Culture: A Veritable tool for Nigerian Youth Development – being a paper delivered by Comrade

Source: Hon. Aiyamenkhue Edokpolo
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Aiyamenkhue Edokpolo, Festival for Arts and Culture ceremony, 30th October 2012.

With profound humility to the almighty God, I wish to respectfully acknowledge the illuminating function of the chairman of this august occasion, warm cheers to the president and members of the Edo Artistes Association of Nigeria for encouraging me to take-up this unique responsibility, dearly beloved chiefs and guests in attendance, our investigative gentlemen of the press, and highly esteemed ladies and gentlemen, kindly accept my felicitation. May I crave your indulgence, and open mind for a moment, while I humbly discharge this germane presentation. I wish to commiserate with all flood victims; as well as families of the dead and the injured at the St. Rita Catholic Church bomb blast in Kaduna State last Sunday.

This paper attempts a conceptualization of the anthropological dimension of culture; it thereafter fairy into elucidation of the various cultures of Nigeria; lastly it articulates the consciousness of Nigerian youths, public and private institutions to the economic potentials of culture.

The point of departure is to note that Nigerian youths of nowadays hardly enjoy the pleasure of purposeful welfare programs of government; which ought to boost their creative ingenuity, or strengthen their attitudes towards worthy social and civic service to the nation. This is a sad commentary, if indeed they (youths) are the leaders of tomorrow. I charge youths (including myself) to imbibe the attitude of self-inspiration towards productive ventures, and political struggles for our communities developemnt. In one of the indelible remarks of Sir Nnamdi Azikiwe, (Nigeria's first Head of State), in his book 'My Odyssey' (an autobiography) he declared in his dedication column “this book is dedicated to those who continue to do good, in spite of man's ingratitude”. Nigerian youths should sustain the attitudes of self-employment, empowerment, and proactive engagement with the political class, because a better Nigeria is around the corner.

Conceptualization of Nigeria's peoples and culture:

There are many definitions or academic explanations of the term 'culture', depending on the school of thought or background of the author or person. An elementary definition of 'culture' is that- it is the general way of life of a people. Those who advance this view of culture, believe that politics, kinship, generally acceptable food and cooking patterns, textile and hair fashions of a given people are integral parts of culture. As a matter of fact, until Medical science discoveries that people with too much cholesterol were prone to hypertension, diabetes and other terminal diseases, it was a culture in Benin for men, especially title-holders to marry very fat women. Obviously, very slim Edo women must have suffered some salient discrimination in those days. In the old days, the culture of discipline was a source of pride and self esteem for Edo people; this is why it is a paradox to find that our ladies have so imbibed indiscriminate dress-fashion that people wonder if they are off-springs of Benin ancestry. The half-nakedness they exhibit in the name of short gowns and skirts is appalling to say the least, nowadays, it is a fashion for some young men to advertise their pants in the guise of 'low-waste'. May God help us. Amen.

According to the Webster's encyclopedic dictionary, Culture is the sum total of the attainments and activities of any specific period, race, or people, including their implements, handicrafts, agriculture, economics, music, art, religious beliefs, traditions, language, and story. The uniqueness of this encyclopedic account is that it highlights the otherwise salient ingredients or components of culture, to a very tangible level. It may surprise some of us to learn that Agriculture is an aspect of culture, from historical or anthropological standpoints. This is so because; no justiceable account or history of a people should exclude their subsistent or commercial farming pattern, or their approach of animal husbandry or simply put, the way they reared their camels, horses, sheep, goats etc. The basis of knowledge is to appreciate improvements in all spheres of human life, for instance, the mechanical approach embarked upon by Oba Oguola (the famous Benin monarch who laid foundation of the Benin moat-system) many centuries ago will not be the same, abate mechanically, if a similar moat is to be erected in this 21st century. This underlines the dynamism of culture; because, the instruments used in the making of our relics or musical devices may have metamorphosed from a seeming archaic background to a highly modern one, yet the device perform the same function.

Nigeria has been substantially defined by many social and political commentators, as” a nation-state geographical and political entities that were amalgamated without consultation with its founding ethnic nationalities, or a referendum by the imperialist British power, in its post punitive expedition to Benin Empire especially, and it was crystallized by the 1914 Sir Lord Lugard arrangement”. Giving its background of emergence as a country (Nigeria), it is a fact that many of the ethnic nationalities have their unique cultures embedded in what is generally referred to as Nigerian culture or culture of the Nigerian people. Based on existential records, before colonial conquest in Africa, Benin nation had a stable; and administratively entrenched political system stretched across a very large geographical area. Benin nation as a pre-colonial geo-political entity had the central command base of her army situated in the Palace of the Oba of Benin under the control of the Iyase of Benin.

The Palace also had departments and parastatals that were responsible for varieties of public concern including and not limited to Agriculture, metrological surveys, roads and traditional grounds rehabilitation, market sanitation, tax administration, culture and tourism, vigilante services, peace and conflict resolution. Based on the imperialist interests of Britain, it took advantage of the murder of some of its soldiers by Benin militants or military to execute her aspiration of the annexation of the Benin Empire into the Southern protectorate of the Niger- Area. The Benin Empire was greatly Balkanized by the imperialists, the current day Republic of Benin, vast part of South West region of contemporary Nigeria, Lagos, a vast part of South East region, and other states around the 'Delta' were integral parts of Benin Kingdom or Empire. During the infamous expedition in 1897, deploring most of her regiments within and outside of Africa, the Britain inflicted a genocidal damage on our people in terms of brutal killings; rape of our women and under-age; looting of artifacts; forceful adoption of children; arson on palaces, homes, shrines and public places, to such extent that our people still groan under that psyche till date. This paved the way for its colonial mission to the River Niger Area, culminating in the “unholy marriage” of expediency. On the one hand, the Southern protectorate was made up of the Yorubas, Ibos, the Benins, the Itsekiris, the Ijaws, the Urhobos, the Ibibios, the Afemais, and the Esan etc. On the other hand, the Northern protectorate was made up of the Hausas, the Fulanis, and the Tivs etc. In 1914 our revered Oba Ovonromwen – who was deposed from the throne of his ancestors during the 1897 expedition, died in Calaba after a decade of solitary confinement; same year the Southern/Northern Protectorates were alamagamated, and the nomenclature 'Nigeria' declared as name of the new country.

Nigeria's Cultures, Tourism and Values system:
For me, Tourism is the money-making machine of culture, by culture and for culture. Whereas Nigeria's culture is the totality of the diverse cultures of the various ethnic nationalities in our country; whereas a value system is a conceptual priotization of the norms of a people, consciously preserved from generations to generations; in spite of our tourist potentials, our country is groaning on the impact of monolithic economy. Nigeria is surviving by the grace of crude-oil, with devastating effects on our eco-system. For instance, if the right persons are recruited to plan Igue festival, Nigeria can attract thousands of tourists from Europe, America, Australia and China; with the potentials of reaping as much as 33 million Dollars net profit. And there are tens and hundreds of such festivals in our country.

Like most commentators, I sincerely believe that one of the most reasonable ways to expand the coast of youth employment and empowerment in Nigeria is worthwhile investment in culture and tourism by public and private sector operators. Although successive federal regimes have hinged their disastrous failures in the areas of Tourism on insecurity, and corruption; I make bold to say that this twin cankerworms were adventently or inadvertently created by Government.

Most regimes display warp ignorance of institutional mechanisms and recommendations produced by sound-minded Nigerians appointed to examine specific or general issues of our country, be it tourism, security, Education, Civil Service etc. The sordid state of Nigeria's experience with facts and proactive action-plans is well captured in the following story. A student after a long vacation was given all the money and materials he wanted for his new semester by his father. Realizing that the young man may run into financial difficulty in future, his father counseled him to always read the bible he had enclosed in his travelling bag. Not long after, the boy called through the phone, saying, daddy, I need some money. And his Dad asked rhetorically, are you sure you are reading your bible? The boy will answer in the affirmative. The boy resorted to borrowing in order to survive the harsh weather. After semester exams, he came home; he recalled how he borrowed four thousand naira to survive. The dad replied, if you had been reading your bible, you would have given to your friends who were in need. His father fetched the boy's school bag, brought out the bible, behold, it was sealed and intact. The boy did not bother to open the bible for one day. When his father opened the bible, behold, the ten thousand naira he enclosed was intact. And the boy wept.

Federal and State Governments need to take a look at reports of committees and commissions set up to deal with Tourism issues and other youth employment related issues of the past, behold, the solutions are intact, what may not be intact is the political will to execute these germane patriotic recommendations. As President of the Benin National Congress, I have single-handedly written ten's of proposals and articles to Governments on how they can make remarkable impacts in Tourism, and thereafter attract meaningful private sector collaborations. It took the International Criminal Court at The Hague for the Cameroon to recover Bakassi Peninsula, what is stopping Nigerian Government from approaching the same ICJ over millions of dollars worth of artifacts that were looted from Benin in the 1897 British expedition; and many others that have been systemically stolen from museums or archives? I am sure, that a powerful cabal is benefiting substantially from the current arrangement where Benins are not exempted from payment of tolls and duties to British and other foreign museums where these artifacts constitute a fulcrum of revenue generation.

The Consciousness of Nigerian Youths, public and private sectors to the potentials of Culture and Tourism

Obviously, the consciousness of the average Nigerian youth, the public and private sectors operators towards the tourism potentials of Nigeria is bizarre; given the investigative reports by the United Nations, Education, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) published in 2011 on the affairs of Nigeria's culture. In fact, Edo language and other minorities' dialects in Nigeria have been listed as some of those at the mercies of cultural imperialism. Whereas, the average Chinese elite, who is trained in Oxford or Cambridge prefers to speak in his/her Chinese language in a foreign mission's business with Britain OR American foreign officer. He/she will provide a translating-aide for the pleasure of the foreigner, all in a bid to preserve the sanctity of his own (Chinese) language. It is noteworthy to remind all of us that in the preparation for the famous Festac Festival in the 1977, there was a grave fear of success, because of the blunt refusal by Britain, to release the Queen Idia's ivory that Nigeria specially requested to borrow her (despite being one of the priceless artifacts looted from Benin nation during the 1897 Britain expedition); it took the courageous and marvelous ingenuity of a Benin man of Igun or Igbesamwan origin to make a distinguished replica for the Festival to be successfully held. I doubt, if our people can replicate that fit today.

Sadly, no attempt has been made by Nigeria or any Government to honor the maker of the 1977's Festac antique. The legendary Nigerian Home-Video project, otherwise referred to as NOOLYWOOD has done substantially well, this is why I ensured that Benin National Congress led by Your's Sincerely nominated and honored Mr. Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen; and Sam Loco Efe at the 3rd and 4th edition of the Benin National Merit Award in the National Museum and Monuments Hall, and Saidi Centre respectively in 2007 and 2008, in Benin City. This is because, if we do not honor our own, the younger generations will not be motivated to be ingenuous or patriotic.

Edo State Government, led by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has substantially well in boosting youthful talents along cultural and Tourism dimensions; I wish his predecessor has laid this foundation, Edo tourism would have been a greater source of internal revenues. I look forward to witnessing an Igue Festival, Ekaba Festival, in Benin that will usher millions of dollars to Edo State treasury. The Olokun and Ogun Festivals in Yoruba Land rake huge sums for the hosting states and Nigeria in general. There are many other unique festivals or annual celebrations that can attract tourists into our state, while they stay in our numerous state-of-the-art hotels scattered across Edo land.

To my mind, there are so many Tourist-potentials that are yet to be harnessed by corporate bodies, be they public or private institutions in Nigeria. Yet, purposeful groups like the Edo Artistes Association of Nigeria stand the most motivating stimulus in order to create a tantalizing atmosphere for Edo tourism development. I urge everyone here present to imbibe the gospel of self-motivation towards revamping our lost grounds in Education, Sports, Herbal Medicine, Tourism and Culture.

I thank you for listening. May God bless you all. Amen.