Culture is a human creation – the totalising experience of whatever man invents and considers dignifying to shape the organisation of his society. It can be historical or normative, psychological, structural and otherwise. It is an amalgam of heritages and practices that have come to define a people differently from their neighbours and kind. I will reflect here on scholarly writings and other documentations to dilate on the connection between culture, communication and development.
Beginning with conceptual and theoretical framing, it will explore the unifying experiences of the cultures of Nigeria from a historical perspective, examine the orientation of cultural policies and practices, attempt a comparison of some cultures in relation to Nigeria, and advocate agriculture as a melting pot – a foundational cornerstone and rallying point of a new set of cultural values – in view of its universality to all Nigerian cultures and its economic significance. Finally, I will reflect on cultural democracy and the diffusion theory to emphasise the place of strategic communication as the organising principle for a new Nigeria.
Conceptual and Theoretical Reflections
The brass tack is to interrogate culture and communication as drivers or triggers of growth and development. I confess ab initio that I align myself with the orientation that promotes this perspective. Culture and communication are central to human and social development.
But what is development? Barder (2012), in an attempt to give a finer interpretation to what he called ‘complexity science’, explains how Amartya Sen’s spectacular work in the 1980s redefined the paradigm of development from the traditional welfare economics’ conceptualisation of income as a key determinant of development. As Barder narrates, twice in contemporary history, one individual, Amartya Sen, who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998, nudged the world to rethink development. After Sen convinced the world that poverty involves a wide range of deprivations in health, education and living standards, which were not captured by income alone – what he called the Capabilities Approach – the UN Human Development Index, with a multidimensional approach was birthed to shape development scholarship and practice.
Two decades later, Sen deepened his thought and moved the benchmark of development further to include freedom. In Development as Freedom (1999), the work which largely encapsulates Sen’s thought on development, he argues that freedom is not only a means but an end in development – a primary end; and a principal means of development. Conceptually, this is the constitutive and instrumental role of freedom – the foundational view of development as freedom (1999:36). So, development must be interpreted in terms of its impact on people’s choices, capabilities and freedoms. In view of that, any instance of “unfreedom” undermines development.
Therefore, it stands to reason that development is substantive freedom, which includes elementary capabilities – ‘empowerment and inclusion’ – that enable people to avoid deprivations such as “starvation, undernourishment, escapable morbidity and premature mortality, as well as the freedoms that are associated with being literate and numerate, enjoying political participation and uncensored speech and so on”, according to Amartya Sen (1999:36). Conclusively, as Sen argued persuasively, development is nothing more than an expansion of human freedoms.
In essence, the human development approach is the expansion of the “richness of human lives”, rather than expanding the richness of the economy in which they live, and this must be sustainable. As Barder (2012) has also underscored credibly, development consists of more than improvements in the well-being of citizens – broadly, it also conveys something about the capacity of economic, political and social systems to provide the circumstances for that well-being on a sustainable, long-term basis. Illustratively, the dictum: “do not give me fish but teach me how to fish” speaks to some degree of freedom that enables the incremental, cumulative fishing of the individual to define the economy. For that reason, development is the sustainable expansion of human freedom.
Let us pause here with respect to the concept of development and migrate to explore the concept of culture. Some scholars seem to hold the view that defining culture is a startling, possibly notoriously difficult exercise because it has now “come to be used for important concepts in several distinct intellectual disciplines and in several distinct systems of thought” (Williams, 1976:76-7). Indeed, today, sociologists talk of culture as a central plank of sociological inquiry. Culture also constitutes the main thrust of anthropological scholarship, the same way in which communication scholars have been investigating culture for decades under the theme of media and cultural studies.
Historically, culture was associated with several things at different junctures of human evolution, and as Smith reported, by 1952, Kroeber and Kluckhohn had assembled numerous definitions of culture from popular and academic sources. From the 16th to 19th centuries, culture became generally associated with the improvement of the human mind and personal manners through learning – a metaphorical reference to improving practices, making it possible for us to say in modern times that someone is cultured or has no culture. Popular among several definitions of culture was the one offered by Taylor (1971) which conceptualised it as a “complex whole which include knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and any other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society” (Smith, 2001; Erhun, 2015). And in a 1988 attempt to design a modern cultural policy, the Nigerian government through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, described culture as the totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempt to meet the challenges of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organisation, thus distinguishing a people from their neighbours. The congruity in Taylor’s and Nigeria’s conceptions of culture which also speaks to its characterisationas a form of civilisation is very apt to our discourse here because the definitions speak to ideas (art, morals, laws); as well as activities (customs, habits) (Smith, 2001).
The above description also aligns with Smith’s conceptual rooting and is analogous to his definitional classification of culture into the Historical (as a heritage transmitted); the Normative (a way of life); the Psychological (communicative and problem-solving); and the Structural (more in line with Taylor above). Since cultural theory is simply a tool of explaining the nature of culture and its implications for social life, Smith’s taxonomy is more illustrative and instructive. In a more concrete utilitarian sense, Smith’s interpretation of cultural theory has provided underlying themes which are applicable to our exercise today.
Accordingly, following Smith’s lead, there will be an exploration of the culture content; the social implications; and finally the action, agency and the self. In other words, what is the makeup of culture? What models of influence does culture exert on the social structure and social life? And the connection between culture and the individual – how culture shapes human action, the cultural construction of the self.
Finally, this discourse’s third key variable is communication. Really, when scholars and practitioners talk of communication, often, they refer to an art, science, activity, process, and/or methods of expressing ideas and feelings or of giving people information. When it is used in plural form – COMMUNICATIONS – it often refers to methods of sending information, especially through the application of science, which is the utilisation of technology – telephones, television, radio, computers. In some jurisdictions, the geography of definition will expand to embrace roads and railways as communication systems or links. We shall return to discuss communication in a more detailed concrete sense in the second part.
Cultures of Nigeria: A Recall of the Past and Musing on Policies
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous, and evidently the most socially, culturally and possibly geographically diversified polity, is potentially the continent’s richest country in human and natural resources, and likely the world’s 22nd largest economy. Its geographical land mass is estimated at 923,768 square kilometres and recent estimate by the National Bureau of Statistics says Nigeria is populated by 193 million people.
Although Nigeria is endowed in all ramifications, the country is singularly distinguished in Africa, South of the Sahara, for her rich and vast cultural manifestation, a heritage of the past and a pride of the present generation (Fasuyi, 1973). That glorious signpost of the past was expressed in the stone-age terracotta seen at Nok, a village in the Bauchi Plateau in 1936. It was evident in the mastery of governance and masterpieces of the arts of Ife and Benin. It was recorded in the notable and distinctive Nri civilisation whose arts manifested in the Igbo Ukwu bronze collections. It was captured in the wonders of Daura as the spiritual home of the early Hausa States.
It manifested in the military and organisational prowess of Queen Amina’s Zaria, as well as in the notable dynastic longevity of the Bornu Kingdom. It showed so evidently in the organisational and administrative mastery that was the hallmark of the Sokoto Caliphate, a mark that made it easy for the colonialists to introduce an indirect rule system in Northern Nigeria, having met a spectacular administrative system upon arrival in the north of Nigeria. Indeed, our great heritage was certainly obvious in the uncommon influence of Calabar, Opobo and other Niger Delta city states. It was, of course, so palpable in the archaeological discoveries at Jemaa in 1944 which indicated the existence of some agriculturalists, and possibly pastoralists along Katsina-Ala and north-westwards to Kagara.
Indeed, the history of all the over 200 ethnic nationalities of Nigeria is replete with astonishing breakthroughs with concrete masterpieces that have become cynosures to visitors of leading museums and galleries all over the world. It is no self-glorification to state that the Nigerian heritage, as exemplified by her arts and crafts, have formed a critical “part of the sum total of the cultural heritage of mankind”.
As recalled by Fasuyi, all these empires, kingdoms and states had clear systems of organisation that were cultural. Arts and cultural activities were closely interwoven with the social life of the kingdoms under traditional rulers who were both political and essentially spiritual leaders. They were often advised in the planning of cultural programmes by councils and meetings of elders and local chiefs who helped to assign “different tasks to people according to their ability and talents”. Although “the administration of cultural activities was largely a social obligation system with everyone demonstrating willingness to make contribution”, artists – carvers, drummers, singers, priests, sculptors, musicians, dancers, poets and many others dictated the cultural pace of the society.
This heritage is marked by a system in which people performed different assignments for the society without pay. They were often satisfied with the personal gratitude expressed by the rulers and other community leaders, and the commendation of the society. “They could also receive free cash crops, cattle and clothing to cover their needs while they serve the society. If financial compensation was required, the traditional heads met the artists’ demand”. In the absence of formal education, one defining matrix of that era was the apprenticeship system in which arts was usually practiced as a family trade, and the secrets were transferred from the elders to their children. Training was usually freely given and the beneficiaries were expected to do same for the younger people. The foregoing thus substantially repudiated the ethnocentric claims that pre-colonial Africa was primitive and lacked any kind of meaningful civilisation or government.
Ironically, it was colonialism that destroyed the beauties of the African civilisation and that has been argued convincingly in thousands of scholarly fictional and non-fictional works. Achebe’s classic Things Fall Apart (2010) already translated into many languages, some of which are international, is preeminent among the fictional illustrations of the distortions of colonialism of African culture. Indeed, all the practices of Nigeria’s indigenous cultures narrated above were undermined by colonial rule, beginning with the authority of traditional rulers. The distortions were also heightened by the disingenuous introduction of new religions and ‘formal’ education. Even new forms of dance emerged on our landscape and old crafts equally became endangered. Due to a contrived lack of support by the new administration and the widespread alteration of the cultural system, hand-made clothes, mat-making and other local industries suffered neglect.
The entire system began to be replaced with a new thinking. New agencies of cultural education sprang up. The Nigerian Magazine, first published in 1923 as Nigerian Teacher later became the cultural information journal of the Federal Government. In 1953, the Department of Fine Art was established as part of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology – it was later transferred to Zaria where the Art Department had been expanded to enable the introduction of a four-year diploma programme. Earlier, a Federal Art Adviser post was created and Ben Enwonwu, who had taught at government colleges and had trained in London, was appointed.
But really, these were palliative responses to symptomatic manifestations of a fundamental buckle of a people’s way of life. Regrettably, there was no concrete response to this distortion even immediately after independence. There was no Ministry of Culture, and as Fasuyi (1973:26) further noted, Nigeria thus differed from many countries which planned and implemented cultural programmes under a single ministry. For instance, immediately after independence, different agencies and aspects of the nation’s cultural programmes were handled by four different ministries. The Federal Ministry of Information was in charge of cultural promotion, international cultural exchanges, cultural information and publications, and mass media. The Federal Ministry of Education had purview over art and cultural education, art exhibitions and artists’ society, museums and monuments, and UNESCO-sponsored cultural activities. The Federal Ministry of External Affairs had supervision over international cultural exchanges (Note an obvious clash with the Federal Ministry of Information’s function), and industrial and cultural exhibitions (another clash with aspects of Federal Ministry of Education’s function captured above). And finally, Federal Ministry of Trade and Industry handled international trade fair and cultural display, and the promotion of arts and crafts industries.
In fact, the cultural promotion division of the Federal Ministry of Information was headed by the Editor of Nigeria Magazine until 1968 when the post of Federal Cultural Adviser was created, and the former Federal Art Adviser was appointed to the position. Even the birth of another cultural policy on August 29, 1988 did not fundamentally halt the rapid descent of our cultural fortunes. Launched with fanfare, the policy, despite its all-inclusive scope, did not prescribe any normative definition. It merely awakened Nigerians to understand their country’s multiculturalism as a possible springboard to helping to set national cultural priority objectives. The clear absence, up till today, of a strategic document with action plans stating cultural values to be projected and promoted, as well as key deliverables, made all pronouncements on cultural orientation a statement of intention.
The height of these serial statements of intention is stipulated in Chapter II of the Nigerian Constitution 1999, as amended, under the “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy”. Section 21 says: “The State shall – (a) protect, preserve and promote the Nigerian cultures which enhance human dignity and are consistent with the fundamental objectives as provided in this Chapter; and (b) encourage development of technological and scientific studies which enhance cultural values”. Section 22 proceeds to state that “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”.
We all know that the greatest lacuna in the above statements is that a citizen cannot go to court to demand for an enforcement of a statement of objective. Importantly, what constitutes ‘dignity’? The question of dignity and its inherent contradictions have been of concern to scholars and culture architects. Soyinka (2004) illustrates it rhetorically in Climate of Fear as he recalled the enshrinement of the word in the French Charter following that nation’s revolution and also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, noting that the entitlement to dignity does not “aspire to being the most self-evident, essential need for human survival, such as food, or physical health”. The global climate of fear, Soyinka concludes, “owes so much to the devaluation or denial of dignity in the intersection of Communities…” (2004:95).
So, what kind of values do we project? The world is most certainly going to judge us by what we do more than by the spirit of the slogans we mouth. For instance, our statutes, which are oriented in our culture and civilisation, enjoin us to hand an accused person over to a law enforcement agency for prosecution. Therefore, it stands to reason that each time a citizen of Nigeria or anyone inhabiting our geographical space dies from mob or individual action due to alleged stealing and profanities, or even from preventable accidents of any kind that was triggered by human action, or due to assumed or real infractions of the law or belief systems, to that extent we devalue our dignity, we undermine our civilisation, we redefine our spatial reality from civility to infamy, and we make it difficult for our cultural agencies to put forward a genuine narrative of who we are because the media would have fed the public with the story.
Curiously, the opening sentence on the directive on Nigeria cultures in Chapter II of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution says “It shall be the duty and responsibility of all organs of government, and of all authorities and persons, exercising legislative, executive and judicial powers, to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of this Chapter of this Constitution”. What’s the reality? What are we doing at our desks as citizens and leaders in our own right? Importantly, we all have a duty here to forge strategic alliances with many of our compatriots who insist that Chapter II of the Constitution should be actionable. It is already being debated at many of our ever lively national debates these days and the objective grounds for this advocacy is that the use of the word “shall” is a deliberate and evidently stronger expression than “may”. I agree with the thinking that every attempt to make Chapter II of our Constitution actionable is a good way to test our efforts at constitutionalism.
Thankfully, here is another prospect to remake our nation. A window of opportunity has opened for a concrete official strategy to be instituted now that we have all agencies in the culture promotion sector supervised by one ministry at the federal level – the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture. The Ministry’s mandate is to manage the image, reputation and the promotion of the culture of the people and government of Nigeria through a dynamic public information system that facilitates access by the citizens and the global community to credible and timely information about our nation. The mandate appears huge and challenging but it is clear and achievable. The projection and promotion of our cultural values as a development agenda require a new focus. It demands that we organise afresh. It calls for a special collaborative partnership of all stakeholders.
Indeed, the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture (FMIC) official portal reveals a good attempt at the conception of culture to aggregate our cultural heritage; religions and sophisticated visual arts; festivals; entertainment; tourism; arts; cuisines. Let us take festivals for instance. The festivals which are pervasive across the country are meant to emphasise and showcase the rich cultural heritage of the people. However, what outcome is expected from the younger generation who are encouraged to observe the festivals? The festivals have intrinsic lessons they teach; they are narratives that are meant to shape attitudes and behaviours, and to regenerate us in terms of values embedded in them. Are we taking the lessons? Are we acting accordingly? In the culture sphere of the Ministry’s mandate, we have departments that span the spectrum of culture – International Cultural Relations; Tourism Promotion and Cooperation; Cultural Industry and Heritage; Domestic Ecotourism; Entertainment and Creative Services, and so on.
We even have an Institute for Cultural Orientation set up in 1993 as a research and training agency to harness culture for national development and it has monitored the cohesion between cultural policy and social integration, peace and national unity since then. Also, after the elaborate carnival of African arts and culture (FESTAC) in 1977, the Centre for Black and African Arts and Culture (CBAAC) was established to improve understanding of African cultures. The Centre is also a trove of some archives, same way in which the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) is. The NCMM also has as a key mandate – the prevention of art theft.
Fantastic ideas! May we ask if these departments and the Institute have SMART Objectives? And how are their strategic objectives being measured? What’s the vision and target by 2020? My point is if you do not know where you are going, you cannot plan how to get there. This is no swipe. We are raising questions, perhaps rhetorically, and possibly it may take us back to the drawing board. If the latter happens as a result of our gathering here today, then the organisers of this forum would have achieved something spectacular for our nation.
Our Cultural Values, Juxtapositions, and a Vote for Agriculture as the Melting Pot
Cultural values are what are commonly held as standards of what is right and wrong, and what is acceptable or unacceptable. They are essentially offshoots of heritage, traditions and customs that have been extracted and deployed as the driving force of social progress. Indeed, the objective of development and “the criteria by which it may be evaluated are culture-based and culture-bound”.
Culture is the primary means of survival and adaptation of man, offering a summation and distillation of the past that provides sound basis for living in the present and marching into the future (Erhun 2015). This seem congruent to an earlier reflection on The Challenges of Cultural Transition in Sub-Saharan Africa by Uchendu (1977:71-72) who posits quite unequivocally that culture is more than heritage, an historical product; it is more than an expression of man’s mode of living, something that individuals in each society must undergo as a kind of fate; culture must be seen as an instrumental agent, as another mode of intervention in our social and economic life. So, Erhun continued quite frontally that we can only harness culture for development if we recognise the place of culture in the first place. Only then can culture be an instrumental agent as Uchendu had canvassed. The organic connection between culture and development is evident in the fact that development is “a creative response to social, economic and political affairs” – an expansion of human freedom as Sen argued qualitatively, while creativity indeed finds the best expression in cultural manifestations. This makes it pertinent to quip whether creativity can flourish in the absence of basic freedoms.
If we reflect on the deployment of culture as the organising principle for development and survival in pre-colonial Nigeria as recalled above, specifically the facts that the entrepreneur – especially artists – dictated the cultural pace of the society as well as the social taste, it stands to reason that there was a modicum of freedom which enabled people to optimise their potential for the social good. It was that atmosphere of freedom that nudged civility, social consensus and collaboration.
Suffice it to say that the totalising experience of our cultural orientation – the summation of our culture from the trajectory of practices from time to recorded history – will plausibly reveal that our cultural successes pivoted on the levers of the sanctity of life and the need to sustain it which necessitated the continued search for survival and security; communal collaboration and family ties which connect to the transfer of knowledge and skills; hard work, industry and productivity as the basis for individual and social progress; spirituality and faith in a superior being; discipline, loyalty and objective support for leadership; recognition for social entrepreneurship; and other values incidental to all of the above. But are these values still subsisting? Are they still tenable, not as sophistries but empirically real in truth and indeed? We can collectively reflect on the posers.
For instance, on the sanctity of life, I had earlier questioned the mob action that we often undertake against our fellow men leading to extra-judicial killings. Secondly, we are not properly circumstanced with economic survival but we are hopeful this gets a boost soonest, just the way our security got a boost with the fall of Sambisa. We are gratified also by the birth of Lake Rice, a testimony to collaboration between Lagos and Kebbi States. The Federal Government does not have to ban rice importation. Let the importers continue, let those who want to afflict our guts with plastic rice continue. But we request for maximum punishment for those who may wish to sabotage the massive production of Lake Rice and similar initiatives.
How about hard work and productivity? What has happened to this value that is so universal to our cultures? Has it not been undermined by ethical corruption often manifested as nepotism, clannishness, bigotry and atavism? What about those parents who ‘assist’ their children to pass examinations but go to churches and mosques religiously, have they been able to resolve the contradictions between religiosity and Godliness? In Japan, GANBARU (effort) and GAMAN (enduring) are core values everyone knows you must deploy to reach your goals. It is so central that children know from elementary school that they must pass difficult entrance examinations to move to the next level of education.
In Japan, thinking of others, doing your best, not giving up, respecting elders, knowing your role, working in groups, are core values taught from nursery school into the working world. If you all recall our narrative on the cultures of Nigeria prior to colonialism you will find no fundamental difference from our core values and those of Japan.
It is also similar to what you will find in South Korea and Singapore, and many Asian nations that are heavily influenced by Confucianism – a belief system whose central cultural values are duty, loyalty, honour, filial piety, respect for age and seniority, and sincerity. Respect to others in Korea is so important that you must strive to ensure you do not hurt other people’s pride. It is embodied in the concept of KIBUN – pride, face, mood, feelings or state of mind. So, if you hurt someone’s KIBUN, you hurt their pride, cause them to lose dignity, and lose face. It is almost a sacrilege to do this, thus making the principle of harmony a central plank of South Korean interpersonal relationship.
Same features define the cultural values of Singapore. Asians, particularly Japanese, South Koreans and Singaporeans have a high sense of shame, people generally avoid being ridiculed. Having face indicates personal dignity. Respect for elders and hierarchy is sacrosanct. Singaporeans claim to egalitarianism has not affected their strong hierarchical relationships. In 1996, Singapore’s faith in the sanctity of respect and courtesy to elders became a legislative matter when its parliament passed a law that mandated children to assume financial responsibility for their elderly parents should the need arise. Even in Europe and North America, particularly London and the United States, we see inscriptions in the trains requesting younger people to vacate seats for seniors and the elderly, as well as the physically challenged members of the society if the need arises.
Regrettably, look at our landscape. Just imagine what we have done to ourselves. Look at the way we communicate with each other. We hardly listen to the other person before responding – we listen to respond, not to understand. How do you respond to someone you have not understood? Look at the pattern of road use in Nigeria, especially in Abuja. Take a look at our currency, imagine how we handle it. The naira is unarguably among the dirtiest currencies in the world. How many persons are proud of the Nigerian Flag? How many of us here have it in our homes, just anywhere in our house, even the small table flag? In its stead, you will see hotels in Nigeria, because they claim to be international, they will display the American and British flags. How many international hotels hoist other nation’s flags, save for the purpose of an international conference in which flags of participating countries are meant to be hoisted?
Importantly, this is the month of January, a month dedicated to celebrating our war heroes and veterans, most of who lost their lives so we can live. Specifically, January 15 is Armed Forces Remembrance Day. But see volunteers and war veterans all over the country practically begging people to buy the emblem of this year’s commemoration – just for a thousand naira. The money raised is usually committed to addressing some of the needs of veterans who are alive, many of who are already indisposed. Regrettably, so many of our compatriots do not know these facts. Where are our teachers? What is going on in our schools? What happened to civic education? Why should people not be taught the significance of Armed Forces Day? If they were taught, why should they forget such a central item of our history? When we speak of cultural values, these are some of the central components.
Food is central to culture and development. But look at what we have done to our foods. Even Hippocrates, the Greek physician reputed as the father of modern medicine, says every illness starts from the gut. But we process our food in manners that afflict our gut. Despite evidences that when people eat the way their forebears did they live longer, we still eat to satisfy tastes and preferences, not to nourish the body. See the way we process beans and its derivatives like moinmoin and akara, what we call kose in this part of the country. We soak the beans seed and peel before grinding to make the beans derivatives. This is entirely wrong! In its stead, after soaking the beans seeds for some hours we are supposed to simply throw away the water in which we had soaked them and proceed to grind it with the peel after adding onions, pepper and the rest of what we need to add. That process makes us to get all the fibre which the body requires for nourishment. After all, do we peel the covering of the beans seed when preparing it to eat as shinkafa de wanke or when we want to eat beans alone as food other than its derivatives?
See also our processing of corn as pap for drinking, what the Yorubas call ogi, also called akamu in this part of Nigeria. After soaking and grinding, we proceed to sift it and throw away the fibre, the real substance the body needs most, thus leaving us with corn starch and sugar which ultimately predispose the body to diabetes and other ailments. Did our ancestors sift akamu before preparing it as food? If it was wise to do so, why do we boil fresh corn or roast and proceed to eat it without removing the covering of every seed in the bunch? Did our ancestors eat fried plantain? Did they not eat ripe plantain as they eat banana? How can we feed so terribly and expect life expectancy to improve?
I hope we have begun to see the correlation between good food as a central cultural practice and development? If people eat in a way that does not nourish the body sufficiently, chances are that they will spend more on medicals, especially on the productive and energetic segment of the population. I hear people say “you are what you eat”. That is only partially correct. The real message is you are what you eat that is properly digested. Undigested food builds up in the body as toxins and bad fat to create an onset of terrible illnesses that may afflict the body later. Castro’s Cuba is a good example of how increased spending on agricultural and healthy nutrition can produce a reduction in medical and health-related expenditure.
Very surprisingly, when we also set out to cook soup and sauce, we steam the oil to a point it catches fire. Are we making soap with the oil? Unfortunately, we still proceed to cook with the same oil as food. We proceed to eat chemicals, because that steaming already made chemicals of the oil. Again, didn’t our ancestors eat roasted yam with ordinary palm oil? When they needed to eat boiled yam, did they peel it before cooking? Did they not wash, slice and boil, and peel the covering when it is done prior to eating? Of course that was their own process and procedure because they knew that the bulk of the nutrients in tubers are around the coverings.
The way we respond to these and many other issues define our cultural values. The culture of a people is not just the antiquities, not just the arts and crafts, not only the festivals, it is every of their actions that is instrumental to defining who they are as distinct from their neighbours.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, you will agree with me that there is nothing in the cultural values of Asians and the so-called Western nations as depicted above that are really at variance with what some of us saw and experienced in Nigeria as children. Indeed, one can objectively state that past leaders such as Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Akanu Ibiam, Aminu Kano, and many of their generation succeeded largely because they exemplified or at least approximated the great cultural values of the society in their enterprises. So, whatever snapped to debase our culture must be tamed. We must defeat every reproach and contempt that has assailed our cultural values because of their implications for our development.
Finally in this regard, let us briefly reflect on an idea I have mused about over a long period. It is a single item or thing I had thought could be a melting pot for our different cultures. That is agriculture. This is a phenomenon that is indigenous to all our cultures from time immemorial and it a great idea to project as a central official cultural value to which all of us can subscribe to galvanise the nation’s development. Religion, faith and belief systems, or language and other issues that have become faultlines and susceptible to volatility are not good candidates here.
If we reflect on our cultures, historically agricultural practices in one form or the other was practiced by our forebears. It is universal to all our cultures. It is at the heart of our survival. It edifies our industry. It expresses our hard work. It has become a determinant of some of our festivals. It holds the greatest promise for the development of our nation. This is indeed the most auspicious time to launch this awakening. Our economic revival rests on our ability to feed ourselves, so we can spend less on the importation of food and save more funds for the reflation of our economic system – first by fixing our dilapidated infrastructure, constructing new ones and proceeding to rebuild our industries by creating organic linkages and necessary integration between agriculture and manufacturing; and creating unparalleled incentives for the entrepreneur and deal squarely with the seemingly intractable problem of unemployment, disease and want.
Agriculture – farming, fishing, pastoralism and all other adjuncts of agriculture, as well as other vocation connected with the soil are clearly our unifying cultural heritage and practices. They are the unvarnished metaphors of our values and existential reality. Let me quickly illustrate this. In my small village, Ogidi, Ijumu, in today’s Kogi State, we host annually, Nigeria’s largest culture event in June. The festival is essentially to celebrate agriculture. It started as New Yam Festival, celebrated on June 15. Today, Ogidi Day, attended from all the continents of the human world, is a celebration of agriculture, industry, arts, crafts and values of my community. The New Yam Festival in Eastern Nigeria has come to be a defining matrix of that part of Nigeria. Among the Yorubas, Egungun or the Sango festivals are associated with one seasonal crop or another. In fact, fresh corn is usually harvested during Egungun festival in most parts of Yoruba land. The Argungu Fishing Festival, unarguably among Nigeria’s most internationalised annual celebrations, is oriented in the agricultural enterprise. The festival which commenced in 1938 formally celebrated the end of the historical hostility between the Sokoto Caliphate founded by the Great Usman Dan Fodio, and the Kebbi Empire founded by the reputedly fiery military leader and empire builder, Mohammadu Kotal Kanta, who had declared his kingdom independent of the legendary Songhai Empire.
What about pottery, a significant Nupe/Gbagyi industry? Its basic material is the soil just the way soil is central to agriculture. Even the Durbar is connected to agriculture because horse breeding is an agricultural activity and horses are central to Durbar. The same reality is observable in sculpture and drum making. The key materials in these spheres are from agricultural activities. The same applies to regatta. The most prominent in our clime is associated with the Nupes of Pategi in the North-Central Nigeria, and some communities in the Niger Delta region. The boats deployed are originally made from wood, an agricultural product.
Finally, in view of the challenges our economy faces at this point in our history, and government’s call for the diversification of our economy, the most deserving sector to refocus our energy and predicate our cultural policy upon is agriculture. I am aware of the promises of the ICT industry and its multiplier effect on other sectors. It is also a cash cow but the dynamics of the production process is not substantially determined by us, neither do we produce the bulk of the materials of the processes of production. Our experiences have shown we cannot predicate our national unifying culture on religion and belief systems even though we are evidently a religious society. As I had earlier mentioned, those have become terrible fault lines – the antagonisms occasioned by religion have been so disruptive and often catastrophic. The most popular sport, football, which like religion could be unifying is also alien to our culture. We therefore owe ourselves a duty to make a revival of agriculture as a principal plank of our cultural values.
Communication and Cultural Democracy as the Organising Principle for a New Nigeria
The earlier conceptual reflection on communication situated it as a phenomenon on a spectrum – art, science, process, activity, methods, and possibly more. Simply, it suffices to say communication is a significant transactional process of transmitting information for the purpose of affecting behaviour.
Perhaps the most stimulating definition of communication was the one offered about four decades ago, which is still substantially relevant to today’s reality. A review of the conception of communication by Burgoon and Ruffner (1978) reveals that it is a symbolic behaviour that occurs between two or more participating individuals. It has the characteristics of being a process, it is transactional in nature, and it is affective. It has a purposive goal directed behaviour that can have instrumental or consummatory ends. Simply interpreted, the conception of communication is something that involves the use of symbols as representation of what is concrete or intangible; it usually involves two or more persons; it is often a process (there is a process of encoding and decoding, as well as intervening variables that shape the decoding process); it is interactive because it is an exchange; it affects the participants because it is done with a purpose which may cause someone to change a behaviour or the communication may cause a reinforcement of behaviour.
Although two snags exist in the above definition – it does not contemplate an intrapersonal communication scenario and it does not clearly accommodate a feedback – because a communication process is not complete until there is a feedback. Nevertheless, the conception suffices for our purpose here today. Communication is central to efforts aimed at managing uncertainties associated with daily transactions and relationship management. It is the main instrument for managing risks and expectations of stakeholder whether within the family, in organisations, as well as within and among nations. When a physician says “the surgery was successful but I am sorry we lost the patient”, the gap between the successful surgery and the survival of the patient is communication. I am wondering if anything else could demonstrate the centrality of communication in society as the statement above.
But why do we have to share information? Why do we need to communicate? Why is it important to make people understand issues? Why do we need to manage or alter behaviour? Naturally, people have a right to know what is going on around them, what affects them. They are stakeholders in the management of things around them and the governance of their lives. People are also entitled to the guidance on the appropriate code of conduct as members of the society, in order to avoid deviance, to achieve equilibrium, and to enhance development.
So, communication is life and language is the main instrument because language is a tool for thought. Interestingly, language is a product of culture – it is therefore of limited use; limited to the culture, subculture and counterculture that produced it. This is the reason why if a concept does not exist in a culture, the particular culture would coin words or conceptualise it by association – what it looks or sounds like; essentially an approximation. This explains why MANGO is called by that name or MANGORO across Nigeria – it is so-called because it is alien to Nigeria and because it is already a part of our reality we must find a way to express thought about. Language is a medium of communication, the storehouse of knowledge and therefore the means by which a culture aggregates and stores its experiences, as well as transmits the experience from generation to generation. Importantly, language or communication transcends the spoken word. It involves meta-language, the nonverbal cues, what is referred to as body language – the signs or gesticulations and intonations which account for more than two-thirds of communication.
The important thing to note is that communication is the transmission of information in a variety of ways. So, information and communication are not the same. Information is the output (NOT THE OUTCOME) of communication. And information is basically a collection of facts on a subject matter – persons, places or things – particularly garnered sometimes in bulk or fragments or assembled through cumulative experiential knowledge. When information is taken or assimilated or accepted, it becomes knowledge. When the knowledge is applied to solve problems and challenges, then the knowledge has become transformative – a revelation. Essentially, information is useless if it is not accessed and taken to imbue knowledge, knowledge acquisition is also a waste until applied to solve specific challenges of life.
Conclusively, when we talk of communication, we refer to the exchange of information in a variety of ways. These varieties may take many forms – verbal or nonverbal (over 60 percent of communication especially in interpersonal setting is nonverbal – intonation and other body language); oral or written; formal or informal; intentional or unintentional. The varieties may also take contexts such as intrapersonal, interpersonal, small group, organisational, public speaking, intercultural (of which traditional or indigenous one is a subset), and mass communication.
Added to the above is communication through the pervasive networks of online communication (Email, Facebook, [Instagram and WhatsApp – both now subsidiaries of Facebook], Twitter, IMO, BBM, Viber, and all the group chats that come with them, as well as many other Over-The-Top, OTT, services that enable the delivery of textual, audio, video and sundry multimedia content). All of these have emerged to revolutionise communication in an astonishing manner. Importantly, none of these forms and types can exist in isolation, none may be able to give effective communication on its own – they all are interwoven and the effectiveness of any of them will depend on several other factors such as the nature of information, the audience, and other social factors.
Therefore, the take off point in any communication process is credibility. The source of any information must be credible. In recent times, generally the trust level has been quite low since the financial crisis set in globally, sometimes resulting in astonishing often silly changes in what people believe or do not believe. Thus, those who will champion communication processes at whatever level and for whatever reason must have a high level of integrity.
Our multicultural reality also requires that we embrace cultural democracy. This is a scholarship and advocacy movement that sees the society as a hotbed of many cultural traditions, recommending that they all co-exist, and none should be allowed to dominate. This places great premium on cultural diversity, a belief that mutual respect is a prerequisite to survival in a multicultural world (Adams and Goldbard, 1995). Other components of this idea are participation, and democratic control. Communication programmes underwritten by this consciousness is likely to build trust and be properly received.
Communication strategies must also set out with knowledge of who the stakeholders are. There must be stakeholder mapping, followed by listening to the stakeholders. If you are not quite sure who the stakeholders are, do a baseline study or Dipstick Polls or survey and within hours or minutes you can get an idea from the polls that gives you a lead. From the beginning there must be preference for receptive communication. Many times our responses show that we do not listen to the other person – we communicate to respond not to actually understand. Communication is about managing risks at several levels, so crisis can break at any time. However, it is advisable to be proactive and preemptive.
It is always better to make communication campaign planning evidence or fact based exercise. Conduct some research about what you want to do. Undertake situation analysis. For instance, where are we on cultural promotion? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? How do we measure success? From here, you set the communication objectives. Design a strategy plan and make it SMART. Monitor, educate, engage, push communication, lobby if necessary, and collaborate. Make provision for measurement and you may do a preliminary evaluation but get a measurement firm to do a more objective measurement – it is ethically wrong for PR firms that ran a campaign for a firm to evaluate their own work for their respective clients.
Communication programmes for cultural development or any purpose is the totality of an entity’s activities. So it must be integrative of all components as mapped out in the communication plan. This plan must derive from the development plan (for a country) or business plan for a (corporate entity). Integrated communication requires that the marketing and advertising component must have synergy with the internal communication, stakeholder relations, media relations, issued statements, corporate social initiative programmes, as well as social media communication.
The programmes must also target internal stakeholders, as much as the external stakeholders. Any communications manager or information minister or anyone so circumstanced who wants to be taken seriously must think strategically. He or she must see himself or herself beyond being a staff or political appointee – such persons must also assume the position of a resident consultant. He must work beyond the call of duty to ensure nothing goes wrong because he or she is as intimately involved in the entire process as the CEO or the President as the case may be.
Importantly, those within whose purview the communication desk is must get strategic stakeholders to push their campaigns and to amplify their voices. They may have to rely on opinion leaders and others who are influential in making people adopt a behavioural change. The Two-Step Flow theory in communication scholarship has reinforced the centrality of opinion leadership in behavioural change campaigns. The point is information flow to opinion leaders or moulders and from them to others. In essence, in the information value chain, the opinion leaders and other influencers are critical because they shape perception of issues by those who listen to them. This theory has also been underscored by Diffusion of Innovation theory.
Diffusion is the process by which an innovation (a new idea, information) is communicated through certain channels over time among members of a society. So the DOI theory simply explains how members of a society adopt new ideas through mass media and interpersonal channels. Orr (2003) in an influential review of the theory noted that its most striking feature is the reality that opinion leaders directly affect the tipping of an innovation. A powerful way to effect a cultural reorientation for the nation’s development is to affect opinion leaders’ attitude. Importantly, strong interpersonal ties are also crucial in the formation of attitudes, especially through peers and opinion leaders from where it trickles down gradually to the last person. This approach can reinforce or compliment other approaches we might find congruent with our culture and situation.
The denouements to our discourse today are basically recommendations on what we need to do. First, we must come to the reality that our culture has been fundamentally buckled. It therefore needs a revival. This rebirth must be predicated on democracy that is popular, representative and participatory or any other system that is popularly agreed upon that empowers and enables the citizens to fight deprivations of all types, and that guarantees their freedom on a sustainable basis. Popular democracy is a precursor to good governance. It is about processes and outcomes, processes that must not only be participatory but transparent, accountable, efficient and targets all social groups.
Constitutionally, the vision of a robust mutually beneficial society envisioned in Chapter II of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution under the general framework of Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy must be actionable. This ensures that our country migrates to nationhood, and from statements of intention to concrete measurable activities.
We must practice cultural democracy and encourage every culture that is civil and dignifying to flourish unhindered. From the array of cultures so agreed upon, we must rethink their roles in the development agenda of the nation by aggregating our heritages, traditions and customs to values that are concrete and measurable. As a necessity, from the emergent array of cultural values we should reconsider agricultural activities – being a cultural universal with abundant economic and development significance to be the anchor point, the pinnacle of our cultural architectural pyramid, and the melting pot of our values.
There must be an organised conscious self-activity oriented in state policy that dovetails into a clear strategic action of utilising communication to effect concrete measurable development of our country. It must be planned, focused, altruistic and sincere. It must connect (not with a statement of intention) but with a clear blueprint of multi-sectoral national development agenda.
That agenda must identify all stakeholders and leverage on the integrity of the key elements to cascade the message of cultural renewal. The communication programmes must be credible and evidence based, and focused on all components of the communication activities.
Importantly, we must deploy technology. Throughout history – from hieroglyphics to Gutenberg to the Internet – we see the role technology has played in driving growth and development, especially since the end of the Second World War. If we have any doubt that technology (precisely ICT) is today the single most important enabler of economic growth, that skepticism has been laid to rest by the fact that the four topmost capitalised firms in the world (Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook) are information and communication technology companies. So, we must continually tap into the promises of ICT but we must do so thoughtfully.
It is evident that communication is the totality of our expressions, the entire gamut of our being – What we wear, how we talk, what we eat, how we treat other people – especially people of other cultures, tribes and religions, what we do at our desks, and our attitude to matters affecting our country and humanity. Communication is a cultural expression of our thought and values, which are instrumental to development. Let us communicate the right message, appropriately and kindly.
Finally, I sincerely call on the youth, and the young social entrepreneur to reflect on the totality of the submissions in this paper, and assume the historic responsibility of spearheading the remaking of our country. To be able to do this, we have to get focused, to have a rethink, to organise anew and raise the banner for a cultural and communication renaissance. We must forge the right kind of alliances and support authentic voices and forces that are genuinely committed to rebuilding Nigeria.
This means the Nigerian youth must get back to study – not just to pass examinations – but to read great books, to visit the right Web and online social networking Sites and read the right kind of literatures across spheres of knowledge. We must also network through face-to-face interpersonal communication, attend forums like this to get exposure and share ideas, we must also travel around the national space and outside of it as much as resources permit, and be armed with the precise thought, productive tools and engagements that our country requires at this time, because what history teaches is: “The man who can read but who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read”.
Omoniyi Ibietan, Head Online Media and Special Publications at the Nigerian Communications Commission is also a social entrepreneur.
This is the text of the presentation at a National Colloquium in Sokoto on Saturday, January 7, 2017.
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