The immediate past chief executive/director general of the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), Prof. Tunde Babawale, and currently an Electoral Commissioner at the Lagos State Independent Electoral Commission (LASIEC), in this interview, explains the essence of cultural policy, indigenous language, preservation and promotion of our rich cultural heritage among other issues. TONY OKUYEME reports
There has been sustained discourse and calls for a National Cultural Policy. Why is this policy so important?
There is no question about the fact that a policy is the key to the development of any sector, be it cultural, social, economic or even political. So, there is no way any government would succeed in a sector that is not guided by policy. Policy is the signpost, the roadmap that you require to be able to navigate through the sector and decide what your activities would be. So, I am also shocked that for a very long time we have been battling with this problem of cultural policy for Nigeria.
Of course, we have the 1988 one, and we also have the revised cultural policy which I think even up until 2010 was still being revised. A lot of work had been done on the 1988 document, workshops had been organized. As I said, a new document has been produced, a copy of which I have. What is left is for this document to be formally presented to the public.
Why then has successive governments failed to implement it?
Unfortunately, I am still at a loss as to why the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture has not deemed it necessary to formally launch the document. It seems as if we are working without a policy guide. And that could also be partly responsible for the lull that we are witnessing in the Arts and Culture sector in terms of what government policy is on it. So, I want to appeal to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to as a matter of urgency get his team in the Ministry to dust this document that is still in the archive of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, and ensure that this particular document is presented to the public. It is of essence that this is done as urgently as possible.
As a nation, are we doing enough in terms of documentation, preservation and promotion of our rich cultural heritage?
I am not sure that we are doing enough in terms of preserving and documenting our culture.
There is a very high concentration on tourism by successive regimes. That in itself is not, but it becomes bad when it is done at the expense or at the detriment of the cultural components. You cannot have tourism without the raw material, and that raw material is provided by culture. This is where the documentation and the preservation of our cultural heritage is very important. One of the ways by which this can be done, in my view, is to have this policy, and also enunciate in it what the specific agencies need to do in terms of how to preserve our cultural heritage. For example, we have world heritage site in Adamawa State, we have in Osun State. How much or what effort have we made as a people and government to popularise, improve on these world heritage sites to become a showcase of our own heritage and at the same time earn us enough money. There is no doubt about it that if we promote our cultural heritage it will reduce our dependence on oil, because as you know, oil is exhaustible. Culture is sustainable; it cannot die. And the only way by which our culture will not die is for us to preserve that culture. One way by which we can do it is to incorporate elements of our culture heritage in our school curriculum at the primary, the secondary and at the tertiary levels of our educational system. Today, in my view, the curriculum of our schools seems deficient in the area of content that emphasises the preservation of our heritage. Don’t forget, heritage is in two parts, the material and the non-material. By material we are talking about the physical manifestations in terms of those historic sites and monuments; whereas, the non-material refers to our music, dance, mode of hair dressing, cuisine, and all of the other things that make the non-material aspect of our culture. Now, how far have we gone in teaching our children our languages? Language is the vehicle of culture; without the promotion and preservation of your languages there is no way you can preserve your culture. It is important to also stress that on a daily basis, we promote culture in the way we interact with people because it is also about your world view, about your custom, tradition, morals. Your proverbs contain culture, your worldview is about culture. That is why we talk about the cosmological aspect of culture; we also talk about the ontological aspect of culture which is philosophical in essence. And we also talk about the interaction between people, which is the aetiological aspect of culture. So, my point of view is that our school curriculum must be enriched or revised in such a way that these elements of both the material and non-material aspect will become a central part of that curriculum. Most importantly, the teaching and learning of our languages at every level of our educational system must become a norm in our country. That is a starting point. Two, we must create programmes; and government, for example, must ensure that specific days of the week are devoted to promoting the use of indigenous languages, especially in the States Houses of Assembly, like Lagos has done. We would have started on the road to promoting our culture; we would also have started on the road to preventing the extinction of our languages.
So, I am saying that in neglecting our culture and our language we are depriving our children of certain aspects of our existence that should come naturally with them. And one of the reasons why many of them are not performing well in the English language is the absence of that environment where they can drink from the fountain of philosophy where they could have vocabularies to express themselves. Every normal person thinks first in his indigenous language before he translates into a second language. This is why preserving, promoting our cultural heritage is of utmost importance.
Stakeholders appear divided on the merger of the National Theatre with National Troupe of Nigeria. What do you think is the best option for the sector?
I personally don’t think it is in the interest of the National Troupe to have a merger with the National Theatre. Managing the National theatre, in my view, is a technical matter which requires a technical person to do. For instance, somebody who has a management or engineering background can conveniently handle matters relating to National Theatre, because it is just a structure that can be managed by those who have the technical expertise.
But the National Troupe requires a professional, a competent professional to handle it. There is a possibility of distraction when you merge the office of the manager of the National Theatre with that of the National Troupe because the manager spends a lot of time concentrating on those issues that have very little to do with the promotion of culture or the arts. Those who decided to separate it in the past had very valid reasons for doing so, and I think we need to revisit it. This is not to say that in the culture sector there is no need to do some restructuring of some of the agencies and parastatals.
Old age, not a challenge to creativity – Fasuyi
Pa Timothy Adebanjo Fasuyi was one of the founding fathers of Nigerian art. He established the first cultural centre, TAFAS Cultural Centre in Lagos. In this interview, he talks about development in the visual art sector, TONY OKUYEME reports
At what stage did you discover that you have talent in art (painting)?
I think it was when I was in primary school. I was about six years old then. Before then, we were going our grandfather’s studio.
My grandfather was the Asolo of Isona, the head of the artists’ guild based in Isona, Ilesa. He was called head decorator of Isona. They saw art then, as a decoration, and they were the people who prepared the Oba’s crown, the staff of office, the umbrella, beads, and other things. So we used to go there.
As we grew up we continued to go there. But when I got to the primary school, somebody came to me that I should be copying drawings from magazines and newspapers.
We used to have an examination for arts and crafts in our secondary school. Other students did brooms and baskets, but I did painting and I got the highest mark. By the time I left secondary school, I had already developed this idea of copying of drawings, photographs, and making my own calendar.
There were challenges here and there. In school then everybody called me Artisco. I was very popular. Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the former governor of Lagos State, was our prefect in school.
He started the Ilesha Grammar School Journal, and he made me the Arts Editor. I was producing cartoons and other drawings to enhance the publication. Art was my best subject, followed by mathematics. After that, I started work in Ibadan, as a draughtsman in a company there. From there I went to the Nigerian College, Ibadan, where they interviewed us. But they moved us to Zaria.
Did your parents support decision to study fine art?
My father was very hostile to me. He was not a very rich man but he was not a poor man. The pride of men in those days was that their children went to England, US, Canada, and so on, not anywhere else. He had therefore expected me to come and prepare for international passport, then tell the course that I was going to study.
So, when I told I was going to Zaria, he was shocked and angry. That was the first setback, because he really wanted me to go to UK, USA, Canada
Also, when he asked me what course I wanted to do, and I said was going to study art, he was shocked, and he asked me if I was going to paint house. When he couldn’t handle the matter again, he took me to his elder brother – the father of late Justice Kayode Esho – when we got there they all laughed at me.
My father then told me that since I was determined to go and study fine art in Zaria, he would not spend his kobo (money) on me.
Luckily, I saved some money when I was working in Ibadan. So, when the issue of Zaria came, I used the money to pay for my school fees. The first two terms were very rough for me, also it was harmattan period. I suffered, but after sometime, I was doing works and started making some money from the sale of my artworks.
What is your take on visual art sector in Nigeria?
I think we need to understand what we mean by arts. Art has been in Nigeria for centuries, and in fact, it was through art that Nigeria was on the map of the world. I am talking of Benin art, Ife art, Nok art, those of other places in Nigeria. These were the real symbol of Nigerian entities at that time.
So, when you talk art now, you are talking about the Western art education. So it is different from our own art. In our system, it was training by apprenticeship. Somebody will go to a senior artist or craftsman, learn for a few years, and you go and establish your own, to do something similar. So there was education that way, which was not formal.
But the Western education, it was a different thing. Western education in Nigeria, we are the first set of people to received Western education in art at the tertiary level. But there were some scattered teachings here and there, but art education at the tertiary level started in Zaria at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology. That was where I started at that level.
There were some people who studied art abroad, and some of them mixed local class with art. I want to mention here, Ben Enwonwu. There were also Lola Ugbodoaga and Aina Onabolu, regarded as the father of Nigerian art. But for the first graduation, that is doing a four-year graduate programme in Nigeria, started with us. So, before going to Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology, Zaria, I knew have talent for art.
To answer your question about the visual art sector in Nigeria today, well the number of art students produced per year has increased. In Lagos, there is always one exhibition or the other.
In our time, it used to be yearly exhibition by the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA). But now there are several exhibitions each year.
The number of works is enormous, so also is the number of artists exhibiting. In terms of quality, we are still tied in style and materials to the Western, European style. The only Nigerian artist that has broken the myth is Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya, and he did not do it in painting. He went into printmaking. Onobrakpeya is now known more as a printmaker than a painter. He is hard working, and he has achieved success.
At 82, you still paint…. Yes. All these works you see here are mine; you don’t grow old and out of creativity. I still paint. I am working on another solo exhibition. I want the younger ones to know that age is not a challenge to creativity.
You are the pioneer Secretary general of SNA. Would you say the aspirations of the founding fathers are being met?
Yes, I was the pioneer secretary of SNA. There is huge difference between the SNA of today and what it was when we founded it. At the time we started, it was a supreme body, recognised by government. When there is art exhibition, artists’ welfare, artists come together.
But now the SNA of today is no longer effective, because everybody has become self-centered. So SNA is not as vibrant as it used to be.
So, when I realized that SNA was not as vibrant as it used to be, and I saw that some of the old ones who were former executives of the Society are now working independently, I tried to bring the old and the new together into what I called the Artists’ Forum. We hold meetings every other month, at which we celebrate artists who have made their mark, and we also come together to discuss our problems.
We invite formalists, writers. So, we are trying to strengthen SNA.
Looking back now, any regrets?
The Lion And The Jewel goes on stage
The stage is set for the Crown Troupe of Africa production of Prof. Wole Soyinka’s play The Lion And The Jewel. Produced by the Ibadan Playhouse, the performances will hold at the Amphitheatre, Lagos Country Club, Ikeja, Lagos, on Sunday March 4, 2018.
Set in the fictional village of Ilujinle, The Lion And The Jewel tells a griping story involving four major characters – Sidi, the village belle; Lakunle, the village school teacher with Western ideals and believe in cultures such as eating with cutlery, kissing and bogus dressing; Baroka, the ageing but nimble witted Baale (head) of Ilujinle; and Sadiku, Baroka’s senior wife and head of the harem.
As the play opens Sidi, carries her pail of water past the school where Lakunle, approaches her and chastises her for carrying her water on her head and stunting her shoulders, but she is unruffled.
Lakunle loves Sidi and wants to marry her. Sidi does not love Lakunle; she finds him and his ideas about making her a modern, Western bride strange. However, she plans to marry him if he can pay the price as the village traditions necessitate. He refuses to pay her bride-price because he considers it an archaic tradition.
Meanwhile, Baroka has ‘got his eyes’ on the “feisty but voluptuous” Sidi. Baroka considers Sidi another conquest but Lakunle, whose cunning reluctance (or inability) to pay Sidi’s bride price, remains an obstacle. Sidi on the other hand will ‘not give’ unconditionally.
All three as well as the entire village are embroiled in a game that must be won by one.
Tribe and Prejudice: Omatseye’s musings in service of humanity
Title: Tribe and Prejudice
Author: Sam Omatseye
Publisher: Parresia Publishers Ltd, Lagos
Year of Publication: 2017
Reviewer: Tony Okuyeme
“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” The above statement by Plato, one of the world’s best known and most widely read and studied philosophers, underscores the essence of poetry.
Sam Omatseye, award-winning Nigerian journalist, poet, novelist and playwright, in his latest collection of poems titled ‘Tribe and Prejudice’, demonstrates his commitment to the making of and desire for a better Nigeria, where though “tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”.
In this collection, titled ‘Tribe and Prejudice’, Omatseye takes the reader, indeed Nigerians, on a reflective journey. While the last collection, Scented Offal, looks at Nigerian history with a view to “capturing some of the essence of the conflicts, crises, and challenges of our history over the years”, in this latest collection, Tribe and Prejudice, Omatseye interrogates further the sundry ills that have plagued the nation. He wants us to look at ourselves critically and realise the kinds of social ills that have bedevilled our nation for so long.
He laments the tribal psychosis and ethnic rivalry pervading our society. In this 63-page book containing 30 poems, the poet reminds us, with clarity of expression and vivid imagery, that “a nation which normalises evil can never make any progress”.
This is clearly captured in the eponymous poem – the first in this collection of 30 poems – Tribe and Prejudice. In it, Omatseye looks at the metropolitan city of Lagos, home to variety of people from different tribes and culture, living together happily, united by a foreign language, which they have adopted to suit their purpose. In the words of the author, “Tribes knitted beneath a tent/All tongues tied by one thread called English…”
But as politics and election came, ‘things began to fall apart’, tribal and cultural differences too centre stage. For, according to the poet, “but in that poll the cosmopolis/came apart one part at a time / One pact was one pact. / The Yoruba past / I jaw past / Igbo past and so on / But past make the present tense / Yoruba of the west / Igbo of the east / Were no longer at ease / The twain met in
Lagos / Not as friends or foes but as / Foes feinting as friends. “Suddenly all our past no longer met / In the pidgin English / We no longer convene in / one tongue.”
He laments the antics of the key politicians, especially Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe, two of the prominent political leaders of Yoruba and Igbo descent respectively. In the third poem, Massacre, 1967’, the author laments the invasion of Asaba by the Nigerian Army and the massacre of unarmed people – old and young – who had come to welcome them with songs and dance for liberating them.
Again, in another poem entitled ‘The Fart of War’, the poet expresses his personal view of war. He sees war as a foolish and destructive venture, an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
The poet notes: “A war does nothing / But build up / A ruin… Cities become fragile like / Human bones / Fields once green recoil to grey…”
With vivid description and haunting imagery, the poet captures other areas of tribalism and its attendant prejudice which are no doubt nauseating.
These include the supremacy battle in Niger Delta, among the Ijaw, Urhobo, and Itsekiri, the Ife and Modakeke case in Osun that raged for years until peace returned; and the activities of the Niger Delta militants and that of the Boko Haram insurgents. They also include Strangers Invocation; ‘Indolent beauty,’ ‘Girl Bomber,’ ‘Corruption’ Almajiri, Tyranny; ‘The Sham I Am’, ‘Wretches’, ‘The Vultures’ and others.
The collection is not just about historical events. The poet looks at some current issues such as the Awo statue at Alausa, Lagos, the Almajiri phenomenon, and some glorious moments such as the victory in the Under 17 World Cup Final in 2015 which he also celebrates in the poem, ‘A Mexican Tear’.
In all of these in Tribe and Prejudice, Omatseye shows us, with a deep sense of patriotism, his desire for a better Nigeria. Notes the Executive Editor of TheNews/PM News, Kunle Ajibade, author of ‘Jailed for Life: A Reporter’s Prison Notes’, Omatseye’s Tribe and Prejudice is passionate honest descriptive lyrical and reflective.
“The arguments here are empowered with measured rhetorical flourishes.
We are roused to rage, shame and pity as the poet confronts us with stupidities, madness, and calamities. We are roused to joy as he celebrates with us moments of glory and triumph. We are roused to value tenderness and to love even in our castle of miseries. We are admonished to consider constantly the futility of life. The poet reaffirms his faith in the goodness that will make humankind endure.”
Reading this collection, you cannot but agree with Ajibade when he also notes that the poet reminds us that “a nation which normalises evil can never make any progress”. Omatseye’s Tribe and Prejudice is a must read.
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