‘Women should leverage the enormous power in our hands’
A culture enthusiast on a quest to promote African cultural facts, values and heritage, Gbemisola Bisi-Taiwo, Chief Executive Officer of Tell Africa, is gradually achieving her dream. With an OND in Mass Communication from The Polytechnic, Ibadan, she got admission to study her dream course, Law at the University of Lagos, after an unfulfilled accounting programme in a private university. Describing herself as a ‘Jack of all trades, master of a lot’, she bagged a Master’s degree and PhD in Law from the Maynooth University, Ireland, with specialty in Intellectual Property Rights. In this interview with NZUBE OGOKE, she talks about preserving African cultural heritage in the diaspora through the Tell Africa Festival taking place in Ireland.
Why are you passionate about telling stories about Africa?
There is dearth in the information that is given outside about Africa. People in the diaspora think that Africans are poverty stricken people; they even think that anyone that is black is from Africa. They don’t know that Africa is not a country, but a continent. The stories we are telling has to do with our culture, tradition, the way we greet our elders, language, the beauty in it, our food, our socio-cultural heritage. Those are what we bring to that limelight for people to see and understand who we are, and that good things come out from Africa. This will be the thrust at the festival this year. We first held it in Dublin in 2019, and subsequently due to COVID-19, it has been virtual. This year, we are returning to a physical festival.
How important is it to tell these stories through our culture, why not through education?
It makes it easier for people to learn when they are not being structured to learn. For instance, children with African origin living abroad are not being structured to learn these, but when you show them movies, feed them the foods, show them the beauty of our clothes, when they see it as a way of life, it becomes part of them. We don’t want civilisation to take away our culture. That’s why we thought it’s important, especially now that most of our children can’t speak our local dialect. So, there is a way that we have to bring back to life all the values that we have lost to civilisation. That’s what Tell Africa is doing.
We decided to go all over the world to showcase what our African culture is. During our festivals, there’ll be exhibitions, Fuji artistes and other musicians including two foremost monarchs Ooni of Ife Oni, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II and King of Accra, Akintaki Tekotutu. It’s going to bring the whole of Africa in bits to Ireland for people to experience the beauty of the African culture.
You’ve lived in Ireland for some years now, what has the response been like for African content in that part of the world?
I have lived in Ireland for over 17 years now; the Irish people have received us. It’s difficult to break into the system, but we have to do what has to be done. It’s limited space for it right now, but I believe we can create that space for ourselves, because we have the enabling environment and the government of Ireland is doing very well.
There will be a Nigeria-Ireland Investment summit afterwards to increase partnerships amongst exhibitors at the Festival. We have, however, got invitation from New Jersey and the United States and we hope to take the festival there.
It appears there is a bit of identity crisis among young Africans in the diaspora, how much do you think Tell Africa can help in dealing with that?
That’s one of the things we are looking into. African children abroad are kind of confused about that, but it starts from the home. Parents have a lot of things in their hands to expose them to what we enjoyed and the training we got in Africa. Parents should put in more efforts so that the children won’t be confused. We don’t want to forget our origin.
What is your take on the opinion in some quarters that the African culture is fetish?
A lot of people think the African culture is fetish, but the fact is, there is nothing fetish about African culture. There is nothing that is obtainable within the African setting that is not obtainable outside Africa; it’s just the presentation that matters. People are entitled to their opinions and their beliefs, culture and traditions.
What drives your passion for culture?
My upbringing. My father loves culture; he was Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Ondo State at the time and later became Commissioner for Education. I got the idea of loving education and culture from home, and I enjoy it.
While growing up, my dad exposed me to many things. There were times we would travel to our hometown, Oke Igbo, just because we wanted to watch the Egungun festival. Whenever I visit Ile Ife, Osun State, and people see me as someone from the outside that cannot speak Yoruba, when I speak the language to them, they are shocked. Aside from my own dialect, there are other dialects in Nigeria that I can speak. There is hardly any party I will hold that I would not invite cultural troops to perform, that is how much I love my culture.
Is there a way our culture can be used to correct societal ills in Africa, especially among young people?
We have wonderful Nigerian youths; they are not lazy, but rather creative. The Nigerian youths are doing well, but they can do better, given the right opportunities. The ills in the society started a long time ago.
I wonder when the young will grow, because the affairs of the country are still in the hands of the elderly people since they were in their 30s; culture can help in this situation. People who are going into government offices, if they take their oath with Sango, Ogun instead of the bible, let’s see who does something wrong. If we could embrace the African culture like it was done in the past, it could help.
As a lawyer, what is your take on the legality of some African cultures that are against human lives or affect human rights?
No system is perfect; it has to do with balancing patent rights and human rights. If there is an excessive move used by the traditionalist, it could be balanced. Concerning burying human beings with kings, it has been abolished.
If there is any practice that tampers with human rights, there is no problem cautioning and providing consequences. But it doesn’t mean that our culture should not be promoted; we should flag the beautiful side of our culture.
What are the challenges you face in promoting Africa globally?
Most Africans are more British than the Britain. There is a way Nigerians speak, but when they travel abroad, they change their accent. That’s the major challenge, most Africans are fake and it’s about time we stopped.
What is your take on our culture and patriarchy?
It’s the thing of the mind. I was raised in a way that there is nothing a man can do, that I can’t do better. It is only the mind that can limit us; if you don’t limit yourself, no man can limit you. I understand morals; when they ask girls to dress decently, it’s not because they are girls. It’s part of the culture to dress decently; it has nothing to do with gender.
If women know the enormous power we have in our hands, we’ll know that no man can cheat us except we let it happen. If you have something to offer, you won’t be a liability; they’ll be coming after you. It’s a woman’s world.