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PRESS BRIEFING BY THE HON. COMMISSIONER COVERING THE MINISTRY OF ARTS, CULTURE AND TOURISM, HON. LAWRENCE ONOJA (Jnr.) ON THE ACTIVITIES OF THE MINISTRY UNDER THE ADMINISTRATION OF HIS EXCELLENCY, SAMUEL ORTOM AT THE NIGERIA UNION OF JOURNALIST HOUSE, MAKURDI ON 28TH FEBRUARY, 2017.   PROTOCOL It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the press briefing of the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism under the administration of His Excellency, Samuel Ortom, Executive Governor of Benue State at the Nigeria Union of Journalists House, Makurdi today. As you all know, the media is charged with the responsibility of educating, entertaining and checkmating the activities of government to ensure transparency and accountability in governance. I sincerely thank the organizers of this event for the invitation to attend and give account of our stewardship. The Benue Ministry of Culture and Tourism was created on the 18th of July, 2011 by the Gabriel Suswam administration and was re-structured on the 18th July, 2015, by the Ortom administration as an organ of government that is charged with the responsibility of organizing and promoting the arts, culture and tourism industry in the state. The primary function of the Ministry therefore, is to promote and market the arts, culture and tourism industry thus increasing the revenue base of the state in particular and that of the country in general. As part of its cabinet responsibility, the Ministry is expected to identify, harness, package, develop and promote the hidden arts, culture and tourism potentials of Benue State. These objectives are achieved through promoting and showcasing the Benue rich cultural heritage.     STRUCTURE AND ORGANIZATION OF THE MINISTRY The Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism comprises five departments viz; Culture, Tourism, Finance and Accounts, Planning Research and Statistics and the Department of Administration and Supplies which coordinates the activities of all the other departments. The new department of Arts and Crafts is in the process of being established as directed by the State Executive Governor. The Ministry is headed by Honourable Commissioner who is in charge of policies while the Permanent Secretary is the Accounting Officer and Head of Administration. However, following the recent reshuffle in the state’s cabinet, a substantive Commissioner is yet to be appointed for the Ministry in respect of which I am holding brief. The five departments of the Ministry undertake distinct but complementary functions all of which are geared towards the realization of the Ministry’s set objectives as enumerated below:   Department of Administration and Supplies The Department is made up of the cored administrative officers of various grades. To support the Administrative Offices is the Staff Officer under whom all Executive Officers and the Secret and Open Registries which are custodians of the Ministry’s records/files. The Staff Officer is also the Ministry’s authority on Establishment matter. There is also a store unit under the Department that handles the Ministry’s inventory. The Department is further responsible for establishment matters such as appointment, promotion, training, welfare and discipline of staff; management of transport facilities and other equipment in addition to being in charge of procurement and general maintenance of personnel records.   Department of Culture The Department of Culture is saddled with the responsibility of identifying, harnessing, developing, documenting and promoting Benue cultural values; restoring cultural values on the verge of extinction, marketing such values to local and international investors as sources of revenue. Significantly, the Department is charged with the responsibility of adequately advising government on the formulation and implementation of cultural policies. To effectively discharge its mandate, the Department of Culture has the following units/sections:  
  1. Carnivals/Traditional Festival Sector
  2. Registration/Canvassing/Monitoring Sector
  3. Performance/Entertainment Arts Sector
  4. Children/Physical Challenged Peoples Theatre Sector
  5. Exhibition/Fairs Sector
Department of Tourism The Department of Tourism is charged with the responsibility of identifying the tourism potential of the state; harnessing, developing, promoting and marketing these potentials to local and international investors as well as advising government on policy direction in the tourism sub-sector. The Tourism Department is made up of our sections namely:
  1. Marketing and Promotions
  2. Transport and Travels
  3. Planning, Research and Documentation
  4. Hospitality and Tourism Enterprises
Department of Research Planning and Documentation The Department of Planning, Research and Statistics (Documentation) is one of the service and coordinating departments as well as a professional department in the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism. In fact, the PRS department is central in the operations and workings of the other departments, just like the other service departments; Administration and Supplies and Account and Finance departments. In order to ensure efficient and effective service delivery by Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the Benue State Executive Council in consonance with what is obtainable at the Federal Civil Service decided to create in each ministry the Department of Planning, Research and Statistics. The statutory and key responsibilities of this department are:
  1. Planning and implementation of all programmes, projects and activities in the MDAs.
  2. Research into core areas of activities in the Ministry.
  3. Data collection, collation and statistical analysis and documentation.
  4. Coordination and preparation of Ministry’s budget estimates in liaison with Department of Finance and Accounts and other Departments as well as ensure proper coordination ad Ministry’s participation at all budget sessions.
The Department has two key sections namely; the Planning Section and the Research and Statistics (Documentation) Section. Department of Finance and Accounts The duties and responsibilities required and expected of the Department and her staff are clearly spelt out in the Benue State of Nigeria, Financial Instructions, revised in December, 2013 (Chapter 2, sections 0210-0212) amongst others include but not limited to the following:
  1. Signatory to all account(s) of the Ministry
  2. Liaising with banks and other financial institutions on behalf of the Ministry
  3. Preparation of accounts and returns
  4. And others as stipulate under Benue State Financial Instructions
Proposed Department of Arts This Department is yet to be fully established and structured. This department is expected to handle arts and crafts which is currently a revenue spinner globally. Staff strength The Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism has total staff strength of 218 made up of 206 permanent staff and 12 casual staff. Vehicle The Ministry has only one vehicle – a Toyota Hilux, which is the utility vehicle of the Hon. Commissioner. Parastatals The Ministry has only one parastatal which is the Benue State Council for Arts and Culture. The Council is headed by an Executive Director with six other Heads of Departments in charge of:
  1. Administration and Finance
  2. Performing Arts
  3. Visual Arts
  4. Research and Documentation
The council has a total number of 172 staff – 173 permanent staff and 49 casual staff. The Council also oversees the Aminu Isah Kontagora Arts Theatre both the Indoor and Outdoor Complexes where official and private functions are held. The Council is a very functional parastatal that showcases and expresses the rich arts, dance and craft profile of our people to the outside world. You are all aware that the Benue State Cultural Troupe which is an arm of the Council had represented the state at local, national and international fora. The troupe is an internationally acclaimed award winning troupe. Other outfits under the Ministry Other outfits under the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism are the Benue Hotels Ltd; Makurdi International Hotel and the J.S Tarka Foundation. These are commercial outfits being managed on commercial basis on Public Private Partnership basis. The three outfits have been leased out already for private management. Another area/outfit under the Ministry is the Zoological Garden. Government is about relocating the Garden to a more suitable site so as to allow the Benue State University expand and develop the area. ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE MINISTRY AND ITS PARASTATAL(S) UNDER THE GOVERNOR SAMUEL ORTOM’S ADMINISTRATION FROM 2015 TO DATE
  1. Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism
Within the period under review, the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism have achieved the following:
  1. Establishment of National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) Study Centre in Makurdi, Benue State for North Central Zone to achieve the following objectives;
  2. Provision of training/education in tourism, hospitality and related areas for capacity building in North-Central Zone and the entire country.
  3. Research and development in order to make available excellent standards of service to tourism, hospitality and related industries within the state and the North-Central zone in the country.
  4. Establishment and designation of six (6) new parks and gardens within Makurdi metropolis in the new metropolitan layouts namely;
  5. Genabe Mega-Layout (Phases II, III & V) and;
  6. Ugondo Mega-Layout (Phases I, II & IV).
  7. Streamlining of projects in the Arts, Culture and Tourism sectors for proper supervision like the return of J.S. Tarka Foundation Complex to the Ministry.
  8. Completion of Benue Hotels Ltd. by Luxiriom Leisure Services Ltd. The Hotel is ready for commissioning. The Hotel is now a 4-star Hotel of international standard.
  9. Repackaging of Mbatoho Island, Makurdi, Ikwe Wide Life Park and Holiday Resort, Ikyogen Cattle Ranch and International Hotel Project to attract foreign interest.
  10. Upgrading and commissioning of Aokpe apparition ground as an International Christian Pilgrim Centre in conjunction with the Federal Government.
  11. Organized the 2015 Annual Children Cultural Summer Camp in August to September, 2015.
  12. Benue State Government Investment delegation to Israel sponsored by the Benue State Government on invitation by the Tabar Group Inc. of Israel. A reciprocal visit by the Tabar group is being arranged.
  13. Sponsorship of staff for training at the Nigeria Institute for Transport Technology and Aviation in Zaria and Abuja respectively in 2016.
  14. Sponsorship of delegates by His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom to attend the National Summit on Culture and Tourism held at Transcorp Hilton Abuja in April 2016. Also at the Tourism World International Conference in Lagos, 2016.
  15. Successful staging of Kwagh-Hir Puppet Theatre through private partnership and sponsorship, 2016.
  16. Sponsorship of Benue Contingent that attended NAFEST in October, 2016 in which special awards and certificates were given to the State Contingent.
  17. Sponsorship of Benue State Contingent to the Rhythm of Hope Cultural Festival, Abuja, 2016 organized by the First Lady of the Federation in October, 2016.
  18. Organized 2017 Annual Festival of Ballad 13th – 14th February, 2017.
  19. Creating an enabling environment for investors through collaborative efforts in the promotion of culture and tourism in the State and for revenue generation. A number of organizations are given approval of rights to organize festivals to boost Eco tourism in the state e.g. the Benue State Annual Farm Produce and Cultural Festival, Tourism and Investment by Dei Carina Int. Ltd., Celebrate Benue Heroes 2016 by On Trade Solid Concept Ltd., Akata Fishing Festival 2016 by Dav-Mac Integrated Services Ltd.
  20. Sequel to the above, various other MOUs are in the process of formalization to develop the state’s tourism potentials to boost IGR. Such awaiting MOUs include among others:
  21. TEAM-ARC-ABART Consortium proposed MOU for the establishment of the Benue State Legacy Park of Achievers for the exhibition of sculptural monuments (busts) of the Heroes, displayed in acrylic crystal block boxes mounted on synthetic weather resistant pedestals in beautifully landscaped environment. This is to be located within the J.S Tarka Foundation.
  22. Food Basket Product Ltd. proposed MOU to organize the Benue Coat of Arms, State Anthem and flag design competition aimed at designing a Coat of Arms, an anthem and a flag which will serve as a form of identity and pride for the State.
  • Zaaki Azzay Development Company Ltd. proposed MOU to organize the One Benue International Festival.
  1. Oga Productions, Atlanta USA proposed MOU for Benue International Talent Platform as an Export Orientation Development and Promotion Project aimed at talent hunt from the state creative industry. (Singers, dancers, producers etc. to be identified and trained).
  2. Presently, we are discussing with the Federal University of Agriculture, Livestock Department to develop and equip the Ikwe Wild Life Park through a grant from some International Donor Organization.
  3. Ikyogen Cattle Ranch & Resort is being packaged by Uzim & Zeinab Global Resources located at Calabar as a Ranch and Hotel/Resort of an international standard. Private Investors both local and international are being wooed to invest in same. The MOU is about being concluded.s
  4. Renovation and equipping of the Cultural Industrial Centre both in Makurdi and Otobi in liaison with Federal Ministry of Culture and National Orientation. Partnership agreement has already been entered to equip the refurbished buildings by the Federal Government.
Within the period under review, the Council:
  1. Attended and participated at the African Arts and Crafts (AFAC) EXPO in August, 2015 at Abuja.
  2. Successfully hosted the All Secondary School Festival of Arts and Culture in November, 2015 and 2016.
  3. Revived the moribund Kwagh-hir Puppet Theatre by organizing the festival in Makurdi from 11th to 12th February, 2016.
  4. Recorded eight (8) cultural dances so far for the three major ethnic groups in Benue State in audio visual for purpose of record keeping, packaging and commercialization for revenue generation. The project is ongoing. It was done in line with the council’s mandate or preserving the Benue culture.
  5. Recorded the Kwagh-hir Puppet Theatre for revenue generation. The project is ongoing.
  6. Participated in organized numerous command performances for guests of the State Government at civic receptions.
  7. Organized an exhibition of Arts and Crafts which attracted artists and artisans/craftsmen across the state to showcase their products for patronage in June, 2015.
  8. Participated in NAFEST 2016 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The State took first position as the most consistent state in NAFEST attendance since its inception.
  9. Participated in Abuja National Carnival in November, 2016.
  10. Organized monthly shows in partnership with Initiative for Revival of African Forgotten Heritage (HFRAFH) for revenue generation. First edition took place on 15th October, 2016.
  11. Constructed benueartscouncil.og; Council’s website which is ongoing. The website is to serve as a platform for informing and educating web visitors about the Council’s programmes. The site is to serve as an avenue to attract foreign investors who may wish to do business with the council.
MAJOR CHALLENGES/ISSUES THAT NEED IMMEDIATE ATTENTION (WAY FORWARD) Acute shortage of office accommodation Presently, the Ministry has a total of 218 staff members who are supposed to be housed in only fifteen (15) offices that are available. As it is, only 33 staff members including the Hon. Commissioner, the Permanent Secretary and 5 directors as well as other senior staff are managing in the 15 offices that are available. It should be noted that, there is an office complex which was initiated by the Aper Aku’s administration. However, with the exit of that administration, nothing has seriously been done by successive administrations. Part of the abandoned project was completed and it is where the present administrative office is situated. In the interim, attempts have been made in securing office accommodation from any of the erstwhile Ministries that have been merged with other Ministries. In the alternative, efforts are on by this administration to complete the old office complex which was abandoned to accommodate more of our staff. The major constraint here is finance due to the current economic recession. Conversion of casual staff to permanent establishment The Ministry has a total of twelve (12) casual staff. Efforts are on to have them converted to permanent establishment in the Civil Service as the financial position of the state improves. Lack of office furniture The Ministry also lacks adequate office furniture for use by her staff. Only the management and few staff have tables and chairs to carry out their official duties. This administration should therefore look into providing the required furniture for management and staff. Lack of official vehicles There is need for at least six (6) additional vehicles for the Ministry including a bus that will facilitate visits to tourist and cultural sites. If provided, it will avail the Ministry the opportunity to optimally achieve its objectives. Lack of office equipment There is a general dearth of office equipment which is grossly inadequate to handle official matters of the Ministry. I therefore, appeal for the provision of ICT equipment – desktop/laptop computers, printers, photocopiers, video/still cameras and projectors etc. for effective productivity. Aminu Isah Theatre Complex (Indoor and Outdoor) This complex is where all dignitaries visiting the state are entertained. However, it is in a state of dilapidation that requires renovation. The leaking roof and dilapidated seats have become such an eye-saw that something needs to be done urgently before the rains resume fully. The Ministry of Housing has been approached to assess the cost of renovation. We are still waiting for their reply. Upgrading of Arts Council to Directorate Status The upgrading of the Council to Directorate status as it had been done at Radio Benue, it is now very necessary to avoid stagnation of the Directorate cadre. There is need for government to approve the upgrading of the Council to Directorate status to enhance greater productivity. Development of Tourist Sites The development of tourists sites through public/private partnership is needed and should be pursued and encouraged. Hospitality Law The Ministry needs a Benue hospitality law passed to enable her collect revenue on hospitality outfits effectively. Training of Staff Formal training and retraining of staff is required. Awareness creation/sensitization of the Benue populace Awareness creation of tourism is needed through organization of seminars and workshops. Dredging of River Benue There is need to assiduously address the matter of flooding of River Benue through the dredging programme as is already been considered by the Federal Government. This will enable large ships to berth in Benue State to ease our transportation problems apart from its tourist attraction and revenue generation for government. Revival of other departments There is urgent need for the government to revive the Department of Visual Arts to enable the Council optimally actualize its mandate. CONCLUSION In conclusion, permit me to use this opportunity to thank His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Benue State Samuel Ortom for the opportunity granted me to serve under his administration till date. It has been a worthwhile effort. I wish to particularly commend His Excellency for the support given to the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Tourism which made it possible for the Ministry to put up brilliant performances as reflected in the achievements enumerated during the year under review. I also wish to commend the Permanent Secretary, Directors, Management and Staff of the Ministry who in spite of the current economic challenges have continued to put in their best to ensure the Ministry actualizes its mandate. We further pledge our total support, cooperation, loyalty and commitment to the realization of the goals, objective, vision and aspiration of this administration of Samuel Ortom. Finally, I sincerely appreciate the organizers of this press briefing as it will no doubt expose to the good people of the State and Nigerians at large, all the monumental/developmental projects and programmes of the Ministry during the administration of His Excellency, Samuel Ortom which have taken the Ministry to greater heights both locally and internationally. Thank you and God bless you all.