Merger Fever Grips Art Community

Like an Abiku, the 2014 White Paper on the report of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies headed by former Head of Civil Service, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye is back to life.

Last week, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the implementation of a report submitted by the presidential committee on restructuring and rationalisation of Federal Government parastatals, commissions and agencies.

She noted that the president’s approval has been forwarded to the head of civil service and secretary to the government of the federation.

Peju_Layiwola
Peju Layiwola

The 800-page report had recommended the abolishment and merging of 102 government agencies and parastatals. What does this portend for the creative industry at this trying period?

According to the report, government is not disposed to merging National Troupe and National Theatre with National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), while the merger of National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) with National Gallery of Art (NGA) gets government nod.

But, that was in 2014. Interestingly, the two bodies (NCMM and NGA) are by mandates charged to man different aspects of art; antique and modern art, so merging them will be a disservice. It is however, not clear if this administration will review the recommendations of the panel before it will be implemented.

The fate of other agencies such as Centre for BlackArtsandAfrican Civilsation (CBAAC), National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR), National Institute for Cultiral Orientation (NICO) and Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) may be determined by how this administration sees their contributions to national development.

Former Provost, Federal College of Education Osiele, Abeokuta, Dr. Kunle Filani believed strongly in pruning of federal agencies for optimal performance because there are lots of overlaps and redundancy.

“I  agree that there is need to reduce the number of parastatals under various ministries in Nigeria. There are too many overlaps and redundancy among the agencies.

I, however, still believe that the present government lacks the political will to implement the Oronsaye report. Assuming this is done, the streamlining of parastatals under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism will surely suffer loss of limbs due to the administrative surgery.

“The question we should ask is what have been the use of these limbs when there was no merger? I make bold to say that except for a few initiatives ignited by very few parastatal administrators, the entire culture industry is a big failure in the hands of succeeding governments in Nigeria.

If not for the robust and dynamic involvement of individuals and non-governmental organisations mainly in urban centres in Nigeria, the culture industry would have been suffocated to death. Presently, there is no befitting,” he said.

Prof Peju Layiwola of the University of Lagos, said government should be thinking of creating more platforms for engaging with the nation’s unique and diverse artistic expressions, instead of shrinking the culture sector.

“Our tangible culture is highly celebrated outside of Nigeria but unfortunately, we are yet to truly appreciate what we have and  so do not understand the potentials of the visual art to the development of our society,’’ she said.

She noted that Smithsonian Institute, which comprises 17 museums, is funded principally from federal vote in addition to donations.

The latest addition to this list is the museum of African American art. “So, we see a concerted effort to expand the reach of these museums for the benefit of the American society and people. In Nigeria, the case is different,” she added.

Artist and Proprietor One Draw Gallery, Lagos Mr. Segun Adejumo in his reaction tagged: Chasing Shadows, said Federal Government can do tremendous work if it focuses on governors and senators in order to cut cost. According to him, there lies most of our excesses.

“Governors should be held accountable for every kobo that is entrusted unto them. Ex Governors should not be paid any salary or given anything out of office because they are no longer in that office or offering service.

Senators’ salaries are more than adequate for them but have far too many allowances that is crippling the economy. There is an old saying that – don’t look for fresh air whilst your house is burning – the energy should be directed to stopping the fire,” he said.

Specifically, he observed that what is involved in the promotion of ancient (NCMM) and modern art (NGA) is too inconsequential in financial loss, to want to merge the two units. According to him, museum and monuments is history and preservation, which is in a state of dilapidation, uncared for and running at a loss.

“It must be sustained to look presentable. Arts and culture is just government office. Contemporary inquisition and execution of works are largely by private practice, making wonderful statements around the world but somehow has a government office presence,” he added.

Dean School of Art, Design and Printing, Yaba College of Technology, Lagos Dr. Kunle Adeyemi is not happy with the low performances of some of the agencies, saying they are working below capacity and underutilized.

“Some of the agencies and parastatals in the arts and culture sector run and operate exactly like Ministries thereby working below their full capacity, which to me undercuts and underutilize their mandates. Productivity in these parastatals dwindles on a daily basis.

Mediocrity and lack of economic drive in the rank and file fill the space. The workforce from the Director-Generals to the cleaners feel no stress for one bit because the national treasury is there to pay salaries and other expenses incurred on a daily basis. What a misnomer!

“In other climes Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, United States of America, United Kingdom to mention just a few, the culture, Arts, tourism, entertainment subsector earn visible foreign exchange to the extent that the governments of these countries do not joke or take the subsector for granted.

No doubt the proposed mergers in the arts and culture agencies will further collapse the sector to a level whereby it will become an image of its old self. It is going to be a bad signal and a downgrade of a supposedly boisterous and vibrant sector.

Adejumo
Adejumo

History will not forgive the past and present administrators in the subsector who are unable to turn the space into gold mines but instead go cap in hand on a monthly, quarterly, annual basis to cut from the national cake which they have indolently not contributed to,” he said.

Adeyemi said he is in support of the idea of a sizeable sector that will be efficient, effective, focused economically and creatively viable, adding that as the agencies are presently constituted, ‘I see a misnomer, so many misfits, political apologists, indolent leadership and shipwreck captains (except few hardworking ones) in the affairs of the subsector.

Realistically these administrators cannot take the arts and culture of this country beyond their mouth and stomach.

‘Let us collapse the system for practitioners to go back to the drawing board and design an economically viable arts and culture sector that will take the Nigerian nation beyond her shores and be a visible, viable contributor to the national economy and not a deplete of our common wealth.’

At the time when the report was submitted, there were 541 government parastatals, commissions and agencies (statutory and non-statutory) in the country and the report recommended a reduction in the number of statutory agencies from 263 to 161.

At present, the number of federal agencies has increased as new agencies have been established since the report was released in