Otunba Segun Runsewe is the Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture. He tells FRIDAY OLOKOR about how he intends to use culture to reunite the country and other issues
As the Director General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, what are your duties?
My duties and responsibilities are to use culture to build bridges, to promote unity among Nigerians and make Nigerians believe in themselves. It is a unique responsibility that does not come always. Most people don’t even understand what culture is. I thank God I have been able to use culture to build bridges across the country and today, after the first and second lockdown, we were able to organise one of the best events in the history of Africa, which is the National Festival of Arts and Culture.
What do you consider to be your major achievements as the DG of NCAC?
Honestly, I find it difficult to discuss my achievements. I always want others to discuss them. But, since you have pushed it to me at this level, I believe we have been able to make the brand more acceptable and accessible to the people. At the end of the day, in every state we visit, they can see that the NCAC has a brand. This country is one entity, irrespective of our challenges and differences. For me, this is a wonderful platform that we have been able to use and a lot of Nigerians respect and believe in it.
What are the major challenges you face in the course of your duties at NCAC being that Nigeria is a very complex country?
There are challenges but one must be at alert to see those challenges as preparing one for the future to be a champion. Challenges are normal but one must be ready to be focused to overcome them. I actually call them opportunities to improve because some of these challenges prepare one for bigger and better opportunities in the future.
You stated that the vision of NCAC under your leadership is to reposition culture as a tool for national unity, peace and social integration as well as machinery for stimulating socio-economic growth. How well have you been able to achieve that?
We have been able to achieve that. We just got back from Ekiti State for the Chief Executives of Culture meeting and states were represented. As far as I’m concerned, there cannot be a better platform to unite our country than using the cultural diplomacy, which is important to developing any nation. What I have used in this particular aspect is cultural diplomacy. By respecting every other person’s culture, we would have peace in this country. We have been able to achieve a lot by adopting the cultural diplomacy strategy.
Many Nigerian youths seem not to be in tune with our culture but instead they are in tune with Western cultures. Are you not worried about that and what are you doing to change that trend?
Yes, I am worried. We must go back to our family values, school values and the societal values. Nobody can train their children alone. They will go to school and mix with their peer groups. I agree with you that we need to do more. Once you don’t engage the youths at the right time, they would go for other things. For me, we have been able to meet a lot of youth organisations, the university community and non-governmental organisations, and from time to time, have capacity building (sessions) with them.
I am not ready to blow my trumpet but I can tell you that this humble contribution has helped to revive our cultural values. I have fought immorality and rape in our society, and we will continue to do that. But, we need the buy-in of parents, teachers and the immediate community. We are also deploying new media. In this generation, you must have all these platforms. For a long time, nobody was talking to our youths and that caused part of the challenges we have today. However, we have succeeded to a large extent because a lot of the state chapters that came up then have been broken down. Now, they know that it is no longer business as usual. We have been able to enlighten Nigerians on the damages caused by immoral activities to society.
I must thank the National Council of Women Societies, the Nigerian National Youth Council and many others for their support. In few years to come, Nigerians will celebrate what we have been able to do.
You publicly spoke against a popular cross dresser, Bobrisky, sometime ago. Have you made any attempt to reach out to him to make him see your point of view?
One has to look at the legal framework of addressing any challenge. I am not a trained counsellor but we have our own means of reaching him, to let him know that what he is doing is not right. And, it’s not only him. There were a couple of them but with our strategy, we have been able to tame it down.
You met him physically?
No, we don’t need to go to him physically. There are lots of ways by which we can let him know (what we feel about his actions) and we thank God that many Nigerian youths did not believe in his immoral stand (acts). A lot of them that did not know the dangers are now aware and they have eased themselves out of it. We are happy that we have been able to make some progress.
The COVID-19 pandemic seriously impacted the tourism sector. As a stakeholder in the tourism sector, how do you think the country can bounce back from the effects of the pandemic?
Immediately we were getting out of the pandemic, I introduced different programmes. I was the one that hosted one of the biggest events (amid the pandemic) at the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, Lagos. The reason was because I knew that the industry was suffering, and I felt I had to do something. A lot of people commended my efforts at organising different activities.
We hosted a lot of Zoom session during the pandemic. We kept the industry busy and they all appreciated it. They were happy that there was no dull moment. Every Saturday we had Zoom meetings, where we discussed with all the stakeholders, at home and abroad. At the height of the pandemic, we made friends from over 30 countries.
Indeed, COVD-19 affected more of this sector but some of us succeeded in looking for other platforms to get things done and make life easy.
During the event at Sheraton, there were over 32 embassies in attendance and they were very excited about the programme. Two African countries have even contacted me, asking how they could do something similar. It is my joy that Nigeria is breaking grounds.
What were the highlights of your time as the Executive Director of the National Orientation Agency?
At that time, we focused on three fundamental areas— public enlightenment, reorientation of attitude, stewardship and accountability of public office holders. It was a great experience and I think one of my biggest achievements was being able to visit every part of the country. The NOA was a good experience for me to travel, network and work in every part of the country. I thank God for that opportunity because it helped me to build a stronger and better Nigeria.
While at the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, you launched the ‘Tourism is Life’ campaign. Would you say it succeeded or failed?
It succeeded 100 per cent. Stakeholders in Spain actually approached us at one of the international fairs in Madrid called FITO, that we should negotiate with them to give them the slogan. I am of the opinion that everything we do revolves around tourism because it is about our culture. A lot of people appreciated it and it was an exciting time for me.
You were the pioneer chairman of the Abuja Carnival Planning Committee. Can you recall some of the most interesting moments you had in that capacity?
A lot of people misunderstood what the Abuja Carnival stood for. The then President of Nigeria, Dr Olusegun Obasanjo, wanted us to have the carnival for five years, then domesticate it in the states, so that each state would come up with strong content that would have tourism potentials. However, some people misunderstood what it stood for and wanted to use it for other reasons.
As for me, we tried to do our best and used that platform very well to bring Nigerians together. But when we left, there were some other interests. For now, we need to encourage states to come up with similar programmes, so that we can showcase Nigeria in a positive light.
You put together the Nigerian Tourism Village during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. What do you recall of that experience?
Let me thank the then president of Nigeria (Goodluck Jonathan) who gave us the opportunity to build the ‘village.’ A football game is played for 90 minutes but after that, what happens? So, I took Nigeria to the world. I used football to showcase the culture of Nigeria. I must also thank the then Nigerian Ambassador to South African, Buba Marwa. He gave us tremendous support and with the assistance of the embassy, we had the best ‘village’ at the World Cup. Though we did not win the World Cup, but we had the best ‘village’ at the competition. We cannot win everything but we must always project our country in the best light.
What were the highlights of your time as the chairman of the Nigerian sports Writers Association?
I have special interest in sports. Sport is a great instrument that can be used to reduce crime, unemployment and a lot of the excesses of youths. If Nigeria is playing a game against another country, nobody would discuss politics or any other thing. The interest of everybody would be for Nigeria to win.
So, we must use that spirit to get our youths closer to home. Some other countries use their sporting activities to develop their youths for the future, and I believe we can also achieve that.
As the chairman of the African-China Culture and Arts Society, what were the major innovations you brought to bear on that position?
There was a meeting and it was agreed that I am the best person to chair the organisation. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been able to unite all the African countries involved with China to the extent that the Chinese government took me to China to be part of one of their major conferences where they discussed the global creative industry. The African-China Culture and Arts Society is a unique platform to showcase African countries connecting with China.
Because of my involvement, a lot of Nigerians have benefitted from the brand to the extent that two years ago, over five Nigerians attended different programmes in China which were fully sponsored by the Chinese Cultural Office in Nigeria.
You hold different traditional titles from different parts of the country. Tell us about some of them and how they came about.
I have different titles from different areas in Nigeria but I will mention about three. I am the Danbaran Kebbi in Argungun.
I succeeded in working with the emirate and brought back the Argungun fishing festival. Because of that, many traditional rulers there came together and said I had done a lot for the community, so I was given the title. That should tell you that in this country, we are one, regardless of religion or where one comes from. That action of the emir shows that the people from that emirate love visitors. They want people to come around them and I am very happy with that title.
My friends that I grew up with in Kaduna State also came together and called me ‘Ajaha Allah,’ which can be translated to mean, ‘The man God has kept.’
In the eastern part of the country, Igbo-Ukwu, Anambra State, to be precise, they called me ‘Obiagwu I,’ which means ‘the man with the lion heart.’ Also, in Bende, Abia State, they gave me a unique title, ‘Okaura I,’ which means ‘the man who speaks for the people.’
You have travelled to a lot of countries. What are the most interesting experiences you’ve had outside Nigeria?
In any country I travel to, I usually go to the prisons to check if there is any Nigerian there. I had a wonderful experience when I went to a prison in Spain in 2009. It took some time before they allowed me in and they told me there were over 10 Nigerian youths there. I insisted that I wanted to see them and when they finally brought them out, about four of them were not Nigerians but they had Nigerian passports. That is to tell you how many people have used our passports to cause damages for the country. That was when I also realised that many of the people arrested outside Nigeria are not really Nigerians. That is why we need to be very careful about the way our passports are used everywhere.
What fond memories can you recall of your childhood?
I was born and brought up in Kaduna State. I was the first southerner to be the General Manager of the New Nigerian Newspapers. When I was growing up, we lived together with people from various parts of the country. Nobody bothered about where one was from. We lived in one accord as Nigerians.
All of a sudden, we got to where we are today. Some of us are not happy that people are calling for the division of this country. However, it is an opportunity to tell them that Nigeria is a specially designed and designated country. We may have our challenges but I believe this country will remain as one. I went to school with Hausas, Igbos, Yorubas, Tivs, Idomas, and people from different parts of the country; all in Kaduna
One unique thing in Kaduna then was that Christians celebrated Sallah with Muslims and Muslims celebrated Christmas with Christians. We lived together in harmony but today, the story is different. However, I pray that very soon, Nigeria will return to that unique place we all enjoyed.
Some people say that the fortunes of the New Nigerian Newspapers declined when you held sway as the chief executive. What’s your reaction to that?
That is not correct at all. When I was the General Manager, I was in Lagos, and that was one of the best moments of the paper. We were actually paying salaries from Lagos to the whole country, and the records are there. We also used to lend other media houses newsprint during our time. The company had robust and effective commercial sections. We handled all the printing jobs of the then National Electric Power Authority, Nigerian Telecommunications Limited, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and Nigerian Ports Authority. We also did one of the major printing jobs for the Ministry of Education.
We had the likes of Mamman Daura, Adamu Ciroma, Turi Mohammed and Mohammed Haruna, who were all chief executives then. In fact, there was a saying then that if you went through New Nigeria, you did not need to go for the National Youth Service Corps scheme because of the fantastic training you would get there.
What would you say killed the newspaper?
It was a case of losing focus of what it was mandated to do. We had a very big opening. The paper had one segment called ‘Candido’ and everybody wanted to read it. But at a stage, we lost all of that because we did not follow up on our editorial capacity. Also, our commercial section went down because we were using commercial to sustain the editorial.
Some people felt the newspaper collapsed because it had practically become a government megaphone. Do you agree with that?
Every newspaper in the world has it publisher and the New Nigerian Newspaper’s publisher was the Federal Government before the northerner governors took it up. The northern governors, perhaps, didn’t get the right personnel. The company had the best printing equipment in the country, and the biggest distribution network, but we lost it. We lost it because we did not appreciate and engage the right personnel. I still believe that the newspaper will return to its good old days. It is a matter of will.
How do you unwind?
I unwind very well. Don’t dare to challenge me to a dance because I see dancing as a way of celebrating life. Any day I have the opportunity to magnify and praise God by dancing, you would see a different side of me.
You mostly dress in traditional outfits. What influences that?
I have the dress of most tribes in this country. I can dress like an Igbo man, a Calabar man or a Yoruba man. I believe in traditional outfits, and you cannot see me wearing a suit.
Why is that?
I prefer engaging Nigerian tailors, not for me to take my money abroad (to buy suits). I am interested in African fabrics. Even when I play golf, I use only African fabrics.
What can you tell us about your family?
I am very lucky. I have a lovely wife, who is very understanding and makes me to always give my best. God blessed me with three children, who see me as their icon for a better today. Not everybody is opportune to have that kind of united family. I always make sure I spend quality time with my family.
How does your wife feel about your job, considering that you have to travel often?
She feels very safe because she knows who I am and she knows that my focus is to build a better and bigger family. She knows that I am a reliable husband she can trust.
Do you have interest in running for political office?
For now, politics is one area I believe I don’t have the strength for.
What if you are called by your people to serve them?
I pray that God gives me the calling first before my people. I always put everything I do before God first. If God says that is the way, then I would have no choice. For now, I believe in using my platform to unite Nigeria.
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