Creatives Industries Development Bill: Putting storytelling at centre of govt’s culture policy

by anote
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* Funding, incentives, research, skills, training key components of proposed Bill

By Anote Ajeluorou

THE path that led Col. Felix Alaita (rtd) to charting a workable roadmap for the creative industry is quite instructive and is emblematic of the ‘catch them young’ aphorism. Also, injecting the right investment in the sector as a key component of what is lacking and which needs to be addressed is another. He was in nursery school when he drew his first image with crayon in a painting class – a parrot. The teacher’s excitement at his artistic feat was palpable and that experience has remained with him many years after. And in primary four, Alaita drew his first human image – that of his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, who he works for as Special Adviser on Security. His fascination with the creative sector has, however, remained buried while he made a career for himself in the military, retired and eventually found himself in his current job with Mr. President. And it occurred to him that he could make appreciable impact in the creative sector by some sorts of intervention, seeing that government is disconnected from whatever is happening in that space.

That was when the idea of an Executive Bill, to be known as Creatives Industries Development Bill, that could be passed into an Act before his boss’s administration winds down on May 29, 2023 came to him, and he set to work immediately by assembling a team. But he also needed the input of practitioners across board, particularly storytellers from which all forms of creativity flows – writers and publishers, theatre art practitioners, TV and filmmakers, musicians and lots more, a broad spectrum of creatives for whom government has been an absentee father that has effectively made them orphans struggling to eke out a living on their creative talents and on shoestring budgets.

Col. Felix Alaita

It was therefore a small but significant gathering of some of Nigeria’s storytellers, particularly those in the literary, fictive storytelling culture. Venue was Nigeria’s privately-run Terra Kulture, Lagos, a facility that embodies the aspirations of Nigeria’s culture management excellence that’s still a far-cry from what it should be. A roll call of storytellers in attendance indicated that it was serious business after all. Mahmood Ali-Balogun, Jahman Anikulapo, Victor Okhai, Israel Eboh, Makinde Adeniran, Anwuli Ojugo, Azafi Omoluabi, Samuel Osaze and a host of culture journalists. Dr. Eghosa Imasuen and Mr. Obi Asika are on Alaita’s Creatives Industries Development Bill drafting committee. The gathering was to brief practitioners on an Executive Bill at its fifth drafting stage with the express aim of refocusing the creative sector for growth. It’s a Bill that promises to make funding available for the creative sector, its promoters said. The team therefore needed inputs from the informed storytellers on how to make the Bill richer before the final draft that will be sent to the National Assembly for legislative work before it is signed into law as an Act on or before May 29, 2023.

The retired Colonel of the Nigerian Army did not mince words with the objectives of the draft Bill and the need to further enrich it to meet stakeholders’ expectation of an instrument to reposition the creative sector and make it better than it is. He stated that motivation for the new bill partly stems from the successful passage of The Nigerian Start Act, which he also helped fashion from start to finish. He therefore sort to replicate a similar legal instrument for the creative industry where he has a passion.

“We want to have a platform that will enable the creative industries grow from where they are now to where they ought to be, in a larger scope,” Alaita informed his audience. “We have put together many items that are supposed to help you improve your business landscape. The Bill is going to establish a Commission which will be an umbrella agency that will oversee everything that has to do with the creative industries, and interfaces with every other Ministry, Department and Agencies (MDAs) on your behalf. The idea is to create a one-stop centre where everything about the industry can be resolved, to reduce the bottlenecks and bureaucracies that we normally face when we do business in Nigeria.

“The Bill will also establish a fund that is supposed to create a framework for access to funds at the various layers – from the person who decides on writing a book to the established ones like yourselves, etc. The different layers of funding will be available to you to do your business through a process that will be created in the Act. The Bill also establishes a system in place to ensure that you can use your intellectual property (IP) to access funding, which is a challenge we have identified that a lot of people in the creative industries face.”

Col. Alaita further explained the rational for meeting with industry practitioners in drafting the Bill and the five key areas the Bill will address in providing a holistic, child-focused talent hunting curriculum for children in schools, so they grow up with a clear knowledge of their creative talents and how exactly to tap into them as future career or hobbies.

“I created a concept I call ‘The Whole of Government, The Whole of the Nation Approach to Doing Things’,” he explained further. “This ensures that we don’t just sit as government to create things for people to use without getting feedbacks from them on the viability of those ideas or notions. So we’re here today to get feedback from you on what you think should be in the Bill of such nature that will ensure it is fit for the purpose for which it is designed. We need ownership of the Bill. So the more feedback that we can get and input in the Bill, the more ownership you will have of the Bill.

“The Bill is here for you. The Bill puts you FIRST. FIRST as acronym for funding, incentives, research, skills and training. We want the Bill to be strong on training. We understand the need for a pipeline to be established from nursery school to full adulthood where training of various cadre happens to ensure that the industry is at international standard of quality, going forward. We want children in the nursery school to have dreams and desires of becoming writers, publishers or theatre artists and not when they finish growing up, and they’ve learnt everything to be learnt, then they now possibly want to switch. Let it be organic; let it be something that is nurtured from birth to adulthood. The Bill is very strong on training and will find ways to interface with the Ministry of Education, for instance, to ensure that a syllabus for the creative industry is integrated into the school curriculum to grow talents to meet modern-day standards.”

Bill proponents consultng with stakeholders in Lagos

However, industry stakeholders expressed guided optimism about the Bill from their not-so savoury past experiences of interfacing with government, saying the sector has existed in spite of government’s neglect. But they also stated their readiness to give the Alaita-led Creatives Industries Development Bill initiative a chance by making inputs that would further enrich it. They raised concerns about previous efforts to co-opt industry members into similar initiatives that came to nought, particularly the moribund 1988 National Culture Policy that spells out some of the laudable ideas Col. Alaita espoused like funding and endowment for the arts. How the Commission that the expected Act establish would help secure funding for the creative industry was a major talking point at the meeting, with various options being proposed. Alaita assured that enough ideas would be generated to take care of the funding knotty issue.

Also, how the intended Commission would successfully work with the various MDAs was another troublesome area that was pointed out to Alaita and his team. From experience, most government agencies operate in an opaque manner that shuts out anyone from getting close to how they work much less a willingness to work with anyone not their ‘clique’, a dubious template that has fostered corruption and inefficiency. The proposed Commission was also encouraged to work out a distinction between providing funding for businesses in the sector in form of loans and grants while also leaving room for providing for the welfare of practitioners in moments of identified needs. These were among issues practitioners threw up for consideration into the draft Bill.

Col. Alaita, who said he was working with people who are knowledgeable from the private sector in the Bill committee, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to interface with the writers and content providers, promising to get back to stakeholders with the final draft Bill once it is ready. He was optimistic the Bill would be ready in time for Buhari’s assent before he leaves office on May 29, 2023.

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