Cowboy Snippets: Biodun Olamosu (2000) Crisis of Education in Nigeria

Another day, another mug of tea - and another reference to cowboys in Nigeria.

Now, in recent months I've read plenty of literature that discusses the impact of Hollywood and Italian Westerns and their notoriously ambiguous heroe, 'the Cowboy,' in Nigeria. I have recently found a reference to these films in an interesting context, Biodun Olamosu's (2000) book Crisis of Education in Nigeria. Olamosu shares with many other Nigerian commentators that I have come across a disdain for cowboy movies and in particular their alleged subversive effects on Nigerian youths. – I say 'alleged' because I am instinctively doubtful of argument that claim to identify singular causes of what may be described as anti-social or disorderly behaviour or, indeed, crime among young people, in fact, among any social group. And, this response is even more pronounced if the blame is almost exclusively put on any one medium (video games, music, films, books – over here it's currently fashionable to blame the Qur'an-, social media), foreign or otherwise. I can't help it. From where I stand that looks like a suspiciously convenient argument to absolve oneself and one's own society of all blame and to instead scapegoat someone or something else. Preferably something that wasn't around when 'we' were their age so that we can conviently blame 'today's youths.'

But, I digress.

Olamosu briefly mentions what he labels 'cowboy-Yankee type of films' in his chapter on the 'Crisis of Education' in Nigeria and in the context of his discussion of 'Neo-Colonial Education and Cultural Imperialism.' - I'd do Olamosu a disservice if I didn't mention at this point that he does very much not restrict his discussion to the effects of (neo-) colonialism on the Nigerian educational system. Instead, he does consider a great variety of factors some of which originate in the British colonial system and others that lay the blame firmly at the feet of post-independence Nigerian governments. Nevertheless, I do think the fact that he mentions 'cowboy movies' in the context of cultural imperialism is interesting.

Here's an excerpt of his argument in the chapter that, I hope, doesn't distort is argument more than brevity (*ahem*) makes necessary.

'With the attainment of political independence in October 1960 the general belief of most Nigerians was that the country will be free from the clutches of Western imperialism. But in reality the contrary has been the case. The economy is still largely dominated by the capitalist multinational corporations that are rooted in the metropolitan cities of Paris, London, New York, Washington, Soule [sic], Berlin, etc. However, education and other superstructures like, politics, arts, philosophy, ideology, law etc. are largely influenced by the exploitative economic structure. […] And this accounted for why forty years after independence, we still adopt the language of the coloniser as a means of instruction at all levels of our educational institutions. […] The advantage of indigenous language to enhance originality cannot be overemphasised. […] The neo-colonial tendency in vogue is responsible for the practice of limiting school texts and recommended books to authors from the western world or their agents among the indigenes that have been so schooled to adopt their mentality and could never see any area of disagreement in their intellectual output. This practice will further impair our self-reliance, ambition and foster dependency syndrome.[…] [O]ur best brains are not correspondingly valued … Journals published in Zaria, Ife, Nsukka, Makerere University tec. are rated as second class journals when compared with Journals from Britain, United State of America, Germany, France, Japan and other industrially advance countries […] The other ways of transmitting and carrying out cultural imperialism across the world are through the information technology like radio, television and the latest information technology, the computer. […] Since such less privileged stations are far from being well equipped in information accessories, they have no alternative than to accept and make use of what are at their disposal. This is how cowboy-Yankee type of films found its ways to our culture and our youths are being indoctrinated to imbibe this "violent" culture which is alien to Africa.'
(Olamosu 2000: 11-13, my emphasis)

I do understand that the reference to cowboy movies here is firmly embedded in the final paragraphs that are concerned with various kinds of information technology from the radio to the internet. And, in this context, there's nothing remarkable about Olamosu identifying in cowboy movies a form of Western imperialism. And, there is nothing particularly new about his suggestion that these films 'indoctrinate' Nigerian youths 'to imbibe this "violent" culture which is alien to Africa.'

Still, Olamosu included that paragraph in a chapter that, for the most part, concerns itself with 'cultural imperialism'[1] within the Nigerian system of education and, if I correctly understand his argument (and, do correct me if I am wrong), its negative effects on originality and creativity (in the widest sense of the word). English as a primary language of instruction, the use of teaching materials produced abroad and the overt privileging of academic literature published outside of Nigeria, all, he argued, hampered 'self-confidence, initiative, resourcefulness, creative reading and adaptability' among Nigerian students.

Is Olamosu, then, arguing that an educational system that neglected Nigerian languages, teaching materials that reflected Nigerian contexts of ideas and practices, and the contributions of Nigerian scholars and researchers left a gap? And, that this gap is filled by undesirable foreign media including 'cowboy-Yankee type of films'?

Look, dear reader, I do not (yet) quite know where I want to go with this argument.

All I can say at this point is that there's something about the connection Olamosu seems to suggest between the Nigerian educational system (not known, I'd argue, for fostering creativity), originality and the interest of a generation or two of Nigerian youths in Westerns that makes me curious. Curious about what exactly, I can't quite put into words yet. 
And, of course, once again 'cowboy movies' are made to stand in for foreign cultural influences that a Nigerian intellectual has identified as undesirable - and, in that sense, acquire importance well beyond the cinema and the concrete ideas and practices of Nigerian youths that joined cowboy clubs, gangs and societies.

So, once again, as I finish my tea, I'll leave you with some ill thought out rumblings, dear reader, rather than any kind of coherent argument. But that, in my defence, is one of the purposes of this blog. It gets me writing and through writing – to badly paraphrase Don DeLillo – I realise what I do and what I don't know and, with a little luck, where I want to go with that. So, bear with me until the next mug of tea comes my way. Or even a little longer.






[1] Inverted commas because this is originally Edward Said's term and therefore carries a range of significations that are tied to academic and non-academic debates about his work – and that I don't think I can unpack here.

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