In this riveting interview with Stanley Ugagbe of The News Chronicle, the founder and Director General of Center for Research, Information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD), Dr. Raphael James shared insight on his journey so far – challenges, motivations, and achievements. He also bared his mind on some national issues.
TNC: Thank you for having this interview with us. You’ve carved a niche for yourself as a researcher and historian with over 200 awards to your name, including “SDLG Africa’s Most Reliable Person” 2016, awards from the United Kingdom, The United States, United Arab Republic, China and Africa. Your wards also include the Appreciations/ Commendations Letters from USA President, Bill Clinton Letter of Appreciation, Queen Elizabeth of England Commendation Letter and President Barrack Obama Commendation letter. Can you share with us how you started this incredible journey and what led you into this line of profession?
Dr. Raph: While I worked as a Researcher on Special Projects in Newswatch magazine in the mid 90’s I came to realize that most Nigerians did not have information about our country, the younger ones growing up are even worse hit, so I started thinking of how I can be of help to my generation and the upcoming generations. Again, while I served in the Presidency in 1996, I still noticed the same challenge, that it was not everybody in government that knew what was going on about governance, so the urge to run my center increased. I remember I set up an information unit in my office while in the Presidency and even while I served in Government House Umuahia as a media Assistant to my state Governor, I also established a mini library in government house. I embarked on CRIMMD because I have passion for research and documentations and I must state that I am among the very best Nigeria has today in terms of research and documentation. The establishment of the library under CRIMMD was to help bridge the need I saw that Nigerians don’t read.
A people without history do not exist; it is an insult to us as a nation that we depend on foreign media for our own history. The British library has more materials on Nigerian history than all the libraries in Nigeria. The few materials that we have are not taken proper care of. I beg to be corrected, do you know that there was no record of who designed the Nigerian Coat of Arm, until I was able to unravel it 2020. It is high time we returned history into our primary and secondary schools. We need to know our history to know where we are coming from to enable us know where we are going. If you look around today, most of the schools and government offices in Nigeria hosts flags of green-white-green and coat of Arms. My question is, is that the Nigerian Flag? At what point did we change our flag, was it not a green-white-green that Mr. Taiwo Akunkumi designed for us and yet people in government are making use of flag that is not ours? We need to get our history right for the sake of generations unborn.
While I worked in the presidency under General Sani Abacha in 1996, I once remarked to my colleagues that Nigeria’s problem is lack of proper documentations and not corruption, I was so determined to start the process of changing our perception of what greatness is by going back to our history through proper documentation. I tried to set up a documentation center in my office then, but it did not work out, so after left the service of Government house Umuahia in 2000 as Media Assistant to the Governor, I told myself that, I have to start this my crazy project and by 2003, CRIMMD, the Center for Research, Information Management and Media Development, started.
We started in 2003 and in less than a year of existence, that is 2004, CRIMMD donated a free public library to the Ejigbo community, in her effort to empower the youth with knowledge for effective leadership for tomorrow. The CRIMMD Library is open free to the public and to date it has proven to be a strong legacy for the communities of Ejigbo, Isolo, Okota and Ikotun in Lagos Nigeria where it is situated. CRIMMD library is helping to keep the youths mind active and away from being the devil’s workshop. This have definitely gone a long way to reduce the rate of crime and produce intellectuals within the environment. It was officially recognized few years later by the Ejigbo Police Community Relation Committee PCRC, for its contribution to the maintenance of security in Ejigbo and environs. The library was official commissioned to the public on December 16, 2004, by the former Federal Minister of Information Chief Sir, Alex Akinyele JP.
TNC: There is this popular notion in Nigeria that most people don’t practice what they studied due to lack of jobs. You studied psychology in the university but today, you’re into history. For you, was it a case of when the desirable is not available, the available becomes the desirable?
Dr. Raph: Yes, I read psychology, I also studied Journalism and for me what I am doing is my passion. I started as a collector far back in 1974 while in primary school and today, I have graduated from being a small collector into hosting my collection in a museum. I do history, I do tourism, I am writer, I am a publisher, I am also a researcher, Psychology is the foundation I needed to help other talents in me to grow.
TNC: You’re the founder and Director General of Center for Research, Information Management and Media Development (CRIMMD) – which manages information; media and political research; including biographical and autobiographical writings; documentations, exhibitions and script editing. What inspired the creation of CRIMMD? How has been the journey so far – challenges and achievements?
Dr. Raph: The biggest challenge has been funds, our library is free, our skill center is free, people don’t know the value of research so just few of them do willingly pay for it. There are times for months, up to six months, we will not make one Naira at CRIMMD, and bills and salaries have to be taken care of. It has been rough but we have the candle burning and moving ahead.
Like I said earlier, a people without history do not exist. My inspiration is borne out of the fact that I believe we must know our history. We started in a one room research center, we introduced our free public library, later we added the museum, we have books publishing outfit and our magazine publishing unit, we have the Skill Acquisition center and now we are adding our Archive unit. We started with less than 100 books and today we have over 40, 000 publications and have donated over 56, 000 books out to the general public. We have introduced our e-library section, though not very effective due to electricity and data consumption since we run free to the public.
Our Library since 2004 to date have a registered membership of about 34, 000 members. We built the tallest Christmas tree with books in the world standing at over 12 feet tall. We unraveled the designer of the Nigerian Coat of Arms, after 60 years of our independence. Our research work on the 1929 Aba Women riot has ben adjudged the best by historians and the Nigerian media, also our exclusive research work on the Nigerian amalgamation is acknowledged
We also publish the only biographical magazine in Africa, The National Biographical Magazine. We have had interactions with 5 world Presidents including the former American President Barack Obama and we are still waxing stronger.
TNC: Remarkably, you’re the founder of the largest Photo Museum of Nigeria History with over 36, 000 photos. Judging from the fact that Nigerians don’t really have interest in Museums like the Western world, has there been meaningful patronage of the museum since creation? Is it really yielding the desired results?
Dr. Raph: When you say patronage and yielding desired results, I hope you are not look at financial gain, if that is the focus, the answer will be no. But on the hand, I am impressed so far, I did not set out to run the museum and document history just to make money, rather it is to create a sense of belonging to generations coming that Nigeria is a great nation and they can see as well as feel it, when they visit the museum. I have committed millions of Naira in the museum but I am not sure I have made up to one million since I started it 12 years ago. It is long term project and not a money-spinning project. I have no regret.
We have so far had over 500 schools visiting us in 12 years, that record is not commendable to me, it should be 500 schools in a year, that is an average of two schools a day. It is a place of learning for the students and their teachers. Let me give you an example, this is a task for you and our readers, (what is the name of Nigeria’s only acting Governor General?) don’t ask goggle, for goggle don’t have the answer but CRIMMD Museum of Nigeria history have the answer.
TNC: You’re an avid Tourist and you once shared that you visited the forest of a thousand demons. How was your experience? Did you actually encounter any demon? Perhaps there are people who want to also explore the forest, what are the things they need to know or do?
Dr. Raph: For me, the need to explore, to discover, to gain more knowledge has been my motivation into tourism. Today, I can boldly describe myself as a historic and educative tourist, I have visited 34 states since March 2015, when I commenced my educational tour to help me document historic and tourist sites in Nigeria. It is a self-sponsored project, as such I don’t rush it. I only tour at my most convenient time, considering time and fund.
Talking about the forest of a thousand demons, the first time I heard about this forest was while working on the biography of Chief Alex Akinyele, when he told a story of how he was coming back from school at Ile Oluji and walked pass through the partway nearby the forest and he heard voices singing from inside the forest “T’ Olu B’adan Baku Tani O j’oye” meaning (Who will succeed the Ibadan Monarch when he passes on?) Ever since I became interested in the forest, then I read halfway the English version of the 1938 novel of D. O. Fagunwa’s “Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀ (The Forest of a Thousand Daemons). I became curious if it was just a fairy tale after all or real. D. O Fagunwa, while working on his novel in 1938, spent quality time in the forest and probably got his impressions from there.
The Novel is the first full-length novel in Yoruba language made up of a Yoruba hunter encountering folklore elements, such as magic, demons, ghosts and monsters. The forest is located in the town of (Oke-Ugbo) which is today pronounce as ‘Oke-Igbo’ in Ondo State with a landmass of about 698 km², the inhabitants speak the Yoruba language of the Ile-Ife people. The forest is believed to be a place of deities, demons, monsters, spirits, kobolds, Gnomes, Ghosts, Ghommids, Trolls and gods who most times performed magic of appearing and disappearing. This is the forest where the mighty hunter known as ‘Akara-Ogun’ clashed with a variety of supernatural beings, including the spirit with sixteen eyes, arranged around the base of his head, the same forest where the smoke monster that boils up from the ground once lived with the Ghommid with two heads and two horns. In this forest, the snails there are reputed to be bigger than the tortoise, and the forest also had a two-headed python, can you just imagine that?
On Monday March 26th 2018, I set out for Oko-Igbo, though from Ibadan but then the distance from Lagos to Oke-Igbo is about 4 hours’ drive covering about 254 kilometer. Then from Oko-Igbo junction in Oloruntele to the forest, (Igbo Olodumare) is about 70 kilometer, it took us one hour and 24 minutes on bike to get there and it took us another 31 minutes to get to the top of the rock in the forest. The custodian Mr. Olarenwaju was very wonderful as he narrated the stories and took me into the forest, he told me a story of how in the olden days, some hunters who believed they had charms, insisted on hunting in the forest, they went in and never came out till date. On arrival, he did some incantations while he opened the gate to the forest and he explained to me how he inherited being the custodian from his late father who was the chief priest of the forest. As we walked, we were welcomed by the statue of the old wise man and his flute, (Baba Onrungbon Yeuke).
We walked through the entrance to ‘Oke Langbodo Ree Ooo’ (Mountain of the entrance to voices of the spirits and demons). At ‘Oke Langbodo’, Mr. Olarenwaju showed me two stones and some shells under the huge rock, he told me that If I lay me hand on the white stone “Apata Adimola” (Adimola rock) and ask for any favour it will come to pass, I had imagined what I could ask for hmmmmm. Then I saw the talking tree, which repeats your words. I heard sounds not sure maybe they were insects, birds and wild animals but I am sure not demons. I battled to climb the rock to visit the two headed python’s home but my feet were so slippery and I could not, as I made more attempt, he advised me not to force myself, that may be the spirit of the Python did not want me to visit her home. We walked through dry leaves and dead woods, shells of snails and dry bones to ‘Oja-Iwin’, (Market of the witches and demons) from his narration, I was sure that is the spot where the battle of the 7 brave hunters and the spirits took place, in Fagunwa’s book.
My eyes were wandering and watching out if I will see: Akara Oogun, Eifoye, Imodoye, Kako Oni kumoekun, Olohuniyo, Aramanda Okunrin and Elegbede Ode. At the market of the demons filed mostly with cactus trees, I wandered what their items could have been then, what could they have been buying and selling on the rock in the thick forest. At that point an insect flew into my left eye and my eye became reddish, my tour guard asked me to close my eyes and open them after a minute or two, when I did, I felt as if I saw a very old man with white beards, I did swear I saw in real life the all-wise Baba Onrungbon Yeuke in Fagunwa’s book. We walked through the forest to “Ogbun Ainisale” (Bottom less pit). It is a spot that is for men only, you have to be brave to stand there and look at the bottom less pit. It is like standing at the top of a roof of a 40-storey building and looking down to the ground. When we got to “Igi to ni Itarun ogoruh” (Tree of 100 roots), I had to relax on it to rest.
Even as a gasped for breath and was almost to the point of dehydration, I had fun. I am happy I visited ‘Ògbójú Ọdẹ Nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀’. I enjoyed my ‘Irinkerindo Ninu Igbo elegbeje” I am happy I visited ‘The Forest of a Thousand Daemons’ I love adventure and exploration, I love history, I love fact finding missions.
TNC: Between 1984-1989, you were the President of ‘The Anti-Smokers’ and you campaigned for the inclusion of the warning on the packets of cigarettes in Nigeria (Cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health, that was when the Hon. Minister Professor Ransome Kuti nicknamed you the Anti–Smokers. More than 33 years after, the smoking culture is still very high among Nigerians especially among the youths. What do you think can be done to curb this growing habit among Nigerians?
Dr. Raph: The same thing we have been doing, we have to continue to educate the society that the habit of smoking is dangerous to health. While some smokers who are educated know the dangers involved, many others are not aware to the fact that for example about half of all Americans who keep smoking will die because of the habit. Each year more than 480,000 people in the United States die from illnesses related to tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns, and illegal drugs combined. Cigarette smokers die younger than non-smokers. Smoking shortens male smokers’ lives by about 12 years and female smokers’ lives by about 11 years. And also, that smoking does not only causes cancer. It can damage nearly every organ in the body, including the lungs, heart, blood vessels, reproductive organs, mouth, skin, eyes, and bones.
In Nigeria we have few statistics to referenced that is why I am using that of the USA. Smoking accounts for about 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States, including about 80% of all lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, and is one of the hardest cancers to treat.
We have to continue to educate the teenagers so we can encourage them not to get into the habit.
TNC: In 2007, history was removed from the teaching curriculum in Nigeria by the Federal Government. As someone who understands the importance of history, how does its removal impact the nation and do you think there is a need for it to be re-introduced?
Dr. Raph: Negatively, you can’t go back home if you don’t have a home address, Nigeria will not progress without her history, we need to know where we are coming from to determine where are and where we will be headed to. Having said that, let me point out that in June of 2021, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (GCON) ordered the teaching of ‘History’ as a standalone subject in all Basic and Secondary Schools in Nigeria and it was with immediate implementation. The new academic section which started in September 2021 was supposed to have ‘Nigeria history’ as a compulsory subject in Nigeria. This was made public then by Mr. Sonny Echono, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja.
Also, on June 18, 2021 Vice President Yemi Osinbajo declared at the launch of the ‘Education for Justice Programme’ that the government had kick-started implementation in 12 primary and secondary schools across the six geo-political zones and instructional classes have also commenced for the teaching of Nigeria History.
Now that history is back, we have to teach our children right, Nigerian schools and school owners should obey the orders/ instructions, to bring back our history. It is time to bring back ‘Nigeria History’ to our schools for our children and grandchildren plus great-grandchildren.
CRIMMD Museum of Nigerian history is the place to be, many museums in one.
TNC: The reading culture in Nigeria has been declining drastically in recent years. Many scholars worry that if urgent measures are not taken to rekindle it, the implications might be grave? How do you think this can curbed?
Dr. Raph: Our reading habit is dropping and I have refused to be among those that will sit and complain that is why I started the library. I want to make Nigeria a reading nation, reading for knowledge and not for exams, interviews and maybe for promotions. I believe that if people read and acquire knowledge, they will be able to defend themselves even without a certificate to back it up, this is better than the situation we have today, where people carry certificates about and yet cannot express themselves. I believe that if Nigeria becomes a reading nation, we will become a leading nation.
Basically, we have to make libraries available. Take for examples. On Sundays, almost everybody goes to church and you don’t have to go very far, there are churches on every street, in fact some streets have 2 – 5 churches. There are TV viewing centers for footballs and you will see the young ones going there to see footballs. Establish libraries and the same thing will happen, they will develop the habit of going to the library and with time develop interest in reading. I have witnessed this, running my library in the last 15 years or thereabout.
I am also of the opinion that Government at all levels should strive through practical steps to reduce to the barest minimum the yearning gap between teaching and cheating in all examinations. Once we curb the avenues open for examination malpractices in the country the rats and cockroaches presently occupying our libraries will relinquish their rights of occupancy to human owners without a quit notice. The incumbent JAMB Registrar, Professor Ishaq Oloyede had demonstrated in the last UTME admissions screening exercise that we have the capacity to do the right thing.
The Teachers’ welfare, training and re-training must be a constant concern for the government. Let teaching job be seen as a profession for those who have the flair and enthusiasm to excel in it with pride, not a job seen as being at the lower rung of employment-ladder reserve for those who could not secure a better job elsewhere. This attitude of “I am just managing it” often exhibited by our teachers must be curbed drastically for us to achieve the desired results.
TNC: Finally, you run a free skill women vocational skill, how did you come about this, since you are not a woman?
Dr. Raph: I started the center after I had a funny experience of a lady who had visited me for financial help but offered her body for sex in order to feed her kids. The lady was a widow who claimed that after her husband’s death almost all his friends slept with her before they could offer financial help. So, I wondered how many other women were going through such ordeal and decided the only way to help was to set up a place where I can contribute to women by encouraging them to learn a skill and be equipped for the challenges ahead in life if the unexpected should happen to them. In February 2016, the center started with 5 sewing machines, 4 laptops and one computer desk-top, for computer training, and some catering equipment. I convinced my wife Princess Folasade to join me in the project. The women skill acquisition center train women and the girl child on tailoring/fashion designing and computer training, Catering, Bead Making, Soap making (liquid/tablet & detergents), Liquid disinfectant Production, Hat making, Air freshener production, Germicide Production, Insecticide Production, Ankara bags and shoes making & Make-up artistry.
Initially I made it strictly for married women and widows and I provided teaching equipment and material for practical, free. Just to empower the women and empower the nation, but doing it all alone has not been funny, vast capital intensive. By 2017 spinsters and the girl child were encouraged to join, and I could not afford to buy materials for everyone again, I encouraged them to buy their own materials for their practical. We have two staff and contract instructors. The ‘Free Skill Acquisition Training Center for Women, do also visits schools to train girls and so far since 2016 we have visited 31 secondary schools for skill training programs, just to empower the girl child and women generally.
Little wonder I was voted as the Most Reliable man in Africa in 2016 by a Chinese company SDLG and was awarded a cash prize of 1000 dollar for the Skill center. Like I said earlier, we started in February 2016 and by December of the same year we trained 96 women free. In 2017, the figure rose to 1,875, by December of 2018, we had trained 3, 320 women, by December ending 2019 we have trained 5034 women free of charge in different vocations. For 2020 to 2021, the figures dropped due to the Covid 19 pandemic. By April ending 2022 that is last month, we have trained a total of 6, 121 women/girl child.
Sincerely, if you ask me, I am of the opinion that Skill acquisition should be introduced in our higher institutions. Look at China today, taking over the world in practically all human endeavours because of skill development, Nigerian Universities should stop teaching us 1950 theories in 2022, we need more practicals and more skills, in Nigeria and even Africa.