Count me out of those castigating the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, for his bombshell on Tuesday, November 23, 2021, when he dismissed the report of the Lagos State Judicial Panel on #EndSARS that was released earlier on November 15, 2021 as fake and a waste of time and public money. Not that I am one of his fans but on this occasion, I admire his guts. Though his voice lacks punch, his words were weighty enough to cause a stir among his numerous critics and of the government. If he had remained silent, he probably wouldn’t have been able to step out into the street nor attend any major public event with a bold face for a long time. This is because the report had bluntly indicted the government and was already being hailed as the best thing to come out of Nigeria since creation.
Mr. Mohammed did not address the media alone. He was flanked by other government officials and to think the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was not aware of the content of the address smacks of naivety. My only grouse with the minister’s bravado, which actually necessitated this piece, was his saying that the report, like Tales by Moonlight, was fake.
Nowadays, some Nigerians including highly placed ones like the minister think it is poetry to use Tales by Moonlight as a metaphor for almost every fake thing. But, whether it is in grammar or in literature, Tales by Moonlight is most inappropriate to be deployed in that way. Even if the word ‘tale’ connotes something that is not true, it is not in all instances. For example, though A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a novel, many readers versed in the French Revolution know that it was based on true-life events. Moreover, up till today, the origin of folktales all over the world remains a mystery. Not all stories in folklore are out of the world. While many persons who ascribe fakeness to every narrative titled a tale could be forgiven, Mr Mohammed would not, given his education and high office. But before we go into why he should be taken to task over what is tantamount to defamation of Tales by Moonlight, one of Nigeria’s most popular television series, let’s take a quick look at its main objective apart from entertainment.
Tales by Moonlight has been aptly described as a re-enactment of one of our most cherished cultural traditions: story-telling at night, especially moonlit nights. These stories, also known as folklore, could be likened to the first clothes we wore when we were born. As grown-ups, though we may find it difficult to believe we once wore those clothes when shown, we don’t call our parents, who preserved them, liars.
But what are these cherished cultural norms that Tales by Moonlight, aired on Nigerian Television Authority, promoted? They include honesty, kindness, obedience to parents and elders, empathy, cooperation among a group, and other virtues numerous to list here. Folk tales enacted in the series are also intended to discourage negative traits such as lying, cheating, wickedness, cruelty, disobedience, greed, among others. Purveyors of these negative traits – be they humans or animals (the tortoise or the monkey are usually preferred for these roles) – always pay dearly at the end of most of these folktales. They were unlike television series for children from the West that rarely dwell on morals but which Nigerian children were exposed to before the advent of Tales by Moonlight. Why should anybody, especially a minister responsible for the nurturing and deepening of our cultural values, refer to a programme intended to extol and inculcate them in our children as fake?
Since its debut in the 1980s, the series has become one of the most-watched offerings of the NTA. In the 1980s to early 1990s, children used to abandon their plays to watch the programme with rapt attention. Sesame Street, Tom and Jerry and other cartoons for children from the West, which they were exposed to before the advent of Tales by Moonlight, rarely attracted them half as much. Many adults also often join the kids in watching the programme. Was it its fakeness that endeared the series to the young and the old? Certainly not!
How is the person who created the series, the producers and all those who laboured over the years to bring each episode out going to feel on hearing the fake label Mohammed gave their ‘baby?’ What about the uncles and aunties, who acted as the storytellers, and the children who acted as the participating audience? What about the numerous ethnic groups from which these stories were sourced? Will Mohammed’s comment advance the art of storytelling in them? Lastly, how about the art critics who have written papers praising Tales by Moonlight to high heaven? Were they all endorsing fakeness as a way of life for us?
Mohammed should not use his high office to discourage interests in our cultural heritage that only a few zealots are doing everything to preserve. Since their publication in book form, no official of the German government, even Joseph Goebbels whom some people believe Mohammed resembles, has ever disparaged the Grimm Brothers collection of folktales. Any endeavour that is geared at preserving our cultural heritage either in its original form or in any of the modern formats should be encouraged by every good minister of culture. Mr Mohammed should strive to be one!
- Richard Maduku, a retired Nigerian Army (Infantry) Captain and novelist, lives in Effurun-Otor, Delta State