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A Journey Into The World Of Nigerian Art

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The story of the beginning of the creative foraging in art in Nigeria is never much different from what is obtainable in various parts of the inhabited world.
The story of art could be simply put as the story of civilization and evolution of man. Most of the materials and clues employed by ethnographers and anthropologists in reconstructing the story of the early man are largely based on the artistic objects and instruments left behind by the early man.
Therefore, to study the art of the political entity known as Nigeria today, one must seek first to keep abreast of the peoples that make up Nigeria and their cultural origins prior to the coming of British colonialism which signaled the beginning of the formal historic recording of the heterogeneous people that was later brought under one umbrella called Nigeria mostly for the purpose of effective governance by the British imperialists.
Consequently, since Nigeria today is more of a political sovereign entity rather than a singular culturally uniform group of people, it is important to study the arts of the different people that were brought together to answer Nigeria, since the country is made up of over 250 ethnic groups and languages.
Art in Pre-Colonial Nigeria
Almost all the ethnic people that make up Nigeria practice one form of art or the other. Like in most African societies, to the early Nigerians, art is inseparable from their religion. Art is seen as the agency through which their religion is given expression; it carries the essence of their religion.
Therefore, prior to the coming of the colonial masters, Nigeria was a melting pot of artistic explorations, since they practiced their traditional religion to the fullest and without hindrance. The early Nigerians used their art to interpret their world as they saw it, as well as using it to concretize their cosmological views on life and esoteric ideas. They employed art in the various cultural celebrations and ceremonies and special commemorations because of the Pantheist nature of the traditional religion.
The early Nigerian society produced a large collection of ancestral images and gods while spirit entities, natural forces and elements such as wind, fire, water and land were given recognition as possessing spiritual authority and required reverence. They, therefore, made art objects to represent the essence and attributes of these supposed forces. This they did with hope of subduing or at least appeasing them and in some cases, harness this power and by so doing be able to bring them under some sort of control or form some kind of pact with them. This practice is not far different from the magical meanings adduced to the cave paintings discovered in Lascaux France.
Therefore, for the purpose of this article, it will be best to stick to a selected number of artistic media generally used by the major artistic flashpoints in the country. Fortunately, these flashpoints also represent in no particular order, the major cultural groups with the most extant collection of traditional works of art.
A close study of the traditional art in Nigeria shows that most of the artifacts and cultural pieces produced by the different cultural groups are largely grouped within the boundaries of these mediums: stones, terracotta, woods, bronze, paintings and crafts.
Esie and Ikom Stone Sculptures:
Though Esie is a predominantly Yoruba community, the origin and identity of the makers of the stone sculptures have remained in obscurity crystallizing into different mythological stories by the community. Therefore, in a bid to unravel the mystery behind their identity, ethnographers, anthropologists and archeologists have made concerted efforts in different directions in order to explain the works. The findings of many researchers have, however, established the following facts; the Esie stone sculpture is a composition of about a thousand soap stone sculptures depicting both human and zoomorphic features. The human figures represent people engaged in various human daily activities. The stone sculptures represent a cosmopolitan collection of different cultures with features such as sophisticated hair styles, dresses, tribal marks, necklaces and bracelets with multiple cultural traits that connect them with different ethnic groups surrounding the area.
The Esie stone works are also recognised as the largest collection of stone carving in Africa.
Ikom monoliths of Cross River State represents the second yet known largest collection of a handful stone sculptures. The stone works are found in an area inhabited by the Ekoi people along the bank of Cross River. The Ikom figures are generally that of humans and are highly geometricized. Measuring between 2 to 6 ft, the appearance of beards in all the figures clearly shows that most of them are males. Scientific researches on this works date them to around 200AD.
Terracotta Culture
In Nigeria, almost every cultural group possesses one form of terracotta art or the other. In fact, most parts of Nigeria have one form of sculptural tradition or another especially around the southern part of the country. Nevertheless, the picture starts changing as one gradually moves towards the Northern part of the country. The Nok culture is dated to have flourished between the years 2000BC and 300AD, making it the oldest form of traditional art not just in Nigeria but West Africa.
The following are the stylistic characters of Nok Art: complicated coiffure, high geometricism with cylindrical heads, perforated eyes, nose, mouth and ears, semi-circular and triangular eyes and lids and so on.
Asides from the Nok culture, the Ife-Terracotta works are another notable ancient traditional art emanating from South Western Nigeria. Dating as far back as 12-15 century A.D. Ife art is located at the heart of Yoruba ancestry.
Wood Carvings
Scholars have for long established that Nigeria possesses the largest collection of sculptural works in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of these art works are done in wood and are applied to different uses. Also, this was possible due to the diversity in cultural abundance and most importantly as a result of the surplus abundance of timber made possible by the country’s location within the tropical rainforest region of Africa. Therefore, almost all cultural groups in Nigeria possess one form of wood carving tradition with notable styles and characteristics particular to them.
Ancestral Figures
Most ethnic groups in Nigeria have a tradition of carving ancestral figures. In Yoruba land, they have Ibeji figures. These figures are done to celebrate the birth or death of twins in Yoruba tradition. It is backed by the people’s belief that twins are powerful spirits who are capable of bringing wealth to their families or misfortune to those who do not honour them.
To the Igbos of the South-Eastern Nigeria, one of the most popular and significant ancestral figures come in the form of Ikenga wood carvings. Ikenga is usually used to denote the power of a man’s right hand and his accomplishments. It is represented usually by a figure holding different things such as horns and swords. This practice of Ikenga carving has penetrated other cultures around the Igbos, such as the Edo who call it Ikengaobo and the Igala who call it Okega.
Doors & Wooden Posts
The Yorubas have a rich tradition of carved wooden posts and carved chip doors. This style of carving was so highly developed that guild of carvers and artists was developed around it. It was through this informal system of traditional art society education that gave birth to 20th century artists like the famous Olowo of Ise who many scholars have acclaimed as the most important Yoruba artist of the 20th century because of his virtuosity and dexterity in the niche of carved wooden doors and house posts.
Similarly, the Igbos also have a developed system of wood carving of doors and house posts. In the past, the houses of highly placed individuals and the affluent were embellished with these works. In fact, it was used to identify the extent of wealth and social importance of individuals. The Awka guid of carvers was found in Anambra State.
Igbo-Ukwu, Ife and Benin Bronze Traditions
The Igbo-Ukwu bronze tradition is, unarguably, one of the most celebrated contributions of the Igbo race to African artistic and technological heritage. The origins of the technology and knowledge of metal working as displayed by the complicated and intricate designs employed in Igbo-Ukwu bronze findings still baffles scholars till date. The Igbo-Ukwu art heritage is reputed to be the oldest bronze sculpture tradition in Sub-Saharan Africa, dated to about 9th century A.D.
The ancient city of Ife is widely acclaimed by the Yorubas as the birth place or the ancestral home of the Yoruba people. Many of the ancient Ife artefacts today have been traced to the dynasty of the Ife King, Oba Obalufon II who is highly regarded as patron of the arts. One notable characteristic of the Ife art is the emphasis on the size of the head as being the center of knowledge, symbol of ego and destiny and so on. The Ife artists therefore do not observe the rules of proportion in producing their figures but rather the heads usually are made a little larger than the rest of the body; sometimes in the ratio of 1:4.
Another notable characteristic of the Ife art is in the use of small holes to indicate beards and hairlines of the masks and faces, and the presence of prominent scarification lines running vertically across the whole face.
The Ifes were also adept in their mastery of copper and its alloys and they produced a handful of works using the material. They also produced terracotta works. Because the Ifes strived to produce art works that pleased the Obas, great effort was put into their production to achieve striking naturalism. This naturalism is one of the most notable attributes of the Ife copper heads which have their facial features well articulated to true representation of the individuals depicted.
Of all the bronze casting traditions found in Nigeria, Benin ranks as the most popular, known world over. They are most famous for the great attention to details, masterly craftsmanship and dexterity with which they were executed. The inventiveness of the Benin civilization and art was first brought to Western public view following the infamous punitive British inversion of the kingdom in the year 1897, which saw a great number of Benin artefacts carted away by the British soldiers as war booties.
The ancient Benin people, like their Yoruba counterparts placed great importance on the head as a chief part of the body; they therefore believe that the head is imbued with spiritual energy (ehi) deposited by the creator; Osanobua and his eldest son, Olokun. This is probably the reason why the Benins have a massive repertoire of bronze heads of their Obas donning their royal regalia.
The art of the Benin people, like most Nigerian cultures, is not without the influence of neighboring tribes. Consequently, the Benins trace their bronze casting origin to the great Yoruba town of Ife, from where a man came and taught them different bronze casting techniques. Also, the Benin art was influenced by the naturalistic style of the Ifes.
Contemporary Nigerian Art
Following the dawn of independence in Nigeria, artistic foraging has continued to flourish, leading to the flowering of a multiplicity of contemporary styles in art production. Through the acquisition of formal Western art education, and drawing inspirations form the rich cultural motifs, Nigerian art scene has become more individualized, detribalized and universal with little common traditional traits still noticeable in the corpus of works addressed today as contemporary Nigerian Art.
Globalization influences and current socio-cultural and political issues have contributed to a proliferation of styles and techniques. Nevertheless, the state of contemporary art in Nigeria is in a continuous flux and remains ever vibrant, opening up more vistas for artistic expression in a world resplendent with multiplicity of media and styles.

By: Moses Njoku
Njoku wrote this piece for Affinity Art Gallery

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‘Why Child’s Rights Act Still Doesn’t Apply Throughout Nigeria’

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Nigeria adopted the Child’s Rights Act in 2003, giving legal consent to both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child. The country’s constitution states that for an international law to take effect, Nigeria’s legislature must create a national version.
But as Nigeria operates a federal system of government, the law does not automatically become applicable in all of its 36 states. In terms of the constitution, children’s issues are the preserve of the constituent states. Each state legislature must make the national law applicable within its territory. And only 25 of the 36 states in Nigeria have localised the Child’s Rights Act.
Currently, 11 states, all in northern Nigeria, have yet to domesticate the Child’s Rights Act. There are no records of discussions or debates about the Act in these state legislatures. It has been argued that other laws, including the constitution, are able to protect children. But children in those states are still subject to practices like early marriage, female genital mutilation and begging.
Why The Law Has Not Been Adopted Fully:
Apart from the federal structure of Nigeria’s government, there are other reasons the Child’s Rights Act has not been adopted by all states. Chief of them is religion, coupled with ethnic and cultural diversity. The dominant religions in Nigeria are Christianity and Islam, with a significant population being adherents of traditional African religions.
It may be simplistic to describe Nigeria as comprising “a Muslim North” and “a Christian South”. There are significant numbers of Christians in the north and Muslims in the south. But Islam does dominate in the north, in comparison to the south.
And the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria, along with some legislators from the north, characterised the Child’s Rights Act as anti-culture, anti-tradition and anti-religion. Some of the contentious issues include the definition of the child (a person below 18 years) as it pertains to child marriage, particularly for girls.
Child marriage is a prevalent practice in parts of the north. Children about the age of 10 or 12 years get betrothed or married off. While the Child’s Rights Act prohibits child betrothal and child marriage, there are other operational laws that make exceptions.
The basis for this is that in Islam, puberty is a determining factor in a (girl) child’s readiness for marriage. Fixing 18 years as the minimum age does not fit the doctrine.
Other religious concerns against the acceptance of the Child’s Rights Act include children’s right to freedom of religion, differences in the inheritance rights of male and female children, and the Shariah’s prohibition of adoption, in favour of kafalah, which distinguishes between biological and non-biological children.
Implications:
By ratifying the Child’s Rights Convention and African Children’s Charter, the Nigerian government has the overall responsibility for ensuring these are implemented in a uniform and coherent manner. The government also took on the responsibility of discouraging religious, cultural, customary or traditional practices that are inconsistent with the Charter.
Yet, at the most basic level, the government is failing to live up to this obligation. Children, a most vulnerable group on account of physical and mental immaturity, bear the brunt of this inaction. They are being denied the full protection of the law. And the consequences for many children, besides child marriage and its health and other consequences, include negative impacts on their education and overall development.
With regard to education for example, the socio-cultural Almajiri system remains prevalent in the north. The practice allows children, usually from poor homes, to be sent to “Islamic boarding schools” for religious education. Many, however, end up on the streets as child beggars, seeking alms and menial jobs for daily survival.
Successive governments have failed to incorporate it as part of the formal school system, leaving children exposed to harmful practices and abuses prohibited by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Children’s Charter and the Child’s Rights Act. In Nigeria, recruitment of these child beggars by terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram is a real threat or option.
Children Need Uniform Protection
The Child’s Rights Act and the African Children’s Charter define a child as a person below 18 years. But various laws in Nigeria define children differently and for various purposes. The government needs to take the lead in harmonising the various definitions in conformity with these international and regional laws.
A constitutional amendment would ensure unification across the nation. It should leave no loopholes for contradictory laws, particularly at the state and local levels or based on religion or customs. But a constitutional amendment is a Herculean task, hampered by some of the obstacles facing the Child’s Rights Act. It should consider the multi-cultural and multi-religious nature of Nigerian society but focus on the best interest of all children.
While the constitution does not expressly declare Nigeria to be a secular state, a harmonious approach to law making that does not vilify religion is in the best interests of the child. Religious and traditional leaders are “gatekeepers” who cannot be jettisoned. Negotiations with them should not devalue their religion, but get them to become drivers of change for the benefit of children.
The importance of public education campaigns about the issues cannot be over emphasised. The voices of children must also be amplified. Increasingly, examples from the world over show that the power to cause real change begins with the populace. In other words, political will can be secured via a bottom-up rather than top-down approach.
States that have domesticated the Child’s Rights Act also have a role to play in challenging the remaining 11 states to do the same. They can do this by showing concrete evidence of the change in the lives of children in those states.
There is no strong case to be made for domestication if it has not translated into fulfilled rights for children. For example, female genital mutilation, a prohibited harmful traditional practice, is still common in parts of southern Nigeria.
Ultimately, where children are concerned, all actions must be in their best interests. The first step in that regard is applying the Child’s Rights Act across the country.

By: Usang Maria Assim
Assim is of the University of Western Cape.

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Three Years Of COVID -19: What Hope For Children?

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As 2022 progresses, the third year of the global pandemic, the harm done to children by COVID-19 crises is increasingly evident. There is a record rise in child poverty. Also, setbacks to progress on routine vaccinations and disruption to education which has been greatest among poorest children and job losses have been greatly borne by women and youth.
COVID-19 has been a uniquely dis-equalising crisis. It is a universal crisis and for some children, the impact may be lifelong.
Children and young people are not the face of this pandemic, but they risk being its biggest victims.
The economic crisis generated by COVID-19 threatens to hit children and families the hardest.
According to analysis by Florish Data Visualisation, even before the pandemic struck, 591 million children, that is almost one in three children in the mostly low and middle income countries were considered poor by national definitions.
The vast majority of them lived in Sub-Sahara Africa and South Asia.
As families lost their sources of income and home environments turned upside down due to the devastating effects of COVID 19, children and young people found themselves more vulnerable to poverty and deprivation of their basic needs.
Available data on the impact of unemployment and the loss of parents, income due to COVID-19 pandemic are not disaggregated by age and do not reflect the realities faced by children around the world.
According to reports, impact of COVID-19 on the welfare of households with children from data collected in 35 countries including Nigeria states that households with three or more children were most likely to have lost income with more than three quarters experiencing a reduction in earnings. The report also states that income losses have left adults in one in four households with children going without food for a day or more.
Adults in nearly half of households with children reported skipping a meal due to lack of money.
“The modest progress made in reducing child poverty in recent years risks being reversed in all parts of the world. Families have expressed loss at a staggering scale. Last year,2021, inflation reached its highest level in years, more than two thirds of households with children brought in less money. Families could not afford food or essential health care services. They could not afford housing. It was a dire picture and the poorest households were pushed even deeper in poverty”, said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Director of Programme Group.
Meanwhile, Nigeria was particularly vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19 due to the absence of a functioning social security system capable of providing support to households that lost jobs and income during the crisis.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet noted in 2021 that although the pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of the right to social security, over 70 percent people worldwide had no or only partial social security coverage.
Nigeria‘s Constitution does not provide a legal right to social security. Nigerian laws create no entitlements to unemployment or child benefits.
However, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank have urged a rapid expansion of social protection systems for children and their families support may include the delivery of cash transfers and the universalisation of child benefits which are critical investments that can help lift families out of economic distress and help them prepare for future shocks. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 200 countries or territories have introduced thousands of social protection measures and the World Bank has supported countries with approximately $125 billion.

By: Ibinabo Ogolo

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Children And Adolescents More Vulnerable To Malaria Disease -Report

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All over the world, malaria is said to be responsible for approximately one to three million deaths per year. Malaria is one of the most deadly diseases in Africa and Nigeria contributes 24 percent of its prevalence.
At global level,the most vulnerable group to malaria deaths are children under five years old and in 2019 alone, they accounted for 55 percent of total deaths. Also, 80% – 90% of the deaths each year are in the rural sub-Saharan Africa.
Malaria is the world’s fourth leading cause of death in children and adolescents. Malaria is preventable and curable, however, the lack of prevention and treatment due to poverty, war and other economic instabilities in endemic areas, results in millions of deaths each year.
According to 2020 World Malaria Report, Nigeria had the highest number of global malaria cases(27% of global malaria cases) in 2019 and accounted for the highest number of deaths(23% of global malaria deaths).
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.
There are five parasite species that cause malaria in humans and two of these species are P-falciparum and P-vivax, they pose the greatest threat. P-falciparum is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent.
In 2007, the World Health Organisation (WHO) generated the idea of World Malaria Day from Africa Malaria Day which is an event that African governments observed against the disease beginning from 2001.
At the 60th session of the World Health Assembly which was sponsored by the WHO, it was proposed that African Malaria Day be changed to World Malaria Day. This was aimed at bringing greater awareness to the global fight and to recognise the existence of malaria across the globe.
However, the World Malaria Day which is observed annually every 25th April was to bring global attention to the effort being made to bring an end to malaria.
This year 2022 theme: “Harness innovation to reduce the malaria disease burden and save lives”  aimed to highlight the importance of investment in new tools as well as more effective use of available methods to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria particularly in worse hit countries.
Here in Rivers State, the government marked the World Malaria Day by  reiterating its political will and commitment to reduce malaria disease burden among its people.
This was stated by the state Deputy Governor, Dr Ipalibo Harry Banigo in a goodwill message to  commemorate World Malaria Day 2022.
She noted that since the inception of the administration of Chief Nyesom Wike in Rivers  State, the prevalence rate of malaria has reduced significantly, adding that, the state prevalence rate of malaria was 11.3 against the national prevalence of 24 percent.
Meanwhile, Permanent Secretary, Rivers State Ministry of Health, Dr Ndidi Chikaenele Utchay has called on the people of Rivers State to ensure that they get tested for malaria disease and also to endeavour  to sleep under Insecticide Treated Bed-Nets (ITBNS) in order to prevent mosquito bites. She described the treated nets as a sure safeguard against mosquitoes, noting that they are safe for use.
A report by BMC Journal on Public Health stated that children and adolescents between the ages of 5 and 19 in malaria endemic African countries are the most vulnerable group to be affected by malaria.
However, the hope of ending malaria disease recieved a boost in 2021 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) approved the use of first ever malaria vaccine. WHO estimates that the vaccine could save the lives of an additional 40,000 to 80,000 African children each year.
The vaccine RTS,S or mosquirix, is not just the first for malaria but also the first developed for any parasitic disease. The vaccine was found to surpass the 75 percent efficiency goal set by WHO for a malaria vaccine to receive a nod.
Although WHO said the vaccines could save tens of thousands of young lives each year, there are concerns it may not get to the children and young people who are most vulnerable to the disease. Health experts say children and young people mostly miss out on vaccination due to inaccessibility of vaccines and poor awareness by parents about their importance.
According to WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, “the vaccine supplies are limited. As such it is important that the doses that are available are utilised for maximum impact, while ensuring continued availability of other preventive measures to those most at risk.”
Dr Moeti said RTS,S vaccine pilots have sealed implementation in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi which reached up to 900,000 children. This require a focus on research and leveraging on available evidence to ensure that targeted interventions are efficient use of resources to produce measurable results.
Recent findings to avoid malaria infection include application of mosquito repellent with DEET (di ethyl toluamide) to exposed skin, drape mosquito netting over beds, put screens on windows and door, treat clothing, mosquito nets, tents, sleeping bags and other fabrics with an insect repellent called permethrin.
Meanwhile, a report from the World Health Organisation Strategic Advisory Group on Malaria Eradication has called for renewed research and development(R & D) to boost eradication efforts.
The latest World Malaria Report showed that  US $ 851 million is needed in the period  2021-2030 for R & D into malaria vaccines,antimalarial medicines,new technologies for vector control and innovations to tackle mosquito resistance to insecticides.

By: Ibinabo Ogolo

 

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