On a Saturday evening, as I unpacked my bag filled with clean and dirty clothes, my phone rang. It was my friend, Jibola whom I played tennis with at the sport complex of the University of Ibadan. “How far, Santi, we didn’t see you today at the court, hope everything is well?” I answered: “I am very well, bro. I just returned from Lagos a few minutes ago. Remember I told you about the British Council training in Cultural journalism?” He was blank and next, unashamedly, he asked: “what is that – cultural journalism?” Yes, that is what you get when you mention cultural journalism to the average Nigerian on the street. To the man who buys the newspapers and the young urbane minds that comb the internet for news and information, journalism is journalism.
The above conversation, which is typical, does not serve to advance the conclusion that Nigeria has no form of cultural journalism. Instead, it is a premise for the argument that though there is, to a certain extent, journalism about culture and cultural issues, this sub-genre of journalism has not yet come to be fully institutionalized. Over the years, there has been media coverage of cultural activities on television, in the newspapers, magazines and in this age of internet – blogs. Culture, in this context, covers more than the traditional religious or social festivals such as Osun-Osogbo festival or Arungugu Fishing festival; it is wider. It covers art exhibitions, literary festivals, photo exhibitions, stage performances, live band performances, cuisines, evolving trends in the way we conceptualize fashion, language and even life itself.
Today, in Nigeria, the weekend dailies dedicate a page or two (depending on the paper) to reporting cultural events such as fashion, literary events, and sometimes, exhibitions. Some, like ThisDay and the Guardian, have special lifestyle magazines that include culture stories. In Lagos, Ibadan and Port Harcourt, there are magazines that cover cultural activities and distributed within the cities. Examples of these publications are the Spirit of Lagos, Ib City magazine etc. With the emergence and wide-embrace of blogs, there have sprung up some dedicated to arts and culture. Examples are ArtylivingDOTcom, Olisa TV etc. There are also television and radio programs that focus on culture activities; Goge Africa is a television program aired on Africa Independent Television. It focuses on cultural activities in Nigeria and on the African continent. The Book Club on Channels television explores the literary creations within the Nigerian literary sphere. These are platforms that currently host cultural journalism in the country.
For this conversation to be thorough, geography is relevant. Since journalism does not operate within a vacuum, the state of cultural journalism is closely tied to the quality of cultural activities that take place. Without culture activities and events, there cannot be cultural journalism. And, because journalism follows the trail of stories and events, Lagos leads the pack in terms of states in the nation where there is a preponderance of cultural activities. There have been a number of cultural initiatives in Lagos; for example, the Lagos Book and Arts Festival, Lagos Photography Festival, and Afropolitan Vibes; these activities have actively engaged culture journalists within and around the Lagos metropolis. However, Lagos is only one out of thirty-six states that make up Nigeria.
The credits for the cultural engagement Lagos goes to the presence of culture-oriented organizations; the British Council, Goethe Institute, and Alliance Francaise are leading examples of these. Through their activities, they have supported cultural activities in Lagos over the years. In March 2015, for example, the 5th edition of the iRep International Documentary Festival was held in Lagos and supported by the Goethe Institute. Also, the German and Polish Embassies, in April 2015, ran a photography exhibition; two Nigerian photographers – Olayinka Sangotoye and Jide Odukoya had been sponsored to visit Berlin and Warsaw in 2013 and their pictures were the reason for the exhibition. These organizations have also been responsible for visual art exhibitions such as the Pecha Kucha Night exhibitions that have showcased works of artists like Victor Ehikamenor, Yetunde Babaeko, Jelili Atiku etc. Other states do not enjoy the privilege of having some of these events hosted in their cities, and consequently less journalistic coverage.
To improve the quality of cultural journalism in Nigeria, then there must be more involvement in the creation of platforms for cultural events in all parts of the country and not just a few cities. Government, both at the Federal and State levels, must get more involved. Not only in giving financial support to cultural activities but also coming in partnerships with private organizations to create such events and giving platforms for publicity. Things cannot be left to the British Council, Alliance Francaise or Goethe Institute alone to support. The Lagos Photography Festival is being fully sponsored by Etisalat, the Ake Arts & Book Festival is partly supported by Access Bank and the making of “African Metropolis”, a compilation of six short fiction films in six African cities was partly sponsored by GTBank. More can be done, more indigenous institutions can get involved in creating platforms for hosting cultural events, across Nigeria.
Our educational system should also be revamped and strategically repositioned to serve as a catalyst for reviving the engagements that concern culture. For many years now, most of our educational institutions and our academics have distanced themselves from contemporary cultural engagements in the society. The Institute of African Studies and the Department of Theatre Arts, both of the University of Ibadan, try to stage plays and create platforms for cultural engagement but this is not enough. Cultural journalism will certainly receive a boost when, within academic spaces, cultural events are curated.
Traditional media houses should encourage their reporters to improve their skills and learn new approaches to cultural journalism. If these media houses understand the significance of the work of the culture journalist, and they give as much attention to it as they give political news, the state of cultural journalism will be thoroughly improved in Nigeria. These outfits can also work hand-in-hand with culture-oriented organizations or private corporations in providing in-house training for their correspondents, reporters etc. Workshops, conferences, and other means of fostering human capacity development in this regard will certainly raise the game with respect to cultural journalism.
In the end, cultural journalism can only thrive where there are platforms for cultural activities to hold and when journalists are equipped and well trained to cover these events to international standards. Culture must resonate and find its relevance with the people. Journalism may be about finding and reporting stories but we must not forget that the structure on which it thrives are businesses and institutions that need money and support to function; culture journalism must be a promising avenue for media outfits to realize profit – that’s when it can be really prioritized.