It is not an exaggeration to say that no society can exist without a culture. The reason for the foregoing fact cannot be pooh-poohed when viewed from the prism of the fact that culture is the way of life of a people. Therefore, every society, no matter its size or population must exist with certain cultural values and norms. Nigeria, being a country that cherish its culture and identifies with it, is not exempted from this practice. Despite the proliferation of Christianity and westernization, many elites still have high regard for Nigerian culture and its importance. The seeming accommodating societal attitude towards some aspects of Nigerian culture in the face of what one can in this context call “computerised-modernisation” cannot be condemned as it is rare to see a society without culture. In fact, any society without culture may appear to be a ship without a compass.
However, despite the high regard some Nigerians have for their culture which is rooted not only in its long history, unique geography and diverse demography, but also by its ancient heritages, some few elites, particularly Nigerian lawmakers are at the moment devising legislative strategies that are aimed at literarily killing Nigerian culture. In fact, some Nigerians, no doubt, are becoming ineffectual copies of Western Culture; blindly following everything without understanding the damaging and destructive effects of it.
Unknown to the Nigerians that are literarily strategising on how they would “kill” Nigeria culture in all its ramifications, one of the countries, the United States of America, which churns out varieties of western culture that are being imbibed, is itself a society composed of people that represents the cultural and ethnic diversity of the world. The Americans has consistently been joining other countries to preserve their heritage.
The Americans, no doubt, understand that the cultural heritage of a nation represents its collective identity. It speaks to the historical experiences and contributions of mankind and the values that have come to define a nation’s unique place in the world. America as a nation prides itself in the understanding that there is no better way to instil pride, inspire civic responsibility, and strengthen social cohesion than to celebrate and preserve its cultural heritage.
It is ostensibly against the foregoing background that in 2001 the United States Congress created the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, noting that “cultural preservation offers an opportunity to show a different American face to other countries. By taking a leading role in efforts to preserve cultural heritage, we show our respect for other cultures.”
The Congress then directed the U.S. Department of State to support and implement it, which it does through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The goal is to join with eligible countries around the globe to preserve their cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, such as historic sites and manuscripts, museum collections, and traditional forms of music, dance, and language. To date, through the Ambassadors Fund For Cultural Preservation, the U.S. has provided direct grant support of some twenty million dollars, for more than five hundred and fifty cultural preservation projects in more than a hundred countries.
In line with the American determination and policy of preserving cultural heritage, countries whose lifestyles and culture are quite different from the modernised lifestyles of the Americans have been benefiting from the largesse which the Americans have been awarding in its bid to ensure that cultural heritages across the globe are preserved. For instance, in Nepal, the Patan Royal Palace has received support for much needed restoration work so that the complex can be made safe and be opened to the public. In Herat, Afghanistan, a grant was offered to help preserve the Qala Ikhtyaruddin, a citadel that served as a palace to the Timurid rulers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Turkmenistan is seeing the restoration of a twelfth century mausoleum, Tajikistan a permanent record of its folk music, and many of Kyrgyzstan’s rarest books are being preserved.
The cultural heritage of a civilization forms the bedrock upon which it relies to maintain stability, identity, and, increasingly, sustainable economic livelihood. Once gone, the tangible and intangible elements of cultural heritage cannot be replaced.
Equally buttressing my view with the United Kingdom, it is expedient to say that with over 20,000 scheduled monuments, 1600 registered parks and gardens, 28 world heritage sites and almost half a million listed buildings, that the country is awash with built heritage of cultural, religious, archaeological and industrial significance, dating from circa 4000BC to the Industrial Revolution and later.
Still in the same vein, on American Embassy’s website is a post that states “Our exchange programs engage youth, students, educators, artists, athletes, and rising leaders in the United States and more than 160 countries. In addition to exchange programs, ECA also administers a variety of other initiatives that support cultural understanding by protecting cultural heritage across the globe, and providing educational resources for people interested in learning about American culture and the English language.”
There is no denying the fact that the cultural aspect that inspired me to write this opinion is not cultural monuments but tribal marks.
I must confess that the inspiration to write this piece came due to the Senate moves to stop tribal marks as the Bill to that effect has passed second reading. The Bill, which is aimed to provide for the Prohibition of Facial Mutilation, Offences, Prosecution and Punishment of Offenders on Tuesday passed second reading in the Senate.
Since the news of the proposed Bill against tribal marks hit the headlines on Wednesday morning, many have voiced their concern over its provisions and wondered if our lawmakers have no other national issue of more importance to the people and the country for legislation. Some people I overheard at a newsstand at Jibowu in Lagos on Wednesday were amazed that the legislatures are somewhat legislating against what lawmakers in other nations across the globe will fight for as long as it borders on their cultural heritage. As I went through the reasons behind the Bill, which Sen. Dino Melaye (APC-Kogi), sponsored, I was not just flabbergasted but I nostalgically recalled how, in my secondary school days, we (with my classmates then) were wont to rehearse and recite some lines ahead of debates on virtually every issue on earth.
Nigerians who truly understand what cultural heritage means have began lending their collective voice against the Bill. It is not an exaggeration to say that It is an indication that a lot of things are wrong in the polity that need germane attention rather than “Tribal mark Bill” which lacks the peoples’ mandate and expectations of good governance that will provide them the much desired and anticipated democratic dividends. To me, the lawmakers should please look for more relevant issues that are affecting Nigerians to discuss rather than discussing issues that are seemingly mundane and trivial, and which would form the basis of calculating their monthly sitting allowances.
Isaac Asabor, a Journalist, writes from Lagos