1st Political Dialogue on the Creative Industries in Nigeria

A fascinating few days in Lagos, courtesy of Nigeria’s Minister of Culture and the School of Media and Communications in the Pan African University.  It was a deliberate attempt to bring together many of the different facets of developing a strategy for the creative industries.  As the Minister commented, Nigeria’s oil will run out in 35 years so the need to diversify the economy is a priority.  Nollywood already produces more films than Hollywood and Bollywood; the production values need significant improvement before they become mainstream but this is recognised.  It is not so long ago that we talked of the lack of production values in Bollywood films but the transformation that is going on now is remarkable.  With the right support and investment in skills, Nollywood could make the same journey.  Nigerian music leads the field in Africa and is increasingly recognised globally.  Nigerian writers already feature in the international best sellers’ lists.  Nigerian fashion is the new success – Nigerian designers now participate in all the leading fashion weeks, from London to New York, from Paris to Milan and their incredible feel for the use of vibrant colour, flamboyant headgear and elegant styling is increasingly recognised.   There is undoubtedly a growing confidence in their own creativity and in their own heritage – these are not just agencies copying the West – more and more,  the emphasis is on doing things the Nigerian way: boldly, noisily, passionately.  The quality of the work is improving all the time – and, significantly, the importance of the sector is starting to be acknowledged in political, economic and social terms.  As evidence of this, both the Minister of Culture and the Minister of Trade and Investment very actively chaired different days of the conference.  Both the Nexim Development Bank and the Central Bank participated as speakers and panel members.  Many of the regional State Cultural Ministers also attended – there are 35 regional states, all very powerful in their own right, so their participation was critical.   The Federal  President last year allocated approximately £ 800,000 for the sector, the first time the Govt had ever invested in the sector.   The money has been placed with Nexim, the development bank, and is to be made available as soft loans to creative entrepreneurs.   This is where the age-old, globally experienced difficulty for the sector strikes again – how to get a modicum of mutual respect between the creative sector and the finance sector!  A representative of a leading bank gave a breathtaking presentation, reviewing the economic potential of the sector, assessing that its value in the next ten years will be 3billion dollars, and then spelling out, as only a banker can, what was wrong with the sector and what it had to do to improve.  His remedy displayed a fantastic disregard for the key characteristics of the sector, talking as though he were referring to a manufacturing or industrial sector, and his certainty in providing the solution was wonderfully inappropriate.  It was irresistible – I couldn’t help but challenge him that, if the potential of the sector was so great, this must be good news for his business, so why didn’t his bank take a risk now and invest at this early stage to reap the rewards later on?  Although time prevented him from answering me in conference, he did however seek me out later for a conversation.  He had got the point of my question so it will be interesting to see where this dialogue goes.

The Federal Minister of Culture himself is a remarkable character.  Physically built on Welles-ian proportions, he is tall and big but graceful, effortlessly dominating any space he is in.  More interestingly, it transpires that he is an artist.   His final speech on Thursday night was a masterpiece – a politician who clearly understands the values and motivation of artists – oh that we had someone like that in our own beloved DCMS! – and who is at pains to locate the sector as an equal player around the Cabinet table.  He told the story of a Cabinet meeting last week:  the Finance Minister, a woman with an interest in the arts, held up her new handbag at the beginning of the meeting, demanding that everyone admire it.  “Where” she asked “do you think I bought it?”  Her fellow Ministers guessed Gucci, Prada et al.  “Kiduna” she said triumphantly.  “We can make work to compare with the best”.   Whereupon the Minister of Culture, who just happened to have a copy of the UNCTAD Creative Economy report with him, strode over to her and placed it where she was sitting.  “Read that!!” he demanded “We will discuss it next week!”

His speech was long and often lyrical, certainly aspirational, and provoked applause again and again. One of the loudest moments of audience approval came when he commented: I have often met people in other sectors who really wanted to be an artist; but I have never met a theatre director who wanted to be a gynaecologist!

The final day was looking at “Human Capacity Development”.  This is the topic on which I had been invited to give the keynote presentation.  The African Union has recently produced a Capacity Development Strategic Framework for Africa and so I located my presentation within that context.  CidaCo is working with the School of Media and Communications in the Pan African University to develop a project that responds precisely to this agenda, looking beyond the traditional delivery of ‘skills’ and proposing rather the integrated development of competencies, attitudes and behaviours, with an emphasis on leadership, accountability, creativity and innovation.   As far as one can tell, it seemed to go down reasonably well and was warmly received.  There was loud laughter when I told my story of being at an ISPAA conference, many years ago.  On my left sat all the American theatre managers, who seemed to have minimal focus on their programmes and talked only of taking little old blue-rinse widows to dinner to get into their wills;  on my right sat all the Europeans, French and Germans mostly, who had so much Govt subsidy that they could do whatever they liked and had completely lost touch with their audiences;  and in the middle sat the UK, forced by Thatcher to have a foot in both camps – it has stood us in good stead but, heaven knows, I still can only concede that point through gritted teeth!

Anamaria Wills  Anamaria@cida.org    Twitter: anamariacida   W: www.cida.org