‘I Was Brought Up To Celebrate Cultural Values’
Jumoke Owoola, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Centre for Indigenous Knowledge, Development and Sustainability, and publisher of Ostrich Afrique magazine, spoke to DEBO OLADIMEJI on how we can revive cultural values that are being eroded.
I am a princess from Ayetoro Ekiti but I was born and bred in Lagos. My father, Prince Owoola Olaosebikan, alias ‘Oga teacher’ was a school teacher before he died, and my mother was a textile dealer. My father was into community adult education and rural farming. My mother was a philanthropist. It was from her that I learnt how to be a cheerful giver.
I am also into advocacy, because I do programmes for children. For example, I take children from Lagos State to rural areas. Recently, I took some children from a boarding school in Ishaga, Lagos (children below 18 years) to a farmland in Oshogbo for them to have a touch of nature. I have been doing something like that as part time, free of charge for people since 1989.
I was brought up in the palace. My father was a first class prince. Though we were living in the city, we were always going home. In those days, communal values were very intact. The Christians will come to the palace and dance on Sunday. On Friday, the Muslims will come.
The traditionalists used to come and we would play with them. I was brought up embracing culture, doing good to people because you don’t know where you will meet tomorrow.
I was brought up celebrating cultural values. Also, my father attended the University of Lagos where he did Yoruba education. He came with a lot of books that we learnt many cultural things from.
I went to so many secondary schools. I later had a diploma in African Studies with specialisation in Oral Literature at University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife.
After my diploma, I went for my first degree at Lagos State University (LASU) where I graduated in Communication Arts. After that, I went to the University of Ibadan (UI) for my M.A in Peace and Conflict Studies.
I later started another M.Sc programme in 2012 on Indigenous Knowledge and Development at UI at the Centre for Sustainable Development (CESDEV). Professor Labo Popoola, is the Director of the programme. I finished in 2014.
What is this course all about?
They trained us to become developers. For example, why is it that children below nine now have hypertension? It was not so in those days. For somebody to have hypertension, he must be somebody around 60 years.
But today, we have children below nine having hypertension because of what they eat. Children below 18 years now have kidney problems. My grand mother died last year at the age of 128. Before she died, she could pass thread through a needle without using glasses.
Last year, they said that the World Health Organization (WHO) came with glasses for children below 10. I told the organisers that if at age seven you are giving these children eye glasses, when they are 20, what are you going to give to them? Why don’t you sit down and look at their diets? We were told that the life span of somebody from Nigeria is 45. Niddle
But when you go to the rural areas, you see people living up to 130 years. Why don’t we sit down to find out what the problem is? That is the nutrition aspect of it.
What are you planning to do with the programme?
I am starting my Ph.D any moment from now on the indigenous nutrition aspect of the programme. At the M.Sc level, I have developed a sort of mechanism to use media and movies to create awareness to promote indigenous knowledge in our society.
When I was doing my project, I discovered that people watch home movies more than anything. When you watch these home movies, at times you discover that there are many mistakes. In those days, we were using folktales to checkmate what we do. But today, people are no longer using folktales to checkmate people, or to be a sort of role model for people. They like watching movies.
I am developing a mechanism that will use both media and movies to project what I have studied so that the society will be better off. Majority of the people in the media don’t even have an inkling of what I am taking about.
When former American President, George Bush came to Nigeria, the Presidency sent for Mrs. Nike Okundaye to come and decorate Bush’s room in Abuja. And she decorated that room with adire and batik. Now, if you want to do that in the houses of ordinary Nigerians, they will say you are a local champion. But foreigners are fascinated by what we do, but we are not.
Why do you think that we are not fascinated by what we do?
It is because our forefathers have been brainwashed to believe that foreign culture is superior to ours. Instead of us to wake up to realities, we are yet to discover ourselves.
This is what we are trying to correct. If somebody puts agbalumo (African cherry), orange and apple on the table, many people will first of all pick the apple because they have made us to have this mentality that apple is the best. Not that apple is not good; it has vitamin C. But they must have preserved it with chemicals before importing it to Nigeria. By the time the things get here, they are no longer natural.
The next fruit people will pick is orange. Meanwhile, the calcium in orange is lower than that of agbalumo. The calcium you see in 10 oranges is what you see in one agbalumo. Go and confirm it.
When somebody has low sperm count, there are some herbs that can increase it. But somebody will just tell you that it is fake, whereas everything is about economy. Somebody that wants to sell his Paracetamol will tell you that you should not buy ewuro (bitter leaf) or ewedu, (cochorus olitorius). There are some places in Nigeria that people cannot do without preparing their soup with bitter leaf or ewedu. They are looking fresh than those people that they don’t even take it.
Is it true that agbo (concoction) is not good for our body?
If somebody tells you that agbo is not good for your health; that is not true. What they are now saying is that it doesn’t have measurement. Meanwhile, it has measurement. Even the old people have their own measurement. When you squeeze efinrin leaf (ocimum graticimum), for dysentery, into a cup and you filter it, the remainder will be five milimetres.
In 2008, we went to India for World Population Conference and they were promoting female condoms and male condoms and I told them that condoms cannot work well in Nigeria. I said the reason is that before you can use condom, you must have a full erection. Somebody that owes a house rent cannot have full erection. Somebody that is hungry cannot have full erection.
I say that the only way out is the traditional contraceptive. It is a ring that they have soaked in herbs. And when you put it in your finger it will serve as contraceptive. About two years ago, we were in Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) centre in Abeokuta, Ogun State, a woman was selling the rings there. I bought some and gave them to people and they worked. What they need to do is that they should make it modern and attractive for more people to like it.
Look at Eweeran (Thaumatococcus danieli), one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world has its base within Ilupeju-Oshodi here in Nigeria, using its root to make their drugs. They are using it as an alternative to sugar for diabetic patients.
I was in Washington recently, and I saw people rushing to buy a capsule that was made from ewedu. When I saw people from Nigeria rushing for it, I was surprised. This is because at home they don’t value it.
What is the way forward?
Last year, one organisation invited us to do an independent survey for Lagos State Ministry of Health on maternal health. One woman said that whenever they are in labour, whether they need operation or not, they will wheel them to the theatre. It is not only in Lagos State, it is the same thing in other states.
When we got to Orile Agege, a woman narrated how she delivered safely using a soap called Ose abiwere (herbs meant for safe delivery). She bought it for N200.
Unfortunately, somebody that is taking grants from international NGOs will tell you that these herbs are not working. Those are the things that we are trying to correct.
Is religion a problem?
They have said that we have three types of religion in Nigeria – traditional, Christianity and Islam. Although for me I do not have any religion, I believe that there is God. I have friends that are Muslims, Christians or into traditional religion. When they invite me to their events, I go because that was the way I was brought up, to respect other peoples’ religion and their values. But what I am doing for them they cannot do it for me. Somebody will come to you, he will give you tracts. If you now want to give that person your own type of tracts, he will run away.
We need to work with the media because some of them are just writing about these things. We need to educate them. We need to educate the filmmakers and other people. Even our government, maybe they should put it in the school curriculum and focus on people below 18 so that the society will be better.