Mrs. Dayo Keshi, Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture since 2013 and a widely travelled lady, has lived in various countries of Africa, Europe and in the United States. She has been married for 38 years and is blessed with three children and four grandchildren. She is an advocate of the betterment of society through volunteering and the upliftment of the girl-child and youths. In this interview with ORUKPE NELSON, she reveals her childhood experience and the role parenting plays in moulding children’s personality.
Kindly give us an insight into your childhood and the role played by your parents in moulding you to become what you are today?
Growing up in Nigeria, I received first class education from primary school to university. I attended St. Agnes Primary School, Lagos; Our Lady of Apostles’ Secondary School, Ibadan; St. Theresa’s College, Ibadan and graduated from the University of Ibadan where I read Linguistics. Looking back, I still savour the joy of walking to school with my friends and we were not afraid to do so. Indeed, we enjoyed it when we were dropped off at the Lagos motor park. Those moments enabled us to build friendships without caring whether our parents were of the same social or religious status. Our parents made us well grounded by constantly stressing the importance of education. Oftentimes, they made it clear that the only thing they had to bequeath to us was good education.
From my parents I learnt the importance of mutual respect in marriage. In all aspects, my dad, Mr. Claudius Idowu Jones, was always in charge and my mother was the disciplinarian. So you can imagine my dad’s predicament when my mum died suddenly and dad had to become both parents in one. This was a role he never envisaged, considering he was older than mum and expected nature to take its course; instead of her leaving him to bring up three daughters, with me the oldest being only 10 years old! He however did his best encouraging us to pray often and work hard to achieve greatness sharing his belief that nothing good comes easy. Fortunately, he could cook and my initial culinary skills came from him! He also taught me to keep raising the bar in anything I engage in. He encouraged us to aim to do better than our best!
I understand you are involved in some NGO activities…
Through my Afrigrowth Foundation, which was founded about 10 years ago, we mentor youths and provide succour to under-served communities. The foundation has distributed over 80,000 books to libraries in Nigeria, establishing and equipping of 15 school libraries in under-served communities across Nigeria, thereby affecting the lives of over 7,000 pupils in our effort to encourage a ‘back to reading culture.’
While in Atlanta, I founded the Nigerian Women of Georgia, which today offers scholarships to Nigerian girls for higher education. I believe in the power of a group arrangement, no matter how small, in transforming the communities. My favourite quote is “a child born without good nutrition will die or be ravaged by diseases and without education it will become a liability to the community.”
I gained a lot of experience in the role organisations can play in strengthening communities by my selfless service in various organisations such as African Women Association of Addis Ababa of which I was the Vice President; the Commonwealth Women’s Club and International Women’s Club in Brussels. I was the President of Consular Corps Women’s Club of Atlanta and prior to that I was the Vice President Programmes, of GEDE Foundation, based in Washington DC. I took this vast experience to Atlanta Georgia, where I founded the Nigerian Women’s Association of Georgia which I was President for three years. The association made tremendous efforts to impact positively on the lives of women and children both in Atlanta and Nigeria for which I was awarded honorary citizen by the State of Georgia in 2004.
I joined the federal civil service as a cultural officer and retired as a director in the Ministry of Culture in 2013. Through those years, I ensured the establishment of Nigerian Cultural Centres in Brazil and China, carried out successful cultural embellishment of over 21 Nigerian missions abroad and ensured the successful celebration of Nigeria Cultural Week in Brazil and China besides coordinating Nigeria’s Cultural Exhibition package in the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010
You are a fashionable person. What are your favourite perfumes, wristwatches and designs?
Fashion-wise, I love vibrant colours and enjoy playing with accessories. But overall, l believe I am conservative. I enjoy wearing our ankara and woven fabrics which sometimes cost five times their value to sew, thanks to the boom in the fashion industry. I used to wear very high heel shoes but now I do well with just two inches and ballet slip on. I keep to leather shoes and being comfortable is important. I like bags with unusual and solid shapes – Calvin Klein, Prada, Lacoste, etc. And because, according to my husband and children I am difficult to give the right gifts, they stick to designer bags and jewelleries as my gifts on my birthdays and Christmas.
Overall, I must say that life has been fair to me. With a good husband, wonderful children and grandchildren, a fruitful career in the civil service, and now an opportunity to make a difference, bringing more value into a sector I have a very strong passion for. I strongly believe that if the sector is given the resources as was done to some other sectors like agriculture, Nigeria will experience significant economic growth and wealth creation.
What are your dreams for the National Council for Arts and Culture where you currently serve as Director-General?
Over time, we have paid little attention to the contribution of culture to national development and as such, the sector has to some extent not been given the desired attention it deserves. Yet this is a sector that has great potential and if promoted could contribute to increasing our Gross Domestic Product create employment and expand Nigeria’s economic activities. Thus, against the backdrop of the decline in oil prices and the urgent need to diversify the national economy, my focus will be to bring to the fore, to the attention of all, the contribution our cultural industry can make to national development and encourage its promotion and patronage.
Consequently, under my leadership, the National Council for Arts and Culture will foster a greater understanding and appreciation of our cultural industry, its importance and potential and how its promotion can generate considerable economic activities, like small and medium enterprises, creation of employment and prosperity. This will be done through identifying, promoting and encouraging investment in the main cultural industry in the states.
As you are aware, this country’s culture is so rich and so diverse that there is no state or zone in Nigeria that does not have some related cultural activity or industry they can promote. Their promotion and development through the value chain thus becomes imperative and my hope is that government would support the creation of creation of an arts fund that will drive the sector, build the capacity of those in the sector, create the market whose absence has been a major setback to the growth of the sector and create the environment that would make goods from the sector exportable and globally competitive.
In essence, now is the time to rethink how we can grow and sustain our vast cultural industry. With a strong political will, commitment and support from both government and the private sector this could easily become a viable sector. With such a support and appreciation, our cultural industry can grow as fast and profitable as the country’s creative industry.
How do you think Nigeria can improve on the content of its cultural festivals to make it an index for cultural exchange, marketing and an income earner?
Nigerian traditional festivals are deep rooted in our culture and the best way to preserve them as well as improve their content is to promote them, enhance them and ensure that they are well packaged annually, both for domestic and international consumption. The National Festival of Arts (NAFEST) which recently celebrated its 28th edition in Abakaliki, Eboyi State is one of Nigeria’s foremost arts festivals. It was created to promote and celebrate our unity through our diverse cultural heritage. Though anchored by the NCAC, states take turns to host NAFEST.
However, while some states have hosted the event multiple times and are tapping into the economic value the festival brings to them, others have been slow to tap into the economic value and exposure NAFEST can bring to their states. Besides NAFEST, I hope to encourage states to select and effectively promote, package and market their festivals for both national and international consumption, attracting both domestic and international tourists to this country. You see, we must give tourists the right reasons to visit Nigeria. Just like the annual Osun Osogbo and Sango festivals have done over the last couple of years, we must raise the interest of Nigerians in the festivals by encouraging their participation. We need to make the festivals more entertaining while preserving areas that are sacred to the people. This is what I hope we can do in the coming years through innovating, enhancing what we have and encouraging more festivals which will enable us to establish a calendar of Nigeria Festivals, This is what many countries have done and Nigeria should be no exception.
Thus, in addition to what we currently have, I am looking forward to working with the states to launching zonal festivals such as the Durbar and traditional wrestling states in the North; a festival of Masquerades for the South-East states, the National Boat Regatta festival for the riverine states in the South-South and South-West. The South-West will be responsible for our traditional textiles. When you think of what is involved in organising events like the ones I have just mentioned, you begin to appreciate their impact and contributions especially in creating jobs particularly at the grassroots which has a large population of the unemployed and high per cent of poverty.
Do you know that putting together a masquerade event involves over 100 men? Do the Maths and you begin to understand how millions with very limited education but with skills and inherited talents could transform and enrich their communities utilising their God-given knowledge.
What synergy do you think should exist between state governments and traditional rulers in the efforts to harmonise, preserve and develop our culture?
Traditional rulers are the custodians of our culture and as such have an obligation to ensure the preservation of the culture bequeathed to them by their ancestors. Thus, it is in their best interest and part of their responsibility to work with the federal and state governments to enhance and promote the culture of their people. In this regard, I would like to see more traditional rulers emulate what the Awujale of Ijebu kingdom is doing with the Ojude-Oba festival; the Obi of Onitsha through his annual celebration of the Ofala festival and I think the Oba of Benin through the Igue Festival. Because they are involved, the people enthusiastically participate and their participation ensures the sustainability and the preservation of their cultural orientation. In this way too, even in the face of new civilizations and modernity, our culture has greater chances of survival.
How can our embassies and high commissions be encouraged to promote cultural diplomacy and what benefits are derivable?
We should bear in mind that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy. Consequently, the ability or capacity of our embassies to engage effectively in cultural diplomacy will depend significantly on what we have on ground, the environment, structure and capacity of the sector to support our embassies. Again, this makes it imperative for me to reiterate the urgent need to grow our cultural industries so that as our missions abroad promote trade, products from our cultural industries should be included. With adequate and proper information dissemination, tourists from other countries will want to visit and savour something different and authentic from what they have. To be able to do this, we need cultural centres in some key countries that we have some cultural affinity with. Nigeria’s diplomatic missions should also create a uniquely Nigerian ambience in our embassies by showcasing products of our creative and cultural industries for effective promotion abroad.
In this era of cultural imperialism and the internet, how can we advance the ‘catch them young’ philosophy to ensure that our children are enlisted in the preservation of our culture?
In the face of the global village being propelled by information technology communication, the way to preserve our culture and bequeath it to our children is not to ignore it. It’s not to hide it in the closet but to promote it, to enhance it without necessarily destroying its cultural values. Children should be encouraged to speak their language and participate in culture and art shows in school as well as the cultural festivals in the country. The revolution in our fashion industry has made our cultural attires more attractive and acceptable. Obviously, it has a stronger appeal to our younger generation and the international fora. So our children should see our culture as an asset and proudly participate in the celebration of our cultural heritage. There is nothing backward or uncivilised in advancing and promoting our cultural heritage and doing so does not necessarily interfere with some of our religious beliefs as some have claimed. As I mentioned earlier that while the ancestral beliefs are key to our cultural festival and should be preserved, the entertainment aspect has to be consciously developed into a major tourist attraction.
China and other Asian countries have successfully grown their cultural industry and you can find their products such as large vases adorning our homes. I do believe in the near future products of our cultural industry will not only adorn our homes here in Nigeria but also homes in other countries of the world.