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.
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