By G9ija

The Federal Government has announced that it would commence work on the abandoned Ladi Kwali Training Centre, Suleja, in the first week of December.

Mr Olamilekan Adegbite, Minister of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD), disclosed this at the signing of the MoU and Ground breaking ceremony of the centre, on Thursday, in Suleja, Niger.

Adegbite, represented by Mr Patrick Ojenka, Director, Artisanal and Small Scale Mining Department of the ministry, said that the project would be awarded to contractors for a period of eight months, from commencement.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that the $150 million World Bank-assisted Mineral Sector Support for Economic Diversification (MinDiver) Project, which aimed at enhancing the mining sector under the MMSD, would finance the project.

In reviving the centre, Adegbite said the ministry would be aligning the Nigerian mining industry with the Federal Government’s diversification policy and the African Mining Vision (AMV) for a successful project.

He said the first alignment would be by linking the mining industry and the Nigerian economy, through incorporating lower value industrial minerals at both commercial and small scale levels.

The second alignment of the project with the AMV lies in upgrading the artisanal and small-scale miners (ASM) that mine and produce the minerals used in the pottery and ceramics industry, he said.

According to him, the third alignment would be to support the role of women in pottery and ceramics making, adding that reviving the centre would similarly provide an entry point for enhancing downstream pottery and ceramics industries in Nigeria, based on increased local beneficiation and value addition of the minerals.

“We must applaud our indigenous pottery artisans and professionals that have kept the pottery and ceramics industry alive with little or no support from the government or private sector.

“Our aim is to reverse this situation through the revival of the centre; the centre is a significant historical and cultural asset for the country given its history, as a source of international excellence in the ceramic arts industry:

The minister identified the key strategic objectives of the centre as harnessing the latent potentials in the Ladi Kwali brand, to drive employment generation within and beyond the community.

“To facilitate quality training in pottery and the ceramic arts, to drive the emergence of a new generation of globally competitive artistic talent from Nigeria.

“To provide a platform for the long-term development of pottery and the ceramic arts in Nigeria into a self sustaining ecosystem of financially viable artistic enterprises.

“To actualise the vision, the Ministry and the Niger state government have agreed to support-nurture-scale approach towards ensuring long-term sustainability of the centre, and overall sustainable development of the Suleja area.

“The state government must ensure tangible and intangible assets of the centre are clear of any legal encumbrances and that there is adequate legislative backing for the development of the centre into a national cultural asset.

” Our Ministry will provide legal support to the state with technical and financial support from MinDiver,” he said.

Adegbite also disclosed that the ministry would support the Niger state Ministry of Culture and Tourism, to establish a non-profit cultural heritage foundation (Incorporated trust) as the governing entity for the Ladi Kwali centre.

He tasked the state government on payment of compensation to project affected people, living and working within the premises of the centre, in line with the Resettlement Action Plan (ARAP).

Speaking at the event, The Niger State Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Bello, said over the years, the centre had been left in ruins due to lack of maintenance.

Represented by Muhammad Getso, the Niger state deputy governor, Bello said the once acclaimed world-class pottery learning centre was now a shadow of itself.

“As a responsible government, we cannot continue to fold our arms and allow this fortune rot away.

“Our government is determined to turn around this centre, make it functional, capable of generating revenue from tourism and employment of our youths.

“The agreement the Niger state government has just signed with MMSD is the first step towards the execution of the processes necessary for the designation of the Ladi Kwali Pottery Centre as a national heritage site”, Bello said.

NAN recalled that in the early 1950s, Suleja was a notable destination for the pottery industry in Nigeria and Africa.

It came into prominence in 1951, when a famous British studio potter, Michael Cardew, was employed by the Federal Government as a pottery officer in the department of commerce and industry, during which he identified the unique qualities and exceptional potential of Abuja pottery.

Cardew selected the area (Abuja) for the establishment of the pottery training centre; the old Abuja was known as Suleja, following the creation of the new Federal Capital Territory, and it became part of modern day Niger state.

As founder of the centre, Cardew’s exploits alongside Ladi Dosei Kwali, Lami Toto, Kande Ushafa, among others, created a vibrant industry with numerous employees, as well as projecting its eminence as a tourist destination.

Kwali’s exploits, through the centre, earned her both local and international recognition by the British Government which awarded the Queen’s honour of Member of the British Empire in 1962.

In 1979, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, awarded her an Honorary Doctorate Degree, the honour has been described as unprecedented for a female potter, without any formal education.

Kwali delivered lectures and demonstrations on her craft, both within and outside the country. She was bet known, however, for her picture on the Nigerian N20 note alongside her works depicting the importance attached to her exploits in pottery.

NAN reports that dignitaries who spoke at the event hailed the Federal Government, in collaboration with the MinDiver project, for the ground breaking event and plans to revive the centre to international standard.