Culture: A Medium of Social Cohesion and Integration

In spite of ethnic divide similarities of cultural values have remained a strong bond of unity

|  By Chinwe Okafor  |  Jan. 6, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

EVERY nation has a set of values and norms that govern the behaviour of its people. Similarly, every society has a system of social control or mechanism of ensuring that its people behave in consonance with its normative values in order to ensure social cohesion and integration. This is a way of keeping them together as one indivisible entity, with a common identity and destiny. The issue of national unity has become topical as Nigeria celebrates its 100 years of existence.

There is no gainsaying that the greatest challenge facing the country is the threat to its national unity. The reason is not hard to explain because Nigeria is a multi-ethnic nation with diverse cultures and traditions. But in spite of the seeming challenges of the cultural diversity of Nigeria, there have been many institutions promoting values which have continued to keep the nation united. Such institutions include the National Theatre in Iganmu Lagos state, the annual cultural festivals, state carnivals, unity schools, new yam festivals, National Youth Service Corps, NYSC and inter marriages.

Others are cultural sites and monuments, drama, music, education, sports festivals, trade, language, music, film industries, foods and modes of dressing. These values have been used over the years to unite Nigerian citizens culturally over the past 100 years. Language as a component of culture is a means of communication, a central feature of the culture of any community and a reflection of the thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs and the experiences of a community. As a system of communication in speech and writing, the effective study and use of the language of a people is needed for their all-round development, be it social, cultural or economic.

The Oguta Lake
The Oguta Lake

Many Nigerians have also realised the importance of promoting unity in the country through their way of dressing. This helps to rekindle interest and pride in the indigenous dress patterns in order to encourage unity among the different ethnic groups through integrated dress culture. It also encourages socio-economic growth of local textile industries to create jobs for Nigerian youths and to promote patriotism among Nigerians. The various attires, like agbada, babariga, jumper, shokoto, adire, etibo, woko, opu shirti, akwete, and so on, reflect the various cultural backgrounds of Nigerians.

Nigerian foods also play a role in uniting the different ethnic groups in the country. There are various Nigerian fast food companies which prepare Nigerian cuisines. Such cultural dishes or food items from the hundreds of ethnic groups are part of the rich cultural heritage of the country. Nigerian indigenous cuisines are natural, with all their nutritional values intact; original and direct from their various sources, unlike most Western foods, which are canned, therefore, containing a lot of preservatives, which could have harmful effects on body systems. Nigeria is reputed to have a wide variety of cuisines, which are not only appealing to the citizenry but a delight to foreigners.

The Nigerian film industry, popularly called, Nollywood, has projected the image of the country to Africans and, indeed, the whole world. The Yoruba and Hausa tribes have produced several films showcasing their different cultures, languages and traditions from the covering genres like rituals, ghetto life, love and romance, crime/gangster, gender, Christian, comedy, political, as well as thrillers, horror and adventure. The Igbos are also stepping up that as a way of promoting unity in the country. With such enlightening films, the industry has created many cultural ambassadors for Nigeria.

Cultural sites and monuments have also contributed to the nation’s unity. There are the rainforests, mountains, deserts, beaches, mangrove forests and enormous rivers in different parts of Nigeria which are viable tourist sites that are attractive to Nigerians and foreigners alike. For instance, in the South-West region, there are the popular Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort, the Arinta Waterfalls, Olosunta Hills, Oke Maria at Oka-Akoko, the Ife Museum, the Osun Oshogbo shrine, Olumirin water-falls at Erin Ijesha and the Adunni Susan Wenger’s Art Works Centres, the Agodi Gardens, Ado-Awaye Suspended Lake, Mapo Hall, University of lbadan Zoological Garden, Ido Cenotaph, the National Theatre, National Museum, the site of the fallen Agia tree, Badagry, where Christianity was first preached in Nigeria in 1842, the Bar Beach, Tarkwa Bay, Badagry Beach among others.

The South-East zone tourist centres include the National War Museum in Umuahia, the Azumini Blue River, and the Long Juju of Arochukwu, the Ndibe Beach at Afikpo, Uburu Salt Lake, the Ishiagu Pottery works, the Oguta Lake Holiday Resort with its sand beach and 18-hole golf course, the colonial building with its attractive scenery and the rolling hills of Okigwe while the South South region has the the Mobil Tank Farm, the Oron Museum, numerous beaches, the Oloibiri oil well, boat, the Obudu Cattle Ranch, the Agbokin Waterfalls in Ikom, the Etanpim Cave in Odukpani, Mary Slessor’s Tomb and Tinapa Resort in Calabar among others. Tourist attractions in Edo State include the Oba’s Palace in Benin, the Benin Moat, Emotan statue, Okomu Wildlife Sanctuary, and Somorika Hills in Akoko-Edo.

The Northern region comprising of the North East, North Central and North West has the Kyarimi Park in Maiduguri, Sambissa Game Reserve and Jaffi falls, the Sukur World Heritage Site, the Mambilla Tourist Centre which is part of the mountain chains of Adamawa, Obudu, Shebshi, Alantika and Mandara, the Barup waterfall, the Yankari Game Reserve, Owu Falls at Owa Kajola, the Jos Wildlife Safari park, the Zoological Garden, the Nok Cultural Site at Kuwi, the Maitsirga Water falls in Kafanchan, the Legendary Lord Lugard bridge in Kaduna, the Kerfena Hills in Zaria and the Palace of the Emir of Zaria. Kano has the Ancient walls, the colourful annual Durbar, leather works and craft among others.

However, there are also many festivals among different cultural groups in Nigeria, some of which date back to the period before the arrival of the major religions. Festivals are usually very meaningful events in the lives of the people and such festivals include the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture also known as FESTAC ’77, National Festival for Arts and Culture, NAFEST, Durbar Festivals, Argungu Festival, Sharo/Shadi Festival, Osun Oshogbo Festival, The Eyo Festival, the Abuja carnival, Calabar carnival.

The Osun Osogbo groove
The Osun Osogbo groove

The federal government and other high profile citizens have continued to make sure that unity is promoted in the country through cultural fiestas. Edem Duke, minister of culture and tourism, said the country’s centenary celebration would be another means of promoting unity and peace in the country. He said that the celebration would be handy to showcase the nation’s rich cultural heritage and unification in 100 years to visitors. Besides, he said that his ministry would play a veritable role in making the celebration a big market for the country.

Samuel Odunlami, senior lecturer, National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Studies, has urged Nigerians to use cultural festivals to promote unity and stability in the country. He said that cultural festivals have helped the people to be tolerant and know each other. He advised Nigerians to use cultural heritage and resources to develop a united, vibrant and prosperous community. “Cultural festivals can be used to promote unity by encouraging mutual relationship among the people. The festivals can also be used to improve political and economic stability. Such festivals attract visitors from different regions and draw the attention of the global community to the country.”

Namadi Sambo, vice president of Nigeria, said that cultural festival boosts tourism, while promoting personal interactions. Echoing the same sentiment, Abubakar El-Kanemi, the Shehu of Borno, said that cultural festivities typically promote national cohesion, consensus building and peaceful mutual coexistence. He called for support for cultural festivals in the country. Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, said that cultural festivals always bring together different ethnic groups, adding that such events could also be used to preach peace and unity in the country. He urged traditional institutions in the country to use cultural festivals as a means of promoting peace and harmony among the citizens. “We must, therefore, endeavour to live together, no matter our ethnic differences,” the Sultan said. Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State is of the view cultural festivals could be used to promote unity and understanding among the various peoples of the country.

The Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation, CBAAC, another parastatal under the federal ministry of tourism, culture and national orientation, is doing a lot to develop orthographies of four major languages in Nigeria, namely, Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Ijaw. The idea is to ensure that there is commonality in the spoken and written forms of all the documented languages, and a reduction in their variants.

In order to promote the dress culture, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, in line with the transformation agenda of his administration, has approved a heart-warming N70 billion lifeline for the textile industry to revitalise it. In addition, the federal government has, however, declared every Friday as ‘Dress Nigerian Day.’ More so, Nigerian fashion designers have shown their dexterity and ingenuity and have come out with various designs with local fabrics.

Nevertheless, there are impediments to promoting cultural unity in the country because many Nigerian indigenous languages and cultures are facing extinction. Somehow, 53 years after independence, Nigeria still recognises English as the lingua franca. The implication here is that there is no greater bond that can hold a people together as language. The National Institute for Cultural Orientation, NICO, as the statutory body of government established to re-orientate Nigerians towards a culture-related life-style, is piloting and encouraging the learning of indigenous languages as one of its major orientation programmes.