Niger State Book Development Agency Is Not Dead - Director

The Niger State Book and Other Intellectual Resource Development Agency was established by the immediate past administration in Niger State. The Agency was created to among other functions, promote the Intellectual Capital project of Niger State – from book development to film, music and ICT. However, since the exit of the government of Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu two years ago, there have been criticisms that the Agency no longer functions. In this interview by Abubakar Akote for the Arts-Muse Fair News Blog, the Director of the Agency, Alhaji Hussaini N. Baba dismissed such assumptions, saying that the Agency is not dead but has shifted its focus from only book development to incorporating other intellectual aspects as enshrined in the bill that established it. Excerpts.

There are criticisms that the Book Development Agency under your leadership is not functioning. What is happening?

We are doing a lot but most of our activities are not publicized. In fact, for somebody to have said we are not doing anything here, and that person has never taken his time to visit us here, I think that person is not doing justice to us because I believe that before one comments on whether somebody is working or not, one should have taken his time to visit the place and see for himself or herself, and if possible, sit down with the management and discuss. I think that is the only way one would be able to ascertain whether the present leadership of the Agency is working or not.

I am a teacher by training. Since my assumption, we have done a lot and anyone conversant with our activities, or cares to visit us here will know that the Agency is really doing something. But, I want to believe that those that are saying we are not performing probably are measuring us or are weighing us on the aspect of book development alone. But as far as I am concerned, and as the name of the Agency implies, which reads  as “Niger State Book and Other Intellectual Resource Development Agency”, it shows that it is book and others. That tells us that the mandate of the agency is not only about the book unit. We have the ICT unit and we have Multimedia unit. So, these are the three major units we have in the Agency.

When I came in, I felt none of these units should be left untouched. One should do justice to each of these units because I discovered that the last Management was more of the book aspect than the multimedia or ICT. Therefore, I chose to go a little way to multimedia aspect because I discovered that our teeming youth also have interest in the unit. Going by our mandate, the multimedia unit is charged with the responsibility of identifying these entertainment industries in Niger State, bring them together, regulate their activities, and if possible, give them the training that would enhance their performance, which we have been doing. Besides that, we have really done much on the aspect of book development.
Most of our activities are not publicized as I have said. Under the book development unit, we have collaborated with various institutions in organizing literary events. In addition, we have been sponsoring and assisting writers  in publishing books. We do things based on our income. Some people have come here that they want us to sponsor their publications and the books they have written. Right now, we have some books with us to be published.

However, what we normally do in such cases is to give assistance either in kind or cash. In fact, we have edited about three books on ground to be published and those that might cost huge amount of money to be published, we have given them the little financial assistance we could afford since we cannot do much.
The Agency has also edited not less than eight books within the period under review. We also organized a three-week Journalism training for secondary school students in December, 2016. Facilitators were invited and we paid them. You cannot tell me that training children in journalistic writing is a bad idea. We selected students from both private and public secondary schools in Minna. 

Also in 2016, the Agency collaborated with the State Library Board to celebrate the World Book Day where we participated fully.
Holiday ICT Training for students
Under ICT, as I have said, I don’t want any unit in the agency to suffer neglect, the agency has twice organized ICT training with the little resources at our disposal. The first one was for some selected unemployed youths in the state in 2016 for three weeks. Most of these things we do are not being celebrated elaborately. At the end of the training, we only issued them with certificate and they left without any formal celebration. We have also organized the same for secondary school students in Minna. Students  were selected from various secondary schools. We selected students from Maryam Babangida Girls’ Science College, Minna, Ahmadu Bahago Secondary School, Government Secondary School, Minna, Hilltop Model School and even students from private schools were selected. We gave them four weeks training on Basic Web Design during the recent long vacation. For this second one, we did a flag-off, which was attended by the Honourable Commissioner of Education.
Participants of the holiday ICT training  
Now, under the Multimedia unit that is saddled with the responsibility of organizing as well as regulating the activities of the entertainment industries in Niger State, we started the year 2016 by inviting all the officials in the various entertainment industries in Niger State – the Nupe, Hausa and Gbagyi. We had a meeting with them to see how we can forge ahead and how we can better the industries’ performance. We told them that we wanted to have them registered – all the entertainment industries in Niger State. And I want to tell you that more than ten thousand youths in Niger State are into the entertainment industry, ranging from film making to music. For Nupe Language alone, we have over three thousand youths that are engaged there. And we felt the government needs to come in to assist these youths so that we can better their performance and in turn, the government can also get revenue from them since everything is geared towards generation of revenue now.

But you need to train them to better their performance before you can think of getting something from them. Therefore, that is what we are doing. Right now, we have a memo in Government House, seeking for fund for training of these youths as Film Directors, marketers, cinematographers, and other aspects such as make-up among others.

For the first time in Niger State, the Agency organized a two-day indigenous Film and Music Festival at U. K. Bello Arts Theatre, bringing all filmmakers and music artistes – Nupe, Gwari across the state from 31st May to 1st June, 2016. We have records of all these. The Deputy Governor was in attendance, even the Speaker of the State House of Assembly was there, traditional rulers and top government officials. After that, the Agency also took some selected filmmakers in Nupe, Gbagyi and Hausa to Lagos for International Film Festival in October 2016. The State sponsored it through the Agency. This year’s edition comes up in December and we are hoping to be there again.
Management staff of NS-BREDA at the NSTV 
The Agency is also collaborating with the Association of Movie Producers (AMP), both national and international on how to move these entertainment industries forward. We’ve also reached out to Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEDAN) to give out loans to movie and music producers. They are talented but most of them lack financial backing to move forward. To come up with a film, you need money.  Therefore, we have entered into agreement with SMEDAN to assist them. We have also written to Bank of Industry (BOI) to assist in the same direction so that the Agency can boost the activities of the entertainment industry in Niger State. We have also written a memo, seeking sponsorship of moviemakers to participate in the Harmony TV Show in Jos. Even though approval has not been received, effort has been made towards realizing that.

However, we also have our projections for 2018. We have our programmes captured in our approved budget for 2018.

In 2018, we want to organize school reading competition to promote reading culture among school children in Niger State. Before you can talk of writing, you need to see how much these children can read. How far can they go with reading? Then you can talk about writing. Therefore, we are planning reading competition between January and February. To do this, we want to collaborate with the Ministry of Education to have it achieved – reading competition among schoolchildren from primary to secondary school level.

We also want to organize essay-writing competition in schools from local government level to zonal education level and then up to the state level.  This time, we want to collaborate with Local Government Education Secretaries and Zonal Directors of Education. We have seven educational zones in the state. So the competition will commence from local government level to zonal level and then the grand finale will hold at the state headquarters. All these are already in the 2018 budget. 

We also want to reactivate school debates and drama in the coming year. We want to bring them back. A memo has already been submitted to the immediate past commissioner of Information and he said we should go and put up all we want in the debating aspect because he was interested in the debate, and we packaged everything and submitted to him before his exit. So, there is a memo in the ministry on the schools debate.

We also intend to publish some books and this is captured in the budget.  At least six books would be published in 2018. We already have some edited scripts that are waiting publication. We are just waiting for fund to do that.

What did you meet on ground and how have you consolidated on them?

When I came, I met staff though not in a large number as it used to be because I was made to understand that majority of the staff that worked here with the former Director General were on political appointment. Most of them were Special Assistants and Senior Special Assistants and what have you. I also met facilities here when I came. But I want to tell you that the immediate past Director General did not sit down to hand over the affairs of the Agency to me. I only met his hand-over note and I started from where he stopped.

Are you saying that there was no official handing over by your predecessor?

Yes! I was only briefed by the Secretary who worked with him. They worked together and I met the Secretary and he briefed me. And I want to tell you that since my assumption of duty here, the former DG has never taken his time to visit us here, let alone to say how we are doing or how we are performing.

How true is it that the responsibilities and properties of the agency have been taken over by some people under your watch?

When a government parastatal or agency is asked to come and share your premises, it doesn’t mean that you are not performing. It is government policy. The new agency which is the Teachers Professional Development Institute is a newly created agency and they needed to have a place to start.

If you look at Book agency too, it was ERC that was here before.  ERC was moved and the Book Agency occupied the place. So there is nothing new about it or will you tell me that the ERC was not performing, and that was why they decided to move them and bring in the Book Agency here? It is a government policy. Now, when the new Institute came on board, they requested to squat with us. We were asked to release the Book Hawker building for their use. I am working under a commissioner. I cannot have direct access to the Governor in terms of policy implementation. I don’t attend the executive council meetings. We receive some of the directives from my commissioner to release those offices and who am I to say I would not comply? So we moved all our books to the main block and the ICT class also had moved to the library. Not only our Agency, they had also taken over the Zonal Education office located within our office area. They were all moved to the Old Secretariat. Does it mean that the Zonal Education office were not performing too that they were asked to relocate? During his visit to this place, the Governor directed that the Almajiri block should also be taken over by the Teachers Professional Development Institute. He even advised that since we are working towards the same goal, both the Book Agency and the new Institute should work together. So right now, Book Hawker building is being used as their administrative block.

It looks like under you the Agency is finding it difficult to access funds and other assistance from the state government. What do you think is keeping the Agency off the sight of the current administration in Niger State?

I have a commissioner who knows the activities of the Agency. Whenever I have a request to put forward to the government, I always pass my request through my Honourable Commissioner. I, as a Director of the Agency cannot submit my memo directly at the Government House. Whatever I want has to be on paper and then submitted to my Honourable Commissioner for onward submission to the Governor.

Someone accused of us of lack of ideas, idleness and what have you. That person who has accused us of lack of creativity should have done the right thing. I was surprised, because to me, for somebody that has the interest of the state and interest of the Agency at heart should come to the agency to offer his pieces of advice or suggestions on how to push or move the agency forward. He was here before me and if he knew how he was running this agency better than I do now, he should come forward and give us suggestions. He has never approached us before. We only read criticisms in the pages of a newspaper, that we lack ideas, agency is dead and this and that.

You should know that I am heading the Agency now as a civil servant while he headed the agency as a politician – Director General. While he could talk to the Governor directly, I can’t because I am a civil servant and I am under a Commissioner. What I feel he should have done as a brother and as somebody that was here before me, is to approach us with suggestions on the best ways to go. I think that one is better and if there are ways he would want us to go either in the aspect of accessing funds, he can render assistance.

Has ANA Niger approached the Agency for collaboration or suggestions on how best to run the agency since you assumed office?

The issue of ANA Niger State is an area I would not want to go deeply into because as at the time I reported here, I think the ANA as an association was in a disarray because I was made to believe that there were factions and they were not going the same direction. But when I came on board, Madam Farida led a team here to welcome me and they introduced themselves as officials of ANA until later I got to know that there were problems here and there. But along the line, there was a committee set up to supervised the activities of ANA at the state which was led by Kamar Hamza. They paid us a courtesy call here and introduced themselves as a committee handling the affairs of ANA Niger. We sat here and we discussed at length and they promised to write a letter to us indicating areas where they would want us to come up with activities or collaborations but up till today as I am talking to you, I am yet to see that letter though every Saturday, members of ANA are always at the Agency for weekly meetings.

What are your major challenges now in running the Agency?

One of the major challenges we face now is shortage of staff. We are short of staff because majority of those that were here before had left because they were not permanent staff. So when I came, I requested for deployment of staff to the Agency. But the reason why deploying of staff has not been done is because of series of staff verification exercise going on. We have been assured that hopefully, by 2018, we will get more staff. Already too, we are constrained for office space. We need a multimedia studio, which is on our capital projects list. We also need to revive the Impact Magazine, which is a documentation platform of the activities and achievements of MDAs. The public need to know what the government is doing through its various MDAs, and at the local government levels too. We would require the Governor’s endorsement to revive the magazine.

Has the Governor visited the Agency since his assumption of office?

Yes. He was here and he did ask about our activities here and I told him. In fact, he was happy with us. He went round the Agency with his entourage. He said our hall and ICT should be upgraded for better performance.
Gov. Abubakar Sani Bello at the Agency's ICT hall
Your last words?

The activities of the Agency range from writing to ICT and entertainment. All of these are programmes for the teeming youth. People believe that nothing takes place here, which is not true. It is now people are beginning to know that the Agency does more than that. The ICT training is there, the entertainment training is there. Therefore, what I want to tell the public is that they should patronize the Agency. They should come forward. Established writers can come forward to render assistance and suggestions. At least even if they cannot assist financially, they can volunteer to help edit some scripts. The agency is for all of us.


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