Ondo State forges a new economic route through culture, tourism

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“The language of economic
development, of transformation
of nature, of the re-organisation
of social activity is basically
cultural and not, as some economists
want us to believe,
a mechanistic substitution of
man’s social activity with
abstract categories Dr. Sule Bello (1989)

Sule Bello’s statement, cited above, reflect current thinking among experts on the symbiotic relationship between culture and economic development.

It is one, which demands that culture should be the fulcrum of development. Series of conventions and policies since the 1980s have sounded this note, albeit in differing tones. UNESCO’s World Decade for Culture and Development (1987-97), the Convention of the Coalition of Nigerian Artists CONA (Lagos, 1991) both address issue of culture and development.

Also, the European Commission/African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) States Colloquium of 2009 explored the theme ‘Culture and Creation as Vectors for Development’.

This is the spirit that rules reflections on culture and creativity in Nigeria today. And it is appropriately reflected in the theme of this Summit, ‘Culture, Art and Tourism: Forging a New Economic Route for Ondo State Towards a Sustainable Future.’

Culture is defined in the Cultural Policy for Nigeria (1988) as

‘…The totality of the way of life
evolved by a people to meet
with the challenges of living
in their environment, which
gives order and meaning to
their social, economic, aesthetic
and religious norms and
modes of organization, thus
distinguishing a people from
their neighbours.’

The policy goes on to state that culture comprises four components, that is, the material, institutional, philosophical and creative aspects.

The material has to do with tools, clothing, food, medicine, utensils, housing, etc. The institutional is about political, social, legal and economic structures created to help achieve material objective.

The philosophical component of culture is concerned with ideas, beliefs and values while the creative aspect is principally about literature (oral and written), visual and performing arts.

From the definition of culture to the brief analysis on components of culture in the Cultural Policy, it is clear that culture is the matrix, the mold in which an entire society is cast. This is what the late world-class Nigerian medical practitioner and former Vice-President of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Prof. T. A. Lambo implies when he states:
‘…..”Value and value orientation
in Nigerian society…..”embraces
critical issues such as, for
example science, art, education,
aesthetics, ethics, creativity
and man.’

Culture is all-encompassing. It is, therefore, instructive that sustainable development, as the Ondo State stakeholders aim to achieve, should be holistic; not isolating and prioritising one aspect of life from and over the others in a smothering compartment.

Rather, it is most worthwhile to explore the organic connection of these components, as it is most beneficial for society.

Even as it is essential in these modern times to give specialized attention to individual fields of human endeavour on the basis of division of labour, they should ultimately converge at a point where jointly they serve as an index of civilisation across time and space. Art and tourism will be examined upon this cultural parameter in the next sequences.

Art is generally defined as the creation of works of beauty. Beauty in this sense is not the sheer pre-occupation of an aesthete, that is, someone who is almost religiously obsessed with fancy.

Rather, beauty is a sublime product of the creative imagination mediated by a fresh, delightful manner of expression. It is a novelty which, in the words of Thomas Hobbes.

‘…..causeth admiration; and
admiration curiosity which is
a delightful appetite for knowledge;

In other words, the work of art is not so relevant to social needs until it stimulates the audience’s desire to enquire into the actualities of the creative process and ultimately become aware of certain facts about life and living.

This chain-reaction in aesthetics is what the artist adopts to influence the consciousness of the people.

It is what has evolved into the social, functionalist theory of art, which diminishes ‘art for art’s sake’ while upholding and elevating art as a change-agent in the development of society.

As such, one is suggesting at this juncture that Ondo State can utilize the creative arts to

* Mobilise the people for socio-economic action

* Change their mind-set in a positive direction

* Galvanise their creative energies to enhance values of development dimension and

Create avenues for recreation, reflection and education

Tourism, the twin-subject of cultural-creative component under the theme of this summit is simply defined as ‘the practice of travelling to and visiting places for recreation’.

This definition suffices at the surface level of the spatial concern of the subject, that is, the mobility of people from place to place for the purpose of relaxation.

Yet, in the deeper structure, tourism subsists on a comprehensive, strategic industrial base. It is not, and should not be perceived to be only about hotels and hospitality business.

The Ondo State agenda for economic development through tourism should recognize the fact that tourism relies on resources from other professions for its mainstay.

Tourism taps into the heritages and the creative industry, into geography and the sciences, into culture programming, curatorial services and publishing. Beyond the pleasure principle, tourism provides education in an informal way.

It also facilitates socialization among hosts and guests even to the extent of acting as a bridge-builder across cultures. In this connection, it sometimes leads to business partnership, thereby yielding economic dividends.

As such, it is incumbent on Ondo State to take a bold step in institutionalizing tourism by establishing schools to train specialized practitioners. Apart from privately-owned catering and aviation support schools, I do not think there are other institutions of higher rating in Nigeria handling the multi-faceted sort of professionalism demanded by a well-developed tourism sub-sector. But I am aware that Morocco has a university that produces graduates specializing in tourism. Ondo State can score a first in Nigeria in this respect.

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The Creative Industry: A Survey of the Realm

AS I had indicated earlier on, despite bold dichotomies that exist between art and tourism in terms of definitions, concept and practice, they are synergetically connected.

To effectively convey the synergy, I have placed the two subjects under the umbrella of the more economically appealing activity known as the creative industry to which they belong. And this is what we are examining in this sequence, a catalogue of the manifestations of culture through art and tourism in Ondo State.

To begin with, this is like paying homage. It is on record that Ondo State hosts one of the oldest historical evidences of human habitation in West Africa, that is, the Iwo Eleru cave in Isarun, a village between Ilara-Mokin and Igbara-Oke, along Akure-Ilesa Road.

Professor Thurstan Shaw of the University Of Ibadan excavated human fossils from this site in 1965. According to Segun Ilori, the editor of Ondo State Annual and Who’s Who (1991), radio-carbon dating showed that man lived in the cave 11,289 years ago, that is about 9200 BC.

This archaeological find is a source of pride to Ondo State and a major cultural and touristic asset in the study of the foundational elements of her civilisation.

Indeed, those ancestors cannot be said to be primitive because they produced tools and utensils, which supported their basic needs at that point of human history, about 6,000 years before the Neolithic Age, that is the latter Stone Age in Europe.

If, in fact Ondo State accepts the proposition on the State Tourism Institute, I would further suggest that it should be sited in Isarun, host community of the Iwo-Eleru Cave, Legacy of 11,000 years.

Creative manifestations have sometimes been viewed from two perspectives; the traditional and the modern. I adopt this for two reasons; celebratory on the one hand and critical on the other.

Beginning with traditional artistic manifestations in Ondo State, which are often classified as legacies from the past, they abound plenteously in the state and, from various information outlets and critical reviews they have been favourably appraised.

The Owo Bronze Sculptures holds a strategic place in ancient art history in Nigeria because it seems to mark a transitional phase between Ife and Benin.

The Obitun Bridal Dancers of Ondo and their counterparts, the Orosun Bridal Dancers of Owo are beautiful experiences in the performing art of dance.

From the vantage point of a theatre producer and director, I have observed and even participated in the showcasing of this spectacular and exciting Ondo State acts on the local and international stage. They have often received rousing ovation.

The polyphonic and hair-raising Zion Musical Spirituals of the Ilaje people, which has currently carved its route into the urban setting in Nigeria with remarkable success, is Nigeria’s and Ondo State’s answer to the Negro Spirituals of America.

The traditional festivals, including the masquerades, are also vital creative resource. Some people may want to know how. The answer is straight-forward.

Theatre began in ancient Greece, the foundation of European civilisation with masks. The Japanese Kabuki Theatre is a mask-based theatre and still very much alive in Japan.

The mask theatre in these cultures continue to thrive because they cherish their tradition. But in Africa, we demonise our traditions and work with bigoted religious zeal to destroy them.

The masquerade is – pure and simple – a play, a huge entertainment pageant which can be reworked and re-packaged conceptually to fit into a carnival format for touristic benefits.

To conclude this segment on traditional creative manifestations in Ondo State, I borrow a thought from Professor Ade Obayemi.

He indicts the Nigerian cultural intelligentsia and bureaucrats for their unwholesome attitude to tradition over the decades.

According to him,

‘……. there are those who tend to hold a monolithic view of the past.
This group of persons, or rather those who hold notions of the past as a
monolithic whole tend to see the past as the ‘traditional’ past. Thus
for example, the past of the Tiv, Igbo,Kanuri, Nupe, etc tend to be seen
as one massive, static whole. This conception of the past tends to hold the
“past” and tradition as standing apart from modern things. A major
weakness of this prevalent view of the past is that it tends to view “tradition”,
the “past” or the “ancient” as if it is generically distinct from and or
identified as a set of realities from the modern.’

The admonition in this passage cited from the renowned historian is that we should never forget that the past informs the present, just as the present projects itself into the future with viable legacies. The Yoruba are so concerned about the rite of inheritance that they forewarn about its tragic turn with a proverb, ‘Omo ti a ko ba ko ni o ngbe ile ti a ko ta’, meaning : “It is an untrained child that trades away his inheritance.”

Sustainability should begin with how best you can maintain what is bequeathed unto you.

Recall the parable of the rich man in the Holy Bible and his three servants? To forge a new economic route for Ondo State towards a sustainable future, stakeholders in the Sunshine State should avoid cultural prodigality in which enduring treasures from the past are frittered away, abandoned or neglected for the newly emergent, sometimes ephemeral trends.

This is an ariyawo k’oyale (marrying a new wife and abandoning the senior wife) syndrome, which unfortunately is counter-productive in all reckonings. Using art and tourism to further economic goals demand a business-like approach. Do not waste resources, be it of the past, present or emerging.

Ondo State should revamp, re-activate, repackage and if necessary renegotiate traditional creative manifestations in line with the characteristic dynamics of culture to realise its economic objective. In other climes, the Iwo-Eleru cave would already be a money-spinner. The ancestors are waiting.
So much for traditional art!

The contemporary creative industry has become a defining indicator of enterprise in Nigeria in the past three decades or so.

Although the fortune does not spread evenly from discipline to discipline due to certain debilitating mind-set or anti-intellectual tendencies, it is still valid to state that things are looking up in the creative industry in Nigeria.

Without much ado, let it be quickly noted that there is something intriguing about Ondo State and her human resource output in the Nigerian creative industry.

Some of the biggest names in the creative arts and even in tourism are indigenes of Ondo State in diaspora.

One does not know how vibrant, for instance, the entertainment industry is or how many theatre productions are staged in the state yearly. But one is aware that some of these big names igniting our fantasy from Lagos or Ibadan are sons and daughters of Ondo State.

Some of them you know. Some of them you don’t. One has to reconcile minds in this forum by naming them in no particular order of prominence.

The music scene records for Ondo State the legend of the inimitable King Sunny Ade (Ondo Town), the late Orlando Owomoyela (Owo), the late Theophilus Iwalokun(Ilaje), the late Princess Comfort Omoge (Ikale), currently reigning gospel music diva, Funmi Aragbaiye, Debo Ogungbuyi (Ilaje), multi-talented Salome Eketunde (Apoi), and the hip-hop enfante terrible, Small Doctor, whose mother is Igbobini (Apoi).

Chief D.O. Fagunwa, remains an icon in the literary arts, firstly for his series of Yoruba novels, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Olodumare and others, secondly for the influence of his magical realism on world literature and, thirdly for the attention his novels have drawn to Igbo-Olodumare in Oke-Igbo, Ondo State as a tourist site. Some Fagunwa’s novels have also been successfully adapted for the theatre stage, the most prominent being Langbodo by Wale Ogunyemi, Nigeria’s drama showpiece at FESTAC 77.

Still on theatre, Ondo State has produced some of the most outstanding dramatists and theatre directors in the country. Some of the notables are Professor Kole Omotoso, Ben Tomoloju author of Jankariwo and so many other plays , Jide Ogungbade, Leke Ogunfeyimi and Felix Emoruwa.

In the field of fine art, a former Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Ondo State, Chief Tola Wewe, is a well-known name, well exhibited locally and internationally. We also have Chief Afolabi Segede, a graduate of the University of of Ife who sculpted The Fisherman’s Statue at the waterfront in Igbokoda. Kunle Adeyemi, from Ondo Town, is a painter and print-maker and current Dean, School of Art and Printing, Yaba College of Technology.

Aladegbohungbe Aderinsoye is a painter and currently a Ph.D student at the University of Benin. Festus Adeyemi is Dean, School of Art, Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka.

The motion pictures and theatre enterprises parade some of the most highly celebrated Nigerian stars of Ondo State origin in diaspora. They are Omotola Jolade Ekeinde, Funso Adeolu (Ikale), Ronke – Oshodi Oke – Ojo (Akure), Salome Eketunde (Fijabi – Apoi),Bimbo Oshin (Ondo Town), Yemi Black(Ondo Town), Princess Dupe Adetuwo (Former Regent of the Abodi of Ikaleland, Ikoya), Elder Bayo Awala (Producer-Director of defunct Village Headmaster –Ilaje).

Others are: Ireti Doyle (Ondo Town), Sola Sobowale (Toyin Tomato – Owo), Jibola Dabo (Owo), Ayo Makun (Ace Comedian AY – Ondo Town), Yemi Ayebo (Yemi my lover – Ikale), Adenike Awodumila (Bisola Yoyo – Ikale), Mary Joseph (Ikale), Modupe Johnson (Fali Werepe – Ilaje) and Seyi Law (Ilaje).

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At the entrepreneurial level professionals like Asiwaju Benson Akindeju, the proprietor of AK Media, Tade Ogidan producer and director of the award-winning movie, ‘Owo Blow’, Prince Dapo Adelegan, Producer of LEKKI SUNSPLASH, the biggest musical event in Lagos in the 1990s and Dr. Wanle Akinboboye, the Executive Producer of Atunda Entertaiment and Chairman of La Campaigne Tropicana, a tourism company are forces to reckon with. The list of these creative personages cannot be exhausted in this medium.

However, with this array of famous literary, visual, performing artists and generally creative individuals not being clearly linked with the home-front, there is a subtle indication that Ondo State has not networked its way sufficiently to optimally explore the use-value of these popular citizens and the human resource they provide.

For art and tourism promotion, these individuals and their equally endowed colleagues, by sheer participatory presence in State events, can mobilise the populace for economically rewarding initiatives.

Programmes and projects like carnivals, concerts, film and theatre festivals, special traditional festivals, fashion shows, beauty pageants and numerous others are events of hugely beneficial value which the state should not ignore in this day and age. They create jobs and create wealth at both formal and informal levels.

The fact that these events appeal specially to the youth is also a point to note. A culture scholar, Anthonia Makwemoisia, writes concerning the youth:

‘Adequate jobs should be provided by actively and aggressively
exploring the various options in our cultural heritage.’ 6

This is exactly what our suggestion on the above-listed events, which belong in the area of popular culture is aimed at; wealth-creation and job-creation to take the millions of young people away from the streets into productive engagements.

For example, as I once proposed in a paper, ‘Culture Administration and Local Government’ (2009) Cottage Theatres and Multi-purpose Cultural Centres can be built in major cities in Nigeria to promote the skills of young people, enterprise and employment opportunities.

It applies to every state, including Ondo. The repertoire of cultural events generated in these theatres can imbue the tourism sector with exciting activities that will keep visitors busy all the year round.

In the United States of America, for instance, the entertainment and entire creative industry are so economically virile that if they should crash, the American Stock Exchange will experience an economic tremor of monumental dimension. And this is not about music and movies alone.

In 1990 in one of the Smithsonian Institutes’ Museums in Boston, I attended an exhibition of the ancient Art of Benin and observed how touring college students in their droves filed up in a very long queue and took turns to see the exhibits for the whole number of hours I was there. Entertainment and the arts are among the livewires of the American economy.

In a city like Munich, capital of the Bavarian Province in Germany, as at my last visit in 1998, there were over 500 theatres of various capacities, each of them running shows profitably on a daily basis all year round. We accept that the economies of these countries are buoyant and that their citizens can afford to pay the bills based on their strong per capita incomes and social security incentives.

The Nigerian economic reality is not that rosy. Yet we should not allow our distressed economy to be an inhibition to noble aspirations. Rather, it should be seen as a challenge and a stimulant towards attaining higher goals.

The Americans, during the Great Depression of the 1930s-40s, had their incomes subsidised in a programme called the ‘New Deal’ as implemented by the then President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The President was so determined to keep Americans working that creative individuals were paid simply to create.

Ondo State can explore such value orientation through art and tourism for sustainable economic growth because the creative industry is so resilient that once it is set in motion, it will continue to absorb the shocks of the job-market and advance into prosperity.

The Nollywood phenomenon, which has become a multi-billion naira industry in Nigeria began in the years of the Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP) in the 1980s.

The Nollywood breakthrough should clear all the doubts about the viability of the creative industry and encourage government and the private sector to invest in this sector.

This should take place simultaneously with a strategy in social re-orientation through formal and informal education. For instance, such stars as are listed above can periodically be invited by the relevant agencies of the Ondo State government and non-governmental stakeholders to mentor the young ones on so many vital subjects in the area of art and tourism.

Tourism, especially, can benefit immensely from this youth re-orientation strategy, because the syllabus can relate directly to issues like socialisation, hospitality, security, environment, etc. The state should also look at the possibility of encouraging schools, once again, to establish Tourism Society for pupils and students when the security situation in Nigeria is under full control.

One is placing emphasis on the youth, at this point, principally because of the appeal of the word ‘sustainable’ in the very theme of this summit.

The word is, at one and the same time contemporaneous and futuristic in spirit.

Remember that, in the course of this presentation, one had had the cause to subtly indict this generation for the abandonment of legacies handed down from the past.

Let us assume, for instance, that the present leadership in Ondo State, spurred by the communiqué of this summit, decides to forge a new social order where there is equity and justice, a renaissance where art and learning flourishes and an economy that booms and attracts tourists from far and wide.

Let us just assume that the Tourism Institute in Isarun has been established.

Who will inherit and administer these legacies on the basis of what we refer to as a ‘sustainable future’? It is the young one to whom ones conclusive statements are being directed in this address.

Education is key to the development of the youth in equal measure with the development of the society, so that the labours of this generation will not be in vain and we will not have to return to the saying of our forefathers that ‘it is an untrained child that trades away his inheritance.’

Whatever cultural value we prize as being vital for the sustenance of the good life, we must inculcate in the young ones through sound education. And this should reflect in them the quintessential attribute of cultured individuals.

Such are the breed that will internalise and actualise the agenda of the leadership of state – including the economic prospects of culture, art and tourism – and continue to promote, preserve and propagate it to generation yet unborn.

However, there are tasks at hand for those of us who are currently at the helm of affairs in the formulation, administration and implementation of policies in these areas. And, towards this end, I recommend that the Ondo State Government should

1) use the arts as a mobilising agent in all areas of development,

2) tap into the abundant human resources of indigenes at home and in the diaspora to grow the local economy,

3) design and implement programmes that will bring Ondo State Cultural Ambassadors home to impact positively on the state’s creative industry,

4) create avenues for recreation, reflection and education by exploring the interface of arts and tourism,

5) establish Cottage Theatres and Cultural Centres in major towns – with all the advantages of subsidiary industries cropping up – for job and wealth creation,

6) take a holistic approach to training in all the disciplines within the tourism sub-sector
for even and comprehensive development of human capacity,

7) establish a higher institution on tourism at Isarun to (a) enhance human capacity in the field for better productivity and (b) symbolically draw global attention to 11,000 years and beyond of human civilisation in the state while exploiting its other educational, commercial, social, artistic and touristic advantages,

8) renovate and repackage all Heritage Sites to optimise their economic value,

9) resuscitate the old AGRIC SHOW (PAGEANT) across the state, using art and tourism to inspire and boost agricultural productivity,

10) effect a synthesis of traditional and contemporary performing arts to develop a unique and an appealing carnival format for an Annual Ondo State Carnival, with an Annual Regatta organised in the Riverine areas,

11) explore the Cottage Theatres and Cultural Centres to design a Cultural Calendar and expand on destinations for tourists,

12) encourage the staging of concerts, film and theatre festivals, special traditional festivals, fashion shows, beauty pageant, etc to make the state a vibrant destination in pop-culture,

13) create incentives for investors in the creative industry by way of tax rebates for gestation periods, land-use concessions and special grants where necessary.

14) educate the youth in cultural, artistic and touristic values enumerated here and elsewhere that the legacy so entrenched may endure and keep growing.

Culled from: The Guardian

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