There is no doubt that the Nigerian arts and crafts industry is beset with a lot of challenges arising from poor marketing strategies and low patronage.
While some blame the situation on general preference for imported goods over locally produced ones, others are of the opinion that artisans lack modern technological know-how to upgrade their products to meet internationally acceptable standard.
Ironically, these indigenous crafts have continued to improve by the day without proportionate attention and acceptance from both local and international audience. It is as a result of the need to lift indigenous Arts and Culture (NCAC), four years ago, mooted the idea of a two-week regional crafts market that would serve as platform to showcase indigenous arts and crafts.
At the opening of the 4th African Arts and Crafts Expo (AFAC 2011) last week in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan, noted that in addition to mitigating the challenges of unemployment and wealth creation, the yearly regional market could also promote socio-economic integration of African nations.
Represented by the Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory, Retired Navy Captain Kaleb O. Olubolade, the President said the art and craft industry represented a veritable promising investment opportunity, which is yet to be exploited.
He was optimistic that the expo would provide the much needed consciousness and attention for the industry.
"I am therefore glad that the African Arts and Craft Expo been initiated as an effective platform that would create the much required consciousness to enable us take a structured look at this vibrant sector."
Adding that the Expo would re-awaken the past glamour, glory and dignity of the crafts industry and transform it into a significant contributor to the country's foreign exchange earnings, the President tasked practitioners on the need to acquire relevant skills and knowledge that would bring their products to compete favourably in the global market.
Commending the organizers, the representative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mrs. Ruth David, said one of the greatest achievements of the expo lies in its ability to promote national, regional as well as continental integration.
According to her, since culture is globally acclaimed as a fundamental dimension of economic development, it behooves on every wise nation and government to factor it into its developmental strategies.
She added that ECOWAS authority had recognized AFAC as a major regional and continental event, which has over the years, exposed works of African culture practitioners, thereby offering them the opportunity to highlight their creativity, establish working relationship, exchange ideas as well as promote and market their works. This milestone, she informed, had assisted ECOWAS in its drive to generally elevate the living standard of its citizens in fulfillment of vision 2020.
"The resultant positive ripple effect being that Nigeria through its hosting of the AFAC is assisting ECOWAS community citizens in their capacity for innovation, adaptation and improvement of their living conditions through the promotion of sustainable development that safeguard solidarity, unity, free movement and inter- mingling of peoples, exchange of goods and services, promotion of human rights, development of regional tourism, promotion of the culture of peace and fostering of the regional integration process as ECOWAS moves from an ECOWAS of state to an ECOWAS of people in fulfillment of its vision 2020".
Earlier in his welcome address, the executive Director National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), organizers of the event, Mr. M.M Maidugu, said the expo seeks to explore, develop market and generally leverage the nation’s rich and diverse craft industry with a view to effectively respond to government’s effort at job creation, youth empowerment and rural economic transformation.
He said the two-week event would also showcase the best of African crafts. In addition, the Investment Forum, a one-day programme designed to stimulate creative discourse with a view to sharing and imparting the requisite skills and knowledge on the best practices, would hold simultaneously.
“It is to direct attention and emphasis on product design, development and marketing strategy and by so doing, our products could be able to compete favourably and excel at the global market.”
In his remarks, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Alhaji Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed, said the expo was influenced by the challenges of harnessing art and craft for national development.
According to Mohammed, who was represented by the Director, Tourism, Mrs. Sola Olumeko, Africa has a comparative advantage in the area of arts and crafts and should be able to tap the resource of this expo to grow and market the regional craft industry for social-cultural integration that Africa Union Charter seeks to promote.
Over 10 African countries including Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Cameroon, Senegal, Republic of Benin and Togo are participating at the expo. Also in attendance are over 100 non-governmental organizations, student groups and individual marketers.
Some of the products on display include interior decoration, apparels, garments and embroidery. Others are household utensils, jewelleries, brass and metal, leather and fibre designs, ceramics, pottery as well as traditional African cuisine, music and dance from various states of the federation and countries of Africa.The market closes on May 31.