2023: Shallow Calling Out To The Shallow

Olugbenga Jaiyesimi

Olugbenga Jaiyesimi

Late sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo must be rolling and roiling in his mausoleum. He was so passionate about having an educated society because uplifting peoples and opening their minds make a society less malleable by demagogues. The educated electorate should be able to make sound judgement calls on issues during  elections. On the contrary it appears those whose worldview of western education as secondary to another worldview are more politically astute and savvy than beneficiaries of Awolowo’s investment in western education.

How has Nigerian elections fared since the late philosopher left the  scene in 1987. Historical  perspectives throw more light on this. By the 1950s we see Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his cohorts choose Democratic Socialism as the ideological base of the Action Group. That early they had an Action Plan that came forth from that ideology. On assuming power in Western Nigeria  the Action Group hit the ground running to implement the plan with a high degree of success.

This process continued during the second Republic that started in 1979. The Unity Party  of Nigeria led by the sage had four cardinal  points at the core of the Party’s manifesto. The new Party still held Democratic Socialism ideals. Other parties that held sway in other regions had their aims and objectives well codified in their constitutions. Right from the first Republic their ideological leanings and worldviews were made known.

Few thought as deeply as the sage did, codifying his philosophies in several books. Then he gave several speeches to August bodies including clairvoyant letters warning us of our decline as a nation,  warnings that have come to pass. Other founding fathers especially late Nnandi Azikiwe authored several books in their lifetime,  so did their  associates like late Bola Ige and Michael Okpara both of blessed memory. Our politics then had more substance  than it does today.

Let us compare them with today’s Awoist and the Zikist who put on the toga of our foundingfathers. What intellectual  writings can be ascribed to  them? The political parties they float are simply special vehicles for grabbing power and capturing the treasury.  Any wonder moving from one party to the other is the order of the day. Indeed of what use is philosophising like Awo did since it never delivered the votes to pursue his dreams for the country. This seems to be the lesson taking to heart by the society and those aspiring  to govern.

Awo’s dream of what education should and can do for a people has not come to fruition. Yes education provide’s for the nation’s manpower needs such that brainpower has become a major export, japa syndrome, but as to the finer uplifupliftment of the mind that education or literacy should confer on a society, this hasn’t been fulfilled. We perceive  this from the early campaigns towards 2023 with populist and demagogues having the day. We are moving further away from depth of thought to shallowness of sentiments, fuelled by moneybags and legalised by 100million naira application forms. To crown it all whenever an ideas man is mentioned the response of naysayers is ‘he has no structure’ meaning no financial clout.

This prologue epitomises the divide that has occurred in the country since the passage of our founding fathers. The divide is about who is more important to the wellbeing of Nigeria, is it the philosopher or the King? All Nigerians including the elite, the progressive and conservative intelligentsia look up to political kings and messianic figures rather than to philosophical tinkarage as to where our salvation lies. They hold that if the king in Abuja is upright the general populace would fall in line. They clinch this assertion by saying, ‘….after all the fish rots from the head’. This regular saying is a misnomer because the easily assessed gills of the fish is used to confirm an already rotten entrail.

The sage had  warned Nigerians about our entrails. This he did in a reply to the Chairman Nigerian Political Bureau professor Samuel Cookey in 1986, when he said inter lia, “……. for something within me tells me(Awo) loud and clear that we have embarked on a fruitless search. At the end of the day when we imagine a new order is here, we will be terribly disappointed……we would see for ourselves that, as long as Nigerians remain what they are, nothing CLEAN or PRINCIPLED EHTICAL AND IDEALISTIC can work with them(Nigerians)”. Characteristically his message has been ignored for over thirty-five years 35years because we are judging by the fish’s head alone.

Our problem is simply a dearth of philosophers or as we are wont to say leaders of thought, and the few we have we ignore them. Other nations have made progress because of their  thinkers than because of their leaders. America got to where it is today not because of it’s acclaimed founding fathers but because of the John Lockes, the John Stuart Mills and the likes of Adam Smith. US founding fathers fashioned  the enduring US Constitution on the philosophical thoughts of these men. Our experience in Nigeria is to expunge  these sublime subjects from our daily lives and in our schools. We have gone so low as to ban the teaching of history to our youths, the very subject that provides the raw materials for philosophising. May God help us!

Before western education our elders had said, agba ki wa loja ki ori omo  titun wo, alluding to philosophers role in traditional societies. 1n 2014 Prof. Joseph Agbakoba then president of Nigerian Philosophical Association was interviewed in Punch Newspapers of October 28. In the interview he drew out for the nation the pivotal role of philosophy yet he was ignored.

Should philosophers become kings? Not necessarily and history has given an emphatic answer. Philosophers have however influenced kings from time immemorial. So what Africa needs are the philosophers who would influence our kings,  princes and princelings. These philosophers were employed as tutors to princes in the courts. Later they moved into the larger society and were able to influence more people with the advent of the printing press. This brought about revolutions; not only of the polity but of the mind, thoughts and attitudes.These changes were  entrenched in the minds and psyche of the larger population.

A lack of this foundation for our kings has left us with kings who only know how to spend money.  Money is thrown at every problem, no intellectual or philosophical basis for their actions. In short, society hardly has  a philosophical core. Things are copied from abroad without our hearts in it so it is poorly executed. Indeed nothing original has come out of Nigeria in a long time because we lack original thinkers.

Philosopher fixers by impacting the larger society make it easier for our kings to affect

society positively as progressive ideas become mainstream. I am advocating both a

bottom up and top down dispersal of thoughts and ideas.

Leading up to 2023 the two leading parties PDP and APC are without ideology, unless grabbing power is regarded as an ideology. The ease with which members cross carpet to the other allows us to draw this conclusion. Up and coming parties don’t seem to fare better. Meaning Nigeria is stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. Looking beyond 2023 and the possibility of sovereign conferences to fashion out  new constitution might mean a reactionary sovereign conference with little or no philosophical inputs. Would we be copying another land’s  constitution or we look at our history and who and what we really are so as to fashion out a relevant document  that will stand the test of time? A study into why France is in it’s fifth Republic while the US in the uninterrupted Republic established in 1776 should help in Nigerian constitutional  endeavours. I have my understanding but our sociologists,  anthropologists and historians can do a better job.

Finally our education milieu has to be reviewed. I have written on this in an article titled  RETHINKING FORMAL EDUCATION IN NIGERIA published December 2021. As Prof. Joseph Agbakoba postulates we have to return the king of subjects, philosophy and history to pride of place in the school curriculum.


Olugbenga Jaiyesimi    jerry3jaiye@gmail.com

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