Monday, May 15, 2006

What core values?

"The Mothers Summit, the first of its kind to be held anywhere in world, is designed to create a platform for mothers to discuss and agree on ways by which traditional Nigerian values can be propagated and inculcated in the younger generation of Nigerians." This is a sentence taken from a press release by Niyi Ibietan, of the Ministry of Information and National Orientation. The ministry, with Frank Nweke Jnr (pictured) at its helm, has become the government's juggernaut, steamrolling opposition as the president's chief propagandist - a kind of rottweiler at the gates of Aso Rock. It is evidently a measure of how primitive Nigeria's democracy is that it needs to have a ministry of information. Sophisticated democracies don't have them because, information is part of the package of governance, i.e. it goes without saying. But that's a mere quibble.

My gripe is not with the president's rottweilers, but with the concept of "traditional Nigerian values". Here in the UK, especially since last July's London bombings, there's been talk of Britishness, and what it means. The prime minister that might never be, Gordon Brown, talked about what he saw as Britishness, and so did David Cameron, before he became Tory leader. Since the bomber's were British born and bred, there must have been a huge chink their sense of Britishness to do such a thing to their fellow citizens. Patriotic people don't just strap explosives onto the backpacks, detonate them while their compatriots read the Metro during rush hour. The great debate has been about how to marry Britishness with Islam, so that British muslims can fly the Union Flag alongside the Black Flag of Islam on their collective flagpoles.

President OBJ, attended the "Mothers Summit" imploring the women to "instill such core values as honesty and accountability, patriotism, community spirit, discipline, industry, exceptional sense of duty, and, above all, the fear of God into their children so they could be groomed effectively into future leadership." In the course of Gordon Brown's speech, he mentions community more that 20 times, and David Cameron more than five times. These three men, of starkly different political backgrounds - Gordon, the Labour son of a prebytarian minister; Dave, the blueblood Eton and Oxford educated royal relative; and OBJ, the soldier and farmer, raised four thousand miles away - all believe in a sense of community. OBJ's press office even precedes his speech with a press release claiming they are "traditional Nigerian values". Which means that Dave and Gordon have been stealing grand philosophical ideas about Britishness from former African military dictators.

Searching for national "values" is an exercise in futility, as there are no values that are truly unique to any country. The French Revolution motto of "liberté, égalité, fraternité" (liberty, equality, brotherhood) which might be seen as unique isn't necessarily so. The French and American Revolutions were fraternités aux armes, pulling on the same guillotine to decapitate their respective monarchs. Whenever the debate about national identity arises, most of the ideas are in reality, human, and therefore global. Is there a country that would reject a notion of fraternité, of brotherhood? Ah, my broda, how body? Even arch-theocracies would never say that women were lesser than men, hence all countries aspire to egalité. Liberté? Who would swap liberté for balls and chains?

In the past, I have said that I was proud to be British or proud to be Nigerian. On close examination, though, it is difficult to explain why. For a while now, I've decided that pride in one's country can be a very silly thing, a juvenile form of jingoism. After all, nobody has a choice as to where they're born. Why should I be proud to be a Nigerian or a Brit, especially since nobody asked me when I was being born? I might have chosen to be from Ghana instead of Nigeria (charley, they're peaceful people), or Spain instead of Britain (siesta was invented in Spain, not by despotic Nigerian parents).

What can be distinguished between many countries, is the foibles and idiosyncracies of the countries. Call them national stereotypes, call them anything, people can identify them easily. What it means to be British? People automatically queue, it's in the British DNA. Tea? Tea is the holy grail (can't stand the stuff). Someone died, half-time at the world cup, your 18 year-old daughter pregnant? Tea will solve everything. (It could be argued that the mochachino grande latté culture is killing tea... but nevertheless.) The British countryside, the rolling hills of England are not just the fantasy of Jerusalem-singing WI members.

Immigration officer: welcome to Nigeria, sir. Do you have any questions you want to ask?
Visitor: Is it true that Nigerians always answer a question with a question?
Immigration officer: Who told you so?

Nigeria will be Nigeria wherever in the world there are Nigerians. Little pockets of Nigerians in Peckham, in Thamesmead, in Hendon, at Heathrow Terminal 3. It is only when long lost Nigerian friends are greeting each other that other people ask, "is there a problem? Why are they fighting?"

These all seem like stereotypes, but they represent our individual identities better than bland words like "community" and "patriotism", which, in the grand scheme of things, mean absolutely zilch. The whole world would like to embrace these, so what makes them uniquely British, Nigerian, or even Icelandic? Core national values? They don't exist.


Anonymous said...

What an interesting insight, I suppose the Ministry of Information is a euphemism for Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda from a bygone age that plunged Europe into war and kept the Germans pure with Aryan values.

This whole thing about mothers instilling traditional values is interesting - I thought there was another thing about having a father figure in the house - I suppose like in Nazi Germany - the men were all at war.

Besides, some of the African values thing says - a good child is the father's child and a bad child is the mother's child.

The woman get recognised and appreciated in readiness for getting stitched up - it is an unfair world not doubt.

Information helps direct focus from the obvious intent. Smart people these Nigerians.

culturalmiscellany said...

From a outsiders viewpoint (so please don't beat me up over this) I would suggest that more parents, not only Nigerian parents, need to start TALKING with (not at!) their children to try and understand what they feel and what they need help with. To me as a simpleton, that would make the whole world a nicer place. As is is we have too many dictator parents trying to push their ideals and sometimes, their missed opportunities, on their children. As we all know this is with the best of intentions but it completely blocks, IMHO, the basic communication and openness that is needed between parents and children to make that relationship work. It always makes me chuckle when I hear God fearing parents encouraging their children to have an intimate relationship with God - how can they do that if they don't know what an open relationship with another human being on Earth feels like!!! If they're always scared of expressing things to their parents for fear of being rebuked or not meeting their expectations how would they find it any easier to open up to someone they won't meet in person until they die???! Maybe its just me.......but this seems obvious! I hope the conference got BACK TO BASICS of parenting!

Noella said...

The guy in the pic is quite cute

culturalmiscellany said...

Nah, far too sensible looking. Not nearly naughty enough ;)

Quest said...

charley, i would pick ghana as well!

TMinx said...

Im not sure all of these 'values' are worth going back to. A lot of them stifle the kids. How about they dont leave kids idle and instead give them a solid education which will prevent a lot of the problems occuring today. Lets combat ignorance first.

Happy Birthday in arrears fellow taurean! :)

ayoke said...

Perhaps we should start with an examination of how many true "nations" there are before delving into issues surrounding "national values". Then, just then, should we proceed to "core national values".

culturalmiscellany said...

Just read in the paper that Blair (UK Prime Minister) is proposing to teach citizenship in British schools.

Firstly, aren't our school days packed enough already with all sorts of mindless rubbish.

Secondly, I'd love to know exactly what he'd plan to teach. My one and only glance at the Citizenship test looked like a lot of nonsense. It was trying to get people to recall saints of the different countries in the UK and the dates on which they are celebrated. I don't know that and I've lived here 27 years. I don't think knowing all that makes someone a good citizen. I'd much prefer to know if they had any criminal convictions than whether they could memorise a list of dates from a book the government publish as priming material at some staggering cost like £30.

I could scream - arrrggghh

Sorry, soap box rant over!