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Omoniyi Ibietan

Deepening Nigeria’s Development: The Role of Culture and Communication

Being a paper presented by Omoniyi Ibietan, Head, Online Media and Special Publications at Nigerian Communications Commission at a National Colloquium in Sokoto earlier this year

We are gathered here today to reflect on the promises of culture and strategic communication for Nigeria’s development. As you all know, this gathering is among the sequence of activities planned to mark the Fortieth Birthday celebration of our friend, brother and patriot – Zayyan Tambari Yabo. Zayyan and I share a similar history, particularly in the nature, dynamics and thrust of historical obligations we encountered. Our lives’ trajectories as students in Nigerian universities, cadres in the Nigerian Students’ and Youth Movements, student leaders and civil servants speak eloquently to this existential reality. I am gratified that this hall is peopled with many who are intimately involved and indeed who acted in great manners that shaped our stories.

Suffice it to say that Zayyan is among a unique corps of the social entrepreneur – indeed, a leading light of a budding and beautiful constellation of thinkers advocating a rebirth of our country. I am sure we will be offered a more fitting citation of Zayyan, but it is significant that I testify to his brilliance and nobility. You all will agree with me that our gathering here today represents one of the finest expressions of that characterization that I have just depicted.

Importantly, I have mused repeatedly about my choice as the main presenter at this forum. My conclusive thought is, given our history, any of our prodigious colleagues, many of who are seated here – and armed with a modicum of tools of dialectics – could have been chosen to do what I have been assigned to do today. So, I consider this a singular privilege and I am humbled by the honour.

Introduction

Culture is a human creation – the totalizing experience of whatever man invented and considered dignifying to shape the organization of his society. It can be historical or normative, psychological, structural and otherwise. It is an amalgam of heritages and practices that have come to define a people differently from their neighbours and kind. This paper reflects on scholarly writings and other documentations to dilate on the connection between culture, communication and development.

Beginning with conceptual and theoretical framing, it explored the unifying experiences of the cultures of Nigeria from a historical perspective, examined the orientation of cultural policies and practices, attempted a comparison of some cultures in relation to Nigeria, advocates agriculture as a melting pot – a foundational cornerstone and rallying point of a new set of cultural values – in view of its universality to all Nigerian cultures and its economic significance. Finally, the paper reflects on cultural democracy and Diffusion theory to emphasize the place of strategic communication as the organizing principle for a new Nigeria.

Conceptual and Theoretical Reflections

The brass tack is to interrogate culture and communication as drivers or triggers of growth and development. I confess ab initio that I align myself with the orientation that promotes this perspective. Culture and communication are central to human and social development.

But what is development? Barder (2012), in an attempt to give a finer interpretation to what he called ‘complexity science’ explained how Amartya Sen’s spectacular work in the 80s redefined the paradigm of development from the traditional welfare economics’ conceptualization of income as a key determinant of development. As Barder narrated, twice in contemporary history, one individual, Amartya Sen, who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998, nudged the world to rethink development. After Sen convinced the world that poverty involves a wide range of deprivations in health, education and living standards, which were not captured by income alone – what he called the Capabilities Approach – the UN Human Development Index with a multidimensional approach was birthed to shape development scholarship and practice.

Two decades later, Sen deepened his thought and moved the benchmark of development further to include freedom. In Development as Freedom (1999), the work which largely encapsulates Sen’s thought on development, he argued that freedom is not only a means but an end in development – a primary end; and a principal means of development. Conceptually, this is the constitutive and instrumental role of freedom – the foundational view of development as freedom (1999:36). So, development must be interpreted in terms of its impact on people’s choices, capabilities and freedoms. In view of that, any instance of “unfreedom” undermines development.

Therefore, it stands to reason that development is substantive freedoms which include elementary capabilities – ‘empowerment and inclusion’ – that enable people to avoid deprivations such as “starvation, undernourishment, escapable morbidity and premature mortality, as well as the freedoms that are associated with being literate and numerate, enjoying political participation and uncensored speech and so on” (Sen, 1999:36) Conclusively, as Sen argued persuasively, development is nothing more than an expansion of human freedoms.

In essence, the human development approach is the expansion of the “richness of human lives” rather than expanding the richness of the economy in which they live, and this must be sustainable. As Barder (2012) has also underscored credibly, development consists of more than improvements in the well-being of citizens – broadly, it also conveys something about the capacity of economic, political and social systems to provide the circumstances for that well-being on a sustainable, long-term basis. Illustratively, the dictum: “do not give me fish but teach me how to fish” speaks to some degree of freedom that enables the incremental, cumulative fishing of the individual to define the economy. For that reason, development is the sustainable expansion of human freedom.

Let us pause here with respect to the concept of development and migrate to explore the concept of culture. Some scholars seem to hold the view that defining culture is a startling, possibly notoriously difficult exercise because it has now “come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct systems of thought” (Williams, 1976:76-7). Indeed, today, sociologists talk of culture as a central plank of sociological inquiry. Culture also constitutes the main thrust of anthropological scholarship, the same way in which communication scholars have been investigating culture for decades under the theme of media and cultural studies.

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Historically, culture was associated with several things at different junctures of human evolution and as Smith reported, by 1952, Kroeber and Kluckhohn had assembled numerous definitions of culture from popular and academic sources. From the 16th to 19th centuries, culture became generally associated with the improvement of the human mind and personal manners through learning – a metaphorical reference to improving practices, making it possible for us to say in modern times that someone is cultured or having no culture. Popular among several definitions of culture was the one offered by Taylor (1971) which conceptualized culture as a “complex whole which include knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and any other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society” (Smith, 2001; Erhun, 2015). And in a 1988 attempt to design a modern cultural policy, the Nigerian Government through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, described culture as the totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempt to meet the challenges of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organization thus distinguishing a people from their neighbours. The congruity in Taylor’s and Nigeria’s conceptions of culture which also speaks to a characterization of culture as a form of civilization is very apt to our discourse here because the definitions speak to ideas (art, morals, laws); as well as activities (customs, habits) (Smith, 2001).

The above description also aligns with Smith’s conceptual rooting and analogous to his definitional classification of culture into the Historical (as a heritage transmitted); the Normative (a way of life); the Psychological (communicative and problem-solving); and the Structural (more in line with Taylor above). Since cultural theory is simply a tool of explaining the nature of culture and its implications for social life, Smith’s taxonomy is more illustrative and instructive. In a more concrete utilitarian sense, Smith’s interpretation of cultural theory has provided underlying themes which are applicable to our exercise today.

Accordingly, following Smith’s lead, there will be an exploration of culture content; the social implications; and finally the action, agency and the self. In other words, what is the makeup of culture; what models of influence does culture exert on the social structure and social life; and the connection between culture and the individual – how culture shapes human action, the cultural construction of the self.

Finally, this discourse’s third key variable is communication. Really, when scholars and practitioners talk of communication, often, they refer to an art, science, activity, process, and/or methods of expressing ideas and feelings or of giving people information. When it is used in plural form – COMMUNICATIONS – it often refers to methods of sending information, especially through the application of science, which is the utilization of technology – telephones, television, radio, computers. In some jurisdictions, the geography of definition will expand to embrace roads and railways as communication systems or links. We shall return to discuss communication in a more detailed concrete sense in the second part of the colloquium.

Cultures of Nigeria: A Recall of the Past and Musing on Policies

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous, evidently the most socially, culturally and possibly geographically diversified, is potentially the continent’s richest in human and natural resources, and likely the world’s 22nd largest economy. Its geographical land mass is estimated at 923,768 square kilometres and recent estimate by the National Bureau of Statistics says Nigeria is populated by 193 million.

Although Nigeria is endowed in all ramifications the country is singularly distinguished in Africa, South of the Sahara, for her rich and vast cultural manifestation, a heritage of the past and a pride of the present generation (Fasuyi, 1973). That glorious signpost of the past was expressed in the stone-age terracotta seen at Nok, a village in the Bauchi Plateau in 1936. It was evident in the masteries of governance and masterpieces of arts of Ife and Benin. It was recorded in the notable and distinctive Nri civilization whose arts manifested in the Igbo Ukwu bronze collections. It was captured in the wonders of Daura as the spiritual home of the early Hausa States.

It manifested in the military and organizational prowess of Queen Amina’s Zaria, as well as in the notable dynastic longevity of Bornu Kingdom. It showed so evidently in the organizational and administrative mastery that was the hallmark of the Sokoto Caliphate, a mark that made it easy for the colonialists to introduce an indirect rule system in Northern Nigeria having met a spectacular administrative system upon arrival in the north of Nigeria. Indeed, our great heritage was certainly obvious in the uncommon influence of Calabar, Opobo and other Niger Delta city states. It was of course so palpable in the archaeological discoveries at Jemaa in 1944 which indicated the existence of some agriculturalists, and possibly pastoralists along Katsina-Ala and north-westwards to Kagara.

Indeed, the history of all the over 200 ethnic nationalities of Nigeria is replete with astonishing breakthroughs with concrete masterpieces that have become cynosures to visitors of leading museums and galleries all over the world. It is no self-glorification to state that the Nigerian heritage as exemplified by her arts and crafts have formed a critical “part of the sum total of the cultural heritage of mankind”.

As recalled by Fasuyi, all these empires, kingdoms and states had clear systems of organization that were cultural. Arts and cultural activities were closely interwoven with the social life of the kingdoms under traditional rulers that were both political and essentially spiritual leaders. They were often advised in the planning of cultural programmes by councils and meetings of elders and local chiefs who helped to assign “different tasks to people according to their ability and talents”. Although “the administration of cultural activities was largely a social obligation system with everyone demonstrating willingness to make contribution”, artists – carvers, drummers, singers, priests, sculptors, musicians, dancers, poets and many others dictated the cultural pace of the society.

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This heritage is marked by a system in which people performed different assignments for the society without pay. They were often satisfied with the personal gratitude expressed by the rulers and other community leaders, and the commendation of the society. “They could also receive free cash crops, cattle and clothing to cover their needs while they serve the society. If financial compensation was required, the traditional heads met the artists’ demand”. In the absence of formal education, one defining matrix of that era was the apprenticeship system in which arts was usually practiced as a family trade, and the secrets were transferred from the elders to their children. Training was usually freely given and the beneficiaries were expected to do same for the younger people. The foregoing thus substantially repudiated the ethnocentric claims that pre-colonial Africa was primitive and lacked any kind of meaningful civilization or government.

Ironically, it was colonialism that destroyed the beauties of the African civilization and that has been argued convincingly in thousands of scholarly fictional and non-fictional works. Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart (2010) already translated into many languages, some of which are international, is preeminent among the fictional illustrations of the distortions of colonialism on the African culture. Indeed, all the practices of Nigeria’s indigenous cultures narrated above were undermined by colonial rule, beginning with the authority of traditional rulers. The distortions were also heightened by the disingenuous introduction of new religions and ‘formal’ education. Even new forms of dance emerged on our landscape and old crafts equally became endangered. Due to a contrived lack of support by the new administration and the widespread alteration of the cultural system, hand-made clothes, mat-making and other local industries suffered neglect.

The entire system began to be replaced with a new thinking. New agencies of cultural education sprang up. The Nigerian Magazine, first published in 1923 as Nigerian Teacher, and then it later became the cultural information journal of the Federal Government. In 1953, the Department of Fine Art was established as part of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology – it was later transferred to Zaria where the Art Department had been expanded to enable the introduction of a four-year Diploma programme. Earlier, a Federal Art Adviser post was created and Ben Enwonwu, who had taught at government colleges and had trained in London, was appointed.
But really, these were palliative responses to symptomatic manifestations of a fundamental buckle of a people’s way of life. Regrettably, there was no concrete response to this distortion even immediately after independence. There was no Ministry of Culture and as Fasuyi (1973:26) further noted Nigeria thus differed from many countries which planned and implemented cultural programmes under a single Ministry. For instance, immediately after independence different agencies and aspects of the nation’s cultural programmes were handled by four different ministries. The Federal Ministry of Information was in charge of cultural promotion, international cultural exchanges, cultural information and publications, and mass media; The Federal Ministry of Education had purview over art and cultural education, art exhibitions and artists’ society, museums and monuments, and UNESCO-sponsored cultural activities; The Federal Ministry of External Affairs had supervision over international cultural exchanges (Note an obvious clash with Federal Ministry of Information’s function), and industrial and cultural exhibitions (another clash with aspects of Federal Ministry of Education’s function captured above); and finally, Federal Ministry of Trade and Industry handled international trade fair and cultural display, and promotion of arts and crafts industries.

In fact, the cultural promotion division of the Federal Ministry of Information was headed by the Editor of Nigeria Magazine until 1968 when the post of Federal Cultural Adviser was created, and the former Federal Art Adviser was appointed to the position. Even the birth of another cultural policy on August 29, 1988 did not fundamentally halt the rapid descent of our cultural fortunes. Launched with fanfare, the policy despite its all-inclusive scope, did not prescribe any normative definition. It merely awakened Nigerians to understand their country’s multiculturalism as a possible springboard to helping to set national cultural priority objectives. The clear absence, up till today, of a strategic document with action plans stating cultural values to be projected and promoted as well as key deliverables made all pronouncements on cultural orientation a statement of intention.

The height of these serial statements of intention is stipulated in Chapter II of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 as amended under the “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy”. Section 21 says: “The State shall – (a) protect, preserve and promote the Nigerian cultures which enhance human dignity and are consistent with the fundamental objectives as provided in this Chapter; and (b) encourage development of technological and scientific studies which enhance cultural values”. Section 22 proceeds to state that “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”.

We all know that the greatest lacuna in the above statements is that a citizen cannot go to court to demand for an enforcement of a statement of objective. Importantly, what constitutes ‘dignity’? The question of dignity and its inherent contradictions have been of concern to scholars and culture architects. Soyinka (2004) illustrates it rhetorically in Climate of Fear as he recalled the enshrinement of the word in the French Charter following that nation’s revolution and also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, noting that the entitlement to dignity does not “aspire to being the most self-evident, essential need for human survival, such as food, or physical health”. The global climate of fear, Soyinka concluded “owes so much to the devaluation or denial of dignity in the intersection of Communities…” (Soyinka 2004:95).

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So, what kind of values do we project? The world is most certainly going to judge us by what we do more than by the spirit of slogans we mouth. For instance, our statutes, which are oriented in our culture and civilization, enjoin us to hand an accused person over to a law enforcement agency for prosecution. Therefore, it stands to reason that each time a citizen of Nigeria or anyone inhabiting our geographical space dies from mob or individual action due to alleged stealing and profanities, or even from preventable accidents of any kind that was triggered by human action, or due to assumed or real infractions of the law or belief systems, to that extent we devalue our dignity, we undermine our civilization, we redefine our spatial reality from civility to infamy, and we make it difficult for our cultural agencies to put forward a genuine narrative of who we are because the media would have fed the public with the story.

Curiously, the opening sentence on the directive on Nigeria cultures in Chapter II of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution says “It shall be the duty and responsibility of all organs of government, and of all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive and judicial powers, to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this Chapter of this Constitution”. What’s the reality? What are we doing at our desks as citizens and leaders in our own right? Importantly, we all have a duty here to forge strategic alliances with many of our compatriots who insist that Chapter II of the Constitution should be actionable. It is already being debated at many of our ever lively national debates these days and the objective grounds for this advocacy is that the use of the word “shall” is a deliberate and evidently stronger expression than “may”. I agree with the thinking that every attempt to make Chapter II of our Constitution actionable is a good way to test our efforts at constitutionalism.

Thankfully, here is another prospect to remake our nation. A window of opportunity has opened for a concrete official strategy to be instituted now that we have all agencies in the culture promotion sector supervised by one Ministry at the federal level – Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. The Ministry’s mandate is to manage the image, reputation and the promotion of the culture of the people and Government of Nigeria through a dynamic public information system that facilitates access by the citizens and the global community to credible and timely information about our nation. The mandate appears huge and challenging but it is clear and achievable. The projection and promotion of our cultural values as a development agenda require a new focus. It demands that we organize afresh. It calls for a special collaborative partnership of all stakeholders.

Indeed, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (FMIC) official portal reveals a good attempt at conception of culture to aggregate our cultural heritage; religions and sophisticated visual arts; festivals; entertainment; tourism; arts; cuisines. Let us take festivals for instance. The festivals which are pervasive across the country are meant to emphasize and showcase the rich cultural heritage of the people. However, what outcome is expected from the younger generation who are encouraged to observe the festivals? The festivals have intrinsic lessons they teach; they are narratives that are meant to shape attitudes and behaviours, and to regenerate us in terms of values embedded in them. Are we taking the lessons? Are we acting accordingly? In the culture sphere of the Ministry’s mandate, we have departments that span the spectrum of culture – International Cultural Relations; Tourism Promotion and Cooperation; Cultural Industry and Heritage; Domestic Ecotourism; Entertainment and Creative Services, and so on.

We even have an Institute for Cultural Orientation set up in 1993 as a research and training agency to harness culture for national development and it has monitored the cohesion between cultural policy and social integration, peace and national unity since then. Also, after the elaborate carnival of African arts and culture (FESTAC) in 1977, the Center for Black and African Arts and Culture (CBAAC) was established to improve understanding of African cultures. The Centre is also a trove of some archives, same way in which the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) is. The NCMM also has as a key mandate the prevention of art theft.

Fantastic ideas! May we ask if these departments and the Institute have SMART Objectives? And how are their strategic objectives being measured? What’s the vision and target by 2020? My point is if you do not know where you are going you cannot plan how to get there. This is no swipe. We are raising questions, perhaps rhetorically, and possibly it may take us back to the drawing board. If the latter happens as a result of our gathering here today, then the organizers of this forum would have achieved something spectacular for our nation…
TO BE CONTINUED

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