UBUNTU and OMOLUABI: Kindred spirit or what?
Prof. Babafemi Badejo is not a stranger to this column; today, he x-rays the Yoruba “Omoluabi” and the “Ubundu” ethos taking firm roots especially in Paul Kigame’s Rwanda, after its horrendous genocidal war of 1994. What are the similarities between both and where do they part ways, if at all? Hear from Prof. Badejo: “The first part of my Zimbabwe experience was titled ‘Quick Visit to Zimbabwe: My Case for the Rekindling of the Ubuntu spirit in Africa’. I got diverse reactions, including some on the meaning of ‘Ubuntu’ itself. I think I should share an interesting exchange that arose from my first write-up, including using the opportunity to explain a bit on the meaning of Ubuntu.
“For Madiba Nelson Mandela, Ubuntu represents ‘the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others’. In effect, individualism that is much cherished in some cultures as the natural state of the human being is not necessarily so. Some authors have defined Ubuntu more broadly by suggesting that it is African humanism, philosophy, ethics and worldview. Desmond Tutu loosely defined Ubuntu as ‘I participate, I share’. He drew on the principles of Ubuntu to guide South Africa’s reconciliatory approach to apartheid-era crimes. For Tutu, ‘We are different so that we can know our need for one another; for no one is ultimately self-sufficient …The completely self-sufficient person would be sub-human’.
“A good illustration of Ubuntu was related in a piece I once read. A group of children were running in a race. A number of them were neck-and-neck when they noticed that one of them had suffered an injury and was far behind. The others all stopped, went back for the slower child and all ran happily together at her pace. Asked why they did that, they pointed out that happiness shared is far better than one person running to capture a prize. The reaction from Prof. Peter Fogam of the University of Lagos cryptically elaborated on the word Ubuntu, especially as to if such a concept is still relevant in Africa. Fogam and I have come a long way; he was (with the late Prof. Adedokun Adeyemi, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and many others) my teacher in the pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree in Law at UNILAG. In addition, Prof. Fogam, Ms. Bella Okagbue and Prof. Osinbajo accompanied Prof. Adeyemi to Somalia as part of the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II). In effect, we were co-sojourners for almost two years during UNOSOM’s search for the peace that continues to elude Somalia in the large part.
“The depth of my exchange with Prof. Fogam on Pan-Africanism requires further discussions, not only on ‘Ubuntu’ but on many other philosophical and practical issues that should be useful for Africa’s renaissance. Prof. Fogam started by challenging my use of the word – rekindle. He indicated two concerns. ‘First, the word ‘rekindle’ means ‘to revive’. That presupposes that the spirit of Ubuntu had existed before within African countries. With respect, that is erroneous. African colonial history teaches us that there was nothing in common with the colonial territories that needed to be ‘rekindled’. This is even more so (and that is my second point) when you invoke the spirit of Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a term of South African origin meaning ‘I am because we are’ and translates in real life to mean ‘humanity towards others’. Our colonial history was just the opposite: Nigerians v Ghanaians; Congolese v Cameroonians; Senegalese v Gambians etc. Where was the ‘humanity’ that you are advocating for it to be ‘rekindled’?’
“Prof. Fogam felt we should discuss further on another day. Definitely, in those days when I was younger and everything, including our humanity, had not become commercialised and the emphasis was on being an ‘Omoluabi’, this could have been a basis for several radio/television dialogues to exchange knowledge, educate, and build policies that could ameliorate the African situation. Memories of student-sponsored educational exchanges at universities remain very fresh. The public-spirited lecturers include names like Dr.Tai Solarin, Dr. Bala Usman, Dr. Opeyemi Ola, Prof. Bade Onimode, Comrade Ola Oni, Dr. Akin Oyebode, Edwin Madunagu, Obarogie Ohonbamu, Funsho Akingbade, Alao-Aka Bashorun, Comrade Hassan Sunmonu and, of course, Gani Fawehinmi . They educated Nigerians at large on platforms provided by students and broadcast by public and private media dedicated to a better Nigeria. In fact, a roundtable or seminar could be a major avenue for additional knowledge-sharing on the poser by Prof. Fogam.
“My response was to pose a number of questions: What made Nigeria to be concerned about apartheid in South Africa? What made me happily part with a month’s salary as part of the support towards decolonisation and eradication of apartheid in southern Africa? What made me take along with me my three-year-old daughter to demonstrate in front of Bank of America every Saturday morning while at UCLA with many other people of African descent, pushing for American divestment from South Africa? Tanzania and Zambia sacrificed so much in human and material resources. We may not have had enough of the spirit of Ubuntu but we can surely rekindle the little that is dying or wake up the dead!
“Fogam’s response was very swift: ‘We must not upgrade individual sympathies like you displayed to the spirit of non-existent humanity within us. After all, Ghanaians chased out Nigerians and vice-versa from their countries; even the South Africans that you risked your life and that of your daughter in the protests supporting, see what they are doing to Nigerians and other nationals in their country today! Why would you have to take a flight round southern Africa before getting to Harare? Why should it take you so long for a sister country to give you a visa, let alone the (mis)treatment you received at airports? ‘Humanity’ implies the quality of being humane; kindness; benevolence. This was killed in us collectively. We look at each other with utter contempt and suspicion and one is worse off if you carry a Nigerian passport’.
“My immediate response was to acknowledge that he had raised valid points. However, I suggested we can try to build, if not rebuild, our humanity. In my exchange with Prof. Fogam, I brought up the Yoruba ethos of ‘Omoluabi’ that emphasises a human role model that empathises with others and that is also the epitome of good character. Such excellent character in society is based on integrity and hard work. No short-cuts that refuse to care about what is left for others. It is the opposite of the egoistic self that the dog-eat-dog orientation of Western competition has foisted on us.
“Corruption is anathema for an Omoluabi just as it is for Ubuntu. It is certain that corruption kills and eschews Ubuntu and Omoluabi since a most crucial value for Omoluabi – integrity – is necessarily absent when and where corruption reins. Corruption is sadistic for it destroys much of the lives of many in society even if the egoistic conscience-less individual appears to be happy with it. Mandela and Tutu’s views on Ubuntu are useful not only for the needed clarification on the term but also in raising questions on the relevance of Ubuntu and Omoluabi to today’s Africa that throws away virtues, values and the rich cultural heritage of Africa in pursuit of foreign values and norms”.
(Badejo, author of a best-seller on politics in Kenya, is former Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia. He is at the moment a Legal Practitioner and Professor of Political Science/International Relations, Chrisland University, Abeokuta, Ogun state, Nigeria).
Gov. Akeredolu’s memorial park of controversy
Remember the June 5, 2022 terrorist attack at the St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo in which 42 or more souls were brutally and dastardly terminated by terrorists? Ondo state governor, Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, is said to be putting finishing touches to plans to build a cenotaph at Owo to the memory of the victims. Great, not so, except that only Akeredolu appears to be excited about this project! One reason being that a cenotaph is not necessarily the people’s priority! There are still salary arrears to be paid in some sectors and workers are dying. Workers at the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic (transforming into a university!) in the town are owed 10 months or more in salary arrears. In this modern day, it is a shame that Owo has no pipe-borne water supply; people rely on streams, wells and boreholes. Moreover, one of the houses reported to have been pencilled down for demolition has “historical, political and cultural values as it is the very first two-storey building built with concrete blocks in the entire Owo division (which in those days included the entirety of Akoko). It was also in that house with its unique Brazilian architecture that the Action Group titans like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief SLA Akintola, Pa Michael Adekunle Ajasin and other top-notch AG leaders were hosted when the AG was publicly inaugurated in Owo town on 28th April, 1951. History alone should save that building, just as the first story-building in Nigeria, located in Badagry, Lagos state, is preserved to this day as a historical monument. Save the historic building at Igboroko-Owo! Move the Memorial Park elsewhere!
* Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspapers on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.