Promoting Democracy Through Cultural Values

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Culture is widely acknowledged as the bedrock of human civilisation, without which no nation makes any meaningful progress in spheres such as governance, politics, education and economy, among others.

A viable and sustainable culture requires strong commitment on the part of a people to achieve, especially as relates to cherished values in societies.

According to Professor Emeka Nwabueze, of the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, “culture appears in material, cognitive, and normative dimensions.

“Cultural democracy gives us the democratic vision; the fulfillment of the human potentials, while it fosters positive changes in the society”, he expatiates.               On his part, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s former military head of state, says that culture promotes creativity, hard work, communal efforts, good governance and other attributes necessary for societies’ advancement.

Analysts agree that culture does not exist in vacuum but requires enabling policies, capacities, capital and infrastructure to thrive.

Such concerns informed the theme of the 3rd African Union (AU) Conference of Ministers of Culture, which held recently in Abuja, Nigeria. Its theme was: “Sustainable Financing of the Cultural Development Sector in Africa.”

The conference sought to heighten awareness on culture and how its potential could be harnessed, to aid socio-economic development.

Mr Alain Godonou, UNESCO’s Director in charge of Cultural Objects and Intangible Heritage, said that cultural factors were central to the economic, social and environmental problems confronting all societies today.

“Culture possesses intrinsic value for economic growth and it is an asset essential for reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development,” he said.

Supporting this viewpoint, Alhaji Abubakar Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, urged all stakeholders, including governments, to adequately finance the Cultural sector for better societal gains.

“There is need for this forum to look critically into issues that promote our rich cultural heritage, as well as develop our creative industries in the continent.

“Culture is obviously one sector where we enjoy comparative advantage over other continents,” he said.

Abubakar disclosed that Nigeria had ratified the Charter of African Cultural Renaissance for the Development of Regional and Continental Integration.

“This will indeed, chart Africa’s course towards technological development and transform its knowledge systems, which are necessary responses to the challenges of globalisation,” he said.

Mr Olawale Maiyegun, who represented the African Union Commission (AUC) at the summit, said that if Africa’s cultural sector was properly harnessed, it would enhance and strengthen the growth of the economies of the continent’s nations.

“The cultural sector in Africa has not received the required attention and financial resources it deserves from our governments, in spite of the sector’s huge potential,” he said.

Analysts say that the realisation of the potential inherent in Culture, no doubt, informed Nigerian government’s inception of the National Festival of Arts and Culture (NAFEST) in 1970. It was indeed a precursor to FESTAC’77.

However, officials say that NAFEST’s evolution over time had enabled a focus on the role of culture in the nation’s search for economic prosperity, peaceful co-existence and national integration.

Gowon, under whose government NAFEST was incepted, still believes that Nigerians must strive to use culture to attain sustainable peace and harmony, especially in this period of the nation’s fledging democracy.

“What Nigeria requires is peace, unity and justice, which will help in building the country. “Nigerians should learn to love, understand and believe in one another as said in the country’s anthem,” he says.

In an apparent appreciation of the contributions of Gowon to the development of culture in the country, the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), at its recent 8th Award series, honoured the former leader with a distinguished award.

Ex-minister of Information and Orientation, Prof. Jerry Gana, who chaired the award ceremony extolled Gowon for boosting the nation’s cultural potential by incepting NAFEST.

He  said that co-existence in the country would be better if national leaders learnt to pursue excellence.

“It is better for our leaders to promise less and deliver more, for the sake of credibility and honour,” he said.

Abubakar, who was represented at the occasion by his Permanent Secretary, Alhaji Ibrahim Mahe, stressed the need for all to bring into focus the role of culture in the search for economic prosperity.

Observers say that NCAC is not alone in efforts at promoting cultural values in the country.

The National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) also exists and it is saddled with the responsibility of harnessing Nigeria’s cultural materials for national development and integration.

Recently, it held an inaugural public lecture, the objective of which was to rejuvenate the nation’s cultural values, especially in the face of the last general elections.

Abubakar, who was represented at the occasion by his ministry’s Director of Culture, Mr George Ufot, again expressed the viewpoint that viable democracy would only thrive around culture and traditions.

“If democracy must succeed in Nigeria, it must be home-grown with virtues; founded on our cultural values such as love for one another, tolerance, truth and mutual trust,” he said.

He urged Nigerians to ensure that they were registered to be able to vote for candidates of their choice in the next general elections.

“No meaningful change can come without contributing our quota towards making the desired change in the path to greatness. We must therefore perform our civic duties and responsibilities,”  he stressed.

On his part, Mr Joseph Golwa, the Director-General of the National Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja, traced most problems in the country to the degeneration of our cherished cultural values.

The Executive Secretary of NICO, Mr Barclays Ayakoroma, supported such viewpoints but added that culture must play an important role in ensuring true democratic practices in Nigeria.

Nonetheless, analysts say that challenges lay ahead for all Nigerians to ensure that time­ honoured cultural values and traditions are sustained, to impact positively on all sectors of the nation’s life. Onifade writes for News Agency of Nigeria.

Olasunkanmi Onifade