Sunday, 19 March 2017

Ambode’s cultural logic

Well-rounded governance is an expression of well-rounded thinking. In a striking demonstration of the possibilities of political governance, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode continues to raise the bar for cultural thinking in political office. Ambode’s latest cultural statement, the presentation of Museum Possibilities and the unveiling of the design for a new world-class museum at the Eko Hotels and Suites, Lagos, on March 6, reflects a heightened cultural consciousness. He said, “Every society must cherish its historical antecedents because they serve as source of inspiration for succeeding generations to discover, appreciate and take pride in their identity. It has become very imperative that we take a step back and revisit our history. It has become important that we renew efforts to preserve and protect our history and historical artefacts.” He also said, “In addition, the Lagos House also in Marina will be transformed into the Lagos Historical Centre. The JK Randle Arcade will be remodelled into a world-class recreation/tourism centre. The New Museum will complement and be an important part of the structures being planned for this axis. We intend to regenerate this axis and the museum into an iconic structure that will invoke deep sense of pride in all Nigerians.” It takes a thinking political administrator to grasp the cultural dimension of the pursuit of socio-economic development. Ambode continued: “This is the new possibility that is being presented to all stakeholders in the tourism sector and all Nigerians. On our part, our commitment is unshaken and we are eager to make this dream a reality within the shortest possible time. Given the megacity status of our state, we believe this is the right way to go in order to optimally harness the state’s tourism potential for wealth creation and sustainable growth.” It is remarkable that Ambode, whose Accounting background perhaps makes him an unlikely cultural enthusiast, has been able to show that there is no room for narrow-mindedness in governance. There is no doubt that he has brought a breath of fresh air to the breadth of gubernatorial view. A further reflection of Ambode’s culture-conscious governance is the publicised collaboration of his administration with the Federal Government towards the renewal of the National Theatre, Lagos. The development is a definite positive for the country’s cultural sphere, particularly because the National Theatre was a subject of negative speculation during the past era of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency when the idea of selling it seemed to be the ruling idea. It is an interesting coincidence that the determined moves to redevelop the National Theatre are happening in its 40th year. The architectural masterpiece, which has a revered history and represents unquantifiable cultural value, is unforgettable as the venue of the 2nd World Black Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in 1977. It is a shame that the theatre complex was neglected and allowed to deteriorate to the point where a critical intervention is now required for its restoration. No doubt, a restored National Theatre will enhance the country’s cultural attractions. In particular, it will raise the bar for cultural production and consumption in Lagos, and reignite nightlife in the megacity that is the country’s developmental pacesetter. Talking of theatres, it is dramatic that the Ambode administration is building six new theaters which are expected to be completed before the end of the year. Ambode’s cultural focus shows that his understanding of “needs in the society” is not narrow and simplistic. When the theatres take shape, their presence will mark a cultural reinvention that may well inspire a cultural revolution. Certainly, a megacity deserves thriving cultural centres that will raise the bar for cultural production and consumption. The beauty of Ambode’s cultural imagination is the promise of civilisation. It is undeniable that cultural production and consumption have a potentially civilising influence. It is this core value that the new theatres are expected to bring to Lagos life. Cultural logic also inspired the reinvention of the storied Tinubu Square on Lagos Island under the Ambode administration. Ambode’s remarks at the unveiling of the renewed site reflected historical and aesthetic consciousness: “The decision to renovate this monument was informed by the need to upgrade it to a level that befits the status of Lagos Central Business District. It is part of the plan of this administration to develop the Marina and Onikan axis to world-class tourist destinations.” Regarded as one of the most-visited attractions in Lagos, Tinubu Square occupies a 2000-square metre space said to have been donated to the British colonial administration by Madam Tinubu. A report said “the structure that was built on the land was the Court of Assizes,” which was replaced by “a tourist water fountain donated by the Lebanese Community in Nigeria to commemorate Nigeria’s independence from British rule in 1960.” Ambode painted a portrait: “This magnificent monument was erected in memory of a valiant woman, Madam Efunroye Tinubu, the first Iyalode of Egbaland and one of the greatest merchants of colonial Lagos. It is a celebration of her exploits in the business world and contribution to the foremost status to which our state has attained in the world of commerce.” He promised that “historical monuments such as this will continue to be given a facelift.” By paying attention to cultural production and consumption, Ambode has shown a holistic approach to governance. It stands to reason that a megacity needs mega governance. The status of Lagos as a megacity is a reason for mega governance. Nigeria’s megacity in 2015 was listed 12th among the world’s largest 35 cities and credited with an unofficial population figure of “approximately 21 million.” Of course, a megacity has to grapple with mega challenges. Megacity challenges include slums, crime, homelessness, traffic congestion and environmental pollution. It is noteworthy that Ambode continues to respond to these challenges with mega capacity. Cultural governance is usually overlooked by leaders whose idea of political governance is strictly one-dimensional; or it is downplayed to a level of insignificance. This is why Ambode is an exemplary political player in this regard, particularly because his impressive cultural interventions have happened in less than two years at the helm. It takes a cultured mind to think culturally. Ambode deserves a garland for services to culture.


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