Cultural Re-Awakening and the Act of Governance in the Babangida Years

Cultural Re-Awakening and the Act of Governance in the Babangida Years Harrison Adeniyi


Man and culture are to a large extent inseparable. Any action and dispute in the environment is as a result of or a function of a combination of other things. These “things” include, among others, the way and manner man perceives issues, personalities and ideas around him. An attempt will be made in this paper to examine at the various definitions of culture, and particularly as defined by the Cultural Policy of Nigeria, which was put in place by the government of I Br We will then attempt to see how far this policy has been implemented vis-a-vis the various objectives of the Cultural Policy of Nigeria.

It may be tempting to brand this paper as propaganda and mere whitewashing of the former government and even the personality of IBB. But events in the past six years have shown that some of the giant strides that the government took at that time are beginning to yield high dividend. A classic example that will be discussed was the National Broadcasting Decree of 1992, which permits ownership of private electronic media.

What is Culture?

From the anthropological point of view, Tyhr states that “culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, custom, and any other capabilities and habit acquired by men as a member of society.” However, this definition does not distinguish social organisation and social institutions from a general concept of culture. In their attempt to arrive at a more appropriate and concise definition, A.L. Kroebes and Cylde Kluckhohn critically reviewed several hundreds of definitions of culture.

They later arrived at a summary formulation which, they believed would be acceptable to most social scientists. They therefore define culture as: Consisting of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups. include their embodiments in artifact: the essentials of culture consists of historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attach., culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning element of further action (1952:181)”

However, a more dynamic and fluid definition which we shall use as a springboard for this discussion is as contained in The Cultural Policy of Nigeria. It describes culture as: “The totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempts to meet the challenge of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, and aesthetic and regions norms and modes of organisation, thus distinguishing a people from their neighbours.” This policy goes further to elaborate on the various components and gestures of culture to include: material, institutional, philosophical and creative aspects.

The material aspects have to do with artifact in its broadest form (namely tools, clothing, food, medicine, utensils, housing, etc.) the institutional deals with the political, social, legal and economic structures erected to help achieve material and spiritual objectives; while the philosophical is concerned with ideas, beliefs, and values, the creative concerns people’s literature (oral or written) as well as their visual and performing arts which are normally molded by, as well as help to mould other aspects of culture. Culture, is not just bringing to the fore, the ideas, customs, beliefs and values of the past, it embodies the attitude of a people to the future of their traditional values faced with the demands of modern technology which is an essential factor of development and progress.

Some of the objectives of The Cultural Policy for Nigeria are stated inter alia:

  1. The policy shall serve to evolve from our plurality, a natural culture, the stamp of which will be reflected in African and world affairs.
  2. The policy shall promote creativity in the fields of arts, science and technology, ensure the continuity of traditional skills and sports and their progressive updating to serve modern development needs as our contribution to world growth of culture and ideas.
  3. The policy shall enhance natural self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and reflect our cultural heritage and national aspiration in the process of industrialization.

The declaration of 1988 – 1997 as the decade of cultural development and its implication for Nigeria. The technological development in all spheres of human endeavour in the last four to five decades had a negative -impact in people’s attitudes and perceptions of what culture really is. People now see some of these Outdated but also totally irrelevant to the contemporary issues. Majority of our people do not want to be associated with our various indigenous cultures again. They are of the strong opinion that giving culture a place in this age of high tech and jet age is like going back to Stone Age. This attitude and perception is not, however, peculiar to Nigeria but a global problem. It is in an attempt to correct -. this negative impression and “partly because of the realization of the significant role culture plays in human development” that compelled The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to declare the period 1988-1997 as the decade for cultural development. The essence of cultural re-orientation, according to Gella (1992:04), “search for solutions to various natural (and international) issues by looking inwards to the indigenous cultures and traditions of the various peoples of the world.’ It is heartwarming to note that it wasn’t up to a year into this decade for cultural development that the Babangida administration came up with a comprehensive cultural policy for Nigeria. This policy addresses in totality all the cultural, political, socio-economic problems the country was facing then. This, according to section 2.2 of the policy is “imperative in order to incorporate such an essential part of our history into our general national development process, because, culture as a force has both its own economic and political consequences in the life of a nation.” Although, there are four major components of this policy, viz; institutional, philosophical, cultural and material. Only the last two components will be fully enumerated with a view to determining how well the Babangida administration achieved the main objectives of this policy and in line with UNESCO’s decade of cultural re-orientation.

Material Components

According to this policy, the material components of culture have to do with artifacts in its broadest form (namely; tools; clothing; food; medicine; utensils: housing; etc). The regime of Babangida witnessed a series of cultural transformation, especially in the area of arts and artifacts. As Toyin Akinosho and Dayo Komolafe rightly noted “More than ever before, sculptures proliferate on concrete pillars among inter-city highways, imposing themselves op, the surrounding. On street corners and sidewalks, it is common to see cements sculptures, metal works and paintings depicting day-to-day events that have become the main theme of the street artists, who once maintained an obscure presence almost out of sight of pedestrians and motorists”.

People’s perception of these works of arts and artifacts changed from-, hero instruments of devil to just decoration and beautification of houses. This was the reason why between 1985 and 1992 membership of the Society of Nigerian Artists increased from 75 to 137. People now turned into arts business which ultimately had positive effects on our economy at the time. Nick Robertson, a Cultural Attaché to the United States Information Service in Lagos once observed in 1992 that, “it is important to note that there is a huge market for Nigeria art today, and that the major buyers are no longer foreigners, but the Nigerian middle class.”

The number of museums and art galleries increased considerably during IBB regime. Some of these include Didi museums; Sinsemillua Gallery; Something Special Gallery and even the Natural Gallery for Crafts and Designs which was almost moribund was resuscitated and performed creditably well during IBB regime. Also, resuscitated during this period was the Nigerian Film Corporation, which was established with Decree No. 61 of 1979. After many years of non­performance, the entire management team was changed in 1989.

This new management worked very hard to meet its various objectives. This led to the construction of its industrial film complex in Lamingo village, Jos. This establishment of this complex brought in a lot of films produced in our various indigenous languages. The National Council for Arts and Culture played a very prominent and leading role in portraying and sensitizing the entire country about the need to embrace our culture.

The council organised the 1990 edition of the National Festival of Arts and Culture, which was well embraced throughout the country. Also, in 1991, the council exported our works of arts to an international exhibition that took place in Taipei in Taiwan. Some of the artifacts that were in display include crafts, paintings, sculpture ceramics, etc. Most importantly, during this period, an NGO known as Pan-African Movement in partnership with the Oba of Benin made concerted efforts to retrieve majority of the arts and artifacts that were carted away during the colonial days.

Creative Component

According to section 1.2 of the policy, the creative component of culture include “a people’s literature (oral and written) as well as their visual and performing arts which are normally moulded by, as well as help to mould other aspects of culture”. One of the major landmarks of IBB’s government in the year under review was the promulgation of the copyright Decree 47 of 1988, which established the Nigerian Copyright Council. This decree protects both artists and authors whose works had hitherto always been pirated without any law protecting them. The law also stipulated appropriate royalty by the publisher to the authors and artists: The National Commission for Mass Literacy was established by this regime to cater adequately for the teeming Nigerian populations that were -awning to be literate. The regime also witnessed the rejuvenation of the Nigerian Publishers Association, which had hitherto been in comatose.

Lastly, the Federal Government through the National Board for Technical Education approved the establishment of a Postgraduate book-publishing program for Yaba College of Technology. This boosted the training of manpower for our publishing industry. Our literary scholars got enough reward for their hard work during the years under review. Majority of them won a lot of laurels and prizes both locally and internationally. Among these are; Niyi Osundare’s The Eve of the Earth that won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature during this time. Also, Tanure Ojaide won the Commonwealth Prize for Poetry. Festus Iyayi’s Heroes got the 1988 Commonwealth Prize for Prose. A few years later, Niyi Osundare also won the 1991 Noma Prize for Publishing in Africa with his compendium of poetry. Waiting Laughters. Prof. Chinua Achebe became the first winner of the Langston Hughes Prize for Academic Achievement in 1991. Also in the same year, Ben Okri’s novel, The Fermished Road won the prestigious booker prize in Great Britain. Both Prof. Chinua Achebe and J.P. Clark won the Nigerian National Merit Award. This period instigated a new era in the printing and publishing industries.

The association of Nigeria theatre practitioners was strengthened during this period. It was during this period that the late theatre guru, Chief Hubert Ogunde was given the onerous assignment of forming a national troupe. This group represented 1’`igeria in various cultural exhibitions internationally and brought a lot of prizes for the country too. In the area of communication, the administration left a legacy which successive administrations found difficult to beat. In the areas of policy formulation and decree promulgation; about eight decrees in this area were promulgated. These include the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (Amendment) Decree 9 of 1988. The Copyright Decree 47 of 1988; the Advertising Practitioners Decree 55 of 1988; the Media Council Relations Practitioners Decree 16 of 1990; the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (amendment) Decree 14 of 1991 and the Voice of Nigeria Corporation Decree 15 of 1991.

The Primary aim of the Promulgation of these various decrees is to lay a solid foundation for an effective and efficient communication policy for Nigeria. It is also noteworthy to mention that in 1992, the National Broadcasting Commission, was established with the National Broadcasting Decree of 1992. With this decree, the floodgate was widely flung open for privately owned media organizations to commence operation. This decree woke the monopoly of government control of electronic media in the country by now, historians and indeed Nigerians are beginning to remember IBB with the magnitude of privately owned television and radio stations that we have.

The Nigerian Press drummed up support for the government of IBB in the earl, years of his administration. This was particularly possible with the abolition of the draconian Decree 4, which was promulgated by Buhari government. This decree caged the press before IBB came to power. Also, the press gave enough coverage and publicity to various activities of government at that time. The relationship between IBB’s government and the press later became sour with the former’s non­-abrogation of Decree 2, which was State Security Detention of Persons Decree. It must also be noted that it was during this regime that the press witnessed the most gruesome killing of Dele Giwa with a “sophisticated and alien” method of killing through a letter bomb. Majority of our print and private owned media houses witnessed one closure or the other not only in the hands of the Federal Government, but also from the various State Governors who considered some of the stories carried by these media houses as offensive and embarrassing to them.


An attempt was made to look at how the IBB government re-awakened the cultures of the country with his various policies and activities. It must however be noted that some of these policies suffered some setbacks not because of the faulty policy formulation but because of those involved in implementing these policies, although the leadership cannot absolve itself from these faults.



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