In this Interview with Nigerian NewsDirect, the DG, National Council for Arts and Culture, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe at the occasion of the 2021 National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) hosted in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State Capital, with the theme “Celebrating National Unity in Diversity,” spoke on the erosion of culture in Nigeria. According to him, though having a lingua franca apart from English has been possible in other countries, the Nigerian diversified population is a challenge. He submitted that cultural restructuring capable of empowering more Nigerians is the way to go in the country. This is just has he called for tolerance towards nation building. Excerpts:
Looking at NAFEST activities, how do you get support from private sector to assist the agenda?
You see, this private sector you are referring to are not Father Christmas. Nobody will put his valued money on a programme until he finds out what he’ll get as return value. Well, when I took over NAFEST, it was not this big but today, my plans and projections are to build a brand identity in Africa so we can start to call in sponsors. There are differences between sponsors, partners and supporters. Right now, we have about six to seven partners. In most cases in Africa, we build a brand which will fold up after two years because there are no sponsors. This is another marketing strategy different from what we are saying. So, now we need a brand for marketing strategy.
You’ve always being a public figure, what’s your idea on restructuring?
You see, that question is not for me. I am a technocrat; my job is to use culture to unite Nigeria. I’m sure Femi Adesina, Garuba Shehu and the likes, will be too good to answer the restructuring question: But if you ask me restructuring at the level of culture then I can tell you we need to have a cultural structure that will be based on empowering more Nigerians and put food on their tables. It is that aspect of restructuring I totally agree with.
Still talking about culture, if you look at the syllabus of most schools — primary, secondary and tertiary — subjects as history won’t be found, what are you doing to make sure cultural courses are restored?
That is what we are doing now technically. We have imbibed other people’s culture. Do you know now if you speak Igbo or yoruba or Hausa in an event and you make mistake nobody will bother you, but when you make mistake in English you’ll be called names. In fact, for you to be able to catch the attention of your audience, you must be able to speak good English; your narrative must be strong. It is by this, your audience will be convinced you can speak. The way we are having it, if you want me to speak Yoruba, it may be a little difficult. I’m sure the truth is when we see our children speak good English, we’ll be excited but, when they speak good Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa it looks like vernacular, so our culture has issues we must resolve it.
Can Nigeria have another language as pidgin as a general language, such as other Countries where English is not their lingua franca?
It will be difficult. We must consider and compare our population. You see, population has its advantages and disadvantages in some instance. Two, people cannot continue to prove wrong, one must look at the right side. So, for me its only that we should bring in and accept the fact. If Gambia or Cameroon or Ghana and Togo are fighting, Nigeria can accommodate them but if Nigeria is fighting, no Country in African can contain them.
What is your take home for visitors and stakeholders?
NAFEST has become a unified means for peaceful coexistence and the time cannot be better than now. The take home is NAFEST has come to stay. It started since 1970 after the Civil war when Tunde Idiagbon said what can we do to unite us: that’s why we have the National Festival and the idea is beyond what people say, it’s to cement unity. So, when you’re talking about Boko Haram and militants, all those things should be no more. I want to appeal to every one of us that we should learn to tolerate each other and respect one another’s culture and religion.