Heritage Africa opens in Abuja

L-R: Ms Ier Jonathan, Professor David Ker, Professor Duro Oni and Mr Moses Ayom, during the Heritage Africa opening in Abuja.

People clamouring for major private initiatives to grow the Nigerian art and culture landscape now have some respite as one of such has berthed in Abuja.

Abuja has, for decades, struggled against the appellation of a city without a soul, since much of what happens there is politics.

But with the coming of the Heritage Africa Village Square, the city may soon sing a new song.

Stakeholders who witnessed a preview unveiling of the sprawling facility located in the Jabi area of the city could not but nurse this hope.

Feeding on the relatively untapped cultural and artistic goldmine of the North, the centre presented assorted performances ranging from dance to drama, literary, musical and a fusion of all.

In the complex is an amphitheatre, an exhibition hall, a language institute, a library and a golf course. Yet, it is still evolving, according to the founder of the facility, Mr Moses Ayom.

‘Such blessing’
So impressed was, however, a seasoned scholar and culture administrator like Professor Duro Oni that he described it as a blessing to the hospitality and culture community.

“There had been nothing like this anywhere in Nigeria,” Oni, who is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Heritage Africa Village Square, said.

Savour creativity
Interestingly, Ayom is not eager to grab all attention. Rather, his joy lies in not only getting his dream realised but also in giving Abuja and the Northern part of the country a place to savour creativity.

Besides, the man who describes himself as a creativity entrepreneur noted that he established the place to also offer talents from the Northern belt, with limited access to the goodies that a place like Lagos offers, an opportunity to showcase and develop their gifts.

According to Ayom, his personal experience has shown that the sector is one that touches lives.

Ayom, who is also entrenched in hospitality in Lagos, launched into the industry about two decades ago when he commissioned a visual artist to produce the portrait of a deputy governor.

Ayom said, “Through arts, I secured a base to employ people. So, whatever I am doing now is a way of giving back. We have talents in Maiduguri, Kebbi, Cross River and in many other parts. Some of them can produce paintings better than what we hang in Lagos and sell for millions a piece. So, with this centre, we can bring them to exhibit their works and even take some of the works to the international market.

“I was a good dancer while in school and I participated in dramatic shows. I have also realised that any time I touch creativity, I feel like jumping up. Of course, through the Heritage Africa Village Square, we will be able to bring back aspects of our dying culture. I have discovered that the only way we can unite and advance Africa is by developing its arts, crafts, foods and all.”

Noting that Terra Kulture, Lagos, was one of the places that inspired him to build Heritage Africa, Ayom stated that he introduced the golf course at Heritage Africa to prove that the game is not for the rich alone.

To him, government is not doing badly for the industry, although he believes that it can always do better.

He said that the courage to develop Heritage in Abuja is based on the understanding that there is security.

More importantly, he commended the Nigerian government for the tax waiver it gave the creative sector, saying, “That is beyond trillions. I was extremely glad the day the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osuinbajo, made the declaration.”

Oni, who is a former Director General of the Centre for the Black and African Arts and Civilisation, said the coming of Heritage Africa was timely.

A dancer from the Benue State Arts Council

He explained that, “There is no better time for it to come on stream than now. The creative industry has been yearning for the private sector to make an input. For many years, we clamoured for the National Endowment Fund. It has yet to take off. That is why several egg heads, other stakeholders assembled here in Abuja to come up with the mission, aims and objectives of the Heritage Africa Village Square.  The centre is set to empower practitioners and make the arts employ many youths. Although it is evolving, there is already a performance arena. There will be training facilities and there is already an MOU with a Chinese institute on language training and exchange.”

Another scholar behind the facility, Professor David Ker, who is a former vice chancellor of Benue State University, expressed appreciation to Ayom.

“We must appreciate the privilege he has given us. I remember telling him that art is business, though he keeps saying he wants to give back to society,” he said.

It is the business model that a consultant to the project, Ier Jonathan, also emphasised upon.

“It is an amazing enterprise. Heritage will bring a soul to Abuja. Nigeria has a lot of talents waiting to be celebrated and projected to the world. It is time Africa got its own voice heard outside there. But we want to make Heritage experience sustainable. So, we are looking at the enterprise side too,” Ms Jonathan said.

Also at the event were the President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Denja Abdullahi and Jerry Adesewo, a theatre practitioner, who directed the performances, with the Benue State Arts Council dominating the scene.

Sammie Idika