Director-General, Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), Prof. Gabriel Olatunde Babawale will clock 50 on October 4. But the celebration has been scheduled for October 8, 2011 with a lecture on Making Democracy a Way of Life to be delivered by the VC of Igbinedion University, Okada, Benin city, Edo State, Prof. Eghosa Osaghae at the Multi-purpose Hall C, University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos. Beginning from 10a.m., the lecture, the organisers insist, is to highlight the significant achievements and landmark contributions of the native of Inisa-Osogbo, Osun State to scholarship and development in general. In this chat with MICHAEL ORIE, Babawale is grateful to God Almighty for an exciting career life he has lived thus far…
Golden age is a milestone, how do you feel clocking 50?
I feel appreciative to the Lord Almighty for giving me the good health; and grateful to my family for giving me the peace of mind to achieve the objectives that I have set for myself. Am also appreciative to President Goodluck Jonathan and the Federal Government for the opportunity to serve the nation. Am also grateful to my colleagues all over the world, who, in one way or the other, competed with me to enable me reach this height and my ability to raise the bars in the public service.
In the last five years of your headship of CBAAC, you have distinguished yourself as a renowned culture administrator, but why the focus on democracy as reflected in the title of the lecture –Making Democracy a Way Of Life – marking your golden birthday anniversary?
It is the choice of the guest lecturer, but I agree with that choice. This is because it agrees with my own thinking. My thinking is that any achievement that is recorded in any aspect of life in Nigeria cannot be approved outside the context of the institutionalization of democratic practice.
In other words, for us to achieve our goals, at the level of the economy, health care delivery, education and overall development of the country can only be achieved within the context of a stable democracy environment, where people can enjoy civil liberty; freedom of movement, religion, speech; where government behavour is predictable; where the laws do not respect individual; and where government is accountable to the governed.
Therefore, my view and that of the guest lecturer is that if any country wants to go anywhere and join the comity of nations, it must make democracy its watchword.
While you are celebrating 50; Nigeria is celebrating 51 and the dominant view is that Nigeria is a failed nation. Do you share this viewpoint?
People don’t know the meaning of a failed state. Yes, Nigeria may be having a symptom of a failed state, but that does not mean it is a failed state. So, it is misnomer to describe Nigeria as a failed state. A failed state is a state like Somalia, which has no government, no rules and its public safety has totally collapsed. Even though, we have problem of insecurity, we have not become a rustic state, where life is solitary, nasty, brutish and short. These are attributes of a failed state. But that is not to say we are not gravitating towards it! We need to retool the country back from the trench of a failed state. Even though, it is not yet experiencing it, nothing says that if we do nothing about it, we will not get there. May God forbid! But I know with what government is putting in place, and with the cooperation of all Nigerians, we can stop Nigeria from eventually becoming a failed state. But, I totally disagree with those that said Nigeria is a failed state, because they wouldn’t be able to live in this country if this country has become a failed state.
In a matter of weeks, the federal government will come out with the verdict of its desire to rationalize agencies and parastatals, do you think CBAAC has been positioned enough to remain as an independent agency under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism?
I agree definitely with the government’s intention to streamline and restructure its agencies, not just in culture but also in other ministries. Am one of those who believe we have too many governmental agencies and need restructuring as some are not making the best use of both the human and material resources at their disposal.
As far as CBAAC is concerned, my thinking is that in the last five years, we have repositioned ourselves in such a way that we can convince the government and the rest of Africa that CBAAC has an important role to play in: projecting and promoting Africa culture; encouraging more solid relationship between the continent of Africa and its brethren in the Diaspora. This, to a large extent, has been achieved through some of our programmes.
I think that government in its reasoning and in the Ministry of Culture, where we have classified parastatals, CBAAC is the only agency that has an international mandate. It is not just the only agency that has an international mandate, but it’s an agency that was established not just by Nigeria itself but by Nigeria in conjunction with other African countries that took part in FESTAC ‘77.
It will amount to an abdication of leadership responsibility on the part of Nigeria to take CBAAC out of existence or subsume it under any other organization. It is not true, as some have alleged that we share similar functions with the National Commission for Museum and Monument (NCMM). Museum is just a thinning aspect of what we do! It is not our focus at all!
We have museum because there are Museum pieces left behind at FESTAC ‘77. Beyond that, we engage mainly on advocacy; art and culture promotion; and networking with other agencies across Africa and the African Diaspora.
The few milestones that we have achieved to make it clear to the government that an investment in CBAAC is an investment that is worth it are: Only last year, the federal government presented CBAAC before the Africa Union (AU) that it should be adopted as culture and heritage promotion arm of the union.
Now, to take CBAAC out of existence will mean the proposal is not well-thought out and the government will be accused of engaging in what is called flip flop… you can not approbate and reprobate at the same time.
The second point is that we have been able to establish an agency, which encompasses cultural agencies across Africa as well as those in the Diaspora, which is called the Summit of Institutions and Cultural Agencies in Africa and the Diaspora (SICADIA), which has become an institutionalised organization that now has a secretariat in Maputo, Mozambique under the chairmanship of Professor Lupwishi Mbuyamba. He is the Executive Director of African Union (AU)/UNESCO agency called Observatory of Cultural Policies in Africa (OCPA). That agency was initiated by CBAAC because of the summit that was organised in 2007 of all agencies responsible for managing culture in Africa. That idea will probably be killed in its infancy if CBAAC is merged with another agency.
Also CBAAC has helped in strengthening the bi-lateral, technical, and cultural relationship between Nigeria and Brazil because of its activities. It is also very difficult now for anyone to attempt to do a programme in Brazil without any reference from CBAAC.
To cap it all, CBAAC succeeded in facilitating the signing of an MoU in the area of cultural appreciation, promotion of racial equality, exchange of researches between Nigeria through the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation and Brazil through the Secretariat for the Promotion of Policies on Racial Equality (SEPPIR), which is headed by a minister. If that kind of idea is stopped half- way, that will be a tragedy for Nigeria.
Again, the series of international conferences we have been having since 2006 further projected Nigeria better than any propaganda can do. These days, we are in line with the thinking around the world that the best area to promote diplomacy is in culture, which is called government acquiring the concept of soft power, not hard power through the use of military hardwares or what is used to be called gunboat diplomacy.
CBAAC has been positioned, and in my view, it is the only agency that has taken seriously the usage of culture as an instrument of diplomacy. Therefore, it must be strengthened. There is no nation on earth that wants to be taken seriously that does not use cultural diplomacy as an important weapon for influencing the psych of others outside the confines of their territories.
This is why we have the USIS of the United States Embassy; The Goethe Institut for Germany; The French Cultural Centre; the British Council and this is why the Korea is setting up a cultural centre in Nigeria.
Instead of winding up CBAAC, I think that what the committee set up and the government should be doing is to think of expanding the tentacles of CBAAC beyond the shores of Nigeria to the African sub-region and to the Diaspora in order to project not just African image, but the leadership role of Nigeria in the emancipation of African Continent.
You have had an exciting life as a scholar and administrator, what really prepared you for this accomplishment during early years of upbringing?
If you talk about accomplishment, my greatest is having a chair as a professor by the grace of God and the wish of my colleagues. My professorship was pronounced in 2005 and backdated to 2002, which means effectively, I have been a professor for nine years. The road has been rough, no doubt. According to a Yoruba adage that said for a man that will grow very tall, he must have handy legs, which means attaining this height was never a sudden plan, it takes a lot of efforts, perspiration and toiling and at the same time, some blessings from God. I have passed through some tough trials but God has helped me to overcome them.
One thing that has kept me going at most times was when I was admitted into the university some 33 years ago, I had this vision of a Nigerian that could rival any other national; and a black man that could compete with any other race in the world. That has been the driving force all along. For us to correct the erroneous impression that African people are inferior to other race, we need to work harder than other people and that has helped.
Secondly, We have always been driving with this thinking that our generation needs to prove a point that the older generation that have been described by Wole Soyinka as a wasted generation has done its beat no matter how negative that has been, but it is our duty to lay a foundation for the future and serve as role model for those that are coming behind. I have always believed that whatever you hope to achieve, with determination you can achieve it. That is the most important philosophy that has guided my attitude to life that nothing is actually impossible, if you believe in God and you are capable of paying the cost, then success is actually going to come.
Culture of black people, which you are passionate about is fast loosing taste among young elements that are expected to be future custodian, how do you think the situation can be arrested?
I may disagree with you because the message is passing on. There is hardly any week I don’t receive correspondents from students, organizations, universities, polytechnics wanting to come to CBAAC on what it means; and now, people are even trying to establish young CBAAC clubs on their campuses. I know it exists in Adeyemi College of Education and at the University of Ado Ekiti one has been launched, others are planning, the Youth Tourism at the University of Ibadan was with CBAAC and I have received correspondents from all over Nigeria. I just received letter from the Obafemi Awolowo University from the Historical Students Society, they wanted to pay visit. What I can get from that is that the youth are being sensitized; and the fact of thinking that we do not have a culture is being forgotten. People now know that they have a culture they can be proud of. They see us wearing it, write about it, talk about it and they see that we are talking fact, they know that they don’t have a choice. For you to be respected in the world, you must have an identity that is why Africans and Blacks in the Diaspora are yearning to reconnect to the continent. No matter the height they have attained, without an identity, they won’t be respected. When you see a Chinese in any airport in the world, he stands out, he wants to be regarded as a Chinese. When you see an Arab, he wants to be addressed even in his language. If you see a European, it is the same thing. I know that African youth are now seeing that unless they want to be other people and not themselves, they must accept, adopt, take pride in their culture and in cultural heritage; they don’t have the choice. There are only two choices: either you commit suicide and become anonymous in the international community and forget about your culture; or embrace your culture and then be respected and dignified in the comity of nations.
But it appears that the impression that FESTAC ’77 was mere celebration of Idolatry is still strong, and CBAAC, as a product of that festival could only be relevant by sustaining that paganism tendency…
NO! It was a period when the Christian and Muslim evangelism were trying to take hold of the country and people said all sorts of things. It also coincided with the period of the oil boom. Nigeria before 1970 was not used to armed robbery; there was no kidnapping; no assassination; there was security, you could move at any time of the night and day in any part of Nigeria. But because of the oil boom, values began to change; people started worshipping money. Then, religion took over because that seemed to provide temporary solution for the madness that affected the society at that time.
So when FESTAC came, instead of critically analysing it as a way of projecting our culture, that they have a lot to contribute to civilization; they misinterpreted it to idolatry and infidelity.
But that mentality has also changed because today you have good Christians and good Muslims that are becoming traditional rulers in their communities and they promote traditional culture and education, which they have condemned at FESTAC.
I know many who still organize traditional festivals in their communities because they know that is culture. The problem with our people then was that they didn’t know that being a Christian or Muslim does not stop you from being an African. You can be an African Muslim and an African Christian. In the days of nationalism, our forefathers who embraced religion, tried to adapt their own situation too, that is why we have the African church. They introduced drums and African way of singing into the church. In many churches today, what you have there is different from what they got from the missionary, that doesn’t change it to an inferior form of Christianity. People used to say that out of ignorance. Now, overtime and especially because what government has done to culture by raising the bar, it is seen all over the world even in the headquarters of Islam and Christianity, they also promote their own culture.
Your message to the staff on this occasion of golden year anniversary?
When I get impatient with them, they should understand that it is for the interest of the organization. They must bear with me and know that for us to have an organization that will compete with any of its contemporary outside this country, you must use universal standard. We cannot have a lesser standard than what they have out there to be able to achieve what others have achieved, so that in the next two, three years, we must have reached the peak and ensure that CBAAC to AU become what UNESCO is to the Untied Nations.
To the African Youth?
They should embrace the message of taking the pride in African arts, culture, tradition and civilization; that we are not inferior to any other country; we are not disadvantaged as Nigerians. Everything, all that we need is here as well as we can all make it with hard work. We should not believe in quick solution to issues.
To the Nigerian Government?I will like to say greater encouragement should be given to the agencies in the culture sector so that they can achieve their objectives. We are hoping that government will not hesitate to allow CBAAC to occupy a pride place. It will be a disservice to Africa, and African in the Diaspora if government does otherwise. For me, I have the classroom to go back to. It is not a question of one protecting his job; but it’s to preserve the heritage of our people. I might not be here tomorrow, but CBAAC should be left to perform its function for which the government has established it. I think, CBAAC has done creditable well within the limit of the resources available. If we have more resources we will move mountain.