Secure culture, insure future
Given the rate at which the world is going amok with our cultural values, religious teachings and traditional safeguards being thrown overboard by the young and the old alike, perhaps nothing is more important to the sustenance of societies than cultural security. This is because when one’s culture is lost, one’s soul is missing and one’s future is in peril.
Culture is the totality of a person’s essence, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Functionally, based on the ideas of the late Prof. Ali Mazrui, culture serves as lenses of perception, spring of motivation, standard of judgement, basis of stratification, means of communication, basis of identity and tool for defining production and consumption while also influencing them. To insure and assure a people’s future, it is always crucial to secure their culture.
The term “cultural security” was first used in 1916 and it started to gain prominence beginning from 1930. Its usage peaked in 1944 before it began to decline considerably from 1951. But beginning from 2000, it started to assume more relevance and steady increase in use again. Though securitising culture is all about safeguarding beliefs and traditions against corruption or even extinction, cultural security is viewed differently from one place to another.
In Australia, cultural security is employed while discussing how modernisation is threatening to change the way of life of the aborigines. In China, it is used by politicians to warn against the ‘negative’ influence of foreign pop culture. In much of Africa, the term is evoked to raise concerns on the impact of modernity and development on local traditions. In Nigeria especially, cultural security appertains to the need to protect our values and heritage from being totally submerged by the dominant and powerful influence of Westernisation or foreign systems as a whole.
How culturally secure are Nigerians? The stark truth is that we are highly culturally insecure and one index of that is our attitude to our languages. For many young Nigerians, our languages are thrash or rubbish, a heritage that is not worth bequeathing to their children. To others, our languages are mere vernaculars. Many educated people today cannot read fluently in their languages. Our sense of development is so skewed, and that is putting it mildly, that we assume that being Westernised in everything is what guarantees our progress, including the Yoruba eating amala and abula with cutlery, an unsightly anachronism. Little wonder that we are perpetually developing.
In a lecture he delivered to mark the 50th anniversary of the Association of African Universities (AAU) in Ghana recently, our former Vice-Chancellor and Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB), Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede, recalled how Prof. Chinua Achebe was jolted in Tokyo at a conference he attended in 1981 when he met one Prof. Kinichiro Toba of Waseda University, Japan. Prof. Toba was said to have shared his family anecdote of how his grandfather graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1880s with all notebooks filled with English. However, when his father graduated from the same University in 1920, half of his notebooks was in English but when Toba graduated a generation later, all his notes were in Japanese, stressing how it took Japan three generations to consume Western civilisation in their own language. The Japanese rightly realised that cultural ingredient or cultural security is the software of development and they are developed now.
As development is nothing more than “good change” ultimately, it is necessary for the youth who are the future to change appropriately and secure our culture by being proud of Nigeria. Life is not all about English and Coca Cola, it is about Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba as well as Zobo and Kunnu too. Modernity is not all about patronising Shoprite and enriching South Africa, it is also about putting smiles on the face of that struggling widow at Ipata or Baaboko market in Ilorin through patronage.
The threats to cultural security among us are legion and young people, especially students, should beware. These threats, as far as I am concerned, include Nollywood (those movies that project Nigerian cultures as being solely about fetishism, voodooism, nudity and barbarism), DSTV (those channels that make you think Beyonce and Jay Z are models, not your parents, and Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj are cool), European Football League (this obsession with Chelsea and Man U, Real Madrid and Barca will lead you nowhere – Ronaldo, Messi and the likes don’t care about you), music (even if Nigerian contemporary music is thriving and gone were the days when Michael Jackson and R. Kelly were ruling our airwaves, your favourite music stars are still cultural bastards), education (the type of education that makes you think all education is literacy in English and you can throw decency and character away by ignominiously calling your President "a walking corpse" or making a mockery of yourself by waxing Ajekuniya music record) and many more.
(This column is based on the lecture, “Driving Sustainable Development through the Cultural Engagement of Young People” delivered by yours sincerely to the Cultural Security Forum, University of Ilorin, on June 17, 2017)