Monday, 21 December 2015

Who Rules Your Country?

Who Rules Your Country?
You write your law, let me write the music, and I will rule your country.
Alexander Fletcher (1703)
In 1703, the Scottish gentleman and nationalist, Alexander Fletcher, made the above remark. I do not know what the milieu of his society was like at the time he made this remark but it has never been truer a statement in any age as it now is in this twenty-first century, an age of boundless information which recognizes no frontiers.
The remark was the subject of our talkshop at the last week’s reading of ANA(Association of Nigerian Authors)/KWL(Kaduna Writers League). It was quite a vibrant discourse – as it always is – and it got me into my deep recesses in reflection as to who really calls the shots today in our country and even the world at large. What I will do in this piece today is to pen my reflections while attempting to rehash some of the views at the reading last Saturday.
With that single statement, Fletcher very aptly, yet succinctly, underscores the power of culture, and very specifically popular culture, in determining how society ultimately finds definition. Taken differently, Fletcher’s remark highlights the kind of influence the arts as a whole are capable of having on people and society, whether it is music, film, literature or fine arts. Some people have tried to shape society by means of legislation only to realize that it is uphill; except in times of great distress to society such as war, famine, or some disaster, legislations hardly quite have the desired impact in a people’s social expression. One or two examples will suffice here.
Some years ago during the tenure of Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau as governor of Kano State, some Kannywood movie producers ran into trouble with the state government because some of their productions were considered to contain themes that were antithetical to the cultural and religious ethics of their society. Some of the producers were tried and found guilty under Shariah and were sanctioned, part of which was being banned from producing and selling their films in Kano. But then their films were hugely popular amongst the ordinary people. Some of these producers decided to emigrate from Kano to neighbouring states, such as Kaduna and Niger, and continued to make and sell their flicks. All they did was to write boldly on their products “Not to be sold in Kano”. We saw a lot of those movies being enjoyed in homes in Kano. The law didn’t matter.
Another example is the LGBT activism that has been foisted into mainstream culture. Some ten years ago, same-sex marriage would not have been contemplated, but today, even Ireland, a supposedly culturally Catholic country, has passed a referendum in favour of gay marriage. Even though some countries like Nigeria have gone ahead to legislate against gay relationships, how effective that legislation will prove to be in deterring Nigerians from the slide in that direction remains to be seen. Last week at the Yola Airport, I picked a DVD of a new TV series entitled “Empire”. The film is highly dosed up with gay themes all over. Watching it, the viewer will in no time find himself getting at home with the gay thing. This is just to underscore the power of the arts and popular culture in shaping people’s perceptions and society’s outlook in general.
The question is this: has Nigeria as a nation ever taken culture seriously to the point of making policies on it to help chart a course for the nation? Even if something may have been there in the past, culture is not on the burner for Nigeria. In the past, we had TV productions like Cockcrow at Dawn, Village Headmaster, New Masqurade, and others; but today one hardly finds such programmes produced by, say, NTA or any state owned medium. What one sees are independent productions syndicated on TV stations, which is good on its own but can hardly bear government’s aspirations over and above the profit pursuits of their producers.
Again, with burgeoning of the Nigerian movie industry, not much can be said of government interest in it beyond the occasional showing for the press. Credit must be given to ex-president Jonathan for committing funds to the industry during his time, but it must go beyond money; structures must be erected to hedge the industry from vultures that have prevented it from profitability worth investing in by banks and other financiers. With the popularity of Nigerian movies in other African countries, nothing stops Nigeria from deploying them as a foreign policy instrument that will leverage her into being the regional power that it has aspired to being.
After the Nicaraguan revolution of 1978-1979, the Sandinista party placed culture as their topmost priority in their national rebirth agenda. Part of the Cultural Revolution was to ready their population through education for the kind impact they wanted to make, hence they pursued literacy aggressively and in a space of five months, they reduced the overall illiteracy rate from 50.3% to 12.9%. It is possible for Nigeria to use culture to achieve rebirth, be it in the face of this raging ideology-driven Boko-Haram insurgency or in the pursuit of a national philosophy.  

BLUEPRINT Newspaper; Thur 22, 2015

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