Prof. G.G. Darah
Foremost expert on oral literature and folk scientist, Prof. Gordini G. Darah, believes government’s persistent failure to challenge citizens, universities, and industries to a national ethos are the reasons progress will continue to elude the country for a long time to come. Failure to harness the country’s vast cultural wealth, he tells ANOTE AJELUOROU, is the reason for this
What is Nigeria Oral Literature Association’s Campaign for Cultural Heritage about?
We want to devote this year in helping to do advocacy work. We will look for an entry point. If we just say that we want to promote culture, they will say ‘ah, GG, you have started again; are you not tired?’ So, we are using the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the foundation of the campaign. Now, UNESCO is a major global organisation. Nigeria is a signatory and the advantage of that is that it has a lot of funds to make available just the way World Health Organisation (WHO) is funding HIV/AIDS and malaria. Those two diseases in Nigeria alone, their budget is more than the budget of a country. UNESCO has many protocols and conventions under which Nigeria can benefit.
The most important one is the convention for Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), which was ratified in 2003, which Nigeria has not been able to take advantage. What is the advantage? Nigeria is supposed to lift cultural traditions or elements that are endangered. If they do not revive them in the next 10 years, they will die. If they are endangered, UNESCO says that the world is the loser. All they require is that we should document them. We should indicate who the practitioners and beneficiaries are and what is required to upgrade them, modernise them so that they can survive. What has happened is that people from the South West are more adept at it. We have enlisted Ifa system, as part of what we call world masterpieces heritage, the ultimate in creativity; the Ijele masquerade in Anambra State, which is the biggest masquerade in the world. I am the UNESCO National Consultant starting from last year.
In October, we were in Cross Rivers State to do workshop on Epe masquerades. We want the owners themselves to document it. Recently, we were in Oyo State on decorative calabash technology. In other words, we are fostering how to mix culture and economics. On December 18, 2016, we were in Bida for their bead technology; and they are also very good in metal works. Nigeria Oral Literature Association (NOLA) is the scholarly organisation that is supposed to examine Nigeria’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. The intangible are those cultures that are the memory, music, song, poetry while the tangible are the physical works of art like the image of Queen Idia. The intangible cultures are more endangered.
At the conference that was held at the University of Abuja, we agreed that we need a programme that will bring NOLA into the open, to the market place of ideas so that people, who are not members or NOLA, scholars can participate. That was how we coined the Campaign for Cultural Heritage; we need to identify areas of intangible cultural heritage as enshrined in UNESCO convention and then pressure the government to promote them as a part of the diversification of the economy. We have argued that the cultural areas, which are richer than oil, are huge.
Take an instance; Nollywood today in Lagos produces some 6,000 CD’s a day. Different people are producing, packaging, and printing the covers. There are 96 festivals listed in the Nigerian tourism board. My colleague from Kenyan, Hon. Silvas Anami, a member of parliament in Kenya, who is the international consultant to me while I’m the National Consultant, told me in Calabar at the workshop in October, that in over a period of 10 years, he has consistently organised a festival of drumming in districts. During the festival, 3,000 drums are beaten at the same time. Anywhere you are, in your office or driving, you must hear the drums. He told me that I should imagine the number of drum-makers and skills that are involved. Wherever you are that week, he said, you must dance.
He was giving illustrations when he saw that Nigeria has over 500 languages. Nigeria can drum the world out of sleep with our drums alone! There are many dimensions and the technique we are bringing in is to tie the campaign to the economy and Nigeria’s prosperity. It is not for those who have nothing to do; no. It is for those who want to prosper. The first target is to increase the budgetary allocation to culture and education, because that is when its signal will get to the private sector that will say, ‘so, there is something there but we didn’t know.’ The awareness is less than five percent for now. The campaign will be propagated through schools. Our syllabuses, our curricula should convey the information that we are trying to pass.
Are you saying that culture and education are closely linked? How can government be made to realise this relationship and harness its benefits?
One of the difficulties that we need to overcome is mental attitude that separates culture from education, which we inherited from the colonial syllabus. For the colonialists, it was deliberate: ‘Tell them they have no culture.’ That was their purpose. The mission was to fulfill ‘if they have no culture, we have to give it to them.’ But they have since gone back 50 years ago. We have no excuse whatsoever to still duplicate or continue their culture. It was a wicked, deliberate act of cultural apartheid.
Those who are ruling us now were born after independence or a little earlier. They have no reason for us to maintain that colonial cultural apartheid. Therefore, we must return to what made the Achebes and the Soyinkas cultural activists, who are celebrating the greatness of African values. We want to return to our cultural ethos by educating the government. That is the core of ICH campaign.
We must go back to the issue of Professor Jibril Aminu, who was Minister of Education in the 1980s. He was the one who banished history from the syllabus. It has not been restored. The knowledge that has been banished in those 30 years is irredeemable. He was not doing it innocently. We, who are among the radical intellectuals, know the reason why Aminu don’t want people in that part of the world to know certain things. If we teach history there, the other people will have questions, about why only five per cent of Fulani in Adamawa State rule over all the others and they have 80 languages, the largest concentration of languages in the world. I think they have a good reason for banishing history, but history cannot be banished. Nollywood and musicians are all going back to recycle that history, celebrating Ken Saro Wiwa or Moremi. The breakthrough will come when we are able to persuade the Federal Government that the elements of culture are useful, not just for promoting economic progress, but indigenous technology and self-reliance. When we say self-reliance, we mean things that we can make and will not buy from anybody. We need culture to back it up.
When you talk about culture or history, or the past, many equate it with the things that are no longer relevant. They will ask, ‘how does history, the past bring about the telephones, laptops we use, etc?
That is where the real challenge is for what I call the inventors and the innovators. It is only educated people that can do the linkage. You are now going to look at an ancient idea and see how you are going to modernise that idea into a microchip technology, into telephone, Facebook, etc. That innovation is the creativity. That is where money will come from. A single icon developed by Dr. Bruce Onobrakpeya like ‘Ufuoma’ in Urhobo and Isoko, meaning wellbeing, has a symbol designed for it. It is no longer a word. Everybody knows that symbol. It is education. So that process is going to generate so much innovation and creativity that people are now going to prosper. You can design an icon to represent something and people will resist in the first few years until it becomes a national order that people will be ordering. So, the thing that makes culture to survive all over the world from antiquity is innovation.
Are we ready for that kind of innovation?
Yes, we are. I see it in the telephone, in the short message service.
Let’s look at the universities, which should be ideas’ incubation hotspots. Are the universities ready to take the lead in innovating ideas embedded in oral traditions?
That is why we captioned this enterprise as campaign. When you say campaign, it means that we are going to originate a persuasion mission, which you can use to measure from here to there how many people are now aware than the previous year. It can last five years or even 10 years. But the ultimate is for government to give budgetary attention to it. For the government to give budgetary attention they have to see revenue that must come from it before they can give attention to it, that that is the area to go.
If it is China, they will say all official chairs will be cane chairs. That is where Nigeria has strength. We are the masters of cane chairs in the world. The makers will not be under that Ojota bridge; it will now be mechanised in such a way that you can now produce one million cane chairs in a day. Those people that are under Ojota bridge weaving baskets will now be teachers. They will be elevated to become instructors in various companies, technical schools and polytechnics. Then artistes will draw the various designs. Just imagine if we have five million cane chairs in Nigeria, apart from the adire design that they will use in covering them. You can use electronics to put the adire design on top of it.
I told NOLA members at the conference that they should not be spectators; that they should design website, Facebook, Instagram and all the social media platforms and modern tool to do this campaign and show how profitable it is. We invited that lady who was in News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Maureen Chigbo, who publishes Real News online; she addressed the conference and taught members how to publish online. She addressed them for one hour and people were shocked to know that when they retire they have something to do.
You always talk about the link between oral literature or folk elements and science. How does that work?
Well, I used the word ‘science’ as a synonym for ‘folklore’ because ideas are science. Ideas are mental pictures. They are the things that technology transforms into products. So, the thought process is the science. The production, to use, is the technology. So a typical Urhobo, Isoko, Ijaw, Yoruba person is moving with science, in a sense, even if it is the science of saying that human beings can fly. It is already talking about aeronautical imagination. It is already talking about aeronautics and aviation. I did a paper recently titled, ‘Urhobo Folklore, Science and Knowledge Economy.’ I cited some of these examples, where I said Isoko and Urhobo people believe that a member of their community can change to a microchip, a smaller unit, enter a groundnut shell and enter the Atlantic Ocean and move from here to London or America. That is Nobel Prize science! If you can practicalise it, it’s a Nobel Prize breakthrough. You can say it is fantastic or fabulous. Take it to a laboratory and let the scientist work on it and you give them grant to realise it. You tell us how our people can make a ship using those principles. Principles themselves are inbuilt. Go to the folklore and folktales and take the principles. Forget about the superstition and see whether the principles can be duplicated. So, that is the dialectical link between science, technology and progress. All those countries that we say have advanced technology are those countries, which took their superstition and belief system and asked their scientists to extract and convert them to use.
What do they do in South Korea? I have been there many times. They have no mineral, not even charcoal. The universities are distributed among their multinational companies for giving of grants. Government hardly spends money. Those companies will then ask each institute to design so and so car that uses less fuel. That is the work of the institutes. For the next five years, their scientists are busy. Science, research, is linked to industry directly, not indirectly. So, there is competition as to which institute is going to win. If you don’t achieve anything there will be no subvention for the following year. Here in Lagos, you have one of the best institutes in Africa, Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO).
Which industry is it linked to?
It is almost moribund. We have about 56 such institutes in the country. There is no industry that has picked them up because the government has not directed them to do so.
Should government direct them first?
Yes, the government can direct them and tell them ‘we are not going to buy cornflakes and kellogs from America.’ You save that money.
In other words, when businessmen themselves industrialists, yet do not have any kind of affiliation with an institute or university that will convert ideas into products for use, that sounds pretentious, isn’t it?
The reason why those initial investors are careful is because the nation that they belong has not made that issue a condition for recognition. If your government is indifferent, companies will just withdraw. They don’t want to spend extra where they should not. It is when the nation says ‘this is where we are moving to and anybody who does not move in that line will not get bank support.’ They will restrict you in a manner, put a tax on you that will force you to follow suit. That is the reason why there is China and there is India. Do they buy anything from us? If China buys anything from us, then it is crude oil. They do not buy garri or rice from us. The Chinese plant their rice on the roofs of buildings. I have been there. They say the land is finished. They have 1.4 billion people to feed everyday. They account for that one first before they do any other thing. So, no institution, no research institute, no university and no polytechnic can be indifferent.
In their own case, the institutes, universities don’t receive funds unless their contribution is advancing industrial production. Here in Nigeria, the government has 50 or more universities and they are just paying wages. If the government then made it mandatory that it is the level of new innovation from the University of Lagos, for example, that will determine next year’s budget for it, those people will not sleep. They are trained in the same universities overseas. All of us were trained in Harvard, Oxford, Imperial College, etc. So, we don’t lack the knowledge. We are globally competent. But you must be challenged by your country and society. The society does not do it unless its government is in the forefront. Then investors will now take risks because you will be protected. Government will make policies at the national assembly that will protect you from foreign competition. We used to clothe the whole of West Africa, from Kaduna and Kano and Lagos, with our textile products. That is not oil; it doesn’t require you going deep down to get it. Just cotton to cloth, and you allowed that one to die? Then you were controlling 75 percent of textile in West Africa market.
There is a gap. It is an ideological and political thinking. If the government comes and within four years they go and it’s election; it is just like going to the club to drink. That lady in South Korea, who is being threatened with impeachment; she is the daughter of the former president, who transformed South Korea. He ruled for 19 years. He sacrificed for his nation. He told the Koreans that since there is no oil under the ground and no coal, he was going to build oil in the heads (minds) of Korean citizens by making everybody university graduates. He said that when they are educated, they would find the oil wherever it is in the world. Daewoo and Hyundai (South Korean companies) are the ones that built those platforms inside the ocean that Shell is using, called Bonga, in Nigeria. How many kilometres deep into the ocean? They have no iron and steel in their country; they get these from other countries. They used millions of dollars to construct one of those derricks deep into the ocean.
If the universities along Nigeria’s coastline are the ones doing that, they won’t go to Abuja to ask for money; that will be their task, to construct those derricks or oil rigs into the ocean.