STATE OF THE ART

Nigeria 2017 | TOURISM | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Hon. Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, on incentives for artists, combating piracy, and organizing festivals.

Hon. Alhaji Lai Mohammed
BIOGRAPHY
Hon. Alhaji Lai Mohammed, a politician, lawyer and public relations practitioner, obtained a bachelor’s degree in French from Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) and a law degree from the University of Lagos (Unilag) and was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1986. He co-founded the legal firm of Edu & Mohammed as a senior partner in 1989. He is an active politician and, until his appointment as minister, served as the National Publicity Secretary for Nigeria’s ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). He is a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) and worked as a public relations officer for almost 10 years with what was then called the Nigerian Airport Authority.

The government will set up a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). What type of incentives will this institution offer?

We realized that the creative arts, in particular music, film, culture, and literature, are facing challenges due to a lack of institutional funding. Because of that, they have had to think very small and were unable to achieve anything of magnitude. The challenge that creative industries face in Nigeria is piracy within the distribution chain, and that is partly due to the failure of the government to protect the intellectual rights of this community. At the base of all this is the fact that unlike other sectors, the arts lack a specific bank or fund, which can be found in other sectors such as the Bank of Agriculture, where applicants can get funding at a rate that is almost subsidized. In the case of the creative industries, it is even more challenging as it is an unstructured industry; it is an industry that thrives on the talents and skills of individuals. What is being achieved in music today and the film industry has been done largely without governmental support. If we are able to support them with the National Endowment Fund, we can definitely boost the sector.

What measures is the ministry implementing to combat piracy?

Piracy is a problem of monstrous proportions; for every 10 movies eight are pirated. There have been several suggestions on how to tackle the issue. Our experience in fighting piracy in the entertainment industry is that we cannot continue to fight piracy using the same methods and tools as in the past. Pirates are well funded, motivated, and organized. The incentive is huge because from investing nothing they can make millions of dollars out of the sweat of artists. Piracy is not just restricted to films and music; it goes to books and even to cable and satellite television. We need a combination of factors to fight pirates. We need to strengthen the capacity and abilities of all the agencies that fight piracy. The police need to be encouraged and I would recommend a national task force against piracy, as it is a real economic crime. Moving from analog to digital broadcasting will also help because it will make it easier for filmmakers and musicians to release their work directly to the channels, hence unofficial channels will have less success.

You have repeatadly advocated for the revival of festivals. What major cultural initiatives can be expected to take place in Nigeria in 2016?

We seek to create a calendar of festivals. I have asked my cultural department to reach out to their counterparts in all the states and have asked the various directors of culture within the various states to give us a list of at least 10 festivals in their state in order of priority and importance. When I have that compendium, I can market the various festivals. Hence, anyone coming to Nigeria will have an idea of what festival is taking place at any particular time. I am also working with the British Council and we have a couple of seminars and workshops on the creative industry and part of this concerns conducting research on the various creative industries. Festivals are a veritable source of job creation. For example, it takes 100 people to stage one festival in the eastern part of Nigeria, and another 100 people to dismantle it. So if that festival lasts for a week, then it will employ hundreds of people for that week. We are looking into areas where culture is not just about entertainment but a veritable economy. Creative industries, of which festivals are a part, create a local economy for the local people, which will help stem urban migration and help with the main objective of the government: to diversify the economy.