, idleness and the get-rich-quick syndrome.

We are no longer proud of our rich cultural values and their diverse manifestations. For example, we have relegated the Nigerian fabrics which projected our cultural identity in the yesteryears and sustained a booming garment industry, for foreign dresses like the French suits, Holladian fabrics and Senegalese attires.

It is now fashionable for our educational institutions even at the elementary level to import school uniforms to educate our children away from our culture, both in content and in form. Our educational curriculum has become largely alien and non-reflective of our socio-cultural background.

It is unfortunate that today, we export Nigerian hide and skin to Italy and Spain only to import Italian and Spanish shoes made with Nigerian raw materials. Aba made shoes has lost domestic patronage except when exported to Dubai and imported into Nigeria with the brand “made in Italy”. China has made alarming in-road into the Nigerian traditional fabric industry and imported Chinese tie and dye originally rooted in Osogbo culture is now in vogue in Nigeria. The story is endless.

There can be no sustainable economic development when the values and orientation of the citizenry are at variance with the culture on which the society is founded and where the general pattern of consumption are conspicuously alien and brazenly extravagant.

For us to attain economic growth and the stability of the naira therefore, we must return to our cherished cultural values and harness our cultural resources to engender national development.

Examples abound of nations who utilised their cultural strength to enhance the developmental process. It took men and women of vision, courage and commitment to conceive, pursue and realize the American vision rooted in the firm belief in America as a virgin continent magnificently endowed by nature. With a strong culture of patriotism and commitment to the growth of America, the USA rose from the ashes of a people with diverse ethnic nationalities, ravaged by a civil war and racial segregation to become the world’s foremost super-power.

Those who crafted the American dream upon which the continent was born were not angels from above. They were Americans who believed in the vision of a great continent and patriotically committed themselves to ensuring that the vision became a workable reality. Today, when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold.

China presents another example of a people who believed in themselves and looked inward to collectively reinvent their nation. From the dark trenches of the global depression of the 1930s through the Sino-Japanese war of 1937 to the Great Leap forward and the famine 1957, China has emerged the second largest economy in the world, with firm belief in their history, culture and heritage.
India, like Nigeria, was a British colony. Unlike Nigeria however, India has used the scientific and technological expertise of Western education to develop its nation, holding jealously on to the Indian cultural heritage. They dress Indan, eat Indian, talk Indian and live Indian.

In view of the proven capacity of the cultural sector to contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Products, most nations of the world are developing strategies to integrate and mainstream cultural products to the process of economic development. Nigeria is unarguably the most culturally diverse nations in Africa, rich in various cultural products. It offers a unique opportunity for artistry, craftsmanship and entrepreneurial skills that can be developed, showcased and marketed to derive a robust cultural industry. A rich cultural industry in Nigeria will no doubt speed up our diversification drive, engender rapid socio-economic growth and development and lead to a strong and stable Nigerian currency at the international market.

It is in the light of the foregoing that the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC) under my leadership is vigorously pursuing cultural programmes that will open up the industry; unbundle, harness and develop latent skills talents and capacities that would lead to the emergence of a vibrant cultural economy for Nigeria.

In the last six years, the NCAC under my leadership has executed skills acquisition programme through the platform of the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) and the International Arts and Crafts (INAC) Expo. In these and several other programmes, over ten thousand Nigerians, especially women, youths and the physically challenged, have been trained and given start-up grants. We have successfully ingrained skill acquisition in metal production, hair weaving, wood carving, local fabric making, soap and bead making among others, into our flagship programmes.
To open our cultural industry to the international market, we have continued to run INAC with the theme “Networking Nigerian Crafts to the World” while targeting members of the Diplomatic Community as our primary audience.

This effort is deliberate because foreign trade enquiries starts from the embassies in the host countries. For us to have an in-road into the global cultural market, we must cultivate the attention and partnership of members of the diplomatic community while honing our skills and enhancing our design, finishing, packaging and presentation to meet global market standard.

It is through product improvement that we can raise the value of our arts and crafts industry to become truly attractive and earn the confidence of the international consumers necessary for a robust cultural economy that can create employment and wealth for our nation.

Accordingly, we have introduced the concept of comparative advantage in our efforts to tap into the cultural uniqueness of the respective states through the 37 wonders of Nigeria. This programme is anchored on the economic policy of one state, one product. In the efforts to expand the frontiers of our cultural industry, we cannot afford to be in competition but in active collaboration and complimentary. The 37 wonders of Nigeria was launched by the Executive Governor of Lagos State, His Excellency, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu during the National Festival of Arts and Culture in Lagos last year with the emphasis on one state, one product.

The cultural wonders of Nigeria is a brand identity and marketing concept premised on peculiar tangible manifestations and intangible expressions unique to the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital territory (FCT). Each of these constitutes the wonders of natural endowments or amazing evidence of human creative interactions. Together, they have evolved to become iconic emblems of Nigeria tourism destinations and technological processing.

For example, the Zanna Cap of Borno, the Akwa-Ocha dazzling white traditional woven fabric of Delta State, the queen India head of Benin, Edo State, the Ikogosi Water Spring of Ekiti, the Nok Culture of Kaduna State, the Dye Pits of Kano, the Itoguntoro traditional weaving heritage of Kogi State, the Dada pottery of Kwara State, the brass works of Niger State, to mention but a few have all assumed unique cultural brands that can be enriched, repackaged and aggressively promoted as aspects of Nigerian cultural brands at the international market place.

In addition to the above, Nigeria is one of the richest countries of the world in terms of cultural festivals. Our fascinating cultural festivals and dance include Ohafia war dance in Abia State, Ekwobi dance in Cross River State, the Nwa Umu-Agbogho of Ebonyi State, the Odo Masquerade festival of Enugu State, the Eyo Masquerade of Lagos State, Argungun Fishing festival of Kebbi State, the Osun Osogbo festival of Osun State, Igwe festival of Edo State, the boat regatta of Rivers and Bayelsa States and so on.

These festivals can be repackaged into a cluster and a national festival calendar evolved to ensure that tourists in search of leisure and festival entertainment can experience several of these festivals in a particular cluster during one visit.

I therefore wish to call on all stakeholder and key players in the arts and culture sector to begin to apply their energies towards optimizing the huge potentials in our vast arts and culture sector.

It is my hope that if our cultural resources are carefully harnessed and productively channeled, it will open up our cultural economy, engender rapid socio-economic growth and lead to the emergence of a strong and stable currency that will command the required purchasing power at the international market.

Runsewe is the Director General, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC)

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