In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the Director-General, DG of the National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC, Segun Runsewe, explains why he is on the war path with residents of the Abuja Arts and Crafts village in his plans to revamp the fortunes of the village. Excerpts:
PT: So, in the current state of the village, do you think it is fulfilling its purpose?
DG: No, we need to uplift it. We need to uplift it.
PT: What are the challenges?
DG: Nothing really problematic than for us to put it in good shape.
PT: A lot of people are upset with you for cutting short business operating hours to 10 hours daily at the village. Are you aware of this?
DG: You know if you have to do 24 hours, you have to provide adequate security. We don’t have that now, so we must close after a certain time.
PT: Why not just improve security?
DG: No, no. What I’m saying is this. The place is not meant for 24 hours. There is a closing time.
PT: Has it not always been 24 hours?
DG: No, we are not aware of that.
PT: It was never supposed to be?
PT: When did it turn into 24 hours?
DG: I don’t know about that. We don’t do 24 hours. By 8:30 in the evening, the place should be closed for business. It’s a business environment, it’s not a hotel, it’s not an apartment.
PT: We have also heard that you’ve been walking around incognito. What are some of the things that you noticed when you disguise?
DG: It’s just my normal inspection. I normally have to inspect projects, see what’s going on and what can we do to make it better.
PT: So, what did you notice during that time?
DG: Nothing, everything is cool.
PT: Really? That’s not what we heard.
DG: Well, you’re free to hear what you want to hear. But I’m in charge. I’m saying we need to give the place an uplift, that’s all.
PT: What about the people who say that they don’t answer to NCAC and that it is not fair for NCAC to start dictating to them what they can or cannot do with the space they rent?
DG: Are you aware that when you own a property, the supreme authority on every property is a certificate of occupancy? That’s what we have. A certificate of occupancy! So if you have a certificate of occupancy, I don’t know what other property document you could have that is better than that.
PT: So, it doesn’t matter that some groups believe that they have jurisdiction over here?
DG: Well, again, I’m surprised. But you should be fully aware that everywhere you are, there must be law and order. We’re just maintaining law and order to make sure things are done properly.
PT: Was there a reason for shutting down the other entrances and exits?
DG: Shutting down? They are not captured in the master plan. So if they are not captured, they shouldn’t be there.
PT: Alright, what is the master plan?
DG: The master plan is one entrance, for security reasons.
PT: We also heard that a lot of people are okay with reducing the hours temporarily. But if only it’s temporary.
DG: I don’t know what you mean by temporarily, but what I’m telling you is that we have a time to close. But if we’re going to have a 24 hours’ facility, then you’ll have some beds and breakfast facilities around where people can go take a nap and you will have facility for toilets, for washrooms and all that. We don’t have capacity for that here. Would you like to stay here 24 hours?
PT: There also seems to be a breakdown of communication from you to them. They say something and what we are hearing from you is different.
DG: We’re trying to protect the integrity of our country. If you see this gentleman, (points to a young man clutching a bottle of water). If I’m not mistaken, he has a bottle of water. If you watch closely, he’s going to lean somewhere here or there to ease himself. When you were going around, did you check the edges? They’re full of people easing themselves there. Did you see that?
PT: How many toilets do you have there?
DG: Sixteen. Now, can you take an aggregate of 16 toilets over 200 people? Including guests? Are you with me? Now, that is the reason why we’re thinking of putting more toilets here, the toilets we’re putting here now will be commercial toilets. If you have to use them, you’ll pay. Whereas, we’re going to repair these ones and you’ll use them with your pass. If you own a shop, you can use the toilet at no cost.
PT: So currently, there is no identification system?
DG: There is none. That’s what we’re trying to address.
PT: If they finally get a chance to talk to you about extending for 24 hour, will you reconsider?
DG: No, don’t go there, don’t go to 24 hours. I mean, would you like to be here for 24 hours with the condition and present situation of things? I’m sure you may just tell me okay, but you won’t like to. Look, listen, we are talking of security, those gentlemen (pointing to a group of men) sit there enjoying themselves, drinking. They could decide to do anything now. We have a number of cars in the compound; we don’t know who owns them. Some of those cars have been there for over six months. So, if such cars are stolen, what do you do? File a report?
PT: So do you feel like this (village) may be a hub for criminality?
DG: No, but that’s what we don’t want it to be. We don’t want it to be, and that’s why we’re addressing the matter.
PT: Moving forward, what are your hopes for the village?
DG: The village will soon be first class level that everyone will come in and appreciate that we have a village. Right now, we must put it to where it should be. That’s what we’re working on.
PT: And it’s not up to the standards you are hoping for obviously?
DG: Oh no, no, it’s not up to that standard. We must get it to that standard.
PT: What steps are you taking to promote Nigeria’s culture, and of course the concept of multiculturalism in Nigeria?
DG: Absolutely, that’s why I’m sure you will be happy to see that 17 countries in Africa believe in developing their cultural content. Don’t forget that cultural contents are in different spells. We are of the very strong eco-tourism cultural base, and that is why we are holding the AFAC (African Festival of Arts and Culture) here as an expo. And you know if we have such an event with over 25 countries in attendance…
PT: But you said 17 countries earlier…
DG: We’ve invited 25. So you can see men are working, because we need to get the place up to the standard we need.
PT: Are they all African countries?
DG: No, there are some from Europe. For instance, Germany is interested and some of the Asian countries are interested.
PT: Do you think you’ll be able to get all these changes you are spearheading implemented by August when AFAC will hold?
DG: Oh, definitely, definitely. We have to.