Nigeria’s cultural cringe: The terror within

(By Simon Abah)

It is disappointing to see some ambitious authors, educationalists ridiculed and rejected in the country, but as soon as their works are recognised and printed in Western climes, they become celebrated figures in Nigeria. Must we suffer brain drain and why is it an ordeal to retain our best hands?

SOKOTO State, Nigeria 1988, a long-serving potentate of the caliphate died aged 85-years-old. As is customary, his demise created a void that the king-makers had to fill. A successor to the throne was pronounced in the media but grotesquely too soon, and soon after, that decision was rescinded and another replacement to the seat was installed. This action led to demonstrations that were controlled by proactive riot police forces, but, of course, at the loss of lives that could have been avoided.

  Kano State, Nigeria 2014, a monarch passed on to the other world and the same occurrence stressed in the foregoing played out yet again. Imo State, Nigeria, it was reported in the media that a traditional ruler and a delegate at the national conference was asked to return from the conference by that state’s governor because “the certificate with which he was made a traditional ruler had been withdrawn and hence has been dethroned.”

   How authoritative is the traditional institution in Nigeria that it is giving the establishments so much distress? Do Nigerian leaders, even with the tools of office, need to be frightened of traditional rulers or even need them as go-betweens’ to reach the masses? Has that institution lost all meaning and values, elicited by interventions? And of what impact is the institute to the poor, deprived people, some of whom have chosen crime above customs and norms (some in the same territories as traditional rulers) due to the absence of social justice propagated by most bodies all across the country?

   Without any doubt, Nigeria is a blessed country. She does not sit on explosive active plates that cause earthquakes and many other underground disturbances. She has abundant biological and non-biological resources that many countries in the world want. But for the lack of technology we might have been categorised as a developed country, a perilous drift that sets us at the mercy of multinational syndicates who access our mineral resources on their own terms whilst we adulate them at our own cost.

  It is on record that we were colonised for 60 years by the British (1900-1960). Colonisation came with a lot of ills: It led to the despoliation of Nigeria’s wealth and also hazardously, to the mix-ups in our cultural identity. But unlike many countries that were colonised by the British, Nigeria didn’t have huge influxes of immigration into our territory by nationals from the West, like in Australia where they had Europeans, British, Asians, Middle-Easterners and many more nationals. These immigrants came with different cultures and values into that country thereby eroding the beliefs and practices held by the indigenes of the land. In spite of this lead, we are further apart in many ways that cannot be grasped.

   Our founding forebears began the political struggle for independence due to the widespread inequality in the country and the ideas of nationalism were borne and embellished in our culture. The accepted wisdom for independence from the British was not floated around ethno-religious and ethnic limits; they were not intended to suppress people; they were moral with the intention of liberating the Nigerian from mental, physical and economic slavery.

  Yet, today’s fundamentalists will take this detail out of perspective. They’ll reason that you have to be a Moslem, Christian, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, a titled chief and a traditional ruler to be nationalistic in Nigeria, which is not accurate. At the time of writing this commentary, my children are full of activity getting ready for their school’s cultural day and end-of-term events.      The cultural day will see both of them dance and wear the cultural ceremonial dress of the Ibo and Yoruba people of Southern Nigeria, while other children will wear that of the Hausa. Strangely, the management of the school that they go to has not bothered to find out from me if my youngsters can at least vitrine the Igala custom- their fitting heritage.

  But how important is the Igala culture in a country that celebrates by mistake, on national display places, the culture and tradition of the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo? Our children are proselytized now to think that these cultures are our only national culture to the abandonment of the ethos of the numerous tribes in the country. It was disquieting for me whilst growing up for instance to see at all times all NTA male newscasters wear the insignia of a specific region of Nigeria and I wonder why they (anchors) cannot be free (or allowed) to showcase the clothing of their own native norm. Shouldn’t we abandon the majority-minority tribes’ snarl that has left this country divided, resulting in the subservience complex suffered by many people?

   It is disappointing to see some ambitious authors, educationalists ridiculed and rejected in the country, but as soon as their works are recognised and printed in Western climes, they become celebrated figures in Nigeria. Must we suffer brain drain and why is it an ordeal to retain our best hands?

   As we gradually get closer to a major election year, the lobbying of prospective voters will be hyperactive but when upsettingly democratic booties are to be shared after an election; non-indigenes in most states who will be petitioned for votes and who may vote may be classified as ‘settlers’ by the natives and so not fit for a democratic bazaar.  No thanks are due to some manipulators who love to tag people as ‘minorities’ and others as ‘settlers for egotistical reasons.

   Who emphasises that the United States of America is a perfect country? If it were, how come no other Catholic aside from President John Fitzgerald Kennedy has been elected president in that great country? This apparently is due to the fundamentalist Protestantism which goes harshly against Catholics who seek elective office. But whereas the United States of America is busy defeating most of her internal challenges without outside help, most Nigerian leaders are busy engaging in whining rhetoric after which we need outside help for almost everything.

  Today American servicemen are in our country to provide information that could help our military to rescue the abducted Chibok girls. After this gesture by the Western countries, then what? Aren’t responsible nation states built by leaders and their people within and not without and are as well torn away from each other by people within?

   The western involvement in Bosnia in the early 1990s to stop the killing field between Christians and Moslems regrettably couldn’t restore century-old bigotry and hate between them. In the same way, it couldn’t stop the narrow-mindedness of feuding warlords in Somalia whose allegiance to clans ranked above their country.

   The significance of the West chipping in is evident. All the same, such assistance cannot help define this country for us. Nigeria Must Define Nigeria For Herself.  Never again must we allow people who stay ensconced behind religious walls, to pass dangerous diktats. We should legislate that religion be a private matter and further unsubscribe any as an official religion. How can imported tenets be a people’s culture? If it is plausible to say that Catholics in Nigeria cannot be more Roman Catholic than the Romans it also follows that Nigeria’s Moslems cannot be more Arabian than the Arabs.

   It was Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists (1802) who said: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people build a wall of separation between Church and State.”

  When will Nigeria ever liberate herself from the cultural cringes that are tearing her citizens apart? Will she ever practise a religion of reciprocated liberality and will the establishments ever practise teachings indoctrinated for the good of the Nigerian?

• Abah lives in Port Harcourt.

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