Culture And The Media In The Transformation Agenda: An Overview


Ben Tomoloju


There certainly have been thoughts before the advent of the Jonathan administration based on the developmental transformation of Nigeria. A few of these will be cited in the course of this presentation. But, to be fair, we must admit that the Transformation Agenda in the current dispensation could be traced back to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration of May 29, 2011, when he was sworn in as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In the speech, he said to his teeming audience, ‘ Join me as we begin the journey of transforming Nigeria ‘ and went on to declare as follows:

       I.    I will fight for your future because I am one of you.
      II.    I will continue to fight for improved medical care for all our citizens.
     III.   I will continue to fight for all citizens to have access to first class education.
     IV.   I will continue to fight for electricity to be available to all our citizens.
      V.    I will continue to fight for an efficient and affordable public transport system for all our people.
     VI.   I will continue to fight for jobs to be created through productive partnerships. 1

These are the much-celebrated six-point agenda which in the process of implementation have spread in capillary formation to connect

       a.    Agriculture and appropriate technology to bring value addition to agro-business,
      b.    Manufacturing with improved efficiency, competitiveness and increased local content linkages,
       c.     The Oil and Gas industry; its improvement through deregulation to promote private sector
        investment in the upstream and downstream sectors, scaling down gas-flaring and developing
        local content,
d.     The development of power infra-structure,
e.     Heavy investment in the transport sector which includes Railway, Roads/Bridges,
         Ports, Aviation, Inland Waterways dredging and River Ports,
 f.     The Niger Delta, and
     g.     Using the ICT to build a knowledge-based economy. 2

From the outset, one would like to observe that not a single mention of culture is made in the projections outlined above. And this would tempt observers like us to describe the Transformation Agenda, in this context, as being ‘econometric’. But one would not rush to such a hasty conclusion since culture is so broad-based and far-reaching in its definition that even
these economic factors are one way or the other, components of culture. They cater for the material needs of the people and are essentially motivated and propelled by the spiritual and intellectual aspects of culture before they can attain real manifestation. Thus the Transformation Agenda would, as a matter of necessity, compel the mobilization of ideas based on culture as is the case in the present exercise.

Where the problem lies in this regard is the error of omission – perhaps – by the proponents of the agenda in failing to build it upon a cultural super-structure like the advanced nations of the world which would have given it a Nigerian appeal, driven by a Nigerian spirit.

Only once, in the course of the entire elaboration of the agenda, is some Para-cultural factor mentioned and it appears like an after-thought. This has to do with ‘entertainment’. The document states as follows:

‘Overall, the present administration states in the documents that it’s Fiscal Strategy and Economic Objectives over the 2012- 2015 will focus a large portion of spending on key sectors which include Security, Infrastructure (including power), Agriculture, Manufacturing, Housing and Construction, Entertainment, Education, Health and ICT.’ 3

The mere inclusion of ‘entertainment’ does not answer to the fundamentals of culture and development in a process of comprehensive national transformation. Entertainment is not just a subset of culture, but could even be culturally counter-productive if it is not anchored on these fundamentals which will be explained in the next segment.

For instance, with our experience in Nigeria over the decades, we have had long-ranging period when what was identified as Nigerian cosmopolitan pop-music was a mere imitation of western music, thereby undermining local creativity in this area. Also, there was a time when our cinemas were mere outlets for American, Indian and Chinese movies. There is currently a gradual, positive reversal to the situation, but the point has to be made that a truly Nigerian entertainment industry should evolve within the nexus of a Nigerian Transformation Agenda with an unrewarded cultural thrust and an immutable cultural content.

The quest for an all-embracing culturally-informed development agenda has been a major advocacy of eminent Nigerian scholars over the decades. The idea has not been to insulate the country from relevant developmental strategies and activities in other parts of the world, but to ensure that our goals, aspirations and efforts are powered by a mutually self-defining template.


In the relationship between African countries and the rest of the world, a prime example of a mutually self-defining and, therefore, culturally informed national interest is explained by distinguished Nigerian philosopher, P.O. Bodunrin. In his treatise, ‘Human Rights, Democracy and Africa’, he highlights the contributions of African countries to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to him,

‘… it was at the insistence of Egypt that the articles included the United Nations obligation ” to promote  respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms ” and it was at her insistence that the Economic and Social Council became one of the principal organs of the organization.’ 4

He went on to add that the

 ’Anti-colonial provisions in the declaration and the provision for cultural rights reflect African concerns. ‘ 5

By 1965, when the document was discussed and accepted, Nigeria was already a member of the United Nations. The same issue of cultural rights was prominent in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which was adopted in 1981. To both
documents, Nigeria is a signatory.

This background information is important because it would be expected that national interests as expressed in global and regional organizations would essentially be reflected in the home-grown policies of individual countries.

If, therefore, one of the most significant contributions of African countries to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a major principle in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is that concerning cultural rights, it would amount to a huge contradiction in the development agenda of an African country if the cultural stimulus is sidelined.

Take a look, for instance, at Senator David Mark’s recent reaction to an unfortunate statement credited to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron that Britain would stop giving aid to any African Country that failed to approve of gay-marriage.
One finds the Senate President’s reaction appropriate, culture-bound and liberating. If government can follow this track of a unified cultural consciousness in all its policies, including the Transformation Agenda, it would be quite enriching.

The Senate President’s reaction to the British Prime Minster’s paternalistic statement may appear in news reportage as one-off issue, but viewing it against the backdrop of the contributions of scholars to the question of culture and development, it is an important indicator of a growing, nationalistic consciousness. It is a moral model of the direction our economic policy can take; that is to say ‘No’ to imperialism in whatever forms and proves to the world that even as we share of the idea of globalization, we also have our local options.

These options, in the line of thought of Ade Obayemi, are rooted in our culture, our distinct way of life. He posits, for instance, that each of the 400-odd language or culture groups inherited by the modern Nigerian state has a whole and complete repertoire of cultural inventories that we can learn from. ‘Each culture’, he writes,’ should be seen as presenting a complete cultural alternative and present us, the modern Nigerians, with more than 400 options for any particular culture trait.’ 6

What he is saying, in effect, is that in every aspect of our development targets, be it in the area of agriculture, metallurgy, medicine, economics, education, the arts, among others, there is an abundance of traditional models that we could develop, modernize and apply to drive our current aspirations.

Obayemi gives the example of the NOK tradition with its iron technology which, according to him, ‘contains the ingredients of the story of metallurgy in our region.’ 7

It is one’s opinion that this culturalist approach to development would have prevented the kind of disaster experienced in our efforts at establishing a modern iron and steel industry in the country. A lot of wastage has been recorded, for instance, in the Ajaokuta Steel Project due to its overwhelming import-dependency. Apart from the fiasco of the idea of the transfer of technology, which was the major economic strategy behind the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, the latest news is that in a bid to attract foreign direct investment, the outfit was sold to some Indians who, in turn, embarked on a process of asset-stripping. It probably paid them better to sell off the assets and make huge profit than to bother about the development of the complex in the interest of a country where they had nothing patriotic or nationalistic at stake.

At the end of the day, Nigerians are the losers, whereas it would have been quite rewarding, cost-effective and a major incentive to a vast population of the Nigerian work-force if our traditional model and skills had been mobilized and adapted through research as the springboard of our iron and steel industry.

This is just an example of how the neglect of culture creates a disincentive to local initiatives and know-how. Others abound in such fields as medicine, agriculture and food production, education, the media, the economy in general, governance, the creative industry, life-styles and so many more. Let us examine a few examples.

Healthcare Delivery:
Today, a huge amount is expended annually in foreign exchange by Nigerians in quest of Medicare in America, Germany, India and other foreign countries. This is in spite of the fact that Nigeria has quite a substantial number of brilliant medical practitioners at home and abroad. We hear stories, in fact, that some eminent Nigerians who go abroad for treatment actually encounter Nigerian doctors in the respective hospitals they visit in what is now styled medical tourism. Besides, there are many options in the area of indigenous medicine which, like the Chinese example, ought to be developed to earn not only national, but global respect. One is aware, of course, that there was, recently, a workshop organized for traditional midwives. This is a step in the right direction, but only suggestive of what government can do with traditional healthcare delivery on a more ambitious scale under the Transformation Agenda.

At the inception of the agenda, the Federal Government’s economic team observed that Nigeria spends USD 4billion annually to import food. This is an irony of the highest order because, culturally, agriculture is the mainstay of our traditional communities. It is apt that, under the critical watch of the implementers of the Transformation Agenda, this observation has been made and remedial measures are being put in place to vigorously pursue a great and positive turn-around in the agricultural value-chain. But it must be realized that the reason behind the distress in this sensitive sector is the cultural disconnect it has suffered over the decades. Agriculture suffered a disconnect with the oil boom which altered the tastes and consumption patterns of Nigerians in favour of foreign products and life-styles. And with that comes the fragmentation of the people’s socio-cultural awareness which robs communities of the traditional impetus in their rites of living.

In theatre we speak of fertility rites as propellers of the productive force in society. These are rites wherein creativity and productivity are fused, where art provides the tonic for material growth and both are celebrated in elaborate festivals. One of such is the New Yam Festival, most common among the Igbo which, in the words of Abiola Irele ‘transform an economic activity which ensures the material survival of the group into a celebration of the organic life of the community’. 8

In the years of the oil boom that organic life of the rural farmer and his community was fragmented and he hardly found a place to fit into in a new order anchored on commodity importation. His festivals, formerly a driving force in the productive process, were reduced to mere dislocated floor-shows or, at best, staged materials at cultural extravaganzas shorn of their essence. The Transformation Agenda, to really carry the rural farmers along and propagate its offerings effectively, should acknowledge and galvanize the cultural impetus of the business.

The Transformation Agenda, in the words of the President, aims at giving Nigerians ‘access to first class education’. This is most desirable. But the educational system must be stabilized and standardized to make the objective achievable. One factor that characterized educational development after the laudable example by Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the First Republic, and long before the Jonathan administration, was the reduction of the sector to an object of endless and desultory experimentation. The system has become so confusing and, indeed, confounding that the very essence of education which is the creation of a knowledge-based society through standardized training of the mind, character and abilities of individuals have become generally elusive.

The end-result is the mass production of paper-certificated graduates from various Nigerian institutions of learning whose professional aptitudes are of little use-value. A good example is that semi-literate teacher in Edo State who was discovered by Comrade Governor Oshiomole as not being able to read a simple sentence in English. We have too many examples of them scattered all over the place that a cultural pedagogy of a remedial nature has to form part of the country’s educational policy. A paradigm shift is required to align education with a vision of Nigeria such as is being promoted in the Transformation Agenda; a vision that captures the totality of the Nigerian essence, so that an educated Nigerian would be nothing less than a renaissance personality – informed, skilled, broad-minded, innovative and cultured in the civilized sense. This is how to create a much more vibrant intelligentsia and make Nigeria a leading light on the intellectual horizon.

Scientific Culture:
Of course, this project demands that education should be adequately funded and effective training and research in both home-grown and other capacities should be prioritized; which brings us to the institution of a scientific culture and the dilemma of the Nigerian inventor.

It is tragic that the genius of the late Professor Ayodele Awojobi was wasted in this country and that his invention in the field of automobile engineering now lies as a museum piece in the University of Lagos. We have another example of abandoned scientific breakthrough in the field of communications technology to lament.

Between 1978 and 1979, a young Nigerian simply known as Anyanwu in Mbaise, Imo State, invented what was popularly known as the ‘Herbal Radio’. He built a small radio transmitter made of potent herbs inside a crate. The potency was such that whenever Anyanwu’s Herbal Radio station was transmitting, it jammed the capital-intensive, western technology-backed Imo State Radio. As a Youth Corper in 1978-79, I listened to part of his broadcast of local music in Makurdi, Benue State. Like my colleagues and I, people marvelled at Anyanwu’s genius. It was reported in the news. The hope was that, in due course, young Anyanwu would be engaged by government and Nigerian scholars in relevant fields would be made to work with him and develop the invention to give the world a Nigerian wireless technology based on herbs. But that did not happen. It died a natural death and up till this day, one does not know the whereabouts of Anyanwu and the fate of his invention.

There have been series of experiences like this in Nigeria that have been ignored by the Nigerian establishment. We have seen and read about rudimentary inventions by Nigerians in the fields of automobile and aeronautic engineering. Recently, a female secondary school student discovered that it was possible to use urine to power a small electricity generator. She demonstrated it and actually won an award for the discovery. Unfortunately, these and other inventions and discoveries have not received the necessary support from relevant authorities, perhaps because the general thinking is that advanced western technology has taken the wind off the sail of any rudimentary development, without recognizing that the various manifestations of western technology also began at such rudimentary stages.

Rather, the obsession in last four decades has been with the transfer of technology to the detriment of indigenous technology, something akin to climbing a tree from the top.

While not dismissing the possible adaptation and application of externally sourced technological materials to our own needs, Professor Abiola Irele states in his treatise ‘Culture and the National Idea’ as follows:

‘I have remarked elsewhere – in my inaugural lecture – on the loose character of our chatter on the subject ”transfer of technology”, its superficial assumption that we can achieve this simply by importing machines and techniques.’

He goes on,

‘All I need to add here on this specific point is that we need to cultivate a scientific culture’. 9

Such a scientific culture recommended by Irele would, for instance, through research and practical demonstration on an industrial scale, allow for the Nigerian inventors to be fulfilled in their respective calling while engendering a largely self-reliant technological base for national development.

There are lessons to be learnt, in this regard, from the giant strides of other countries that have struggled to deliver themselves from the dependency-syndrome. A. L. Bashir recalls how Bismarck, in a bid to liberate Germany from British imperialism in the 19th century, inspired in the Germans ‘a strong sense of national pride’ and how ‘their production goals were geared towards meeting the values and consumption patterns of the Germans and not what the British wanted’.  10
Today, based on the Bismarck-initiated Cultural Revolution, Germany boasts of one of the world’s most advanced technologies.

A similar observation is made by Nigeria’s celebrated poet and public commentator, Odia Ofeimun, in his book, TAKING NIGERIA SERIOUSLY while discussing the providential error of judgment by British colonialists in India. Ofeimun states that the ‘development of an indigenous Indian intelligentsia was what the British described as the Indian disease’.  11
This means that the British made a big mistake by allowing the flourishing of Indian intellectual life to such an extent that the indigenous intelligentsia was able to liberate the people mentally to challenge the colonizer on all fronts. Today, India is a technologically advanced state.

This culturally liberating pattern of development has manifested in Japan through the leading vision of the Takugowa regime and in China under the charismatic leadership of Chairman Mao Tse Tung. Other countries in Asia known as the ‘Asian Tigers’ have taken a cue in this direction and the dividend is a clear technological and economic transformation.

This is not achieved through mere wishful thinking, but by way of a total cultural re-orientation and – in the case of China – an unabridged cultural revolution.

Reviewing the Nigerian situation, Bashir laments the crumbling of indigenous technology before their western counterparts. He suggests that in the event of the need of imported technology, there should only be a process of adaptation that would also allow the flourishing of our own culture. Notwithstanding, he expresses a strong conviction for

‘that the country’s hope of an industrial economy lies in her ability to adopt what she already has to achieve what she wants by exploiting the transformational potentials of her own technology’. 12

This analysis reveals the cultural imperative of social transformation as projected by some members of the Nigerian intelligentsia long before President Jonathan came up with his Six-point Transformation Agenda on May 29, 2011.

Without doubt, the President has identified some of the key areas in dire need of change for the better. A vital point of critical omission is that the implementation strategy fails to identify and apply the cultural dimension to national development. It is not too late. Gaps are meant to be filled and one would like to believe that as an organ of the Federal Government, the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO) is performing a supportive role of filling the gaps such that in a dynamic process the transformation will be holistic and all-embracing.

Bringing the Transformation Agenda to life, requires among other factors, the light of the media to spread awareness about it, educate the people, mobilise ideas however critical or complimentary and keep public consciousness alert about its workings. In a practical sense, the agenda offers rich menu for development journalism whereby the media can actually lead the transformational vision and motivate the populace towards positive action.

Even if the document of the Transformation Agenda is not quite explicit about a media dimension to its implementation, individual media houses, media-based non-governmental organisations and relevant agencies of the informal sector do not necessarily require an official blueprint to carry out its duties. Bringing innovations to bear on existing traditions, the media community can design its own strategies professionally.

By the media here, one is referring broadly to both the conventional and the traditional; to radio, television, print, film and the internet on the one hand and the town-crier, griot, town-hall forum and community theatre on the other. The latter category may also be conveniently referred to as the alternative media especially as the community theatre has both traditional and modern manifestations.

Still on strategy, every medium will design its own strategy based on its peculiar nature.

The print will approach the subject in a manner appealing to the literate community, be it in English or any of the indigenous languages. Its dissemination outputs will include hard news, human interest stories, news analyses, features, interviews, opinions, documentation in the records column, lively action photographs and cartoons, among others.

The electronic media will explore the power of orality and eloquence in general. Radio has the advantage of portability because of the profusion of cheap wireless sets in the market. Television brings a life-like situation into the homes of the viewers. Both media can dramatise news in the same manner as the print, but while the former have the advantage of immediate delivery as in the reporting of breaking news, the latter has the advantage of easy accessibility as reference material.

Looking at the Transformation Agenda, one is of the opinion that it has as much to gain from the urban media as their grassroots counterparts, of which there are not too many. A number of the development targets of the agenda such as agriculture, education, power, transport, roads, inland waterways and the Niger Delta have substantial rural content and would, therefore, require a media strategy specially designed to connect and carry along the mass of people in the hinterland.

Rural radio and television projects have been on the card of government for some years. It is time to give them the necessary fillip by encouraging private investors to explore the sub-sector, not for bland propaganda, but an exciting cultural awakening and economic regeneration.

The same applies to community newspapers. They can also survive commercially in their localities as the ABESAN NEWS in Abesan, a suburb of Lagos currently does.

For the alternative media, the appeal is as much in orality, eloquence, creativity as in direct interaction with people in the community. The town-crier and griot will rely on their capacity to reach out to individuals and groups across the length and breadth of their communities. On the other hand, the community theatre practitioners, using their discipline in Theatre for Development (TFD) as a medium of mass communication, can embark on whole projects to promote the Transformation Agenda. They have the capacity to mobilise the people, engage them in analysis of the subject through the feedback mechanism inherent in that form of theatre and ultimately sensitise them in the process.

However divergent the strategies of the respective media may be, there are some common principles that should guide them in the performance of their roles.

1. Generally, there is the need for them to appreciate the dynamics of Nigerian culture and its applicability to whatever field they have chosen to write about.

2. In this connection, cultural perception should also translate to cultural responsibility. The media has a leadership role to play in this area. Unfortunately, a section of the Nigerian electronic media have caved in so badly to foreign influences that even the mannerism of individual broadcasters using the English language is not just apish but outrageous. Indigenous languages are bastardised on radio, television and in the movies while alien consumer patterns are being promoted without restraint. This type of alienating mentality can hardly win the desired loyalty from the people. The Nigerian media has to respect the culture of the Nigerian people in order to carry them along in task of impacting their consciousness on a home-grown initiative like the Transformation Agenda.

3. The journalist in whatever capacity should evince a thorough understanding of the subject – The Transformation Agenda – and come out with messages clear, logical and intelligible enough for the public to connect to the workings of the agenda.
4. In reporting or analyzing the subject, the media practitioner should be objective, ensuring that all sides to any issue pertaining to the subject are reflected on the basis of equity and fair-play.
5. Messages from the various media, conventional or alternative, should go beyond mere, perfunctory sloganeering and bland propaganda. Rather, they should be aimed at enabling Nigerians to internalize the intention, templates and deliverables of the agenda.
6. Finally, and on a very important note, to transform Nigeria, the Nigerian personality has to be transformed. We cannot attain real change when it is business as usual, when old wine is stored in a new wine-skin. Our core-values need to be promoted for a massive re-orientation of the people. This should not entail tampering with the rights of the people, but appealing to their sense of humanity through a soft, persistent and persuasive process of conscientisation. And it should be part of the responsibilities of the media to make this happen.



4.    Bodunrin, P.O. “Human Rights, Democracy and Africa”, in Sogolo, G.S. ed., Africa
Philosophical Inquiry, Vol 1, No. 2, Ibadan University Press, Ibadan, 1987,
p. 193.

5.    Ibid. p. 193.

6.    Obayemi, A.    “Culture in the Nigerian Economy: Some 1989 Perspectives; in Bello, S. and Nasidi,
Y., eds. Culture, Economy and National Development, National Council for Arts and Culture, Lagos, 1991, p. 22.

7.    Ibid. p. 22.

8.    Irele, A.    “Culture and the National Idea; on Sogolo, G.S., ed., African Philosophical Inquiry,
Vol. No. 2, Ibadan University Press, Ibadan, 1987, p. 130.

9.    Ibid. p. 136.

10.    Bashir, A.L.,    “Culture and Economic Development in Nigeria: A Study in the Operation and
Impacts of Cultural Imperialism,” in Bello, S. and Nasidi, Y., eds. Culture, Economic and National Development, National Council for Arts and Culture, Lagos, 1991, p.
265 – 266.

11.    Ofeimun, O.,     Taking Nigeria Seriously, (Hornbill House of the Arts, 2010) p. 49.

12.    Bashir, A.L.,    “Culture and Economic Development in Nigeria: A Study in the Operation and
Impact of Cultural Imperialism”, in Bello, S. and Nasidi, Y., eds. Culture, Economic
and National Development, National Council for Arts and Culture, Lagos, p.265.