We must go back to our cultural basics -
Adeboye Babalola By Kabir Alabi Garba
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HAVING observed that even in the current epoch already christened the ‘African Millennium’, more Nigerians are being alienated from their indigenous culture, scholars at the Second Convocation and Investiture ceremony of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL), have renewed call for a reversal of order in favor of African’s authentic values and cultural heritage. Held penultimate Thursday at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, Professor Emeritus, Adeboye Babalola hinges the emergence of a new Nigerian nation on a return to the roots by concentrating on the use of indigenous languages to educate the youths. In a lecture entitled: African Renaissance: Making the new culture grow well out of the old, Prof. Babalola however, did not see any harm in borrowing from the culture of other peoples, particularly the decent ones. But he decried wholesome adoption of foreign customs and traditions at the expense of indigenous values.

The renowned scholar buttressed Professor Adele Jinadu’s views by describing “African Renaissance as the clarion call of an intellectual and cultural movement whose objective is African rebirth or renewal. This is also characterized by the entrenchment of African cultural values among African peoples as against foreign ones”, he said emphasizing that “it is a social, psychological and political process.”

The guest lecturer reiterated that the renaissance would be meaningless, except attention is paid to Dr. Chinweizu’s submission that “African Renaissance is a call by Black African intellectuals for a renewal of Black African civilization which originally lasted from 6000 B.C to 600 A.D in many states in Africa, notably Egypt (Kemel), Kush, Axum, Zulu, Benin, Ashanti and Mali. The glories of that civilization should now inspire present-day Black Africans to achieve a repeat in the new circumstances”. Also explaining that renaissance is all about transformation, Babalola advocated blend of the old with the new culture as the process does not only support the fact that culture is dynamic, it also conforms with the axiom that African communities in the process of regeneration, have to imbibe certain new ideas, new values, which will lead to the desired transformation.

A few of these new values, according to him, relate to science and technology, political organizations, religion and attitude to chronometric time. The tone of the lecture of course, dramatically changed

when the scholar of Yoruba Studies picked Nigeria as a case study. He lamented the damage done by the wholesome adoption of Western languages as means of communication and interpersonal relationship at the expense of the mother tongues. While admitting the indispensability of English language to cohesion in the polity, he emphasized that “Nigerian languages are our mother tongues. To every right-thinking Nigerian, the mother tongue should be a personal possession of great importance to which he or she has a strong and deeply-felt loyalty as it gives him/her emotional roots in the community of speakers of the language.”

The Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile Ife-based Professor stated that the mother tongue is not only the vehicle of communal tradition and acculturation, but also the medium through which boys and girls as children become members of their own community and through which adults (men and women) happily retain their membership of the community. Calling for the reversal of trend whereby the use of local languages is no longer fashionable, Prof. Babalola warned that “a people severed from their roots are people deprived of the sap and vigo of self-confidence; orphans who must wear someone else’s culture even though it fails to fit”. He urged urgent implementation of the National Policy on Education as well as National Cultural Policy launched in 1988 during the Babangida administration noting that both policies give adequate recognition to the promotion and perpetuation of people’s culture and especially, language in process of education. The professor also condemned the relegation of local languages at nursery and primary levels of education, saying “it is alarming that considerable proportion of Nigerian children and youths are abandoning their mother tongues in favour of exclusive concentration on English, the language through which education at the secondary and higher levels is available.

“In our cities and large towns, proprietors and proprietresses of nursery schools and nursery/primary schools are allowed to get away with ‘murder’, as it were, through their virtual neglect of African culture in curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities in their schools”, remarked Babalola. On tradition and modernization in Nigerian culture, Prof. Babalola said: “For the new culture to grow well out of the old, we must get our bearings right and act in conformity with the implication of the caveat that a nation worth its salt aims at retaining those unique qualities which set its people apart from the people of other countries and also aims at resisting any corrupting influence of foreign thought and customs.”

He admonished further that in its attempt to become a developed country in the modern world, Nigeria should pause and consider what it takes to be Nigerian, with a view to firmly putting it in place. And development, according to him, may not be achieved unless sole loyalty to the ethnic group is transformed to prime loyalty to a new, modern Nigeria.
His words: “Turning millions of tribesmen into nationalists is the task that needs to be accomplished in this regard and our leaders in government, legislature and political parties have a principal portion to undertake in this task. It is a task of making a new political culture grow well out of the old. We need to make a cohesive, non-acrimonious nation state evolve out of the multi-lingual and the multi-cultural peoples of the geographical entity called Nigeria. The cohesiveness will come along with the sense of common identity to be forged among Nigerians.”

Babalola is however, worried that the cry of being marginalized by virtually every ethnic group in the country could constitute hindrance in the march towards greatness. As a panacea, the scholar wants federal government to re-consider the call for the restructuring of the Nigerian polity along the lines mutually agreed by a pan-Nigeria body of representatives of the component parts. When this is done, Babalola is optimistic that “there would be millions of men and women behaving in truth and in deed, as patriots or nationalists willing to sacrifice themselves for Nigeria. As if canvassing support for the Federal government’s national rebirth crusade, he urged Nigerians to shun the culture of impatience; mere love of having children without thinking on adequate provision for their proper bringing; casual attitude to work and productivity; spendthrift inclination due to love of celebration with ostentation; lack of respect for time as well as giving and receiving of gifts in connection with the granting of favors while cooperativeness in the giving of mutual help, hospitality and self-reliance should be embraced meticulously.

The focus of the lecture was earlier set by Professor Ayo Bamgbose, NAL out-going president who, in his welcome speech, described African Renaissance as “a rediscovery of ourselves, liberation and popular rule, elimination of poverty, debt relief and interdependence.” Bamgbose explained further that the Africanness of an African lies basically in his or her culture. Corroborating Prof. Babalola, Bamgbose said: “Basic to our culture is our language which is not only an integral of people’s heritage but also a maker of identity in the sense that it represents what is peculiar to a people and its culture.” Added to language, Bamgbose said “are our customs, philosophy of life and tradition meant to be cherished. Admittedly, culture is not static and we must allow for socio-cultural, economic and political impact on our traditional culture,” he warned that dynamism of culture should not be misconstrued as abandonment of intrinsic values.

Relating the thrust of the lecture to the Poverty Alleviation Program of the present administration, Bamgbose said the program should manifest not only in the provision of jobs but in the availability of basic amenities both in urban and rural areas. Specifically, the NAL president hinged the Nigeria’s vision of an African renaissance on upholding of human dignity and human rights; fostering of true democracy, strong and virile economy; even development and distribution of resources; safeguarding of Nigeria culture and enhancement of Nigeria’s position in the world among others. Also, the occasion featured the installation of Professor Emeritus Adeboye Babalola as foundation fellow of NAL; Professor Emeritus Ladipo Ayo Banjo and Professor Emeritus Tekena N. Tamuno as new fellows while the trio of Mr. Micheal Angulu, Chief Aigboje Higo and Mr. Gamaliel Onosode became honorary fellows.

Onosode who spoke on behalf of the recipients pledged the support of his colleagues to the promotion of the liberal arts which has been the focus of NAL. The occasion climaxed with the installation of Professor Ayo Banjo as the new president of the organisation. An autonomous, scholarly and non-political body, the Nigerian Academy of Letters was inaugurated at a meeting held at the University of Ibadan on November 14, 1991 as an apex organisation of Nigerian academics and scholars in the humanities to promote, maintain and encourage excellence in all branches of humanistic studies. The meeting was convened by the Deans of Arts of Nigerian universities. But the Academy owes its origin to the Report of the Public Service Review Panel (otherwise known as the Udoji report) of 1974 which, in section 641, recommended the creation of a National Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Although the panel had recommended a single Academy for the Arts and Sciences, the government opted for a number of academies based on specific well-known bodies of disciplines. Thus, apart from apex organizations in Medicine and Agriculture, the government has already approved the creation of the Academy of Science, the Academy of Education, and the Council of the Social Sciences, and provided for them some financial support. The creation of the Nigerian Academy of Letters therefore represent another stage in the implementation of the Udoji report and is intended to cater for a very important body of disciplines of vital importance to the development and retirement of Nigerian society.

Among the objectives of the academy are: to create a national forum for the co-ordination of efforts of learned societies in the area of the arts; to promote scholarship at the highest levels in this area; to influence at different levels of the national life, the formulation of policies affecting the development of the Arts; and to cooperate with similar bodies in the promotion of overall national interests. Others are to encourage and undertake various publications, including books, monographs, journals, bulletins and newsletters in addition to the encouragement of general development of the creative arts as well as undertaking of activities which promote the broad objectives of the Academy without discrimination on grounds of sex or creed.

The book is meant for people who are hopeful but seem not to have yet found their purpose on earth. This book will help enable people and communities to progress with a peace of mind towards their destiny.

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