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DUNIYA, Gambo G.: A Perspective on Nigeria's Cultural Diplomacy

A Perspective on Nigeria's Cultural Diplomacy


Department of Fine Arts

Ahmadu Bello University (ABU)

Zaria, Kaduna State


GSM: +234-806-224-4975


Nigeria's strategic importance in Africa and global diplomatic shuttles is not in doubt. What is in doubt is Nigeria's readiness and ability to explore the windows of opportunities that are available, due to the acclaimed strategic position that she occupies. Consequently, opportunities abound in politics, military missions, economy and diverse areas of culture. Incidentally, Nigeria's cultural diplomacy has hardly grown beyond the micro level at which it was perceived and packaged, immediately after independence. The result is lack of proper and effective diplomatic objectives that will reposition the country as a major player in global cultural issues. It is the position of this paper, therefore, that the convening of a national summit, that will constitute major stakeholders, is imperative. This is with a view to articulating appropriate and effective objectives that are in tune with current global realities.


The department of Fine Arts, at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, hosted the Goethe Institut, Lagos on the 23rd of June, 2008. The Institut’s mission was to show 3 German films to the university audience, through the Fine Arts department. They tagged the event 'Goethe on the road;’ mobile mini film festival.’ Indeed, the opening remarks of the Institut director, Arne Schneider, confirmed that, the films were being showed in different locations. This film show raised some thoughts and pertinent questions in the mind of this author. Why would the German Goethe Institut embark on a road show, just to show films? And why are the German films, German film being, showed to Nigerian future leaders and culture stakeholder? This author’s conclusion is that, the Germans, like in the colonial era, have started a competitive scramble, with their European counterparts, for Nigeria's cultural space, through an indoctrination process, using carefully selected German films. The question therefore, is Nigeria embarking on this kind of cultural diplomacy? Despite her richness in all ramification of socio-cultural, political and economic spheres?

Nigeria is a country blessed with an abundance of fertile landmass, and exciting variegated vegetation, climate, mineral resources, and astonishing tourist sites. All of these are naturally distributed and in fair share, around the country. More interestingly, are the numerous ethic groupings that are scattered, all over the country, with their varied and sometimes common cultures. Thus, these different cultures have become avenues for cultural interrogation, sources of reference in culture matrix; inspiration for all kinds and types of artistic expressions and subjects of contemporary discuss, sometimes ridicule. Musa opines that, "for ages, African artists (Nigeria inclusive) have borne the challenge of cultural preservation inspired the imagination of the society and driven the dream of cultural blossoming to the boundaries of civilization" (v). Despite all these, according to Ikwuemesi, "culture in Nigeria, is located on the fringes" (134), and perhaps, that is why, it is not a major part of our foreign policy thrust.

This paper will therefore, examine (i) Nigeria's diplomatic exploits; (ii) Nigeria's cultural diplomacy; (iii) articulate a personal perspective on Nigeria's cultural diplomacy; and (iv) draw conclusions based on the discussions and analysis made, as objectives, for the paper. The overall aim, being to add a voice, to the efforts geared towards formulating an effective and appropriate cultural and foreign policy that will drive Nigeria's cultural diplomacy.

Overview of Nigeria’s Diplomatic Exploits

Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has, it would appear, focused its foreign policy initiative, in the areas of economy, security and politics. This is not surprising, as the British colonialist handed over a structure, that was burdened by their over concentration and emphasis on trade/commerce, as well as security. These two areas were of utmost important to them because it will guaranty a smooth exploitation of the natural resources in the country, without worrying about internal strive or distraction. Consequently, oil exploration, as well as, agricultural initiatives and exports, became the fulcrum of their activities in Nigeria. Regrettably, however, the early political leaders in the country (i.e. both civilian and military) adopted the same approach, in articulating a supposed holistic for national development. It is therefore, the submission of Emeji, that a simple contrasting of the British administrations actions, with those of the Nigerian indigenous leaders, from 1960; shows the lack of cultural independence, as a integral part of the political and economy independence that they pursued (33). Hence, there was no attempt, at creating an original blue-print that will take cognizance of the variegated nature of the Nigerian socio-cultural, political and by implication, indigenous economic environment, in government policy direction. This situation was not peculiar to Nigeria alone, as Ikwuemesi observes that it cuts across the African continent, at that time. The author states further that, the situation had "its origin perhaps, in the aftermath of the colonial project, which, in spite of its acclaimed pacification of Africa, set the continent at war with itself psychologically and culturally” (134).

However, through the country's focus on politics, national/international economy and security, Nigeria has made some positive strides, though in the larger context, at the detriment of an effective, appropriate and sustained development .For instance, the General Yakubu Gowon military administration, successfully overcame a civil war that was avoidable, in the first place, if the socio-cultural matrix of the country was factored into the national and international policy direction. Since that situation however, and haven learnt from that experience, Nigeria has been an active participant, in global peace keeping efforts. It has also been actively and vigorously engaged, in the mirage that is so called geared towards transfer of technology. As a casement manifestation of such efforts, are the now redundant automotive industries and the apparently failed Ajaokuta steel rolling mill, just to mention but two sectors. Indeed, the country has also over the years expanded some of its cities, like Lagos, Calabar, Bayelsa, Kano and Abuja, to the admiration of the culturally uninformed, but to the disgust of patriotic culture stakeholders. Consequently, Ikwuemesi opines that,

In spite of Nigeria's claim to gianthood in Africa, it is not to her cities, that anyone looking for exciting cultural manifestations in the continent would turn. The totalizing tendencies of the oil sector as the principal, if mono-causal, economic determinate in Nigeria, has not encouraged the country to look at the culture option, as an alternative resource that can contribute in national development(133).

Thus, there is need to examine Nigeria's cultural diplomacy within the context of the country's larger development. That is, if there is indeed, a cultural diplomatic practice in the country.

An Overview of Nigeria’s Cultural Diplomacy

Since independence, culture has made conservative inroad into Nigeria’s national development agenda. This conservative inroad can be glimpsed through government efforts, over the years. For instance, Okom is of the opinion that, government efforts in developing the cultural sector since 1960, has led to the establishment of several institutions. Some of these institution includes, National councils for Arts and Culture, National Gallery of Art and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments all in 1975, just to mention but three (Okom 46, cited in Kunde 1). These institutions where established to drive the process of governmental efforts, at using culture for national development. In the years that followed, other institutions like the Nigerian Film Corporation, Jos, the National Institute for Cultural Orientation and the National Film and Videos Censor’s Board were added, perhaps, due to some of the gaps noticed, in the implementation of culture initiatives in Nigeria. In all of these, however, there appear to be no established body for the purpose of cultural diplomacy, nor does it appear as if, it has been articulated in the country’s foreign policy directions.

            According to Pine, “foreign policy is borne out of a multiplicity of factors, such as, culture, politics, history, patriotism, geography, military power, etc” (n.d). Indeed, from the foregoing Nigeria at one time or the other, experimented with one of these areas, except culture. In summarizing Nigeria’s foreign policy since independence, Pine further stresses that;

The concepts that have bestraddle foreign policy thought in Nigeria, in both official and non official parlance are: national consensus in foreign policy, dynamic foreign policy, Africa as the centre piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy, concentric cycles, concert of medium powers; economic diplomacy and citizen diplomacy among others. These conceptual mutations in Nigerian foreign policy engineering… lack any ideological consistency, operationally barren, philosophically vague and as such, an exercise in conceptual confusion… (page?).

This opinion is informed by the observation perhaps, that all of these policy, thrusts; did not take cognizance of culture, as an important ingredient of foreign policy. Consequently, their mono directional approach, which according to the author, is lacking in philosophical grounding that, in this paper’s view, would have been articulated, if culture has been part of the thought process. Italy for example, is reputed to have a stable economy, due to its emphasis in arts and design, as articulated in both it’s national and foreign policies. Similarly, Aig-Imoukhuede observes that “Sweden, despite its reputation for hi-technology, actively promotes crafts and design, as a necessary linkage to the industrial process” (n.d).

            While other nations have fond it expedient to establish cultural institutions outside of their countries like the Goethe Institut by the Germans’ and Alliance Francaise by the French. Nigeria does not seem to see its importance. However, Nigeria has on a few occasions organized what seem like, cultural festivals that focused on drawing attention to its cultural richness. In most of such occasions, it ends without any concrete efforts, at exporting the relevant aspects of such festivals to the outside world. A clear example of such is the wasted effort of FESTAC ’77 event, hosted by Nigeria and in which several diplomatic efforts were put into, which never translated into any foreign cultural policy. Also, the successes achieved internationally by Nigerian cultural personalities, such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, have not translated into anything concrete, culturally or diplomatically.

A Personal Perspective on Nigeria’s Cultural Diplomacy

Arising from the discussion already made and other issues not articulated here, the paper is of the view that, whatever is left of “Nigeria’s cultural diplomatic agenda, if any, should be expanded. The expansion must also be guided by practical experiences, of what others have done with culture; In that respect, several initiative must be packaged, among which are; to re-examine what presently constitute our cultural policy objectives and two, a re-engineering of Nigeria’s foreign policy, to address aspects of culture, as a basis for the country’s bi-lateral and multilateral negotiations and agreements.

       Take the first point, for instance, what constitute Nigeria’s cultural policy objectives, as articulated by the Centre of the Institute for Cultural Democracy has nothing on cultural diplomacy. According to the Institute, Nigeria’s main culture objectives are, but not limited to:

  • Analysis and understanding of Nigerian cultural life, cultural values, cultural needs and expectations of people;
  • Affirmation of the authentic values and cultural heritage;
  • Building up of a national cultural identity and parallel affirmation of cultural identities of different ethnic groups;
  • Development of cultural infrastructure and introduction of new technologies in cultural activities.
  • Establishment of links between culture and education, as well as between education and different cultural industries, particularly mass media (page?).

Thus, there is no attempt, in these objectives, to locate the place of culture with its variety of expressions, its richness, and vibrancy to the outside world. Regrettably, this is despite the private initiative and exploits of the Nigerian movie, music, literary and visual arts industries, around the world. Consequently, these industries are developing in a manner that, if care is not taken, will become an irony of cultural disaster, to the country. For instance, Anyanwu, observes that, “whereas the Nigerian movie makers have not tried to debunk Hollywood, neither have they tried to assert themselves, except in so far as, creating cultures that are yet to be accepted by the masses, beyond a certain temporal milieu” (page?). This situation can only happen in an unregulated, unfocused, and unguided industry, like the Nigerian one. Again, that is because, while the films are exported through international media there is no effective cultural policy to guide what the manufacturer produces. Hence, the usual portrayals of the Nigerian society, as full of witchcraft and fraudsters, criminals and so many other negative portrayals.

       On Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives, it is also regrettable that, in the first place, they are not articulated on the basis of any shared cultural philosophies, rather and as observe by Pine, They are based on “conceptual confusion  and grouping in the dark” (page?). It is therefore, the perspective of this paper that, culture, in all its ramifications, and as in the Nigeria situation, the complicities of the varied cultures that exist, should be the basis of any foreign policy. Again, Pine’s further thesis, gives credence to the position of this paper, when he states that; 

Since independence to date, although there have been conceptual and doctrinal transition in Nigeria’s foreign policy, in reality, they are not grounded in deep philosophical thought, visionary imagination and broad based considerations of long lasting benefits to the national interest. Basically, they are borne out of pragmatic exigencies, political faddism, conceptual elegance, and regime identity (page?).

This kind of approach can only bring immediate, short term benefits (if any) and attention. However, what Nigerians needs, to compete in a highly competitive global cultural diplomatic market, is a well articulated, taught out foreign policy, that is sustainable, responsive to national interest, and peculiar to the circumstance of place and time. The Nigeria cultural matrix, should serve as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage, most people are quick to point out. The Nigeria film industry, with its largely unguided environment has already taken advantage of this cultural matrix, through the Nigerian film policy. According to Anyanwu, among other objectives of the Nigerian Film Policy, is that,

The state shall through appropriate legislation:

  • Encourage the adoption of themes which shall emphasize the desirable, rather them the negative aspects of our present social existence, including belief in the capacity of our people to overcome extreme adverse condition of nature and socio-cultural arrangements.
  • Encourage the use of films potentials to counter prejudices and misconceptions of the international community about the black race (59).

Thus, the film industry appears to have sufficient objectives that will cater for our cultural diplomacy. It would however, also appear that, the lack of an appropriate cultural policy that  would target foreign audience and the foreign policy itself, that do not see culture as a key ingredient, sums up the major problem of our foreign cultural diplomacy.


The story of the three films shown by the German Cultural Centre (Goethe Institute), narrated in the introduction to this paper symbolizes the importance and strategic thinking that informs the German foreign policy. The three different films presented, and from three different perspectives and they capture the cultural spirit of the typical German, the positive aspect of their culture, as manifested through their technology and to some extent, their organized political culture. Conversely, this paper has highlighted the richness and variegated nature of the Nigerian culture. Yet, the political actors have not considered culture as fundamental, in all their feeble attempts, at foreign policy direction. This is according to Emeji, “despite the basic administrative machineries that have been set in motion…” (33). The author further content that, the structures are not properly coordinated or legislatively guided so as to focus, on the direction Nigeria would like to take, as Africa’s largest producer of international art.

This paper also align with Ikwuemesi, opinion that, “when culture is remembered at all in Nigeria, it is usually misinterpreted as performance by raffia-weaving, machete-wielding dancers and is treated as a minor appendage to politics” (133). Therefore, it is the conclusion and submission of this paper, that Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust must totally be re-engineered, to derive its philosophical basis, from a consensus articulation of Nigeria’s culture. To achieve this, stakeholders in the different culture sub-sectors in Nigeria, should be brought to a National Cultural Summit, where the basis for Nigeria’s cultural diplomacy will be determined, among other things.

Works Cited

Aig-Imoukhuode, F. “Exploiting Nigeria’s Cultural Heritage For Nation Building.” In: Tapping Nigeria’s Limitless Cultural Treasures. Lagos: National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), (n.d).

Anyanwu, Chukwuma. “Nigeria Home Video and the Demolition of the Family Structure.” In: Journal of Creative Arts, 1, Department of Creative Arts, University of Port Harcourt, River State, 2000.

“Cultural Policy in Nigeria.” In: Webster’s World of Cultural Democracy. The Institute of Cultural Democracy. Retrieved 7 Jan. 2015.

Emeji, J. M. “The Nigerian Government and Cultural Resource Development: A Chronology of Policy and Action in the Arts.” In: Journal of Creative Arts, 1, Department of Creative Arts, University of Port Harcourt, River State, 2000.

Ikwuemesi, C. “Cultural Resource in Nigeria: Rethinking Definition, Management and Value.” In: Journal of Liberal Studies, 1, School of General Studies University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Anambra State, Nigeria, 2012.

Kunde, M. “The Role of Foreign Cultural Centres in Modern Art in Nigeria. A Case Study of Goethe Institute, Lagos.” Seminar Paper Presented to the Department of Fine Arts, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, 2010.

Musa, J. “Introduction.” In: International Art Expo Nigeria. National Gallery of Art (NGA) and the Art Galleries Association of Nigeria (AGAN), 2009.

Pine, A.     “Nigeria Foreign Policy, 1960-2011: Fifty One Year of Conceptual Confusion.” Retrieved 2 July 2015.


Gambo G. DUNIYA, a trained visual artist, with a PhD in Art History, currently teaches at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and also practices as an art critic/historian. He has also been involved in theatre practice and theatre for development (TFD) work since 1993, participated in some stage performances and workshops in the performative arts, including the SONTA Conference in Makurdi, Benue State in 2013.