Culture, Education, Technology: All To What To End? by Professor Nimi Briggs

My dear President of Wakirikes in the USA, no one realises more than I do that there are many very distinguished men and women who could have been called upon to deliver today’s keynote address. The fact that the lot fell on me, is a recognition I cherish greatly. I thank you for the honour and I wish the Wakirike nation, peace, prosperity and progress.

In the letter of invitation, you stated that one of your goals for this year’s convention is “to promote greater participation/dialogue among the people of kirike se” and that the convention will focus on the issue of “information technology for primary and secondary school education in the Wakirike nation”. In considering an appropriate title for today’s lecture therefore, I used your brief as a compass. Thus, I recalled that it is the common heritage, as is rooted in the Culture that all Wakirikes share, that makes them a distinctive people. In the same vein, I reminded myself that Education, be it at the primary, secondary or even tertiary level, is an enlightenment tool that cultivates the human mind, fosters creativity and enhances the acquisition of those attributes that compel discipline, as well as the cognitive knowledge and skillful practices that are needed for productive human existence. Furthermore, Technology, by which knowledge acquired from science is harnessed and put into everyday use, I found, is a catalyst to the educational process. Culture, Education, Technology – the title of today’s keynote address, accordingly, augurs that

our common identity, anchored in our culture, constitutes our most precious heritage which we must treasure, guard and advance through education and the exploitation of modern technology, all to the end of the development of our people.

So, I will commence my address with a brief account of the Wakirike people, skimming their history, social background and culture. And here, since I would be playing in a field in which many of you are veterans, may I implore that, taking my own background into consideration, you overlook the imperfections that you may identify. Next, I will speak to education, looking at it from the perspective of our country – Nigeria, our state – Rivers, and our people – the Wakirikes, and with particular reference to primary and secondary education. Information and Communication Technology will come next with special emphasis on how it enhances the educational process, and thereafter, I will dwell on how the promotion of the unique Kirike se culture, as the essence of the people’s common identity, through education and the exploitation of technology, can be used for the development of the Kirike se nation. My conclusion will place the Kirike se Diaspora Organisation in the USA in perspective and make recommendations on how it can contribute better to the aspirations of the Wakirikes at home.

Warkirikes: The People and their Culture.

The Wakirikes are a group of about 300,000 people who consider themselves as “not different”. They are part of the ethnic Ijaws of Nigeria who had migrated through multiple movements at about the 11th – 14th century (Alagoa and Derefaka, 2010) and now inhabit the nine towns, sometimes referred to as Kingdoms (Anga,2008) of Okrika, Ogoloma, Ibaka, Ogbogbo, Ogu, Abuloma, Isaka, Bolo, and Ele, that are situated on the eastern part of the Delta in Rivers State, where extensive dry ground emerges after a mixture of saltwater creeks and mangrove swamps (Williamson, 1962). While each professes absolute autonomy, they are bound together by a rich culture rooted in a common language and shared time-honoured values.

The basic social organisation of the people in these towns is the War-Canoe House, each led by an Alabo or Chief, which was originally assembled as a fighting force and the smallest unit of governance. Over the years however, the war-canoe houses have changed from their original role of defence of the people to become trading enclaves in the slave (about 1690-1807) and later, oil palm produce era (about 1810-1900), down to their current status of serving as the fundamental expression of the socio-cultural unit of governance of the people. These changes occurred as contact with Europeans led eventually to loss of political independence.

The language of the people, the Okrika Language, is an important factor by which Wakirikes identify themselves. Derived from the Ijoid family of languages of the Niger-Congo phylum, the language which bears close similarity to and is mutually intelligible with the Kalabari and Ibani languages, is currently under severe threat of extinction as fewer and fewer of the new generation of Wakirikes are able to communicate in it.

Living as they do in the littoral estuaries of the Niger delta, water and the swampy mangrove environment play a central role in the life and culture of the people. Thus, fishing is the main occupation, while swimming and other aquatic sports and entertainments, like the incredible odum python display, the magnificent boat regatta, the fabulous iria ceremony and the breathtaking periangala show, feature prominently in community activities. There are also fascinating cuisines which are rich in fish as well as other products from the sea and swamps – periwinkles, lobsters, crayfish. Dressing is distinctive, often involving the tieing of one or more cloth(s) around the waist, depicting social class and level of affluence. As for marriage, elaborate and complex systems exist; some designed to ensure indissolubility.

The essence of culture is to preserve and relate the people to their environment and the legacies of their forebear. Additionally, culture extols and teaches, through drama and various forms of the art, those attributes of man that make for decent and harmonious living, including justice for all, sanctity of human life, respect for elders and honesty.

Unfortunately, the Wakirikes and their culture suffered greatly in the wake of the discovery of petroleum in parts of the Rivers State from about the 1950s and its exploitation, mismanagement and the violent agitation that followed, at the turn of the century. Several lives were lost from fratricidal killings, towns were sacked, community cohesion disappeared and the land, abandoned and desecrated – all in sharp contrast to the culture and time-honoured values of the people.

Happily, despite the vestiges of ruins that still lurk, some normalcy is being restored. Order is being gradually re established and the towns are being re-built and populated. In the circumstance, the people’s way of life, their culture, due largely to its resilience, is also being re-established, even though much more still needs to be done.

Education: The Great Development Tool.

Education, by which the human mind is systematically trained, not just to read and write, but also to think creatively and to acquire capabilities needed for a productive life as well as to function responsibly in a society, is the greatest tool for individual and societal advancement. This fact is recognised by individuals, families, nations – developed, developing and underdeveloped and underscores the pride of place given to education in the social contract between government and the governed, everywhere.

The earliest trace of structured and institutionalised education in Nigeria, which is generally known as Western Education, is attributable to the Christian missionaries. Commencing from 1842 when the first school was built in Badagry by the Wesleyan Mission, to 1899 when the first government primary school was built in Lagos, the missionaries set up a number of schools as part of their tripod mission of evangelisation of health, education and pastoral stewardship (Osokoya, 2012; Briggs, 2012).

Subsequently, government’s interest in education soared as evidenced first by the provision of financial support – grants-in-aid to the missionaries and later, the establishment of guiding principles through policy formulation. But it was the launching of the Universal Primary Education in January, 1955, by the then Western Nigerian Government under the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo that signalled the greatest commitment to the education of its people by any government of the federation.

Similarly, the Federal government launched the Universal Primary Education (UPE) nationwide in 1976 to enhance access and in 1999 changed it to the Universal Basic Education (UBE) in conformity with UNESCO’s Education for All – EFA.

At the state level, with education on the concurrent legislative list of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the current Rivers State Government under Chibuike Amaechi declared a state of emergency in the educational sector when it discovered the alarming level of deterioration in the system when it came into power in 2007. To correct the deplorable situation, the government is building 700 model primary schools in the state. Of these, 500 have been completed, each with 20 classrooms. Furthermore, it is envisaged that each school will be equipped with ICT facilities, modern library, science laboratory, football field, basketball pitch and volleyball pitch.

Government has also planned to build 24 model secondary schools across the 23 local government councils in the state; well structured and fully equipped with modern-day educational, recreation and boarding facilities with standard housing for teachers. Of these, four are complete and one has commenced full operation.

The schools will be tuition free. In addition, the school children will be provided with uniforms, books, laptops, scandals and meals at no cost to them as government will bear all such costs.

This revival of education in Rivers State, which could turn out to be the foundation of a future economy that is based on the knowledge industry, extends to Wakirike land. However, to put things in correct perspective, and to commend the understanding that was shown by the Wakirike forebear, an attempt will be made to review events at the introduction of western education into the land.

Available information indicates that two educational institutions – St. Peter’s School, Okrika and Okrika Grammar School, Okrika, were the forerunners of primary and secondary schools, respectively, in Wakirike land. Both were established through close collaboration between the chiefs and peoples of the community on the one hand, and The Christian Missionary Society (CMS), the dominant Christian mission in Kirike se at the time, on the other.

St. Peter’s School, Okrika (Primary) started at about 1920 and had trained a number of pupils to standard six – the top most class in primary education then, before the thought of establishing secondary educational institutions started occupying people’s minds.

The quest to establish one such school in Okrika, similar in status to the Dennis Memmorial Grammar School, Onitsha, then, the flagship secondary school of the CMS in Nigeria, was first mooted by the late Rt. Revd. A. Moris Gelsthorpe, then an Assistant Bishop on the Niger, in 1938. But even before this development, so strong was the desire of the missionaries to expose the indigenes to a level of education that was higher than that offered at the primary, that the then Ecclesiastical District of Okrika of the CMS awarded a number of scholarships to deserving persons to pursue post primary education outside the Kirike se. Some of such recipients were Samuel Amadi, Simeon Amamina, Douglas Sekibo and Samuel Kiri Kalio (Obuoforibo, 2009)

The major problems encountered in establishing the institution were overcome with land donated by the Ado Royal House of Okrika, headed by the late Chief John Apia George and finances, syndicated from multiple sources – the CMS,£300, the Okrika Community £347 and the Okrika Native Authority, which was controlled by the chiefs, £337, became available. The name of the school was given by the Okrika people themselves while its motto, persiverantia vincit – perseverance conquers, was from the institution’s first Principal, Mr. Enoch Ifediora Oli. The school commenced classes on 2nd April, 1940 following the admission of its first set of students. It remained a single stream school until 1962 when it admitted 60 students into class 1 to commence a double stream class formation.

Known to its Old Boys as the “Coastal Varsity”, Okrika Grammar School has had a most impressive record in preparing its pupils for the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate and later, the West African School Certificate. An institution of great repute, Wakirikes held it in very high regard especially as it contributed significantly to the successful careers of many of their sons as well as many others from outside Kirike se who at some point in their lives had come to it to acquire education. But sadly, the “Coastal Varsity” now lies in ruins and dereliction.

What comes through from this short description of the trajectory of early education in Kirike se is the tremendous foresight of the chiefs and peoples of the kingdom and the commitment of the missionaries. Even though most of the locals were not literate at the time, they were able to discern the value of education and so, offered strong support for its establishment in their land for the benefit of future generations. They voluntarily gave up their communal land for construction, contributed financially, ensured community participation and encouraged their sons and daughters to attend the schools. In no distant time, a crop of educated and informed men and women had emerged from the locality and had spread out. They became globally competitive and contributed substantially to society through various fields of human endeavour. Such persons include the late William Pikibo Daniel Kalio, who became Permanent Secretary in the then Western Nigerian Government under the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and later, the first Secretary to the then Military Government of Rivers State; Emeritus Professor Tekena Nitonye Tamuno, who became the first Alumnus of the University of Ibadan to be appointed the institution’s Vice-Chancellor and was also a distinguished professor of the National Universities Commission; Admiral Promise Fingesi who became Commander of the Nigerian Flag Ship, NNS Aradu; Chief Rufus Ada George, who became Governor of the then Rivers State; and the late Professor Abiye Obuoforibo, who became a distinguished professor of the National Universities Commission. Furthermore, many here today would have benefited from the head start that the educational system in Kirike se gave them or their parents which enabled them to acquire formal education that has facilitated their ability to hold their own successfully in foreign lands. One may then ask: if our forefathers did that much then, what is the current generation doing now? .

Technology: A catalyst for Education.

UNESCO regards the role that technology can play in enhancing the educational process to be of such great importance that the organization, in 1997, established an Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE). Through the provision of technical support and expertise, IITE bridges the digital divide in education and builds inclusive knowledge societies by reinforcement of national capacities in promoting e-environments for increasing access to education and lifelong learning. It also facilitates policy dialogue and initiates development of national strategies on application of ICTs in education. In 2010, IITE conducted an analytical survey on the integration of ICT into early childhood formal education. The results obtained from this survey encouraged the organization to assemble an international team of experts with the goal of conducting a long term study on how ICT is reshaping the teaching and learning processes of children in primary education. So far, the group has identified how governments and organizations are setting up ICT facilities as a critical part of their programme to improve and update primary education. Furthermore, just last year (2012), IITE held an International Conference in Moscow and deliberated on strategies, policies and best practices of ICT application in education, as well as on the development and implementation of innovative teaching and learning methodologies for advancing Education for All (EFA) goals in member states, including Nigeria. Participants at the conference, among others, accepted technology as a significant tool as well as accelerator of the process aimed at updating and enriching knowledge and skills of those who take part in the educational process. They recommended the application of information resources and technologies to ensure accessible education to all, including disabled people, as well as women and girls.

It is in the light of all this that I find your wish to focus on the issue of “information technology for primary and secondary school education in the Wakirike nation” at this year’s convention, as timely and appropriate. To further buttress this, a recent document, The World in 2013, from the International Telecommunication Unit (ITU) informs us that “every day we are moving closer to having almost as many mobile- cellular subscriptions as people on earth”. This mobile revolution deploys ICT in many areas but especially so, in education – ICT being a collection of computer-based technologies, which are exploited to support teaching and learning, communication and collaboration, self expression and creation for the promotion of developmental domains of children and learners (ICT in Primary Education, 2011).

However, the use of ICT in Nigeria to enhance teaching and learning is facing severe challenges, not least, on account of inadequate infrastructure. Electric power supply and telecommunication infrastructure are poor in several parts of the country. Mobile telephones currently cover over 80% of the country, with 113million subscribers and an investment base of over $25 US billion. But companies operating these telephones power their base stations with individual local generators on account of paucity of supply from the national electricity grid. Furthermore, even with the large number of mobile telephone users, of which about 28% use the internet, broadband penetration is low at 6%.

Broadband or “access on” and “fast internet” service is now an indispensible tool for participating in the global digital world. Through it, e-environments can be created and ICT driven instructional materials delivered. Happily, Nigeria now considers ICT infrastructure as critical national infrastructure and has committed itself to growing and funding ubiquitous broadband access with a view to increasing broadband accessibility in the country to 500% by 2015. These remarks were made by the country’s Honourable Minister for Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson at a Workshop in Lagos in early March, 2013. The Minster expressed the hope that by that date, broadband would be affordable, and would be connected to the homes of over 50% of all Nigerians, who would then be online (Broadband Series, 2012).

For now, Wakirike in the USA, where ICT use in educational institution is widespread, should seek to entrench ICT literacy in Primary and Secondary Schools in Kirike se by keying into the Rivers State Education Policy on ICT, as the State intends to establish a Rivers State Agency for Information Technology in Education (RSAITE, Education Policy, 2012). This body will have the responsibility of setting up a unified ICT network infrastructure for the State’s entire educational system.

Laptops that would withstand the vagaries of electricity and have been preloaded with appropriate educational materials, including those on the Kirike Se culture as well as encyclopedia, could be distributed to students and teachers. Internet access could for now be obtained through the individual modems that are supplied by the various ICT vendors.

Additionally, every effort must also be made to encourage and entrench basic Science and Technology Education in the schools as part of the process of acquiring proficiency in reading, writing and numeracy. It is the adoption of Science and Technology in national life that marks the difference between development and underdevelopment (Fubara and Briggs, 2012)

The Nexus: Culture, Education, Technology for Development.

As had been earlier stated, culture – tangible or intangible, is an inheritance that is bequeathed to a people without cost. Except in a few instances where some cultural practices are harmful, as is the case with Female Genital Mutilation (Briggs,2009), culture emphasises the positive attributes in the way of life of a people – their values, leisure, crafts, creativity, recourse to nature, strength and fortitude among others (Ayakoruma, 2011). Accordingly, generations have the burden of preserving their culture for future generations.

One important way of preserving culture is to teach it and to educate people on it. Although this is usually done informally by parents to their children and wards, the teaching should be formalised in educational institutions. Whereas a number of Nigerian languages are taught up to the doctorate level (Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba), the Okrika language is not. Furthermore, aspects of culture can be written in texts and taught – apparels for dressing, occupation, food, marriage systems, and much more. Thus, formal and informal education can play a major role not just in the preservation and propagation of culture, but also in bringing such culture and its people to the attention of others, thereby making it possible for such culture to be exploited for development, using technology, which enhances the teaching, learning and documentation process.

The connection between culture, education, technology and development is thus established as culture, properly nurtured and propagated, can serve as a medium of development. Such concerted efforts that cultivate culture assiduously, open up business opportunities that are inherent in culture that would lead ultimately to development.

Conclusion: The Heart of the Matter.

Let me commence my concluding remarks by commending this great Wakirike USA organization for focussing on promoting dialogue among the people of Kirike se and education at this year’s convention. By so doing, you are already offering some response to the earlier question that sought to know what the present generation is doing, against the backdrop of the tremendous sacrifice of their forebear on the issue of communal cohesion and education.

You may no longer have land to donate for construction work as did the Ado Royal House of yester years. But you have ideas and passion. Ideas rule the world while passion is audacious strength. The two constitute a huge capital which you must exploit. We all here speak the English language; some are dressed in the typical English fashion – a suit and a tie; at our meal today, some may request for a typical English meal of fish and chips; many bear English names. These are all aspects of the culture of the English man which you and I have imbibed over the years because the Englishman consciously promoted his culture. He did so by conquest, negotiations, the signing of treatise or the use of brute force where necessary on the firm understanding that it was in the interest of all Englishmen that others should acquire their culture. By speaking their language, wearing their dresses, eating their meals, reading books written in their language, we, unwittingly, create huge markets for them, even in far away foreign lands. Through the propagation of their culture therefore, the English are able to create jobs and employment opportunities for their people at home. Furthermore, the billion dollar economy that is generated annually by Chinese and Indian Restaurants that are dotted all over the globe is only based on the provision of cultural food items of those two nations. Just a few of the components of those food items, like rice and eggs may be sourced locally, the rest, especially the spices, are all grown in their home bases and transported round the world. Sardine, that small fish on which many of us grew up, is the fish component of the food of the people of the Island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean.

Yet another good example is provided by carnivals. The colourful Notting Hill Carnival in England which promotes the Jamaican culture, and the vibrant Rio Carnival which trumpets that of Brazil, not only bring in large sums of money but also attract spectators from all over the world. Here in Nigeria, the Abuja carnival and the Calabar carnival, in which the former Governor of Cross River State, His Excellency Donald Duke, had been seen leading a musical band, are now crowd pullers. Carniriv in Rivers State, which is now under the control of an enterprising young man from Kirike se, Mr. Sam Dede, who is gradually carving a niche for himself in the performing art industry, is also beginning to make waves. The point being made is that promoting the culture of a people eventually creates wealth for the owners of that culture, increases their global visibility as well as recognition and ultimately enhances their development. Culture, therefore, can serve as a medium for development.

Furthermore, the pluralism or diversity in the culture of different races places each culture on its own pedestal; not inferior, but equal in status to one another (Briggs, 2006). The rich Kirike se culture, which binds you all together, should be seen in this light and exploited for the benefit of the people. And here I plead that as Kirike se in the USA, you apply your ideas and passion to such a project.

But for the Kirike se culture to attain such lofty heights, it has to be taught and learnt- the use of technology in the primary and secondary schools, as you have advocated, should include its application to the study and propagation of culture. We should use education and technology to document various aspects of the Kirike se culture for ease of teaching and transportation to other lands. Furthermore, we must promote a reading culture in our youths as a reading society, is a thinking society.

Above all, stringent efforts must be made to get all Wakirikes to communicate in the Okrika language, as language, which was described as “the most immediate, the most adequate exponent of the soul of a people” (Westermann, 1965) is probably the most important element in every culture. Technology should be extensively utilized to record the teaching of the Okrika language which should be compulsorily taught in the Primary school. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, while contributing to a debate on Cultural Security and Development in Africa, on the occasion of his 76th birthday on the 5th of March, 2013, wanted to know if English was regarded as vernacular in England. If that was not so, why did the British regard Yoruba as vernacular in Nigeria, when they were in charge of the affairs of the country? He wondered. It is such strong sentiment that brought the Okrika language and some others into focus at the 2012 UNESCO sponsored International Mother Tongue Day at the National Museum Port Harcourt, when Dr. Charles Jenewari of the University of Port Harcourt, delivered a lecture titled:”The Okrika Language and the Challenges of the 21st Century”, in which he implored that the Okrika language must not be allowed to go extinct.

However, even with all this, let me say that it would be utterly presumptuous of anyone to think that after today’s lecture, all will change regarding the Kirike se culture and that it would rise in eminence as that of the English. This cannot be. The English took centuries to propagate their culture and some of the techniques that they used, were so grotesque that they cannot be contemplated now. However, if after today’s keynote address, many of us start speaking the Okrika language to our children, instead of the English language alone, wearing some etibo occasionally, instead of being in suit all the time, eating some tem buru from time to time, instead of chicken rice risotto and generally showing interest and learning more about the culture of the Wakirike people, we would be helping to keep the Wakirike culture alive for posterity; dialogue among our people would be enhanced and some of the aspirations of today’s lecture would have been met.


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Culture, Education, Technology: All To What End? A Keynote Address Delivered by Nimi Briggs, Emeritus Professor, University of Port Harcourt, at the 2013 Convention of Wakirike in USA, Houston, Texas on 25, May, 2013

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