When Oral Literature confab turned University of Abuja into ideas’ incubator

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Prof. G.G. Darah
Professor Mobolanle Sotunsa
Professor Mobolanle Sotunsa

The weather was fair and the environment friendly for interaction among peers. The host was willing to give his all. It was in this ambience of conviviality that guests and participants arrived the 4th conference of the Nigeria Oral Literature Association (NOLA) at the Conference Hall of the Faculty of Arts, University of Abuja.

With the theme ‘Orality, New Media and Creative Industry,’ the conference was chaired by Prof. A. A. Kolawole, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Abuja, solicited for cross-fertilisation of ideas that would generate issues, which can lead to clarity of thoughts geared towards the articulation of homegrown policies that fit into the present administration’s vision of self-reliance.

On his part, president of NOLA, Prof. G.G. Darah of Delta State University and confab convener, implored participants to contribute to the discourse critically as the creative industries in Nigeria have the potential to lift the country out of the present recession when harnessed optimally.

Arguing that the ideas and funds the government is struggling to borrow from the western world are products of African cultural asset smuggled abroad through years of contact between Africa and the western world, Darah advocated for a return to made in Nigeria ideas and policies as these could lift the country to the first world. He gave instance of how about 3000 years ago, the pre-Arab black pharaohs of Egypt were able to account for the exact numbers of Jews in their vast empire, which the Bible even acknowledged, reminding the audience that the Arabs in the present Egypt got there just about 1,499 years ago.

Taking a clue from the cultural scientist, the keynote speaker, Professor Mobolanle Sotunsa of Babcock University, explicated the dichotomy and areas of convergence between the creative and cultural industries. Her thoughts and vision for orality and the creative/cultural industry were packaged in a paper titled, ‘African Oral Literatures and Digital Orality.’

Sotunsa traced the transformation of the storage and performances of the indigenous arts through the oral-word of mouth, print-written and printed electronics, radio, television, phones, to the present digital platforms. Using vocabularies like immediacy, hypermmediacy, hyper-connectivity, discentralised collaboration, multi-literacies, etc, the keynote speaker elaborated on the movement of orality in Africa through primary orality, secondary orality to the digital orality, which she explained as a computer-mediated orality.

In her words, “Tthe creative industries are those in which the product or service contains a substantial element of artistic or creative endeavour while the cultural industries are those which combine the creation, production and commercialization of creative contents which are intangible and cultural in nature”.

The practicalities of her presentation were anchored on the importance of these industries to the nation. Acknowledging that human creativity is the ultimate resource of any country, Sosunta surmised that digital, orality apart from archiving the nation’s cultural heritage and intangible resources, will enhance the development of tourism, museums, libraries, and sports.

The enlightening session set the stage for the three more papers presented that day. Among them were ‘The Virtual Space and the Loric Experience: Inale and Igba Iwase in Nollywood’ by Professor Felicia Ohwovoriole, ‘The UNESCO 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage: Opportunities for Oral Literature Scholars’ by Adeniyin Odekanyin of the UNESCO office, Abuja, and ‘Frantz Fanon’s Perspectives on Culture and African Development Model’ by Owei Lakemfa of the Amnesty Office, Abuja.

The conference was a firework of ideas and vision for the revival of the African society through the adoption of indigenous policies devoid of western anti-growth antidotes.

The contents of papers presented in the first day of the event were not without their controversies. The radical classification of orality and oral creativity in the paper by Prof. Sotunsa and the Afrocentric dimensions of development by Owei Lakemfa became the spices and seasonings that attenuated the critical discourse of orality, cultural/creative industry and development model in Nigeria.

Papers were presented by scholars from institutions of higher learning across the length and breadth of the country. ‘Beauty Pageantry Versus Nwa Ada: Promoting Ukwuani Culture on Facebook,’ which was presented by Alex Omoni from Delta State University, Abraka. Also, Peter Omoko, Unuajohwofia Henry and Moses Darah exhibited their papers titled, ‘The Burden of the Oral Formulaic Method on Urhobo Song-Poetry,’ ‘Storytelling and the New Media: A Counter-Hegemonic Study of The Lion King’ and ‘The Literary Problems of Translating Urhobo Oral Poetry into English’ in that order.

The radical alternative positions of Kolawale on orality and digital literacy and Professor Idris Amali’s insight from the cultures of the Middle Belt area and their connectivity to ancient Egyptian roots tilted the discussions to theoretical postulations where even the angels feared to thread.

The questions and answer session was characterised with the expression of fears by some scholars about the impact of digitalization on the academic performance of students, as they no longer read books. But these fears were allayed by the keynote speaker, who argued that digital platforms would contribute positively to the development of academics through the provision of varieties of communication channels between students and the teachers.

THE focus of NOLA on building networks and enhancing UNESCO programmes in Nigeria made the conference more fruitful. The aspect of collaboration between scholars and policy implementers was adequately served by the presence of a high level participation by agencies of the culture ministry, Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma of National Institute for Cultural Orientation, represented by over twenty participants led by a deputy-director.

NOLA president, Darah, announced the establishment of the Campaign for Cultural Heritage to facilitate the implementation of the 2003 UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage. With the new outfit, NOLA proposes to persuade the government and policy makers to give primacy to the cultural sector in budget allocation. Darah indicated that the ministries of Culture and Education should get no less than 30 per cent allocation in the 2017 federal budget.

The conference also resolve to empower lobby teams to have audience with the Ministers of Information and Culture and Finance, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Mrs. Kemi Adeosun respectively to advocate these changes to contribute to the diversification of the national economy through increased productivity in the creative industry. The convener summed up the challenge of the academia when he lamented the irony of the over-dependence of Nigeria and indeed Africa on western philosophies and policies, whose foundations are in Egypt-Africa.

He admonished the government to look inwards as the continent is not bereft of sound ideas.

So, in words and deed, the conference was a festival of scholarship, as the University of Abuja became an incubator where ideas of projecting the creative/cultural industries were hatched. Apart from the challenge of proper synergy between content creators, content critics, policymakers and the audience/consumers, there is also the need to heed the warning by Samuel T. Coleridge, that “if men could learn from history, what lessons it might teach us” so that the ideas generated from the conference might not be a “lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind us”.

• Mr. Henry Unuajohwofia is a post-graduate student of Delta State University, Abraka

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