Submission on Culture

INTRODUCTION

I received the letter to make this submission on July 14, 1997 and was duly informed that I have to hand it in by July 21, which meant that I had less than a week to think on the subject, determine and decide a focus and present my thoughts.

As my presentation will show, we in Nigeria do not lack documentation on many an issue that crops up. But the documents lie on the shelves unattended to by those who have a responsibility so to do. Why? Because they have built into our way of life the habit of remembering only those things which are of immediate personal benefit to the operators of the polity.

I will make the presentation under five general headings as follows:

  1. Overview
  2. The Past
  3. The Present
  4. The future
  5. Conclusions.
  1. OVERVIEW

I see culture as the way people manifest life in the environment in which they live. Four areas emerge here for contemplation. These are:

(a) People

(b) Life

(c) Manifestation

(d) Environment.

People here refer to the human race as a unit in creation. There is a spiritual aspect as well as a material aspect to people. In fact it is the spiritual aspect that makes people people. The material aspect must be appreciated for what it is – a place where the spiritual aspect needs the training of life. The common origin of the human race is thus the fact that they have a spiritual origin.

The spiritual is not an intellectual or mental aspect of the material, as man seems to have believed over millennia. The spiritual is both a place and a state. It is a consistency all its own and is the place of origin of the human race, and so the human person.

Religion has the responsibility of informing the human race of its origin in the spiritual and of its assignment down, down here in the material world or the world of matter.

The picture of the spiritual being “above” and the material being “below” is not an “external” one. It is an internal visioning. The more you look inwards the more your gaze shifts upwards to the spiritual. This movement is from your external vision to your brain to you heart. The nearer you move to the heart, the closer you are to love, to life, to the spiritual.

Life is that which is alive and needs no external help to be so. As a religious people, we in Nigeria associate life with God. So to us, God is Life.What emerges from Him or His vicinity must be alive. The spiritual, which is our point of origin, is His work and so is alive.

The material is developed from the spiritual and is vast distances away, below the spiritual. The material provides the clothing or cloaks for the spiritual and between the spiritual and the material world, man on earth wears all the cloaks of all the spheres.

Man on earth is not the only human spirit in God’s creation. The basic claim must therefore be made that there is a way to life or living demanded of the human person wherever he may find himself in creation. If he behaves in line with the CULTURE of THE RACE, he rises to the spiritual or experiences the spiritual even here on earth. If he behaves out of tune with the Culture of the Race, he descends to the depths and has incurred the wrath of the laws, which anchor creation. He must lose that level of consciousness that the evolved spiritual man is entitled to.

We can now look at MANIFESTATION in our definition of culture as the way people manifest life in an environment in which they live. The manifestation of life is vivid, visible and dynamic. That life is to be manifested means that there can be no standing still.

Three ways are identifiable in man’s manifestation of life: through thought, through the spoken or written word, and through physically visible deeds.The three aspects imply GIVING which is the highest form of service, of worship. We should appreciate the import of GIVING when we discuss the “Present” state of our Culture. But suffice it to say that the more aware we are of the vastness of the creations and the beings and things that populate it, the more we are led into the recognition of our own smallness, our incapacity to undermine the cosmic order.

Lastly, we should look at the environment in which people manifest life since the manifestation of life of a people must be in an environment. The environment is material. The material is that sphere that developed from the spiritual and is outside it, below it. It is the vastness in nature that produces the building blocks at the beck and call of the spirit, the race of man. This material can be accessed physically through physical constructions, and mentally through thought.

On our planet earth, we have different people identifiable in racial groups but they are first and foremost human beings of the Race of Man. They all have their common origin and are all in the world of matter which is the school of life of the growing soul. Yes, in the material which is comprised by the physically visible (the solar systems, galaxies and universes) and the physically invisible (which is called the BEYOND), the human spirit must manifest in an environment.

It must be noted that as civil societies strive for order through government, so manifestations of life of man in creation must follow an order based on the well-known law of Birds of a feather flock together – i.e. the law of Homogeneity or the law of Homogeneous species.

So on earth, although mankind has a Culture of the Human Race in common, the races do and must have something common to them. And in spite of the environment in which they manifest, the “gift” of the race must be nurtured, nourished and sustained for the benefit of the race in particular and mankind in general. But the race is a description of a particular form in which a human being of the Human Race manifests its presence on earth in a particular incarnation. And the form is determined by the needs of the human being.

Thus you are white because you need a white body as a human being to school in at the particular incarnation. The gradation from the highest is consistent and moves through races and ethnic groups to families and particular parents. The environment where you need the particular lessons of the life is also in reckoning in a particular incarnation.

What is to be gleaned from the submission this far is that:

(a) Man is not an accident of nature.

(b) Man is not the only being in creation.

(c) Creation is a vastness marked by immeasurable distances that are physically discernable in planets, solar systems, galaxies, and universes.

(d) There is spiritual creation above and the material development therefrom below.

(e) Man on Earth is a developing human spirit from the spiritual creation, and the earth is a school he attends.

(f) There is a culture of the Human Race which is a level of behaviour associated with the race, a level that ensures that what you do determines where you go

(g) The races of man on earth provide opportunities for the human person to experience the school of life in different bodies and at different places on earth.

(h) As there is Culture of the Race of mankind so also should there be Culture of Race groups, the ethnic group and the family group.

Nigerian Culture, from the perspective adopted hereinabove, should be the Culture of Mankind (the species), the Human Race on Earth, the Human Race in Black Bodies on Earth; the Human Race in Black bodies in Nigeria, in the ethnic-groupings etc. There is a responsibility, therefore, to ensure that all the peoples of the world act to the cosmic brief centred in the very fact of being human.

It is because man has distanced himself from brief over millennia that there must be this deliberate exercise to remind us of that brief, train to restore order and maintain the recovered tracks if we do not want to perish as a race that failed mankind in creation.

Let us now see what we have done in the past, how we are in the present and what we should do in future.

2. THE PAST

The past should be seen as our vision of what we have been through up to now. And because of the spiritual perspective I have opted for in this submission, it is only proper to properly align Nigeria’s past in relation to the past of the human race an earth.

It must be recognized that the Earth is not a young planet. It started its life millions of years ago and matured to harbour the presence of the human spirit. Like the school it has been, the developing human spirit (whose story is pictorially given in the creation of Adam and Eve) could only be nurtured very gradually indeed.

It took millions of years for man to lose knowledge of his spiritual origin, and thus knowledge of his home, the spiritual sphere where he came from to mature. And it is the loss of this knowledge, the narrowing of vision progressively from the vastness of creation to the limitation of the earth, that should rightly be seen as the fall of man.

The attempts to restore the signposts to our origin have been made through revelations from on High. In our circumstance in Nigeria today, these attempts have affected our perspectives to life and living. We are all religious, and are Christians, Muslims, traditionalists or animists. But, there is no single Nigerian who was not brought up to believe in the Creator although where we place Him is a function of our imbibed beliefs.

The History of the peoples of the world shows that there is not a single community that fell from the sky. Each has a history of how it began and this history is known by the community and is part of its past. The easiest way to undermine the strength of any community or any people, therefore, is to black out its past, its history, or distort it.

The Black Race to which Nigeria belongs has suffered the double tragedy of having its history, its past, both blacked out and where that failed, distorted.

Between the 11th and 15th centuries, the Black Race suffered the indignity of being the item of trade across the Sahara. And from about 1450 to as late as the 1850s Blacks were the main cargo ships that crossed the Atlantic. They were the most able-bodied in the communities from which they were drawn.

So, for 800 years, the Black Race was physically, mentally and spiritually castrated. And this happened when the so-called civilized world had come to higher recognitions of the level of cultural manifestation the Human Race was then ripe for. Though Christianity and Islam had their origin in the Middle East, the world that had come to regard the Black Race as sub-human had these recognitions of the equality of man in their hands.

Even after the abolition of slave trade, the opening up of the world did not grant the Black man the place God gave him as a Human Being with the same features as all others. European countries met in Berlin in 1884 and placed a map of Africa on the table and carved it up. They then came over and colonized us. Coming ahead of them were the missionaries who wanted to lead our people into higher recognitions. But time has shown that they knew a great deal of religion but very little of spiritual matters. All we believed in, which were genuine rungs on the ladder of ascent to the Heights were relegated to the dustbin of fiction. Things we saw and which told us how to live our lives better, when and what to plant, what herbs cured which diseases – all were destroyed in the attempt by the colonialists who were on a mission to bring “civilization” to “a savage people without history, without a past”

Jomo Kenyatta summarized it all when he said that “the British came, gave us the Bible and took our land”.

They imposed their laws on us, their customs, their trade practices, their legal system. Their institutions replaced ours and our traditional rulers went down the ladder of recognition until they sank below the level of elected councilors in the order of precedence. Yet, when a politician arrives in a community, he calls first on the traditional ruler. Yet, when any Nigerian wants to be associated with class, he takes a chieftaincy title. We accept these institutions and use them only when we are in trouble but undermine them in peacetime.

The past has thus been undermined, marked as it was, by slavery, slave trade, colonization and post-independence re-colonization.

In the last case, post independence re-colonization, we have had imposed on us a culture of total dependence. We do what they want. Communist threat to the colonial master once upon a time was a source of worry to them, but communism has collapsed and the new religion is Capitalist Democracy, which we must practice without capital and without recognition of our traditional institutions.

There can be no progress without recourse to the past because the successes and failings of the past must be lessons for actions of the present. But our past has been denied, undermined and blacked out. That past must be recalled before we start any meaningful action plan. Yes, we cannot re-invert the wheel but our latent abilities must emerge if we want to apply the gains of modern science and technology. And such abilities emerge from WITHIN, from the very depth of being of the individual

.

3. THE PRESENT

Although the past took us up to now because of lack of change of perspective, we should see the present not as beginning today but as including the attempts we have made, if any, to right the wrongs of history. Have we tried to straighten ourselves out spiritually, mentally and physically without being the imitators that slavery and colonialism reduced us to? And if so, at which level have we attempted a paradigm shift?

It is an irony that the distortions we have had to put up with as a people arose outside the family unit, and were entrenched through the school system. The upbringing of a child begins in the family. The first few years before the child goes to school, he learns to use the five senses. Thus touching, smelling, tasting, seeing and hearing were chores the home environment took care of.

But the child moves outside his home environment, and the bombardment in an organized form starts. The teachers pick what he learns. The tragic situation has been that our institutions were denigrated. A whole generation of my father’s daughters left school because the headmaster insisted they must crop their hair rather than braid it. The plea that girls’ hair should be styled the traditional way was not acceptable to the school authorities.They did win eventually and my sisters and brothers that did go to school grew up striving for English standards and values and tastes.

Though attempts have been made to draw attention to our heritage, little impact was made. FESTAC ‘77 seemed to have given an opportunity for a definite statement on Black culture. And it did.

As Minister of Information and Culture from 1986 – 1990. I was touched to discover that as at 1986, almost 10 years after FESTAC ‘77, the documentation in book form had not seen the light of day. The argument was that the cost of about N800,000 had to be adjusted to about N1.3m, and no one was ready to approve the funding.

Here before us were 10 volumes of the Cultural Heritage of the Black Race, and someone was arguing against spending N1.3m to have the publication released. But for my intervention the 10 volumes of the FESTAC Colloquium papers would perhaps still be gathering dust at the National Theatre, Iganmu offices of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC).

For the record, let me say that in spite of what people complained of as the Festac ’77 Jamboree, The World Black and African Festival of Art and Culture, which as held in Nigeria, was a unique opportunity, the biggest, for the people of Africa and the Black Race to look at their heritage and contribution to civilization. Yes, there were festivities reflected in song, music and dance. But there was also the colloquium which served as the intellectual anchor to the many events that marked the occasion. Of course, there is FESTAC Town, Gowon Estate in Ipaja, Durbar Hotels in Kaduna and Lagos, and the National Theatre, to mention some of the structures that Festac ’77 gave birth to.

All the papers bound in about 15 large volumes were handed over to the Third Press International, an outfit owned by Dr. Joseph Okpaku, a Nigerian publisher based in the United States of America. Working with a team of experts in each area, ten volumes emerged as follows:

Volume 1 Black Civilization and the Arts

Volume 2 Black Civilization and Philosophy

Volume 3 Black Civilization and Literature

Volume 4 Black Civilization and African Languages

Volume 5 Black Civilization and Historical Awareness

Volume 6 Black Civilization and Pedagogy

Volume 7 Black Civilization and Religion

Volume 8 Black Civilization and Science and Technology

Volume 9 Black Civilization and African Government

Volume 10 Black Civilization and the Mass Media.

If I did succeed in having the volumes published, I did not succeed in having them marketed. I would have had volumes sent to all tertiary institutions to, perhaps, form the basis for the General Studies programme in the humanities, an area that ought to be compulsory for all students in Nigerian Universities. Not only were the volumes not distributed for use in Nigeria, they were not even available outside Nigeria. I visited Ghana and was shocked that their center for African studies had not heard of the volumes!

So, the material that would have made the difference in the upbringing and up-building of the Black child lies there at National Theatre, gathering dust.

The second area of formal attempt to effect a paradigm shift is the evolution and approval of a cultural policy for Nigeria. Before the policy was approved by the Armed Forces Ruling Council in 1988, there had been seminars, workshops and media discussion of all aspects of our culture. There were teachers of culture, practitioners through the arts and music, and administrators of culture, among others. In fact, so seriously did the then Buhari Administration take the War Against Indiscipline that a Sole Administrator for Culture, Col. Tunde Akogun, was appointed. It was his coordinating effort that saw the emergence of proposals for a Cultural Policy for Nigeria which I had the honour and privilege to have brought to fruition when I was Minister of Information and Culture.

One of the recommendations that was accepted by Government and which was implemented during my tenure was the establishment of a Ministry of Culture. It is common knowledge that the ministry of culture was remerged with the ministry of information less than three years after the decision to accept this measure of independence for the cultural sector was taken.

The policy was divided into three parts:

Part I: Preamble shows the scope of the policy, objectives of the policy and methods of implementation.

Part II: Focuses on Implementation

Part III: Deals with Administration and Finance.

Four broad categories of expression of the cultural policy are identified as follows:

(a) Preservation of Culture

(b) Promotion of culture

(c) Presentation of culture; and

(d) The establishment of administrative structures and the provision of funds for its implementation.

On the focus of implementation, education of the polity is key. “The state shall recognize the fact that a people who have succeeded in transmitting their culture to the younger generation have succeeded in promoting and perpetuating that culture,” says the Cultural Policy.

To ensure a successful and orderly transmission of culture to our young ones, directives are given on curriculum design. What is expected of the state to ensure the structuring of a total school environment is clearly shown. The policy on books and what to do on Nigerian languages are well settled. There are also guidelines on libraries, archives, the Arts (literature, performing arts, fine art and crafts), National parks and sites, monuments, museums, halls of fame, galleries and craft centres, Theatres and festivals.

It was the cultural policy that recommended a national policy on the mass media as a vehicle for cultural transmission. There are suggestions for use of radio, television, newspapers and magazines, cinema etc for appropriate transmission and imbibing of Nigerian culture.

Space is given also to religion, Nigerian languages, foods, dress, traditional medicine, economic development, and environmental planning. In all these, the duty of the state in the preservation, promotion, presentation and funding of culture is clear.

Specifically in the area of administration and financing of culture, the state agreed in the policy to recognize as agents for cultural preservation, presentation, promotion and development, the following, among others

q Traditional, religious and chieftaincy institutions, guilds age grades; and

q Voluntary associations, craft guilds and cooperatives.

Eleven parastatals were recommended for the ministry of culture that the policy had approved. They are all functioning today but with little if any funding. They are:

q National Council for Arts and Culture

q National Commission for Museums and Monuments

q Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation

q Nigerian Tourist Board

q Nigerian Film Censors Board.

q Nigerian Film Corporation

q National Theatre Management Board (incorporating the National Troupe of Nigeria)

q National Gallery of Arts; and

q National Academy of Arts.

From the foregoing the lack of evident shift in our perspective from a slave race to a free race of human beings is traceable to our neglect of the cultural wealth, which we ignore. But should we remain this way and hope to achieve anything by the year 2010?

4. THE FUTURE

The seeds of tomorrow are sown today. We must accept certain basic facts of life and push these facts into our beings and nourish them to grow.

I summarise them here:

(1) We as Blacks are human beings with the same spiritual origin as other races. Anyone that preaches our inferiority is telling lies against God.

(2) For upwards of a thousand years, and in spite of recognitions available to them, the White Race has enslaved Blacks and entrenched a perspective, which even denies their humanity. Even after independence, the structures they established are supposed to be the only ones that can be viable. And in spite of problems in their polities, their socio-economic viewpoints are forced on us.

(3) We have a responsibility to mankind and the Black Race to assert our spirituality, which our way of life has fortunately never denied. If we push this recognition adequately and assertively enough, the Black Race will be the next focus of attention in man’s evolution in creation’s school.

(4) Nigeria has the largest concentration of Black people in the world, and should therefore be their flag bearer. The picture associated with the country at international levels must therefore change. We are said to be the fourth most corrupt country in the world, one of the poorest 50 countries in the world, and one of the least democratic. It is a result of the reaping of past sowings that we are said to be corrupt, new seeds of honesty, wealth and democracy would have sprouted and in just one generation would begin to bear fruits.

(5) Within Nigeria, we must recognize our diversities and build structures to reflect them. Otite of the University of Ibadan says we have 374 ethnic groups in Nigeria with identifiable cultural traits. We have put this number at 250 and a publication of the National Council of Arts and Culture, at 350. The fact is that we may not know the number because there is no attempt to identify them to establish what each group can give to enrich Nigeria. All that has happened has been struggle for power, such that the large number of culture groups has been reduced to a trinity that undermines all others and even themselves. Instead of the three to cooperate and pioneer a pan-ethnic Nigerian culture, each strives to deplete a national cake they refuse to cooperate in baking. This attitude must change.

(6) Having recognized the many groups that make up this country, there must be a deliberate effort to determine what each group has to offer. The structures established to enable a meaningful execution of this programme are already in place, not only at the federal but also at the state level.

(7) There is no way the whole cultural heritage of Nigeria can manifest nationally. The imbibing of the cultures of our people must be structured. At the village level, the village heritage; at the clan level the clan heritage; at the local council area level, the local council area heritage; at the state level, the state heritage; and at the national level, the national heritage.

The village and clan heritage can be imbibed at family and primary school levels; the local government and state heritage at secondary school level; and the national heritage at post-secondary school level. There must be arrangements for interaction through movement of goods and people country-wide, and even through inter-marriages.

The Raw Material is there in FESTAC ’77 papers and the cultural policy for Nigeria document. As has been shown, the constitutions of Nigeria since 1979 have provided for preservation, presentation and promotion of our CULTURES.

The effort of Vision 2010 is one more opportunity to collate the raw material for restoration of the memory of our forgotten or abandoned abilities.

CONCLUSION

It is true that history and culture are bed-mates. But both have the exercise of faculty of recall to fall back on if they will not remain dead and forgotten. The Human Being on Earth is not the only being in Creation. He is one of the many that populate this wonderful work of the Almighty.Everything in Creation is, therefore, man to access physically, mentally and spiritually, using the appropriate weapons to access the appropriate level.

Here on earth, man, through incarnations manifested in different races identifiable by the colour of the skin, among others. But each man has a spiritual origin and is equally endowed to develop the abilities which nature endowed him with. On earth, these abilities are developed and nourished by the training of man’s physical senses and the intellect.

Because of the enslavement of the Black man his ability to excel has been severely curtailed and today, he is the sore on Earthman’s foot. He must re-awaken to his humanness and focus his culture to establish a foundation for relating to the world of tomorrow.

If more developed countries train their gifted children in their culture schools so that they would have a credible foundation to rest on and operate from, it is sad that our perception of being gifted rests on the ability to manipulate a computer. We must restore values of our people and tackle our problems from a less imitative standpoint.

If Americans are happy because they are in Mars, it is not because the average American knows any more than the average Nigerian. It is because the American people created an environment for a culture of enterprise and research to flourish.

Nigeria must create the cultural environment for a Pushkin to emerge. Pushkin was black but because of the environment he found himself in the USSR, he became the father and progenitor of Russian art. So, inherent in him were all the seeds and rudiments that sprouted into all the conceivable forms of art manifesting themselves in every artist in Russia.

That Blacks the world over make it so profoundly in any field of endeavour they are exposed to shows that all they need is the right cultural environment in which they must manifest the life they lead.

Prince Tony Momoh © July, 1997.

LAGOS, NIGERIA

REFERENCES:

  1. Constitutions of the Federal Republic of Nigeria: 1979, 1989; 1995.
  2. The Art and Civilisation of Black and African Peoples, Vols. 1 – 10, CBAAC, 1986.
  3. Nigeria Since Independence, The First 25 years Vol. VII, Culture by Panel on Nigeria Since Independence Project; Heinemann Educational Books (Nig) Ltd, 1989.
  4. Cultural Policy for Nigeria, 1988; Federal Government Printer, Lagos.

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