By Our Reporter
Alhaji Mustapha Kidama, chairman, Board of Trustees, African Arts and Cultural Heritage Association, says the expectations of members of the association in promoting Nigeria’s cultural heritage globally were ruined by the selfish agenda of the director general of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Otumba Segun Runsewe. According to him, it was ironical that the contributions of members of the association towards the election of President Muhammadu Buhari turned out to be the beginning of their woes, courtesy of the DG.
Kidama, in an interview with our correspondent, therefore appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to look for a competent replacement for Otumba Runsewe to realise his dream towards the revival of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage to boost the nation’s economy.
In his words, “It’s a pity that Abuja Arts and Crafts Village has been shut down in the past four years. It is now an abandoned property, courtesy of the selfishness of one man. Some of our members have died. You can imagine when one is suddenly cut off from one’s sources of livelihood. We built our common resources there, and suddenly it is closed down for nothing else. First, a mysterious fire gutted our shops. Still not satisfied, the entire village was locked down. Many of our members can’t take care of their families now. We had employees. We had tailors, craftsmen, everything.”
He regretted that the reward the association got out of the election of President Buhari in 2015 turned out to be their doom. According to him, “Our members knew that Buhari is a just man. We did those ‘small small’ contributions to support his election. Some paid N1, 000.00, including some trainees. We were happy when he won, but we did not know that we were celebrating our ‘this thing’.
“I advise President Buhari to look for a non-selfish DG for the NCAC. For me, Runsewe does not deserve to be there. For four good years now, he put that place just like an abandoned property. Before, that was very lively. Anybody who visits Abuja both within and outside always wanted to visit that village to appreciate our rich cultural heritage. Even federal government was bringing expatriates to appreciate what we were doing. Everything Runsewe claimed there is falsehood. No foreigner ever said he was attacked by criminals. Our co-Nigerians also did not complain. The DG created that story to remove us from there for his personal interests. What he has gained is that he has fulfilled his spirit of wickedness. Any wicked person will enjoy others’ sufferings. What he planned to achieve there, he didn’t achieve it because we went to court to challenge it.”
Speaking in a similar vein, Lawal Shuibu Mohammed, secretary general of the association, said the closure of the village in 2018 brought untold hardship to the members, leading to the death of about eight of them.
In his words, “Many of us have even lost their lives. Some of them are Ogbonna, Chimaroke, Ibrahim, and Baba Jamaare. Some of us cannot even take care of their children again. The fire that burnt the village in 2017 worsened our situation. Many lost everything they invested there. So far, we lost about eight persons.
“I want President Buhari to hear from us. We have done our best by voting him into power. We even killed a cow in arts and crafts village after his victory. It is our solidarity for him. We know that he is competence. That is why we voted for him. But since that time, it has not been easy for us again. Since Buhari assumed power, it has been one problem to the other. Unfortunately, we have lost our sources of livelihood during his time. I plead with him in his effort and capacity to take us back to arts and crafts village so that we can continue our legitimate businesses. Everything being said about us is by those who have a different agenda from Buhari’s good governance. If they claim there are criminals, we have DSS, police, NIA that come there. Let them fish them out. How come they have not arrested anybody? The calibre of people that visit the village tells the story: expatriates, ministers, tourists. The Queen of England visited our village when she came to Nigeria.”
Mohammed further appealed to President Buhari to appoint people who would promote his agenda, otherwise history would go against him after his tenure. He said, “Runsewe has come for something different. He promised to provide us with a fire service station, rebuild the place and restore us back. It’s now over four years and nothing has happened. That place is abandoned. Only the roofs of 75 huts were changed. It has turned to chalets. That is the legacy our arts and craft village has turned to, courtesy of DG Runsewe.”
Our correspondent reports that the group, on 18th March, 2018, in a letter entitled ‘locking of arts and crafts village and rendering over 300 persons jobless’, signed by Nze Kanayo Chukwumezie, its president; Alhaji Mustapha Kidama, chairman, Board of Trustees, and Lawal M’hd Shua’ibu, secretary, called for the intervention of the chairman, Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism. The letter read in part, “We are legally doing the business of promoting Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage, thereby boosting the Nigerian tourism industry. There is hardly any expatriate or foreign visitor to Abuja that has not visited the arts and craft village. But this village has been under constant threat of extinction. Our sources of livelihood are confiscated by this action.
“More than 90% of our members have paid their rent up to June 2017 as directed by Otumba Runsewe. Most of these payments were done between September and December 2017. He said that he was revising the rate for July 2017 upwards and asked that we do not pay till he gives the new rate. This lockup has affected over two thousand Nigerians as we have sales people we pay salaries. We also have trainees, families and other dependants that we provide for as well as other social responsibilities. Otumba also illegally used EFCC to freeze our association’s account and private accounts of our president with false and fictitious petitions.”
The president of the group, Nze Kanayo Chukwumezie, confirmed the freezing of the accounts. He however said, “We petitioned the EFCC and challenged that they state reasons for their actions. Then I wrote again and gave ultimatum to unfreeze the accounts or face me in court. They released all the accounts but I felt the matter should be concluded. I therefore sued EFCC and all the seven banks I have accounts with. I also sued EFCC and the bank of our association. I won both cases. They paid the fine.
“As for Otumba, we have over four cases against him and the NCAC, and we have ensured that the crafts village is not used for any other thing for the years he sealed it.”
It was gathered that the village was shut on 10th February 2018, and had remained closed despite court orders for its re-opening. Efforts to speak with the head of public relations, NCAC, did not yield results, but a source, who does not want his name mentioned, alleged that, “The operators turned the village to a criminal den. Maybe the matter is in the hands of the police.”