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OPINION: The revival of culture in Nigeria for sustainable development (1)

By Dr. (Mrs) M.O. Erhun

Nigeria as a country is made up of over 250 ethnic groups, with each of these ethnic groups having distinct cultures.  The understanding and consideration of the cultural aspect of a society is critical to adapting development approaches. This piece basically is meant to focus on culture revival in Nigeria.


The basic purpose of this piece is to give a proper analysis of issues in tune with the revival of culture in Nigeria.  For the purpose of trying to lay a proper foundation on the subject matter, it is necessary to give a brief introduction of the concept of culture.

Culture is a driver for development and society as well as a very important component of sustainable development. The basic issue facing the present day human communities including Nigeria is failure to preserve their cultures. The word culture has its root in the Latin word “cultura,” meaning…. while the etymology of the word culture is traced to the Latin word, “colere”, also a Latin word which means to tend, guard, cultivate, till.  Culture is the lifestyle or specific way of life of a people living in a community. Culture is the sum total of the way of life of a particular group of people.

It is those values, symbols, interpretations and perspectives which distinguishes one people from another in modernized societies. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Culture as “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place or time”. Oxford Dictionary of English defines culture as “the customs and beliefs, art, way of life and social organisation of a particular country or group”. We would buy the idea that the definitions given to the term, “Culture”, by these dictionaries, all boil down to the fact that Culture is the way of life of a particular group of persons.  A particular culture is indeed peculiar to a particular community or a certain group of persons.

The term, “Culture”, is one term that permeates the human society, as it is practically impossible for any human society to properly lay claim to being one without first upholding her culture.  Culture is relevant to individual’s identity as it helps to promote the survival of a group as well as distinct identity of a tribe.  Culture is a powerful tool for human survival and has kept the human race from going into extinction.

Culture represents a source of identity, innovation and creativity for individuals as well as members of a community.  It plays a very important role in binding social inclusion and the eradication of poverty.  Also, the recognition of culture as a catalyst can generate positive and sustainable transformations not only for economic development and environmental protection but also preparedness for climate change.  Participation in the cultural sector and the engagement of cultural values have the potential of advancing gender equality and women empowerment as well as allowing the most vulnerable segments in the society to priotise schooling and strengthen autonomy and independent income generation amongst other things.

No human being is born with a fixed culture.  A person is a product of the culture he is exposed to.   Culture is not innate but is passed on from one generation to another through language, dressing etc.  An infant grows into the culture of the people who raised him up. An individual learns the ways of his culture and comes to participate more or less fully in it. Culture is a form of learned traditions, customs and innovation that govern behaviour and beliefs.  Culture is shared and transmitted through language, literature, arts music, oral traditions, rituals, rites etc. which are the primary tools through which culture is transmitted and passed on to succeeding generations.  Culture is therefore cultivated through education. The integration of cultural elements in education programmes fosters linkages with one’s root and provides for local relevant content resulting in more relevant skills and better learning.

Although, many do believe that culture is a non-living phenomenon. However, I would love to state without mincing words that “Culture is a living entity”.  In fact, it is a living phenomenon.   The reason for this assertion is hinged on the fact that culture as an entity dies when it is abandoned or abolished. And we do know that anything that has the ability to die does have the ability to live.

The simple truth remains that the cultures of some of the different ethnic groups in the Nigerian state are gradually fading off, or simply put, “dying”.  It would surprise many that even the most prominent ethnic groups in Nigeria- Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Fulani- have suffered declines in their cultures overtime. The reasons for this phenomenon are not far-fetched.

As a Nigerian, when I appraised the decline of culture in Nigeria, I immediately trace the problem back to the era of colonialism. Yes, it is true that the colonisation of Nigeria did expose the country to so many things including western education, democracy, developments, Statehood etc. I would love to state that Colonialism also took away our identity and culture. During the course of colonialism and the colonisation of the Nigerian state, the whites made us believe that their culture was far more superior to ours, and so, they handed over to us their own culture and we discarded off ours.  In no time, we started to dress and speak like them. We had to neglect our own ways of life and had to inculcate the ways of life of the whites.  Nigeria is practising a borrowed culture as a result of her encounter with her colonial masters.

Funny enough, we should not be quick to forget, that the whites did cart off our antiquities, even before they effectively forced colonialism/colonial administration on us. The Old Benin Artefacts, Artefacts belonging to the Nok Civilisation, and Artefacts belonging to the Old Oyo Empire/ Ife civilisation were all taken away by the whites. Yet, they claim that those civilisations suffered from ignorance.

Let’s look at India which was also colonised by Great Britain. India did not neglect her culture and language. Another great example is South Africa whose cultural foundations, cultures and traditions, are still very much intact.

It is saddening, and maybe appalling, that Nigeria with a lot of ethnic groups and rich culture is having culture decline as a result of neglect of her culture and the assumption and assimilation of a foreign or alien culture.  Colonialism, inferiority complex, ignorance and half-education are the most basic reasons for culture decline in Nigeria.

It is an established fact that an average human society should have a way of life she could call hers.  There is no gainsaying the fact that one’s culture is one’s identity. Culture is not static but dynamic and as a result, it could be lost through conquest or subtle missionary agencies, if care is not taken.  Indigenous cultures in Nigeria are dying gradually ever since the British stepped on the pre-colonial Nigerian lands and thereafter launched her colonial policy in the territory of this nation called Nigeria.

The whole world is currently pursuing the attainment of a set of goals termed Sustainable Development Goals.  Inclusive and equitable education as well as the promotion of life-long learning principles for all is Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals.  To this end, the appreciation of cultural diversity as well as the contribution of culture to sustainable development is the mandate of Target 4.7 of Goal 4 of the SDGs.  Goal 11 and Target 11.4 enjoins Nations to strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.  The development and implementation of tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism which creates and promotes local culture and as well as ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns is Goal 12, Target 12.4, of the SDGs.

The cultures of the Nigerian people are gradually dying; in fact, some have gone into extinction, and some are at the verge of extinction.    If lost, the above products of culture can never be fully restored. As a lover of arts and culture, I feel the need for the Nigerian society to preserve her culture and traditions. The Nigerian state needs to fashion out ways of bringing back the rich cultures and traditions of her people.  Elements of culture should be integrated into the education sector while the education sector should aim at developing cultural literacy and equipping the younger generation with the necessary skills to live in a multicultural and diverse society like Nigeria.  I strongly believe that we should all work on reviving the Nigerian cultures.

As a culture revivalist, I am an advocate for the revival of the Nigerian culture. From my research and studies, I have come to discover that the cultures in the Nigerian state are priceless, valuable and incomparable to none.  It will be a thing of joy, if the cause for the revival of culture in Nigeria, is supported by all and sundry. The Nigerian Government could also be of help by incorporating cultural studies in our educational curriculum. Nigerian Parents can also help the cause of culture revival, if parents inculcate their native cultures into their children and ensure that they expose their culture and traditions to their children, during the socialisation process. Intercultural and inclusive education should be made a major priority for the education system in Nigeria. We must tap the benefit of culture to improve inclusion and promote greater social cohesion in Nigeria with all that is at our disposal as a nation.

This article expresses the authors’ opinion only. The views expressed in this article are that of the author’s and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of The Bloomgist. 

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