‘Without culture content, national development agenda remains stillbirth’
The regeneration efforts began last year at the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU) in Osogbo, Osun State got a boost last weekend with the Centre’s Distinguished Public Lecture featuring former Director-General, the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), Prof. Tunde Babawale as guest speaker.
But the occasion appeared like using the proverbial “one stone to kill three birds.” It coincided with the 67th birthday anniversary of the Chairman of CBCIU Board, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; and the unveiling of the historian and scholar, Prof. Abdulgafar Siyan Oyeweso as the new executive director of CBCIU. These side attractions influenced the size and quality of attendance as the expansive Ulli Beier Hall was filled to capacity.
Chairman of Micom Golf Hotel and Resort, Prince Tunde Ponle chaired the occasion that also attracted dignitaries such as distinguished scholar and historian, Prof Toyin Falola; member, CBCIU Board of Trustees, Emeritus Prof. Michael Omolewa; Vice Chancellor, Osun State University, Prof. Labode Popoola; the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Oyetunji; the Olokuku of Okuku, Oba Abioye Oyebode; renowned Ifa priest Yemi Elebuibon; Eesa of Iragbiji, Chief Muraina Oyelami; Chief Jimoh Buraimoh; Editor, Saturday Tribune, Dr. Lasisi Olagunju among others.
With Protecting our National Heritage, Projecting our National Treasure as theme, Prof. Babawale canvassed the urgent need for cultured people and visionaries in leadership positions. He explained, “the type that will realize that Nigeria has nothing to lose by promoting her cultural practices but instead stands to gain and attain global leadership position if we can look inward culturally for solutions to our numerous problems.”
A professor of Political Economy and International Relations, Babawale underscored the importance of culture to mankind with reference to how it has become the subject of scholarly interest and discourse, as well as the focus of many academic and literary works. Culture, he insisted, is fundamental to humans, describing it as “mankind’s defining characteristic — apart from physical presence — that differentiates humans from lower animals.”
As an astute culture administrator having superintended over CBAAC for eight years (2006 – 2014), Babawale, however, expressed regret that most parts of Africa had allowed culture to wither, thus signalling a barren future for the continent.While making reference to several definitions of culture to establish its importance, he identified cultural heritage as one of the indices of the civilisation of a people.
He noted that in spite of the abundance of the heritage, the orientation and focus of Nigerians had been altered drastically in all areas of life, including language, religion, mode of dressing, beliefs, value systems, politics, economy, etc, leading to the disappearance of virtues such as hard work, perseverance, honesty, transparency, accountability and the omoluabi qualities which were the ultimate and a necessary requirement for good citizenry and true development.
He said, “A cursory examination of the present state of Nigeria’s cultural heritage and expressions reveal the depth of decay occasioned by the rampaging impact of modernism. In the realm of music, things have gone really depressing. Nigerian musical genres such as juju, sakara, highlife, afrobeats, akwete, laden with philosophy and wisdom, have been neglected. Nigerian airwaves are now filled with noise disguised as music. Gone are the good musical expressions of yesteryears. In their place, we now have discordant noises that teach no morals and add no value to the society. Our youths cut a pitiable sight dancing to this vulgar music in the name of modernity. Music has now become a medium not for the promotion of societal values but an avenue for undermining moral values, ridiculing feminity and encouraging criminality and materialism.
“Cultural costumes or dressing is another area where cultural heritage and expressions of Nigerians have been diminished as a result of contact with the outside world. To say that Nigerians have very good fashion sense is to say the obvious. But Nigeria, in the next 20 years, will have thrown away her cultural costumes due to the indiscriminate adoption of foreign costumes in the name of modernity. Cultural costumes are a very good form of identity. A Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa, Fulani, Edo, Itsekiri, Urhobo, Niger Delta, man or woman dressed in cultural costumes is easily identifiable as coming from a specific cultural environment. But these days, the trend is tilting in favour of foreign costumes at the expense of our cultural wears.”
He decried that in the area of language, it was now fashionable for Nigerian children to speak English and French fluently but be unable to speak our own indigenous languages.While identifying poor government attitude to the teaching and funding of the arts and culture sector, a lack of vision to harness the gains derivable from cultural heritage and brands, discrimination against practices and icons of cultural heritage and indiscriminate adoption of foreign models, as well as the inability to adapt these models to serve local needs as some of the factors fuelling cultural decay, he declared that all is not well with the ways things are, culturally in the country.
He, therefore, advocated radical re-orientation, the establishment of strong structures to advance cultural heritage and the need to aggressively fund the sector.Babawale said, “Government should improve the funding of the cultural sector and put round pegs in round holes. There is an urgent need for cultured people and visionaries in leadership positions, the type that will realise that Nigeria has nothing to lose by promoting her cultural practices but instead stands to gain and attain global leadership position if we can look inward culturally for solutions to our numerous problems.
“Closely related to the above is the need to ensure that indigenous cultural practices and languages are not only taught in schools; primary, secondary and tertiary, but are used as mediums of instruction. Our youths should be trained to be able to think in their indigenous languages. This is an investment that will go a long way to advance indigenous knowledge and accelerate technological progress.”
Earlier in his welcome remarks, the new Director of the CBCIU, Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, expressed the need for cultural revival as the essence of the lecture. He said the centre would step up its activities in the area of language promotion and preservation.On his part, Prince Oyinlola urged stakeholders to rededicate themselves to the cause of continuity. He said: “Today, it is evident that our national treasures and heritage in Nigeria and, indeed, Africa, are fast going extinct. Typical of our environment, we are often consumed by civil strife and all forms of instability that threaten the continued survival of these national treasures. Aside from this, we are also aware of how religious beliefs in certain countries contribute to the destruction or desecration of priceless heritage sites.
“Sites in Libya, Mali, Egypt, Algeria among others, have been vandalised due to internal and cross-border conflicts. In Iraq and Syria, the ISIS continues to destroy history and heritage sites with the claim that they are eliminating signs of polytheism. Incidentally, the destruction of heritage sites is a violent act and the primary motive of those responsible is to forcefully erase a facet of history targeted at material culture. In short, Africa’s rich heritage is under extreme threat. It is why this lecture has been organised.”
The former governor of Osun State added that the lecture was not only timely, but it also came on the heels of recent discussions globally on ways to protect both individual and collective heritage resources.“Since heritage sites and historical treasures or monuments are a reflection of our humanity and existence, there is a serious need for countries across the world to have sufficient guidance towards safeguarding them,” Oyinlola noted. “Nigeria, as we all know, has a very rich material culture. While some of these have faced serious traumatic stress as a result of colonial rule and religious monotheism, few others have suffered adverse entrapment. It is a credit to the foresight of our forebears and insistence by few others that some of these material cultures remain intact and abide with us today.”
And in line with the mandate of the UNESCO affiliated centre to “elevate black culture, by focusing on its recovery, preservation, promotion, and utilization of its enduring ways for the purposed of holistic development, appreciation and international understanding,” Oyinlola pledged CBCIU’s commitment to ensuring that historic and important sites spread across Nigeria that are still on tentative status are inscribed as World Heritage Sites of UNESCO.
At the moment, the Osun Groove and the ancient village of Sukur located on the border with Cameroon in the Mandara Mountains are the only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nigeria. Members of the Osun State Cultural Troupe; acclaimed chanter, Sulaiman Ayilara (Ajobiewe); and the Elewele spiced the event with performances to the delight of participants.