‘How to move Nigeria from geographical to country of cultural expression’

A panel session at LABAF 2018

The setting is probably that of a hospital ward, which has a pregnant woman whose labour groans sound rhythmically as chorused by those who surround her.

She finally puts to bed and the baby asks: “Is this America?” “No”, the people reply.

“Is this England?” the people once again reply, “No”. After mentioning the names of some other countries and getting the same negative response, the baby then asks; “Where am I?” “This is Nigeria? they chorus.

Immediately, the baby runs back into the mother’s womb in fright and refuses to be delivered!

The above scenario, interestingly, is from a drama presented by some secondary school students at the 20th edition of Lagos Book and Art Festival (LABAF 2018), which had as theme ‘Renewal… A World That Works For All.’

The one-week long event which held at Freedom Park, Broad street, Lagos, creatively wondered what scared the baby about Nigeria and seeks the rebirth of the baby in a renewed Nigeria where everything works for all. 

Thoughts and recommendations were engaged through critical analysis of books that deals with issues of development and displays of artworks that spoke to and challenged developmental indices.

Next LABAF holds from November 4 through 10, 2019, and it has as theme, ‘Emerge: Breaking into the New.’

The events gladdened the heart with hopes of a developed Nigeria, as one watched in wonderment visually impaired students of Pacelli School for the Blind dance accurately to synchronized steps to cultural tones with robust expressions of happiness.

The moment brought to the fore the possibilities of a Nigeria where potential is utilized for the greater advancement of the country. It presented hopes that Nigeria’s predicaments as a country are surmountable.

Among the plethora of activities that took place at this development-centred event was the 13th Green Festival, which dealt with the challenges of having a clean environment in the face climate change and the increasing health hazards.

Students from various schools were effectively engaged to project messages of a clean and healthy Nigeria through poems, drama skits, spoken words and so on. The festival incorporated a cooking competition among represented schools.

Cooking was done with bio-fuel, which emits inhalable oxygen, as opposed to the hazardous carbon monoxide inhaled from traditional cooking fuels.

Interestingly, ‘hazardous’ was one of the words spelt in an environmental related words spelling competition.

Cooking is an art. Its end product – food – is an integral part of cultural identity.

In these times where the crave for junk food is high and the preference for foreign food over traditional ones is on the rise, the competition served as a medium for advocating cooking delicious, healthy Nigerian meals that promote cultural identity that engenders self-worth. 

It is worthy to note that the winner of the previous year’s cooking competition was visually impaired.

Famous Nollywood actress, Kate Henshaw, was on ground to mentor children and students on imbibing a reading culture. Her interactive engagement with the students gave enlightening about book.

She presented it as a medium for the promotion of ideas, a mirror of life, an instrument that teaches morals, educates, entertains and more. Kate Henshaw admonished the students to read beyond books that pertain to subjects that they study in school.

A reading session for the students had authors of various books held under the garden ambience of Freedom Park. One of the authors was 10 years old Mercy Shobande, whose book Princess Sarah and Other Stories was written when he was in primary six.

The book is about morals and happenings in Nigeria. Mercy started writing at the age of seven.

With the showcase of this young talent, who was introduced by the organisers of LABAF to a lot established and renowned authors and personalities, who were present at the event, LABAF has proven to be a projector of the future.

Veteran filmmaker, Mr. Tunde Kelani, also graced the event to mentor aspiring young filmmakers on the nitty-gritty of attaining success in the cinematography industry. His Saworoide was screened.

The movie depicts the corrupt nature of Nigerian leaders through a Yoruba traditional setting, climaxing in the repercussions of the leader’s disgraceful act.

Taking place on the heels of Nigeria’s 2019 general elections, discussions from the colloquiums and symposiums centred on books that portray required channels for paving the way for light out of the darkness of underdevelopment, through increased value for education for a knowledge economy and strategic uplifting of culture for developmental identities.

One of the moderators at the event, Prof. Awam Amkpa, stated, “The health of a nation is cultural in nature!”

In his keynote address, notable poet and polemicist, Mr. Odia Ofeimun, opined that Nigeria has to move from being a geographical expression to being a cultural expression.

For him the different cultural groups in the country should be allowed to grow along the lines of their cultural proclivities while having a national agenda at heart. This should be followed with stringent educational policies that guarantee equality for all citizens.

Such policy must be able to take the country’s 13.2 million uneducated children out of the streets to different kinds of educational mediums. 

He advocated that if any war were to be fought, it should be one whose victory would enthrone education.

In developing Nigeria’s economy, Ofeimun argued for more planning rather than allowing market forces to determine the economic development.

Editorial Board member and columnist with The Guardian, Mr. Martin Oloja moderated the symposium tagged ‘Leapfrog into Modernity (Building the Capable State).’

Conversations were built around books from Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore from Third World to First, Dr. Luke Onyekekeyah’s The Change We Need, and Jimanze Ego-Alowes’ The University-Media Complex: As Nigeria Foremost Amusement.

The last two authors were on the discussion panel. The need to build Nigeria on its culture and education featured a lot in the discussion in this segment.

The Asian Tigers’ success in development, especially in Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, featured a lot.

Egos-Alowes was of the opinion that part of Nigeria’s problem is that of the failure of public intellectuals, who have more or less left the direction the country should take in the hands of less educated individuals.

Luke Onyekekeyah’s argued that Nigeria is underdeveloped because it is yet to go through proper change processes.

The books The Urgency for Now: Lyndon Johnson Congress and the Battle for the Great Society by Julian Zeilier and Like a Mule Bringing Ice-Cream to the Sun by Sarah Manyika were reviewed and discussed during the colloquium, which had the theme ‘Politics of Renewal.’

Zeilier’s is a book about the failure stories of Lyndon Johnson, which ended in success that changed the legislative process in America for good.

In A Mule Bringing Ice-Cream to the Sun, the story is about Morayo, a 75 years old Nigerian in San Fransico, who lived a lonely life after the death of her husband, but had to rely on others after she had a terrible fall.

Most discussants pondered about the link between the books and how they related to the theme of the colloquium and that both books were individual centred, dealing with the need for the liberation of man. They argued that the individual should be the centre of national policymaking, wondering if Morayo would have survived in Nigeria where the aged are not adequately catered for by the government.

There was in intergenerational dialogue between individuals that were born 10-30 years before Nigeria’s independence and those born 15-20 years after independence.

The dialogue featured Prof Akin Mabogunje, 85; Titus Okereke, 79; Chude Jideonwo, 33; Eghosa Imaseun, 42 and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, 39. The discussion was around leadership and interpersonal relationships among Nigeria’s post-independence and now.

The Nigerian leadership problem was said to be one that is caused by having leaders that lack substance.

The panelist called for a more tribal tolerant Nigeria, as this was seen as the only way to move Nigeria forward by engaging its resourceful diversity strategically.

Though the elevation of culture was seriously advocated during the event, challenging detrimental extremes was allowed.

One of such medium created for this was Joy Isi Bewaji’s session on sex and sexuality that challenged traditions that tend to belittle women in Nigeria.

Young Progressive Party’s (YPP) presidential candidate, Prof. Kingsley Chinedu Moghalu, was at the event to discuss his books Build, Innovate, Grow (BIG) and Emerging Africa and How the Global Frontiers Can Prosper and Matter.

He was of the opinion that in moving forward, Africa needed to choose what not to do by prioritizing and shredding the idea of development through foreign aids.

Foreign aids, he posited, is a thriving business, which is not really meant to enrich the receiver but to give the giver control of the donor country’s policies.

Nigeria, he argued, needs to have a worldview, which will guide its development. This, for him, is what helped Singapore to develop and is currently helping Rwanda after its civil war.

He buttressed that Nigeria’s education could only be meaningful when over 20 per cent of the country’s budget is invested in it and there is massive investment in teachers’ training.

He noted that the curriculum should be reformed towards a more skills’ acquiring one, adding that students should be taught to think originally.

A good leader for him is one, who appropriates the consent of those s/he is leading before talking decision.

In collaboration with Poets, Essayists and Novelists (PEN), a remembrance programme was organised for the late writer and activist, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa. His death, according to Mr. Tade Ipadeola, is the tragedy of running a mono-economy based on crude oil. It was lamented that the university system has failed in properly honouring such an icon. Lari Williams’ 50 years on stage was celebrated, with encomiums were being showered on him for his ingenuity and contributions to the development of the arts.
LABAF 2018 was a huge success. It is a culture and development programme, which every Nigerian, organization and leader should be proudly partake. If half of what were discussed as solutions to Nigeria’s problem are put into practice every baby, as in the drama, would want to be given birth to in Nigeria.

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