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Unlocking culture debate… loud in Ile-Ife


Celebrant, Chief (Dr.) John Agboola Odeyemi (left); representative of OAU VC; Prof. Omolayo Ajayi; Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi; and Minister of Solid Minerals; Dr. Kayode Fayemi during the 3rd Chief (DR.) John Agboola Odeyemi Annual Lecture organized by the Natural History Museum, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife held at the Conference Centre, OAU, Ile-Ife

Celebrant, Chief (Dr.) John Agboola Odeyemi (left); representative of OAU VC; Prof. Omolayo Ajayi; Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi; and Minister of Solid Minerals; Dr. Kayode Fayemi during the 3rd Chief (DR.) John Agboola Odeyemi Annual Lecture organized by the Natural History Museum, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife held at the Conference Centre, OAU, Ile-Ife

The appreciation of cultural and natural endowments scattered across the country has been identified as the pathway to Nigeria’s resurgence economically and morally. This was the view of speakers at the 3rd Chief (Dr) John Agboola Odeyemi Annual lecture, with the theme, Harnessing our natural and cultural heritage for national development, put together by the Natural History Museum in Ile-Ife, Osun State recently.

The chairman of the event, former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic and Research, University of Lagos, Professor Jide Alo (FAS), in his remarks, set the tone for the conversation, arguing that cultural and natural resources hold the path to Nigeria’s quest for development. He was emphatic stating that harnessing the nation’s culture heritage for economic good is the only way to go now. For him, the country’s culture is rich, but has been thrown to the background.

According to him, it is clear that the country’s music, folklore, greetings, cultural monuments are tangible components of Nigeria’s economy.

Also stated that Nigeria is the only country on the continent with 250 languages and over 300 ethnic groups. He thanked God that oil price is down, which is making the country to think of how to economically explore the cultural elements within the nation’s boundaries for revenue. He maintained that Nigeria’s cultural heritage if developed would bring earnings far better than oil for the country.

In his address, the Vice-Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, Professor Bamitale Omole, represented by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Administration, Professor Omolayo Ajayi, commended the choice of the theme because it is coming at a time the economy needs diversification. He thanked the celebrant, Dr John Agboola Odeyemi, in whose honour the lecture was held to celebrate his 77th birthday, because, according to him, the celebrant has been a resolute supporter of the university right from the time he served the institution as head of its investment company.

The royal father of the day, Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Eniitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja 11, said it is time to return to the source and cultural endowment the country is blessed with, because that is where people’s morality lies.

He implored leaders to live by example and show the next generation how they got to the height they are. “All is not well, things are very tough. We have lost morals and natural heritage which brought us together as Yorubas, Nigerians and Africans; we have lost those values. It is very important that we go back to our source. Many years ago, morals were so strong. And moral is highly linked to our culture. Stealing is a taboo in the society; but today, money and wealth are the most celebrated. Where are our morals, heritage and culture, yet they are the binding force for us all, irrespective of the different languages we speak. Our forbearers left those values for us; we need to go back to them.”

He continued, “Limestone has been with us for many years, yet we were importing cement. The abundance of limestone in Obajana is in excess of kilometres, but everybody wants to live on the fast lane. Today, thousands are being employed in the factory there; government has to force the hands of the cartel importing cement to achieve that. What naturally should be morally good for the entire society?

“In the olden days, street hawkers will place their goods with price tag on it; people will buy the goods in their absence, drop money and leave. When you are truthfully hungry, you will eat the banana and leave the peel behind just to indicate that the person who ate it was not a thief, but was just hungry. We have lost those values and reason things are upside down. I appeal to each and everyone of us today; especially the highly placed in the society, how impactful are we to our youth? How are we living by example, in our thoughts, words and deeds? How are we showing love to them? How are we giving them hope? You are high up there, remember the generation behind you.

“Morals is the bedrock of everything, we may talk about theories and dissertations for so many days and months, if we lose our morals, we are just deceiving ourselves.”

He implored the guests to bring back the culture of being brothers’ keeper reflected, for instance, in the sharing of salt as it was with next door neighbours.

“Those values are gone. And we should know that fingers are not equal, yet no finger is insignificant because with one finger off, the hand becomes almost useless. Everybody has something to contribute; somebody will wash your cloth or drive your car; how impactful are you to that person? Do you ask after his children and how they are doing?”

To show that he is living by example in the use and appreciation of the country’s natural endowment, the Ooni said, “I am happy to say that the gold I’m wearing today, I took from Owena River, and it is the purest gold. The beads are from Benin Kingdom, my crown is from Ile-Ife, the aso-oke is from Ilorin, while the shoe I’m wearing is from Lagos. Rome was not built in a day but let us appreciate what we have. Our leaders should keep giving hope to the younger generation. Our leaders do not visit filling stations, government buys everything for them, but they must remember that the generation yet unborn will one day ask questions.”

The celebrant, Dr John Agboola Odeyemi said the need to drum up support for diversification of the economy was what informed the choice of the theme. He, however, said that the discourse on diversification has gone beyond just talking without acting concretely, when he was asked if the ideas brought to the fore will not end up as just talk shop.

“We have gone pass talk shop and you will find out that everybody has been saying the same thing, enough of stealing and bad morals, going to Abuja to share money. Every local government has something to explore. People are not just talking, this time around, systems are being created and things are being done. So we are working towards a common focus of wealth creation and employment generation with what we have in this country, not with what is coming from any other part of the world.”

The guest lecturer, Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr Kayode Fayemi, in his paper, noted that whether it is mining resources, agricultural lands, and tourism sites such as Osun Osogbo or eternal values that have acted as a compass for choices, the nation’s heritage has not been fully utilized. Fayemi, who said he is a strong believer in utilizing the nation’s natural and cultural heritage to transform the fortunes of Nigeria, stated that, “We must now pay homage to the history by applying ourselves to the utmost degree possible in order to unlock our immense national potential.”

He also argued that besides the greatest resource of any nation is its human capital and the creativity and innovation exhibited by the people, the adaptive capacity of the population is what will ultimately set the nation apart even if there is a lot to benefit from the country’s natural endowments.

According to the Minister, the need to diversify has become more germane, considering the country’s present challenge economically and this to him is because the country failed to heed warnings. “For several decades, policy makers and observers warned that Nigeria’s continued dependence on oil as the mainstay of her economy was bound to jeopardize her long term economic growth and development. International financial institutions, development partners and knowledge experts at home were all in agreement that our overreliance on crude oil was an unsustainable strategic weakness.”

He noted that the nation is now facing a future in which crude oil either ceases to be a strategic resource or one in which the status as a producer becomes irrelevant to the prospects for economic advancement within the international economic environment.

“For years, successive administrations have talked about the need to diversify the economy, moving it away from overreliance on crude oil exports. For years, this has remained just talk, rather than an urgent imperative that should drive policy-making. At the moment, the collapse of global oil prices, which has led to a fiscal crisis means that governments at all levels are struggling to finance capital projects and sustain recurrent expenditure.”

Another highlight of the event was honouring Nigerians who have contributed to the development of cultural heritage. They were Professor emeritus Ademola Segun, Professor Abiodun Adediran and High Chief 7Joseph Toriola.

The host of the lecture, Director, Natural History Museum, OAU, Dr Adisa Ogunfolakan, also noted that the present situation in the county calls for a sober reflection, as the country’s over dependency on crude oil led it to the situation it now found itself. He said there must be a way forward, which gave birth to the theme of the lecture.

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