Tunji Ajibade, a Punch columnist undertakes a cultural assessment of the fashion sense of Nigerians which is in contrast to the European world.
The bagpipe is a Scottish musical instrument. It is the national pride, symbol of the people of Scotland. Men who blow it traditionally wear skirts, as skirt-wearing by men isn’t alien to that culture.
Now, Nigerian males have begun to wear skirts at Nigeria’s Presidential Villa, blowing bagpipes as they welcome either the President or his important guests. For instance, on November 21, 2017, when the President of Togo, Faure Eyadema, visited, bagpipers ushered him onto the premises of the Presidential Villa. On such occasions, I had thought: Why bagpipers? This has got me wondering about some of the contradictions that we engage in as a nation, but to which many of us pay no attention to.
Every Nigerian has heard government officials talk about our culture and the need to promote it. We hear them mention the need to purchase Made in Nigeria products and thereby create jobs for our people. We hear them say we should help firm up the naira by patronising what our people make. They mention the good in patronising indigenous contractors and the rest of it. But when the public space is inspected, we see the manifestation of things that are contrary to what our officials encourage us to imbibe. It doesn’t seem to me that many of them look at it from that perspective though, and I think this shouldn’t be. Why? The promotion of what is ours should be a government policy. As such, every step the government takes ought to be accordingly aligned by our decision makers, pertinent questions asked and conscientiously answered.
Is this relevant to our way of life as Africans is one question that should be asked at every point in the process of arriving at a policy decision. Is it in tandem with the declared policy of the government? What message will it send to Nigerians, especially the younger generation who learn much from what they see and hear? It should worry any Nigerian that our government displays Scotland’s bagpipes to young Nigerians who erroneously think that every ancient Egyptian Pharaoh is white because of what they watch in Hollywood movies. It should worry us that our traditional music is sacrificed for that of the Europeans in a situation in which younger Nigerians hardly knew that black Pharaohs who had inhabited parts of ancient Egypt (and Sudan/South Sudan) were the first to construct pyramids before invaders with white skin arrived from across the Mediterranean Sea to do the same. It should worry us because in about 50 years from now, latter generations of Nigerians will know nothing else apart from Scotland’s bagpipes as the only proper way to welcome guests to our country. That’s the extent of the damage some of our decision makers have set in motion.
One could imagine the oddity of an African Head of State arriving the Presidential Villa, and men in skirts that he sees when he visits Scotland are the ones who equally welcome him in Nigeria. We talk about being independent sovereign states, while we still willingly submit ourselves to the way of life that former colonial overlords no longer have the power to force on us. I wasn’t ever amused each time I watched as guests arrived the State House in Cameroon; that government dresses its Brigade of Guard operatives in cumbersome heavy raincoat-like military uniforms and caps that France dresses its guards with at its Presidential Palace in Paris. Heavy raincoat-like military uniforms in hot African weather? Now Nigeria is going in the same direction, and I wonder what those who decide to dress Nigerian men in skirts at our Presidential Villa have in mind.
There are reasons to focus attention on those who decide for us in matters such as this. How best to welcome or entertain our visitors at the Presidential Villa should be of interest to the Ministry of Information and Culture. Is the minister, Lai Mohammed, in the know regarding how men in skirts are being presented to our guests as the face of Nigeria? What informs the decision to adopt Scotland’s bagpipers? I hope it doesn’t include excuse such as the Scottish government offering to train the bagpipers free of charge. If it does, that says something about how we take policy decisions and find reasons to jettison them.
A few weeks ago, on this page, I had called attention to how Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State gave jobs to some Chinese to do the geological mapping of his state. I was concerned that the job which qualified Nigerian geologists could do was given to foreigners. I had heard the governor stating about a week later that these Chinese sent by the government of one of the Provinces in China were doing the job for free. For me, that an offer is free isn’t enough reason to sideline a stated official policy. What is meant for our people should not be handed over to foreigners no matter how tempting the offer from foreigners is.
My first reason for this position is that free offers are carrots, essentially meant to lure. Those who offer them have other goals that they do not state from the outset. What they do is that they consistently make free offers, using this to infuse other peoples and nations with their culture and ideals. The Americans have been successful at it. The other day, a young educated Nigerian engaged me in a discussion. From the first statement he made, I knew he had been exposed to the American way of seeing things, their ideals, their arguments. He had been part of those programmes that the Americans organise around the world. Note that the Americans had consistently been pushing the same messages and ideals for more than a century, using different platforms. One of such includes the scholarship programmes, the aid, the grants, their music and movie industry. They push what is theirs at home and around the world. They don’t adopt the culture of others, such as promoting the Scotland’s bagpipe culture at the White House as we do at our Presidential Villa.
The second reason is the long term implication of resolutely pursuing a stated government policy. It is how nations that have climbed the development ladder are able to do it. They are consistent with the policy they adopt, and with time they get closer to their destination. If at every opportunity we divert in Nigeria, giving excuses that some other nations gives us something for free, how can we arrive at our desired destination? However, I return to the question of how the decision is arrived at to adopt bagpipers at our Presidential Villa.
The first point that I feel should have knocked out this option is Nigeria’s national pride. Is it that we don’t have any? How come decision makers don’t see anything odd in adopting a foreign culture that makes men wear skirts at our nation’s seat of power; this in a nation where we have sections that frown on women wearing trousers?
Does the reader see the contradiction? Women are the ones that must be frowned upon when they wear trousers. There’s no problem when men wear skirts. Yet, there’s no single Nigerian tribe that doesn’t have its negative outlook regarding a man that’s dressed the way a woman should. We know in our cultures that it’s not just the clothes that’s at issue, but the implied symbolism of a man conducting himself like a woman.
The matter is not left to that. Is this decision arrived at because it is convenient? Get a dozen persons, make them blow into bagpipes and match in front of guests at the Presidential Villa. Convenient, isn’t it? It removes the inconveniences of getting our own cultural dancers and singers to welcome our guests. What is ours is inconvenient. That of foreigners is convenient. I may not be able to fathom the exact reason skirt-wearing men are drafted to our Presidential Villa. But whatever it is, for me, it cannot be excused; just as I am not convinced that anything Nigerians have or can do should be handed over to foreigners no matter the excuse.
If our decision makers cannot display our own culture while welcoming the President or his guests at the Presidential Villa, it is not right that they should display that of foreigners. I expect the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, to take up this matter.
Written for Punch newspaper, by Tunji Ajibade