By Toyin Falola
In this latest piece of the three-part series emanating from Toyin Falola’s interviews with Prince Yemisi Shyllon, we will examine the salient themes that emerged during the conversation between Professor Dele Jegede and the guest. It is a fitting coincidence that the dissection of this section of the interview session begins with a talking point that is synonymous with what served as the final aspect of the second piece in the series. In the last article, I outlined an action plan to awaken the concept of art and society, which could easily revive Nigeria from the destructive slumber in which it finds itself. However, for such a plan to work, there is a need for collaboration between people. and the government; the role of the government in the execution of that plan is as fundamental as that of the citizens. Then Professor Jegede’s opening puzzle: art and government, specifically the government of Nigeria.

In Nigeria, culture, art, creative art and tourism fall under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, currently headed by Alhaji Lai Mohammed. In 2019, four years after Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration as Nigeria’s president, Lai Mohammed revealed plans to, as he put it, “transform Nigeria’s arts, culture and tourism industry into Nigeria’s new oil over the next four years.” “. This year 2023 marks the last year of that plan, and suffice it to say that 95% of the projects described have yet to be started or achieved, from the promised annual National Summit for Culture and Tourism to the Endowment Fund for the Arts, he promised National Tourism Day, Regional Summit of Culture and Tourism, among other noble plans made by the Minister. There is no doubt that the Ministry’s focus in the last eight years of the Buhari administration has been largely one-sided, more on information than culture.

This is problematic for the Nigerian state, as culture is more important than information; it is supposed to shape how information is transmitted and received, and since there have been few or no attempts to solidify the existence of unified cultural values ​​in the country, the resulting effect could be a misinterpretation of the information received. Professor Jegede made a thought-provoking point in his opening question: for the Nigerian government, through its Ministry of Information and Culture, art, culture and tourism are nothing more than optics; there is no real basis for reviving, sustaining, or promoting these things. They are rather terminologies used to show that the ministry aspect exists, words without corresponding substantial facts.

ALSO READ: Victor Ekpuk in conversation with Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Without mincing words, Prince Shyllon tapped into the foundation of this troubling issue in Nigeria, that culture is largely seen as synonymous with traditional religion, and religion is just one of several aspects of culture. As said before, culture is an aggregation of all aspects of the life of a people: it is alive; breathes, grows, evolves and is added. For example, systemic corruption has quickly worked its way into Nigerian culture. Culture extends beyond religion; therefore it is a false approach for Nigerians to consider culture as the only religion. This false equivalence causes a dissociative attitude among people, many of whom are Christians or Muslims who do not want any affiliation with traditional religions because of their adopted faith. However, the claim that culture is the same as religion could not be further from the truth; and it only serves to hinder the growth, preservation and promotion of cultures in Nigeria as people of various ethnic groups are expected to fully embrace their cultures and cultural practices do not. The average person in Lagos or Port Harcourt is far removed from the realities of cultural festivals in their regions.

This dissociation of a culture based on the false equivalence of culture with religion also discourages many from actively recognizing and embracing cultural values ​​that would have served as a portal to mitigate social vices. The concepts of contentment, virtue, communalism, charity, kindness, and kindness, among others, are embedded in the cultural values ​​of ethnic groups across the country, from the Yoruba to the Igbo, from the Hausa to the Tiv. However, these values ​​are being lost in the face of a lack of cultural cohesion among people, a calamity that may be directly linked to people’s intentional decision to desist from cultural affiliation and participation.

This fundamental problem also affects the government’s approach to culture, as the government is inherently made up of Nigerians, who most likely share the views and prejudices of other Nigerians, largely viewing art as a religion. In addition, this problem extends its effects to the way people react to the government’s treatment and lack of attention to the arts and culture branch of said ministry. If people are not motivated enough to actively demand a renewal of the culture, art and tourism industries, and if there are no advocates for this renewal, the government may also turn a blind eye to the work that needs to be done.

In Nigeria, two elements of culture, art and music, have been part of the country’s biggest image makers in the international space, even amid the effects of corruption, Internet fraud and illegal migration. that have greatly affected the life of the country. image negatively. Nigerian music, especially Afrobeat, has received widespread acclaim and recognition in the international space. Nigerian artists (literary, visual, creative, and stage) are also doing feats in poetry, prose, and artwork, bringing fame and glory to the country. If properly invested and properly harnessed, these art forms in Nigeria can serve as an avenue to boost the country’s economy, international exposure and recognition, and also create a global ecosystem that rewards the country for its culture and art.

Dele Jegede in conversation with Prince Yemisi Shyllon


A reorientation of the Nigerian people on what culture is, its various aspects and the potential cultural elements have when properly harnessed will be needed for the country to arrive at a profitable system. It goes beyond representing a plan to make art the country’s new oil. That just echoes what Professor Jegede said about art and culture being nothing more than a means of advertising and propaganda in the country. A reorientation like this is what the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas does, investing time, money and resources to teach various elements of Yoruba culture to Yoruba people in the diaspora, many of whom would not have had access to their cultural roots and identity without an institution like this.

There is a developing argument, though no data at this time, that the average constant attendee of the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas may, in the end, have a deeper knowledge of Yoruba proverbs, maxims, art, dance, and festivals, in short. , culture, than an average Yoruba person living in Nigeria. As this new argument says, the only advantage that a Yoruba person living in Nigeria could have over the average person learning from the Center in Texas is fluency in pronunciation and use of the language, which is due in large part to the frequency of language use in Nigeria. , compared to the United States, a Yoruba person in Nigeria would have more access to the Yoruba people, which would help with communication and language fluency.

However, considering that there has been a serious deviation from cultural roots and an erosion of the younger generation’s knowledge of customs, proverbs, idioms and maxims, traditional dances and other central elements of Yoruba culture, the average Nigerian Yoruba now it is feared, it would not coincide with the knowledge of the apprentice in the diaspora. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the students of the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas only. Foreign students of Yoruba language and culture at the University of Ibadan Yoruba Language Center will also surpass many indigenous Yoruba people in their use of idioms and knowledge of the culture.

Dele Jegede in conversation with Prince Yemisi Shyllon

garden of lakes

This is because indigenous people are being largely diverted from learning about their culture and the deep levels of the language beyond the surface, everyday usage on the streets of Lagos or at the palm wine stalls in Ondo. Limiting a people’s culture to their religion and language is dangerous, but this is one of Nigeria’s biggest problems. So much so that people believe that they have enough knowledge of their culture when they can speak the language of their ethnic group. There is a need for a government intervention in this. However, the problem goes beyond the government and requires the preparation of the people. One such example is a long-standing government intervention for cultural integration: the National Youth Service Corps. Today, this scheme has been bastardized, and year after year, the country witnesses a massive redistribution of corps members who are unwilling to live among Nigerians of other cultures and ethnic groups for even one year. This speaks volumes about what the culture looks like among Nigerians and some reasons why the country is where it is currently in terms of national cohesion and unity.

Cultural institutions in Nigeria serve the purpose of existence rather than having a specific essence. This is further manifested in the way these institutions are run. The administrators of the country’s cultural institutions do not see their role beyond their functions; there is no underlying zeal for the promotion and propagation of culture and art. Therefore, they fulfill their duties when necessary, but they never go out of their way to attract people to their institutions. In this age of internet frenzy and social media hype, how many of our cultural institutions in Nigeria have an online presence? How many of them are making efforts to reach young Nigerians? How many are pushing to stay visible and relevant?

READ ALSO: You don’t blow!

The task ahead for us Nigerians, the people and the government is to see culture as an all-encompassing cloak over our existence and identity as a people and make efforts to prevent that cloak from being torn beyond repair. We will get closer to the redemption of this country when we have paid attention to saving and saving Nigerian culture and bringing a unified Nigerian culture to the fore.

(This is the third and final part of the report of the interview with Prince Yemisi Shyllon conducted on January 15, 2023. For transcripts, see:

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African studies. She currently holds the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

Read more authentic news on our social media platforms