Steve Ayorinde is the Lagos state Commissioner for tourism, arts and culture. In this interview, he reveals how Lagos State through the ministry plans to take arts and culture in Lagos State to the next level.
– By Lanre Solarin
With its vision to make Lagos State one of the top five destinations and entertainment hub in Africa, the Lagos State Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture is saddled with the responsibility to formulate, execute and monitor policies relating to the tourism sector and the creative economy in general. The ministry also promotes investments and regulates operations in the Tourism, Hospitality and Entertainment industries in the state.
The state’s landscape is being beautified daily with iconic statues and public art installations that have engaged a wide spectrum of Nigerian artists. Six new 500-seater theatres are being built simultaneously across the state to expand the frontiers of opportunity for talented youths; four out of the six will be open this December; the Onikan-Marina axis is being turned into an arts and culture district with its first major offering, the J.K Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History nearing completion. The Lagos Museum project within the same district has commenced with a grant from Ford Foundation and strategic partnership from the Musee du quai Branly in Paris.
The ministry conceptualized and has supervised since December 2015 the One Lagos Fiesta which has become arguably the biggest end-of-the-year concert in Africa with its unique template of holding simultaneously across the five divisions of Lagos in the last eight days of the year. If you consider that up till 2014, the Lagos Countdown was a one-day, one venue affair, but in three years, One Lagos Fiesta is fulfilling two major obligations – democratizing and decentralising the idea of fun and entertainment and giving every part of Lagos a sense of belonging.
Similarly, more artists are engaged and given the opportunity to perform at Agege, Badagry, Epe and Ikorodu in addition to Bar Beach and in the process creating a whole new economy around those towns for eight consecutive days. Following its hugely successful tourism summit in April, the ministry has completed work on the Lagos State Tourism Masterplan, the much-needed blueprint that will revolutionise the state’s tourism ecosystem in the next 20 years.
With a Calendar of Arts Events released in January to aid planning and visits around the state, the ministry believes it will always give visitors a reason to spend an extra day or two in exploring this smart megacity that is full of fun, art and cultural enterprise.
Q: Kindly share with us memorable events organised by the Ministry to celebrate art and culture in the state. What birthed the event ideas and what was the organising process like?
A: The One Lagos Fiesta for sure has been one of our flagship events. And as I explained earlier it was conceived to decentralise the popular concept of end-of-the-year concert otherwise known as crossover night or countdown concert that leads you into the New Year. Instead of just having it at the Bar Beach for one night, we basically spread the joy across all the five divisions of the state over eight consecutive days. We work with a number of technical partners in the areas of content and artiste management; discovery of fresh talents through Lagos Grows Talents competition and through the kiddies entertainment corner that runs from midday till 6pm before the concert starts. With its sheer size, reach and impact, it’s unlikely that there will be any bigger concert idea anywhere in West Africa if not in the entire continent anytime soon.
Our Boat Regatta event this year was also one of the flagship events of the ministry, essentially to celebrate the aquatic spender of the state. If you recall, last year we had the Regatta at four different venues simultaneously, that is in Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu and Victoria Island/Ikoyi as part of the celebration of [email protected] We returned to Ikoyi waterfront where all the 20 local governments presented different well-decorated boats to entertain the people and compete for laurels. This is to keep to the tradition that the lagoon is a core essence of the state and that every riverine community in Lagos matters. It was also an opportunity for the Lagos State Water Regulatory Authority (LASWA) to educate the people on safety on waterways etc. A footnote to this year’s edition of Lagos Boat Regatta was the Lagos tourism Boat Cruise in partnership with Prest Cruise.
After the Regatta, we then invited tour operators and a few stakeholders, celebrities and journalists on a luxury dinner cruise in order to behold the beauty of Lagos at night and on the waterways. And it was an eye opener for a lot of them who never thought such existed in Lagos. They are used to such cruises abroad, dinner in River Nile; in South Africa or Dubai and Spain. But what they experienced on the Lagos lagoon for almost 3 hours wowed them. And we thought that was our own way of bringing celebs and the media to discover and propagate hidden jewels in the state.
Similarly, we marked this year’s Children’s Day on May 27th in an artistic way at the state house with Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and his wife playing host to guests and artistes. It was actually a 3-in-1 event. We celebrated the children’s day on a day that Lagos was also celebrating its 51st anniversary as a state and at the same time we used the occasion to mark the third anniversary of the Governor. The most important thing was that the performances were largely by children and youths dance companies with Seun Awojobi’s Footprints of David being the headliner.
These are young kids from Bariga who have experienced so much deprivation but have now turned their lives around through the arts. Benita Okojie of the Osamudiamen fame as a kid star in those days practically had a relaunch of her career on that big stage at the state house. Qudus Onikeku and his Dance Gathering Company also performed. So did Dance Na The Main Thing (DNMT). What that simply showed was that there was no scarcity of talent in the Lagos art space and that the Governor personally recognises and is committed to the development of those talents.
Q: What monuments and artistic structures would you say really represent what Lagos state stands for?
A: I think over the years, about three or four monuments have stood out partially as popular Lagos monuments. The statue of Idejo Chiefs (Three Wise Men) is iconic and has inspired several songs and literature. The military cap design of the National Theatre in Iganmu has also stood out even in the monuments unenviable state as a famously photographed Lagos icon. The Third Mainland Bridge and the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge lately have also become famous landmark monuments that identify Lagos as a unique state.
But we recognise that more are needed, particularly one that can be distinctly representative of the cultural essence of the state and this undoubtedly will be the 75-feet Eyo statue that we plan to erect in the new art district at Onikan-Marina. When completed, it will be the tallest monument in Nigeria and second tallest in Africa.
Q:What plans does the Ministry have for the travel industry in the next 1 year?
A: A tidy lot actually. First we are unveiling the Lagos State Tourism Masterplan on September 27th, which is the World Tourism Day. It’s a 20-year blueprint document that details what needs to be done and how tourism can be better explored in Lagos. The first two years is what we call our quick-win years and obviously in the next one year we want to tap into the low hanging fruits. Effective communications is key and we would have gotten out a new website and social media platforms – #visitlagosnigeria running. We would have completed the JK Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History at Onikan. We would have commenced the construction of The Lagos Museum as well as started work on the Sungbo Eredo rampart in Epe.
We plan to construct a canopy walkway over that stretch of what is regarded as the tallest man-made walls built across Eredo, Epe and Ijebu by Bilikisu Sungbo who was believed to be the Biblical Queen of Sheba. There will be a welcome centre; gallery and a play area at the entrance of this awesome rampart. We would have completed our six 500-seater theatres in Epe, Badagry, Igando; Ikeja; Ikorodu and Yaba with regular performances and exhibitions. We would have started preliminary works with investors in turning the Badagry and Epe marinas to lively and world-class resorts. And we hope that Lagos would have been named by UNESCO as the Jazz Capital City for year 2020 and preparations for that year-long celebration of good music and the values of UNESCO would have started by then.
Q:From experience, what parts of the industry are still yet to be fully explored and celebrated?
A: We still require a lot of attention and investment in aqua-tourism. For a coastal city blessed with the ocean and the lagoon, our waterways have to be better explored. Our beaches have to be a lot cleaner and better regulated. This will be part of our commitment for the short to medium term in the execution of the tourism masterplan. And of course we need to and indeed we are developing better synergy with tour operators and key stakeholders.
The truth is that there’s really quite a bit in terms of destinations and packages that we can sell not just to Americans and Europeans but to African tourists and loads of domestic visitors too. A good working relationship between the government as enablers and regulator and tour operators will give a boost to how tourists explore the less reported jewels here.
Q:If you had the full power and authority to change one thing about how art and culture is celebrated in Lagos, what would it be?
A: I don’t think change is the word. I believe improvement and enhancement are preferable words for me. And it should start from schools and homes. We need to do a lot more in appreciating and celebrating our own from language to culture, to fashion and dressing to learning about our history. Art and culture will always embrace other influences. But it must never lose sight of its history and it should start from schools and homes.
We must instil in our kids and wards the cultural values and essence that define us. Our culture must not only be celebrated as a sidebar. So frankly if it were possible, I would want a situation whereby we consciously promote the idea of #WearLagos; EatLagos; KnowLagos etc. But I also acknowledge that a lot is being done now especially in Lagos.
A calendar of art and culture event is now part of our ministry’s mandate, published at the beginning of the year; History subject is back in our schools; a credit in Yoruba is a requirement for admission into our schools now in Lagos; the Lagos State House of Assembly devotes one day of the week to conducting legislative affairs in Yoruba. So there’s progress and that’s marvellous in our eyes.
And of course we shouldn’t forget the role played by our ministry on behalf of Lagos State government in collaboration with TraceTV and Ecobank to provide a spectacular evening of African culture to President Emmanuel Macron of France who was on a state visit to Nigeria but decided to make his stay in Lagos the highlight of his visit. I think we can never say enough about the traction that the event held at the African Shrine event with President Macron as special guest and Governor Ambode as chief host, gives Lagos as a key tourism destination and hub of entertainment in Africa. That singular visit has changed the image of the state for good; it has turned the African Shrine into an iconic global destination; it reaffirms Nollywood’s role as a Nigerian global brand and it propels the gifted hyper-realist kid artist, Waris Olalekan, into world consciousness.
In the last three years under Governor Akinwunmi’s Ambode’s administration, the ministry has adopted the popular buzzword coined by the Governor – Tourism Hospitality Entertainment and Sports for Excellence (T.H.E.S.E) as its focus. In three years, the ministry is fulfilling its mandate creditably well; changing the profile of the state into that of a city with a vibrant artistic soul. Itesiwaju ipinle eko loje wa logun!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.
Lanre is a writer and digital media enthusiast, with a flair for anything related to empowerment. He is also the Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer at The Spark.