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The city of London and the globalisation of Nigerian popular imagination – Part 3

By Ezechi Onyerionwu
21 January 2018   |   2:29 am
As much perhaps could he said about popular culture categories like Bolanle Austeen-Peters’ celebrated stage play, Wakaa! The Musical, which has made an explosive arrival on the Nigerian stage and is now set to make a London debut in July 2016.

As much perhaps could he said about popular culture categories like Bolanle Austeen-Peters’ celebrated stage play, Wakaa! The Musical, which has made an explosive arrival on the Nigerian stage and is now set to make a London debut in July 2016. This, among other possible references, reminds one of Wole Soyinka’s exploits in the English stage and cultural life of the 1950s and 1960s, and his prodigious contributions to the Nigerian element to the English popular culture during those early years. Wakaa! The Musical, is inspired in part by Patience Jonathan, wife of former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who is “very influential, but not particularly [well] educated.”

There are, of course, the socio-economic dimensions of the globalization of Nigerian popular cultures, which can be subject of as concentrated a conversation as anything else concerning the wave of transnationality in today’s world. Liu Kang has described globalization “as a dialectical process [which] refers at once to an idea, or an ideology—that is, capitalism disguised as a triumphant, universal globalism—and a concrete historical condition by which various ideas, including capitalism in its present guise, must be measured” (“Is There an Alternative?” 164). For Geeta Kapur, “Globalization…has a great deal to do with selling commodities, including units of the culture industry (“Globalization” 202-203). One way of interpreting tremendous opportunities offered by the London element and ambience of Nigerian popular culture is in its potential to generate wealth—both for the city of London and for the Nigerian cultural entrepreneurs. By now and with the financial battles23 that have raged over the financial statuses of Nigerian Pentecostal establishments, it should clear to everyone that here is a multi-million pound empire with substantial financial commitments to the London authorities. Same can be said about the many performance events and concerts, with their spectacular tourism possibilities, which are undisputed money spinners in their own rights. The contribution of London therefore to the emergence of a crop of multi-millionaire Nigerian performance stars needs not be over-emphasized.

The Significance Of Texts And Experiences
The London element of Nigerian popular culture has also built up a remarkable textual force, comprising of ideological interpretations of Nigerianness, and the moral courage needed to make such persuasive. Pastor Agu Irukwu, the RCCG head pastor in London has had to summon the infections audacity of firebrand Nigerian Pentecostalism to wage an all-out war against gay Christianity in London. Irukwu, on his way to winning the award of Britain’s most inspirational black person, had reportedly “signed a letter sent to a national newspaper attacking laws which force churches to accept gay people.”

Similarly Nigerian ‘prosperity’ pastors, Mathew Ashimolowo and David Oyedepo have so affected the British Christian community with their messages of the bounteous rewards of sacrificial giving that accusations of ‘cynical exploitation’ have emanated from some quarters of the British public. Julius Agwu, the Crack Ya Ribs impresario has summarised his contributions in establishing the comedy brand as follows: “In the last one decade, we have been staging Crack Ya Ribs show in London to the delight of the people and built great followership…. We have stayed committed to the cause of blundering Nigeria’s image with it positively and consistently in the last 10 years. Like I always say, entertainment still remain the only way to promote the country’s image positively and the world due to the immense attention we are currently receiving.

Nigerian popular culture, therefore, has established an influence which it to take a strong stand on issues of national, continental and global relevance, and to fashion tastes and perceptions. Beside everything else, perhaps, the Nigerian popular imagination especially of the London variety has scored high marks in the construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of the Nigerian identity, and of course that of host British community.”

Concerning the role of popular culture in identity assessment and formation, Tim Nieguth and Shauna Wilton write: “Arguably, our understanding of national identity and cultural diversity can be furthered by paying greater attention to their intersections with popular culture. For example, what kind of national identity is projected by a country’s movie output? What cultural traditions are invoked by its popular music? All of these questions are relevant to understanding the construction of national identity, the nature of ethnic relations, and the presence or absence of mechanism for the accommodation of cultural diversity in a given context (Popular Culture, 8).”

A veritable textual illustration is provided for us by the internationally-acclaimed Osuofia in London, which features an irrepressibly identity-conscious protagonist. Osuofia, around whom the action of the film revolves, despite being an illiterate of the most rural Third World orientation, is stoic in his confrontation of the overwhelmingly domineering British culture as he steps into the London scene to claim his inheritance. Rather than buckle under the pressure of a ‘superior’ culture (the mythological significance of which had be- saddled his Nigerian mind from the earliest stages of his life, just like about any other Nigerian), he rises to the occasion in an audacious attempt to subdue the host culture, and enforce his identity on it. On arrival at his late brother’s home (whose estate he has come to claim), he insists the Donatus’s British fiancé should cut the profile of the ideal African lady/wife, whose long list of domestic duties include cooking and serving sumptuous delicacies (even of the African brand) to her man.

He also fiercely resists the ‘mutilation’ of his name from struggling London pronouncers. On another occasion he insists that a food retailer must accept the Nigerian currency—which he deems as good as any other from any part of the world—as payment for what he has bought. He instructively expands the argument about the dignity of the Nigerian naira in his discussion with his late brother’s lawyer and financial adviser. When Osuofia is told by Mr Ben Okafor, albeit in a casual aside in their interaction, that his currency is not recognized in England, he delves into a nationalistic tirade that comprehensively unsettles the dubious lawyer, and gives him the early indication that this may be a different species of an illiterate African: “By whom? I recognise it if you don’t, I recognise it. It is an insult. Currency that we have the head of Nnamdi Azikiwe on one, Tafawa Balewa on the other one; Awolowo on the other one, and you say you don’t recognise it. Look, if you are not ready, I will leave…” The nationalist in Osuofia, here withstands and refutes the label of inferiority, which a proponent of cultural superiority intends for him.

Ben Okafor, is by the way, an interesting ‘identity’ case which the film strategically portrays. He is a classic example of the quintessential alienated Nigerian-born Briton who more or less wages a war of identity against himself. He has obviously invested so much in deconstructing his original Nigerian personality, especially by virtue of his linguistic socialization, and has in its place ‘constructed’ a veritable British character for himself. It is clear he has done this to properly integrate into the British high society and to reap the accruing socio-economic benefits. But he has an uncanny ability to switch back to his Nigerian self when he is irritated and has lost the adornment of his British composure. One could argue that this Nigerian personality provides the spiritual energy that drives his cosmetic Britishness. He retreats from the difficult transaction he is having with Osuofia into the comfort of his office bathroom to recollect, and organise himself. This monologue—and shockingly in a Nigerian-accented English the audience does not believe him capable of prior to this rest room scene—represents the talismanic process of recollection and reorganization:

What kind of stubborn goat is this? Why is he being difficult? I hate these semi-illiterate foreign clients! They get me so annoyed and give me problems and Wahala. Aah! And when I get annoyed I lose my British accent. My cultivated, natural, English accent. Then I start to speak like my father. And I don’t like it!

That he addresses himself on the bathroom mirror, apart from contextualizing his monologue, serves the additional significance of buttressing his ‘dual’ or ‘double’ identity, particularly when he asks his image: “Are you laughing at me, you think I have a problem?”

Films like Osuofia in London propel the audience right into the heart of the English capital, taking particular care to deconstruct mythological categories of space and time. Osuofia comes in contact with and interprets these sites and sounds of London, which may even appear familiar to one who has not encountered them physically—Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Square, the “Big Ben” Clock Powers, The London Bridge, the double decker bus, etc.

Contemporary Nigerian popular culture extends the age-old culture conflict conversation, which has produced such world classics as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958). A film like Osuofia in London presents this phenomenon in the sort of 21st century reverse gear which relocates the arena of contention to the West (rather than in the colonial heartland). London, in the case of the present investigation, becomes the postcolonial centre while the Osuofias of the Nigerian popular imagination are unleashed to negotiate the imminent friction of life mannerisms. Thus, if Achebe’s Okonkwo is the devastated colonial object, our own Osuofia is the amused postcolonial subject who probably exposes the inconsistencies, contradictions and hypocrisies of claims of cultural superiority.

The narrative of Nigerian popular culture is full of postcolonial implications. The failure of postcolonial African states, extravagantly symptomatized by Nigeria, perhaps the world’s most famous national example of misplaced priorities and blown opportunities, are a dominant theme. Political incompetence, corruption, insecurity, unemployment, leadership irresponsibility, followership disillusionment, poverty, crime, disease, economic immigration, among others, have informed the social vision of Nigerian performers.

Simon Gikandi, a renowned African postcolonialism scholar, interpreting the submissions of Homi Bhabha, and other influential figures in the “displacement of the idea of globalization,” reiterates the defining principles of transnationality: “the new mode of global cultural, and social relations is defined by its transgression of the boundaries established by the nation-state, the structures of dominant economic and social formations, and what they conceive to be a Eurocentric sense of time” (“Globalization” 476). The ever explosive relationship between Nigerian popular culture and the city of London appears in certain strategic senses a practical manifestation of the above assumption. First, the Nigerian-London socio-cultural boundaries are being erased by the day by the spirited efforts at the Nigeriannization of London in particular and the United Kingdom in general.

With the many shows and concerts, the ferocious spread of Nigerian-brand Pentecostalism, the increasing number of Nigerian markets, supermarkets and fashion centres, the entrenchment of the tradition of Nigerian style parties (weddings, naming ceremonies, birthdays, anniversaries) among other typologies of Nigerian cultural expression, which make Nigerian-Londoners feel at home, the rigid lines of nationality are fast receding. Secondly, who is the authentic owner of the cultural products of Nigerian origin exhibited in London? They may be Nigerian inspired, but are they not as much part of the cultural offerings of London, part of the reason for which the city is reputed as the cultural capital of the world? Culture is dynamic and not static, “constantly changing in response to internal and external forces,”26 and the forces of globalization could have given a culture considered Nigerian other nomenclatures.

As Shirley A. Fedorak contends, “the processes of modernization and globalization have created many more opportunities for cultural flow, yet also raise the spectre of local popular culture becoming homogenized or hybridized,…” (Pop Culture 4). An undisputed fact of the development of Nigerian popular culture especially with intensifying internationalization is that it is no longer designed and produced for Nigerian or African audiences alone. Probably taking a cue from what Roland Robertson refers to as “the alleged producers of global culture—such as those in Atlanta (CNN) and Los Angeles (Hollywood) —[who] increasingly tailor their products to a differentiated global market” (“Globalization” 479), Nigerian popular culture entrepreneurs and exponents now produce with the world market in mind.

Their product, in other words, are articulated and packaged to provide both meaning and aesthetic significance to other parts of the globe. For instance, globalization of the Nigerian film presents socio-cultural, political and economic information about the country to the outside world, and helps in the building of transnational developmental bridges. The convergence of forms from across the globe into a creative synthesis, especially in the more entertainment-oriented forms of popular culture, proposes the emergence of unique genres. For instance, there is a quite recent invasion of the rap culture into indigenous conventional forms of Nigerian music.

The introduction of this American flavour is a noteworthy element in the globalization of Nigerian music.Just like in the case of ‘world literatures’ where Nigeria has a notable stake, built across generations by a highly resourceful cast of practitioners, the country’s popular culture has been integrated into the global pool, a transnational genre which brings together sensibilities from across the world. Just like London and its appurtenances played a huge role in Nigeria’s elevation to the rungs of global literature, the city has shown enough camaraderie to Nigerian culture of mass appeal, endorsing its transmutation to a major part of the world genre.
• Onyerionwu, a leading new generation Nigerian critic, teaches in the Department of Languages and Communication, Abia State Polytechnic, Aba.

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