by Osundolire Oladapo Ifelanwa
First and of primary concern to me is the Jonathan’s administration’s
‘overglorification’ of Nollywood – our evolving film industry.
When I was young my mother used to sing a song for my baby brother to keep him quiet whenever he cried – it was one of my mother’s numerous compositions that I grew up getting used to listening to. It went something like this:
Nobel prize winner
Ori mi s’omo mi bee (my creator! make my child into [a Nobel Prize Winner])
Ki’nu mi le dun (so I can be happy)
Even though looking back now, it wasn’t like my mother’s song had so much musical merit but in its context it symbolized a mother’s yearning
for her son’s future greatness and who else would be the embodiment of that notion of greatness if not Professor Wole Soyinka – first Nobel
laureate in Africa, outstanding playwright, activist, patron of the arts … and much more.
In my mother’s time or at least, in the not too distant past people like these (Prof. Achebe of blessed memory, Fela Anikulapo Kuti of kalakuta memory, Bruce Onabrakpeya, Chief Obafemi Awolowo) were the celebrated heroes our then evolving nation looked up to – people who were legends in their own right, whose life stories were larger than life and they had achieved something extraordinary or inspiring to the collective consciousness.
Still sustaining the echoing memories of my mother’s faux musical classics, I remember with nostalgia the Halcyon years of sitting at our nearly broken dining table reading stories from the many books of literature that filled our house in those days – I remember the prestigious Junior Engineers, Technicians and Scientists (JETS) club of those days and how we all peeked over the fence at those ‘worthy’ enough to be part of this elite group of young
I still have a mental picture of one of my classmates who was lucky to be part of those that ‘performed experiments’; they went for competitions around the nation and wore chips on their shoulders bigger than the school bus. These were the memories of the nation I grew up in, and the ideals we once held as paramount … but things seem to have changed now.
Just this morning I was reading the news on the presidential delegation of Nigeria to a business forum in South Africa and alongside the mogul and
billionaires, Aliko Dangote and Folorunsho Alakija were the singing duo – P square and the cretin comic Chinedu Ikedizie (popularly known as Aki).
They flashed a grin at the cameras and wore the airs of ‘we are a part of them’. Without prejudice to the work that P-square and Aki had done since the ‘Busy Body’ record album and the Aki and Pawpaw comedy series respectively, I cannot but notice how subtly, in the hands of a government of non-intellectuals and a clueless president, that collective psyche that inspired my mother’s lullaby has been gradually replaced with a fervent devotion to vaudeville artists and side show superstars who are unfortunately the ‘role models’ of today’s youth.
Need I say that the South Africa delegation is just one in many events where the face of the Nigerian youth has been substituted with that of actors, comics, musical artistes or footballers. Our Olympic youth delegation to the UK Olympics, our choice for the Nigerian UN youth ambassador, a recent
delegation to the University of Oxford all have a similar constitution. Again, it is not about underestimating the impact that actors, comics, musical artistes and footballers have had. What it is about is the obvious imbalance reflected by our government’s choice of youth icons.
If the actors, comics, musical artistes and footballers are represented what about those whose contributions are academic, scientific and ‘intellectual’? Where are these people?
To avoid the risk of muddling the issues up, I think it bodes better having highlighted my concerns to identify the main culprits of this
national de-intellectualisation and my understanding of the real issue.
First and of primary concern to me is the Jonathan’s administration’s ‘overglorification’ of Nollywood – our evolving film industry. Mr President doesn’t waste any time in showering funds, national attention and even national honours on actors and actresses of Nollywood. You will always see them hobnobbing with Mr President at galas, dinners and basically any government related, youth-centred or Dame-Patience generated programme. As a family joke, my wife is of the strong belief that Mr. President’s obvious devotion to Nollywood – especially to Aki and Pawpaw has a direct relationship with Dame Patience sitting in front of a very large TV screen during family time at Aso Rock (the Nigerian Capitol) and rolling on the floor laughing to the duo’s childish pranks and antics and wondering how great these two dwarfs must be … following which she them faces her husband and says something like “Jona, these boys are very fantastic, gave them national honours abeg (and they must be at my thanksgiving dinner)”.
While it is not per se proper to underestimate the impact of Aki and Pawpaw on popular culture in Nigeria, it is indeed worrying to note that other young people who have had achievements outside Nollywood comedies are NEVER recognised by the presidency – they are NEVER seen at national events and they will rarely ever have the focus and attention that Aki and Pawpaw has had. Where are the days of Mr. President taking a picture with the highest scoring WAEC or JAMB candidate? What value is placed on the Chimamandas of this nation? Who sees these people? Nobody! The only people we see are the comics and the troubadours – and unfortunately they reflect the value that Mr and Mrs President and his entourage has placed on intellect.
Sadly, it is not just the President, his Nollywood-loving wife and his cabinet that suffer from this syndrome. Corporate organisations and civil society have also contracted this pernicious malaise. A large organisation wants to sponsor a youth related event – and the next thing is to find a currently reigning young musician and tout him or her (usually him) as the face of that event. Regardless of the fact that the entire lyrics of his last album centred around sex with nubiles, alcohol, drugs and money and his ‘many’ enemies who now hate him because he has become a ‘success’.
You see these artistes everywhere – on billboards, newspaper ads and your TV screen and you don’t have to look too far to see why Tomiisin my little cousin wants to be like Davido when he grows up. I can picture his mother, my aunt, singing Tomiisin a lullaby like:
Hip hop artiste
Ori mi s’omo mi bee (my creator! make my child into [a hip hop artiste])
Ki’nu mi le dun (so I can be happy)
While as a businessman, I understand the corporate motivation to bolster the brand with pop icons – pop icons have more followers and consequently have a higher social potential and I agree with this marketing strategy – even though I believe they can strive for a balance in their selection of icons. Because what they are succeeding in doing every time they put up a face to sell their brand, is recreate the goals of many young Nigerians and paint a rather erroneous picture that the answer to life, the universe and everything is to get a good DJ to do you a good sound track, mouth some lewd lyrics into the mic and hope that you blow big; and I have seen one too many young people fall into this unconscious trap.
Once, I decided to spend a night with my younger brother (the same one who my mum always sang the Wole Soyinka song for) at his university hostel and almost all night, I heard the occupant of the adjoining room to his rapping feverishly to beats on his boom box. Is he a rapper? I asked my brother who jokingly responded in his usual joking manner – “He dreams of becoming a star someday”. Again, it is no crime to dream of becoming a rap artiste but it is indeed sad when that is THE dream of majority of our youth today simply because every embodiment of youth success around them is either an actor, a comic, a musical artiste or a footballer.
You may say that I have a bias for intellectual development and as such, I am not fully appreciative of the contributions of these ‘other’ people. You may even say I’m player-hating on them especially if you are one of them and you are reading this. Unfortunately, I have no apologies. All I ask you, Mr. and Mrs. President and the corporate organisations responsible for funding and promoting this national disorientation is to show me a serious society bent on developing whose ONLY icons are entertainers. If you can show me such a society, I will keep silent never to talk again till the end of my life but I only make that promise knowing you can’t.
From China to India to Kenya to Brazil, the machinery of change and positive development has been driven by a national, cultural appreciation and celebration of knowledge and its advancement – NEVER by a singular focus on entertainment. Entertainment as a social buy-in is a disease of affluence and, or a pre-occupation of idling masses. It works well to keep the masses occupied and keep the rich rested, it works well to benefit the entertainers who provide such service but it does little to foster advancement especially when its trickle effect on the goals setting of the younger generation is as devastating as it is in Nigeria.
As I write this, an image comes to mind – that of 3 young Nigerian schoolgirls who constructed a generator that runs on urine and presented it at a scholarly event in South Africa and watching them ALL BY THEMSELVES beside their urine powered generator in their school uniforms. There was no teacher in the picture not to talk of Mr. President and every time I try to picture the future for them, all I see is that generator now broken down somewhere behind the school lab rusting in the rain. By then they would have moved on, living with only the memory that ‘when I was in school we made a urine powered generator’. They will probably go on to the university, study hard and graduate. And perhaps after graduation and a couple of frustrating years trying to stay true to their intellectual compulsion, they will capitulate. One will likely become a ‘banker’ whose job description centres around paying at a counter.
One will probably not get an employment so she’ll become an ‘entrepreneur’ and make beads for sale at the local market. The last one will probably switch to acting clichéd movies and is likely going to be the only one among them who will make it big or end up taking a photo with the President. And at the end of everything the only common denominator they will have will be that picture of them in their school uniforms standing proudly beside their creation – which was never celebrated.
I really hope Mr. President reads this (even though I am almost sure he won’t). I also hope individuals and corporate organisations who read it take it upon themselves to re-write their own parts of this self-defeating script that Nigeria has written for itself in the most recent present.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.
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