Prominent journalist and arts aficionado, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, is the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture. He spoke with a group of arts journalists including WESTERN POST’s ADEOLA OGUNRINDE during the 37th Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Convention held recently in Lagos. He told the journalists that four out of the six Eko Arts Theaters would be ready by the end of this year…
Association of Nigerian Authors’ (ANA) Convention is holding in Lagos for the first time after many years, what does this mean for Lagos State?
It’s a brilliant idea that writers and authors are gathering in Lagos this year for their annual convention because it ties very neatly with what the Lagos State Government is trying to use the arts and creativity to do. You know this is the first time that any governor will give so much attention to arts and creativity in the state. This is also because the theme of the convention is Mega Cities, Mega Narratives. We do not have many mega cities in Nigeria, even West Africa. With Lagos, no doubt, being the number one city-state in Nigeria, it is our hope that now that writers and authors are gathering here to discuss issues that affect writers and creativity, we believe the theme will inspire the narratives that will add value to mega cities, smart cities like Lagos. There is no way we can completely tell the story of a state or a nation without her authors.
What is this administration doing for writers? Are there lots of things the government have done for other forms of arts?
That is why this convention is important. It draws the government closer to the body of writers in demonstrating commitment to the things of the arts. Yes, the musicians have benefitted through The One Lagos Fiesta that we do. Film-makers too. Governor Akinwumi Ambode constituted a board for Arts and Culture, which has two people from the motion pictures, Joke Silva and Kunle Afolayan. Also two from the visual art, Mr. Kolade Oshinowo and Polly Alakija. You are right that other sphere of the arts has had more attention. This is the beginning of a new relationship without discounting the heavy involvement of writers when Lagos celebrated 50 last year. You know the one year event was largely driven by Culture, Arts and Writing. Professor Wole Soyinka was the Co-chairman of Lagos at 50, and before his death, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, who also was a notable writer, was Chair Lagos at 50. You could say in conceiving the whole idea of Lagos at 50, writers were duly involved. We shouldn’t also forget that a whole number of writers were engaged to assist in documenting the rich history of Lagos. Also in terms of publication, Akeem Lasisi and Kabir Alabi Garba were some of those who produced one of the most iconic writings for us to celebrate Lagos at 50.The remaining part of the tenure of Governor Akinwumi Ambode, the writers and authors will be celebrated in such a way we have done with our musicians and other artists.
One of the things Governor Ambode has done is the Arts Theatre, what is happening to that project?
Four theaters will be ready in December out of the six. The four that will be ready are in Opebi, Igando, Epe and Badagry. Work will start for the one in Ikorodu soon. One suitable land has being gotten in Yaba to represent those in the Mainland and work will start on that one. But for the four, it was actually five before, based on the IBILE set-up. Terra Kulture already represents Lagos Island, that was why we said, let us do two more. It was the Terra Kulture arena that inspired the Eko Theaters but ours will be slightly bigger than Terra Kulture. Terra Kulture sits 250, Eko Theater will sit 500. It will have two desks. In having the Eko Theater project, it’s not just theater that the government was looking at, but to provide a home for artists. Money will never be enough but there is some form of sponsorship, which the Lagos State Government can do, like giving spaces such as the Freedom Park and the new Eko Theaters for artists to use for their events.
The last time ANA was held in Lagos was just after writer Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death. What do you think of the role and safety of writers in Nigeria’s democratic governance?
I think the last 19 years of democracy, without a doubt, has shown that government has being a lot more tolerant with writers. There are skeletal issues here and there, especially at this time when people are talking about the challenge of faceless journalists or aggrieved writers or authors. What is important is that people can have their say, while the majority will have their way. We can’t even begin to compare with the military. A lot of sanity has returned not only to the world of writing, even to the world of journalism, where you have writers. I think the menace the government will soon have to deal with is not just that of fake news but faceless journalism. People come with blogs and write things that can destroy people and even societies. We must rise as journalists, authors, governments, etc so we do not replace the monster of the military with fake news and faceless Journalism.
For the remaining part of Governor Ambode’s administration, what are we to expect from your ministry?
We have a lot of events lined up till the end of the year, even the ANA event we supported was part of our event for the 2018 Calendar year. We prepared a line-up of event for 2019. We will put in all our best to execute all our programmes up till when the government will wind up by end of May, and we believe that government is a continuous thing. The vision is not in doubt; there is a master plan now in Lagos that guides the government on what to do. The whole idea is this is a big industry and we believe it is one of the largest employers of Labour and everybody in that industry deserves government’s attention. That’s what Governor Akinwumi Ambode is looking at. You know how it works in Lagos. If you have a master plan that guides the thoughts and activities of successive governments, it is the master plan that details what is needed for the next 20 years, the blueprint of what the Lagos economy will look like.
With all this effort being taken in making Lagos a tourist attraction, has it brought returns?
Yes it has. Recently, MasterCard ranked Lagos as one of the top visited destinations. This was after a British publication ranked Lagos as one of the top places they want to visit. This is important for us. In July, President Macron of France was in Nigeria, he spent two hours in Abuja and spent two days in Lagos. This meant so much to us. He went to African Shrine. From Thursday to Sunday on the island you will be shocked about the number of people from West Africa who comes to Lagos.