Adeshina Afolayan
Department of Philosophy
University of Ibadan


Beginning from Marx’s understanding of the relationship between philosophy and reality, this Introduction to the special edition of the Yoruba Studies Review explores the inevitable but complex relationship that exists between philosophy and its place. Specifically, it is grounded on the urgency of interrogating Nigeria’s postcolonial realities in the light of Yorùbá philosophical insights that, among other things, enable a rethinking of postcolonial social practices especially as sites of identity, agency, knowledge, objectivity, and even of resistance and power. Premised on the fundamental assumption that Yorùbá philosophy constitutes a fundamental site of scholarship within which the task of understanding and reinventing the Nigerian state and societies can be achieved, the Introduction weaves this assumption into the analysis of the fourteen essays that explores Nigeria’s postcolonial realities ranging from overpopulation, public (im)morality, ethnic conflict, injustice, and democratic deficit to environmental degradation, disability, depersonalization, youth culture, and a glaring disconnection between educational theory and practice.

Keywords: Yorùbá philosophy, Social practices, Ethnophilosophy, Nigeria, Postcoloniality.

Let me…re-affirm my faith in the capacity of the Yoruba culture to solve essentially existential problems and advance the cause of human civilization.

—Ọba Lamidi Adeyẹmi, III. The Aláàfin of Ọ̀yọ́1


The Aláàfin of Ọỳ ọ́ made the statement in the epigraph recently at an international conference in 2018 that brought scholars together to explore and interrogate the theme “African Knowledges and Alternative Futures.” The monarch declared the conference opened. His opening remark, quite unsurprisingly, was devoted to the cultural heritage and the political performances of the Yorùbá in contemporary Nigeria. In extolling the significance of Yorùbá culture, the Aláàfin remarked that the vast hegemonic reach of the Old Yorùbá political machinery over large areas was essentially due to “Ọỳ ọ́ Yorùbá political thought,” as well as the success in designing a model of administration which facilitated political ascendancy. While acknowledging the Nigerian postcolonial predicament, and the current clamor for the restructuring of the Nigerian polity in a way that will enable national integration, Ọba Lamidi Adeyẹmi argues that

The Nigerian case calls for the intellectual input of the Yoruba to re-define the nature and pattern of relationship among the diverse and seemingly disparate ethnic groups or nations in Nigeria. Scholars should lead other stakeholders and segments of society to provide intellectual response to restructuring the Nigerian federation. The African academia and intelligentsia should not concede leadership in this enterprise to indolent politicians and self-appointed opinion leaders whose stock in trade is soapbox grandstanding and parliamentary rhetoric. Our claim to being educated will only be meaningful, if we acquire knowledge, internalise its values and appropriate wisdom therefrom for finding solutions to the twin problems of underdevelopment and state collapse (ibid.).

This special edition of the Yorùbá Studies Review is a conscious reaction to the Aláàfin’s understanding of the Nigerian political and developmental impasse, and the role of Yorùbá scholarship in redeeming the situation. The fact that the special edition of the journal was already underway before the Aláàfin made his clarion call to Yorùbá scholars attests to the cogent necessity of pursuing the project.

Optimism has often been manifested toward the role of the Yorùbá Southwest in the political and socioeconomic redemption of the Nigerian state. In the 60s and the 70s, Chief Obafemi Awolowo not only fought for the Yorùbá cause but was also prominent in the conduct of the Nigerian Civil War and the crisis that threatened the unity of the Nigerian state. In fact, there are many who gave him credit for the eventual resolution of the crisis in favor of a united Nigeria. And after the commencement of Nigeria’s democratic dispensation in 1999, several Yorùbá political figures have played one crucial role or another in the continuing attempt to rehabilitate Nigeria. From Pa Abraham Adesanya, Gani Adams, and the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and even the late M. K. O. Abiola, we have political gladiators whose contributions have been refracted through the prism of Nigeria’s socio-political dynamics. In the collective struggle to enthrone democratic governance in Nigeria after the long night of military adventures since 1966, the name of Bola Ahmed Tinubu rings out as a central political actor in the establishment of democracy as well as, for instance, the displacement of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) from power. The PDP had often boasted being the largest political party in Africa with the mandate to rule Nigeria for the next sixty years. Unfortunately, its rule was characterized by mindboggling corruption and frustrating listlessness that turned the Nigerian state into a classic example of a neo-patrimonial state brilliantly interrogated by Richard Joseph’s (1987) idea of prebendalism.2 This is where the political acumen of Bola Tinubu came to play. He has been vilified as an opportunist and has equally been praised as a master strategist who works with the vision of reinventing the Nigerian state through oppositional politics that now has the good fortune of capturing power.3

Yet, Ọba Lamidi Adéyẹmí castigated “indolent politicians and self-appointed opinion leaders whose stock in trade is soapbox grandstanding and parliamentary rhetoric,” and turned to scholars who are able to ransack the intellectual storehouse of Yorùbá culture to “acquire knowledge, internalize its values and appropriate wisdom therefrom for finding solutions to the twin problems of underdevelopment and state collapse.” In this context, Yorùbá philosophy denotes the fundamental site of scholarship within which the task of understanding and reinventing the Nigerian state and societies can be achieved. The essential question is the following: what can Yorùbá philosophical intellection contribute to the attempt to understand the Nigerian condition and proffer a way forward?

In the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, Marx famously delivered a vote of no confidence on philosophy and philosophers: “philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” This statement has a lot of inflectional possibilities that merit mentioning. First, Marx’s point could be taken as a rejection of philosophical analysis for something more radical and transformational. For instance, the latter part of the Third Thesis says, “the coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-change…can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.” On the other hand, the statement could be taken as a critical challenge to philosophers to up the ante by moving from analysis to action. This interpretation would therefore take the eleventh thesis not as dismissal but as a challenge. Marx’s critique of Feuerbach was actually intended to be a critique, by association, of German idealism. The challenge therefore, according to the Eight Thesis, is to understand the implication of saying that “all social life is essentially practical.” But there is a third possibility that rejects Marx’s unjustified disjuncture between philosophical interpretation and transformational action. This possibility implies seeing the Eleventh thesis not as an epitaph for philosophy, but rather as a critique of philosophy’s internal trajectory that ought to lead from analysis to practice. Thus, while idealism may have its place in philosophy, there must also be a significant attention paid to a politically relevant analysis of human reality.

This special edition is not just meant to perform a one-sided programmatic appraisal that deploys Yorùbá philosophical insights to the stark realities of underdevelopment in postcolonial Nigeria, fifty-eight years after independence. On the contrary, it provides a double critique that allows those indigenous philosophical insights to confront Nigeria’s exigent realities while at the same time opening up those ideas and insights into dynamic criticisms.

Redirecting Ethnic Philosophies as Social Practice

There is no doubt that philosophy everywhere owes a debt of responsibility to its place, defined as the context within which philosophy derives its geographical, cultural and intellectual contents, and its engagement dynamics. These places are the “intellectual ecologies” where “concepts find their vitality” (Janz 2017, 162). These are the concepts and ideas we live by, according to Staniland (1979). These concepts and ideas serve fundamentally not only reflective purposes but also existential ones. They are the intellectual means by which people (re)orient their lives and communities. A philosophy that qualifies as “thinking in place” is one that pays critical and interdisciplinary attention to its places and its spaces. Janz argues that

…philosophy is not from nowhere. Philosophy always comes from a place, and that place is never completely covered over by abstraction. It is never irrelevant, even if it has been ignored. Not that there is some necessary causal connection or geographical determinism, as if by figuring out the place from which philosophy comes, we can encapsulate it, know it, and need not attend to its actual content. Place is a far more complex notion than what can be contained in geography. Philosophy is not reducible to place; there is no genetic fallacy or geographical determinism here. Philosophy remains a reflection on its place, geographically, culturally, disciplinarily, and intellectually (2009, 6).

Place is significant because it is tied to the human condition and the human experience. It is through the understanding of place that we are able to unravel the dynamics of self, objectivity, and agency that make us unique humans as well as connect us to other humans across cultures and experiences. Janz concludes that if it is true that place matters in philosophy, then “reflecting on the place(s) that philosophy finds itself in might tell us something crucial about its possibilities” (ibid.).

However, unravelling these possibilities requires undermining the welter of historical and ideological circumstances and obstacles that African philosophy has had to confront since its inauguration in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, as Janz rightly observes, the fascination with, and insistence on, spatial and platial imperatives by African philosophers derive from a traumatized mentality that requires African philosophy to keep justifying its identity and relevance in the comity of world philosophies. But right within African philosophy itself is an internal philosophical dynamic that circumscribes its very identity as a philosophical enterprise. The famous, and quite unfortunate, debate between the universalists and particularists in African philosophy can be read as a struggle over the intellectual mapping of the cultural content and dynamics of philosophy in its ethnic form.

There is a sense in which “African philosophy” is essentially a conglomeration of ethnic philosophies. Or to put it more elegantly, a significant part of what we call African philosophy is a series of reflections on—and interrogation of—ethnic themes and concepts. This is to the extent that African philosophers deploy ethnic concepts, insights, and ideas to the resolution of the postcolonial African predicament. Yet, there is an anti-ethnophilosophy intellectual establishment—Hountondji, Mbembe, Osha, Appiah, etc.—arrayed against ethnic philosophy. In fact, Janz argues that in the attempt at reconciling the universal and the particular, the weight of the effort is usually in favor of the universal (ibid, 7). On the contrary, however, it seems to make sense to consider the place of philosophy as the particular, and then to see how the particular instantiates the universal. To take the argument further, I would suppose that in order to be able to excavate the possibilities inherent in the thinking about the place of philosophy, we need more interrogation of not only ethnic philosophies, but also their insights into current and contemporary issues and problems. One starting point is to see how such philosophies enable concerted reflections on the complexities of social practices. What is a social practice? And how does it intersect the possibilities that ethnic philosophies promise? Or, more specifically, how do we project an understanding of practice that enables us to engage contemporary problems from the perspectives of cultural philosophies?

Horsthemke uses ethnic philosophy interchangeably with ethnophilosophy. Thus, according to him, ethnic philosophy “consists of folkloric traditions, legends, stories, and myths [that survive] in the postcolonial period in both oral and, importantly, written forms” (2017, 687). I have however characterized ethnic philosophy differently. As I have defined it elsewhere, Yorùbá philosophy, for instance, is the “philosophical discourse—traditional and contemporary— regarding assumptions, principles, worldviews, and attitudes that have been developed, interrogated, and refined over millennia” (Afolayan 2016, 265). The contemporary dimension of this philosophical discourse I divided into three interrelated parts. The first is the philosophical interests, by Yorùbá and non-Yorùbá philosophers,4 in the traditional thought system of the Yorùbá. The second refers to engagement with modern postcolonial realities from the perspectives of the Yorùbá cultural and philosophical frameworks. The third part has to do with the contributions of Yorùbá professional philosophers to philosophical reflections within the different branches of philosophy. The advantage of my description is that it not only challenges the bound of philosophical reflection itself, but most importantly, it constitutes a critical trajectory between past and present in a way that enables a significant and critical connection between these ethnic philosophies and contemporary concerns. Ethnic philosophies open a unique opportunity for a temporal dialogue between past and present. However, this dialogue is not unilinear, only allowing the past to speak to the present. On the contrary, the present also lends a critical voice to how the past could be understood and its insights deployed for contemporary exigencies. Thus, through the perspectives we have on the past, we are better able to orient our contemporary knowledge and action through a more rigorous interrogation of our social practices and social formations. In this way, we have a sufficient justification for the assessment and deployment of the philosophical insights afforded by ethnophilosophical reason.

But, in a larger context, we are confronted critically by the possibilities of philosophy enlarging our understanding of social practice as a worldmaking and nation-building dynamics in Nigeria. How, for instance, can our attention to ethnic philosophies become the stepping stone towards a theory of social practices, especially as sites of identity, agency, knowledge, objectivity, and even resistance and power? How can ethnophilosophical reason, in other words, become the platform for the (re)configuration of social practice as the reason and context for action in Nigeria? Social practices emerge from the undeniable fact about human sociality, and the consequent imperative of social coordination that such sociality demands from us. If, according to Sally Haslanger, social practices “are patterns of behavior that enable us to coordinate due to learned skills and locally transmitted information in response to resources that are interpreted and shaped by shared cultural schemas/social meanings, and whose performances are ‘mutually accountable’ by reference to those meanings” (2017, 4), how do they constitute social agency and social intervention?

Haslanger provides a schema that allows us to explore the role of consciousness and consciousness-raising in the constitution of the critique that speaks to our socioeconomic and political conditions and predicament. Consciousness is consolidated in the face of a complex reality that resists us all the time. It becomes all the more critical if that reality comes with an existential anguish, like what confronts the average citizen in postcolonial Nigeria. And that social world is constituted by social processes, practices, institutions, and rules that form a specific reality which hierarchizes social relations. But, individuals are not lost in the oppressive grip of coercive social practices essentially because these practices, however oppressive, are always subject to the collective action of enactment and re-enactment (Haslanger 2013, 7). Social practices are infiltrated by human agency, as a matter of necessity. This makes for the persistent possibility of social change. It is then consciousness about the social practice—consciousness from the perspectives of those that the practices oppress—that serves a disruptive function, and raises our awareness to the fact that “[on the one hand,] sometimes we have to act differently in order to think differently. On the other hand,…[s]ometimes we have to think differently in order to act differently” (ibid).5

What MacKinnon calls the “lived knowing” of the women who live under oppression unravels hegemonic social practices and their inadequacies in readiness for a reordering or a reconstitution of their meanings. The essence of lived knowing is to offer an alternative mode of knowing or seeing that enables us to shift the schema of reference. In summary, according to Haslanger, “consciousness raising has an experiential element, an unmasking element, a contingency element, and a new paradigm element” (ibid, 8). We should however note that consciousness-raising does not always lead inevitably to liberation:

If what’s claimed for consciousness raising, as a method, is that it leads to knowledge and liberation, one might raise concerns about several of these points. Women are not always reliable authorities about their own experience: we are as subject to self-deception, wishful thinking, faulty generalization, and impoverished concepts as anyone; living under oppressive conditions makes self-understanding, if anything, harder. And it is unclear what it means to shift a “reference point for truth” or the “definition of reality as such.” Moreover, simply knowing that things can be different and changing how we think now does not guarantee that the alternative ways envisioned are better or more just (ibid.).

Since the goal of consciousness-raising is the critique of ideology, I would think that this is exactly where philosophy makes an entry in the whole process of intervening in the reconstitution of social reality. But the current state of academic philosophy in Nigeria breaks down this process of liberatory knowledge that challenges hegemonic social practices.

In Philosophy and National Development in Nigeria (2018), I rigorously reiterated a fundamental point that the philosophy of a people is much more than, and often different from, the academic understanding of what philosophy is. In most cases, and especially in Nigeria, academic philosophizing often outstrips ethnic philosophies and its insights. There could be several reasons for this. I have identified three such critical circumstances that have hampered a serious and productive relationship between real life philosophy and academic philosophy, and their placement in Nigeria—

Nigeria’s political economy (how the socioeconomic state of postcolonial Nigeria constrains the Nigerian philosophers’ mandate to reflect on their context), African philosophical theorizing (how the exigencies of Africa’s continental predicament has taken the attention of Nigerian philosophers more than Nigeria’s own predicament), and the Western epistemological trap (how Nigerian philosophers, by reason of their philosophical trainings, have to struggle with foreign philosophical ideas, paradigms, models and dynamics sometimes at the expense of indigenous philosophies) (ibid, 2).

Within the context of these three circumstances, Nigerian philosophy, if there is anything like that, becomes grossly inadequate in engaging with, and changing culture. I argue, inter alia, that

Philosophizing in Nigeria does not automatically translate into doing a socially relevant philosophy that injects a socially conscious philosophizing into Nigeria’s postcolonial condition. The paradox is that while it is that condition that defines the place of philosophy to life at least in Nigeria, the same condition equally constrains philosophy’s meaning and relevance (ibid.).

The essays in this special edition could be seen as a cogent step forward by which Nigerian philosophy could become true to its context.

Philosophy and Nigerian Realities

The original motivation for this special edition derives from Segun Gbadegesin’s African Philosophy: Traditional Yorùbá Philosophy and Contemporary African Realities. It is immediately obvious that the title of this special edition is a significant play on the title of the groundbreaking work. In that 1991 work, Gbadegesin provides two central beliefs that justify the volume:

My position in this book has been greatly influenced by two central beliefs, derived from my own experience of the social, economic and cultural dimensions of life in Africa, and reinforced by years of active teaching and research in philosophy. First, I am convinced of the reasonableness of the belief that, if philosophy as an academic discipline is to mean anything to Africa in the present situation of its existence, it has to be made relevant to the realities that confront Africans. Though I have not argued directly for this view here, it represents, for me, a foundation upon which a lasting structure of an African philosophical tradition can be built. Second, from the vantage point of research in the areas of social and political philosophy and ethics, it has become clear to me that no one can ignore the importance of the cultural dimensions of philosophical reflections. Indeed, the relationship between the two is one of mutual influence. Culture influences philosophy by providing it with the basic materials for reflection, while philosophy influences culture by posing a critique, in various ways, of its foundation. This connection between philosophy and culture is not confined to modern philosophizing alone. I am convinced that if we look well enough, we will find it in all ages and all contexts. The denial of philosophical reflection to traditional Africans therefore appears to me to be a “modernist” bias without an adequate justification (1991, xi).

Gbadegesin’s assertion about the state of academic philosophy outside of its rigorous engagement with the existential realities of humans, Africans, hits the nail right on the head. This is an incontrovertible argument. Philosophers can only become relevant to the extent that they are able to deploy their philosophical tools to the understanding of human concerns. However, what is arguable is the extent to which one can “approach African philosophy rewardingly by looking at the presuppositions and foundations of traditional philosophy as well as posing a critique of the foundations of our contemporary realities” (ibid.).

Let me explain. What Gbadegesin intended was for African philosophers to “get on with the positive task of reconstructing an authentic African philosophy which will be distinctive in the contributions it makes towards the resolution of the crisis of African existence” (ibid, xii). I think this is a not-so-good way of making a very good point. Rather, I suspect that the methodological direction of deploying the philosophical insights in traditional ethnic philosophy is misplaced. Generally, I think the deployment of the Yorùbá traditional philosophy, which constitutes the first part of Gbadegesin’s book, becomes too diffused when situated within the broad category of “African” in the second part of the book (never mind the idyllic and impossible task of “reconstructing an authentic African philosophy”6). “Contemporary African Realities” addressed what I have called the “big abstracts” of African studies—those ideas that can be regarded as floating signifiers without any rooted concreteness in specific cultures or nationalities: development, religion, colonialism, politics, culture, and even “African” (see Afolayan 2018, 110–113).

The essays collected in this special edition of the Yorùbá Studies Review have no such pretension about commitment to the “African.” On the contrary, they are united in their foregrounding of Nigeria’s postcolonial existential troubles as the basis for the deployment of Yorùbá philosophical insights. And the result, as should be expected of any work of philosophy, is a rigorous conceptual and critical dynamic of philosophy speaking to the predicament while also interrogating its own assumptions in interrogating the circumstances. Philosophers should not take themselves for granted. In fact, the deployment of philosophical skills is always an opportunity for philosophy to reexamine its assumptions about itself. And this becomes even more critical in the case of a philosophical analysis of the Yorùbá culture assuming some cultural and philosophical advantages that could help reinvent the Nigerian state and societies.

Segun Gbadegesin’s essay, “Anchored in Justice: Yorùbá Philosophy and the Politics of a Diverse State,” opens this volume with what he calls “a narrative discourse of the role that justice plays in Yoruba politics both internally, in relation to their fellow ethnic-nationals, and externally, in relation to other ethnic-nationalities in the Nigerian state.” This, I think, is a significant way to commence for two reasons. The first is that there is a sense in which the nature of the Nigerian state is critical to the understanding of contemporary Nigerian realities that this edition is concerned with interrogating. In wondering about the significance of state formation in India, Rajeev Bhargava raises some queries whose poignancy speaks to how we should wonder about postcolonial states in Africa:

Do they really help us to understand our life-world? Do they illuminate our social and political reality? Or, by forcing upon us a way of looking at ourselves that is fundamentally different from the manner in which we do or should view ourselves, do they instead obstruct a proper understanding of it? Do they have a normative significance and, if they do, what is it? (2005, 13)

Essentially, these questions are not simply about significance alone; they also help us illuminate the dynamics involved in encountering the state anywhere we find its manifestations and apparatuses. Adebanwi and Obadare further situate the cogent relevance of the Nigerian state within a Foucaultian reading:

If the state is constituted as the ultimate power in society, how…do we understand the processes by which this power itself also constitutes, or forms, its subjects, providing the very conditions of the existence of the subjects and the trajectories of their desires and aspirations? If the state as the ultimate power forms its subjects, then the state is not merely what is opposed by elements, say in civil or political society, but strongly what they also depend on to authorize and actualize their existence (2010, 2).

When Nigerian citizens encounter Nigeria or are encountered by its rules and apparatuses, several social, economic, political, and infrastructural dynamics are unleashed that circumscribe the existence of Nigerians.

This takes us to the second reason why Gbadegesin’s essay is an important starting point for this edition. The citizens’ reactions to the legitimacy and illegitimacy of the state are founded on the state’s capacity to adjudicate the critical issue involved in the distribution of resources. This is the justice issue. In political philosophy, the idea of justice is taken to be a core matter in the interrogation of the legitimacy of the state. A legitimate state is one that has the capacity to distribute benefits and burdens in a just manner to its citizens. The lack of justice therefore serves as an aggravation of the postcolonial predicaments for Nigerians. One dimension of this predicament is the fractional ethnic politics that circumscribe the hope of national integration since independence. Gbadegesin’s objective in the essay therefore becomes clear. If the quest for justice is intrinsic to Yorùbá social dynamics, how did it operate amongst them, and how has it been demonstrated in their complex relationship with non-Yorùbá others within the Nigerian polity? Gbadegesin deploys both historical and philosophical analysis to triangulate the link between the excoriation of Òrúnmìlà, the Yorùbá god of wisdom, who unjustly treated Ìwà, his dutiful wife; the rejection of royal and colonial highhandedness at the historical Okeho; and Kúrunmí’s rebellion against Aláàfin Àtìbà’s unjust trampling of the tradition that required his eldest son to die with him (rather than succeed him as king, as Àtìbà desired7</sup).

The Yorùbá sense of justice, Gbadegesin argues, is founded on the ideas of metaphysical equality and social reciprocity. His further claim is that this notion of justice has played a significant role in Nigeria’s pre- and post-independence politics, especially with regard to democratic consolidation and federalism in Nigeria. It could be, however, that Gbadegesin underestimates the extent to which the Yorùbá sense of justice has been compromised by their encounter with the Nigerian state and its complex framework of socioeconomic and political injustices. Metaphysical equality, we can argue, could equally be the basis for negative and unjust practices.

In Badru’s “Contemporary Nigeria and the Deficit of Deliberative Democracy,” Lawuyi’s “The Depersonalized as Vanishing Hero and Heroine in Yorùbá Moral Placards,” Dada’s “Aristotle and the Omolúwàbí Ethos,” Salami’s “Asùwàdà Principle and Inter-Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria,” Olajide’s “Demographics and the Irony of Existential Profiling in Yorùbá Belief,” Omotoso’s “Political Communication and Nigeria’s Democratic Experiment,” and Adepoju’s “Adapting Yorùbá Epistemology in Educational Theory and Practice in Nigeria,” we have various philosophical attempts at engaging with the varied dynamics of Nigerian postcolonial realities. This ranges from ethnic tensions and conflict, population explosion, public (im)morality, godfatherism, the moral basis of political agency, and a glaring deliberative deficit in democratic processes. Badru attempts to derive a redemptive principle of agbájọ ọwọ́ as a collegial framework for rehabilitating the deliberative component of Nigerian democracy that grossly undermined the essence of participation that is the core of democracy itself. He argues: “A fundamental deficit of democratic practice in contemporary Nigeria, I argue, is that electoral choices/candidates are largely disconnected with the spirit of vibrant deliberation/consideration on the part of the Nigerian demos. Rather, electoral choices/candidates are largely foisted on the people by a few influential members of the contesting political parties.” Agbájọ Ọwọ,́ a significant dimension of the ọmọlúwàbí persona, raises epistemic, social, moral, political, and ontological possibilities that could elevate the practice of democracy in Nigeria.

Omotoso adds a good complement to the deliberative element required to enhance Nigeria’s democratic experiment. In her essay, political communication, or its critical absence, plays a huge role in aggravating not only the tensions involved in the national integration process, but also the miscommunication and doublespeak that undermine the social contract between Nigerians and the Nigerian government. Omotoso invites us to consider not only the deployment of various items in the traditional political communication of the Yorùbá, especially with regards to the use of òwe, àrokò and ẹsẹ ifá, but also the significance of traditional political communication dynamics in Yorùbáland for reorienting the compromised influence of the media in Nigeria’s democratic dispensation. For instance, Omotoso notes the mediating role of the media in the traditional Yorùbá society through the town criers. She contends that “Although town criers/gong men were not accorded so much regard by the ruling class, citizens respected town criers and view them as the face of leadership. Remarkably, town criers had the moral capital to not only organize and re-organize messages, but also a moral duty not to distort or misinform citizens.” However, according to her, “…unlike coded message bearers who often await and report responses of coded messages, town criers’ roles in policom [political communication] was characterized by a one-way communication in which they are not permitted to bring back publics’ views to leaders.” What does this tell us about the role of the media as a component of “representative” political system in the indigenous Yorùbá society? What gave voice to the people’s political aspirations apart from themselves, if the town criers were a one-way traffic? Omotoso did not pursue this line of inquiry in her essay, but it is worth pursuing as a means of shedding light on the power play involved in the dynamics of the social contract within the traditional Yorùbá society.

Much like Omotoso, Yunusa Salami explores the deep implications of the Yorùbá philosophical insights, but this time, what is available in the Àyájó Asùwàdà, made famous by Akinsola Akiwowo. In Àjọbí and Àjọgbé (1983), Akiwowo mined the depth of the Yorùbá incantatory poem (àyájọ́) as the basis for the understanding of human sociation and social harmony as the Yorùbá see it. Olódùmarè created everything in the universe as a unit of individuality, but ensured that their survival hinges on their àsùwà or bondedness into a harmonious whole:

It was with the principle of àsùwà that the Heavens were established
It was with the principle of àsùwà that the Earth was created
In àsùwà forms all things descended upon the earth activated by purpose Complete and actuated for a purpose was ìwa at its first emanations It was by àsùwà the Orí was formed in order to be the Father of all

All goodness together formed an àsùwà When the assembly of hairs was complete They took over the head

According to Akiwowo, there is an ontological perspective, found in Odù Ìrosùn-Wòrì, which provides a humanist understanding of the founding of the human society. Akiwowo calls this perspective the “Orunmilaist view of society.” According to this view, when Odùduwà’s children gathered, it was ènìyàn (human) that was chosen to convey goodness into the world. And this goodness, according to the odù, include complete knowledge, a state of undiminished happiness, harmonious existence devoid of fears of all types, hostilities, illnesses and diseases, poverty, and wants. While this may sound utopic, Akiwowo contends that the Orunmilaist humanist view “is an achievable state toward which a society must press the agbára inú (inner will), ìwà-rere (beneficial comportment) and ọgbọń (insights derived from daily experience) of its people…” (1983, 12). There is a form of aggregation that is basic to all creature; they all sùwàdà (come together for the sake of coexistence). The àsùwà therefore only references the most basic and minimal of survivalist bonding. But the asùwàdà denotes a more purposive social aggregation which derives from “the free-willed response of one individual to another” (ibid, 16). The human society is therefore properly called the asùwàdà ènìyàn.

The two primordial forms of the asùwàdà ènìyàn, according to Akiwowo, are the àjọbí (consanguinity) and àjọgbé (co-residentship/cohabitation). From the Orunmilaist framework, there is the assumption that all human beings emerge from one primordial alájọbí. But despite this metaphysical assertion of universal lineal kinship, the bond of alájọbí is not immune to debilitation.

Several human acts and events have served as such a weakening and destruction of the alájọbí bond. In Africa, slavery and colonialism constitute such severing dynamics. The new forms of sociality therefore emerged and served as the basis of àjọgbé. This turned the asùwàdà èniyàn into a fragile relational framework that is afflicted by all forms of conflicts. This is the case with postcolonial Nigeria.

Salami brilliantly takes this asùwàdà principle forward as a significant philosophical template for injecting some sort of sanity into the ethnic tensions that define Nigeria’s postcolonial predicament where everything is taken through the ethnic and religious prism, and where violence looms constantly on the horizon. The functionality of the asùwàdà principle of sociation becomes meaningful within the understanding of Nigeria as a postcolonial state in search of national integration that wields a solid civic nationality out of an intransigent ethnic nationality. According to Salami, “if, as human beings, we are da (created) to be àsùwà (beings who can only successfully as part of a human group with a purpose), then, with the complementary ideas of alájọbí, alájọgbé, and ìfọgbọ́ntáyéṣe, ethnic pluralism should not necessarily lead to ethnic antagonism or conflict.” This is a sound deduction. Ethnic pluralism only leads to ethnicity and ethnic conflict because ethnic identities must necessarily relate within the context of a political community that is not always moved by the imperatives of justice, to allude back to Gbadegesin’s essay. Within this competitive context, ethnic identities automatically raise the urgency of an umbrella national identity that could facilitate the transformation of the multiple ethnicities into a unified and united force for national development. National integration becomes problematic, according to Salami, “because citizens are usually classified as belonging to one ethnic group or the other and they seem to owe allegiance and loyalties toward the ethnic groups to which they belong. Since Nigeria is made up of different ethnic groups, which emphasise their ethnic nationalities, it seems problematic to talk of an identity in such a nation that is ethno-culturally pluralistic.”

But something conceptual seems critically amiss in this essay. Salami rightly notes that “Nigeria is a hotchpotch of different ethnic nationalities. The people usually referred to as Nigerians are in different geo-political settings with their multifarious experiences about the world.” “Hotchpotch” aptly serves as the lexical signifier of the political reality of ethnic dissonance in Nigeria. It is what makes national identity deeply problematic. Yet, Salami continues to insist in the essay that Nigeria is a nation rather than a multinational state. If we assume, as Salami does, that Nigeria is already a nation, then what use do we have again for the asùwàdà principle? The essay’s critical intervention must therefore turn on the conceptual understanding of what makes a “hotchpotch of different ethnic nationalities” a nation, rather than just a multinational state. Is the multinational state necessarily a nation-state? Is the concept of a “state” interchangeable with that of a “nation”?

While Salami employs the concept of alájọbí and àjọgbé as categories of co-existence in a state, it seems more useful to see the two concepts as qualitative forms of existing. To exist merely in cohabitation (àjọgbé) would seem to lead to more fractious social relations than when the cohabitation is founded on deeper ties, say, of blood or ancestry (consanguinity or àjọbí). It seems therefore more logical to see how àjọbí is what is lost in a multinational state, and why it is better suited to the idea of a nation wielded together by a form of belonging that goes beyond àjọgbé, or mere coexistence. Willy nilly, we land right back in the conceptual distinction between a (multinational) state and a nation (-state).

Dada’s interest lies in a fundamental relationship between public morality and democratic consolidation in Nigeria. He provides a candid conceptual assessment of the relationship between the two:

The significance of public morality lies in its ensuring that a leader’s moral dynamics is sufficiently firm and commendable as to be suitable for the critical task of holding public office. The idea of public morality intersects that of democratic governance at the point of making sure that strong institutions are not wilfully undermined by degenerate politicians and other public office holders. Democratic governance is founded on strong institutions which are put in place to facilitate the mutually empowering relationship between the government and the governed. Political power, if not properly circumscribed, undermines the public good through the political manoeuvres of greedy and unscrupulous public officials and politicians. It is at this point that public policies become side-tracked in a way that benefits the representatives rather than, and even at the expense of, the represented.

This essay further unpacks Badru’s worries about godfatherism and the deficit of deliberative democracy in Nigeria. But while Badru juggles with àgbájọ ọwọ́ as a critical core of what it means to be an ọmọlúwàbí, Dada takes the ọmọlúwàbí moral dynamics further by weighing its relevance vis-à-vis Aristotle’s virtue ethics that demonstrates how a virtuous character habituation can enable us think more about how morality serves as the end (telos) of politics in Aristotle’s philosophical framework. In Aristotle’s conjuncture of ethics and morality, according to Dada, “the task of politics is much more than the acquisition of political power or even the provision of what is necessary for the life of the community. The wellbeing of the community is not confined to economic security and internal and external peace. On the contrary, the primary task of politics is to care for the citizens’ acquisition of knowledge and their moral conditioning. Politics then becomes an application at a larger scale of what ethics tries to do at the individual level—institute and teach action that will bring happiness.”

“The idea of character habituation links Aristotle’s concept of virtue to the Yorùbá understanding of an ọmọlúwàbí. And both, Dada argues, provide the template for the character requirement that could underscore the centrality of public morality to Nigeria’s democratic experiment. The treatment of what Dada calls the “Ọmọlúwàbí ethos” produces a sinking feeling that the ọmọlúwàbí may just be a receding moral horizon which may be difficult for anyone, except angels, to achieve. This discourse about the analytical acceptability of the concept of the ọmọlúwàbí is one of the central arguments that Lawuyi deployed in his scintillating effort at injecting the idea of moral placards into our collective perception of not only Yorùbá heroes and heroines, but also Nigeria’s national political figures. Lawuyi’s essay is grounded on the philosophical implications of the Yorùbá proverb:

“Ọjọ́ a bá kú là ń dère, èèyàn ò sunwọ̀n láàyè
(It is on the day one dies that one becomes an idol; no one is appreciated when alive) (Owomoyela 2005, 391).

This proverb, Lawuyi contends, enables us to attend to the dynamic logic of moral placards in Yorùbá society. In other words, this society “permits the co-existence and co-extensiveness of individual and public moral placards, the latter is not an entirely closed system, and so an otherwise depersonalized person can later become a hero/deity/ heroine. Basically, public moral placard can be revised to accommodate new values, give rise to new class of people and establish for them an enviable status.” Thus, in Lawuyi’s critical interrogation, ìwà and ọmọlúwàbí are both subjected to a new interpretation as moral placards that should be understood “in the evaluative-experiential sense [as signposting] the process of self/collective construction and reconstruction of morality in new direction.”

If we are to revisit Gbadegesin’s essay once again, the dynamics that led the Yorùbá to reject unjust acts, even from their gods and goddesses, are similar to what made them reject (or depersonalize) someone only to later accept such a person again as a hero or heroine. Depersonalization takes its root from the infringement of a moral code, “attributed to a defective self-constitution. The individual can be called aláṣeju (one prone to the extreme of thoughts and actions), aláṣetẹ́ (one inclined to doing things that would violate public moral code to a point of embarrassment), aláìnítìjú (the individual that has no shame) or even ẹranko (animalistic), when doing the unimaginable, possibly incomprehensible things outside cultural dictates.” Ṣàngó, the Yorùbá god of thunder, provides a powerful example of the dynamics of the moral placard in Yorùbá ethical interpretation. He was an outsider to the extant moral placard, which he violated and was forced to commit suicide as a depersonalized being. But he was later deified. This understanding challenges us into rethinking the idea of ọmọlúwàbí not, Lawuyi insists, as “fixed by destiny or by biology, or that it is an imaginary that is left for the individual to compose. Ọmọlúàbí is recommended to each person as moral code, as he/she grapples with the existence dictated by his personhood.” For Lawuyi, ọmọlúwàbí in the Yorùbá cultural studies literature is often taken as an “archetypal type” that does not change, and to which all must conform. But, Lawuyi counters, one could hardly imagine where such an individual might be found. How then do we begin to reinterpret the concept of ọmọlúwàbí in the light of the experience of depersonalization in Yorùbá cultural dynamics? Lawuyi has a tantalizing answer:

[T]the issue of ọmọlúàbí, as character, can be approached from a statistical paradigm of set and sub-sets, which is itself an attempt to make sense of the verb phrase, “bi” in the coinage “ọmọlúàbí”, which stands for creativity or act of bringing things about. The verb clearly puts the concept, ìwà, in the context of evaluative, progressive human relations, and emphasized the individual power to act, positively or negatively in a situation. What can birth ìwà, as being, and what can ìwà birth, as behavior, are two faces of the same coin. But as we have seen above, ìwà can bring repugnant or destructive things/acts; and it can be debased; which is how we think Yoruba actually want to look at the concept, ọmọlúàbí. With them there must be a positive evaluation; that is invariably determined by principles of the subsets on which the set is based as a descriptive and evaluative notion. To set up a similar postcolonial moral placard that defines a set of heroes and heroines for Nigeria requires, according to Lawuyi, navigating three standards: (a) the sense of being different and acting within that context of difference, (b) the sense of self-sacrifice for a cause, and (c) a resurrection effect which brings the dead back to life and into the reckoning of society. In Nigeria’s political dynamics, Lawuyi argues that only two personalities would qualify especially for the resurrection effect: Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi and the late M. K. O. Abiola. This should not be a surprising conclusion, given that our unphilosophical reflections about Nigeria’s political elites already led us to this conclusion.

Between Michael Afolayan and Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju, we have a critical and deeply philosophical angst about the state of educational development in Nigeria. Afolayan takes on Nigerian youth culture at the critical intersection of sociology, education, and Yorùbá cultural values. His objective is to explore the linguistic and philosophical implications of the Yorùbá proverb ọmọ tí a kò kọ́ ni yóò gbé ilé ti a kọ́ ta (the child that is not taught will eventually sell the house that is built). How does this proverb enable us to unravel an “indigenous epistemology [that serves] as a note of caution on Yorùbá education and its sociology of filial responsibilities”? For him, “the multi-layered, multi-semantic concept ‘kọ́’” is essentially “a meta-philosophical building block”:

This is because for the Yorùbá, the totality of the life experience of an individual is an unbreakable continuum that includes teaching, being taught, learning, building, being built, and anchoring one’s self in the supra-sociological school of life. In this school, therefore, knowledge is taught, learned, built, and anchored on the human mind. This is a culturally choreographed social cycle that makes an individual whole and explains why the Yorùbá would always say that a child left untaught (ọmọ tí a kò kọ́) or untrained, or who refuses to be taught or trained or be anchored on, and to, the tutelage of life or learned from, or built into, the school of life would eventually sell off the house (a social and philosophical edifice) that is built.

In essence, the concept of “kọ́” enables us to focus critical attention away from a materialistic lifestyle, at both the individual and national levels, to a more intense investment in human capital for more productive endeavors.

Today’s Nigerian youth have found themselves within modernizing dynamics that are devoid of the careful and critical attention given to communal and cultural components of training and education. One significant point of absence is the parents’ abdication of responsibility that, for instance, ensures the transference of cultural education from themselves to their children. And since the child stands as the crucial focus in a tripod of support that include the parents, the community and the government, the responsibility of the government or its absence must also be factored into why Nigeria’s youth culture can barely be counted upon as the solid basis for nation building efforts in Nigeria.

Adepoju takes us into a deeper and more philosophical reflection on the epistemological implication of a Yorùbá philosophy of perception for educational development in Nigeria. For Adepoju, “In a country torn between the possibility of self-transcendence in the name of the greater good and self-focus at the expense of the larger whole, Yorùbá philosophy’s emphasis on values that rise above the pervasive and unavoidable degenerative character of mortality could inspire an appreciation of the need to live for principles that surpass immediate and self-centered gratification.” Drawing extensively from the works of Rowland Abiodun’s and Babatunde Lawal’s philosophical aesthetics, with complementary insights and arguments from Igbo cosmology and Zulu epistemology, Adepoju, with philosophical finesse, explores how a philosophy of perception grounded in Yorùbá aesthetics can enable us to outline a creative sensibility “through the cultivation of the full range of human faculties, from the ratiocinative to the supra-rational. This theory may be interpreted to indicate an emphasis on the senses as the primary platform through which knowledge is gained. From this foundation, greater degrees of penetration into the possibilities of the phenomena in question may be reached through a perceptual continuum ranging from critical thought to imagination, intuition, extra-sensory perception and witchcraft,” as valid categories of knowledge. The larger objective is to see how such a philosophically grounded creativity could be deployed towards meeting the challenge of development through human capital and entrepreneurial investment. Thus, from a masterly excavation of the metaphysical trajectory from ojú òde (biological eyes) to ojú inú (inner eye), and from orí òde (biological head) and orí inú (the inner head), Adepoju surmises that

…the movement from ojú òde to ojú inú, from basic perception to entry into ontological depth, is ultimately grounded in a movement from orí òde, the biological identity represented by the human head to orí inú, the immaterial essence of self that integrates ultimate potential in relation to ultimate being. The orí òde/orí inú matrix may thus be understood as superordinate categories of human being and becoming, the framework within all which all other penetrative progressions, all motion from ojú òde to ojú inú take place, a breadth of understanding that is a central goal of education as a means of facilitating the cultivation of human potential in relation to the entire stream of living and its expression in engagements with particular bodies of knowledge and the demonstration of skill in use of distinctive forms of knowing.

All this demonstrates a unique understanding of education and knowledge as a dynamic template for the cross-fertilization of ideas and insights and creativity that enables learning from a lower “prescriptive” level to a higher “autonomous” level.

In Wale Olajide’s essay, we find a rather startling and provocative existential profiling of Yorùbá procreative proclivity and the abject failure of the Nigerian government to curb the galloping population explosion that has further undermined Nigeria’s chances of national development. In simple terms, unchecked and reckless procreation portends a demographic disaster for Nigeria.

And for Olajide, one way to come to terms with this incidence is to interrogate the existential consequences behind the largely illogical urge to bring children into a world that is absurd, empty, and meaningless, all three themselves existential themes coalescing in our understanding of Nigeria’s postcolonial context. For Olajide, procreative acts must be subjected not only to rational deliberations but also to policy intervention from government. This is because “procreation goes beyond merely having the enabling biological instruments. It also certainly goes beyond cultural dictates and the social institution of marriage…. Once it is granted that procreation is a deliberate choice action it means that it is executed with the rational processes of thinking and reasoning, of deciding and choosing. No aspect of this, as long as humans remain rational, should therefore be blind, jaundiced or arbitrary.”
No one in existence ever agreed to be born. This is because the act of procreation, that of bringing someone else into the world, is solely the preserve of the man and woman who made the decision, rational or irrational, to bring a baby into the world. Olajide contends that this procreative act is essentially a selfish one for which the agents should never hope to receive appreciation or gratitude. In fact, they rather ought to apologize for cruelly and recklessly bringing a baby into the world. This, for him, is essentially a disservice that has been done to the hapless baby. To take the argument further, and contrary to those who insist that being born is a gift, Olajide argues that all births constitute harm to the baby that is born:

This is partly because whatever fate awaits the new born baby, be it pleasant or cruel, much of it would be influenced and determined by the environment into which he/she is born. Imagine the children born into conflict, raised in conflict, and who eventually, with no other possible living experience, die in it. Some still are born of parents fleeing from war torn regions only to live and die in refugee camps, severely ravaged by acute malnutrition and severe ill-health. Even in countries where some semblance of subsistence seems to exist, poor governance, deplorable infrastructures, abject underdevelopment, and derelict leadership postures often conspire and make existential flourishing simply hopeless.

To borrow a Heidegger’s thought, when a human is born, he or she is immediately ready to die. But the trajectory from life to death is filled with all manner of existential horrors and tragedies that babies might likely have declined if there had been an occasion to ask them whether or not they wanted to be born. It therefore becomes worse because these newborns were not brought into the world for their own sake. Olajide contends that being born is essentially bad luck!

When applied to the Yorùbá procreative capacity in Nigeria, Olajide deploys both ends of Yorùbá philosophical wisdom about child bearing and child rearing to make the genuine point that an unchecked procreative license in Nigeria is a looming disaster for the Nigerian state. Of course, there are Yorùbá proverbs that laud the great cultural advantages of having children for social and ontological reasons. But the Yorùbá, being the pragmatic people they are, also recognize the immense senseless recklessness of procreating just for the sake of procreating. One fundamental demographic question raised by Olajide’s essay is: is Nigeria densely populated or overpopulated? Any answer to this question still does not remove the danger of a population explosion which scholars like Paul Ehrlich have warned us about. In The Population Bomb (1968), the biologist argues that the world faces an overpopulation problem that is not just the result of the rapid growth rate of the underdeveloped countries like Nigeria, as overdeveloped countries also face the same overpopulation dilemma. Overpopulation is the consequence of birth rates exceeding death rates, and there are dwindling resources to sustain the growth rate. Ehrlich’s solution, the source of the immense controversy generated by his notorious book, is simply that we must either find a way to reduce birth rates or increase death rates. Olajide chooses the former. He proposes a government intervention that regulates who can marry. This is because “Marriage ought not, with the benefit of existential hindsight, be an all comers game that is regulated by social expectations, religious injunctions, cultural imperatives.” But then, this can only work if the federal government itself gives attention and political will to its own population policy, which lies unattended to, fourteen years after the last update was done in 2004.

The beauty of Bewaji’s contribution to this special edition lies in his grasp of the value orientation attached to the relationship between the environment and a people’s wellbeing. The essay enunciates what he calls a “Yorùbá ecosophy,” derived at the critical juncture of Yorùbá ontology, epistemology, and axiology, and contrasted with the Judeo-Christian environmental anthropomorphism and its instrumental understanding of the non-human environment. Bewaji’s conclusion is simple: “the Yorùbá value system is by far more advanced in being more eco-respecting, eco-friendly and geared toward sustainable human habitation in a world in which he/she constitutes one small fraction of sentience.” The Yorùbá have an encompassing understanding of the environment, which is taken as “the aggregate of surrounding beings, things, conditions, or influences.” In fact, the Yorùbá creation story shuns the creation-by-divine-fiat that is the core of Judeo-Christianity. On the contrary, the Yorùbá narrative of the origin of the universe appeals to different agencies: “the agency of Olódùmarè, the Supreme Being; those of the divinities; those of the animals; the contribution of the plants and all things in nature; the way in which indigenous knowledge systems are generated; the position of all categories of humans—young, old, women, men, leaders, followers, abled, challenged, etc.—all conduce to a systemic appreciation of what constitute well-being of all beings.” The inclusion of humans in the creation endeavor already implies a different dynamics. In other words, the Yorùbá ecosophy already takes a route that is not anthropomorphic. Rather, humans are immediately drawn into a more empathetic relationship with the non-human environment in a way that recognizes its intrinsic values. This appreciation of mutual survival, Bewaji argues, makes the Yorùbá environmental philosophy a conducive one that Nigeria can adopt as the basis of its environmental policy, which is presently in the grip of competing ontologies and incompatible axiologies.

Omotade Adegbindin’s definitive essay takes on another dimension of the Nigerian postcolonial reality that is often lower down the ladder of development priorities. This is the disability issue. It should be immediately clear to all that Nigeria has a disability problem arising from its national disregard for the over twenty-two million Nigerians living with disabilities. The same argument for considering women as development partners can also be adduced for those living with disability. Unfortunately, the infrastructural deficit facing Nigeria affects them the most. Most depend on families and friends for assistance since they are practically grounded by bad highways and unfriendly physical infrastructures. This is in addition to the normalized ubiquitous stigmatization as well as the fact that they are discriminated against even when they possess what qualifies them for employment. The Disability Bill in Nigeria still remains mired in legislative technicalities.

Adegbindin supplies a philosophical reflection that is missing in most social science literature on the subject matter. In fact, his interrogation has the objective of recommending an alternative in Yorùbá cosmology/ontology that could serve as the basis of undermining the discrimination and stigmatization attached to disability, especially in Nigeria. The concept of ẹni-òòṣà (the companions of the gods) favors an inclusive perception of all humans in a way that undercuts the discrimination against those with disabilities. Adegbindin’s extensive and careful interrogation of the extant literature in disability studies enabled him to set aside the readings that see disability either as biological pathology or as socio-cultural construction: “While the former is essentialist in rendering disability as a fixed condition and as an individual problem to be confronted with medical intervention, the latter identifies it as a social problem that requires social intervention. This intransigent relationship between the two models has led, especially, the advocates of the social model to articulate the means of untangling the causal relationship between impairment and disability.” However, Adegbindin argues that both models have unwittingly boxed themselves into a tight theoretical corner based on the incompatibility of the two models, and their intransigence on the relationship between impairment and disability.

The Yorùbá understanding of disabilities, according to him, “goes beyond the realm of human beings to involving the active participation of Yorùbá deities, especially Òrìṣà-ńlá or Ọbàtálá, a Yorùbá god of creation.” In the Yorùbá pantheon, Òrìṣà-ńlá or Ọbàtálá (the Lord of the White Cloth) is the arch-divinity. Ọbàtálá is one of the three deities that have always co-existed with Olódùmarè in the cosmological order. The others are Èṣù and Ifá. In fact, the relationship of these three to Olódùmarè is a complex theological one. According to Abimbola (2006, 59–61), one could either understand the Yorùbá cosmological order in terms of existential or functional hierarchy. Since Olódùmarè, Ifá, Èṣù, and Obàtálá have always co-existed, they occupy the first level in the cosmos. They are followed, at the second level, by other divinities (òrìṣà), the anti-gods (ajogun), and the witches (àjẹ́). We have the humans as well as the animals and plants at third and fourth level, respectively. However, in terms of functional hierarchy, Olódùmarè stands as the first with regard to political and administrative responsibilities of the cosmos. But, Abimbola contends, “[i]f the function we are interested in is that of the creation of the corporeal forms of physical entities, Ifá poems make it quite clear that Ọbàtálá is supreme to Olódùmarè. In issues of policing, morality and punishment, Èṣù…is supreme” (ibid, 61). Like Olódùmarè, Ọbàtálá is often regarded as being gender neutral. This, together with the deity’s preference for white objects, makes it easy to read the arch-divinity as one that abjures partiality and discrimination, and takes all humanity—able and disabled—as one. As part of its function of creation and corporeality, Ọbàtálá also molds deformed bodies. Adegbindin rejects one mythic narrative which takes deformity as Obàtálá’s means of punishing those who have defaulted. On the contrary, according to another mythic narrative, deformed physical bodies are testaments to Obàtálá’s creative ingenuity. While the first narrative reinforces the thorny normality/abnormality distinction, the second enables us, claims Adegbindin, to dissolve this distinction, and to appreciate Ọbàtálá’s pluralist understanding of what is normal. In other words, rather than see Obàtálá as molding “deformed” individuals, Adegbindin contends that we should rather see the deity as molding “aesthetically differing human forms according to his own fancy and to communicate his idea of normalcy in material terms.” The implications of this for not only disability studies but also for policy in a context like Nigeria are profound. In fact, again to revisit Gbadegesin’s essay, the ẹni-òòṣà philosophy provides a just template for dealing with those who are physically handicapped within an underdeveloped context like Nigeria.

The four other essays in this special edition are theoretically creative and intellectually stimulating attempts to extend the boundary of Yorùbá philosophy. In “I am hated, therefore I am: The Enemy in Yorùbá Imaginary,” Abimbola Adelakun adroitly explores the consequences of the “enemy imaginary” for social relations and the understanding of what she calls “creative agency” among the Yorùbá of southwest Nigeria. Parodying Descartes’ cogito formulation— I think, therefore I am—Adelakun’s “I am hated, therefore I am” brilliantly relates how the enemy rhetoric in Yorùbáland forms a rich subtext for the constitution of identity and agency. She argues that

…the very imagination—and perhaps, the reality—of having an enemy is an integral part of self-making, self-definition, and self-perception for the Yorùbá people. The ways they image their enemy, and use language as means of framing the actions and the schemes of those enemies, gives the supposed enemy—an intangible entity—a material texture that also makes them conquerable. The omnipresent enemy, in Yorùbá cosmology, is not always either readily identifiable or embodied, and thus people use language and imagination to turn that enemy into a being. While formulating the image of the enemy or enemies that are united in hatred against them, they also end up generating an enhanced image of themselves, which is principally because they conceive the enemy in relation to themselves. The challenge of this brilliant paper, unattended by the author, is what implications this friend-enemy dynamic holds for social and ethnic relations in a plural Nigeria. It would have been instructive to, following Carl Schmitt, outline how this “enemy imaginary” could serve as a foundation for understanding the “friend-enemy” dynamics that Schmitt considers to be the essence of the political. Schmitt’s (2007) concept of the political enables us to investigate (a) the distinction between “us” and “them” that grounds ethnic tension in a political context like Nigeria, (b) the constant possibility of violence in group conflicts around scarce resources, (c) the existential fallouts of such violence and conflicts if they were to break out, and (d) how other distinctions in the society—religious, economic, linguistic—can degenerate into the political. Schmitt’s idea of the political would have served as the appropriate mean by which the Yorùbá “enemy imaginary” could interrogate the ethnic relation of the Yorùbá with other ethnic groups in Nigeria, and especially in the light of Gbadegesin’s contention about the significance of the concept of justice in the Yoruba imaginary. How then should we relate the “enemy” imaginary with the Yoruba conception of justice?

Olayinka Oyeleye pursues a provocative interrogation of the Yorùbá moral dictum—ìwà l’ẹwà (character is beauty)—as the starting point for inaugurating a Yorùbá feminist ethics. Her angst derives from the implication of the semantic trajectory from ìwà l’ẹwà (character is beauty) to ìwà l’ẹwà obìnrin (“[good moral] character is a woman’s beauty”). Her question borders on how the Yorùbá understanding of character, and especially the idea of the ọmọlúàbí, constitutes a template for female subordination. Through a brilliant narrative strategy, Oyeleye critically explores the philosophical and moral subtexts attached to issues of adultery, cultural transgression, the ontology of the fetus, moral semantics, rights and duties, aesthetics, etc. She deploys Yorùbá proverbs as subversive elements to ground her claim that what she calls gendered-relative morality (GRM) points at a Yorùbá cultural bias against women. The depth of that bias, according to her, suggests that women may in fact not be intended referents for the concept of ọmọlúàbí. Oyelele’s essay, to reiterate Haslanger’s elements of consciousness raising, has provided us with both an experiential and unmasking elements that seek to subvert a dimension of Yorùbá ethical thinking.

The last essay in this special edition is Babalola Balogun’s “A Sartrean Approach to ayé ṣίṣe in Yoruba Existentialism.” This is an exploratory essay that interestingly seeks to map Yorùbá existential thought to Sartre’s existentialism. Balogun unravels the philosophical meaning of ṣίṣe ayé (literally, doing the world) and gbígbé ayé (living in the world) as the juncture for understanding the ideas of freedom, authenticity/inauthenticity, meaningfulness, temporality, finality, etc. Balogun contends that authentic existence derives from an active sense of ṣíṣe ayé. This essay has the potentials of not only contributing meaningfully to the understanding of existential thought in Yorùbá philosophy, but also further broadening our understanding of Sartre’s existentialist contributions.

To conclude, I am compelled to revisit Haslanger’s pessimism about the possible trajectory that could be expected from consciousness-raising to liberation, especially for those who are oppressed. According to her,

If what’s claimed for consciousness raising, as a method, is that it leads to knowledge and liberation, one might raise concerns about several of these points. Women are not always reliable authorities about their own experience: we are as subject to self-deception, wishful thinking, faulty generalization, and impoverished concepts as anyone; living under oppressive conditions makes self-understanding, if anything, harder. And it is unclear what it means to shift a “reference point for truth” or the “definition of reality as such.” Moreover, simply knowing that things can be different and changing how we think now does not guarantee that the alternative ways envisioned are better or more just (2013, 8).

While this may be a realistic pessimism, it ought not to deter us from consciousness-raising in the first place. This is because liberatory knowledge that stands between this awareness and liberation constitutes a revolutionary standpoint that is not often achieved.


  1. Oluseye Ojo (2018). When Yoruba stakeholders gathered to rebuild
    broken walls
     ,The Sun, 15 February.
  2. The significance of this work to the understanding of Nigeria’s politics, beyond the second republic, was recently excavated and interrogated by Adebanwi and Obadare (2013).
  3. The All Progressive Congress (APC), the political party Bola Ahmed Tinubu helped gave birth to, has been in power now since 2015. And it seems the chicken of political corruption and listlessness in governance has come home to roost!
  4. Sometimes, as this special edition demonstrates, “philosophers” becomes a rubric that constrains the philosophical contributions from those we will ordinarily call “non-philosophers.” The question therefore is what happens to our label when “non-philosophers” turn in philosophically sound contributions?
  5. Haslanger deploys these insights about social practice, consciousness raising and critique to the understanding of oppression in feminism. See Haslanger 2007, 2010, and 2013.
  6. The term “authentic” reminds us of the fruitless philosophical effort of the ethnophilosophers dedicated to excavating African cultural practices untainted by alien accretions. An allusion to an “authentic African philosophy” seems to forget that African philosophy is so irreversibly entangled with so many other traditions as to make any reference to authenticity meaningless. See Adeshina Afolayan and Toyin Falola (eds. 2017, part II).
  7. It did not occur to Kúrunmí that Ògún’s sense of justice could itself be counted upon to undermine a tradition that is unjust!

Works Cited

Abimbola, Kola (2006), Yorùbá Culture: A Philosophical Account (Birmingham: Iroko Academic Publishers).
Adebanwi, Wale and Ebenezer Obadare (2010), “Introduction: Excess and Abjection in the Study of the African State,” in Wale Adebanwi and Ebenezer Obadare (eds.) Encountering the Nigerian State (New York: Palgrave Macmillan), 1-28.
Adebanwi, Wale and Ebenezer Obadare (2013), Democracy and Prebendalism in Nigeria: Critical Interpretations (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).
Afolayan, Adeshina (2016), “Philosophy,” in Toyin Falola and Akintunde Akinyemi (eds.) Encyclopedia of the Yoruba (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), 265-266.
Afolayan, Adeshina (2018), Philosophy and National Development in Nigeria: Towards a Tradition of Nigerian Philosophy (London and New York: Routledge).
Akiwowo, Akinsola (1983), Ajobi and Ajogbe: Variations on the Theme of Sociation (Ile Ife: University of Ife Press).
Bhargava, Rajeev (2005), “Introduction,” in Rajeev Bhargava and Helmut Reifeld (eds.), Civil Society and the Public Sphere: Dialogues and Perceptions (New Delhi: Sage), 13-58.
Gbadegesin, Segun (1991), African Philosophy: Traditional Yoruba Philosophy and Contemporary African Realities (New York: Peter Lang).
Haslanger, Sally (2007), “‘But Mom, Crop-Tops are Cute!’ Social Knowledge, Social Structure and Ideology Critique,” Philosophical Issues, 17, 70-91.
Haslanger, Sally (2010), “Ideology, Generics, and Common Ground,” in Charlotte Witt (ed.), Feminist Metaphysics: Essays on the Ontology of Sex, Gender and the Self (Dordrecht: Springer), 179-207
Haslanger, Sally (2013), “Liberatory Knowledge and Just Social Practices,” APA Newsletters, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring, 6-11.
Haslanger, Sally, “What is a Social Practice?” Supplement to Philosophy, 82, 2018, 1-18.
Horsthemke, Karl, “African Philosophy and Education,” in Adeshina Afolayan and Toyin Falola (eds.) Palgrave Handbook of African Philosophy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 683-701.
Janz, Bruce B., Philosophy in an African Place (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2009).
Janz, Bruce B. (2017), “The Geography of African Philosophy,” in Adeshina Afolayan and Toyin Falola (eds.) Palgrave Handbook of African Philosophy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan), 155-166.
Joseph, Richard (1987), Democracy and Prebendal Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Second Republic (New York: Cambridge University Press). Owomoyela, Oyekan (2005), Yoruba Proverbs (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press).
Schmitt, Carl (2007), The Concept of the Political, expanded edition (1932), trans. by G. Schwab (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
Staniland, H. S. (1979), “What is Philosophy?” Second Order: An African Journal of Philosophy Vol. VIII. Nos. I &2, Jan/July, 3-10.

Segun Gbadegesin
Department of Philosophy
Howard University,
United States


As a major ethnic nationality in the multinational state cobbled together and christened by Lord Frederick Lugard, the Yoruba have been an integral part of the politics of the Nigerian diverse state since 1914. From the vicissitudes of the politics of nationalist struggles against colonial imposition to the politics of independence and nation-building, the core traditional values and philosophical outlook of each of the ethnic nationalities are discernible in their approaches to the issues that confront the new state. In this paper, I identify the core traditional values of the Yoruba nationality. I focus specifically on the Yoruba fascination with justice as a guiding principle as they relate to other nationalities in dealing with the issues that confront the new state. I argue that this fascination is not an arbitrary recourse in the politics of the new state. Rather, obsession with justice has been a defining feature of intra-Yoruba dealings from precolonial times to the present. To illustrate, I recount a few historical and mythical examples from the radical and unconventional social critics, Kọrú Ọjà, Ọpálábà and Aróhánrán of the Old Ọyọ Empire, to the historical Àare ̣ Kúrunmí of Ìjàyè. Finally, I highlight a few episodes in the political development of Nigeria and the role that the Yoruba obsession with justice has played in the political journey of the country.

Keywords: Justice, Nigerian state, Yorùbá politics, Tradition, Metaphysical equality


Analysis and clarification of philosophical concepts that feature in non-Western cultures have been unduly framed as a comparative analysis in which similarities and differences with Western concepts occupy the central spotlight. While I do not deny the usefulness of that approach, it is not my interest here. My approach here differs in two respects. First, I am not interested in whether the Yorùbá, in particular, or non-Western cultures, in general, have a worldview that is compatible with or can accommodate the requirement of Western concepts of justice. In any case, the requirements of justice have been conceived in various ways in Western culture. And since the various Western conceptions are motivated in part by the different conceptions of persons in relation to society and government, one cannot rule out of court an authentic Yorùbá or non-Western conception of justice, which is compatible with a specific conception of persons, society, or government. Such a conception, if available, may then be used as a basis for judgments of justice in various social and political contexts. Secondly, my interest here is not a conceptual analysis. That is, I am not interested in analyzing the concept of justice. Rather, I am interested in a narrative discourse of the role that justice plays in Yoruba politics both internally, in relation to their fellow ethnic-nationals, and externally, in relation to other ethnic-nationalities in the Nigerian state. In what ways do perceptions of justice or injustice motivate the Yorùbá to act or refrain from acting in different situations? I address this question by looking at few snapshots of cultural, social, and political practices from precolonial times to the present.

The Social Contexts of Justice

There is a pertinent observation that there appears to be a consensus among scholars of Western and non-Western cultures that while Western social life is individualistic, non-Western social life is communalistic. John Stuart Mill is the philosopher of Western individualism, and scholar-statesmen from Nkrumah to Nyerere and Senghor have made much of what they consider as the communal orientation indigenous to traditional Africa. But as I have argued elsewhere, communalism is not unique to Africa (Gbadegesin 1991), as it is characteristic of all traditional societies, including those of the West. Various philosophical explorations account for its prevalence in such societies, including the historical materialism of Marx and the spiritual humanism of Senghor. Face-to-face material existence in the absence of technological development can elicit the practice of communalistic living among a people. The important point, however, is that issues of what is just are always at the core of social life no matter how communalistic or individualistic the
social context is. Consider the following social contexts:

  1. A husband/father in a polygamous home is accused of favoring one
    wife and her children over others.
  2. A community protests the high-handedness of its ruler(s).
  3. A high chief rebels against his paramount ruler for violating tradition.
  4. A people reject as unjust the imposition of an external power over
    them without their consent.
  5. A social critic’s lampooning of the system of punitive justice in his
    community changed the system.

Each of these five contexts is a narrative of an occurrence, real or mythical, in Yorùbáland. In each of them, the centrality of justice as the motive force of action or reaction is inescapable.

Justice in the Family Context

Consider the first context: the family as the basic unit of social life. In traditional Yorùbá society, the husband is the recognized head of the family. As such, he is expected to be fair in his dealings with his wife (or wives) and children. He cannot fairly show preference for one over the others. Besides being unfair, it is also considered imprudent because it can damage the family cohesion in the long run. This judgment of justice in family relationship is not confined to polygynous contexts. It is invoked even in monogamous relations when the husband is intolerant or abusive. And as it has been pointed out elsewhere, the Yorùbá do not countenance unfairness even from their deities (ibid). Òrúnmìlà, the god of wisdom, is the object of harsh judgment for the way in which he treated Ìwà, his wife. Ìwà was a dutiful wife. Like everyone, however, she was not unqualifiedly good. For instance, in Òrúnmìlà’s assessment, she was not very good at housecleaning. As a man of the people with many clients looking for insight into their future through divination, Òrúnmìlà wanted his house to be clean at all times. Therefore, he took exception to Ìwà’s poor hygiene and constantly harassed her. Fed up, Ìwà packed out of Òrúnmìlà’s house and went to live with Sùúrù, her father. The consequence for Òrúnmìlà was instant and devastating. His clients stopped visiting and his business was on the verge of ruin. They accused him of unfairness to his wife. Apparently, Ìwà’s presence in the house had been a crowd puller. Òrúnmìlà swallowed his pride and embarked on a journey to beg Ìwà to give him a second chance. If the god of wisdom is presented in this light, it is a lesson to mortals that they will not be spared if they are found unfair.

Justice in the Community Context

This affirmation of the importance of justice and fairness in family relation is projected onto the community and the king-subject relation that it entails. For the sake of community peace, and as the father of all, the king is expected to be tolerant and fair to all. Though the subjects recognize their king as an authority second only to the gods (alásẹ̣ èkejì òrìṣà), and the king’s title, Kábíyèsí (no one can question his authority), implies that the king has absolute authority; the community does not tolerate high-handedness on the part of the king. Whenever they perceive such, there is bound to be protest. This is a no-brainer. A people who disdain unfairness by deities cannot be expected to countenance the same by their king, who is subservient to the deities. The mindset that challenges the deity to avoid worsening their condition if he or she is incapable of improving it (òrìṣà bóò leè gbè mí, fi mí sílẹ̀ bóo ti bá mí) will, by the same token, resist any attempt by their earthly kings to aggravate their social life. Perceptions of the violation of this basic principle of social life are at the center of the various civil unrests in pre-colonial Yorùbáland. An example from one community will suffice.

Okeho is a community in the northern fringes of Oyo State. Like many such communities in nineteenth-century Yorùbáland, the Okeho story started with a prince, Òjó Orónnà, from Ilaro, who went into voluntary exile because he considered the process that passed him over for the throne to be unjust.1 His adventure took him to Omogudu with his family and supporters who made him the chief of their newfound home. Not too far from there was Olofin, an herbalist, who had settled in the vicinity with his family and who became a close confidant of the new arrival. Five generations later, there were eleven villages as neighbors, each with its own head, and each minding its own business. It soon occurred to them that there was immense advantage in coming together, especially to ward off and protect themselves against the aggression of the Dahomey and Fulani forces. This unification occurred during the reign of Arilesire, a period which saw a lot of unrest in Yorùbáland. Surrounding towns, such as Osoogun, the home of Bishop Ajayi Crowther, had been sacked by slave raiders. It was prudent for small villages to bind together in a safe environment, such as was provided by Ìjò, a village surrounded by mountains and hills. Arilesire, the head of Ìjò, invited his neighbors to join him for safety and they gladly accepted. Thus, Okeho was founded.

But the villages that came together to found Okeho chose not to merge, but rather to form a confederacy of sorts with security as the common purpose and the basis of the association. While each village became a neighborhood in Okeho, each retained for itself as much power as was not needed in the matter of safety and protection from external sources. Each was still responsible for the economic well-being of its people and for resolving any civil or criminal cases that arose within its borders. However, their new landlord was Arilesire, the “Onjò” and as such, he had an advantage. He was an herbalist and weaver while other neighborhood or compound heads were farmers. While the latter had to venture out to their farms, sometimes for days, Arilesire was a stay-at-home village head. Therefore, the farmers would sometimes appeal to Arilesire to help them solve any problems that might arise within their compounds in their absence. When they were around, they met in the compound of Arilesire to deliberate on the issue of safety and protection and they commonly attended to whatever ritual was required. Beyond this attention to common issues, the various “villages-become-compounds” still minded their own business until the arrival of the British overlords who introduced a new system that offended the sensibilities of the people.

The new overlords failed to pay attention to the simple fact that independence is the yearning of every human being, educated or illiterate. Struggling with and against nature and its many inhibitions was frustrating enough. Being hamstrung by fellow human beings was an additional insult that must be resisted. And so, from time to time, trouble came the way of colonial administrators from the least expected sources, especially in the matter of agitation against the high-handedness of chiefs who they perceived were conspiring with external powers, including the Alaafin, to trample on tradition. Okeho was one such source of sporadic trouble.

As explained above, the tradition of Okeho upon its founding was confederacy. While other village or neighborhood heads relied on Onjò to solve problems within their domain when they were away in the farms, they resented the new powers conferred upon him by external forces who needed a ruler to take charge of the entire town. Other ten village heads felt disadvantaged with predictable result. They conspired to depose one Onjò after the other and in cases where the Colonial Resident intervened to reinstate the Onjò, the chiefs and the people did not hesitate to eliminate the unwanted Onjò. This was the case in 1895 when Captain Bower reinstated Labiyi who had been dethroned twice by the people. Labiyi was killed thereafter, making the dethronement rather permanent.

The foregoing was only a prelude to what happened in 1916 when Okeho and Iseyin were sacked by the forces of Captain Ross. Some of the grievances of the people of Iseyin and Okeho included the introduction of forced labor for the construction of roads, courts, and a rest house for the white resident, as well as forced taxation. It did not help matters that they also accused their chiefs as co-conspirators with the British colonialists. In addition, the introduction of the court system was alien to the culture of the people who had always relied on the wisdom of the chiefs to resolve amicably any issues between them. From September 26, 1916, Iseyin and Okeho planned the attack and on October 19, Okeho struck, killing Onjò Olúkìtìbí, one of his chiefs, and some of his aides. They razed the court and the palace. On October 21, Iseyin struck, killing a Colonial Officer, a court messenger and some others. They also burned down the court. Captain Ross’s response was swift. He sacked Iseyin, killed many of the rioters and condemned the captured to death by hanging. Okeho was relocated to a more open and accessible location where it has been to date (Atanda 1969). Though they were subdued, it was clear to the colonizers that the people openly and bravely expressed their opposition to what they perceived as an unjust imposition of alien rule with its strange customs and conventions which trampled upon their traditional understanding of social and political life.

Justice as Respect for Tradition

Tradition was also at the center of the rebellion of Kúrunmí, the nineteenth- century army general of Oyo kingdom. As Are Ona Kankanfo (Field Marshall), Kúrunmí was appalled at the decision of the king, Aláàfin Àtìbà, to have his son Adélu succeed him, because the latter unjustly abandoned tradition, which required the King’s eldest son to die with the king! Kúrunmí was ready to go to war to defend tradition and fight the injustice. The resident Baptist missionary, Revd. Mann, tried to mediate. Referring to the Christian philosophy of turning the other cheek, he suggested that he did not mind if his entire body was cut “if the purpose is in the interest of lasting peace” (Rotimi 1971, 55). Kúrunmí then espoused what he understood as the Yorùbá philosophy of justice and peace. In a moment of comic relief in an otherwise tragic drama, Ola Rotimi had Kúrunmí lecture the British resident about what justice was. Kúrunmí used the analogy of the frog. According to him, when two frogs face each other by the side of a stream, the greetings they exchange teach humans about justice: “you give me, I give you; I give you, you give me” (Bùn mi; Bùn o;̣ Bùn ọ, Bùn mi etc.). Kúrunmí concluded thus: “‘Give and take.’ That, my friend, is the best philosophy of life” (ibid.).

Prior to the British incursion into Africa, numerous civil wars were fought between the various tribes of the Yorùbá nation because of perceptions of injustice. Fear of domination by others set some on the path of coalition against the perceived empire builders. After the final collapse of the Oyo empire, the struggle for independence by former satellites of Oyo intensified. Perception of unfairness was at the base of such struggles. If one believes that human beings are children of God, one could criticize a social arrangement because it treats a child of God unfairly or unjustly.

Ògún is the Yorùbá god of justice and is revered for his uncompromising approach to his responsibility. A common belief is that Ògún will punish anyone that breaks a vow or promise. This was the logic of Kúrunmí’s intransigence against Aláàfin’s insistence that his son succeed him in violation of tradition. In other words, Kúrunmí believed that it was a break of Àtìbà’s vow and Ògún would support his (Kúrunmí) revolt for the sake of justice. This belief in Ògún’s sense of justice is also behind the recent calls for political office holders in Yorùbáland to be made to take their oath of office using Ògún’s paraphernalia. The idea is that anyone who embezzles will not get away with it.

Criminal Justice

Besides conflict situations, the Yorùbá appeal to justice in the evaluation of specific states of affairs. In this regard, it is the fairness or unfairness of such states, whether traditional or modern, that is the target. It is invoked in a popular folk song of the Oyo Yorùbá:

Ó dá mi lẹ́jọ́,
Ó dá ‘mọ ẹ láre.
Ó f’ọmọ tiẹ̀ lápá relé.
Kò dùn mí o.
Ej̣ ọ tẹẹ dá kò dùn mí,
b’Ọlọrun ò bá pa wá.
He gave me a verdict of guilt.
But he declared his son innocent.
I am not hurt.
Your judgement does not hurt me
provided God spares our lives.

Here the recourse for just judgment is placed in the hands of God. This appeal to the divine power was probably behind Kọrú Ọjà’s daring accusation against the court of the Aláàfin of Oyo in the heydays of the Oyo empire, Ọpálábà’s defense of the system, and Aróhánrán’s vindication of Kọrú Ọjà’s cynicism. Here, the traditional approach to punitive justice was the focus.

Ọpálábà, Aróhánrán, and their old friend, Kọrú Ọjà were walking down the streets of Oyo Ile town on a sunny day when they noticed the execution arena of the Imperial Majesty, the Aláàfin of Oyo.2 Kọrú Ọjà made a remark to the effect that most of the so-called culprits executed at the public gallows were innocent: Orí yéye ni Mògún, aláìṣẹ̀ ló pọ ninu wọn (many of the victims of capital punishment carried out at Mògún are innocent of the crimes of which they were found guilty). Defending the system as incorruptible, Ọpálábà annoyingly objected to Kọrú Ọjà’s observation. He basically called Kọrú Ọjà a liar. Kọrú Ọjà was offended but did not show it. Aróhánrán nodded in disgust with a mind to teach his friend a lesson. Upon reaching his house, Aróhánrán, under the cover of the night, proceeded straight to the palace backyard where the king’s horses were kept. He took the king’s favorite horse, beheaded it, and carried the head towards Ọpálábà’s house, making sure that a trail of blood was visible along the way. In the morning, there was pandemonium. The king’s horseman was enraged and was fearful for his life. But it soon became clear that the criminal had left a trail, which when followed, led to Ọpálábà’s house.

Ọpálábà was still fast asleep when the king’s security agents knocked on his door. He knew nothing about it and he protested. But he could not explain how the horse’s blood traveled from the King’s palace to his doorstep. He was promptly arrested and taken to the king’s court. Judgement was immediate; it was found he was guilty and must be hanged for the crime. As he was about to be executed, Aróhánrán, his friend, found his way to the front. He asked and was given permission to speak on behalf of his friend. He narrated what had transpired between them, how his friend had defended the system even when their old friend, Kọrú Ọjà, observed that most alleged culprits killed were innocent. Aróhánrán wanted to teach his friend a lesson and he was pleased that Kọrú Ọjà was right after all. Ọpálábà knew nothing about the killing of the king’s horse. He, Aróhánrán, was the culprit. But if he had not confessed, Ọpálábà would have been hanged. In short, Aróhánrán submitted, the system of justice was unjust and corruptible.

Aróhánrán was about to be arrested and hanged in the place of his friend when the king stopped the proceeding. They must not kill Aróhánrán, the king ruled. Rather, they must attend to the observation of Kọrú Ọjà and change the system of justice to avoid the killing of innocent people. Indeed, the king sent them to bring Kọrú Ọjà to the palace to help him with the system. However, by the time they got to his house, Kọrú Ọjà was gone, having died suddenly. They were devastated, as they had lost him and his wisdom, and the king had lost a prospective adviser. Now the city lost a prospective benefactor in the court of justice. In a sense, the Nigerian experience has been typical. Honest critics of an unjust system get ridiculed or worse until they die with their wisdom.

Conceptions of Justice

One may approach the issue by focusing on Western conceptions of justice. One may then ask “which, if any, of those conceptions is applicable to non-Western (Yorùbá) culture?” A defense of that approach might be that questions about the justice or injustice of some arrangements, e.g. allocation of goods and services or official corruption, etc. cannot be adequately resolved without isolating the conception of justice in use. But this approach assumes that a non-Western, Yorùbá approach to justice must endorse one or the other of those Western conceptions. The assumption is without a solid foundation. Even if it turns out that the non-Western approach appears to share similar foundational assumptions with the Western one, there is no reason why it could not have evolved independently of its Western counterpart in the same way that assumptions about the nature of persons seem to have emerged. While, therefore, there is warrant for the view that non-Western, Yorùbá cultures employ the concept of justice to evaluate social arrangements, an analysis of their conception may reveal an independent foundation. In the same play referred to above, Kúrunmí’s subordinates rebelled openly against his leadership because he had not consulted with them before declaring war against Oyo and Ibadan. They insisted on their right to voluntarily consent (or refuse to consent) to fight the war that Kúrunmí had declared without consulting with them. It was the same mindset that motivated the Iseyin-Okeho Uprising of 1916, when pure illiterates took their destiny into their own hands to seek freedom from colonial imposition.

Yorùbá traditional moral values presuppose a network of relations between adult persons who are conceived to be metaphysical equals. Despite this metaphysical equality, hierarchical ordering of social life is justified on two grounds. First, in response to the order of nature which makes some parents and others, children, there is ordering according to age. Secondly, in response to the social need for stability and common protection, there is need for ordering according to status. Thus, there are kings, queens, and chiefs, and there are subjects. But the original notion of metaphysical equality (each is a child of God) ensures that even kings are only first among equals and subjects retain the right to remove an errant king. One basis for removal is the betrayal of the trust of subjects.

Justice preserves the good of social life by a system of mutual expectations: from society, there is the expectation that a person would contribute her efforts to stability and progress. From the individual, there is the expectation that her needs will be taken care of. At a micro level, it is unfair to me if I help you on your farm and when the time comes you refuse to help me on mine. At the familial level, as able-bodied adults, my wife and I assume the obligation to provide for our children’s future by giving them good education. At our old age, they have the responsibility to take care of us. After all, this is why the proverbial old Òkété feeds on the milk provided by her daughter. These considerations suggest, I believe, that the idea of justice is central to Yorùbá interpersonal relations. Indeed, one can justifiably posit that one of the essential attributes of Oṃ ọlúàbí, the quintessential epitome of Yorùbá moral character, is an embrace of and respect for justice.

In the modern political contexts of inter-ethnic relations and the struggles for power that they imply, the Yorùbá have apparently been wedded to and guided by their traditional appeals to justice in the context of social relations, whether family or political.

Justice and the Nationalist Struggle against Foreign

Foreign rule sneaked into Yorùbáland in 1861 with the annexation of Lagos, which, a year later, became a formal colony of Britain. While missionaries had spread into the Yorùbá hinterland from Abeokuta to Oyo, and from Ogbomosho to Ondo, foreign rulers had remained on the coast. That was to change with time. First, British missionaries and traders needed the protection of the colonial government in their operations. Secondly, the common interest of kings and communities in peace after a long period of civil war intersected with the interest of the British colonial power. Offers of intervention for the sake of peace were made and accepted. Treaties were signed or forced to be signed, followed by the establishment of British rule across Yorùbáland.

As seen above, Yorùbá commoners in Iseyin and Okeho, who were not exposed to Western ideas of freedom and justice, resisted, by appeal to their native intelligence, imposition of foreign notions of governance. It is not a surprise that Yorùbá elite, soundly educated in Western notions of freedom and justice, found strength in the faith of their forebears in the god of justice to demand an end to foreign rule. From Herbert Macaulay’s Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), founded in 1923, to Ladipo Solanke’s West African Student Union (WASU), founded in 1925, to the Lagos Youth Movement (later named the Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM)), founded in 1934 by J. C. Vaughan, Ernest Ikoli, and Samuel Akinsanya, Yorùbá indigenes, including Sir Adeyemo Alakija, Sir Kofo Abayomi, Dr. Akinola Maja, Obafemi Awolowo, H. O. Davies, Sapara Williams, S. L. Akintola and others, were among the leading lights of the struggle for independence.

It was in the NYM that the Yorùbá fascination with justice first encountered an open conflict of meaning: which, of two approaches, is just? In 1941, a seat became vacant in the Legislative Council and the movement needed to choose one of its members as candidate for the seat. The new president of the movement, Dr. Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw, had expressed interest in the seat. So did Samuel Akinsanya, from Ijebu Remo and Dr. Akinola Maja, a Lagosian Yorùbá. Based on the movement’s preexisting policy that gave preference to its president’s expressed interest in a vacant position, Chief Awolowo declared support for Ernest Ikoli. Without denying the preexisting policy, Awolowo’s position was defeated at the general meeting of the body. Nomination was open to any interested member; a vote was taken and both Ernest Ikoli and Akinola Maja lost to Samuel Akinsanya. But that was not the end of the matter. Based on the precedent in such matters, the result was referred to the executive committee for a final decision. The executive committee reversed the decision of the general meeting by giving the nomination to Ikoli based on existing policy, which Awolowo had espoused. The decision divided the body but Ikoli won the general election and became a member of the Legislative Council.

This story is interesting for two reasons. First, Chief Awolowo, a Remo Yorùbá supported the candidacy of Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw, against the candidacy of a fellow Remo Yorùbá because he (Awolowo) believed that, in view of the movement’s policy of giving preference to its president in case of a vacancy, it was unfair to deprive Ikoli of the nomination. Unfortunately, not everyone saw the matter that way. For those who did not, the existing policy was unfair because it discriminated against members who might have made sacrifices to the movement but did not occupy the office of president. Though Ikoli won, it was a pyrrhic victory. The victory, which hastened the resignation of Azikwe and Akinsanya and their supporters from the movement, effectively ended the dominance of NYM. Secondly, the incident appeared to directly contradict the common perception concerning the ethnic coloration of anti-colonial nationalist struggles. The key actors in this drama debunked that perception with their denial of support for candidates from their ethnic groups. While this may not be obvious in the case of Azikwe’s objection to Ikoli’s candidacy (Azikwe is Igbo while Ikoli is Ijaw), it is clear in the case of Awolowo’s rejection of Akinsanya’s candidacy.

Politics of the First Republic and the Price of Justice

At independence, Nigeria was a federation of three regions—North, West, and East, each with a majority ethnic nationality and a host of minority nationalities whose cultures and languages were under severe threat of extinction. The North had Hausa/Fulani as the majority lording it over the Yorùbá of Kogi and Ilorin, Tivs, the Junkuns, the Idomas, the Kanuris, the Igalas, the Agatus, and many other minority ethnic groups. The West had the Yorùbá as majority exerting authority over the Edos, the Izons, the Urhobos, the Ijaws, the Tsekiris, and many other minority groups. The East had the Igbos as majority imposing its will over the Ibibios, the Efiks, the Ijaws, the Ogonis, the Ogojas, and many others. It was clear that, as a matter of fairness and justice, if the country did not replace external colonialism with internal colonialism, the place of ethnic minorities in Nigerian democracy needed attention. Chief Awolowo’s Action Group made this issue a major plank of its political manifesto, which called for the creation of states based on linguistic affinity. While his opponents dismissed the effort as a political ploy to win the vote of minorities, Awolowo insisted on the justice of his cause. In the end, the West, which he led, was the only region from which a new region, the Midwest, was carved out by the federal government, ostensibly to satisfy his demand. The Yorùbá, as the nationality identified with the Action Group, paid the price for justice. So did Awolowo, the leader of the party, who personified the Yorùbá obsession with justice in the twentieth-century politics of Nigeria.

The trials and travails of Awolowo at the hands of the ruling coalition of NPC and NNDP, just three years after Nigerian independence, which he and his fellow nationalists fought for, irritated the sense of justice of his Yorùbá compatriots and awakened their sense of resentment and angst. Notwithstanding the social welfare policies of his government, including the introduction of universal free primary education, Awolowo’s Action Group struggled for widespread acceptance in Yorùbáland between 1951 and 1960. As the ruling party in the Western Region, the Action Group created the unenviable record of being the first ruling party to lose the general election of 1953 in the Region to the NCNC. However, Awolowo’s popularity increased exponentially in 1963 when the federal government arrested him, tried him for treasonable felony, and sent him to ten years in jail. Majority of Yorùbá people at the time believed that the Federal Government’s treatment of Awolowo was unfair and that the system was rigged against brave outspoken critics of an unjust system.

Creative artists were moved by the experience of the mid-1960s to remind the Yorùbá of their indigenous fascination with justice and to urge them to think clearly about their place in the scheme of things. Hubert Ogunde’s “Yorùbá Ronu” (Yorùbá, Think) was an exemplar.

Mo bojú wayé o, ayé sá mọ́lámọ́lá;
Mo mà b’ojú w’ọ̀run, òkùnkùn ló ṣú bo’lẹ̀;
Mo ni: àréè! Kí ní dé sí Yorùbá ọmọ Aládé?
Kí ní ṣẹlẹ̀ si Yorùbá ọmọ Òduà?
Ye, ye, ye, ye ye, ye! Àwa mà ṣe hùn! Ọ̀rọ̀ ńlá ń bẹ;
Yorùbá ń ṣe r’awọn nítorí owó,
Yorùbá ń jin r’awọn l’ẹ́sẹ̀ nítorí ipò;
Wọ́n gbẹ́bi f’áláre, wọ́n gbá’re f’ẹ́lẹ́bi;
Wọ́n p’olè kó wá jà, wọ́n tún p’olóko wá mu;
Ọgbọ́n tí wọn gbọ́n ló gbé wọn dé’lé ọlá,
Ọgbọ́n náà ló tún padà wá sì dé wọn mọ́lẹ̀;
Àwọn tí wọn ti ń ṣ’ọ̀gá lọ́jọ́ tó ti pẹ́,
Tún padà wá d’ẹni à ń f’ọwọ́ tì s’ẹ́yìn.
Yó, yò, yo, Yorùbá yo yo yo bí iná alẹ́;
Yorùbá ru ru ru bi omi Òkun;
Yorùbá baba ni baba ń ṣe…
Yó, yò, yo! Yorùbá ronu o!
I look at the world; it is a cloudy lump
I observe the sky, it is dark and gloomy
I ask in anguish: what has befallen the Yorùbá, the crowned ones?
What has become the lot of Odua descendants?
Alas, we are dumbfounded and worried;
It is a great mystery
The Yorùbá betray themselves for money
The Yorùbá commit fratricide for position
They convict the innocent; they set the guilty free
They invite thieves to rob the farmer and invite the farmer to catch the
They had once assumed leadership position but are now forced to the back
The Yorùbá are as bright as the night light
They are as wavy as the ocean current
The Yorùbá must know that elders will always be elders.
Yorùbá, Think!

In addition to the reality of their political experience at the time, the play and the song reawakened the consciousness of the Yorùbá in the matter of social justice and changed the course of events in the second part of the 1960s, not just for the appeal of Awolowo’s cause, but also for the way in which the people looked at the politics of the First Republic. Thus, Yorùbá political leaders who aligned with the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), with its politics of One North, were perceived as sell-outs concerned only with their own interests, with no sense of social justice. Awolowo’s release from prison, his choice as commissioner for finance and vice chair of the Federal Executive Council were perceived as the reparation of justice. The victory of his political party, Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), in all the states of the old Western Region in the 1979 elections following the return of civil rule was perceived as a vindication of justice. It was also the fulfillment of the hope that Awolowo has expressed in his July 1963 message from jail to the Western Regional Conference
of the Action Group. That message was titled “The Just Shall Live by Faith” (Awolowo 1981).

Struggle against Military Dictatorship

The Second Republic of civilian rule collapsed in 1979 due to a combination of factors. The military had tasted the forbidden fruit, itself a perversion of justice because it represented the unjust use of force to take over government from elected representatives of the people. Since the first shot at power benefitted the wielders of the power at the expense of the masses, who suffered not just the indignities of military rule but also the ruinous civil war into which they plunged the country, successive military leaders were eager to have their own turn. The weakness and incompetence of the civilian leaders in the Second Republic provided an excuse for the return of the military. This time, they came with a vengeance and with a perverse idea of social and punitive justice.

The Shagari administration had not been a competent steward of the economy. Chief Awolowo warned against an impending economic disaster. He was denounced, and then the disaster took place. The military took over and Awolowo, with no position in any government, was subjected to more invasive search and deprivation of his rights (his passports were seized) than Shagari, who was president of the country. Military rule proved disastrous again and it became a relay race between officers. The country was facing imminent ruin and the common men and women were suffering deprivation on all fronts. Agitations against military rule began in the Southwest with the formation of democracy forums and organizations. The sense of justice of the people had been injured and they sought remedy. Public intellectuals, from Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka to Gani Fawehinmi (Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN), from Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti to Femi Falana (SAN) raised their voice and took to the streets in pursuit of justice. While conscientious citizens from other nationalities were counted among the voices of justice, some unhappy people outside the Southwest chided the zone for its propensity for agitation. They were right about the propensity and to understand it is to know what justice means for the generality of the Yorùbá.

The climax of the struggle for social and political justice as the Yorùbá perceive it was reached during the struggle against the annulment of the presidential election of June 12, 1993. For many Nigerians, the annulment of that election was the height of irresponsibility on the part of the Babangida regime. And they put the blame squarely at the doorstep of Babangida himself, as he was the head of the junta and had not hidden his disdain for civil rule. He had changed his mind several times on political transition, leading to his self-description as a wily dribbler in the manner of Maradona. However, while many Nigerians judged the annulment an irresponsible and unjust act, not many were willing to do much about it. It was not even a secret that some felt relieved because they were against the candidacy of M. K. O. Abiola, either for personal or ethnic reasons. Therefore, the most organized action against the annulment came from the Southwest and when the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) was formed, many non-Yorùbá saw it as a Yorùbá forum to pursue the agitation. Indeed, General Oladipo Diya, the Yorùbá lieutenant to General Sani Abacha, derisively referred to NADECO as ÀGBÁKÒ, a play on Yorùbá word for disaster. Dr. Tai Solarin died in the course of the crisis, having participated intensely in the marches. While the military junta deployed deadly attacks on NADECO members with its killer squad, and many were forced into exile, they were not deterred and it was the junta that finally succumbed.

From an honest observation of the politics of Nigeria from the colonial era to the end of the Babangida regime, it should be clear that the acute sense of justice that spurred the Yorùbá—to struggle against colonial imposition, against a wobbly federal system in the First Republic, for minority rights across the length and breadth of the country, and for a truly democratic system that does not punish innocent political opponents—would not have allowed them to accept without protest the annulment of a free and fair election, no matter who the winner was. Therefore, the struggle for Abiola’s mandate would have been fought with the same principled determination no matter the ethnic nationality of the winner and victim of the injustice of annulment. The root of the struggle is deeper than considerations of ethnic bond. Needless to say, history is clear about the intra-ethnic Yorùbá struggle for justice as detailed above.

Struggle for Free and Fair Elections

In a democracy, elections are the means through which we choose those individuals that we believe can effectively best represent our interests in the corridor of power with responsibility for assigning rights and duties and allocating the benefits and burdens of social life. It is therefore important for individuals to be sure that the right people are in the right places. Surely, reasonable citizens know that there will be winners and losers among the candidates that present themselves for office. What they cannot countenance is that losers can be imposed on them as winners. The injustice of such an outcome is obvious. If so, why is it even contemplated? The simple answer is self-interest and greed. But, if it is understood that the will of the voters is what a democracy registers and respects, any effort to thwart that will is anti-democratic. For a long time in the history of elections in Nigeria, thwarting the will of voters has been considered a legitimate exercise of political power. But, as I mentioned earlier, the Action Group was the first political party to lose an election as a ruling party in the old Western Region. That was because it allowed the free will of the voters to prevail. Those voters accepted the opposition’s campaign propaganda against poll tax, which the Action Group had devised to help pay for the new policy of Universal Free Primary Education. At the next election, however, the same voters saw the benefits of the policy and voted overwhelmingly for the Action Group.

It is unjust to thwart the will of the people expressed through the ballot because it treats them as nonentities. It then imposes on them those individuals that they have not elected. This is done in various ways, including ballot stuffing or simply substituting false numbers for the true results. This practice is widespread and one cannot deny that Yorùbá politicians in various political parties are guilty of it. Especially since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, we have seen challenges to election results from local government elections to general elections at the gubernatorial, national assembly, and presidential levels. Gubernatorial elections have been overturned in Ekiti and Osun, two major Yorùbá states. But the fact that the strongest opposition to electoral malpractice has come from Yorùbáland, including the sponsorship of organizations for its eradication, means that Yorùbá politicians and political leaders take seriously the gravity of the injustice of the practice. With their effort, the importance of electoral integrity is gaining widespread acceptance and the future will not be kind to election riggers. The result of the recent Senatorial election in Osun state where a candidate of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) defeated the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is good evidence in support of this submission.

The Struggle for Restructuring and True Federalism

The critical issue of the structure of the country has been the most pressing question for decades, but especially since the beginning of the Fourth Republic. The issue first came to the fore of national discourse in the mid-1980s with the demand for a Sovereign National Conference which was hoped would determine the conditions of our co-existence as a nation. That was in the wake of the devious manipulations of the military. With the annulment of the presidential election of 1993, the demand only grew in intensity until the return of civil rule in 1999. All this while, the Southwest has been the center of gravity for the agitation for restructuring the country. And, some political leaders, especially from the North, have not shied away from reading their own meaning into the matter.

In a recent interview with Vanguard News, Tanko Yakassai berated the struggle as a Yorùbá agenda to grab power (Muhammed 2017). While he is right that the demand for a true federal structure has been spearheaded by the Yorùbá since 1959, Yakassai cannot get himself to understand that that demand reflects the Yorùbá fascination with justice and fairness. He cannot understand that while it is anomalous for one region in a federation to be so large, that it can frustrate the will of all other regions combined. That was the case in 1959 until 1966 when new states were created. Rather than see such a system as incongruous with the principles of federalism, Yakassai only saw envy in the demand for restructuring because the agitators just wanted to “deny the North of the benefits of population and landmass.” Reference to the North is, of course, a deception. The North is not a monolith. Reference to the North as a population and geographical landmass fails to do justice to the diversity of language and culture, including religion, among the peoples that populate the North. The Midwest was carved out of the Western Region in 1963 on account of the difference in language and culture. But the Northern Region was left intact with its various linguistic groups until 1966. Perhaps if the First Republic had endured and Gowon did not have to confront the impending civil crisis, the North would have remained one region for a long time.

That the Yorùbá have been the leading voices in the struggle for restructuring is not out of character. It is consistent with their aversion to social injustice and to the furtherance of unity in diversity which can only be realized when all parties of Project Nigeria feel that they are not marginalized culturally and economically. The demand for true federalism is anchored in the belief that overconcentration of power and resources in the center is inimical to the wellbeing of citizens in the states or regions. The states are closer to the people and know best what their needs are. Therefore, it makes sense to give more power and resources to the states. Surely, if this becomes a policy, the states of the North and their citizens will benefit as much as southern states and their citizens.


In the foregoing, my concern has been to highlight some interesting features of the fascination of the Yorùbá with issues of justice and political justice. I have observed that justice is central to the intra-national and intra- cultural interactions among the Yorùbá. Judgments of justice are inescapable in inter-personal relations at the most basic levels. From here, it is only a short step to the socio-political contexts and inter-ethnic and inter-cultural affairs. This explains the prominence of Yorùbá voices and actions in Nigeria-wide discourse on and struggle for justice, from the first encounters with foreign rule to the most recent efforts to restructure the country.


1. See Ladele and Oyedemi (1979, and Gbdegesin, 2017.

Works Cited

Atanda, J. A. “The Iseyin-Okeho Rising of 1916: An Example of Socio-political Conflict in Colonial Nigeria,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Vol. IV, No. 4. June, 1969, 497-514.
Awolowo, Obafemi. “The Just Shall Live by Faith,” in Obafemi Awolowo, Voice of Reason: Selected Speeches of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Volume 1. Akure: Fagbamigbe Publishers, 1981 200-206.
Gbadegesin, Segun. African Philosophy: Traditional Yoruba Philosophy and Contemporary African Realities. New York: Peter Lang, 1991.
Gbadegesin, Segun. Okeho in History Mitchellville: Harvest Day Publications, 2017.
Ladele, T. A. A. and Oyedemi, S. A. Iwe Itan Okeho 1750-1978.
Muhammad, AbdulSalam. Interview with Tanko Yakassai: “Restructuring: The Southwest Has Troubled Nigeria Since 1953,” The Vanguard, July 31, 2017.
Rotimi, Ola. Kúrunmí: An Historical Tragedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Ronald Olufemi Badru
Department of Politics and International Relations
Lead City University,
Ibadan, Nigeria


The paper advances three groups of interrelated claims. First, a fundamental deficit of democratic practice in contemporary Nigeria is that electoral choices/candidates are largely disconnected from the spirit of vibrant deliberation/ consideration by the Nigerian demos. Second, candidates that emerge tend to be more parochially disposed to serving the interests of the political sponsors, rather than working towards the promotion of the common good. Third, to address the problem of the research, it is argued that well-meaning, democratically conscious Nigerians should practically embrace the indigenous value of àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality to resist electoral choices/candidates of the noted politically influential elites. As one of the socio-moral values of an ideal Yoruba persona, or ọmọlúwàbí, àgbájọ ọwọ́ underscores the critical point that the realty of the common good properly derives from a rational collaboration of the members of a political collectivity. Ultimately, this understanding of collegiality helps in the promotion of deliberative democracy and its benefits in Nigeria.

Keywords: Àgbájọ ọwọ,́ Collegiality, Deliberative Democracy, Ọmọlúwàbí,

Introduction and the Problem Statement

One of the fundamental principles of the philosophy of democracy is that the ultimate power of political administration in the state ought to be the outcome of a decision made by the people as free moral agents. This means that the people should decide, without coercion, on how to fix two interrelated significant questions of state administration: (i) who is to rule them, and (ii) how s/he is to rule them. The first question concerns the choice of leadership of the state, and the second question relates to the procedural course of administration of the state by the leadership, were the latter to be regarded as legitimate (Badru and Oloruntobi 2016, 163). But, it is uncomplimentary to note that the basic principle adverted to is superficially emphasized in the democratic experience in Nigeria.

After the second period of anti-democratic military incursion into the political space in Nigeria,1 which had ingloriously begun on December 31, 1983, civil rule re-emerged with euphoria in 1999. Since then, four different rounds of general elections in Nigeria had been held, in 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2015. Needless to say, the last general elections brought in the present regime of the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) at the national level, taking over from the erstwhile political dominance of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), which had been in power at the national level since 1999. Cursorily, the foregoing could be taken as a testimony to the progress of liberal democracy in Nigeria. But, one must be critically minded so as not to commit the fallacy of hasty generalization, by unthinkingly jumping to conclusions. Granted, multi-party politics and periodic elections are key to the progress of liberal democracy anywhere, and Nigeria is not an exception. However, one must also duly note that the Nigerian demos, the basis of both multiparty politics and periodic elections, are still covertly being relegated. The logic is simple enough. A fundamental deficit of democratic practice in contemporary Nigeria, I argue, is that electoral choices/candidates are largely disconnected with the spirit of vibrant deliberation/consideration on the part of the Nigerian demos. Rather, electoral choices/candidates are largely foisted on the people by a few influential members of the contesting political parties. There is a justified contention that the practice obtains at the level of party primaries, and at the level of public/general elections. Similarly, it could also be experientially argued that the candidates, which emerge at the two levels, tend to be more parochially disposed to serving the interests of the political patrons rather than working toward the promotion of the common good, which is the ultimate normative telos of any democracy worthy of the term. Considering this, at least, three values of what one could regard as collegiality (a significant value in any actual democracy) are inverted: (i) the value of truly collective deliberation in the decision-making process of public life, (ii) the value of promoting the common good, and (iii) the epistemic/cognitive and socio-political development of the citizen-participant in democratic deliberation.

Given these, my argument is that well-meaning, democratically conscious Nigerians should practically embrace the indigenous value of àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality, which is derived from Yorùbá-African ethics and cosmology, to resist electoral choices/candidates that are handed out by noted politically influential elites. One of the socio-moral values of ọmọlúwàbí, an ideal Yorùbá persona (see Dasylva 2016, 65), is àgbájọ ọwọ,́ which emphasizes the collectivity of minds to achieve social progress and ultimate development. Contextually, it underscores critical point that the realty of the common good properly derives from a rational collaboration of the members of a political collectivity, but not through the pursuit of the sectarian interests of some few influential members of the society. Thus, this value should be the basis of acceptance or rejection of electoral choices/candidates in Nigeria, rather than the sectarian interests of a few political elites within those parties. Eventually, with this understanding of collegiality, the course of deliberative democracy and its benefits would be promoted in Nigeria.

While there has been some scholarly research (that will soon be shown) on the concept of àgbájọ ọwọ,́ my approach and analysis differ from them on three grounds: (i) most of these works are more ethnographic than philosophic; at best, they are tangentially philosophic, far from an attempt at unearthing some deep African and general philosophic values of the concept; (ii) none of the previous works applies the concept to elaborately interrogate the concept of deliberative democracy in Nigeria; and (iii) none of the works grapples with some likely objections or proffers responses to the political application of the concept.

The central research questions in this essay are the following: (i) What constitutes the deficit of deliberative democracy in Nigeria? (ii) Why is the value of deliberative democracy important in Nigeria? (iii) What constitutes ọmọlúwàbí, its value as well as its central ethical elements? (iv) How could àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality localize and operationalize the idea of deliberative democracy in Nigeria? (v) How could the concerns of desirability, plausibility, and feasibility about àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality be addressed?

The essay is divided into six sections. section I introduces the discourse and also gives the problem of the study; section II focuses on some preliminary conceptual explications; section III examines the deficit of deliberative democracy in contemporary Nigeria; section IV clearly articulates the general philosophic desirability of the thesis of the study, before focusing on the specific socio-political desirability of the thesis in Nigeria; section V considers likely objections to the main argument of the work and equally responds to these objections in a rational way, and section VI summarizes and concludes the study.

The Conceptual Framework: A Preliminary Discussion

In this section, I attempt a critical interrogation of the key concepts that frame the discourse, which are collegiality, deliberative democracy, ọmọlúwàbí, and àgbájọ ọwọ.́

Collegiality: Right from the outset, one must note that the concept of collegiality emerges from a background of complexity. For Cavanagh, collegiality refers to an association of colleagues (2010, 1), but beyond this general idea, its meaning is far more complex. But, this does not mean that collegiality is beyond our comprehension. In one framework, collegiality is related to the dynamics of the Socratic dialogue. Arguing from this angle, Van Hooft states that the Socratic dialogue is a collective attempt to find the answer to a fundamental question, the question being the center of the dialogue. He notes:

Although these questions are general in their nature, they are not discussed with reference to philosophical theory. Rather, the question is applied to a concrete experience of one or more of the participants that are accessible to all other participants. Systematic reflection upon this experience is accompanied by a search for shared judgments and reasons…The dialogue aims at consensus. It is not a simple or easy task to achieve consensus. Effort, discipline and perseverance are required. Everyone’s thoughts need to be clarified in such a manner that participants understand each other fully. The discourse moves slowly and systematically so that all participants gain insight into the substance of the dialogue. Participants can also engage in meta dialogue, which is about the process and strategies of the dialogue (van Hooft 2011, 20-21)

The Socratic dialogue provides a framework for looking at collegiality. Another concerns what we can call the ontology of collegiality. For Cavanagh:

Collegiality is associated with concepts such as participation, loyalty, trust, respectful (but perhaps firm) exchange of views, openness and transparency in decision making and power-brokering. A common understanding of collegiality pays regard to the desirability of the notion of sharing-of influence, ideas, responsibility and creativity. A collegiate climate is one in which the characteristics mentioned above are not only genuine and evident, but are considered prerequisite and defining characteristics of the collegiate fabric of the context in question. To this extent collegiality has an association with fairness and social justice in that it embraces many of the key characteristics of an open space for interpersonal engagement and human communion. The collegium, i.e. the space in which collegiality is practised and expressed, is concerned with social justice insofar as a genuinely and normatively developed collegiate environment embraces inclusion, and protects individual right to opinion and audience (2010, 3).

Conceptually relating both the Socratic dialogue and collegiality, as rendered above, we could notice some significant commonalities, such as the all-inclusivity of the environment of dialogue, the concreteness of the issue of discussion, the correlative openness and transparency of the participants, equality and equity involved in the process, predominance of rationality in the exchange of views, criticality of submissions and acceptances, and so on.

Drawing on these conceptual commonalities, one could aver that collegiality is a philosophy of learning and knowledge dissemination about life, which prioritizes, centralizes, or emphasizes a systematically conducted collaborative reasoning or reflection, which focuses on arriving at a collectively well thought-out conclusion, perhaps, evolving from the epistemic ground that since no one is a fount of knowledge, a more robust knowledge better derives from a collaborative collectivity of minds. This epistemic view of collegiality, if extended to the realm of decision-making in public life, entails that any governance decision that affects and impacts the life prospects of the citizenry in a state should be an outcome of a collectivity of minds. Put more clearly, this normative sense of collegiality prescribes that any form of decision-making in public life that affects most of the citizenry should be conducted within the framework of dialogical, rather than monological reflection. This is distinguished from a non-normative sense of collegiality, which (merely) sociologically articulates the operation of collegiality, without necessarily ascribing any normative ideal to it. It is this normative sense of collegiality that is more interesting in the present discussion of deliberative democracy in Nigeria, which is contextually adopted.

Deliberative democracy: This phrase involves two components: “deliberation” and “democracy.” Deliberation entails evaluating the strengths and weaknesses, relative to a position, with a view to arriving at a considered position. Thus, if the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, the position is adopted. But, if the weaknesses outweigh the strengths, then, the position is rejected. However, to use the words of Cohen, democracy is all about making decisions along the lines of “interests and judgments” of the agents that are the focus of the decisions (2009, 249). If “deliberation” and “democracy” are conceptually harmonized, then one could regard deliberative democracy as a form of thinking that normativizes rational deliberation in the process of decision-making in public life; deliberation being understood as a normative ideal and as a test for democratic legitimacy (Cortina 2010, 137). According to Dryzek, the essence of deliberative democracy is the idea that the legitimacy of any collective decision should be sought in reflective acceptance on the part of those subject to the decision (2004, 72). But, it is one thing to note the legitimating importance of reflective acceptance in the context. There seems to be a bigger question of how could or should this reflective acceptance be obtained?

Anticipating the question, Dryzek states that the best way to assure this acceptance is: (i) to define the relevant public as those affected, and (ii) to allow these individuals access (directly or indirectly) to consequential deliberation about the content of the decision at hand (2004, 72). If, therefore, the deliberation is appropriately conducted and it is publicly inclusive enough, drawing on the Dryzek’s sense, then the post-deliberation decisions arrived at, and the public outcomes of the decisions made, are said to have “rational acceptability,” according to Cortina (2010,137). Lastly, to reiterate, one could state that deliberate democracy is committed to specific rational understandings of both the means and the ends of public decision- making. At the level of the means, it prioritizes collective reasoning as the determinant of: (i) the constitution of the agency of deliberation, (ii) the operational procedure of the agency, and (iii) the agenda-setting of the public decision-making exercise. At the level of the ends, it prioritizes serving the interests of the people as reasoning agents, the people that jointly subscribe to the political community within which the public decision- making takes place.

This account of deliberative democracy is sufficient to set the template for our analyses of the Nigerian democratic experiment; though, one should acknowledge that the democratic theory literature is rife with robust and interesting discussions between the proponents of deliberative democracy (see, for example, Hicks, 2002; Cohen, 2009), on the one hand, and the opponents of it (see, for example, Gaus, 2008; Hardin, 2009), on the other.

Ọmọlúwàbí: For Badru, in Yoruba ethics, ọmọlúwàbí is one who has cultivated the epistemic/cognitive virtues of thoughtfulness, and consultation; the moral-social virtues of tolerance, respectfulness, lovingness, sincerity; social responsibility; the moral-linguistic virtue of decency in expressions and the moral-personal virtues of commitment to duties, and moderation in conduct (2017,10). If we emphasize the multi-dimensionality of the virtues predicated of ọmọlúwàbí, then we could state that such personality is a positively complete, responsible and responsive agent in society. Now, since it takes all the foregoing to be regarded as a person of character in Africa, then we could also state that the concept of ọmọlúwàbí is coherent with the essence of African ethics, which is character-inclined (see Gyekye, 2010). Given this, one could similarly state that the brief account of ọmọlúwàbí correlates with some given conceptions of èniyàn in Yoruba cosmology. According to Dasylva, the concept of èniyàn refers, among other things, to “the quality of the human mind, or that which foregrounds a refined intellection, and perception of, and attitude to, life and living” as well as “such principles or values that define and determine the degree and quality of humanness in a personality” (2016,70).

The concept of àgbájọ ọwọ́ (joining of hands; collectivity of efforts), just like that of ọmọlúwàbí, is grounded in Yoruba philosophy. This concept derives from a well-known Yorùbá saying:

Àgbájọ ọwọ́
La fi ń s’ọ̀yà
Àjèjé ọwọ́ kan
Kò gbẹ́rù d’órí
To beat a chest
The whole hand is required
A part of the hand
Cannot lift up a heavy load to the head (Coker and Coker 2009, 7).

Although, it might be claimed that there is nothing philosophic about this rendering and its interpretation, this claim, however, is not true on further reflection. One could rightly state that the concept of àgbájọ ọwọ́ is ontological, moral and epistemic. It is ontological, given that it is continuous with African ontology of the human person as a relational, but not as an atomistic, being. It is moral, given that it normativizes cooperative, rather than antagonistic interaction, in society; it takes cooperative interaction as a morally ideal way of relationship-building between the self and the other, a better mode of human social existence, and this is significant in African ethics. Moreover, it emphasizes what one could call epistemic complementarity, which implies that the knowledge of the self and that of the other, if brought together, are complementary. It stresses that no one is a fount of knowledge, and this is also co-extensive with the idea of essentiality of complementarity in the knowing process in African epistemology (see Chapters 3, 4, & 5 of Coetzee and Roux, 2003). This understanding is rendered thus:

“Ọmọdé gbọ́n, àgbà gbọ́n, l’a fi dá ilẹ̀ Ifẹ̀.” The combined wisdom of the youth and the elders were used to create Ifẹ̀ (Oyeyemi 2016, 4).

If we consider the epistemic contents of the rendition, then we could state that just as a collectivity of the wisdom of the youth and the elders was significant in the founding of Ife, the ancestral home of the Yorùbá, it could as well lead to the founding and sustaining of a deliberatively vibrant democratic society in Nigeria. It is a truism that collective knowledge as collective wisdom could contribute to the development of any society.

Having attempted to separately examine both ọmọlúwàbí and àgbájọ ọwọ,́ one should show their logico-semantic connection. If we agree that the concept of ọmọlúwàbí entails, among others, the epistemic/cognitive virtues of thoughtfulness and consultation, according to Badru (2017), then it necessarily binds with àgbájọ ọwọ.́ The reasoning is simple enough. The value of thoughtfulness in a person invariably suggests epistemic limitations. This means that such a thoughtful person must know that his/her knowledge about anything in life is limited. Therefore, to rationally address this epistemic limitation, he or she must also know that he or she would be better epistemically complemented through a consultation with the other. This shows that thoughtfulness and consultation are conceptually correlative; though, the former is mental, and the latter is largely verbal and demonstrative. If the given premises are true, then the conclusion is also true that a belief in àgbájọ ọwọ́ is a definitive part of being an ọmọlúwàbí. And, since consultation and deliberation are lexically correlative, then an ọmọlúwàbí in public life, who is committed to àgbájọ ọwọ,́ should also be consistently committed to a dialogical conception of collective decision-making, and this is what deliberative democracy entails.

Virtue and value: Given the importance of virtue and value to the thesis that is being advanced, the contextual meanings of the two concepts should be discussed. Contextually, virtue is understood as excellence of conduct, a practical output of conscientious cultivation over a period of time, while value is understood as that which is desirable, as distinguished from that which is actually desired. Critically, what is desirable may sometimes not correlate with what is actually desired; at other times, what is actually desired may happen to be what is desirable, for example, to a mature, morally conscious agent. Moreover, virtue and value are morally connected, given that excellence of conduct ought to be that which is desirable to a mature, morally conscious agent.

Contemporary Nigeria and the Deficit of Deliberative

As briefly noted in the introduction, the central argument here is that, while the so-called liberal democratic practice in Nigeria has been largely denuded of the influence of a very important aspect of it, what we would call the demos’ factor, it has largely foregrounded the importance of some influential and powerful figures or elites within the political parties. Many scholarly works have affirmed this, leading researchers to negatively describe the democratic practice in Nigeria as “clientele democracy (Kura, 2014);” “the wrong practice of democracy (Ajayi and Ojo 2014, 113);” “choiceless” democracy (Omotola, 2007,134); “elitist democracy” (see Albert 2005, 101); “mockery of democracy” (Aluaigba, 2002); “pre-bendal political democracy” (Joseph, 1999) to mention a few. In short, one could rationally assert that the democratic political space in Nigeria is now largely controlled by political godfatherism, rather than the demos’ factor. Scholars have attempted to unravel the nature of the political godfathers, which negate the demos’ factor in the practice of democracy in Nigeria.

According to Omotola, “godfathers” are those who have the security connections, extended local links, enormous financial weight, and so on, to plot and determine the success of a power seeker at any level of a supposedly competitive politics (2007,135). The complex process of doing this from “womb to tomb” is famously known as “godfatherism.” Albert builds upon Omotola’s conception:

Political godfathers use their influence to block the participation of others in Nigerian politics. They are political gatekeepers: they dictate who participates in politics and under what conditions. The role of such people is highly injurious to the advancement of popular, participatory democracy in Nigeria. Political godfathers are responsible for most of the pre-and post-election violence that we have seen in Nigeria…He makes it difficult for members of his political party who fail to recognize his authority to get nominated for elective offices. Those who recognize his ‘worth’ thus go to him to be ‘specially anointed’ and things work positively for them automatically (Albert 2005, 82, 85).

Albert then goes on to mention five types of political godfathers that have dominated the political space in Nigeria:

The first type is “geo-political” or “ethnic” organizations that arrogate to themselves the right to decide who represent their jurisdiction in government…The second category consists of “geo-political” or “ethnic father figures”. These are some prominent individuals within some geo-political or ethnic organization who are popularly respected by members of the movements they belong to, as a result of some past “nationalist activities”… The third category of political godfathers consists of some rich Nigerians who see sponsorship of political candidates as a source of upward social and economic mobility…The clients are usually people who are interested in winning elections ‘by all means’ but who do not have the grassroots support, the money, or the violent dispositions for winning elections. The godfather assures the candidate of easy availability of this possible assistance in exchange for some personal benefits for the godfather after election…The fourth type of godfathers consists of those who only deal with rich clients. Such people, for want of appropriate terminology, can be said to be “political entrepreneurs”. They live on politics. The only asset they have is that they are well schooled in the tricks of winning elections among the grassroots people…The fifth type of godfathers consists of rich patrons who are willing to provide what it takes for either rich or poor clients to win elections. He is willing to provide poor candidates with money and logistical support to win elections and he is ready to contribute to the campaign funds of rich candidates as well as provide them with logistical support (Albert 2005, 90, 91).

As noted by Albert (2005), the influence of the so-called political godfathers, which counters the demos’ factor, can be seen in almost every aspect of Nigeria’s democracy, a significant aspect of which being elections. Adeoye states that the power of patronage in Nigeria has a big influence on election results, and the underlying proposition is that the actual source of power lies neither in the people’s votes nor their power to determine their leaders, but rather in the resources of politicians (2009, 269-270). Therefore, we could agree with Aluaigba, who graphically notes that since 1999, the outcomes of elections in the country have scarcely reflected the will of the voters owing to an avalanche of electoral malpractices (2016, 137). Osakede and Ijimakinwa also agree with the previous studies by showing the geographic spread of political godfatherism in the Nigerian democratic practice (2016, 5). According to them,

The political actors and their political godfathers were on the verge of contending “who is who” in their states. Prominent among the kingpins in the states are Modu Ali Sheriff (Senator) vs Governor Mala Kachalla of Borno; Olusola Saraki vs Late Mohammed Lawal, Governor of Kwara State; Jim Nwobodo (Senator) vs Governor Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu State); Emeka Offor (Chief) vs Governor Chinwoke Mbadinju (Anambra State); Abubakar Rimi (Alhaji) vs Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State and Lamidi Adebibu vs Governor Rasheed Ladoja of Oyo State, to mention a few (Ibid).

It is really disheartening to note that the list of political godfathers and their godsons keeps multiplying with negative vibrancy in the practice of democracy in Nigeria. But, the basic question still is: how do the godfathers undermine deliberation in the democratic experiment in Nigeria and how does this further discredit what we call “democracy”? The answer to this question is simple. Godfathers usually impose their political candidates on other political party members in a way that cancels any attempt to subject the imposed candidates to critical deliberation, on the part of other party members (on the one hand) and on the part of the demos (on the other hand), relative to the presence or absence of moral and epistemic capital of the imposed candidates. By moral capital, in the contextual sense, I mean a mix of virtues and values that an agent ought to embrace and develop, which would make him or her to be socially responsible and responsive (such as fairness, transparency, accountability, responsibility, efficiency, other-responsiveness, courage to do good, ethical patriotism, etc.). By epistemic capital, in the contextual sense, I mean requisite knowledge infrastructure, that is, both theoretical rationality (ideational knowledge of what is to be done) and technical rationality (practical knowledge of how it is to be done) that must be harmonized for functional effectiveness in service. It is argued that where the presence of these forms of capital is compromised by political imposition through godfatherism, then effectiveness in terms of quality service to the people is also compromised. It is needless to state that such a democracy would invariably attract negative acclaim.

But, if it is reasonable to aver that Nigeria is falsely democratic, then what could be rationally done to alter things, that is, to make Nigeria a truly democratic state? This constitutes the next discussion.

Àgbájọ Ọwọ́ and the Collegial Imperative in Nigeria

Here, there are two basic objectives in focus. The first is to expose some significant philosophical values of àgbájọ ọwọ,́ in the general sense; the second is to show its pragmatic desirability in terms of its socio-political and epistemic/ cognitive significance in the deliberative sense of democracy in Nigeria. The first is important, given the fact that, if àgbájọ ọwọ́ is to have any significance as collegiality in the theoretical and democratic sense, then its general philosophic value must be fore-grounded, having earlier shown its desirability within African philosophy. The second is required because it socio-politically contextualizes the relevance of àgbájọ ọwọ́ in Nigeria.

General philosophic values

From the foregoing, it becomes apposite to examine the fundamental philosophic values of àgbájọ ọwọ.́ Metaphysically, the idea of àgbájọ ọwọ́ is committed to the thinking that the being of the other must come into necessary unity with the being of the self to properly ensure the evolution of an appropriate idea of the common good as well as the practical realization of the idea of the common good in society. Put differently, it recognizes the being of the other as a significant contributor to the common development of a robust idea of the common good, emphasizing in the process the idea of ontological egalitarianism; that the self and the other are ontologically equal as social beings.

In logico-epistemic terms, àgbájọ ọwọ́ also expresses a commitment to the cognitive value that knowledge is neither a preserve of the self, nor that of the other; rather, knowledge is best acquired and developed when the self and the other act in complementarity, emphasizing in the process the idea of epistemic egalitarianism of the self and the other, that the self and the other are epistemically equal in society. It is expressive of the notion that a collectivity of rationalities may be more profound than solely that of the self or the other.

Morally, àgbájọ ọwọ́ takes the boundaries and the benefits of moral community as necessarily, but not contingently, embracive of the other, apart from the self, emphasizing in the process the idea of moral egalitarianism. This is the idea that the self and the other have equal moral worth and, by virtue of this, they are also moral agents on equal terms.

When applied to the feasibility of deliberative democracy in Nigeria, the discourse on collegiality assumes a significant dimension. The contention here is simple: àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality should be embraced in Nigeria because of its socio-political and epistemic/cognitive telos. These would be discussed, using the lexical terms of “argument” and “thesis,” the latter being contextually used a sub-set of the former.

Argument I: Àgbájọ ọwọ́ and its socio-political importance in

The first thesis stresses the promotion of true and functional citizenship: Part of the duties of a true, functional citizen is to actively and meaningfully participate, if given the necessary opportunities, in the decision-making affairs of his or her state. Therefore, a vitiation of these opportunities constitutes a counter-vision to the moral development of true and functional citizens in the political collectivity concerned. If true and functional citizenship is one of the values for the existential continuity of a state as a unit, then all obstacles in its path are politically evil, and they must be rejected. Likewise, all efforts to promote it must be embraced and encouraged. To this extent, since àgbájọ ọwọ́ contributes to the development of true and functional citizenship, given that it provides the opportunities for willing Nigerians to actively and meaningfully participate in the decision-making process in public life, then it is politically expedient and should be promoted.

The second thesis insists on indigenous solutions to local problems: The point here is simply that àgbájọ ọwọ́ provides a significant public forum for Nigerians to supply indigenous socio-political solutions for local socio-political problems. The outcomes of the public deliberations, to which all interested rational people are given unrestricted access, would serve as the indigenously generated solutions to basic socio-political problems bothering Nigeria, such as: How do we identify and separate rogue politicians from politicians that are truly committed to what one could call “common social utility”? How could average Nigerians functionally determine the contents and the directions of public policies in Nigeria? This is an autochthonous democratic arrangement that ought to be publicly promoted in Nigeria, rather than always foisting on the country basic socio-political recommendations that have been generated from foreign political climes, regardless of the plausibility and the applicability of the political recommendations within the Nigerian context.

The third thesis is a promotion of intra-party democracy: The point here in favor of àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality is that, freely allowing public deliberations on important intra-party political decisions, such as “who is to be chosen at the level of party primaries,” and taking the outcomes of the public deliberations seriously, even before elections are conducted, go a long way in better entrenching more intra-party democracy in Nigeria. The logic is that it reduces the influence of godfatherism in the injection of mere political opportunists in the general electoral race.

The fourth thesis references an increased emphasis on the demos’ factor: The claim here is that, for years, the influence of the demos’ factor, a central feature of any democracy, has been removed from the realm of socio-political decision-making in Nigeria, which claims to practice liberal democracy, and Aluaigba (2016) aptly noted this above. To this extent, the value of àgbájọ ọwọ́ now opens up to many, rather than restricts to a negligible few, opportunities for the demos’ factor to be central to the process of democratic decision- making in Nigeria, relative to the choice of candidates in elections and, subsequently, melection results. Specifically, the demos’ factor becomes the active determiner, but not the passive recipient, of elections’ results in Nigeria. If the third and the fourth thesis are combined, then Nigeria would witness a more inclusive democracy than we have ever experienced in the country.

The fifth thesis facilitates a basic African contribution to the discourse on democracy: The point here is simply that a commitment to, and a successful operationalization of, the value of àgbájọ ọwọ́ within the political space in Nigeria will ultimately glocalize the Yoruba-African value, showcasing that there are autochthonous values of note in Africa, which could contribute meaningfully to the discourse of democracy, in general, and deliberative democracy, in particular.

Argument II: Àgbájọ ọwọ́ and the epistemic/cognitive importance of Nigerians as citizen-participants

The first thesis speaks to the promotion of epistemic/cognitive competence in political reasoning and analysis: The point here is mere common-sense: practice makes perfect. If willing, average Nigerians periodically publicly participate in deliberations on decision-making, relative to public life, then the epistemic/cognitive virtues/skills of critical thinking, deep analyses of problems before reaching conclusions on their solutions, open-mindedness to issues, receptiveness to the views of the other, carefulness in forming beliefs, etc., of those regular participants tend to be further, practically, improved. These virtues/skills are practically developed in the process of the participants’ thinking very hard to contribute actively and meaningfully to the deliberations, such as forming true beliefs, rationally advancing positions from the beliefs, and giving reasons the beliefs are true and the positions are rationally derived from the beliefs. This practical turn invariably also deepens and widens their scope of socio-political reasoning and socio-political analysis. To this extent, non-public recognition of àgbájọ ọwọ,́ which fosters the atmosphere for the development of these epistemic/cognitive virtues/skills, may correlatively vitiate the development of a high level of socio-political reasoning and socio-political analysis of the willing rational Nigerians as moral agents.

The second thesis demands the promotion of a good epistemic hearer in the Nigerian-as- participant: The point here is that the value of àgbájọ ọwọ́ within the political space in Nigeria also creates a forum for Nigerians-as-participants to practically develop the epistemic/cognitive virtue of attentiveness (attentively listening to the other), before making responses, and this is one of the virtues of a good epistemic hearer. A good epistemic hearer, contextually, is a conscientiously listening person, who is always ready to hear the other out, one who is always ready to benefit cognitively, by paying close attention to all the necessary details, so as not to wrongly impute/ascribe to the other what he or she does not intend, before making any calculated response. In short, a good epistemic hearer is a moral agent, who always believes that any other moral agent is worthy of epistemic respect, in their cognitively related interaction (see Fricker 2007, 67-72).2 He or she is a moral agent who does not uncritically hold onto his or her epistemic beliefs by shutting out a stronger counter-evidence from the other. Related to this is the idea of epistemic equity fostered by àgbájọ ọwọ.́ Unlike epistemic egalitarianism, which emphasizes that, all things being equal, every moral agent is epistemically worthy, or should be epistemically respected as much as the other epistemic equity emphasizes that every moral agent should actually be given as much opportunity as possible to perform epistemically or deliver the relevant epistemic good, apart from being merely epistemically respected.

Likely Objections and Responses

The basic objective here is to address the question of the feasibility of proposing àgbájọ ọwọ́ as the collegial basis for deliberative democracy in Nigeria. This takes a two-fold approach. The first is to critically consider and respond to some likely objections to the thesis of àgbájọ ọwọ́ as an instrumentality of collegiality within the democratic space in Nigeria, and the second is to give a framework of how to practically bring it about.

Perhaps, the first objection is ethno-cultural. The claim might be that the whole thesis of àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality is ethno-culturally restrictive, that it is an emergent thinking from the Yoruba, and that even if it could be successfully brought about in the contextual democratic sense at all, it would only be democratically feasible within its ethno-cultural environment. In other words, given its ethno-cultural milieu, it would never be democratically acceptable to other ethno-cultural groups in Nigeria. This objection, it must be noted, is not really about whether or not the whole thesis is practicable at all; rather, it is about the question of extending the scope of its applicability This objection could be negated by noting that what matters most is not the ethno-cultural environment of the thesis; rather, it is its democratic value in practice. A thesis could emerge from any ethno-cultural environment; so long as it is democratically valuable, it seems rational to adopt it anywhere, even outside its environment of evolution. After all, liberal democracy is essentially a Western political notion; nevertheless, its practice is almost global. Here, we are concerned with its democratic significance in practice, if any, but not its environment of evolution.

Yet another objection to the thesis of àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality might be that, just as any form of deliberative arrangement, it might naturally favor those, who are educated and articulate, those that really know what it takes to present their interests intelligibly and intelligently and equally marshal good reasons to support them. This objection may be countered by stating that the participants in the exercise of àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality, who do not belong to the so-called favored category, may be specially trained by relevant experts to understand and master the nuances and niceties of rational deliberation/ dialogue, so as to off-set their hitherto deficiencies. After the requisite training, subsequent constant practice makes them as good as those, who are educated and articulate.

Having examined and responded to some likely objections to the proposal of àgbájọ ọwọ́ as collegiality within the political sphere in Nigeria, the next pertinent issue concerns the significant question of a framework for the operationalization of the proposal, and this requires some systematically coordinated, goal-oriented steps:

First step: There must be an unambiguous clarity of the political goal or set of political goals or issues to be publicly deliberated upon. This is similar to the systematic effort of problem identification/definition in the study of public-policy making and implementation. Here, a political issue of note may revolve around the question of who is to be chosen among a welter of candidates to represent a party, say X, in a forthcoming election. In this context, all the candidates interested in representing X are to be brought before what one would contextually call “the àgbájọ ọwọ́ political forum,” the forum of political deliberators, or the people’s parliament, so to speak, who are to critically examine the moral and the epistemic capital of each of them, asking them relevantly searching questions, and thus arrive at the propriety of their individual candidature. It might be argued that people might not be interested in forming such a forum, that they would rather choose an option of political exit or deliberate de-politicization, given their distracting level of poverty, their distrust of political leaders, and the perception that their votes have never counted. This, obviously, is a strong point.3 Nevertheless, it could still be countered. Critically considered, the truth of this claim is not absolute.

A people that have been repeatedly disappointed politically in Nigeria might get it right if they politically choose wisely. A very good forum through which wise political choices could be made is the proposed collegiality which deploys the àgbájọ ọwọ́ philosophy. In fact, the problem of poverty could be positively addressed through wise choices of political candidates that are tested and found to possess both moral and epistemic capital.

Second step: There must also be an unbiased identification of the community of people, whose interests are involved, and who must democratically have a say in how the issues are to be approached. In the example given above, the deliberators are to be chosen from the community of people, the candidates are to represent if elected into public offices.

Third step: There must be a reliable and sufficient communication link with the clearly identified community of people, who are to deliberate upon the issues. Here both national languages and local dialects are appropriate for contact purposes.

Fourth step: There must be publicly conducive forums, with all the necessary communications facilities, where the requisite deliberations could be made on the issues involved.

Fifth step: As prescribed in the Second step, both national languages and local dialects are to be deployed for effective deliberative purposes at the forums. This, undoubtedly, extends the linguistic scope and diversity of the democratic deliberation as much as possible.

Sixth step: The rational outcomes of the deliberations are to be taken as democratically significant. For example, in the case of candidates wishing to represent X above, the rational outcomes of the deliberations conducted, relative to the candidates, are to be taken as having a democratic force on who is to be finally chosen to represent X, but not the sectarian interests of a few influential party members, who may prefer to impose a given candidate, regardless of his or her propriety, on others, no matter the level of their moral and epistemic capital. If the rational outcomes of the deliberations have a binding democratic force, which supports candidate Y, as against candidates X and Z, then the community of deliberators would not turn round later and say that they did not initially have an actual say in the choice of person in political position, if eventually elected, given that the process from which candidate Y emerged for the political position, was fairly all-inclusive, within the relative context. This all-inclusivity guarantees intra-party democracy, which is a step above imposition of specific party candidates, on their colleagues, and subsequently on the generality of the people, who are only called upon to rubber-stamp the imposed candidates to occupy political positions, through equally covertly rigged elections. Moreover, if the noted all-inclusivity, guaranteed by the collegial value of àgbájọ ọwọ,́ is embraced and promoted across all political parties in Nigeria, then we would, all other things being equal, have a cream of political party candidates in Nigeria, who have been found worthy morally and epistemically, to choose from for exalted political positions.


In this work, an attempt has been made to propose the value of àgbájọ ọwọ,́ as a collegial instrument, to enthrone a deliberative democracy in Nigeria. The argument has been that, for a long time, the influence of what one could call the demos’ factor has been covertly removed from the so-called liberal democratic practice in Nigeria. This avowal has been based on the fact of the rising influence of godfatherism in Nigeria’s political space. However, the essay argues that, since godfatherism on most occasions enthrones political mediocrity, on the basis of sectarian interests, rather than political meritocracy, which appropriately delivers the common good, then it should be de-emphasized. To address the problem, the essay proposed that the value of àgbájọ ọwọ,́ as collegiality should be publicly embraced in Nigeria.


  1. The first period of military interventionism in the political space in the history of Nigeria was between 1966 and 1979.
  2. Although, Fricker addresses something similar to the phrase, “good epistemic hearer,” she does not use the concept; she actually does use “the responsible hearer.” Moreover, the contextual conception of the phrase is the present author’s.
  3. The author profusely thanks the Guest Editor for raising this important point.

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Omotade Adegbindin
Department of Philosophy
University of Ibadan, Nigeria


As an exercise in African philosophy, this paper examines and demonstrates the limitations of the two popular extremes in disability studies, namely, the medical and social models of disability. While the former is essentialist in rendering disability as a fixed condition and as an individual problem to be confronted with medical intervention, the latter identifies it as a social problem that requires social intervention. The paper employs the methods of hermeneutics, critical and conceptual analyses to facilitate an understanding that, within the context of Yorùbá belief, disability goes beyond the realm of human beings and involves the active participation of Yorùbá deities, especially Òrìṣà-ńlá or Ọbàtálá. Consequently, it questions the assumptions associated with the recognition of the dichotomy between “normality” and “abnormality” and confronts the mystical and/or mythographic representation of ẹni-òòṣà or persons with disabilities with a view to offering new insights into how persons with disabilities ought to be conceptualized in order to promote their inherent human dignity.

Keywords: Disability, Ẹni-òòṣà, Human dignity, Ọbàtálá, Abnormality

Were I hard-favour’d, foul, or wrinkled-old,
Ill-nurtur’d, crooked, churlish, harsh in voice,
O’erworn, despised, rheumatic, and cold,
Thick-sighted, barren, lean, and lacking juice,
Then mightst thou pause, for then I were not for thee;
But having no defects, why dost abhor me?
—William Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis


People with disabilities in the countries of the Third World face many more problems when compared with their counterparts in advanced countries, like the United States, partly because of limited socio-economic resources that could reduce their plight. They face problems that range from staggering incidence of illiteracy among children with disabilities, the problem of dependency on family members and of looking for charity as a means of survival, the problem of limited job opportunities to the problem of oppressive socio- cultural stereotypical ascriptions which, by extension, derrogate or stigmatise persons with disabilities variously as “degenerate,” “social outcast,” “defective,” or, more sarcastically, “abnormal.” Because of their physical deformities or anomalous bodily configurations—which, of course, result from our perception of human bodily configurations—they face incessant embarrassment, a debilitating sense of shame, exclusion from social institutions, and so on.

A large body of literature and studies already exists on disability, revealing the dominance of scholars in the fields of medical and social sciences. There have also been attempts by philosophers, mainly those in the areas of applied philosophy, bioethics, and medical ethics, to bridge the gap between applied questions in disability studies and abstract philosophical thinking. On the one hand, however, existing literature on disability conveys the impression that only those in the areas of applied philosophy, bioethics and medical ethics have useful ideas to contribute to disability studies. On the other hand, existing literature ultimately sees disability in terms of biological pathology and socio-cultural construction. It is in this latter sense that disability has been conceived largely as a consequence of certain disabling barriers created by the hegemonic social and cultural institutions.

The interchangeability of the terms “impairment,” “handicap,” and “disability” in disability studies has increasingly led to the emergence of cacophonous voices on how disability is defined. Like race, gender, and all forms of the “other,” disability has attracted the contributions of scholars from various disciplines, leading to the formulation of a number of models of disability. Of all the models, the medical model enjoyed much prominence due to advances in medical knowledge and a social arrangement that venerates the medical professionals and allows them to assign the metric for determining admission into society or segregation into institutions. The dominance of the medical model was later challenged by the advocates of the social model on the grounds that the medical model has persistently championed the cause of seeing disability and impairment as having causal relationship. While the former is essentialist in rendering disability as a fixed condition and as an individual problem to be confronted with medical intervention, the latter identifies it as a social problem that requires social intervention. This intransigent relationship between the two models has led, especially, the advocates of the social model to articulate the means of untangling the causal relationship between impairment and disability.

Conceived from the perspective of African philosophy, this paper shows the limitations of these two popular models of disability. The paper shows that, within the context of Yorùbá belief, an understanding of disability goes beyond the realm of human beings to involving the active participation of Yorùbá deities, especially Òrìṣà-ńlá or Ọbàtálá, a Yorùbá god of creation. It is of great importance, however, to note that “much discrimination against visibly disabled people results from aesthetic anxiety or discomfort with certain atypical characteristics” (Kudlick and Baynton 2005, 65), which constantly shapes the assumptions associated with the recognition of the dichotomy between “normality” and “abnormality”. This paper therefore confronts the mystical and/or mythographic representation of ẹni-oòṣà persons with disabilities in Yorùbá belief and fashions a reinterpretation of ẹni-oòṣà philosophy which offers new insights into how persons with disabilities ought to be conceptualized in order to promote their inherent human dignity.

Definitional Problem of Disability

Defining disability is not all that simple; it attracts a classification which is based on the need to discern between disability and impairment, between disability and handicap. The ways these terms are used or employed have, for scholars within disability studies, serious implications and consequences that give rise to such divisions as the medical model of disability, social model of disability, capability model of disability studies, and so on. Thus, Richard Jenkins draws from the popular definitions of these three terms as offered by some notable scholars within disability studies:

Impairment, the absence or defect of a limb, organ or bodily mechanism, covering a range of physical, mental or sensory impairments, … disability, the loss or reduction of function or ability as a consequence of impairment and handicap, the disadvantage, constraint or restriction which results from disability (Jenkins 1991, 561).

According to Jenkins, “the definitions allow for the possibility that handicap may result from non-disabling impairments such as disfigurement” (ibid.). This shows that disability is “a disadvantage, deficiency—especially a physical or mental impairment—that restricts normal achievements; something that hinders, incapacitates, or disqualifies” (Reddy 2011, 288). This is in line with the definition of disability, stipulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990, as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”2 Simi Linton’s semantic distillation of disability— her rendering of the Latin word dis to mean “apart”—as the absence of ability is apt (Linton 2006, 171). In light of the foregoing, we arrive at “a causal relation between individual impairment, seen as departure from human normality, and disability, seen as restriction in abilities to perform tasks” (Terzi 2004, 142). Lorella Terzi adds that “causes of disability are attributable primarily to biological individual conditions, which depart from normal human functionings and determine handicap in terms of disadvantage” (ibid.). Ann Davis notes however, that for putting much premium on the “physical,” the foregoing conception of disability is not inclusive. She goes on to formulate what she calls “invisible disability” to question “presuppositions—and confusions— that underlie people’s unreflective views about disability” (Davis 2005, 153). Thus:

There are many individuals with conditions, illness, and structural or biomechanical anomalies that are life limiting but not readily discernible to others. People who suffer from severe depression, chronic pain, or Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); people who are violently allergic to common household chemicals, those who have a seizure disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), or severe fibromyalgia; and those who have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) may all appear “normal” to people with whom they have casual interactions (ibid.).

Despite the fact that the term “physical” or “anomalous body” may not suffice in describing the health states of persons in the above categorization, Ann Davis believes that we could be justified in labeling as disabled those who fall under this categorization since the quality of their lives may be no less profoundly or adversely impacted by these conditions than is the quality of life of those whose disabilities are more obvious” (ibid, 154). Davis further questions the popular societal assumption that a person whose disability is invisible does not face “the sort of stigmatization that attaches to individuals whose disabilities are visible” (ibid.). She contends that the sort of stigmatization faced by persons with anomalous bodily configuration may be different from that of those with invisible disabilities, “persons with invisible disabilities are subject to forms of rejection, humiliation, and social disapproval that are importantly similar” (ibid.). She offers attractive reasons in this respect:

When individuals are not “seen” as disabled, it can be more difficult for them to secure the assistance or accommodation they need to function effectively. Because they are not identified as disabled, those whose disabilities are invisible must often bear the burden of securing the assistance they require … Often, it is not sufficient for “invisibly disabled” persons to reveal that they are disabled and provide information about their “special needs” … Those whose disabilities are invisible may also have to convince other people that they really are disabled, not seeking some special—unfair— advantage: thus, what they must do is meant a burden of proof (ibid.).

Davis’ position is significant in many ways: one, it counters the assertion that “those who do not present themselves to the world as disabled persons cannot be called disabled” (Reddy 2011, 289). This resonates with the idea that our society has abled-bodied standards that are used as “a precondition of being healthy or a constituent of health” (Davis 2005, 159). In other words, following Davis again, “A person can be healthy without being able-bodied, and someone who meets able-bodied standards can in fact have medical problems that are serious, but nonobvious” (ibid.). This agrees with Thomas Couser’s remark that disabilities “may be static or progressive, congenital or acquired, formal (affecting the shape of the body), or functional, visible or invisible” (2005, 602). Two, Davis’ argument offers a wider reading of the term disability beyond the usual or conventional orbit of saying that someone’s bodily configuration essentially defines whether he or she is disabled. The medical perspective on disability has remained a dominant one in disability studies. This is so, for some, because the age-old belief that only those in the medical professions could give, read or even assign meanings to disability is contesting space with other positions in respect of who should say what on disability. A careful distillation of contesting perspectives on disability reveals however that, of all the positions that are contesting space with the medical perspective, the most formidable is what is referred to as the social model of disability. In whatever way we approach issues around disability, it is clear, as we have seen earlier, that there is a casual relation between impairment and disability which could translate to saying that the idea of disability would not arise in the first place if there had not been “impairments”. In the extended sense, “the medical paradigm objectified and categorized people as sick or healthy, mad or sane and justified the hierarchical standard for treating some bodies as abnormal and inferior” (Reddy 2011, 290). The understanding here is that only the medical scientific notions can guide our understanding of the differences that exist in the social sphere between those who are “normal” and fit to live in society and those who are social problems. But the discussion of disability is much more complex than this, especially when one considers the current wave of expostulations that sees disability as a social construct, a social arrangement or “the product of specific social and economic structures” (Terzi 2004, 141).

The medical model of disability, as we have noted, enjoyed much prominence for a long time due to the advances in medical knowledge, the professionalization of medicine, and a social arrangement that allowed medical professionals to mete out the metric for determining admission into a society, or segregation in institutions. For this special role played by the medical profession, persons with disabilities, incited by the revolutionary and strong activism of racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians, and all such groups in the 1960s and 1970s, expressed their indignation that the medical profession has dominated their lives so much that they suffered numerous discriminatory social practices (Vehmas 2008, 21). Because the medical practitioners saw themselves as the primary experts concerning disability, they argue, “disability has continued to be relegated to hospital hall ways, physical therapy tables and remedial classrooms” (Davis 2006, xv). All these reactions culminated into the formation of disability rights movements and, by extension, the articulation of social model of disability. Thus:

Noting the historical and cultural contingency that marks responses to disability, the social model stresses the difference between impairment, a functional limitation of the body or mind, and disability, the product of the interaction between people with impairments and their social, cultural, and physical environments. Whereas the medical/rehabilitative model addresses misalignments between the functional abilities of individuals and their environment by realigning the individual, the social model argues that the environment must change, not the individual (Johnson 2011, 4).

A clear revolution against the conceptualization of disability offered by the medical model of disability, the social model of disability raises questions about the social constructions of disability and claims that “contingent social conditions rather than inherent biological limitations constrain individuals’ abilities and create a disability category” (Stein 2007, 85). This underscores the primary aims of the social model of disability, namely, “raising the personal experiences of disabled people as the primary source of knowledge regarding disability and … identifying disability as a social problem that should be dealt with through social interventions” (Vehmas 2008, 21). Besides these, the social model “aims to address issues of marginalization, oppression and discrimination while trying to denounce and remove the disabling barriers produced by hegemonic social and cultural institution” (Terzi 2004, 143). In the same vein, Mike Oliver, considered a staunch advocate of the social model, illuminates the misuse of both impairment and disability and contends that the separation of the two terms is “a pragmatic attempt to identify and address issues that can be changed through collective action rather than medical or other professional treatment” (Oliver 2003, 39). As a matter of fact, some advocates of the social model are wary of accepting the proposition that there is a causal relationship between impairment and disability. Honoring this proposition, they believe, would give the other party, the medical model, the advantage to push a kind of conventional wisdom that disability essentially has to do with impairments, not a manifestation of social discrimination. Tom Shakespeare reflects this suspicion:

The achievement of the disability movement has been to break the link between our bodies and our social situation, and to focus on the real cause of disability, i.e. discriminating and prejudice. To mention biology, to admit pain, to confront our impairments, has been to risk the oppressors seizing on evidence that disability is “really” about physical limitation after all (Shakespeare 1992, 40).

We should note here that even within the social model of disability, there are striking differing views. In some quarters, there are those who share the opinion that the social model’s attempt to untangle the casual relationship between impairment and disability is unconvincing and is, perhaps, one that has attracted a number of criticisms from the supporters of the medical model and a section of disability activists alike. While we have a representation of some disabled people who have argued that “some social restrictions cannot be resolved by the application of the principles of social model” (Oliver 2003, 38–39), we have others who attacked the social model on the basis of its “assumed denial of ‘the pain of impairment’, both physical and psychological” (ibid, 39). For J. Morris, although one cannot deny the fact that environmental barriers and social attitudes constitute a crucial part of disability, “to suggest that this is all there is to it is to deny the personal experience of physical or intellectual restrictions, of illness, of the fear of dying” (1991, 10). Since there are those who experience severe difficulties in dealing with their impairments, it is argued that there is no logical distance between impairment and disability since these impairments could only be dealt with through medical approaches. As such, the social model is indicted for valorizing disability at the expense of impairment which, the argument goes, “is marginalized or silenced” (Reddy 2011, 293). The social model of disability apparently proposes a positive disability identity which is geared towards the forging of a barrier-free society. For instance, the barriers suffered by the disabled people are attributed in part to “the economic and social forces of capitalism, which are considered as producing precisely the individualization of disability and the oppression of disabled people” (Terzi 2004, 144). A reading of this would mean that the removal of these perceived forces of capitalism would create a barrier-free society, whereby the construction of disability into normative categories of normality and abnormality is obviated. It is the case, however, that:

Removal of social barriers might enable an orthopedically challenged to overcome certain difficulties without subjecting to medical correction, but the problems of persons affected by congenital problems need medical interventions or corrections. Even if social barriers are removed, it will not help people with other impairments, such as sensory and cognitive limitations, to overcome the physical barriers (Reddy 2011, 294).

Disability: The Myth

The children of deformed parents are usually sound. This is because although an animal may be deformed, it still has the same components as what is sound. But when there is some disease involved, and the four innate species of the fluid form which the seed is derived from sperm which is not complete, but deficient in the deformed part, it is not in my opinion anomalous that the child should be deformed similarly to its parents (Lloyd 1978, 323).

Attributed to Hippocrates, the Greek physician, the preceding lines contest the view of those who argue that disabled parents usually had disabled offspring. But the views of both Plato and Aristotle are not reconcilable with Hippocrates’. Believing that a child suffered from the same deformity as his parent, Aristotle, for instance, suggested that the Greek city-state should ensure that early unions and elderly people having children be discouraged. On early unions, he argues that since the parents are too young with small stature, there is the likelihood that the offspring is defective; he is against elderly people having children on the grounds that old age would have made them to be physically and intellectually imperfect. In The Republic, Plato, before Aristotle, had suggested that the state should embark on a controlled breeding program which would ensure that only the best of the women and the best of men were allowed to mate in order to avert disability cases. Using the word “inferior” to denote people with one form of disability or the other, he went ahead to suggest that the state should discourage the unions of inferior men and women and, in cases where inferior men and women gave birth to defective offspring, such inferior or defective children should be killed or removed form society through “infanticide or by relegation to the third class” (Bruce 2010, 262). Earlier in The Republic, Plato, through Asclepius, shows his revulsion for the disabled. Depicting some mystical connotations of illness in ancient civilization, Asclepius, as the Greek god of medicine, drew worshippers from all over Greece, especially to Epidaurus, the principal seat of his worship in Greece. Plato explains that Asclepius introduced medical treatment only for those who led healthy life and for those who were defective. He says of Asclepius that:

He makes no attempt to cure those whose constitution is basically diseased; the result of treating them with all the refinements of dosing and diet can only be an unhappy prolongation of life, and the production of children as unhealthy as themselves. No, he thought that no treatment should be given to the man who cannot survive the routine of his ordinary job, and who is therefore of no use either to himself or society (Plato 1955).

In The Politics (1992), Aristotle follows his predecessor by suggesting that children born with physical impairments should be exposed or allowed to die. Of course, this is another way of approving of Plato’s projection of Asclepius’ words that doctors are expected to “leave the unhealthy to die, and those whose psychological constitution is incurably warped … be put to death” (Plato 1955). A serious reading of Asclepius’ attitudes towards the unhealthy or persons with disabilities, reveals however that Plato’s rendering of Asclepius is incorrect. It is believed that a number of records in the Epidaurian tablets shows, contrary to the impression Plato and Aristotle had given about the Greeks’ attitude towards the disabled persons, that the Greeks were not all that hostile towards persons with disabilities (Bruce 2010, 263–265). As a matter of fact, narrative records3 show that all sorts of disabilities were treated at the shrine of Asclepius, irrespective of whether the supplicants had good moral characters or not (Bruce 2010, 263). Thus, a consideration of Plato’s claims as true accounts of Greeks’ revulsion for persons with disabilities is coterminous with attempts to derogate the image of the disabled persons and, following M. J, Rose, “our culture’s desire to rid the world of people with disabilities” (Rose 2003, 9).

Like what obtained in ancient civilization, the mystical connotations of disability are well reflected also in all Abrahamic traditions. According to A. Brooke Blanks and J. David Smith:

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all under the umbrella of the Abrahamic traditions because all three recognize the historical figure Abraham and his descendants as central and original figures in the culture of the faith. There is significant overlap in the sacred texts of each faith and in their treatment of people with disabilities. Similarly, each faith is inconsistent and seemingly contradictory in the images of disability that are conveyed through sacred text and teachings (Blanks and Smith 2009, 296-297).

Thus, in Judaism, disability is often couched as evidence of God’s punishment. The Jewish official religious structures tend to marginalize people with disabilities by exempting them from ritual acts since such acts required that priest or supplicants have no physical defects, implying the view that “holiness involved wholeness”. This brings up the idea of contractual theology which sees suffering as emanating from sin and, by extension, gives little hope of inclusion and respect for persons with disabilities. But some modern scholars in the field of religion have questioned the logic of this position and attributed the error in the claim of a misreading of the text. Many Jewish scholars and theologians are today involved in revisiting and reinterpreting sacred texts, partly with a view to “reexamining ideas about what constitutes wholeness and what ways of being are considered defects” (ibid, 298).

Although Christianity, unlike Judaism, does not trace disabilities to God’s wrath, it however suffers the same problem of interpretation as Judaism. While the most popular Christian opinion is that people with disabilities represent “the media through which God communicates messages of mercy and power” (ibid.), there are other theological interpretations of disabilities that are negative. For instance, it is said that Martin Luther, the sixteenth century religious reformer, once remarked that children with disabilities be drowned on the grounds that they were incarnation of the devil (ibid.). However, Christianity, through Jesus’ encounters with people with disabilities, suggests that a man’s disability does not devalue his worth, thereby dissolving the claim that disability has a divine origin. On the whole, Christianity’s promise of an eschatological future, where all forms of pains experienced in earthly existence will be removed, is placatory to persons with disability.

Reflecting an enhanced sense of community, Islam regards people with disabilities as “fully participating members of the social and spiritual community” (ibid, 299). One aspect of Islamic thought which, as we shall see later, is crucial to this paper, is “an effort to normalize disability and to think of abilities and disabilities as one aspect of human condition within the range of possible characteristics bestowed by Allah” (ibid, 300).

Disability, among the Yorùbá, has a mythological origin. It is strictly associated with Òrìṣà-ńlá or Ọbàtálá, a Yorùbá deity, regarded by Geoffrey Parrinder, Bọ́lájí Ìdòwú, and many others as the supreme deity of the Yorùbá pantheon (see Parrinder 1973, Idowu 1962). The position of the deity—which is not our concern here—as superior to others in the pantheon remains controversial (see Abimbola 1976, 8; Adegbindin 2014, 73–75). A myth relates that, during creation, Olódùmarè, the Supreme Being, charges him with the responsibility of molding the physical part of man. For playing this role, Òrìṣà-ńlá is referred to as the sculptor-divinity. According to Ìdòwú:

He is the sculptor-divinity who has been given the prerogative to create as he chooses, so that he makes man of shapely or deformed features. The hunchback, the cripple, the albino, are regarded to be special marks of his prerogative, either signifying his displeasure at the breach of some tabu, or to show that he could do as he likes. The “defective” in this category are called Ẹni Òrìṣà—“The votaries of the Òrìṣà” … (Idowu 1962, 71–72).

“As a way of explaining how certain people come to be ugly or deformed”, Awólàlú remarks that, “the Yorùbá claim that the albinos (àfín), the dwarfs (aràrá). The hunchbacks (asuké), the cripples (arọ) and the dumb (odi) are created like that by Òrìṣà to make them sacred to him” (1979, 21). Òfún-’yẹ̀kú, an Ifá canto, corroborates Awolalu’s point by hinting on how the babaláwo pays homage to the disabled before the process of divination.

Ìbà abuké
Ìbà arọ
Ìbà àfín
Mo júbà aràrá
Kí n tó tẹnà lódù.
Homage to the hunchback
Homage to the cripple
Homage to the albino
I pay homage to the dwarf
Before I proceed with divination.

Reference to these four sets of disabled individuals in a number of Ifá cantos attests to their strong affiliation with the deity. Another verse of Òfún- Yẹ̀kú reads:

Ìyàndá, Ìyàndilẹ́
A díá fún Abuké
A bù f’Árọ
A bù f’Aràrá a-borí-pàtàkó, òun Àfín
Tí wọ́n ṣe wọléwọ̀de Òrìṣà…
Ìyàndá, Ìyàndilẹ́
Undertook divination for the Hunchback
For the Cripple
For the Dwarf with a big head, also the Albino
Who were Òrìṣà-ńlá’s companions…

As a matter of fact, the Yorùbá language and oral tradition are replete with sayings that establish these individuals as companions of Òrìṣà-ńlá. This, by implication, shows that it is not out of place to categorize the hunchback, the cripple, the albino, and the dwarf as the major ẹni-oòṣà and others—the blind, the dumb, persons with “invisible disabilities”, and so on—as the minor ẹnioòṣà. The distinction here is not rigid and is only a matter of simple characterization. As we close this section, it must be stated that the details of the mythic narrative about Òrìṣà-ńlá are not useful here; we hope to use them more exhaustively in the concluding part of this paper where they are more consequential.

Disability: The Philosophy

The social model has been able to record prodigious achievements, namely, dispelling uncritical assumptions that a disadvantage resulting from disability is necessary, explaining how social conditions contribute to the numerous disadvantages faced by the disabled individuals and, lastly, liberating the disabled persons by way of shifting attention from an individual’s physical or mental deficits to the ways in which society treats them (Areheart 2011, 352). But the fact still remains that the social model has always relied on the binary division between disability – which it sees as a social construction—and impairment— which it construes as physiological. It is crucial to note however that there is a growing literature that underscores a clear departure from the familiar debate between the medical model and the social model of disability whose major point of acrimony lies in whether or not the human body should be at the center of the discussion on disability. This new wave of literature gives credence to a new cultural shift, an offshoot of the social model which questions the assumption that the social model of disability “has not been substantially developed, revised, or rethought since the 1970s” (ibid.). Thus:

The emergence of the disability movement has accompanied a slow cultural shift toward a social construction of disability – one that recognizes the pervasive nature and extent of disability oppression and offers new visions of disability as diversity to be affirmed and celebrated (Mackelpang and Salsgiver 1999, 99).

Disability is therefore regarded as “an inescapable element of human existence and experience. …a fundamental aspect of human diversity” (Couser 2005, 602). For most people who hold this line of thought, disability should be understood in the same manner we construe gender, racial, ethnic distinctions, and discriminations. Against the intuitive understanding that disability denotes something negative or bad, this perspective pushes the idea that “to have a disability is merely to have minority physicality in much the same way that, for example, to be African-American is to have minority race” (Barnes 2009, 338). In this way, disability is “simply another way of being different” (ibid.), an overt refutation of the view that “disability is something that makes a person worse off, so that to have a disability is to be different in a way that is sub-optimal” (ibid.). The inference here derives from the contention that disability is “the attribution of corporeal deviance” (Thomson 1996, 6), implying that it shares the same epistemological basis with such forms of “the other” as race and gender. In short, disability, for disability advocates, is a social construct, an outcome of a social design that discriminates between “bodies” because the society has already established certain expectations and demands in respect of how a “normal” person should look like and what a “normal” person should be able to do in society respectively. To hold this view is, of course, to question the traditional understanding—held by most philosophers who have worked on disability—that disability should not be ascribed what Elizabeth Barnes calls “difference-making features” that we ascribe race, gender, class, and so on. The general consensus in analytic philosophy, according to Barnes, is that “disability represents something sub-optimal” (Barnes 2009, 338). According to Barnes:

Most philosophers argue that disability must be considered a sub-optimal feature because otherwise, for example, it would be permissible to cause disability, when clearly it is not … Likewise, it’s generally assumed that the life of a disabled person is clearly sub-optimal in the vigorous debates over whether and how it could ever be permissible to bring such a person into existence … Moreover, it’s often taken for granted that someone should at the very least refrain from having a child with a disability if she might easily have a non-disabled child instead … (ibid.).

In respect of the above, a critical look at Elizabeth Barnes’ paper, “Disability, Minority, and Difference” is useful here. Barnes distinguishes between what she calls “a difference-maker” and “a negative difference-maker.” While the former stipulates that disability is simply another way of being different, the latter states that it is a way of being different which makes the disabled person to be worse off as a result of that difference (ibid, 339). Again, the former can be said to be an indictment of a “social arrangement that signifies the act of exclusion perpetrated by the society on the individual” (Reddy 2011, 289). It is also opposed to today’s institutional system of social control that relies heavily on the medical notions of normality and abnormality, creating “a docile body and relegated impaired bodies to the margins of ‘social’, ignoring the individual as an independent being capable of deriving and creating meaning and a social world of their liking” (ibid, 290). The latter sees impairment as a biological component of disability and, therefore, “an inescapable aspect of a disabled person’s phenomenology” (Areheart 2011, 361). This means clearly that impairments which, in the words of Barnes, present limitations, cause pain, and subject the disabled person to social stigma and discrimination (Barnes 2009, 339), cannot be separated from “the trappings of culture” (Areheart 2011, 362). Barnes explains:

If disability is a difference-maker only, then persons with disabilities … are simply another minority group, deserving all the rights and respect that we grant to any legitimate minority group. On the more traditional understanding, however, of disability as a negative difference-maker, disabled people can’t be classed as simply one among many groups of minorities, for the crucial reason that they represent something sub-optimal (2009, 339).

Barnes argues that we intuitively tend to conceptualize disability as a negative difference-maker because of its effects which make life harder for the disabled person. Because disabilities are generally associated with limitations, pains, social stigmas and discrimination, Barnes continues, “we tend to think that any particular disabled person will have a lower quality of life than those in comparable circumstances without disabilities” (ibid.). An argument for the sub-optimality of disability, according to Barnes, would go something like the following:

i. Having a disability is a kind of thing that makes life harder;
ii. Because (i), disability has a negative impact on quality of life;
iii. Because (ii), disability is a negative difference-maker (ibid.).
Barnes, however, contests the logic of the above proposition because the second premise, for her, “is ambiguous between two notions of quality of life” (ibid.), namely, what she calls local quality of life and overall quality of life. She distinguishes between the two notions in this way:

Local quality of life is simply quality of life in a given area, or quality of life with respect to a specific feature. Local quality of life can only ever be evaluated relative to a specific feature or state of affairs at a specific time – that is, we can only speak of local quality of life with respect to x at time t or qua x at time t. Overall quality of life, in contrast, is quality of life on the whole or “total wellbeing”. Overall quality of life is thus never evaluated with respect to specific features or states of affairs, but rather can only be evaluated by considering all the features/states of affairs that have an impact on personal wellbeing (that is, all the aspects of local quality of life) (ibid.).

She adds that the two notions are not independent in that “a person’s overall quality of life will be determined by the interactions of her varying levels of local quality of life” (ibid.). That is, as a characterization or feature that makes life harder for the bearer, disability is, for some disabled persons, an experience that adversely affects their overall quality of life; for others, however, “although disability detracts from local aspects of their quality of life, their experience of disability, on the whole, is positive” (ibid.). To augment the import of this postulation, Barnes appeals to some strands of reportage by some disabled people’s reflection on their own experience.4

Barnes’ inference weakens the veracity of the conclusion drawn from the earlier proposition that “disability is a negative difference-maker”, following the premise that “disability has a negative impact on quality of life”. We should note, however, that Barnes is not unaware of the fact that critics of disability as difference-maker could use the principles of “wishful thinking” and adaptive preferences to counter the idea of taking “disabled people’s testimony as evidence of their quality of life” (ibid, 345). The former suggests that disabled people’s report of their own experiences may represent a type of “wishful thinking” and, in the attempts to manage a disability, “it may be extremely psychologically advantageous to convince oneself that the disability is in fact an enhancement, and disabled people who manage to think this may very likely fare better with disability” (ibd, 344). The latter is, following Barnes, “a … psychological phenomenon …, wherein persons in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, as a basic coping mechanism, change their goals and desires so that they no longer see their situation as bad or limiting” (ibid, 345). Even, bearing in mind the sophistication of the teachings of these two principles, Barnes answers critics by saying simply that, although the testimony of disabled people may not provide us with infallible evidence, “it is defeasible evidence which is still much better than the armchair reflection of the able-bodied” (ibid, 346).

Flowing from Barnes’ series of arguments is a proviso that vitiates the logic of rational preference and, therefore, apparently lends credence to the points that, one, “disability doesn’t necessarily and always involve the subjective feelings of discomfort or distress” (Harris 2001, 387); two, disability is a difference- maker or a metric of human diversity and, three, “[a]ll persons are equal and none are less equal than others” (ibid, 383). A tip of the principle of equality, the third point brings us to the field of equality and social justice in respect to persons with disabilities.

Within the rendering of the egalitarian ideal, “all social inequalities are unnecessary and unjustifiable and ought to be eliminated” (Bedau 1967, 14). This implies that individuals should all have the same rights and opportunities. Driven by the fact that some individuals are naturally less favored than others, however, John Rawls developed a theory of justice which, considering advantage in terms of primary social goods, would allow individuals in society a fair equality of opportunity. Primary social goods, for Rawls, include liberties, opportunities, rights, power, income, wealth and the social bases of self-respect. In Rawls’s words, these primary social goods are “things which it is supposed a rational man [or woman] wants whatever else he [she] wants”. He adds that “Regardless of what an individual’s rational plans are in detail, it is assumed that there are various things which [or she] would prefer more of rather than less” (1999, 79). Elsewhere Rawls sees society as representing a fair system of cooperation and, therefore, “the basis of equality is having to the requisite minimum degree the moral and other capacities that enable us to take part fully in the co-operative life of society” (2001, 20). This could be regarded as a companion idea to the assertion by Rawls in his hypothetical original position that primary goods are “characterized as what persons need in their status as free and equal citizens, and as normal and fully co-operating members of society over a complete life” (1991, xiii). The assumption in Rawls’s Theory of Justice to the effect that individuals are capable, normal cooperating members of society has attracted criticisms from, especially, the capability theorists and disability advocates. One of these criticisms reflects an opinion that Rawls’s apparent stress on “capability” and “normal” translate to a misconception that disability is not a source of inequalities. But this is not all.

Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, both capability theorists, contest Rawls’s view that a distribution of primary social goods is an attractive metric of social justice. This idea of social justice, they argue, fails to accommodate or consider the concerns of the disabled persons or those disadvantaged persons with low levels of capability. Sen, for instance, contends that, rather than put premium on primary social goods as metric of social justice, we should consider “the relevant personal characteristics that govern the conversion of primary good into the person’s ability to promote her ends” (1999, 74). Nussbaum, on her part, faults Rawls’s principles of justice on the basis of the fact that the articulation by Rawls of the primary social goods and his idea of freedom, equality, capability and choice do not take into cognizance those who are not fully capable or, in clear terms, persons with disabilities (Nussbaum 2006, 15). In this way, one can suggest that the capability theorists, like Sen and Nussbaum, set their barb against Rawls’s idea of social justice because it leaves out the fact of human diversity. A distillation of the view shared by Sen and Nussbaum, therefore, shows that:

The existence of immense human diversity is a key concern in the literature on the capability approach. Because of facts of human diversity, the degree to which resources can be converted into capabilities differs from person to person. A disabled person, for example, may need more or different resources to be able to do and be the same things as an abled-bodied person. Hence, capability theorists consider capabilities to be a better ‘space of equality’ than resources (Oosterlaken 2013, 206).

It should be noted that the above does not imply that the capability theorists agree on everything. As a matter of fact, there are variations in the way they respond, as an instance, to what is referred to as capability shortfalls or deficits—terms used to describe all forms of negative ascriptions that disabled persons are subjected to. For instance, where Sen imputes the deficits suffered by a person with disability to his natural endowments, Nussbaum differs by saying that the assessment of the deficits should be based on social factors. This point of divergence, among others, is visibly implied in Sen’s capability approach to appropriating the deficits that a man in a wheelchair, for example, suffers. For Sen, the man in a wheelchair suffers deficits as a result of his natural endowments; whereas, for Nussbaum, the plight of the man in a wheelchair should be tied to social factors because it is the society that has failed to provide him with wheelchair access in public spaces (Nussbaum 2006, 165). In this way, it is argued, capability deficits should be regarded as “forms of covert social discrimination, due to avoidable social arrangements unjustly biased toward those with normal ability” (Anderson 2010, 95). In a sense, therefore, it is plausible to say that most social model advocates would distance themselves from Sen—and embrace Nussbaum—for his stress on “natural endowments”. Yet, there is another way of looking at the issue of “deficits” in respect of the disabled persons. Thus, following the resourcist paradigm of John Rawls, Thomas Pogge blames the discrimination that persons with disability suffers on the failure of the society to forge “a suitable resource criterion of social justice, developed on an understanding of standard human needs and endowment” (Barclay 2010, 157). According to Pogge:

Nearly all persons with special mental or physical needs or disabilities today would be perfectly capable of leading happy and healthy lives if they were not suffering the effects of severe past (and present) resource deprivation: lack of effective civil and political rights and inadequate access to water, food, shelter, health care and education (2010, 28).

Pogge, using the man in a wheelchair as an example, explains further that “the impact of interpersonal variations in needs and endowments on individuals is very significantly influenced by the institutional order as well as by social practices and cultural traditions” (2002, 188). That is, the requirement of justice for the man in a wheelchair will depend largely “on whether our buildings and public transportation system are wheelchair accessible” (ibid, 189). In this respect, Pogge pushes the idea that the resourcist approach should formulate a resourcist criterion of social justice that would remove the insinuation that the approach is modeled towards promoting mainly the needs of some people in society, while depriving some others such needs. He elaborates on this point:

Resourcist views must avoid analogous complaints by the disabled: If a resourcist criterion of social justice is to ensure that any institutional order satisfying it affords all its participants genuinely equal treatment, then its resource metric must take account of the full range of diverse human needs and endowments (ibid.).

Pogge sees a point of convergence between the capability approach and the resourcist persuasion by maintaining that the two approaches are concerned only with institutional distribution of resources. In this sense, he explains that the capability theorists strongly propose the idea that the state should compensate individuals for inferior physical properties or a lack of internal capacities. Many scholars have taken Pogge up on this. Elizabeth Anderson, for instance, notes that Pogge’s interpretation of the capability theory is faulty as capability deprivation does not translate to “the bare fact of lacking certain innate endowments” (Anderson 2010, 97). It is instructive to note that, within the egalitarian precinct, both the resourcists and the capability theorists have their share of the criticism that their positions “disparage and stigmatise those with various mental and physical endowments and in doing so actually betray the opposition to hierarchy and the equal moral worth of persons that has traditionally inspired genuine egalitarian movements against racial, sex, class and other forms of privilege” (Barclay 2010, 156).

Recall that many egalitarians would insist that justice demands that the “untalented”, “stupid” or disabled persons be compensated for their “undeserved bad luck”. This claim, in Anderson’s view, is not dissimilar with an expression of “contemptuous pity for those the state stamps as sadly inferior” (1999, 289). Pogge, too, argues that favoring certain persons on account of their natural endowments as we have it in capability theory is a clear proposition that their natural endowments “should be characterized as deficient and inferior, and those persons as naturally disfavoured and worse endowed” (2002, 206). Then, in terms of respect for the “other”, all strands of egalitarianism fail to see, using John Harris’s phrase, that “the disabled are simply differently abled” (Harris 2001, 384).

Disability and Human Diversity in Ẹni-oòṣà Philosophy

Anita Silvers contests Charles Taylor’s claim that “handicapped” people do not merit the ascription of the terms “potentiality” and “human dignity” as “normal” people, and that “only in virtue of an intervening fiction that such ‘defective’ agents have equitable access to the categorical principles on which humans generally are accorded dignity or respect” (Silvers 1995, 35). To show the distance between Taylor’s comment and a true egalitarian fervor, Silvers explains that:

Far from flattering the egalitarian project, this way of putting things deconstructs it by intimating that “handicapped” people are equal only by extension or derivation or fiction because they really don’t possess the essentially humanizing capacity to fulfill their potential ‘normally’ (ibid.).

By inference, Taylor’s comment “on the extent to which egalitarianism characterizes modern moral thought” (ibid, 34) overtly expresses the devaluation experienced by people with disabilities. The devaluation, as we have seen in the earlier parts of this paper, derives from a biased societal conception of ableism which, agreeing with a version of the social model of disability, “is the resulting set of assumptions and practices that systematically promote negative differential and unequal treatment of people because of apparent or assumed physical, mental, or behavioural differences which are labeled as disabilities” (Onken and Slaten 2000, 101). The inference here is that:

Trying to address disability concerns by mainstreaming disabled persons into ableist society may create a situation in which their differences are not valued and their unique strengths and contributions are ignored. Disability integration must come to be viewed as more along the lines of cultural and ethnicity pluralism than that of assimilation (ibid, 110). One salient point that can be drawn from the above is that perception of anomalous bodily configuration in “the other” will continue to amplify the cynicism of ever realizing a social arrangement that will dismiss the customary view of people with disabilities as “irremediably unequal” (Silvers 1995, 34). The need to dissolve this cynicism, therefore, tips the scales for examining the mythography of Òrìṣà-ńlá.

Virtually all published materials on Yorùbá religion and belief system convey a common understanding of Òrìṣà-ńlá as an arch-divinity, a proto-artist or sculptor-deity, “white deity” or god of purity and, concerning a lucid understanding of creation and humanity, the primordial patron of those we refer to as “deformed,” “defective,” or “disabled.” In the literature, we consider Bolaji Idowu’s Olódùmarè: God in Yorùbá Belief as one that has to a great extent taken care of the points raised in the discourse on Yorùbá religion and belief system. This however is not to suggest that, since and before the publication of Olódùmarè: God in Yorùbá Belief, there have not been inciting perspectives or modifications with respect to how Òrìṣà-ńlá is understood, especially when we move our probing lens to the South American and Caribbean countries, where he is referred to variously as as Ochalá, Oxalá, Orichalá or Orixalá and, at the same time, attracting one form of Christological syncretism or another.

The Yorùbá believe that Olódùmarè shares with the Òrìṣà-ńlá his supreme or absolute authority at the point of creation. For this, Òrìṣà-ńlá is regarded as “Olódùmarè’s vicegerent here on earth” (Idowu 1962, 73). Ìdòwù expatiates:

Òrìṣà-ńlá represents to the Yorùbá the idea of ritual and ethical purity, and therefore the demands and sanctions of high morality. Immaculate whiteness is often associated with him—this symbolises “holiness” and purity. …For his sacrificial meals, the normal thing is the bloodless snail cooked in shea-butter…The water in his shrine should be changed daily with the cleanest, clearest, water drawn very early in the morning from a spring. The person who draws the water must do so before anyone else has been there to disturb the spring. In the old days, the water-bearer must be either a virgin of unimpeachable virtue or a woman who has passed the age of child-bearing and has therefore ceased from sexual habits, and is of excellent reputation. All the way to and from the spring, the water-bearer must keep ringing a bell, to show that she is on a sacred errand and must not speak or be spoken to. It is enjoined upon the worshippers of Òrìṣà-ńlá that they must be upright and true: they must be clear in their hearts and behaviour like water drawn early in the morning from a spring that has not been previously disturbed (ibid.).

Besides, Òrìṣà-ńlá is eulogized, again in Ìdòwú’s words, as “Adìmúlà” which translates as “One who is held for safety”, especially in terms of material possession (ibid, 74). Ìdòwú adds that, for making them prosperous and happy, the deity’s supplicants often say:

Ikú tí ’bá ’ni gbé’lé tí f’ọlá ran ni!
Ò-sọ ẹnìkan-soso-d’-igba-ènìyàn!
Sọ mí d’irún,
Sọ mí d’igba,
Sọ mí d’ọ̀tà-lé-l’égbèje ènìyàn.
O Death, You who domicile with a person and imbue him with nobility!
O Sceptre-Wielder!
O You who multiply only one into two hundred persons!
Multiply me into four hundred,
Multiply me into two hundred,
Multiply me into one thousand four hundred and sixty persons (ibid.).

Òrìṣà-ńlá is also regarded as androgynous, which implies that the deity does not have a permanent gender. On this account of a neutral gender or asexuality, people—especially his devotees—look up to the deity as one that has concerns for all human beings. In this regard, also, his choice of white objects is symbolic as white is believed to be a neutral color, representing a disposition to be impartial. Bearing the foregoing in mind, one is not surprised as to why the deity is often revered as a god of purity.

It is instructive to note that the above mythography consistently images Òrìṣà-ńlá as a being “without moral faults”. This however leaves us with a troubling ambivalence of accepting as the more probable either the mythic claim that Òrìṣà-ńlá molds “deformed” physical body as a way of punishing someone who has breached some taboo or someone whose ancestor has committed an offence, or the less popular claim that Òrìṣà-ńlá’s molding of “deformed” individuals is reflective of the deity’s ingenuity of fashioning physical bodies according to his own fancy. The first disjunct, recalling Elizabeth Barnes’ use of negative difference-maker, draws the idea that having anomalous bodily configuration is repulsive or something that makes one to be worse off. Accepting the first disjunct of our ambivalence would, therefore, amplify the futility of our continued intellectual voyage towards dissolving the stereotypical image of disability and assumptions associated with the recognition of the dichotomy between “normality” and “abnormality”. In contrast, accepting the second disjunct would visibly appropriate its derivatives, namely, Òrìṣà-ńlá’s reification of normalcy, a testimony to “his tolerance of pluralism” (Lawuyi 1992, 371) and his “interest in individual particularities” (Lawal 1985, 94). To dissolve our ambivalence therefore requires that we employ some principles of reasoning and, hence, two sets of propositions:

Proposition 1:
Premiss (i): Purity implies “being free from moral faults”.
Premiss (ii): Òrìṣà-ńlá is god of purity
Conclusion: Therefore, Òrìṣà-ńlá is free from moral faults.
More technically, we have the valid argument-form Modus Ponens:

As a valid argument-form, it reads that, given a conditional statement as a first premise, and the antecedent of the first premise as the second premise, then we can infer the consequent of the first premise as the conclusion of an argument. Note that, from Premiss (i) of Proposition 1, we can roughly draw such inferences which accord with Premiss (ii) as “being compassionate”; “creating differing bodily configurations to demonstrate his tolerance of pluralism” and “his interest in individual particularities”; “creating differing bodily configurations that are not meant to hurt individuals, but according to his own fancy”, implying Òrìṣà-ńlá creates only good bodily configurations.

Proposition 2:
Premiss (i): Purity implies “being free from moral faults”.
Premiss (ii): Òrìṣà-ńlá is god of purity.
Conclusion: Òrìṣà-ńlá both creates bad and good bodily configurations.
More technically, Proposition 2 gives us:
p q

This argument form is not a legitimate proposition. Note that, from Conclusion of Proposition 2, we can draw a derivative: “hurting people”, which does not accord with either Premiss (i): Purity implies “being free from moral faults” or Premiss (ii): Òrìṣà-ńlá is a god of purity. More importantly, the Conclusion is irreparably tangential and does not follow from either Premiss (i) or Premiss (ii) as it conveys the impression that Òrìṣà-ńlá punishes or hurts “innocent” individuals whose forebears have been found guilty of some moral faults.

In light of the above, we can see that Proposition 2 is wholly faulty, leaving us with an admission, rooted in Proposition 2, that the creation of those we regard as “deformed” is not a result of Òrìṣà-ńlá’s mistakes (Bascom 1969, 81) and that Òrìṣà-ńlá most probably uses the creation of differing bodily configurations to communicate, as the superior artist or sculptor, his idea of normalcy in material terms. As such, we might be tempted to suggest that it is a rude blasphemy on the part of mortal individuals to question the ingenuity of the first artist from whom all artists derive their artistic or aesthetic appeals or reflections. Consequently, where – in a strand of creation myth offered by Judith Gleason—Òrìṣà-ńlá offers “the owner of buck teeth” the liberty to “blame” him “for not sufficiently covering them” (1971, 22), the word “blame” should not be read as indicting; rather, it should be read as a designation of authority to create, for instance, a short or light-skinned person who would have, in his own mortal illusiveness, preferred to be tall or dark-skinned, respectively. In this regard, perhaps, “unseeing” mortal individuals need some form of Platonic reminiscence to appreciate the material creation of the superior artist. A strong reading of this aligns with a Yorùbá saying that:

Onígẹ̀gẹ̀ ìsáájú ló ba gẹ̀gẹ̀ jẹ́
Bóbá ṣe pé ó fi ń soge ni
Gbogbo ayé ìbá mọ̀ pé gẹ̀gẹ̀ kì í ṣàrùn.
It is the first bearer of goiter that disparaged it
If he had flaunted it proudly
The whole world would have known that goiter is not a disease

Adébáyọ̀ Fálétí’s poem “Ìgbéyàwó Kan Ní Ìletò Wa” (cited in Olatunji 1982a, 47–51) adds more currency to the rendition of the above saying. In the poem, Fálétí presents us with Àkàndé, a village celebrity, who commands respect in his village, partly because of his generosity and sociability. Àkàndé bears an anomalous goiter which he has cleverly hidden from the public for a long time until the village’s custom is modified to accommodate the ritual of dancing and socializing in broad daylight. As his time to take a new wife draws by, he makes clever efforts to convince the village chieftains to revert to the old custom of socializing at night. This proves abortive. During his marriage rites, which require that he dance in broad daylight, Àkàndé, facing the fear of shame and derision, refuses to join those who have “eagerly awaited an opportunity to reward him for his sociability and generosity” (Olatunji 1982b, 31). His attitude peps up a feeling of disconsolation in his first wife, Fúnmkẹ,́ who approaches him:

“...Ṣe bí ẹ rádẹ́tẹ̀, ẹ sì rí akúwárápá
Kí ni wọ́n yóò b’Ọ́lọ́run Ọba ṣe?
Ǹjẹ́ kò sénìyàn tí yóò fi ọ́ ṣẹ̀sín
Bí o bá gbahun t’Ólúwa pè ní tìrẹ.”(Olatunji 1982a, 50)
“...But you see the leper and the epileptic
What would they question God about?
There is one who shall make fun of you
If you accept what God has allotted to you”.

When it becomes apparent that Àkàndé is not ready to join his people outside, Fúnmkẹ́ approaches him the second time:

“…Gbígbé ni kí ẹ gbétìjú tà,
Ẹ yọjú sí gbangba
Kò sénìyàn tí yóò fi ọ́ ṣẹ̀ṣín
Bóo bá gbahun t’Ólúwa fún ọ...” (ibid.)
“…You should abandon any sense of shame
Come into the open
There is one who shall make fun of you
If you accept what God has allotted to you...” (Olatunji 1982b, 32-33)

After this gentle appeal and persuasion, Àkàndé, obviously seeing wisdom in accepting his lot, comes to the open and begins to dance. Contrary to what he has anticipated, however, the people who have come to rejoice with him do not treat him with odious derision.

Even if they overlook the suspicion around the relation of logic to matters of faith or religion and acknowledge the consensual effect of ẹni-oòṣà mythography, critics might argue that Àkàndé’s story does not fortify our attempt to obliterate the assumptions associated with the recognition of the dichotomy between “normality” and “abnormality”. They can add further that Fúnmkẹ́’s words “Ṣe bí ẹ rádẹ́tẹ̀, ẹ sì rí akúwárápá / Kí ni wọ́n yóò b’Ọ́lọ́run Ọba ṣe?” (“But you see the leper and the epileptic /What would they question God about?) suggest only that having goiter is in the category of “defects” that make someone to be worse off. To face our critics then would require that we imagine or construct, using a parodic inversion of Richard Rorty’s hypothesis of the Antipodeans (1980, 70–75), a human community of goiter-bearers. We can go on to say that, contrary to the community’s valued aesthetic expectation, Àkàndé is the only person born without an anomalous goiter. In this context, the same scenario—having a feeling of shame and derision—would still ensue as his community would still, at least, regard him as “defective” for not having goiter! This hypothesis raises, following Julie Smart, a pivotal question of whether anyone ever knows what “normal” is (Smart 2001, chapter 1). Thus, in Fálétí’s poem, Àkàndé’s aesthetic anxiety only raises the issue of identity formation among persons with disabilities. This naturally leads us back to and also heightens our appreciation of the Yorùbá saying: Onígẹ̀gẹ̀ ìsáájú ló ba gẹ̀gẹ̀ jẹ…́

Again, to flesh up Àkàndé’s story and realize the leading concern of this essay, we see the need to complement the thrust of Elizabeth Barnes’ paper, “Disability, Minority, and Difference,” with two real-life anecdotes. The first, Panzarino, born with a rare disease called Werdning-Hoffman Disease, was asked by some researchers to provide them with a blood sample with the intention of identifying the gene responsible for her condition and, if she provided the blood sample, preventing “persons who carry the gene from being born” (Woodcock 2009, 251). Panzarino refused to cooperate with the researchers on the basis that, by heeding their call, she would be contributing to the elimination of her kind (ibid.). The second, Bree Walker, an American actor and broadcaster, has ectrodactyly, or what is popularly called lobster claw, “a rare genetic anomaly in which fingers and sometimes toes are fused to varying degrees” (Mackenzie and Scully 2007, 337). Already having a child that had inherited the anomaly, she was invited to a radio phone-in program at the time she was carrying another child. When the presenter asked the participants whether it would be fair for Walker to have children at all when she knew that her children would most probably inherit the anomaly, the responses of many participants were those of disapprobation, in part because they felt that the anomaly could be prevented through screening and termination (ibid.). According to Catriona Mackenzie and Jackie Leach Scully:

What was particularly intriguing about this case was the apparent inability of the callers to acknowledge as valid Walker’s own subjective self-assessment of the impact of her impairment on her life (i.e. that it had not presented a major problem). Moreover, they also seemed unable to perceive any discrepancy between the presence of Walker on the show – as a “celebrity” and so, by conventional criteria, highly successful – and their conviction that ectrodactyly must have profoundly negative effect on life achievements and satisfaction (ibid.).

Shaped by the thought that disability is a pernicious social phenomenon, the excerpt above douses the force of the conventional thought that disability is a measure of inescapable deprivation and, therefore, espouses the ideal of positive identity formation on the part of persons with disability. A careful reflection on the mythography of Òrìṣà-ńlá is therefore not a feeble admission of our claim that differing bodily configurations are better conceived as works of art that demonstrate “a pluralistic world of abilities” (Reddy 2011, 303). For instance, such sayings as arọ ni ìdènà òòṣà (“the cripple is the gatekeeper of the gods”), a kì í ṣọmọ òòṣà ju àfín (“one cannot be a more favored child of the gods than the albino”), and so on, are consistent with the Yorùbá belief that those we consider as disabled should rather see themselves as the most favored by the gods. The formation of this positive identity would reconstruct disability as a diversity to be affirmed and, by instantiation, reconfigure negative notions of institutional exclusion, enfeebling sense of shame, socio-economic limitations associated with disability.


In this paper, we examined the two popular extremes in disability studies, namely, the medical and social models of disability. While the former is essentialist in rendering disability as a fixed condition and as an individual problem to be confronted with medical intervention, the latter identifies it as a social problem that requires social intervention. The paper admits that the social model has recorded prodigious achievements, namely, dispelling uncritical assumptions that a disadvantage resulting from disability is necessary, explaining how social conditions contribute to the numerous disadvantages faced by the disabled individuals and, lastly, liberating the disabled persons by way of shifting attention from an individual’s physical or mental deficits to the ways in which society treats them (Areheart 2011, 352). But the fact still remains that the social model has always relied on the binary division between disability – which it sees as a social construction – and impairment – which it construes as physiological. By relying on this binary division in forging its formidable position, it is argued that the social model “unwittingly underscores the notion that disability has a biological essence” (ibid, 354). This conveys the impression that the dichotomous and reductionist paradigm of the medical model is still something to reckon with. Somewhat sympathetic towards the social model, the paper therefore confronts the paradigmatic notions, embedded in the medical model, of labeling bodily configuration as “normal” or “abnormal” and those who bear the configurations as “able-bodied” and “disabled,” respectively. It shows that, within the context of Yorùbá belief, disability goes beyond the realm of human beings and involves the active participation of Yorùbá deities, especially Òrìṣà-ńlá or Ọbàtálá. Working around this cultural matrix, we have shown that, contrary to the conventional thought that Òrìṣà-ńlá molds “deformed” or “abnormal” human forms as a way of punishing certain individuals, the deity molds aesthetically differing human forms according to his own fancy and to communicate his idea of normalcy in material terms. In this way, the paper shows the limitations of the two models and questions the assumptions associated with the recognition of the dichotomy between “normality” and “abnormality”. However, critics, holding “the facile assumption that new knowledge about the world cannot be acquired through mythology” (Adegbindin 2014, 68), might discard ẹniòòṣà mythography as sheer absurdity which does not accord with reality; the truth is that the phronēsis in the mythography is demonstrably placatory as it removes the assumptions associated with the recognition of the dichotomy between “normality” and “abnormality”. This, in turn, removes the worrisome currency of biology or “the body” from disability studies and offers new insights into how persons with disabilities ought to be conceptualized. By common- sense inference, therefore, this paper endorses the view that “normality” is indeed “a famously procrustean concept” (Silvers 1995, 48).


  1. I am more comfortable with the Ọ̀yọ́ dialect and, therefore, prefer the use of ẹniòòṣà to ẹni-òrìṣà.
  2. See Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990.
  3. For instance, see Nilsson (1964, 293). He explains that the worship of Asklepios “was devoid of any very high religious value or deep moral and religious foundation.”
  4. See the inference drawn by Barnes (ibid, 341–342) from the experiences of Rebecca Atkinson, Harriet McBryde, and Mary Duffy.

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Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju
Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems (Compcros)


What is the value of Yoruba epistemology, theory of knowledge, particularly its philosophy of perception, to humanity in general, and to contemporary Nigeria, in particular? How does Yorùbá epistemology connect with educational theory and practice in Nigeria? This essay recognizes but goes beyond the more general overviews on classical Yoruba education and its contemporary significance represented in works of Yorùbá and Africanist scholars. I demonstrate the significance of Yoruba philosophy of education beyond its cultural context, by projecting its universal and timeless value, foregrounding its distinctive concepts in dialogue with ideas from other cultures. In its engagement with Nigerian educational dynamics, the essay concentrates, first, on Yoruba epistemology in its intersection with ethical and metaphysical perspectives from Yoruba thought. Second, the essay deploys the African art-centered investigations of the role of the senses in relating with art, understood as paradigmatic of navigating the world.

Keywords: Yorùbá epistemology, Sense perception, Education, oju inú /oju òde, Creativity

Cultivating Creativity and Transcending Dissolution

What is the value of Yorùbá epistemology, theory of knowledge, particularly its philosophy of perception, to humanity in general, and to contemporary Nigeria, in particular? This philosophy may inspire appreciation of the scope of human potential, of strategies for developing depth of insight into phenomena and of cultivating creativity, in the context of the aspiration to transcend mortality and participate in the eternal, even if that transcendence is not experienced in physical terms. This range of possibility is depicted by this philosophy in terms of a relationship between epistemology, ethics and metaphysics, a perception of the essential nature of an entity, an inward identity that in humans may be seen as including quality of personality.

In a country torn between the possibility of self-transcendence in the name of the greater good and self-focus at the expense of the larger whole, Yorùbá philosophy’s emphasis on values that rise above the pervasive and unavoidable degenerative character of mortality could inspire an appreciation of the need to live for principles that surpass immediate and self-centred gratification.


In Relation to Yorùbá Philosophy of Education

This essay recognises but goes beyond the more general overviews on classical Yorùbá education and its contemporary significance represented in works by Fayemi (2009), Akinwale (2013), Adebisi (2015), and other more specific assessments represented by Tony Idowu Aladejana’s discussion of ethics in the context of a broader structure of Yorùbá education (1979), as well as the various other issues raised by Akinsola (2011), and Hyland (2016), the latter remarkable in its bold dialogue between Yorùbá thought and a school of Indian philosophy, an effort to which this essay bears some thematic and methodological relationship in emphasizing the agency of the learner as inspired by Yorùbá thought, reinforced by other African and Asian and Western philosophies. This essay differs from Hyland’s work, however, in emphasising a degree of depth of analysis of conceptions in Yorùbá philosophy in place of the broader comparative exploration of Yorùbá and Vedantic thought undertaken by Hyland.

Like Yusef Waghid in African Philosophy of Education Reconsidered (2014), I demonstrate the significance of Yorùbá philosophy of education beyond its cultural context, projecting its universal and timeless value, foregrounding its distinctive concepts in dialogue with ideas from other cultures, though while Waghid centres his analysis in the East African concept of Ubuntu, I concentrate on Yorùbá epistemology in its intersection with ethical and metaphysical perspectives from Yorùbá thought.

In Relation to Theories of Perception, Yorùbá and Non-Yorùbá

This essay is an elaboration upon the close investigation of Yorùbá philosophy in which the work of Lawal (2001),1 Abiodun (2014),2 Hallen (2000)3 and Olubi Sodipo (1994)4 is foundational, recognising the controversies about styles of engaging Yorùbá philosophy evident in their works. The essay proceeds, however, in the understanding of the necessarily interpretive character of philosophical thought, whether in an exposition of the history of ideas or an expansion of possibilities drawn from extant conceptions or in the building of relatively new ideas.

The focus here is on engagement with Yorùbá philosophy as less of a report about philosophy as has been done in classical Yorùbá culture but more as a demonstration of how ideas from Yorùbá thought may be employed as inspirational sources, as matrices for contemporary philosophical reflection. The emphasis here is on the act of doing philosophy, rather than reporting on how classical Yorùbá philosophy worked or works. The historical context is foundational but acts as a platform for reflection on the creative possibilities of the ideas being engaged with. The essay also moves away from questions as to the degree to which the ideas in question are representative of Yorùbá thought as a whole5 to a focus on these ideas as sources of ideation which have arisen from a particular cultural context and which can provoke reflection as to their contemporary significance.

This essay also represents an effort to use decontextualized proverbs as loci of philosophical reflection. While it is true that proverbs are often most fully actualized in context, it may be argued that they embody a core of meaning, an interpretive centre, that enables their employability within a broad situational network. The method of interpreting proverbs demonstrated here aspires to explore that semantic core.6 The essay belongs in the continuum of African art centred investigations of the role of the senses in relating with art, understood as paradigmatic of navigating the world, represented by the semioptics of Moyo Okediji,7 “an approach that recognises the limitations of the linguistic thrust of semiotics [the study of signs] and seeks to uncover the ways in which the sense of sight shapes our perceptions and understandings of the world”; and Henry John Drewal’s sensiotics, “an inclusive and comprehensive project of developing…theories and methods to reveal the bodily, multi-sensorial basis of understanding of arts.” Drewel declares that “…before language, we began [begin?] by perceiving, reasoning, theorizing, and understanding through all our senses.… Seeing (hearing, tasting, etc.) is thinking. Sensing is theorizing. In the beginning, there was no word, only sensations.”8 To the grounding in African art and thought in dialogue with Western thought that Okediji and Drewal bring to this subject, I add an engagement with Asian art and thought, expanding and further concretizing the scope of these investigations.

The essay is grounded in the same platform of engagement with the senses as primary means of knowing in the Western tradition represented by such scholarly and artistic/philosophical contexts as the understanding of the senses enabling a grasp of the source of existence, in the transcendental Platonic sense,9 the embodied Aristotelian sense,10 the understandings of sense perception running through Romantic and Symbolist thought to such relatively recent developments as work on the embodied mind,11 Hans Jonas on perception,12 Martin Heidegger on visualisity in Greek thought, and Antonio Cimino and Pavlos Kontos edited Phenomenology and the Metaphysics of Sight (2015).13 This essay differs from this cognitive stream in the essay’s focus on a network of ideas in a non-Western philosophical canon, opening out, however, to a degree on engagement with the lineage of ideas developed in the history of Western thought.

The essay is also related to idea about sensory perception in Asian thought, with particular reference to the body of ideas and practices known as Tantra, 14 focusing on Tantra’s building on ideas already powerfully developed in the seminal religious and philosophical Indian and Hindu text, the Upanishads, 15 and later cultivated with particular force in such Tantric contexts as the image of the weapons of the Goddess Tripurasundari, symbolizing each of the senses as both alluring and constricting, inspiring a focus on the delightful surface of reality represented by the stimuli to sensory perception, and potentially expansive, in suggesting the possibility of moving beyond the immediately evident to the source of the attractions revealed by the senses in a zone of being beyond but embracing the material universe.16

The Scope of Yorùbá Theory of Perception

One of the most comprehensive summations of human cognitive capacity known to me consists in accounts of a Yorùbá theory of perception as described by Babatunde Lawal in “Àwòrán: Representing the Self and its Metaphysical Other in Yoruba Art” (2001) and by Rowland Abiodun in Yoruba Art and Language (2014), and its complementarity with Igbo Afa theory of perception as presented by John Umeh in After God is Dibia: Igbo Cosmology, Divination and Sacred Science in Nigeria (1999), and its conjunction with Zulu epistemology as elaborated by Mazisi Kunene in Anthem of the Decades (1981).

These conceptions range from the conventional, to the elevated, the fantastic and the cosmic. I have explored, at the level of theory, the convergences of these ideas with philosophies from different cultures in Asia, Europe and the Americas. I have practised different cognitive disciplines and gained various experiences, a number of them fantastic and puzzling. These African ideations have proven indispensable in helping me integrate these experiences in a cohesive manner. In asking myself the question of how they may be related to education understood as a formal method of developing knowledge, in the context of the relevance of Yorùbá philosophy to contemporary Nigerian issues, I am challenged to enquire as to the significance of these explorations for myself, for others and how others could take advantage of them. I will organise these reflections in terms of theory and practice, the two platforms of an educational system.

Yorùbá Theory of Perception in Relation to Creativity

A central challenge facing Nigeria is the question of how to maximize the country’s potential for development. Central to development is creativity, and, in a capitalist economy like Nigeria’s, entrepreneurial investment in creativity is central to actualizing its potential. Yorùbá theory of perception, as described by Lawal, suggests an outline of how creativity may be developed through the cultivation of the full range of human faculties, from the ratiocinative to the supra-rational. This theory may be interpreted to indicate an emphasis on the senses as the primary platform through which knowledge is gained. From this foundation, greater degrees of penetration into the possibilities of the phenomena in question may be reached through a perceptual continuum ranging from critical thought to imagination, intuition, extra-sensory perception and witchcraft, these categories of knowledge being valid possibilities I shall define, discuss and exemplify in the course of this essay.

Lawal’s summation describes human cognitive progression in terms of a movement from ojú òde, the external eye, also known as ojú lásán, the ordinary or naked eye, to ojú inú, the inward eye, also depicted as ojú ọkàn, the mind’s eye. Ojú òde is basic vision centred in the perception of material realities. Ojú inú is inward discernment which penetrates deeper into the nature of phenomena through a perceptual continuum. This continuum may be seen as ranging from conventional perception represented by visual cognition, thinking, imagination, intuition, memory, and critical analysis to entry into non-conventional forms of knowing demonstrated by dreams, trances, prophecy, divination, extrasensory perception and witchcraft:

…the Yoruba call the eyeball ẹyin ojú, a refractive “egg” empowered by àṣẹ (mediated by Eṣu) [the òrìṣà or deity of transformation and paradox, intersecting various forms of being and different modes of knowledge],17 enabling an individual to see (ríran). As with other aspects of Yoruba culture, the eyeball is thought to have two aspects, an outer layer called ojú òde (literally, external eye) or ojú lásán (literally, naked eye) or ojú ọkàn (literally, mind’s eye).18

The latter is associated with memory, intention, intuition, insight, thinking, imagination, critical analysis, visual cognition, dreams, trances, prophecy, hypnotism, empathy, telepathy, divination, healing, benevolence, malevolence, extrasensory perception, and witchcraft, among others. For the Yoruba, these two layers combine to determine ìwòran, the specular gaze of an individual (Lawal 2001, 516).

From Sense Perception to Cosmic Vision

This description of Yorùbá theory of perception is complemented by John Umeh’s account of the epistemology of Afa, a classical Igbo spiritual and philosophical system, dramatizing the similarities between the geographically close Igbo and Yorùbá civilizations within what has become Nigeria. Umeh describes Afa theory of perception as based on the relationship between ose naabo, the eyes with which the material world is perceived and ose ora, the eye with which both the material world and the world of spirit are cognized in an integrative vision. The perceptual capacity of ose ora reaches a climax in insight into the unity of being within the ambit of eternity (Umeh 1999).

The Yorùbá expression, àìkú parí ìwà, which may be translated as “deathlessness consummates existence or being,” is correlative with the Igbo Afa conception as depicted by Umeh. Complementing this expression is another observation from Yorùbá thought, ìwà l’ ẹwà, which may be interpreted as “character or inward being is beauty” (Abiodun 2014). Can an engagement with ẹwà, beauty, as the essence of an entity, particularly a human person, on account of the relationship between human agency and ethics enabling beauty or ugliness of personality, lead to a realization of “àìkú”, immortality or eternity? Can this idea, resonant with similar conceptions from various cultures, be understood as one interpretation of the relationship between these terse formulations from Yorùbá thought, ìwà l’ẹwà, “character or inward being is beauty” and àìkú parí ìwà, “deathlessness consummates existence or being”?

One approach to entry into the possible conjunction between ìwà l’ẹwà and àìkú parí ìwà is represented by a line in Western thought descending from the Greek philosopher Plato, which sees beauty as one of the underlying forms of existence, a fundamental form accessible to humanity.19 Within this context, àìkú parí ìwà, the consummation of being in deathlessness, may be seen as a penetration into the transcendence of mortality through a metaphysical immortality, a dimension of existence involving participation in the ground of being and thus going beyond the dissolutions of materiality. It may thus be appreciated as a form of mystical awareness, an example of theories and practices of experiential immersion in ultimate reality in terms of which mysticism may be understood.20

A related perspective is developed in the Indian Katha Upanishad, correlating death and immortality as the Yorùbá expression does, within the dramatic context of a conversation between Nachiketas and Death, in which Nachiketas requests to know how to transcend death. After much persistence suggesting the priceless character of the answer to the question, he is informed that the union of the individual self with the universal Self through the discipline of study, concentration and renunciation leads, though still on earth, to soaring above death and birth and mounting into ultimate reality.21 Another approach to the eternal, again contrasting eternity with mortality, as in the Yorùbá conception, is demonstrated by the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, in which he describes his mind as reaching into infinity, in contradiction of his necessarily brief human mortality within the diminutiveness of the earth, these temporal and spatial circumscriptions highlighted by the background constituted by the spatial and temporal immensity of the celestial bodies.22 These ideational conjunctions exploring the implications of the Yorùbá expression àìkú parí ìwà, within an intercultural framework, may be subsumed by the Nigerian Cross River Nsibidi symbolism of the spiral, which, like the Kantian evocation of eternity in the context of the temporal motion of a life span against the background of the revolutions of the celestial bodies, is described as suggesting the sun, journey and eternity.23

This effort at teasing out the intrinsic semantic value and associative possibilities of the Yorùbá conception àìkú parí ìwà, the consummation of being in deathlessness, in relation to the complementary expression ìwà l’ẹwà, “character or inward being is beauty”, is amplified by its correlation with the Afa idea of ultimate vision as consisting in the integrative awareness of materiality and its correlative spiritual being, as these issue from a cosmic matrix and Mazisi Kunene’s account of Zulu epistemology in Anthem of the Decades (1981) depicting this unity in terms of the image of harmony of being projected by the circularity of a calabash, a visual corollary to the conjunction of the particular and the universal, the temporal and the eternal. Reinforcing the picture of the circularity of a calabash is the symbolism of the chameleon’s eyes rotating in a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree motion as evocative of comprehensive perception of the possibilities of existence achieved through the conjunction of knowledge of the particulars of reality and the universal implications of those particulars in a synthesis that unifies all contraries, the living and the dead, the physical and the non-physical, matter and spirit, past and present, time and eternity, space and infinity, in a perceptual synthesis.

These are grand ideas, resonating with the loftiest conceptions of the human aspiration to reach a cognitive unity, different but correlative ideations ranging from the Platonic dialogues to the Hindu to the Western Enlightenment thinkers’ emphasis on expansive forms of ratiocination. All possibilities of knowledge are integrated within the compass of the interpretation of Yorùbá theory of perception in terms of a continuum representing motion from sensory perception to critical thinking, intuition and witchcraft to deathlessness and its complementation by the Afa idea of unifying insight of the physical and spiritual worlds and the Zulu conception of the possibility of a compendious grasp of the unity of being.

Are these ideas admirable but questionable aspirations? Do they reflect what a scholar of the work of the Greek philosopher Aristotle described as the “ultimate impossibility of conceptually unifying all of being”?24 Do they point to the possibility of achieving an interpretive synthesis of the kind Stephen

Hawking argues is a central goal of scientific cosmology, distilling the structure, dynamism and meaning of the cosmos in terms that enable people see “the mind of God” (Hawking 1988), an aspiration correlative with its more modest ancestor, Isaac Newton’s expression, in Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), of relationships between cosmic being represented by the eternity and infinity of God and cosmic laws, exemplified by his discovery of the concept of universal gravitation and his derivation of the laws of motion, both terrestrial and planetary?

How Practical?

The movement from ojú òde / ojú lásán / ose naabo to ojú inú / ojú ọkàn/ ose ora is a progression of forms of knowledge of which I expect that a significant number of people have had experience to varying degrees, as attested by the cognitive systems emerging at various points in various civilizations. Though not all the cognitive processes listed by Lawal are privileged at every point in different civilizations, they are all vital for the actualization of the totality of human cognitive potential. Everyone has experience of visual cognition, thinking, imagination, memory, critical analysis and intuition, though intuition is an ambiguous and often opaque cognitive category, even though vital at times. Everyone also has encounters with dreams, though their cognitive significance is controversial, as the illuminating labours of the pioneering psychologists Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and their successors demonstrate.

What about trance as a suspension of conventional awareness in the context of entry into another reality? I expect people undergo this outside the religious contexts often associated with it but might not recognize the experience as trance, perhaps mistaking it instead for intense daydreaming, that being one means of entry into trance. What about prophecy? I expect people also experience this from time to time, in terms of an intuitive grasp of the future or of likely outcomes, without being able to trace precisely how this knowledge emerges, even if one may relate it, like some forms of intuition, to subliminal knowledge apprehended and fused at the level of the subconscious, as William Empson (1963) describes understanding in poetry. What about extra-sensory perception? I also expect people actualize this in various ways, such as being able to discern another person’s feelings from touching them or listening to them, even when those feelings are not explicitly expressed. I think, however, that this category is less common than the others. What about witchcraft? That would depend on what Lawal means by witchcraft.
The study of àjẹ,́ which may be interpreted as witchcraft, is a significant subject in Yorùbá Studies, represented, among others, by Barry Hallen and J. O. Sodipo’s pioneering Knowledge, Belief and Witchcraft (1997), Teresa Washington’s Our Mothers, Our Powers, Our Texts: Manifestations of Aje in Africana Literature (2005) and The Architects of Existence: Aje in Yoruba Cosmology, Ontology, and Orature (2014). Pierre Verger’s Ewe: The Uses of Plants in Yoruba Society describes a simple do-it-yourself ritual using plants and incantations, to initiate oneself into becoming àjẹ́ (1995). Àjẹ́ may be described as an autonomous spirituality centred in the development of unconventional human powers. Autonomous because it is based less on belief in deities or on the full scope of meaning developed by Yorùbá origin òrìṣà cosmology but simply focuses on the creative possibilities of the human being as it may be unleashed by the right factors. Central to these abilities is the belief in the power to move from one point to another without physical motion. This movement may involve entering into an otherwise invisible dimension associated with that location. This possibility is represented by accounts of witches meeting in trees or forests, environments that could demonstrate a form of energy that facilitates such extra-physical motion and congregation. This summation comes from my own experience as correlated with Southern Nigerian conceptions of witchcraft, particularly the Yorùbá àjẹ́ and the Benin azen.25

Adapting Yorùbá Theory of Perception in Educational Theory
and Practice

Can all these ideas and insights, in their multilevels of complexity and abstractness
be adapted to educational theory and practice? I believe so.

Education as Training for Living

Such a system could be centred, not so much in the development of particular points of knowing, the mastery of specific forms of knowledge, the various ways in which knowledge is developed, organized and applied, but in the cultivation of an attitude to life, in relation to which particular understanding and skills are developed. This focus on an attitude to life is grounded in the Yorùbá conception of the course of human life as dramatizing a conjunction between the aspects of the self, known as orí òde, the biological head and orí inú, the inward head, the centre of the self, the embodiment of the individual’s ultimate potential, a potential grounded in the relationship between the self and ultimate reality represented by the creator of the cosmos.26 This account sums up in purely conceptual terms an understanding of the meaning of the combination of conceptual expression and mythic dramatization through which this idea is often articulated in its classical context.

Whatever one might think of the factuality of these bold summations on this mysterious topic of perennial fascination, the total scope of human nature and its relationship to the possibilities dramatized in the human being’s life journey, these ideas present valuable possibilities that may be adapted for creative use.

Questions Integrating the Philosophical and the Existential

What are the proximate, the immediately obvious, the underlying yet not readily knowable, as well as the more distant factors that shape one’s experiences and one’s response to those experiences at a particular point in time and space? What is the nature of the dialogue between the various aspects of oneself as these emerge in particular circumstances within the stream of living from one day to the next and how may one best position oneself in relation to this dialogue? What possibilities of the self are at play in particular situations? Are there within oneself any creative compulsions or urges that suggest an orientation that may relate to values fundamental to the self, a sense of ultimate direction perhaps? How may one build a relationship between the various ways of achieving understanding, the sensory, the ratiocinative or intellectual, the emotional and the intuitive, in relation to reaching out to sources of knowledge and of power within and beyond the self and the material world in order to maximise the possibilities of various situations and of the stream dramatized by the flow of one’s life?

27 Adapting such ideas to a philosophical and educational framework outside its original context may involve distilling what one understands of the essential value of these ideas as they can be appreciated by most people as logically sound without having to give assent to the more controversial spiritual, supra-rational aspects of the constellation of ideas and practices that constitute the divinatory equation, while striving to maintain the aspiration to reach beyond the purely ratiocinative and immediately cognizable to cognitive possibilities conventionally beyond human reach, this transgressive aspiration being the rationale of divination.

In so distilling these ideas, one attempts a transposition of vision and method dramatized by my summations of questions one may ask oneself in conducting what may be seen as a self-navigated divinatory process in which one’s capacity for reflection conducts the divinatory encounter. This self-enquiry thus becomes the analogue of the traditional divinatory procedure in which the diviner casts the divinatory instruments, the ọp̀ ẹ̀lẹ,̀ the divining chain, or the ikin, the divination nuts, reading the oracle’s response to the query from the symbolic patterns assumed by the fall of the instruments. In this transposition, the temporal progression and the situational context of one’s life become the divinatory template, the symbolic equivalent of the opon Ifá, the cosmographic sculptural form on which Ifá divination may take place, the structure of the opon and the carvings that populate the form representing the convergence of various factors in enabling the divinatory procedure28 in terms of what Velma Love (2019) describes as “Ifá Divination as Sacred Compass for Reading Self and World.”

What is the significance of these ideas for a theory of perception? Their implication consists in the fact that a theory of perception may demonstrate an integration of epistemology and metaphysics, a perception of one’s life as a whole, in the context of the cosmic processes within which that life unfolds. What is the ultimate point of gaining depth of understanding of discrete phenomena, even in terms of breadth of knowledge in particular disciplines, and not be able to reach such breadth of understanding in relation to the general act of living one’s own life, the strategies through which it may be best navigated and the significance of its development?

Hence, the movement from ojú òde to ojú inú, from basic perception to entry into ontological depth, is ultimately grounded in a movement from orí ode, the biological identity represented by the human head to orí inú, the immaterial essence of self that integrates ultimate potential in relation to ultimate being. The orí òde / orí inú matrix may thus be understood as superordinate categories of human being and becoming, the framework within all which all other penetrative progressions, all motion from ojú òde to ojú inú take place, a breadth of understanding that is a central goal of education as a means of facilitating the cultivation of human potential in relation to the entire stream of living and its expression in engagements with particular bodies of knowledge and the demonstration of skill in use of distinctive forms of knowing.29

From the General to the Particular

Having given an overview of how Yorùbá philosophy of perception relates to cultivating insights on the course of human experience as a whole, how may this theory be applied to the study of particular phenomena and disciplines and how is such study particularly relevant in the Nigerian context?

Knowledge is best reached through a combination of assimilation, reflection and action. Within this context, appreciation of the fact that understanding operates in terms of degrees of penetration facilitates moving from its surface to its depths. The surface of a phenomenon, its point of immediate access, a physical or metaphorical location, is known in Yorùbá as ojú, the “face” of that phenomenon. This understanding is exemplified by the description of the visual inscriptions representing the odu Ifá, the organisational categories of Ifá, as ojú odù ifá, the “face of odù Ifá” (Abimbola 1977), a point of immediate entry into a vast network of literary forms and their myriad symbolic values correlative with a range of potentially unknown scope of human experiences, a hermeneutic complex that gives an idea of the range of interpretive possibilities that may emerge from consideration of the surface, the face, the most immediately accessible aspect of a phenomenon, as one penetrates deeper, through reflection, imaginative identification, intuitive apprehension, evocations of memory, critical analysis, and other relevant cognitive strategies, to its profounder levels of significance. Thus, like the Greek philosopher Aristotle, in the Metaphysics, one may move from sense perception to exploration of the form, progression and significance of phenomena and their relationship with other phenomena, insights unfolding into a grasp of the meaning of these phenomena in the context of the underlying structures of existence.30

An appreciation of knowing as a developmental process, of knowledge as a dynamic acquisition demonstrating a range of apprehensive possibilities, as suggested by Lawal’s depiction of Yorùbá theory of perception, could contribute to galvanizing learners to work at engaging the act of learning as dynamic rather than passive, to be active enablers, active workers in the act of building knowledge, understanding knowledge as more of a collaboration between the self and information than something simply assimilated from without, as something that the learner contributes to by bringing their unique mental framework to the subject, an idea amplified by the Yorùbá understanding of all conscious forms of being as demonstrating a distinctive creative capacity deriving from “àṣẹ”, a cosmic force that enables being and becoming.31 This understanding of individuality of creative enablement central to the being of the individual suggests questions of the individuality of response to situations, to learning and to the entire enterprise of living, within the framework of the commonalities that define human existence.
What are the ways through which a particular person learns best? What best motivates a specific student? Beyond these immediate questions, what is the role of the learning experience in the person’s understanding of their life trajectory? Is it possible at some point in time to build a depth of motivation arising from the integration of the educational experience in a sense of vocation, an orientation of one’s “life and work in terms of an ultimate sense of mission”, as Webster’s Dictionary describes the concept of vocation? Most educational systems represent a tension between autonomy and restriction, between the learner’s discovery of cognitive universes through their own distinctive methods of exploration and the shaping of learning processes and outcomes by a set of prescriptions handed down by the creators of the educational system. “Formal education like religion, thrives on standardization and in my view, it is anti-human nature”, states Precious Imuwahen Ajoonu in a Facebook discussion initiated by Temi Dayo’s post on kindergarten and primary school education in Nigeria.32 She suggests that the challenges of the Nigerian educational system are best understood within the framework of the challenges of educational systems globally:

On the schooling system we have a global crisis. In 20 years or less Artificial Intelligence would be our core competitors. [The] Question is [is] humanity prepared for this quantum change?

I follow the works of Ken Robinson33 who argues that education kills creativity34. He is right and no he is not Nigerian. We would have to personally determine how we choose to educate our children. I think we have passed the era of standardization.

Create a new hybrid curriculum and it would still not capture every single human being.

She relates these concerns to the evolving world of work:

These conversations need to happen. We can overhaul our curriculum to include more practical life-based learning.

The jobs of the future are unknown. Educating children using the industrial age curriculum is a recipe for disaster. We would need to find our own way. Home schooling, a mixture of both and so on, all geared towards developing critical thinking abilities.

She correlates these ideas with her own cognitive history, incidentally striking a note, that resonates with Lawal, on the capacities represented by ojú inú, specifically, the non-linear, non-prescriptive and individualistic creativity demonstrated by critical analysis, imagination, intuition, empathy and benevolence:

My career today is far from what I thought it would be in the 90s. It is the ability to think critically and adapt to ever changing technologies that have helped me survive. It is our elastic minds that would place us above Artificial Intelligence. It is empathy, creativity, service to others that would put us way ahead of our machines.

She then addresses intergenerational influences in relation to these issues:

Finally, I agree we need to do something urgently. I would strongly encourage parents to look inwards. Are you an evolving being or set in your ways? Fix that then we move to the children. Least we create another ineffective pill for the same sickness.

My point is, we need to be that which we seek. We cannot close our minds to learning and expect kids to automatically be critical thinkers, it won’t happen.
Minola Momodu, in the same discussion, sums up and amplifies similar ideas, incidentally telescoping the vision of this essay with succinct force: “…to learn is to think, challenge and be open to alternative approaches and schools of thought”.

In discussing with a couple of secondary school students who have experienced both the Nigerian and English educational systems, the one quality they both mentioned as absent from their experience with the Nigerian system particularly as compared with the English, was the lack of emphasis on creative learning. The focus of the Nigerian educational system they experienced was on being able to memorize what had been taught in class and to repeat it in examinations, the kind of education Paulo Freire described as “banking education” (Freire 1970) in which knowledge is held like money in a bank and returned to the depositor through the medium of an examination, and if I might add, recalling my experience teaching and learning in a Nigerian university more than a decade ago, some students being able to give the money back with interest, in this instance, in the form of new knowledge which they have added to what was earlier taught or new approaches to the knowledge earlier passed on to them. Another person I spoke to stated that Nigerian education is too often marred by cheating in examinations, a culture arising from a vision of education as a necessary evil, an unavoidable hurdle to positioning oneself to get on in society through a job rather than as a means of enriching the mind. Within such a context, therefore, the fact of possessing a certificate attesting to one having passed through an educational system is more important to many than the creative reformation of the mind enabled by diligent engagement with the task of learning.

Education in Nigeria may thus be assessed in terms of its place on a continuum of cultivation of creativity, with totally prescriptive learning at the lowest end of the scale and totally autonomous learning at the highest end. Totally autonomous learning is close to the example of Abraham Flexner (1866-1959), an advocate of “creativity, individual expression, exploration, and pragmatic learning” (Thelin 2004, 362), whose Abraham Flexner’s School, according to the Wikipedia essay on the institution, “did not give out traditional grades, used no standard curriculum, refused to impose examinations on students, and kept no academic record of students. Instead, it promoted small learning groups, individual development, and a more hands-on approach to education.” Yet, “graduates of his school were soon accepted at leading colleges”, Flexner later summing up his perspectives on education in The American College: A Criticism (1908).35

Close to that model of perhaps relatively absolute freedom within an educational organization is the Peter Thiel fellowship which provides for students to take a break from or opt out of schooling to pursue entrepreneurial projects of their own design within the context of the financial and infrastructural support provided by the fellowship.36 Proximate to these examples is the US university undergraduate elective system, in which students choose the courses they study, introduced by “Thomas Jefferson [in] founding the University of Virginia [encouraged by] other reformers during the 1840s,”37 and consolidated by Charles Williams Eliot as Harvard President, in which students followed no set courses but ranged freely across any disciplines of their choice.38 The Wikipedia article on Eliot sums up his philosophy in a manner relevant for the educational direction developed in this essay:

Under Eliot’s leadership, Harvard adopted an “elective system” which vastly expanded the range of courses offered and permitted undergraduates unrestricted choice in selecting their courses of study – with a view to enabling them to discover their “natural bents” and pursue them into specialized studies.

Echoing Emerson, he believed that every individual mind had “its own peculiar constitution”. The problem, both in terms of fully developing an individual’s capacities and in maximizing his social utility, was to present him with a course of study sufficiently representative so as “to reveal to him, or at least to his teachers and parents, his capacities and tastes.” An informed choice once made, the individual might pursue whatever specialized branch of knowledge he found congenial.39

Education and the Meaning of Life

Why are we here on earth at all as human beings? What is the rationale of our existence? What is the ultimate significance of our actions against the background of these supervening questions? How best may these queries be explored? These enquiries may be seen as the most fundamental of human questions, addressing the very foundations of human existence, bedrock platforms in relation to which all human activity has meaning.

Beyond much of education as currently understood, regardless of the degree to which particular systems facilitate the cultivation of creativity, is the question of the relationship of education to the ultimate needs of a person, a need that, in harmony with Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (1959), may be seen as a hunger for meaning, a sense of justification of existence, and the most far reaching of this sensitivity to fundamental value being an orientation towards ultimate significance, a correlation of one’s individuality with the cosmic immensity of which one is a part. Can education in Nigeria not also be assessed in relation to the degree to which it facilitates the fulfilment of this central drive, a drive that gives value to every human activity, a value that stretches from the need to survive by keeping oneself alive, to expanding one’s interactive space through socialization and family making and the creation of various forms of impact beyond oneself to the sense of a connection to something that validates one’s existence, however that something is construed? The strategy of the current globally dominant educational system which originated in Enlightenment Europe has been to leave such questions for philosophers and religious people while training people in a mix of educational programs centred in general education of the mind, one way of characterizing a liberal education, and more directly focused skills oriented learning, centred on the accomplishment of specific tasks, one way of describing a professional education. Can Yorùbá epistemology contribute to the effort to unify these three aspects of education, the metaphysical, the liberal and the professional?

Education and Ethical Commitment

How may one encourage people to commit themselves to an abstraction, such as the values represented by ìwà l’ẹwà, an understanding of the essence of value as an inward beauty? How could they be brought to focus themselves in a quest for abstract immortality in a non-dogmatic, non-sectarian and non-doctrinal context, to transcendence of the mutability of existence through a consummation of this aesthetic orientation, as suggested by àìkú parí ìwà? The methods through which those goals may be pursued would represent the specific modalities of an educational system inspired by these incandescent values from Yorùbá philosophy, values that take the mind beyond the culture of corruption that has become so tragically glaring in Nigeria, in a context where crude satisfactions are the norm, in which there is little thought for inner wealth.

Education and the Transformation of Reality

Related to those more immediately moral issues is education as training in how to transform reality, as creativity may be perceived. Various methods exist for pursuing creative learning. The contribution of Yorùbá philosophy to theory and technique in this field would include an emphasis on individual agency, on self-directed discovery, most likely within environments that facilitate such individually generated progression, in the spirit of Chinua Achebe’s quotation of the Igbo expression “ike di na awacha na awacha” (“power flows in many channels”), in his exposition of the Igbo concept of ike, “energy”, a variant of the body of ideas to which the Yorùbá concept of “àse” belongs, a conglomeration of thought also evoked by another Achebe quote from Igbo thought, “Everyone and his own”, suggesting the pervasive enablement of creativity as fundamental of human being, its expression unique to each person (Achebe 1997).

This essay has described, in general terms, an understanding of the implications for educational theory and practice of classical Yorùbá theory of perception as concisely yet comprehensively summed up by Babatunde Lawal in “Àwòrán”, in conjunction with Rowland Abiodun’s discussion of relationships between Yorùbá epistemology and ethics in Yoruba Art and Language, as these ideas are complemented by John Umeh’s description of Igo Afa epistemology in After God is Dibia, and as these conjunctions are reinforced by their resonance with Mazisi Kunene’s account of Zulu theory of perception in Anthem of the Decades, bringing these ideations into dialogue with other bodies of knowledge.


  1. My particular interest is in the passage focusing on epistemology in Lawal (2001).
  2. Abiodun (2014) may be seen as summative of the thrust of Abiodun’s work so far.
  3. This text is of central relevance to this essay.
  4. Hallen and Olubi Sodipo (1994) is a rich discussion of the Yorùbá conception of inwardness in relation to consciousness.
  5. This statement is inspired by Suzanne Preston Blier’s rejoinder, “A Partial Response to Rowland Abiodun’s Critique”, (accessed 27/02/18) to Rowland Abiodun’s criticism in Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art, of her stance on how to use classical Yorùbá thought in investigating Yorùbá art in its historical development.
  6. The sixth chapter of Hallen (2000), titled “Rationality, Individuality, Secularity and the Proverb”, discusses the challenges involved in interpreting proverbs, referencing a rich body of scholarship on the subject, stating “In my opinion the most philosophically sophisticated exponent of proverbs as components of a culture’s philosophical thought is Kwame Gyekye (1987/1995). Himself an analytic philosopher, Gyekye explicitly acknowledges these same problems for the exegesis of proverbs and then proposes to come to terms with them by acknowledging that proverbs can be used only as “a source of knowledge of African traditional philosophy” (p. 24) rather than the only or major source, and that their “topical” nature can be utilized in a positive manner if they are treated as distillations of a culture’s knowledge about specific themes (pp. 16–19). I also find inspiring his quote from Gyekye, “Nor has there been any real attempt to weave appropriate proverbs together in order to construct a coherent ethics or moral philosophy of the Akans” (Gyekye 1987/1995, p. 16).”
  7. Moyo Okediji’s CV at University of Texas (accessed 28/02/18) demonstrates that he began developing this concept from his PhD dissertation “Semioptics of Anamnesia: Yoruba Images in the Works of Jeff Donaldson, Howardena Pindell and Muneer Bahauddeen.” Ph.D. (African and African American Art), University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1995, continuing with “Museums, Modernity and Mythology: A Semioptic Review,” RES 52, Fall 2007, “Semioptics of Africana Arts,” in The African Diaspora and the Disciplines, Tejumola Olaniyan and James Sweet, eds, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 2010, pp 382-416, “Semioptics of Falolaism: Visual fractures Beyond Ethnic Boundaries,” in Toyin Falola: The Man. The Mask, The Muse, Niyi Afolabi, ed. (Durham: Carolina Academic Press), 2010, pp.263-280, and beyond the CV, “African Art and Language as Semioptic Text”, The Art Bulletin, 97:2, 2015. 123-139.
  8. These quotations are from Henry John Drewal’s “Making Sense of Yoruba-ness and Yoruba Arts”, a rich draft published on the document archive Scribd ( accessed 28/02/18), which seems to be a longer version of his “African Art and the Senses”, (accessed 28/02/18), published in the online journal Sensory Studies , centred in the study of the senses across disciplines. The journal also references another journal focused on the same goal, The Senses and Society, its statement of purpose summing up the field admirably: “A heightened interest in the role of the senses in culture and society is sweeping the human sciences, supplanting older paradigms and challenging conventional theories of representation. This pioneering journal provides a crucial forum for the exploration of this vital new area of inquiry. …Sensation is fundamental to our experience of the world. Shaped by culture, gender and class, the senses mediate between mind and body, idea and object, self and environment.” Senosry studies, (Accessed 28/02/18). Drewal (2016) elaborates on sensiotics in relation to the Yorùbá origin Ifa system of knowledge and divination”. Other publications by Drewal along similar lines include (2005a, 2005b, and 2009), a number of videos on his university page at the University of Wisconsin-Madison ( Henry Drewal) and, according to his CV and Henry Drewal (all three links accessed 28/02/18), the forthcoming “Sensiotics: Senses in Understandings of Material Culture, History, and the Arts,” Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture. Oxford University Press.
  9. Plato’s understanding of a quality in a trans-material realm acting as templates for the material world is described as presented at its best in the Republic.
  10. Aristotle opens his exploration of the foundational structures of existence, of the nature of being as a quality that defines all existents, the Metaphysics, with a reference to the cognitive powers of sight. A presentation of points of entry into Aristotle is provided in note 38.
  11. The Wikipedia article “Embodied Cognition” , (accessed 28/02/18) is a very useful survey of the subject. Central texts include Francisco Varela et al (1991) and Lakoff and Johnson (1999).
  12. I use Jonas (1954 and 1962) in representing various developments in explorations of the senses in Western thought that do not belong to particular movements of ideas.
  13. I am referencing Backman (2015, 11) which presents a rich comparison with the Yorùbá and Igbo Afa optical conceptions central to this essay: “Among modern interpreters, it has become a commonplace to regard the classical Greeks as a “people of the eye” with a general predilection for the visual sense. One of the most prominent facets of this alleged Greek visuality is the predominance of optical terms and metaphors in the Greek language and particularly in its philosophical terminology, extending to its most fundamental concepts such as ἰδέα ‘aspect,’ ‘look,’ or ‘visible figure’, οἶδα ‘to know’ (= ‘to have seen’), and θεωρία ‘contemplation’ (the disinterested look of the spectator). Undoubtedly the most influential interpretations of Greek thought as a metaphysics of vision and visibility, and of the implicit understanding of being underlying this imagery, are those of Martin Heidegger, who develops his readings into a critical account of the foundations of the Western metaphysical tradition as a whole”. The title Phenomenology and the Metaphysics of Sight suggests the concern of this essay with interpreting Yorùbá philosophy of perception in terms of a movement from the immediate data of sense experience to interpretation of sense experience reaching to the most encompassing metaphysical insights and relating this focus in Yorùbá thought to other bodies of knowledge, within and beyond African systems of thought, that pursued similar goals.
  14. What exactly Tantra is, is controversial in the scholarly literature. The Wikipedia article “Tantra” (accessed 28/02/18) is a rich introduction. Philip Rawson’s Art of Tantra. London: Thames and Hudson, 2012 and David Gordon White’s Tantra in Practice. Princeton: Princeton UP, 200, represent two perspectives. My focus in understanding this body of ideas and beliefs is centred in the use of embodiment as a means of both participating in the fulfilment provided by the senses as a dramatization of the joy of life and the employment of this fulfillment in embodiment as a means of penetrating to the source of being which enables this embodiment, a style of thought and action represented pre-eminently by the Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra, the translation in Paul Reps’ Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (1957) where I first encountered it, being both lucid and demonstrative of the quiet incandescence of the text. The adaptation of embodiment in seeking the trans-material is at times visualised in terms of the harmony of a transcendent principle, often associated with the God Shiva and an immanent principle, represented by the Goddess Shakti, united as flame and the heat of the flame, as Abhinavagupta puts it in his Tantraloka, a clear and yet eloquent translation known to me of the interpretive depths of its first chapter where this idea is introduced is that by Mark Dyczkowski accessible at his website. Accessed 28/02/18.
  15. I allude here particularly to the magnificent lines from Book V of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which celebrates all aspects of the material world as expressions of the immortal essence of being, “This earth is the honey of all beings; all beings the honey of this earth. The bright eternal Self that is in earth, the bright eternal Self that lives in this body, are one and the same; that is immortality, that is Spirit, that is all… Self is the honey of all beings; all beings the honey of Self. The bright eternal Self that is everywhere, the bright eternal Self that lives in a man, are one and the same; that is immortality, that is Spirit, that is all…” (Yeats and Swami 1937, 133-135).
  16. This visual depiction and its explanation is provided in the ritual the Sri Devi Khadgamala Stotram, the translation and presentation by the Shakti Sadhana Group Sri Devi Khadgamala Stotram: A Practice Text. © 2004 – 2006 by the Shakti Sadhana Group (accessed 28/02/18) being the most informative known to me. Between the sections known as the seventh and the eight enclosures in the ritual, is the section named ‘Weapons of the Divine Mother’ where the Goddess is saluted as “She who carries the five flower-arrows of Kama [pleasure as a fundamental creative principle of existence] – which are the senses of sound (music), touch (eros), form (beauty), taste (sweetness), and smell (fragrance)” and as “She who carries the sugarcane bow (i.e., the mind, which likes the sweet things of life), with its string of bumblebees”. 25. I sum up this survey of philosophies of sense perception, particularly of sight, in relation to Yorùbá thought, in a diagrammatic form in “Theories and Practices of Cognition: Sense Perception and Metaphysical Integration in Western Asian Islamic and African Thought” Accessed 28/02/18.
  17. Idowu (1962) provides a rich introduction to Èṣù. Fatunmbi (2000) develops a creatively expansive interpretation of Èṣù based om the traditional context. Gates Jr (1988) builds a comprehensive analysis of the significance of Èṣù. Falola’s edited text (2013) is an encyclopaedic exploration of Èṣù thought.
  18. Lawal (2008) discusses duality in Yoruba culture.
  19. This idea is particularly well developed in Plato’s Republic.
  20. I provide a summation of comparative mystical theory and practice that, though very brief, is pioneering in integrating a discussion of mysticism in classical and post-classical African cultures, on Facebook “Mystical Theory and Experience Across Cultures Part 1” and “Mystical Theory and Experience Across Cultures Part 2” : Part 2. Accessed 18/02/2018. The scope of scholarship on mysticism is represented by the temporal distance and difference in orientation between and yet correlative relevance of two strategic works in the field, James (1902) which demonstrates similarities amongst experiences described a mystical, and Katz (2013) which tries to demonstrate the difference in unity between accounts of mystical theory and practice. Neither of these works refers to mysticism in the context of classical African spiritualities or as developed by Africans outside the context of religions imported into Africa.
  21. My favorite version is Yeats and Swami (1937). The Katha Upanishad runs from pages 25 to 38 in that volume and the statement from Death is on page 27.
  22. This is in the concluding passages of Kant’s A Critique of Practical Reason. Among other translations readily available online, Thomas Kingsmill Abbott’s translation of these passages. Accessed 24/02/18.
  23. This attribution is at the picture of Victor Ekpuk’s painting Sunrise, an adaptation of the Nsibidi spiral, in the section on Nsibidi at the site of the Inscribing Meaning : Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art exhibition of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. . Accessed 24/02/18.
  24. This comes from the writer of an Encyclopaedia Britannica article on Aristotle in an edition of the reference work the edition number of which I don’t recall.
  25. I describe this experience in “Encounters with the Unknown: Forest Initiations: A Meeting in No-Space”. Accessed 18/02/2018. My earlier discussions of witchcraft, particularly in the Yorùbá context, can be found under “Ìyá mi Àjẹ́” in “Linked List of Publications of Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju by Subject. In Progress”..Accessed 18/02/2018.
  26. Idowu (1962), among others, elaborates on the fundamental ideas and myths about orí. The distinction between the different aspects of orí is discussed by Abiodun (2008).
  27. This description of the role of orí in Ifá divination is adapted from Abimbola (1975, 1977a, 1977b), and from the verbal descriptions of Babaláwo Joseph Ohomina, an aspect of whose ideas on Ifá I discuss in “Cosmological Permutations: Joseph Ohomina’s Ifa Philosophy and the Quest for the Unity of Being”. Accessed 18/02/2018. These ideas are reinforced and sharpened for me by the conjunctive description of quest for direction in strategic situations through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the book he began at the time of discovering his Christian vocation, as this book is interpreted by the 20th century Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner in a version of the text edited by him (1965). The ideas are further enriched by my reading of the entry under “Spiritual Direction”, a central practice in Catholic spirituality, in Rahner (1975).
  28. Abimbola’s books listed earlier are very good on the general structure of the divinatory process while Pemberton et al (1989) is excellent in providing a fundamental description of the role of the ọpọń ifá in divination.
  29. This formulation of forms of knowledge benefits from Hirst’s conceptions (1972 and 1975).
  30. The compactness and the modern translation style of The Works of Aristotle, Vols.1 and 2: Great Books of the Western World, Vols. 8 and 9. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952, trans. by W.D. Ross et al, has provided my own contact with Aristotle. Of course, many more recent translations exist. I find Lear (1988) a magnificent introduction to the total scope of the Greek thinker’s cognitive enterprise.
  31. A good introduction to àse is provided by Drewal et al (1989).
  32. Comment in a Facebook discussion initiated by Temi Dayo’s post of 18/02/2018. Dayo’s post
  33. Most likely a reference to Sir Ken Robinson described on his website sirkenrobinson. com/( accessed 01/03/18) as “TED speaker, education and creativity expert” and on his Wikipedia page </a. ( accessed 01/03/18) as “British author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education and arts bodies”.
  34. I expect he makes this case in his TED talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (accessed 01/03/18) most likely among other presentations of his, as evident from the various video options of his talks on the YouTube page of the TED talk linked here. Joe Kirby’s “What Sir Ken Got Wrong” (accessed 01/03/18) in his Pragmatic Education blog critiques Robinson’s views on education in a discussion to which Kirby’s readers contribute.
  35. “Abraham Flexner”, Wikipedia. Accessed 24/02/2018. And also presented in Parker (1962) and Seyal (2013).
  36. The Thiel Fellowship describes its vision this way on its website: “The Thiel Fellowship gives $100,000 to young people who want to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom. A different path for everyone. College can be good for learning about what’s been done before, but it can also discourage you from doing something new. Each of our fellows charts a unique course; together they have proven that young people can succeed by thinking for themselves instead of competing on old career tracks. Pursue ideas that matter instead of mandatory tests. Take on big risks instead of big debt”. Thiel Fellowship. Accessed 24/02/18.
  37. “Charles Eliot (1834–1926) – Harvard: From College to University, Recruiting a Superior Faculty, The Elective System”, Accessed 24/02/18
  38. The Harvard page on Eliot seems to quote him in describing this system as a “spontaneous diversity of choice” [ which] in turn, stimulated an open-ended curriculum”. Thomas J. Denham’s “The Elective System or Prescribed Curriculum: The Controversy in American Higher Education”, surveys the history of this system in US higher education, and Crow and Dabars (2015) presents the views of its critics in the context of the history of US higher education.
  39. “Charles William Eliot”.Wikipedia. Accessed 24/02/18.

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Wale Olajide
Department of Philosophy
Ekiti State University


This essay interrogates what can be described as Yorùbá population philosophy, within the context of Yorùbá existential thought, and the effects it has on Nigeria’s population explosion. The essay explores the seemingly contradictory proverbs that both vindicate and vilify the act of giving birth to many children. The essay further connects this traditional Yorùbá wisdom to contemporary procreative practices of Yorùbá Christians and Muslims, and their interpretations of scriptural injunction to be fruitful and multiply. I then argue that if Nigeria’s lackluster policy on population is taken into consideration, the implications of the Yorùbá, as well as other ethnic groups’, population philosophy will not only aggravate the Nigerian postcolonial predicament, but will eventually explode the population time bomb already ticking in Nigeria. The essay recommends that given the existential complexities attached to giving birth to a child, together with the demographic exigencies on Nigeria’s national predicament, marriage ought to be strictly regulated and limited to those with the capacity for sustainability.

Keywords: Procreation, Population growth, Existence, Overpopulation, Ọmọ l’aṣọ


If a state of affairs is adjudged to have been mistaken, and is subsequently recognized to be so, then there is at least some hope of slowing it down and even reversing or stopping it altogether. This projected optimism would of course only be applicable in a situation where the mistake is identified and accepted as being truly a mistake and the culprit most willing to reassess the situation. It would in that case be assumed that the mistake might have been a case of either an omission or one of commission but never premeditated and therefore not deliberate. The prospect of culpability may therefore be evident on the part of the agent but pardon would at least be swift in coming.

Not so however with the case that this essay seeks briefly to discuss, namely, existential procreation profiling in Yorùbá thought and its probable impact, by way of contribution, on Nigeria’s demographic narrative with a caveat that if the drift is not reversed and/or possibly halted, the postcolonial realities in Nigeria are made all the more unbearable, and the government becomes all the more irresponsible. I have used the term “contribution” to candidly underscore the fact that rather than being seen as attempting to isolate and stereotype the Yorùbá, the excessive procreation malady being discussed is also a definitive prominent feature in both the Igbo and the Hausa thought systems, the other two major regional nationalities in Nigeria. In the former, the term proliferation will definitely serve as a very appropriate synonym for procreation where a family unit of one man and one woman has, for instance,, eight children and still counting. With the latter, particularly because of the added indulgence of the Islamic religion which permits polygamy, the resulting figures of children are far larger with attending social features of vagrancy, fugitiveness, homelessness, illiteracy, and, of course, different cases of child abuse and street begging, at least in its Nigerian incarnation.

I start with the thesis, which, by its internal logic, recognizes procreation solely as a human act that is guided by human rationality and deliberate choice. Consequently both the choice and the responsibility attached rest squarely on the shoulders of the agents.1 So too would be other consequences, both proximate and remote, that follow the decision to procreate. I shall then x-ray the position of the Yorùbá on procreation showing why and how it is flawed generically and also in its logic and how the continued practice of reckless procreation by its people fearfully portends a demographic disaster for Nigeria. Added of course is the social menace of poverty, illiteracy, vagrancy, and insufficient poor infrastructural support and youth restiveness. I shall end with few suggestions on policies that could perhaps, if considered and adopted, forestall the real and present danger of a gross mismatch of thought, practice and resources.

In the Beginning

The evolutionary path has brought mankind thus far. Specifically on the question of sex, Homo sapiens have turned out male and female children without any serious outlandish metaphysical justification. X and Y constitute the sex chromosomes. The Y, particularly the gene SRY (i.e. the Sex determining Region of the Y), is responsible for the characteristics that transform the human body into the male. Male or female, each carries chromosomes that exist in pairs: twenty-three from the mother, including the X chromosomes, and twenty-three from the father, including either an X chromosomes for daughters and Y chromosomes for sons. It follows that females have two X chromosomes while males have just one X and one Y chromosomes. Dick Swaab, the renowned neuroscience researcher, is very explicit:

The boy’s Y chromosome starts the process that causes the male hormone testosterone to be produced. The presence or absence of testosterone makes a child develop male or female sex organs between the sixth and twelfth week of pregnancy. The brain differentiates along male or female lines in the second half of pregnancy, due to a male boy producing a peak of testosterone or a female baby not doing so. It’s in that period that the feeling of being a man or woman—our gender identity—is fixed in our brain for the rest of our lives (2014, 56).

It is interesting to note that of the near twenty-three thousand genes that the human body carries, only a mere one-thousandth of these, just twenty-five genes, lie on the Y, sealing the fate of male species that has peopled the entire world. However, whatever significance is attached to the statistical variance quickly vanishes against the soaring influence of turning out male, socially, politically, economically, and culturally. As Graig Venten interestingly notes in his autobiography,

For a people cursed with a Y chromosome, life is hard from the very start and only gets tougher. Look at the oldest residents of this planet and you will see they usually lack Y chromosomes. From fertilization to death, those who bear these chromosomes are in relative decline compared with those blessed with two X’s. The Y confers many peculiarities, from a greater risk of committing suicide, developing cancer, and becoming rich, to having less hair on the top of the head (2017, 9).

The Yorùbá people sum it up most appropriately with the declaration: “kò rọrùn láti jẹ́ ọmọkùnrìn (“it is not easy to be male”). Both the male and the female species are however fully engaged in the business of procreation.

Humans crave sex in order to reproduce because, as I shall soon highlight, the ultimate cause of sex is reproduction. Yet as Steven Pinker rightly submits, and as it is so concretely affirmed by the evolutionary history of birth control, humans sometimes may and do in fact overlook this ultimate cause of sex for the proximate cause of sex, which is pleasure (Pinker 2002, 51–58).2 Beyond pleasure however, and in whatever form or manner even in the face of its stark fleetingness, the ultimate reason for sex is procreation. This is an evolutionary fact that forms a universal base for all species and in particular the Homo sapiens. I emphasize this distinction because of the inference that I shall soon make to the effect that procreation ought to be, and, specifically so in the case of Homo sapiens, a deliberate conscious act and decision with far reaching consequences that demand huge responsibility of the major agents involved in the act. Birds and bees of course procreate, as do monkeys, elephants, and chimpanzees. Yet, I will not be willing too readily to inhibit these species with the qualification and demands set for Homo sapiens above. My argument is simple: “the act of making babies must always be queried. This is simply because procreation goes beyond merely having the enabling biological instruments. It also certainly goes beyond cultural dictates and the social institution of marriage” (Olajide 2017, 35). Once it is granted that procreation is a deliberate choice action it means that it is executed with the rational processes of thinking and reasoning, of deciding and choosing. No aspect of this—as long as humans remain rational—should therefore be blind, jaundiced, or arbitrary. There should also be no room for contingencies, since, beyond the fears of premature births or of babies that might be born with congenital diseases, brain damage, or grave physical deformities, the birth of babies is regarded as a complete and finished act, which in some cultures is always greeted with loud celebrations.

Darwinian evolution submits that procreation is not merely a result of the male and female wanting and choosing to replicate themselves, but on the contrary, beyond the wish itself is the question of survival of their species. Homo sapiens must keep itself in perpetuity and to do this multiplication must go on. That humans today are at the apex of the evolutionary pyramid while only mere bones of dinosaurs are left locked up in museums emphasizes the point. Procreation therefore is de facto part and parcel of the evolutionary narrative of Homo sapiens in their struggle for the survival of the fittest. On the sole reason of self-preservation and perpetuity of the human species therefore, procreation remains justified. But only thus far can this be justified, outside of the indulgence of unbridled procreation. This is because procreation in itself does not occur in a vacuum.

The human world in its microcosm embraces human societies, which forms the immediate environment into which every Homo sapiens is born. The power of the environment is actively huge and to a large extent functioning in full collaboration with the performance of the brain, determining who and what each man or woman eventually turns out to be in all and every ramification of human existence. The environment undoubtedly has resources that support the prospects of human flourishing and its survival. It is for this singular truism that the nature-nurture discourse has remained central to the question of holistic human development.

Also, except in rare cases of famine, there is no discrimination regarding access to any of the natural environmental resources particularly the consumables, such as water and food. Both may be abundantly available but they could dwindle and simply vanish in the case of drought and subsequent poor harvest, as evident in some countries north of the Sahara. Food baskets must constantly be replenished through a farming system that beats irreverent and unpredictable seasons. Yet against all odds, as witnessed in countries of the so-called third world that survive on foreign food aid, these resources often fail with a major contributor being excessive and reckless birth proliferation. In fact, with some deep religious sense one could do the math that procreation, when added to the scarcity of sustainable resources and population, yield existential Holy Trinity. Where procreation becomes unthinking and reckless to the extent that it takes little or no notice of population growth and the availability of adequate sustainable resources, it is literally doomsday, a running hour glass of death and ultimate extinction. This urgently places the responsibility on humans to rethink the idea of procreation as a survival imperative. Better still, if the human species wishes to justify the claim of rationality, then right thinking demands that common sense takes precedence with the careful watching and matching of available and projected sustainable resources with the human survival project. The eyes of every nation and culture must therefore at all times be fixed on the ball.

There is more. If the decision to reproduce and replicate is ultimately and essentially a rational choice, then it follows that the choice belongs solely to the agents involved, namely, the man and the woman, and to no one else. Not to any third party, culture, or tradition, and most certainly not to any metaphysical being by whatever name such a being is called and whatever its attributes are. It is essentially the choice and decision of the agents to bring yet another human being into the world. It follows therefore that in all and every case of birth, no one existing on earth ever asked to be born.3 In every birth and on all occasions:

there was no dialogue… [m]aking babies remains at its core a selfish act of two consenting or non-consenting adults for which no thanks should be offered. On the contrary, the party that made it all happen owes the victim an apology because of their act. When stripped to its bare bones, being born is a huge disservice apart from also being cruel and reckless (Olajide, ibid.).

It is instructive to emphasize this particular point in response to some cultures that continue to insist that being born is a gift. For whom is it a gift? Perhaps it may be to the agents who might have been wishing for a baby, having had a barren spell in marriage, but certainly not for the baby.

If the reference is to the gift of being born, which in this case refers to the baby, then the submission would certainly be mistaken and deliberately mischievous. I agree completely with the submission of David Benatar that coming into existence is always a form of doing harm. This is partly because whatever fate awaits the newborn baby, be it pleasant or cruel, much of it would be influenced and determined by the environment into which he or she is born. Imagine the children born into conflict, raised in conflict, and who, eventually, with no other possible living experience, die in it. Some still are born of parents fleeing from war-torn regions only to live and die in refugee camps, severely ravaged by acute malnutrition and severe ill-health. Even in countries where some semblance of subsistence seems to exist, poor governance, deplorable infrastructure, abject underdevelopment, and derelict leadership postures often conspire and make existential flourishing simply hopeless. According to Benatar, at the risk perhaps of stating the obvious, “all lives contain some bad. [But] coming into existence with such a life is always a harm…. [O]ften the suffering is excruciating [when] we infrequently contemplate the harms that await any new born child – pain, disappointment, anxiety, grief and death” (2006, 29). I need not stress here the horrors that attend some forms of death for no fault of the victims who, if we must be reminded, were never consulted whether they would fancy visiting the earth nor was it ever stated anywhere that they shared or voiced any interest whatsoever. And let not the argument be raised that being born in North America or Europe is better than, say, being born in the Third World. All humans are subjected to the same existential grief of existence.
Inferring from the above, it should now be readily obvious that one can never be brought into existence for his or her own sake or for any purported good for that matter. To claim otherwise, and then to seek to enforce such a claim with the sledgehammer of tradition and religion is sheer fraud, cruelty, and essentially a deception. Being born essentially does no service—and is of no benefit—to the individual born. If anything, the latter is a condemned pathetic victim. By extension, coming into existence is essentially bad luck. What is hugely disconcerting, when the tragic horrors of coming into existence are put in perspective and the impact of excessive procreation or overpopulation on human flourishing is revealed, is the fact that the situation which could have been avoided or at least minimized, was made only possible by the deliberate act of two consenting rational adults.4 Where it is done judiciously in the name of species survival, some justification may be found. But when it is done however with so much reckless abandon, and with little or no regard for the narrative of population status and the resources available to thrive on, only strong condemnation in superlative terms will suffice.

The Yorùbá Culture and the Dynamics of Procreation

The Yorùbá, by culture and religion, love babies. They relish it and show utter disdain for barrenness or for infertility in marriages and all other forms of celibacy. This is true of not only the Yorùbá people but indeed of most if not all communities in Africa. Genealogy is a prized consideration among the Yorùbá, since for them the family is everything. It defines strictly their belongingness—the fact that they are not vagabonds, but a people with roots. It is the aspiration of the Yorùbá to be able to trace the identity of a person to his or her community. This is because, “It is the community that would protect the child, feed it, nurture and educate it both in formal and informal ways and incorporate it into the wider community” (Olajide 2017b, 185). The love of babies thus firmly established, is it then the case that acts of procreation among the Yorùbá traditional society are always measured, deliberate, and adjudged necessary in relation to availability of sustainable resources and in full cognizance of population realities, particularly with regards to individual families head count as it impacts the general society? I do not think so.
This answer requires a serious caveat. Let it be stated categorically that the Yorùbá cultural lore is a rich one that projects a pragmatic observation and consideration of issues. The demographic matter of procreation is one fundamental one on which the Yorùbá traditional culture has weighed both sides of the coin with solemn consideration. On the one hand, there is a cultural permissiveness that derives from the belief that it is Olódùmarè who is the source of the joy of childbirth. In fact, when the Yorùbá say ọmọ l’aṣọ (“children are garments”), there is at play a critical principle of social relations that equates abundance of people with true wealth. Thus, Owomoyela remarks that

the reduction of the concept “wealth” to an abundance of people around one, as in Ẹni tí ò lówó a léèyàn… (“Whoever lacks money should have people…”), or the equation of wealth (in clothing) with abundance of children, as in Ọmọ laṣọ (“Children are garments”), lends credence to the claim that the maintenance of good relations is of crucial importance in Yoruba social life (2005, 34).

This social relations principle goes a long way to reaffirm the belief in procreation as a virile sign of wealth and favor from the gods. Several proverbs confirm this:
A kì í kọ ọmọ bíi ká sọ ọ́ ní Èwolódé?
“One does not so resent having a child that one names it What-is-this-thathas happened?”
(Childbirth is always a happy event) (ibid, 92)
Bí a bá ní ogún ẹrú, tí a ní ìwọ̀ fà ọgbọ̀n; ọmọ lèrè ẹni
“If one owns twenty slaves and thirty pawns, children are still one’s profit” (ibid, 277)
A kì í délé ayò ká má bá ọmọ
“One never arrives at the home of the ayò game without finding children” (ibid, 281)
Ìyàwó dùn-ún gbé; ọmọ dùn-ún kó jáde
“Marriage is a pleasurable activity, and so is christening a child” (ibid, 282)
Kí ni à bá fowó rà tó lè kọjá ọmọ?
“What can one use one’s money to buy that would be more precious than children?” (ibid.)

Thus, if babies are ultimately gifts from Olódùmarè and are the signs of providential favor, as the Yorùbá belief goes, then one is as wealthy as the number of children one has. Indeed, by saying ọlọḿ ọọ́là (“the person that is blessed with children has prospered”), the Yorùbá immediately signal the premium that is put on children. Within this mindset, more babies are born without any serious critical thought of the how of their flourishing and survival. Even where so suddenly some women perhaps because of the reasons of age or ill-health stopped bearing children, families encourage their husbands with zest to take on younger wives to carry on the business of procreation. This attitude stems from yet another strong belief of the Yorùbá: Ẹni ti kò bí’mọ wáyé lásán (“a person who is barren lives an empty life”). J. S. Mbiti notes the significance of procreation and fertility in a larger African cultural context: “Unhappy is the woman who fails to bare children for, whatever other qualities she might possess, her failure to bear children is worse than committing genocide; she has become the dead end of human life; not only for the genealogical line but also for herself” (1969, 11).

From the first indication that a new baby is on the way, special treatment is accorded the expectant mother. Pregnancy is a sign that prayers and sacrifices offered during the marriage ceremonies have indeed found favor with God. And this is reflected in some of the names given to babies. Among the indigenous Yorùbá for example, children that are received as gifts from the gods are easy to recognize. Those from Òṣun, the river goddess, carry names prefixed by the name of the goddess herself: Ọṣ̀ únrẹm̀ ílẹ́kún (Ọṣ̀ ún has put a stop to my weeping), Ọṣ̀ úngbèmí (Ọṣ̀ ún is on my side), Ọṣ̀ únkàmíyẹ (Ọṣ̀ ún has found me worthy), Ọṣ̀ únlànà (Ọṣ̀ ún has opened the way). Those from the goddess Ọya include: Ọyáwálé (Ọya has come home), and Ọyalẹwàmi (Ọya is my beauty). From Ṣàngó, the god of thunder, we have: Ṣàngóbùnmi (Ṣàngó has given me this), and Ṣàngógbèmí (Ṣàngó is my benefit). From Èṣù: Èṣúgbàyí (Èṣù has taken the honor), and Èṣúmòmí (Èṣù has recognized me). From Ògún, the god of iron, there are: Ògúnyẹmí (Ògún has fittingly blessed me), Ògúndọlà (Ògún has brought riches), Ògúnkọỳ à (Ògún has refused dishonor). From the contemporary Yorùbá community tainted by Christian theology, it is common to have the following: Olúwaṣèyífúnmi (God did this for me), Olúwaṣeun (God I thank you), Olúwabùkúnmi (God has blessed me), Olúwapamílẹŕ in (God has made me laugh), Olúwajọba (God is enthroned King), Olúwadárasími (God has been good to me), and Olúwadámilóhùn (God has answered me), to mention a few.5 Of particular significance are twins (ìbejì), whose arrival the Yorùbá associate with riches and prosperity for the lucky parents. Ironically it is very common to find mothers engaged in street begging, seemingly oblivious of the disconnection between what they profess and the reality in which they now must live in order for both the mother and her babies to survive.

Whatever fawning attention the mother of a baby enjoyed before the arrival of the baby, and immediately after the baby’s birth, soon evaporates a few weeks after the naming ceremony. Everything quickly returns to normal as the father and the mother of the child return to the hard realities of their existence. And it is at this juncture that we arrive at the second but pragmatic cultural observation of the traditional Yorùbá culture. Here we encounter counteracting proverbs that seem to circumscribe any proclivity for recklessness in procreation:

“Mo bí, mo bí” kì í ṣe ọmọ rere
“‘I have just had a baby; I have just had a baby!’ does not make for good breeding.”
(Frequent births are less desirable than painstaking child rearing) (Owomoyela 2005, 270)
Obìnrin tó jí ní kùtùkùtù tó ní Ọlọŕ un ni yó mọ iye ọmọ òun, ó gbégbá ìrégbè “A woman who at the dawn of her life vows that only God will know how many children
She will bear has placed a load of trouble on her own head.” (Children are not an unmixed blessing for women) (ibid, 282)
Ọmọ bẹẹrẹ, òṣì bẹẹrẹ
“A multitude of children, a multitude of misery” (ibid.)

The difference between the two dimensions of indigenous wisdom over the significance of procreation and of children becomes more complicated given the complex postcolonial realities the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, including the Yorùbá, have to confront and engage with. Consider the implications of the indices of underdevelopment on the procreative proclivities of rural and urban Yorùbá in Nigeria.

The demographic anxiety attached to these considerations of procreative energies, as well as its social, cultural, and ontological significance, is not limited to the analysis of rural Yorùbá communities. Urban Yorùbá families are either under the spell of traditional beliefs or the “mandate” of modern religions. For instance, a Yorùbá Christian would likely hold firm to the injunction in Genesis to be “fruitful and multiply.” One would be surprised at the number of “enlightened” Christians who refuse contraceptives as a mortal “sin” against God’s injunction. On the other hand, the Yorùbá Muslim also has the permission of Islam to have up to four wives, with all the possible implications that has for careless procreation. The matter is further complicated if the modern Yorùbá is a believer in polygyny. Some comfort comes from some educated Yorùbá elites who have allowed rational choice to triumph over cultural imperatives. Our demographic angst gives way to grave national concern when it dawns on us that most urban Nigerians are part of larger cultural collectives that, as Mbiti noted earlier, are defined by the premium placed on family and its procreative capacities. Just as we noted earlier, the Yorùbá constitute a mere instance of a larger problem.

Policy Makeover

A specific dimension of Nigeria’s development impasse is that there is little or no serious policy interference by government on issues of marriage or procreation. Nigeria’s first population policy came into existence in 1988. That inaugural policy—the National Policy on Population for Development, Unity, Progress and Self-reliance—was reviewed, revised, and updated fifteen years later in 2004 with the National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development. In the foreword to the new document, the erstwhile president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, provided a justification for the revised policy:
Fifteen years after the enunciation of the 1988 Policy, the exigencies of emerging new activities and issues (the 1991 National Population Census, 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, the 1999 HIV/AIDS Summit in Abuja, poverty and food insecurity and the population-environment-development nexus issues) make a revision of the National Population Policy necessary (Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004, i).

The 2004 Policy is realistic enough in its recognition of “certain cultural practices over time [that] have tended to contribute to growth of population of different areas of the country in ways militating against the interest of national development in contemporary times (ibid, ix).
With its recognition of the relationship between disproportionate population growth and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, labor force, employment, housing, urbanization, nutrition, health, education, food security, energy resources, the public services, etc., the specific targets of the policy include:

Achieving a reduction of the National population growth rate to 2 percent or lower by the year 2015; a reduction in the total fertility rate of at least 0.6 children every five years; increase the modern contraceptive prevalence rate by at least 2 percentage point per year; reduce infant mortality rate to 35 per 1,000 live births by 2015; reduce child mortality rate to 45 per 1,000 live births by 2015; reduce maternal mortality to 125 per 100,000 live births by 2010 and 75 by 2015; achieve a 25 percent reduction in HIV adult prevalence (ibid, 23).
All of these are good and noble indeed. However, what has happened since 2004 when this policy was promulgated into law? Michael and Odeyemi outline the achievements of the 2004 Policy to include general awareness about birth control, accessibility to modern contraceptives, decrease in infant mortality rate, improvement in maternal health, and an increased awareness about HIV/AIDS and how to prevent it (2017, 107–108).

It has been fourteen years now since the 2004 Policy was reviewed, and we can begin to wonder what might have happened to the outlined achievements of the federal government, especially in the light of new population worries. How do we continue to interact with the stated targets of the 2004 Policy close to one and a half decades after it came into existence? What has happened to the fertility rate in Nigeria? Has Nigeria achieved sustainable universal education that could significantly impact our galloping population growth? The major issue, as I see it, is the lack of significant policy attention to the implementation of population policy. So far on procreation, it is all about self-regulation. The carelessness in procreation is still a major feature of population growth in Nigeria. Population is growing fast and expanding and human sustainable resources are fast dwindling. With the perennial scourge of poor governance and the paucity of good leadership, both fiscal and structural deficiencies have compounded Nigeria’s underdevelopment. The barometer of poverty is now very high with the near total disappearance of the middle class. There is a perceptible resignation among Nigerians who are convinced that the government really does not care about their welfare. While Nigeria may not really be a failed state, there is no doubt that things are very bad. When a state, fifty-eight years after its independence, cannot feed its people or provide any measure of hope then the feeling of despondency is inevitable. And the population keeps up its geometric explosion! The present call in Nigeria for restructuring and return to true federalism with autonomous regions guided by their constitution is a bold attestation to the present state of directionlessness, hopelessness, and acute apathy. Nigeria, like many other African countries, is not guided by any defined ideology and therefore lacks any strategic operational plans or goals.

However, demographic considerations about population growth in Nigeria deserve some measure of urgency because these considerations are directly and ultimately tied to the very core of development. Population matters foreground delicate issues like food security, unemployment, rural-urban disarticulation, and even terrorism and insurgency. There is therefore the urgent need for some radical policy initiatives that arrest this drift into disintegration. Nigeria is presently fortunate because the malady is still slowly growing on her. China was not so lucky, nor was India. Even when the latter had an answer with its massive food production program, there still are obvious feelings of anger and discomfort and hence the daily shouts of fairness and equity. Uprisings have continued by iconoclastic movements that are ever ready to wage war, particularly on the obnoxious caste system that discriminates and impoverishes a huge segment of the people. China was much bolder with its response when it categorically introduced a one-child-per-couple policy to check the massive threat of overpopulation.

I wish first to propose some government policy of intervention to moderate and regulate on marriage. Save the registration by intended couples and the collection of statutory fees which often never gets to government treasury, marriage ought not to be made open to all. Marriage ought not, with the benefit of existential hindsight, be an all-comers game that is regulated by social expectations, religious injunctions, and cultural imperatives. Couples who clearly have no visible means of sustaining themselves—not to even talk of supporting a third party—have no business getting married and raising a family. Without instituting coercive measures, government may request intending partners to fill out appropriate forms to enable it determine their economic status and level of preparedness after which the excited young man and the dreaming young lady are properly advised and put on schedule. Without government giving the green light they may not marry. Certainly no inalienable rights have been violated since they could without any hindrance or interference still continue with their sexual activities strictly for pleasure.
It is also imperative for government to collaborate with non-governmental organizations that are involved with birth control efforts such as Planned Parenthood. Health institutions in collaboration should champion the initiative. They should set up counseling outposts to educate the young on marriage: what it is, what it entails, the place and significance of procreation, and how it impacts the prospect of a flourishing life and population. Everyone desires a good life. When, however, individuals are confronted with what might make their desire an impossibility as a result of obvious acts of carelessness and negligence, they might do a re-think.

Universities and other institutions of higher learning should also be tasked with coming up with functional curriculum in their general studies programs, particularly on civic responsibility, setting life goals, financial management, marriage, and family planning, among others. The faculties of the Social Sciences and Education should collaborate especially with the Department of Guidance and Counseling to teach and run explicit workshops that would create the necessary awareness among undergraduates. They should be taught without a shade of ambiguity that issues regarding marriage and procreation are far beyond matters of religion, culture, and tradition. It rather has to do with working with facts and frank use of common sense. Taking any wrong step on their part might simply jeopardize every chance of a good life.


Yorùbá society, just like other many African communities, consists of an active interaction of both the sacred and the secular, with the former—and its deities and gods—seriously influencing the latter in all of its compartments and concerns. It is clear from close interrogation of the respective cultures that generally very little critical thinking or serious interrogation is employed in their existential engagements. The transcendental, with its inherent culture of fear of the unknown and pending retribution, leaves very little room for positive independent free choices. There is also of course the overpowering, or better still an overbearing, force of an uncompromising tradition that would not allow change, insisting that things be as they are from the beginning. It is against this backdrop that it becomes imperative to angle for a critical disposition in appraising every existential choice, one of which is marriage and the subject of procreation. This is significant for assessing how these considerations impact the quality of life not only of individuals who make babies and of babies that they bring to the world, but also of society as a whole. As rational beings, it is imperative always to raise and discuss most frankly the subject of social responsibility.

Of special existential import is the prospect of population, and the danger that it portends for the security of the nation. There is first and foremost an imperative need for a paradigm shift, a new mindset, and a steady reassessment of attitudes and behaviors. No society particularly now can afford to be careless, obdurate and irresponsible about how its people live and how their everyday choices affect national development. Individuals themselves cannot afford to be sheepish with their options. It is bad enough that we as humans have been forcefully conscripted into this tough, crazy, absurd existence. Our pathetic state should not be further compounded with careless thinking and poor existential choices. For what it is worth, even when the promise of a pie in the sky seems utterly silly, puerile, and empty, our brief time in the sun deserves some measure of good decent living. It is of course pertinent to insist unconditionally that this huge task and responsibility of salvaging humanity belongs both to the individual and the government.


1 The thesis was exhaustively treated in my inaugural lecture (Olajide 2017), in which I argued for restraints on procreation since coming into existence does no good for the baby. He or she never requested to be born. Besides, coming into existence is always harmful.
2 The recent rise in the use of aphrodisiacs by men and women underscores the proximate emphasis of sex for pleasure. The same point is made relevant by the obvious anxiety regarding loss of libido by men beyond the age of fifty and their readiness to try any solution offered to them, no matter how crude.
3 This is true of all cases, except the story of the biblical Jesus Christ is believed. We are told that he, in a pre-existent life, volunteered to come into the world and redeem the human race of its sin.
4 It is not uncommon to hear couples say that they never planned nor wanted the pregnancy that resulted in the birth of their baby. It was a mistake they usually confessed. But rather than deal with the mistake there and then through perhaps the choice of an abortion, just one more additional digit to human population is considered discountable they reckon especially in cultures where God always provides and guarantees everything.
5 See chapter six of Mbiti’s book on God and nature to fully appreciate this existential mutual symbiosis which constitute the plight of African peoples and cultures.

Works Cited

Benater, David (2006), Better Never to Have Been Born: The Harm of Coming to Existence (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Federal Government of Nigeria (2004), National Policy on Population for Sustainable Development (Lagos: Federal Ministry of Health).
Mbiti, J. S. (1969), African Religions and Philosophy (London: Heinemann).
Michael, Turnwait O. and Odeyemi, Mayowa A. (2017), “Nigeria’s Population Policies: Issues, Challenges and Prospects,” Ibadan Journal of the Social Sciences, Vol. 15, No. 1, March: 104-115.
Olajide, Adewale (2017a), In Defence of the Unborn and the Limit of Existential Options (Ado: Ekiti State University Press).
Olajide, Wale (2017b), “Genealogy in Yoruba Existential Philosophy,” OPANBATA: LASU Journal of African Studies, Vol. 5: 175-187.
Owomoyela, Oyekan (2005), Yoruba Proverbs (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press).
Pinker, Steven (2002), The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (London: Penguin).
Swaab, Dick (2014), We are our Brains: From the Womb to Alzheimer’s (London: Penguin).
Venter Craig J. (2007), A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life (London: Penguin).

Yunusa Kehinde Salami
Department of Philosophy
Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria


This paper examines the àsùwàdà principle as an indigenous social theory, which is based on alásùwàdà, a body of doctrines according to which the creator of human beings and everything in nature, dá (created) individual human beings as à-sù-wà (beings who can only live successfully as part of a human group with a purpose). By establishing a teleological or purposeful unity and interconnectedness among all human beings, the àsùwàdà principle suggests that all human beings are created to be gregarious in nature and enjoy the best ìwà (existence or character) when they sù-wà (live in group). This paper interrogates the àsùwàdà principle in relation to the problem of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. The paper concludes that if as human beings, we are dá (created) to be àsùwà, then, with the complementary ideas of alájọbí, alájọgbé, and ìfọgbọ́ntáyéṣe, ethnic pluralism should not necessarily lead to ethnic antagonism or conflict.

Keywords: àsùwàdà, Ethnicity, Pluralism, À jọbi/À jọgbe, Conflict.


This paper examines the As̀ uẁ àdà principle as an indigenous social theory, which is based on alaś uẁ àda,̀ a body of doctrines, according to which the creator of human beings and everything in nature, (created) individual human beings as a-̀ su-̀ wà (beings who can only live successfully as part of a human group with a purpose). By establishing a teleological or purposeful unity and interconnectedness among all human beings, àsùwàdà principle proffers that all human beings are created to be gregarious in nature and enjoy the best iẁ à (existence or character) when they su-̀ wà (live in group). This paper will examine the àsùwàdà principle in relation to the problem of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. The paper will conclude that if as human beings, we are dà (created) to be àsùwà (beings who can only successfully as part of a human group with a purpose), then, with the complementary ideas of alájọbi,́ alájọgbe,́ and ìfọgbọ́ntááyéṣe, ethnic pluralism should not lead to ethnic antagonism or conflict.

àsùwàdà Principle

The àsùwàdà principle is a social theory, which Akiẁ ọwọ developed from a Yoruba poetry, which he identifies as àyá jọ́ alásùwàda,̀ which is “usually recited…at a rite-of-consecration called akiń tẹ̀lú performed when a new human settlement is to be founded” (Akiwowo 1990, 104). Aki ẁ ọwọ referred to alásùwàdà as “the author of all things” (1986, 348) in heaven and on earth. According to Aki ẁ ọwọ, “The source of all earthly forms of i ẁ a-̀ suś u ̀ (bunched of existence) is the divine being called Ọlọ́fin Otete (ruler of the palace of infinite spaciousness). He or she is addressed as Alaś uẁ àdà (the author of all things)” (1990, 108). Mákindé succinctly gave an analysis of Aki ẁ ọwọ’s concept of àsùwàda,̀

Àsùwàda’̀ is derived from ìwà (a state of being, existence, or character in a perpetual state of development; sùwàda,̀ to come together or co-exist for a common end or purpose) and Asu-̀ ìwa-̀ dà (literally meaning that which kneads or moulds iẁ a,̀ i.e. beings, states of existence or characters so that they can live together in harmony for a purpose or common end (1990, 121).1
This complies with Akiẁ ọwọ’s interpretation of àsùwàdà as “purposive clumping of diverse iẁ a”̀ (1986, 345). Simply put, àsùwàdà refers to human beings as social, political and gregarious animals. They are beings who can only realize their goods and life purposes and objectives when they live in groups with others. They are beings who cannot achieve their worldly goals atomistically as individuals in isolation from the society. Aki ẁ ọwọ calls this the sociality of man, where by sociality he means “the quality or fact of being able to live and grow in communities…the quality of being able to sùwàdà (come together for a common end; to co-exist)” (1983, 16). This account clearly “distinguishes between àsùwà (coexistence) and àsùwàdà (the fact of being together for a purpose)” (ibid, 16-17).

This clumping of diverse ìwà or bunched existence is not restricted to the humans. It is replicated among animals and plants. This is aptly captured in some lines of the poem such as:

56. àsùwà is what the oyin are
57. àsùwà is what the àdò bees are
58. The eeŕ an leaves grow in Àsùwà
59. àsùwà is what broomsticks form
60. It is in àsùwà that the eéran leaves grow in the aare
61. àsùwà is what ẹlẹ́giŕ í birds form
62. It is the coming together of a multitude of men
63. That we know as warfare
64. It is as àsùwà that one encounters the grassland
65. It is as àsùwà that locusts invade a farmland… (1990, 108)

For Aki ẁ ọwọ, these instances, among many others, “list forms and types of life forms or beings which continue inbeing as a result of their conformity with the principle of asuwa” (1990, 109). Following the lines, one can see that the principle of as̀uẁ à is not restricted to the human beings. It is extended to other forms of life such as “oyin (bumble bee), àdò (honey bee), the human hair, trees, grasses, ants, leaves, birds, locusts, and even man-made àsùwa,̀ such as broomsticks, and corps of fighting men” (ibid.). This is why “In several àsùwà the termites colonize their mounds. In several àsùwà we encounter the ekunkun by the riverside. It is as àsùwà that we find the làbẹlàbẹ by the waterside” (ibid.).

In addition to the principle of bunched existence in the àsùwàdà principle is the idea of collective goodness. It is part of the àsùwàdà principle that collective good reigns (ibid, 110-111). This can be seen from some of the lines of the oral poetry such as:

108. On the day, he was to release
109. Existences on the Earth
110. One particle of dust became
111. A basketful measure of dust
112. A basketful measure of soil became the earthcrust
113. Dews pouring lightly, pouring lightly 114. Were used to mould the earth
115. Dews pouring heavily, pouring heavily 116. Were used to mould the earth
117. So that ire-gbogbo may multiply on it
118. Ire-gbogbo took the shape of àsùwà

The principle emphasizes collective goodness, which can only be attained
in the harmonious coexistence contained in àsùwa.̀ This principle is stressing the point that there can only be goodness in society when a bunch of characters forms a bunched existence. They need goodness to regulate the differences in character. More than that, the principle emphasizes the point that it is in àsùwà (bunched existence) that goodness actually resides. Outside of this (àsùwà) there is no good.

Àìsùwà is the absence of àsùwa.̀ It is clear from the àsùwàdà oral poetry that at the beginning of creation, all earthly beings were created with the Àsùwàdà such that they can only realize the goodness of their beings in the harmonious coexistence as a group. Àìsùwà was not part of the original creation. “Ire-gbogbo is in the form of asuwa” (ibid, 111). Ire-gbogbo here means collective good. The line is simply saying that collective good is in the form of àsùwa.̀

However, at a point in the history of existence on earth, àìsùwa,̀ which means absence of bunched existence, was introduced into the natural order. According to the oral poetry, àìsùwà in form of “error, or moral offence… began when Yankangi strayed away from ire-gbogbo” (ibid.). Some lines of the poetry state the beginning of the disorderliness thus:

129. There is no luckless head in a companion of travelers 130. For ire-gbogbo is in form of àsùwà
131. Yankangi alone it was
132. Who strayed for a moment from his companion
133. Was said to have stolen irú to eat
134. From Mother Olugamo’s tray in heaven

This straying away from companionship by Yankangi is regarded as self-alienation which negates the original àsùwà social order naturally planned for human existence. Thus, “According to the principle of àsùwa,̀ there was no error at the emanations of earthly beings. Error, ‘sin’, or self-alienation, was introduced into the natural order when Yankangi inadvertently turned his back against his original community to be alone in order to enjoy alone the provision that was intended for the common good” (ibid, 112).

According to Aki ẁ ọwọ, “self-alienation, called ài ̀sùwa,̀ was the first prototype of error or sin, of what we regard in sociology as social deviation or social pathology…it is imperative for the common good that there be always sociality among all elements in creation” (ibid, 112-113). This principle emphasizes the point that we can only find the substance of goodness in the community of creatures. This is because, “The whole earth is a macro-community in which human settlements of varied sizes and densities are microcommunities” (ibid, 112). The àsùwàdà principle, no doubt, stresses the importance of social harmony in human communities while, at the same time, stressing the evil consequences of one part of the community alienating itself from the others.

The Nigerian Multi-National State

Nigeria is a hotchpotch of different ethnic nationalities. It is clear that the people of Nigeria “are in different geo-political settings with their multifarious experiences about the world” (Salami 2004, 398). Nigeria is a nation that is composed of several ethnic nationalities. This “conglomeration of different ethnic nationalities” (ibid.) makes Nigeria an ethno-culturally pluralist nation-state, which “is fragmented into different ethnic, commune-cultural, or local loyalties as well as different corresponding socio-cultural allegiance and commitments” (ibid, 399).

The idea of ethnic pluralism expresses the fact that as social and gregarious animals, human beings belong to different groups which “are organized by some distinct sets of customs, techniques and traditions” (ibid.) that form the culture of a people. In this case, “members of the same ethnic group are said to share the same mother tongue, blood relationship, ancestral lineages, and geographical proximity, among others. Members of an ethnic group are born into the group and they necessarily belong to it (Maclean 1991, 325-326). For instance, “the cultural tie between the Hausa of Nigeria and Niger may be greater than contacts between Hausa of Nigeria and Jukun of Nigeria” (Udo 1980, 10). This factor of cultural ties is so strong that “Long after the establishment of British and German rule, many chiefs in the German-controlled areas of Adamawa continued to pay tribute and do homage to the Fulani Emir of Yola, the former ruler of Pre-colonial Adamawa” (ibid.). Ethnic pluralism can also be explained by the usual concentration of different ethnic groups on different and separate spatial locations. Given this fact, “the different ethnic groups are opened to different geographical locations, which sometimes carry with it the differences in weather and activities, of the different ethnic groups, which settle in different locations” (Salami 2004, 400).

The differences in the ways the different ethnic groups go about the business of their lives is greatly influenced by the differences in weather among them. This is explained by the fact that the group in the south are bound to have more water round the year, while the counterpart “in the North are exposed to the dry North-East trade winds from the Sahara Desert which is for most of the year, hot dry” (ibid.). The differences in weather creates differences in the lives of the different ethnic groups that constitute the Nigerian nation-state. For example, “the long dry season when water and grazing for cattle is scarce has made it necessary for the Fulani cattlemen to adopt a nomadic mode of existence” (ibid.). The differences in lives and in the cultural milieu of the different ethnic nationalities have, in no small measure, influence the ways they go about meeting their material conditions of existence. This, in effect, provides different social and cultural ties, which separate the different ethnic nationalities from one another. The consequence of this is the problem of ethnic pluralism in which citizens emphasize their different ethnic nationalities and demonstrate their allegiances as well as loyalties to their ethno-cultural groups at the expense of the corporate identity of the Nigerian state (ibid, 400-401).

Ethnicity and the Nigerian Multinational State

Ethnicity is nothing but the fact of belonging to an ethnic group (Gbadegesin 1981, 3-5). Ethnicity simply says that a nation is made of several ethnic nationalities. “It expresses the fact that Nigeria is made of such linguistic, cultural, or ethnic groups as Birom, Tiv, Igbo, Edo, Yorùbá Ijaw, Jukun, and Hausa among others” (Salami 2004, 401). The classification of people into an ethnic group is based on language sharing, blood relationship or ancestral linkages. For each ethnic group, there is a lineage traceable to a common ancestor. For instance, members of the Yoruba ethnic group will trace their ancestral lineage to Odùduwa.̀ The ancestor is considered the progenitor of members of the ethnic group.2

Ethnicity expresses the fact of belonging to different ethnic groups. This suggests social and cultural pluralism. It explains the fact that in a nation, like Nigeria, where the concept is applicable, there are more than one ethnic group forming the nation. To have a state or nation, there are requirements such as an occupation of certain geographical location with specified boundaries by a sizeable population of human beings who are under the rule of some who have the authority to direct the affairs of the state. Such a community must also enjoy sovereignty or self-governance (Fishman 1972, 2). Establishing a nation or a state-community requires the coming together of people of different ethnic origins who have different ancestral linkages, languages and blood relationship under one administrative umbrella (Aristotle 1963). A positive link can be established between ethnicity and nationhood because there is hardly any nation that is ethnically monolithic. Since nations are formed from a conglomeration Fishman of different ethnic groups, it is plausible to claim that ethnicity is significant to nationhood. With this, we can treat ethnic groups as integral parts of the nation (Isaacs 1975).

In spite of the aforementioned positive link that may be established between nationhood and multiplicity of ethnic groups, some critics assume that multiplicity of ethnic groups may be inimical to the idea of nationhood by constituting a basis for inter-ethnic conflict. The point raised by the critics of multiplicity of ethnic groups is that in an ethnic pluralist state like Nigeria, “people show more allegiance to their ethnic groups than the nation as a whole. People find their primordial affinities and attachments as well as their ancestral linkages stronger than the political ties in nationhood” (Salami 2004, 401).

Inter-Ethnic Conflict and the Nigerian Polity

The Nigerian polity shows some examples of how ethnic pluralism has almost balkanized the Nigerian state. Nigeria as a nation has a heterogeneous ethnic heritage. The number of ethnic groups in Nigeria is estimated to be two hundred and fifty. Among this estimated number of ethnic groups, four occupy a position of prominence. The four prominent ethnic groups are “Yoruba in the West, Hausa and Fulani in the North, and Ibo in the South-East. These four are reckoned as constituting sixty percent of the population. The Hausa comprise the largest single group in the North followed by the Fulani. The Yoruba dominate Og̀uǹ, Òǹdó,́ Ọỳọ,́ Ọṣ̀un, Lagos, and Èkit̀ìstates. The Ibo dominate Anambra, Imo, Abia, Enugu, Cross River, and Bayelsa States.”3 Apart from these four dominant ethnic groups, there are some other minor ethnic groups such as “Kanuri in Bauchi and Borno states, the Edo in Delta and Edo states, the Ibiobio in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, the Ijaw in Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo,and Delta states, the Tiv in Benue and Plateau states, the Nupe in Niger, Kebbi, and Sokoto states, the Efik in the East, and so on” (Salami 2004, 402). This diversity in ethnic lineage, no doubt, constitutes bases for diversity in the politico-economic relation in Nigeria (ibid.).

The rise in the number of ethnic militia and warriors signifies one of the negative impacts of ethnic pluralism on the Nigerian political entity. In Nigeria, “the inter-ethnic agitation is no longer restricted to the major ethnic groups… In Nigeria today, inter-ethnic suspicion and conflict is diverting the attention of the citizens from the pursuance of the national goal and objective” (ibid, 403). In a multi-ethnic Nigeria, an Ibo from Eastern Nigeria or a Yoruba from the West will be reluctant “to settle down as a Nigerian in the North, which is the geographical and cultural region of the Hausa, Fulani, or the Kanuri” (ibid.). In the same vein, it is becoming difficult for the Hausa, Fulani, or the Kanuri to be assimilated to the way of life in the Eastern and Western Nigeria. Furthermore, a Nigerian from a different ethnic group can only get a temporary appointment, if at all, in some other parts of the country that belong to some other ethnic groups.

Ethnic pluralism and its attendant problem of diversity have made it difficult for citizens of Nigeria to move freely throughout Nigeria or reside freely in any part of Nigeria of their choice. For instance, “cases of discrimination in the provision of goods and services abound with citizens making complaints to governments whose hands seemed to be chained” (Gbadegesin 1991, 101). Besides the issue of discrimination, national programs are usually beclouded by mutual suspicions and cry of marginalization: “For example, when one ethnic group controls the political machinery of the state, other ethnic groups find it difficult not to feel marginalized” (Salami 2004, 403).

Ethnicity and Ethnicism

It may be interesting to ask whether ethnicity needs be inimical to nationhood or whether the fact of a nation having multiple ethnic groups should ordinarily lead to inter-ethnic conflict. Contrary to the apparent connection between multiple ethnicity and inter-ethnic conflict, as we have in Nigeria; “ethnicity does not portend negation to nationhood. Rather, ethnicity as a biological concept is neutral. It has no political or class bias” (ibid, 403; Gbadegesin 1991, 87). It has been observed that “the important fact about an ethnic group is the involuntary and irrevocable nature of its membership. An individual is ascriptively the child of his or her parents, and the fact cannot be changed, no matter how he or she may be dissatisfied with it” (Gbadegesin, 4). This excludes the element of choice in ethnicity. An ethnic group should be seen, primarily, as a biological group and should not be confused with a political group. It expresses a biological connection. “The upshot of this is that ethnicity does not express lack of national identity or call for inter-ethnic conflict (Salami 2004, 404). A nation can be made of different ethnic groups and still remain cohesive and maintain a common corporate interest not distracted by ethnic considerations. In this case, “ethnicity is just a neutral concept. It merely expresses a biological relationship among members or citizens of a nation… neither ethnic homogeneity nor ethnic heterogeneity is sufficient to produce national unity or diversity respectively” (ibid.).

Nevertheless, problem can arise between ethnicity and nationhood when ethnicity is politicized. In other words, “it is when citizens begin to manipulate their facts of belonging to different ethnic groups, for their political and economic ends, that we begin to lose a sense of national identity. This fact of politicizing ethnicity is what is referred to as ‘ethnicism’” (ibid, 405; Gbadegesin, 87). According to this view, the origin of inter-ethnic conflict in a multi-ethnic society “is not the fact of belonging to different ethnic groups but something more hidden, such as economic needs, psychological attitudes or some internal patterns of the group structure…ethnic antagonism is created by the human beings in the community” (Gallo and Molina 1991, 62). The inter-ethnic conflict as we have it in Nigeria is a product of the use to which ethnicity is put. In this case, “ethnic elites manipulate and politicize ethnicity in their various struggles to partake in the sharing of the national cake. This politicization of ethnicity militates against national identity and harmony in an ethno-cultural pluralist Nigeria” (Salami 2004, 405). Based on this politicization, there are multiples of ethnic militias from as many as the number of ethnic groups existing in Nigeria. This has led to a devastating conflicts at various periods in the life of Nigeria. At present, there is the resounding secessionist outcry for a Biafran Republic from the Igbo ethnic group while the Hausa-Fulani ethnic groups are holding the North as an ethnic site that non-northerners cannot inhabit.

àsùwàdà Principle as a Panacea for Inter-ethnic Conflict

Although ethnicity does not in itself presuppose any form of separatist or secessionist preoccupation, yet, if it is over-politicized, it can lead to the disintegration of national unity and identity. This presupposes that ethnicity needs to be dealt with creatively. Ethnic pluralism can be turned into a positive force, what is required is mutual respect among the various ethnic groups. For Mclean, “the different ethnic groups should engage in cooperative, but competitive interaction for the positive development of the society” (1991, 333). In search of a creative way of dealing with the problem of ethnicism and the attendant problem of inter-ethnic conflicts in Nigeria, the àsùwàdà principle becomes handy. The problem before us is how to resolve the incompatibility between ethnic pluralism and national harmony. The fact of the multiethnic and multicultural nature of the Nigerian state and the attendant problem of interethnic conflict call for conscious efforts at fostering interethnic peace and harmony.

àsùwàdà, Alá jọbí, and Alá jọgbé are concepts which, if properly operationalized, can provide suggestions to move Nigeria out of the present ethnic conflict and disharmony. àsùwàdà Ènìyàn already presupposes bunched existence and teleological co-existence. àsùwàdà oral poetry already establishes the principle according to which humans and animals were created to manifest bunched existence or group existence as a result of having been created from the same dust and the need to meet the individual and collective goals as a group in a gregarious existence. Unlike the Hobbesian account of the origin of man in an atomistic and individualistic state of nature, from which humans later escaped, because of the undesirable nasty and brutish nature of such a state to build a commonwealth; the àsù-ìwà-dà principle states that human beings and other animals were originally created to live together in group to achieve their individual and collective goals, and that a ̀i -̀ su-̀ i ẁ a-̀ da,̀ which means self-alienation and separation or deviation from group existence, is an aberration that later came as an error on the part of human beings.

To achieve this bunched existence of different ethnic groups in the attainment of nationhood in a multinational state, alá jọbi ́ and alá jọgbe ́ are handy. Going by Akiẁ ọwọ’s discussion of àsùwàdà in conjunction with his discussion of the twin concepts of àjọbi ́ and à jọgbe,́ the multinational and multicultural nature of the Nigerian state can be explained and understood. While the concept of àjọbi ́ may express the fact of belonging to a family and an ethnic group in which people share the same blood, language and ancestral lineage, àjọgbé expresses the fact of ethnicity in which various such groups co-exist in a community.51 Corresponding to these concepts are also alá jọbi ́ and alá jọgbe.́ These two important concepts and notions capture the condition of several families or ethnic groups sharing the same geographical and political space.

The question is whether the possibility of co-existence guarantees harmonious co-existence among different families and or ethnic groups or ethnic nationalities. One good thing in this case is that human beings were originally created to live a bunched existence. The self-alienation, which constitutes the original sin here, is wrong and simply needs to be put back to normal. Prima facie, it seems as easy as to simply use moral education to let people of different ethnic nationalities realize the originally bunched nature of our existence and the abberative nature of self-alienation or inter-ethnic conflict. The moral education will involve the emphases on how to restore the original mutual trust and confidence that the self-alienation has taken away from the various groups of alá jọbi ,́ which join to form the Nigerian alá jọgbe
The assumption underlying this proposal is that if human beings know what is right they will do what is right. In other words, once everyone knows that originally we were meant to co-exist for the general goal of the multinational state, everyone will work towards the harmonious mutual coexistence rather than fanning the ember of interethnic disaffections. Much as the method of moral education promises some level of efficacy in bringing harmony back to the present state of anomy, the problem is that it is not usually the case that human beings cannot knowingly do that which is wrong. In other words, a person may know that an action is wrong and still go ahead to do it or cause it to happen.

This raises the question of the problem of the will. This is a case in which, in spite of the knowledge of the distinction between right and wrong, one’s will is not strong enough to resist doing the wrong. This is to argue that mere moral education about the àsùwàdà may not be sufficient to guarantee harmony in a fractious relationship. However, the question can be raised that if by nature we are to necessarily live in a bunched existence, why do we find ourselves in this disharmonious corporate entity called Nigeria. The answer may be that as long as there is possibility of self-alienation, the bunched-existence is not built on necessity but on capability. If we go by this, we will be saying that àsùwàdà created human beings with the capacity to su-wa, or have bunched existence; it did not create them to necessarily have a bunched existence. This necessity-capability distinction may weaken the prospects of the àsùwàda principle serving as a panacea to inter-ethnic conflicts. Again, there is the collective goal of all the alá jọgbe,́ and by extension the collective goal of the nation that fosters the overall goal of the aggregate of co-existing alájọbi.́ In other words, even if the necessity of bunched existence is watered down to mere capability for bunched existence, there remains the need for bunched existence for the attainment of the national goal. In a situation in which, as explained in the àsùwàdà principle, individual goals are only achievable through the collective goal, there is the duty to harmonize the interests of the different ethnic groups making up the Nigerian state.

Attempts should be made to clarify that the kind of collective goal that the àsùwàdà principle emphasizes is not the type that suggests totalitarianism. The collective goal, engendered by the idea of bunched existence in the àsùwàdà principle, recognizes the individuality. However, it holds that the specific, private and personal content of the individuality are connected to those of others in the larger community (Ademoyo 2009, 26). In other words, the good of the individual is connected to the good of the community; the individual ethnic groups need the co-existence or the togetherness in the nation-state to achieve their individual goals.

In spite of the self-alienation that came as the first sin that diverted some component parts of the nation from the original collective goal of the nation, which is embedded in a bunched existence, the fact remains that the society needs a bunched existence for its perpetuity. Here arises the ‘is/ought’ question. Going by the àsùwàdà principle, the various ethnic constituents of the Nigerian multinational state ought to be in harmonious bunched existence, but, in reality the Nigerian nation-state is now in total disharmony. There is the IPOB/MASSOB in the South-East agitating for a Biafran nation, the Arewa Youth with its threatening presence in the North, the various Niger delta militant groups fighting for resource control, among others. The possibility of the problem of “is/ought” distinction and the way out of it is already embedded in the àsùwàdà principle, which takes the collective goal of the collective as self-perpetuity and includes the idea of societal self-reinvention. The idea of societal reinvention presupposes the possibility of a break in the chain of bunched existence, which may be a temporary death of the àsùwàdà spirit. The difference between the societies that cannot continue to perpetuate themselves and those that can will reside in their ability to reinvent themselves (ibid, 27).

Given the current comatose state of the àsùwàdà spirit in the Nigerian multi-national state, the question is the way out. This brings to bear the idea of ìfọgbọ́ntáyése, which, for Akiẁ ọwọ, means “using wisdom to remake the world” (1983, 4), and for Makinde, means “the conscious employment of human knowledge, reason and wisdom for the understanding and improvement of the world” (1990, 129-130). With ìfọgbọ́ntáyése as a concept that is part of the Àsùwàda principle, there is the opportunity for human beings to creatively employ deep intellectual thought to examine the why and how of the deviation that is engendered by self-alienation. Ìfọgbọ́ntáyése becomes a tool for the “development and improvement of society and the general condition of humanity” (ibid, 131).

The way forward is to use wisdom and deep thought to reinvent the nation from the present àis̀ ùwà back to its original state of àsùwa.̀ Critical and rational thought will enable ease of studying and appraising how and why citizens resorted to self-alienation and thereby deviated from the original norm of bunched existence. This reappraisal will show the problem experienced by the members that prompted them to self-alienation, and help to fashion out explanations to resolve the problems. With ìfọgbọ́ntáyése, it will be clear that Nigeria is a federalist state in which the different alá jọbi ́ and alá jọbi constitute different federating units. If the different federating units are in disarray, disharmony, and self-alienated, the thought should be about the root cause of the disaffection. The discovery of the factors and causes of the disaffections will constitute a basis for resolving the disharmony. The basic feeling among the various ethnic groups, which are combinations of different alá jọbi ́ and alá jọgbé, is that of distrust and marginalization, which result from social injustices. The question now is how to restore trust and harmony to enable bunched existence and realization of the collective will or goal of the Nigerian state.

One prominent wisdom (ọgbọ́n) in the attempt to reinvent the society (tuń ayé ṣe) is to think of how to restore mutual respect and remove all those factors that brought mutual suspicions among the federating units. One of such reasons may be the idea of genuine federalism and devolution of power. This will be contrary to the present arrangement in which power is over concentrated at the top at the expense of the federating units. The present arrangement raises inter-ethnic suspicions, especially when the federal power is seen to reside more in one part of the country than the others. The use of reason and wisdom is required in removing this lopsidedness in the arrangement of power and the attendant unjust distribution of wealth. Depending on how correctly we allow the use of reason and wisdom to appraise and tackle these causes of disaffection, we are at the verge of restructuring or reinventing the Nigerian society to attain the harmony and mutual trust required for a bunched existence which was the way we as people were originally created to live and exist.


This paper examines the àsùwàdà principle as an indigenous social theory based on a body of doctrines according to which human beings as well as all other creatures, are created such that they require bunched existence in order to achieve both their individual and collective goals. The paper discusses this àsùwàda principle in relation to the problem of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. It finds out that, in spite of the fact that human beings were àsùwàda by nature, there came a point in the history of humans when àìsùwà or deviation crept in through human’s urge for self-alienation. Nevertheless, the paper concludes that despite the evil of self-alienation and its attendant problem of inter-ethnic conflict, a peaceful Nigerian state can still be reinvented with the aid of concepts such as alájọbi,́ alájọgbe,́ and ìfọgbọ́ntáyeṣ́ e.

Works Cited

Ademoyo, Adeolu (2009), “Purpose, Human Sociality and Nature in Akiwowo’s Sociology of Knowledge: A Realist Interpretation,” African Sociological Review Vol. 13 No.2: 16-28.
Akiwowo, A. Akinsola (1983), “Ajobi and Ajogbe: Variations on the Theme of Sociation,” An Inaugural Lecture delivered at the University of Ife (Ile-Ife: University of Ife Press).
Akiwowo, A. Akinsola (1986), “Contributions to the Sociology of Knowledge from an African Oral Poetry” in International Sociology Vol. 1 No. 4: 343-358.
Akiwowo, A. Akinsola (1990), “Contributions to the Sociology of Knowledge from an African Oral Poetry” in Albrow Martin and King Elizabeth (eds.) Globalization, Knowledge and Society (London: SAGE Publications), 103-118.
Aristotle (1963), “Origin of the State, Nature of Man, Institution of Slavery” in Somerville John and Santoni, R. E. (eds.) Social and Political Philosophy: Readings from Plato to Gandhi (New York: Anchor Books), 59-100.
Fashina, Oladipo (1998), “Reflections on the National Question,” in Olorode Omotoye, et al. (eds.) Ken Saro Wiwa and the Crises of the Nigerian State (Lagos: CDHR).
Fishman, Joshua (1972), Language and Nationalism (Massachusetts: Massachusetts University Press)
Francis E. K. (1974), “The Nature of the Ethnic Group,” The American Journal of Sociology Vol. 52: 393-400
Gallo, Antonio and Molina, Luisa (1991), “Cultural Pluralism and Development: The Ethnic Situation of Guatemalan Youth,” in John Kromkowski (ed.) Relations Between Cultures (Washington, D. C.: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy).
Gbadegesin, Segun (1981), “Ethnicity and Citizenship,” Second Order Vol. X, No. 1&2: 3-12.
Gbadegesin, Segun (1991), “The Politics of Ethnicity,” in Segun Gbadegesin (ed.) The Politicization of Society During Nigeria’s Second Republic 19791983 (Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press).
Isaacs, Harold A. (1975), “Basic Group Identity: The Idols of the Tribe,” in Glazer Nathan and Moynihan, D. P. (eds.) Ethnicity: Theory and Experience (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 29-52,
Lawuyi, O. B. and Taiwo, Olufemi (1990), “Towards an African Sociological Tradition: A Rejoinder to Akiwowo and Makinde” in Albrow Martin and King Elizabeth (eds.) Globalization,Knowledge and Society (London: SAGE Publications, 1990), 135-151.
Makinde, M. Akin (1990), “Asuwada Principle: An Analysis of Akiwowo’s Contribution to the Sociology of Knowledge from an African Perspective” in Albrow Martin and King Elizabeth (eds.) Globalization, Knowledge and Society (London: SAGE Publications, 1990), 119-134.
McLean, G. F. (1991), “Discussions,” in John Kromkowski (ed.) Relations Between Cultures (Washington, DC.: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy).
Nnoli, Okwudiba (1978), Ethnic Politics in Nigeria (Enugu: Fourth Dimension) Ofonagoro Walter I., et al (eds. 1978), The Great Debate: Nigerian Viewpoints
on the Draft Constitution 1976/1977 (Lagos: Daily Times of Nigeria) Salami, Yunusa Kehinde (2004), “Ethnic Pluralism and National Identity in Nigeria,” in Rodney D. Coates (ed.) Race and Ethnicity: Across Time, Space
and Discipline (Leiden: Boston: Brill, 2004), 397-406.
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(ed.) Groundwork of Nigerian History (Ibadan: Heinemann Educational
Books, 1980), 7-24.
Wsevolod, Isajiw (1974), “Definition of Ethnicity,” Ethnicity Vol. 1: 111-124.


1 The issue of teleology or group purpose is well discussed and assessed in Lawuyi and Taiwo 1990, and Ademoyo (2009).
2 Wsevolod (1971) and Francis (1974).
3 Ikime (1980), Ofonagoro (1978), Nnoli (1978), Fashina (1998).

Michael O. Afolayan
M & P Educational Consulting International


This essay 1critically explores the semantic, phonological and philosophical implications of the sound “kọ”́ (build) in the Yorùbá proverb—Ọmọ tí a kò kọ́ ni yóò gbé ilé tí a kọ́ tà (the child that is not taught will eventually sell the house that is built). I will read the concept behind the sound as a multi-layered, multi-semantic meta-philosophical building block which not only showcases a serious aspect of indigenous epistemology and serving as a note of caution on Yorùbá education and its sociology of filial responsibilities, but could also be deployed to interrogate the emerging youth culture of the new generation Nigerian Yorùbá in the age of globalization. The essay draws on the semantic and philosophical content of kọ́ to articulate the argument that investments on material possession are counterproductive and antithetic to investment on human capital, the epitome of which is investing on one’s child/ ren. The essay concludes that the spirituality and permanency of the kọ́ of the child’s mind is diagonally opposed to the superficiality and transience of the kọ́ of the building, a mere structure with limited value.

Keywords: Youth culture, Human capital, Yorùbá youth, Globalization

Each profession, intellectual or manual, deserves consideration, whether it requires painful physical effort or manual dexterity, wide knowledge or the patience of an ant. Ours, like that of the doctor, does not allow for any mistake. To warp a soul is as much a sacrilege as murder. Teachers – at kindergarten level, as at university level form a noble army accomplishing daily feats, never praised, never decorated. An army forever on the move, forever vigilant. An army without drums, without gleaming uniforms. This army, thwarting traps and snares, everywhere plants the flag of knowledge and morality. How we loved this priesthood. . . . How faithfully we serve our profession. How we spent ourselves in order to do honor . . . In those children we set in motion waves that, breaking, carried away in their furl a bit of ourselves.
—Mariama Ba, So Long A Letter

Introduction: The Fool’s Truth

A joke is currently making the rounds on social media. It tells of a new Japanese invention, a machine designed to catch thieves. It was tested in malls around the globe. Countries noted in the story include the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Ghana, Uganda, and Nigeria. The result was swift and the outcomes came with unfathomable ramifications. Within a short span of field-testing, it caught several thieves in all those countries. Twenty thieves were caught within thirty minutes of testing in the United States; five hundred in thirty minutes of testing in the United Kingdom; and twenty-five in Spain within the same time frame. Moving to Africa now, a ten-minute testing in Ghana caught 6,000 thieves; a whooping 20,000 thieves were caught within seven minutes of Ugandan testing; but when the same test was conducted in Nigeria, the machine itself was stolen within five minutes of being set up to catch thieves. Interesting!

The good news is that this was a joke; but the stinker is that jokes do problematize social realities. In classical works, it was the jesters that revealed the most crucial social predicaments that could not be prosecuted in the court of public opinions, and they gave the most politically non-correct news in the Shakespearean plays. It was a part of the poetic license designed to break through the walls that shielded the “sacred cows,” the inordinately ambitious, and the corrupt powers of the time; that way, they, too, could have a taste of the sting of exposures to societal stigmas. Indeed, in Yorùbá history, we learned of the monarch, Ọba Jaá yin, who committed suicide when he learned of the imminent exposure of his ills by the town criers at the market square in Oyo, prompting the saying that Ò kù deẹ̀dẹ̀̀ k’á gb’eẃì d’Ákẹẹs̀ań, l’ỌbaJaáyin tẹ’́ ri ́ gba’ṣọ (“shortly before the griots would make a poetic proclamation [of the monarch’s ills] in the Akẹs̀ ań village square, Ọba Jaá yin committed suicide”). In essence, jokes and jesters had no fear declaring, “the emperor is naked” and the declaration could evoke lasting ramifications. The current parody is therefore taken seriously as an aspect of the data that exposes the social condition of the youth culture.

For whatever it is worth, in deconstructing the parody of the thief-catching machine, we find truth in certain facts: first, malls are a phenomenon of recent generations; secondly, it seems countercultural behaviors, including foolhardy, blatant stealing in the public square, are integral parts of the culture also of the new generations more than they are of the older ones; and thirdly, we are aware that Nigeria has been branded among the most corrupt nations of the world. In fact, according to the US News & World Report of March 29, 2017, in a survey of 21,000 global citizens, Nigeria was ranked the most corrupt, and it would be the second year in a row that the country occupies such a distasteful spot in the worldwide ranking. While there is no science to ascertain the survey’s authenticity, suffice it to say that corruption has become endemic in Nigeria and has been institutionalized by rulers of the nation, most especially among the youth, a generation that has never known a time when corruption was not a part of the country’s mode of operation. The fable, then, is an indictment of the youth culture, the critical mass of which falls in the collective paradigm of ọmọ ti ́ a kò kọ́ (the untaught child).

This paper focuses on this new generation of Yorùbá Nigerians. To remove ambiguity, we clarify the notion of “new” being those born after the 1970’s. Our perspective is that with this group, there has been a complete shift in the paradigm of cultural education, the knowledge of, and attitude to, cultural literacy.2 This is not to suggest that generations predating the 1970s were void of the presence of those in the paradigms of àbíìkọ́ and àkọọ́ g̀ bà. There is the gradual dying out of the most sacred of Yorùbá traditions, which have nothing to do with the youth culture (Abimbola 2016). But, the fact of the matter is that it never reached the threshold magnitude of the new generation in focus.

The Semantic and the Phonological

Ọmọ tí a kò kọ́ ni yoó ̀ gbé ilé tí a kọ́ tà is a play on the phonological (tonemic), as well as the semantic complexity of the language. Yet, it is an attempt at showcasing a serious aspect of indigenous epistemology and serving as a note of caution on Yorùbá education and its sociology of filial responsibilities.

The sound kó in Yorùbá, when brought into its various lexical categories, could mean ‘to teach’ or ‘to train,’ as in Laǵ bájá kọ́ Làkaś eg̀ bè ní iẁ é kíkà (X taught Y how to read). It could also mean ‘to learn,’ as in mo kọ́ iẁ é kíkà ni ile-́ iẁ é (I learned to read in school). The same could mean to build, as in b i ŕ i ́ k i ̀ l a ̀ t i ́ o ́ w u ̀ k i ́ o ́ j ẹ ́ t i ́ o ́ k ọ ́ i ́ l e é ̀ m i k o ̀ ṣ e i ṣ ẹ ́ t i ́ o ́ t ẹ ́ m i l ’ ọ ŕ u ǹ r a ŕ a ́ ( w h o ever the bricklayer was that built my house did not impress me one bit). Finally, as a split verb, it means ‘to anchor’ or ‘to hang,’ as in mo fi fìlaà ̀ mi kọ́ ẹ̀kaigior̀omb̀ó(Ihangedmyhat/caponthebranchofanorangetree);ormo gbé i ̀bọn mi kọ́ ori ́ igi or̀ om̀bó (I hanged my gun on the orange tree).

Observed closely, when each of those lexical items are combined, they culminate into a cultural value that fully defines indigenous education among the people. Much can be learned by closely observing the utterances of the Yorùbá people. Táíwò (2013) laments the fact that the depth of this native intelligence is yet to be explored. Verbal arts of the people demonstrate a sophisticated way of life with deep philosophical undertones. The art of being Yoruba comes loaded with spectrums of cultural nuances (Adeé ̀ko,́ 2017). As has been rightly observed (see Bangura 2015; Gbadegesin, 1991), there is a sense in which it is fair to say that traditional education among (and of) the Yorùbá, when utilized with other socio-cultural influences, including the Western, the Oriental and others, is sufficient to serve the people and provide adequate social and intellectual development for the people. This is because the inner reflection of the people of Africa often transfers into their outer perception of the world (Anyanwu and Ruch 1981), and in Verger’s descriptive notation, “in a cultural universe established through oral traditions, where the values are different from those of a civilization based on written documents” (1995), there is value added to meanings of words. Take the multi-layered, multi-semantic concept kọ́ as an example; it is a meta-philosophical building block (with no pun intended). This is because for the Yorùbá, the totality of the life experiences of an individual is an unbreakable continuum that includes teaching, being taught, learning, building, being built, and anchoring one’s self in the supra-sociological school of life. In this school, therefore, knowledge is taught, learned, built, and anchored on the human mind. This is a culturally choreographed social cycle that makes an individual whole and explains why the Yorùbá would always say that a child left untaught (ọmọ ti ́ a kò kọ)́ or untrained—or who refuses to be taught or trained or be anchored on (and to) the tutelage of life or learned from, or built into, the school of life—would eventually sell off the house (a social and philosophical edifice) that is built. The homonymic significance of this combination takes us to a higher order of the philosophical thinking of the people. In essence, the word kọ́ tactfully articulates the fact that investments on material possessions are counterproductive and antithetic to investment on human capital, the epitome of which is investing on one’s child or children. There is a play on the spiritual as well as the secular here. The spirituality and permanency of the kọ́ of the child’s mind is diagonally opposed to the superficiality and transience of the kọ́ of the building, a mere structure with limited value.

The Yorùbá recognize àbíìkọ́ (ọmọ ti ́ a kò kọ—́ an untrained child) as opposed to àkọọ́ g̀ bà (ọmọ tí a kọ́ tí kò gba—̀ a child that refuses to be taught or trained). Furthermore, they believe that training the child does not guarantee the child will be receptive to the training. It is for this that the concept of àkọọ́ g̀ bà comes up. Àkọọ́ g̀ bà is the child that is hard of hearing, or a child that refuses to be taught or to learn. Warnings abound on the outcomes of such deliberate disobedience. A case in point is in the famous Yorùbá cosmology well documented in Abimbola (1975) on the birthing of the Ifá divination system. At the annual family jamboree, the last of the eight children of Òrúnmìlà, called Olowo, created a dramatic commotion when he refused to recognize the filial and royal supremacy of their father. This prompted the latter to trash the son’s diadem and withdraw himself into a world unknown. Olowo broke the father’s heart and broke the cause of humanity, bringing about a curse on mankind and utter destruction to the ecosystem. The myth of Olowo seems to be the primordial archetype of the majority new generation Yorùbá and the possible consequence of a rebellion against cultural education.

Transference of Cultural Education as Foundation for Ethnic/ Nation Building

Conventional wisdom is clear on the fact that the race of life, as mirrored by the one on the track, is lost or won in the exchange of the baton. The sociological reality is that the continuous survival of a culture is predicated on the successful passing of that culture from one generation to another. If the baton drops or is poorly exchanged, the race is bound to flop and fail. Likewise, cultural transmission presupposes a dynamic process in which one generation flawlessly passes the cultural nuances to members of a newer one. Passing my father’s torch is the title of the memoir of Kalu Agbaa. The details of the author’s narratives demonstrate his belief in the wholesale cultural impartation associated with his connection to his father. It then behooves him to pass the same to his children and in spite of the tragedies that permeated the family’s diaspora sojourn; the author is determined to pass the sacred torch to posterity. Nothing could be more appropriate than this construct when engaged in the discourse on cross-generational transmission of culture. Culture is all the learned and expected ways of life of a people. It has to be learned in order to be known. The notion of the parent as the teacher, first teacher, is a universally accepted notion. It is not a metaphor; it is a natural reality. This is an area of failure among the Yorùbá of the current age.

Globalization, Small World, and the Conflicts of False Globalization

Globalization is a great asset. It is an integral part of the development of the modern world culture. Indeed, with the modern-day technology the world has become the much clichéd “global village.” While the traditional Yorùbá worldview is always embracing of globalization, as in its b’ọḿ ọdé ò bá d’óko bab̀ áẹlom̀ íi,̀ anítibab̀ áoù nl’ótóbiju,̀ orb’ọḿ ọdéòbád’ókobab̀ áelom̀ íì ri,̀ a ní kò s’óko bàbá ẹni tó tóbi tó ti baba où n, (“when a child has not been to the farmland of other people’s father, he thinks his father’s is the largest”). Yet, the Yoruba culture is also almost always apprehensive, sometimes cynical, if not altogether leery, of globalization This is why in the context of the people’s rhetoric, we hear sayings like bọọ́ ̀dẹ̀ ò duǹ , bi ́ ig̀ bẹ́ ni ̀lú ri ́ (“if the home is not set in order, life outside the home amounts to nothing” – like “shit”); k’ò síbi t’ó dàbí ilè l’ẹyẹ ń ké (“‘nothing like home’ is the song of the bird”); b’ọ́kọ̀ r’òkun, b’ó r’ọs̀ a,̀ á waá ́ f’orí f’élébuù t́ é (“if the ships travels to the seas and across the lagoons, it must always return to its harbor”); b’oǵ iri ò lanu, alań g̀ bá ò lè raý è wọ’bẹ̀ (“without a crack in the wall, the lizard cannot gain entrance into it”), and many more. The metaphors of seas, lagoons, outside the home, the lizard, and “the farmland of other people’s father,” etc., are indicative of the globe and the wide array of opportunities for exploring its vastness and the need to be apprehensive of its opportunities.

For modern-day Yorùbá society, the age of globalization has diminished the strength of localization, and consequently, the deliberate quest for the much-needed indigenous knowledge base is under serious assault. Anything but the indigenous is the preference for the neocolonial mind of the modern-day Yorùbá Nigerians. The public performance of a Yorùbá artist underscores this point. In the interesting parody, the protagonist, a father, sings and makes a supplication to be blessed with a beautiful wife and multiple children, seventeen in number, all of whom he hopes would live in a variety of nations around the world. His wish is that this “blessing” would turn him into a commonwealth father, an influential person around the globe. The problem was that conspicuously missing among his nations of choice for this father is Nigeria, the home base of the Yorùbá society, where one would expect that his offspring would be immersed in the needed cultural literacy that would have perpetuated him and posterity would grant him even a better passport to influence his world. He has no doubt failed the test of empowerment, because the global has the tendency to disempower the local. Unfortunately, one cannot be empowered if one is unable to “name one’s world,” as Paulo Freire has long posited (1989; 2006; Freire and Antonio 1989).

The Vicious Cycle of Culpability

Fairly, though, the blame (or the source of the problem) cannot rest solely on the members of the generation in focus here, as they may also be perceived in a sense as victims of the situation in which they find themselves. The blame could partially be on the parents as they are the first natural teachers who should lay the foundation on which to build the children’s cultural education and indigenous knowledge. They should be among the “noble army” that “faithfully serves (its) profession.” They are failing in that responsibility, and therein lies the problem. Case in point: in a recent study sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on girls’ education, this author engaged in a dialogue with a preschool Yorùbá child at a gathering but the mother aborted the effort by quickly interjecting and apologizing that the child did not speak Yorùbá and that I should not try to speak Yorùbá to her. When asked what language the child understood, the mother declared with pride and enthusiasm that the child only spoke the English language and that I should interview her in English. The tragic irony was that the child neither spoke the English language with any degree of proficiency nor did she know how to speak “her” mother tongue. Similar but not identical, just about one month earlier, in March 2017, to be specific, I sat next to a young mother at a church event in Ago Are, Oyo North, Nigeria (my emphasis on Oyo North is because of its deep Yorùbáness). The mother must have been in her thirties and her baby who sat between both of us was about three years of age. I eavesdropped on the mother’s conversations with the little boy. They were all in English. Again, ironically, the mother’s proficiency in the English language was itself quite low. The responses of the child also showed he did not understand much of what the mother was saying. In other words, neither the child nor the mother spoke English well. That, in my mind, has created a new level of dilemmas. If the mother who is teaching the child to speak English does not know how to speak the language herself, what should we expect of the child who is the primary recipient of the less standard version of the English language? In the words of Awoniyi, such new Yorùbá children are members of two worlds, and citizens of none. Such children would fit the model of what the Yorùbá call àgbọọ́ g̀ bọt́ án ègùn, ìjà níí dáá’lẹ̀ (“half-baked knowledge [of a language/culture, etc] that only gets one in trouble”). Shall we justifiably blame the child’s poor performance in knowledge acquisition down the road? The foundation is already in decay; we cannot blame the instability on the rooftop. It is the age-long aphorism of the crooked top.

Yet, there is a limit to how much blame goes on the parents as well. Like the proverbial “comfortable tripod that supports the cooking pot,” John Dewey’s triangle places the child at the center in which the government, the home and other members in the community surround and sustain the child. In that continuum, a dysfunctional government is as precarious to the child, just as an unstable family. Indeed, it is a known fact that the chances of the dysfunctionality of families in society are higher under an epileptic government than if they were under a stable one (Wardle, 2000). In other words, a dysfunctional government makes parents less purposeful in discharging their filial responsibilities as well. In a not-too-distant past, for example, a school system, sponsored by the then government of Western Nigerian, used to be readily available to assist parents in providing material needs for the smooth schooling of children. For the new generation, however, such support has fallen apart. In the era of ile-́ ìwé Awolowo (Awolowo’s schools), the government was committed to the quality education of the Yorùbá child, making the work of the parent as well as that of the teacher easier. Because of the lack of that important support today, both parents and teachers are ill equipped to help children. In a new age where teacher salaries are held unpaid for months at a time, and up to one year in some instances, the teacher’s morale has become non-existent. Education, which is supposed to be provided at home and supported at school, has miserably failed to be given either at home or at school. Besides, some of the parents also have no clue as to the seriousness of their inadequacies and the endemic nature of the problem the new generation they are raising is facing. This is because even many of these parents themselves have rejected, forgotten and/or abandoned, or are abysmally ignorant of the cultural education and its attending values. Fair enough, they can consequently not give what they do not seem to have. Having said that, and as to be discussed momentarily, we cannot ignore some efforts in some quarters of the political theater.

Take for example, Ọg̀ bẹń i Rauf Arẹǵ bẹś ọla,́ the current governor in Ip̀ iń lẹ̀ Ọmọluá ̀bi,́ Ọṣ̀ un State, who is said to be making great strides in education by building new schools in every local government area to replace the old-fashioned and dilapidated ones, whose construction dates back to the 1950s or earlier. He has also been supplying new modern-day Coaster school buses, and experimenting with free mid-day meals for primary school children in the state. These are ostensibly the governor’s flagship achievements together with the mega-road project known as ọǹ a-̀ baba-ọǹ à (“father of all roads”). But while we applaud the unprecedented efforts of one of the best governors, what do we make of these so-called populist achievements when Ọṣ̀ un State employees and pensioners have not been paid their salaries in several months? Even as we could place the governor’s physical development as nuli secondus, we cannot justifiably see it as empowering or advancing parents, students, and the greater cause of education in the state. The proverbial elephant projects can bring the elephant to the limelight of fame, but the grass below the elephant must surely suffer.

There exists the dangerous trajectory of the new generation Nigerians, which has often drifted towards anything foreign. The government and the larger corporations carry the heavy load of the blame but the bane is on the youth. Take sports for example: today, it is common practice among the average youth on the streets of Nigeria, most especially in the southwest, to spend their hard-earned money to bet on soccer games played by European championship teams. Indeed, there has been a variety of news of young Nigerians literally fighting to death in rooting for their favorite European teams.

The role of the government in perpetuating this anti-nationalistic trend and false globalization is palpable. Again, take another sports example; the government of Nigeria would rather travel to Europe, Asia, and South America to recruit coaches who would be paid several times more than an average Nigerian coach, although with far less of the needed practical experience at the game. Business organizations that use the game of soccer to promote their products do the same. In promoting its beverage, Milo, for example, the Milo Corporation in Nigeria currently features a well-publicized billboard commercial that is distributed in large sizes all around the major cities of the southwestern Nigeria. In this commercial is the image of two children playing soccer under the watchful eye of an incredible giant adult. For the logical mind, the first problem in this image is that the adult is one Drogba, a soccer player from another West African country with his name boldly printed to announce the hero that an average Nigerian child should dream of growing up to become. There is an immediate observable anomaly in this construct, philosophically and psychologically. The first question the inquisitive and rational mind would ask would be where are the super soccer heroes of Nigeria, hundreds, if not thousands, in number scattered around the world and across history as far back as 1950s Nigeria? Why would the choice of a player from another African country be made over that of a Nigerian? Is there not a subliminal message to the Yorùbá youth that any country but Nigeria, any hero but Nigerian would be higher on a scale of preference? Would the nation where Drogba comes from proudly display a Nigerian player, say, Jay Jay Okocha, the same way Nigeria has displayed Drogba as its own publicized hero? Is this globalization or an inferiority complex? Thirty Nigerian youths were recently electrocuted accidentally while watching two European soccer teams play. Would the same youths be so embracing of the Nigerian soccer teams, some of which are much better than many of those of Europe? Should we not rightly argue that globalization has gradually driven aspects of our local, indigenous culture into near extinction and confused the youth into disbelieving the cliché “there is no place like home”?

A Departure from the Conscience of Shame and Guilt

In a recent private conversation with a prominent Nigerian, we touched on what seems to be the problem with Nigeria and Nigerians of the current generation. It all lies on the absence of two values that the previous generations held in high esteem—guilt and shame. Elsewhere, I analyzed the Yorùbá notion of ọmọlúwàbí (Afolayan and Afolayan 2001; Afolayan and Wass 1995), and of character (Afolayan 2013). The Yorùbá believe that among the essentials of human existence is the virtue of ìwà (poorly translated in the English language as “character”). It actually connotes the fact of being, the essence of humanity, and of life, etc. The sacred verses of the Ifá literary corpus speak to the salience of this virtue in Ifá literature (Abimbola, 1975, 1976, 1977). In addition to the absence of shame and guilt, one critical missing link between the old and the new generation is the absence of this sacred character of ọmọlúwàbí, a special virtue that sets individuals aside as gentlemen or respectable ladies.

We digress to borrow one example that exemplifies the ọmọlúwàbí disposition in the 1970s at the University of Ife (present day Obafemi Awolowo University). At the university campus, there were several private newspaper vendors who came from town. They would haul bales of newspapers and magazines to the campus early in the morning every day, and place them on the open field in strategic places. Anyone who had the money (staff or students) and was interested in keeping the newspapers or magazines would pick up whichever they wanted, drop off the money on the open grass, and walk away with their newspapers and/or magazines. The vast majority never had any interest in keeping the newspapers or magazines or had no money to purchase them. Such individuals would congregate around the newspaper and read from page to page. When done, they folded the newspapers and put them back where they found them or sometimes passed them to another “free reader,” as the bystander was called. It was quite impressive that the money, usually in coins, would be scattered all around the newspaper area. Rain or shine, the money would be there, just like it was in the village. The following day, the vendors would come back and pick up the coins. It never crossed anybody’s mind to steal even a penny or take away the newspapers without paying for them. Those were the eras of innocence and today one cherishes such memories with nostalgia because the new generation never knew such culture ever existed. Theft is so endemic in the country today that even before anyone builds a house, they must first find money to build a fence around the property, which in some cases would be taller than the house being built!3 Understandable, though; after all, much of the money for the house is from a questionable source, making one to muse on the classical adage that “a house built on the strength of the spittle, would be brought down under the sprinkling drops of mere dew.”

Attitudes to cultural education are empirical evidence of a lack of seriousness on the part of the new generation in embracing cultural literacy. Among this group are those who, for lack of shame and guilt, have no problem displaying Bachelor’s or Master’s degree certificates and diplomas that they have purchased, knowing full well they would soon be found wanting when put to the test and would be unable to pass tests meant for elementary school students. This is what happens when a supposed university graduate does not know how to spell the word “graduate,” or cannot distinguish between the word “vacant” and “vacancy” while looking around for a job. Apparently, some in the group have hired individuals to sit for qualifying examinations for them; that way, they too would have a passing certificate. There is the scandalous assumption that when you have a certificate, you are sure to obtain a job. Since many of their television idols, politicians, television evangelists, and those commanding a great deal of money in society also obtained their certificates through similar means, there is no shame or guilt accruing from their indulgence or ambition to be engaged in such malpractice. This is a major crisis of an epidemic proportion, a phenomenon that has reached the threshold level in the tolerable absence of civility. It is no doubt, a violation of the norms and values the Yoruba society upholds.

What Is To Be Done?

The logical inquiry, then, is how this situation can be remedied. Even though we recognize the fact that this problem would require a major makeover, we have come up with a few “cosmetic” proposals that might help to launch the effort at addressing the problem.

I. Acknowledgement of the problem and its enormity. Acknowledging that the embrace of the knowledge of the Yorùbá culture, language, and essential ways of life of the people are endangered among the new generation individuals is the first step toward forging a lasting solution to the problem. The dangerous trajectory is palpably observable even on the street. For example, the tragic story is often told of a Yorùbá family domiciled overseas. In a freak accident, both the mother and father died. The three children were minors and the authorities had to intervene. When asked where they came from, the children could only indicate having come from Africa. And although their first names and family names were Yorùbá, they had no idea what the word Yorùbá actually meant, let alone knowing the cultural artifacts that accompanied it. Thus, it is important to see the endemic propensity of this problem and the need to forge a lasting solution to it.

II. Decolonizing the mind. Ngũgĩ’s (1986) notion of decolonizing the mind is relevant to finding a solution to the new generation Yorùbá problem. This is a model that advocates a deliberate cleansing of the mind from the toxicity of the foreign embrace at the expense of cuddling the indigenous. This is applicable for the Yorùbá of all generations. The days of yore when members of all generations were proud of their Yorùbá cultural heritage are long gone. Songs in school and on the streets celebrated the richness of the culture. Such a model of education should be inculcated into the hearts of the members of the new generation Yorùbá, who may in turn rub such on their children.

III. Heavily investing on the future. While the fast-growing members of the current generation should not be ignored, strict attention should be paid to future generations. The critical mass of the current generation is like the proverbial dry fish, which is difficult to bend without being broken into smattering. For the few bendable ones, there is the possibility of benefitting at the bare minimum from the tutelage of elders in formal vocational settings. The energy of real resolution, however, should be exerted upon and directed at future generations. For the future generation, relentlessness and intentionality on the part of the older generation in cultural impartations are critical if the panacea efforts were to be effective. The relentlessness is underscored because the level of moral decay in the younger generation is exponentially greater than the level of normalcy. Besides, the agents of decay are more present in society than the agents of construction and cultural education. Once asked why he would still perform for two days after he was shot in Jamaica, Bob Marley was quoted to have said, “the people, who were trying to make this world worse are not taking a day off. How can I?” ( bob_marley). This is the underlying principle for the veracious intensity for propagating Yorùbá cultural education. With creativity and ebullience, even the most sacred aspects of our culture, say, for example, Ifá, can be taught to the next generation (Oyelaran, 2016).

IV. Deliberate immersion into all cultural components: culture is learned. Language is an integral part of culture and therefore must be taught and learned in the process of building up the child, nurturing him or her, and launching the child into full adulthood. Unfortunately, today, parents are not playing the role of the first teacher that they should be for their children when it comes to the matter of cultural literacy. A casual observation of the current dynamic in society reveals that Yorùbá culture is veering away from that cultural mandate. The narrative that accompanies a “call for paper” by Toyin Falola underscores this fact when it notes that “today, many cultural anthropologists and linguists agree that not only are the other Yorùbá dialects endangered as one generation fails to pass on the linguistic knowledge and skills to the next generation, but also that the common Yorùbá language itself is witnessing drastic decline in usage.”4.

V. Rigorous instruction and induction. Training the young ones and intimating them with the danger in resisting cultural education is pertinent to winning the race, which seems to be one against time. One way of doing this is integrating Yorùbá cultural literacy into materials being produced for school usage. A good example is the way Akinwumi Isola utilized quality space in his memoir in propagating the folktale tradition (àlọ)́ . In addition to teaching this tradition to the literate community, he documents this critical component of Yorùbá verbal art. Moyo Okediji insisted on providing a fulllength lecture in Yorùbá at an international conference in the United States. This, in a way, propagates the seriousness of Yorùbá culture and encourages members of the future generation Yorùbá to see the language in a light of global relevance and acceptance.

VI. Even among those in the diaspora, the need to raise a new generation that is culturally literate and which embraces the values of Yorùbá is quite real. Two recent success stories demonstrate efforts some individuals are making in ensuring such a possibility. A single mother has successfully raised a son whom she gave birth to and raised in the United States. The five-year old son speaks Yorùbá as if he was born and bred in a Yorùbá village. He also speaks English with native fluency.5 In the cosmopolitan city of Chicago is a Yorùbá family that provides music at Nigerian gatherings. Their three boys were all born in the United States. However, the three young men play the talking drums as if trained by native drummers in Nigeria, but it was their father, a Yorùbá musician, who trained them, in Chicago. They even often display their dexterity by producing melodic traditional proverbs with the talking drums and they do so with the right tunes and succinct precision.6

The point we try to make in suggesting these remedies is that for the future of Yorùbá culture to be grounded and guaranteed, cultural education is not an option; it is a requirement for the Yorùbá child. It must start in early childhood and when that stage is missed, which is the case among some of the post-adolescent Yorùbá youths today, there must be a systematic, and concerted integrating it into existing routines. It may start in bits and pieces, but it must start firm. Small changes, after all, can lead to radical transformations.

Works Cited

Abimbola, Wande. Sixteen Great Poems of Ifá. Paris: UNESCO, 1975. Abimbola, Wande. Ifa: An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus. Ibadan: Oxford
University Press, 1976.
Abimbola, Wande. Awon oju odu mereerindinlogun. Ibadan: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Abimbola, Wande. “Continuity and change in the verbal, artistic, ritualistic
and performance traditions of Ifa divination.” In Ifa Divination, Knowledge, Power, and Performance, eds. Jacob K. Olupona and Rowland Abiodun, 32-42. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016.
Adeeko, Adeleke. Arts of Being Yoruba: Divination, Allegory, Tragedy, Proverbs, Panegyric. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.
Afolayan, Michael O. and Wass, B. “Yoruba Headties.” In Crowning Achievements: African Arts of Dressing the Head, eds. Mary Jo Arnoldi and C. M. Kreamer, 139-146. Los Angeles: University of California, 1995.
Afolayan, Michael O. and Afolayan, P. O. “Deconstructing Epistemology: The Indigenous Language of Discourse Relating to Education in Yoruba Language.” In Understanding Yorùbá Life and Culture, eds. Nike Lawal, Matthew N. O. Sadiku and P. Ade Dopamu. New York: The African World Press, 2001,
Michael O. Afolayan. “Esu ma se mi, omo elomii ni o se: A religious principle for ethical living.” In Esu: Yoruba God, Power, and the Imaginative Frontiers, ed. Toyin Falola, 301-314. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2013.
Anyanwu, K. C. and Ruch, E. A. African Philosophy: An Introduction. Rome: Catholic Book Agency, 1981.
Bangura, Abdulkarim. Toyin Falola and African Epistemologies. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Freire, Paulo and Antonio, F. (1989), Learning to question: A Pedagogy of Liberation. New York: Continuum, 1989.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary edition (New York: Continuum, 2006.
Gbadegesin, Segun. African Philosophy: Traditional Yoruba Philosophy and Contemporary African realities. New York: Peter Lang, 1991.
Oyelaran, O. O. “Ifa, knowledge, performance, the scared, and the medium.” In Ifa Divination, Knowledge, Power, and Performance, eds. Jacob K. Olupona and Rowland Abiodun, 50-65. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016.
Taiwo, Olufemi. “Kin n’Ifa wi?: Philosophical issues in Ifa divination.” In Ifa Divination, Knowledge, Power, and Performance, eds. Jacob K. Olupona and Rowland Abiodun, 100-116. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2016.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. London: James Currey, Nairobi: Heinemann; New Hampshire: Heinemann, 1986.
Verger, P. V. Ewé: The Use of Plants in Yoruba Society. Rio de Janeiro: Odebrecht, 1995.
Wardle, L. D. “Relationships between family and government.” In California Western International Law Journal, 31 (1), 1-21, 2000.


1 The value the Yorùbá attach to an appropriate upbringing, especially in training a child, is expressed in the age-long poem, “Ọmọ Ni Ìgbẹ̀hìn Ọlà.” The poem provides a repertoire of distinct characters expected of a child. They include the act that a child is ìgbẹ̀hìn ọlà, the epitome (peak, manifestation, essence, end-product) of wealth, ará— relatives (true companion, close associates), and ẹỳ ẹ—dignity. Thus, the young ones must be raised to reinforce the house that is built. Manifestations of ọmọ tí a kò kọ́ have implications for cultural continuity because the child not raised properly will destroy the essence of familiness. The saying that b’ílé bá tòrò, ọmọ àlè ibẹ̀ ni kò tíì dàgbà (“if there is peace in the family, it means the family bastard has yet to be grown”) supports the salient belief.
2 We separate the ab̀ ií k̀ ọ́ (the untaught child), from àkọọ́ g̀ ba,̀ those suffering from what education psychologists call Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Either way, the individual is part of the post-1970 generations.
3 Taken from the final draft of the manuscript of the Part 2 of my memoir, From Yale to Jail.
4 Falola (2017) in “Call for Paper” for a future conference. This proposal was shared by Falola in a proposed project.
5 On one of the weekly radio programs hosted by my wife and me, Voice of Reason (, we bring the young man and his mother on the air to teach Yorùbá words to listeners on a weekly basis.
6 This family has performed for our Yorùbá groups in the Midwestern part of the United States on several occasions and the family skills are in high demand across the Yorùbá diaspora in the Americas.

Olatunde Bayo Lawuyi
Department of Archeology and Anthropology University of Ibadan, Nigeria


The paper critically examines the relationship between the idea of moral placards and the existence of Yorùbá heroes and heroines. It takes as its starting point the philosophical import of the Yoruba proverb. Ọjọ́ a bá kú là ń dère, èèyàn ò sunwọ̀n láàyè (It is on the day one dies that one becomes an idol; no one is appreciated when alive). The paper argues that in the imagination, reality, and social constructions of the Yorùbá, desirable existence would make the dead, and not a living person, a deity, hero or heroine. It further argues that because Yorùbá society permits the co-existence and coextensiveness of individual and public moral placards which is not regarded as an entirely closed system, an otherwise depersonalized person can later become a hero/deity/heroine. Basically, therefore, public moral placard can be revised to accommodate new values, give rise to new class of people, and establish for them an enviable status. These arguments are then deployed to the understanding of the nature of heroes and heroines within the Nigerian post-independence polity.

Keywords: Moral placards, Depersonalization, Yorùbá hero/heroine, Ọmọlúwàbí, Nigeria
Ènìyàn ko suwọ̀n láàyè, ijọ́ a bá kú là ń di ère You are not good while alive, its when you die that you become a deity


The above Yorùbá proverb constitutes the grounding of our analysis in this paper.The paper argues that in the imagination, reality, and social constructions of the Yorùbá, desirable existence would make a dead person and not the living a deity, hero or heroine. It argues that because Yorùbá society permits the co-existence and coextensiveness of individual and public moral placards, the latter is not an entirely closed system, and so an otherwise depersonalized person can later become a hero/deity/heroine. Basically, public moral placard can be revised to accommodate new values, give rise to new class of people, and establish for them an enviable status.

In light of the experiences and performances of the heroes/heroines we review in this essay iwa, character—not in the ontological sense of existence as has been canvassed by some scholars— (Oyeshile 2003), but rather in the evaluative-experiential sense, signposts the process of self/collective construction and reconstruction of morality in a new direction. Conceptually there is a point in the continuum where the two placards do meet, and complement each other, which could also (or may not be) the point of their disagreement or agreement. This is not up for determination here. The point here is that the construction of the heroine/hero starts from this juncture of agreement or disagreement, particularly the later, to establish the akọni—the daring and brave that overcome physical, social or biological challenges, and the akíkanjú—the one with the never-die spirit.

There are many mind-boggling developments in Yorùbá history, specifically of the historical accounts, mixed with myths, that have produced the knowledge we reckon with as insights into society, culture and development, which sets the scene for the various leitmotifs of the account of the Yorùbá, of who they are and what they do with who they are. In many of the histories of their societies or communities, there were outstanding feats of human courage, and bravery, waged in the midst of all odds against success; there were rejections of personalities that turned up later to be heroes and heroines; and there was desertion that turned to be critique of culture and signs of an extraordinary turn of events. There were also instances of men disappearing into the ground and still being able to project power. Fantasy may mix up with reality in the stories, but, undoubtedly, their inclinations toward the value of moral placard, nationalistic ethos, and localization of meanings for social and cultural “architectures”—as boundary spaces—are never in doubt. It is upon this kind of story that the Yorùbá build their communities and nation and reinforce the aesthetic and intellectual plurality subsumed under their shared identity. Are there any implications of this for the Nigeria nation? Yes, in the manner that it can construct its national heroines and heroes.

Specifically, the history of Òwu, one of the earliest Yorùbá kingdoms in the forest belt of today’s Nigeria, is that of a war hero and nationalist, Aalúgbuà [the word is spelled in different ways within the Òwu communities], who disappeared into the ground. In Ìrè Èkìtì, a community in present-day Èkìtì State of Nigeria, Ògún, the Yorùbá warlord and renowned military strategist (reputed also to be the symbol of Yorùbá industrialization), did what Aalúgbuà did—he entered the soil. In Ìrẹs̀ ì, which is a Yorùbá community some kilometers north of Òṣogbo, the capital of Ọṣ̀ un State, Nigeria, Ẹbẹkún, the community founder and his friend Esilẹ,̀ the warlord from the neighboring community of Ìgbájọ, both “went into the ground,” buried as it were, without any assistance. Recounting the number of this kind of incidences across Yorùbáland is not primary to our discourse, nor is their historical commutations our problem. Rather, our problematic is the ideological and moral constitution around the incidences of a form of struggle and rhetoric of images and their rich imports on cultural formation. The struggle concerns the ideology in which the poles of life and death collapse one upon the other, life bringing about death, and death bringing about life, in celebration. And we see reality replaced by, it seems, appearance which is in turn replaced by disappearance, as synecdoche, and as a reductionist style of productions and symbolic game, that Birringer has described as “representation of abstraction that are abstractions of representation, speaking to notions of the self” (1991, 29).

What is argued in our discourse is that what makes the characters that we have identified above heroes is their challenge of the dominant moral placard; and not that the dominant moral placard is not useful, in some regards, but that it needs to be reviewed and reformulated to create a nationalistic spirit. The nationalistic spirit is that of the “dead” metaphorically and not the living. But their promises are for the living. We therefore have the image of a hero spirit trapped in a space which it is unable to comprehend. But that spirit hears its values spoken by the humans that constantly challenge it into performance because they have managed to bring those who are dead alive. The hero spirit comprehends itself in the visibly treacherous, disorderly, and possibly chaotic conditions of humans in which they are powerless to act and where seeing and seeming are discomforting realities.

Ironically, in Yorùbáland the stories of great men and women are predicated on the initial experience of depersonalization, for at one time in their life experiences their individuality was challenged, marginalized, diminished, or even slighted. This eventually aroused anger which tilted towards the self-dissolution or death of the self. And this had to take place outside the community, at the periphery of culture and not of society, so that it cannot be drawn, except in limited and well defined circumstances, into the circuitousness of the illusion that sustain the everyday life of community. That illusory life has always, it seems, bothered these heroes, as will be demonstrated in this essay, for this appears to be meaningless, as the signs of people’s notion of difference and uniqueness not easily grasped.

Among the Yorùbá, the depersonalized takes up different names, which are not the birth names, but which mark out their violation of moral code and is attributed to a defective selfconstitution. The individual can be called aláṣejù (one prone to the extreme of thoughts and actions), aláṣétẹ́ (one inclined to doing things that would violate public moral code to a point of embarrassment), aláìnítìjú (the one that has no shame), or even ẹranko (the one who is animalistic), when doing unimaginable, possibly incomprehensible things outside of cultural dictates. What is clear is that the name-calling is status-demeaning and person-effacing; and to the caller caused by an act in which the self-other relates. It is inscribed by a moral imagination of the ideal. The depersonalization not only calls attention to an ideal that is desirable, but also equally suggests the need for conformity to the ideal, which the self is bound to submit to as a claim of membership in society—probably because there is no room for difference, or for the freedom to operate in a way other than that which fits in a specific domain of moral and social acts.

The labeling or name-calling which will fits most of the Yorùbá heroes and heroines very well can be done by an individual, group, or the entire society. It all depends on where the action takes place, those who witness it, and who is offended. The when could matter too, for it is about what is taken to be odd in the considerations of seeing and seeming that announces new imaginaries and the strategy of symbol destruction, deconstruction, or reconstruction. The ascription is to disallow the circumvention of experience of the sociohistorical world that has been constructed for individual and collective through insistence on regularities or the application to actual, expectable, and historical phenomena grasped from peculiar components of social knowledge that seem to enrich our discourse. A discourse which is that of knowing not how human develop in general, but quite the contrary: how this human, or the state of being, became what it is, and how each of the particulars that ought to be regular did not come to pass and end up specifically as not being there, to support a view, a rationalization, and an objectivity.

Who Can Be Depersonalized?

Anyone can be depersonalized; all that is needed is the violation of a moral code. Those who are depersonalized, most likely, must be walking the tight rope of social acceptance—rejection on the one hand, and alienation or incorporation on the other. Although one instance of an act can result in depersonalization, most likely the individual had been walking consistently with historical imagination of a subjectively experienced world. Acceptance of the individual, in spite of a show of difference or the unexpected act means that the individual and not the act can be incorporated into, or can continue, membership in society. This means that the individual can still be made to accept the normative moral code. Rejection, which can be total or partial, signifies tendency towards irreconcilable difference, and it is not only that the act is considered not edifying, it is also assumed to be a threat to the common will, or bond. Alienation would be determined by the perception of the strength of the threat on a continuum which stretches from the serious to the non-serious. Indeed, the name-calling can and does manifests, on a continuum of development process in which the actor is either redeemable or irredeemable. For instance, the evolution of a character understanding can start with aláṣejù, aláṣétẹ́, aláìnítìjú and end as ẹranko, as the irredeemable person to be left in his/her own world of animalistic moral code and/or imaginaries. Two issues emerge at this point: First, character is not a fixed project; it is a process in construction which is space and time bound. Secondly, forms of understanding of character are inherent in a situation, as a space-time bound act, held up to the normative scheme (or the other’s moral placard) for meaning and interpretation. Such a moral placard imposes a range of possible cognition and experience within a given culture or action, and as Larsen suggests, “These forms of understanding of schemes of interpretation cannot themselves be the object of experience, but are rather like molds into which all experience is cast” (Larsen 1987, 22). It is from that, in which all experience is cast, the depersonalized, like aláṣejù, aláṣetẹ́, aláìnítìjú, etc. emerge, the society recognizing that there are shifting experiences that humans encounter, as well as the moral quality of the experience, and moral quality of the agent, redefines the person in varying instances of encounter and action held up to the archetypal model, as the standard gauge.

We can concede that the ọmọlúàbí is that normative moral placard; but would disagree with the view that ọmọlúàbí is either fixed by destiny or by biology, or that it is an imaginary that is left for the individual to compose. Ọmọlúàbí is recommended to each person, as moral code as he/she grapples with the existence dictated by his personhood. According to scholars like Oyeshile, the argument is that:

Central to all moral and social norms in traditional Yorùbá society is Iwa (character). A person is said to have Iwa, which is used to describe a well-behaved and morally upright person (Omoluabi), or which could be used as a neutral noun with an adjective e.g. Iwa rere (good character) and iwa buburu (bad character) to describe the quality of one’s moral conduct (Oyeshile 2003, 84).

The weakness in this view is its purely descriptive orientation, to the discounting of the evaluative aspect of morality. For instance, in order to arrive at the good or bad there must be template of evaluation which, together with the descriptive, subjects action to proper reflection, criticism, and justification. Without the lack of the evaluative criterion or criteria on cause disputation or on a conclusion—how is a decision arrived at?

The bad or good in the character of a person is mere variation on a theme, described as ìwà, and there are indeed endless variety of such range of possible cognition on this theme, including ìwà ìbàjẹ́ (actions/character that incriminates or destroys), ìwà àidára (action/character that is unacceptable or repugnant), and Ọmọlúàbí. And as we have noted for the range of names denoting the depersonalized, all these not only contribute to how individuals come into conclusion of the need to depersonalize the actor or actress but also how to understand the concept of naming itself, i.e. does the evaluative comes from the dominant moral placard or the dominant moral placard is a summative, abstract, perspective on behaviors of person or collective? If the latter, it means that as the basis of assessment changes, so too does the moral placard. But if it is the former, then the moral placard would hardly change and everyone is expected to conform to the archetypical type. The former is the position quite often taken in literature on the subject. But the question is: who best represents this archetypical type, and could be a model for reflection and internalization of the appropriate moral standard? I am afraid, there is no such being, since it is an abstract model of the ideal type. Moreover, the issue of the depersonalized comes in, and more so as an ambiguity, when such a person is rejected and later becomes hero from the same point of rejection. This means there can either have been a mistake reading the standard moral code and applying it or, alternatively, the placard is open to new entries.

Our position here is that the issue of ọmọlúàbí, as character, can be approached from a statistical paradigm of set and sub-sets, which is itself an attempt to make sense of the verb phrase, “bí” in the coinage ọmọlúàbí, which stands for creativity or act of bringing things about. The verb clearly puts the concept, ìwà, in the context of evaluative, progressive human relations, and emphasized the individual power to act, positively or negatively in a situation. What can birth ìwà, as being, and what can ìwà birth, as behavior, are two faces of the same coin. But as we have seen above, ìwà can bring repugnant or destructive things/acts; and it can be debased; which is how we think Yorùbá actually want to look at the concept, ọmọlúàbí. With them there must be a positive evaluation that is invariably determined by principles of the sub-sets on which the set is based as a descriptive and evaluative notion.

Our study reveals that whoever has ìwà, in the positive sense, must add value to the social processes of order and development in three significant ways (i) he/she brings in luck or grace, that is Ire (ii) he/she has, or brings, honor, which in Yorùbá is iyì; and, (iii) he/she does not destabilize the equilibrium of social forces, and this means that he/she must exercise ìwọ̀ntunwọ̀nsì (Lawuyi 1989 and 2010). These sub-sets of the positive ìwà address different aspects of the person’s ìwà, starting with the birth (ẹni a bí ire—the one who has the right birth); then the performance that enables him/her to engage standards (ọmọ iyì—child of honor); and finally the dealings with morality and its subsumed honor code e.g. iyìọlá (the honor of civilization), iyìadé (the honor of the crown), etc. which reinforces the social order.

The Yorùbá belief is that the world is made up of the good and bad (ti ibi, ti ire ni a da ilé ayé). Ire, in the aphorism, stresses the good and ibi the bad. And what are those things that are good for a human of character to have? They are owó (money), ọmọ (children), àlàáfíà (peace), ọrọ̀ (wealth), àìkú (longevity). Àìkú is taken as the epitome—the father of wealth, but even then it is not as good as having iyì, for as they say, when you are on a journey trying to seek any of the good things of life and you meet honor, you have had it all. So iyì is superior, but even it cannot exist without ire or benevolence. Between the endowments and the public, and the archetypal moral code come the act or action; that is, the performance, which is a term that embraces having a job/ duty, doing the job well, and receiving the appropriate reward, monetarily or symbolically. The recognition of the various ìwà attributes, as determinants of the person, goes into the oríkì (praise poetry). The individual, for example, can then be described as ọmọ oníran (a child with a pedigree), ọmọ onílé ọlá (a child from a home of wealth), or ọmọlúàbí (a child with a good being).
Simply, Yorùbá postulate an original and ideal universe and then demands that people live in accord with the principles of that universe. But then the path to the archetypical or the standard moral placard, through contemporary situations, is open to a sort of conceptual travel like ire, iyí and orí to give meaning to every encounter. In Odù Ifá Ọỳ ẹ̀kú Méjì, a line in the Yorùbá divination verses, there was somebody that travelled these paths and led us into a view of character:

Honest people are not up to twenty on earth
The wicked ones number over a thousand and two hundred;
The days to retaliate are not indefinite Hence we don’t feel seriously embittered; Divine for the problems facing Akápo Which are not facing Ifá.
Akápo lacks money
Akápo lacks women
Akápo lacks children
Akápo went to complain to Òrúnmìlà
That he desires all the good things of life. Òrúnmìlà directed Akápo to complain to Èṣù. Èṣù said all that you desire – Akápo
Do not apply to Ifá
Èṣù said, you Akápo
Lodge the complain to your Orí
When Akápo did exactly so
His problems started getting solved
He started dancing
He started rejoicing
He was praising his counselors
The counselors praised Ifa in return
He said it is exactly
What his counselors predicted
Honest people are not up to twenty on earth
The wicked ones number over a thousand and two hundred The days to retaliate are not indefinite
Hence we don’t feel seriously embittered
Divine for the problem facing Akápo
Therefore, all that I desire
I will complain to my Orí
My guiding Orí, let me prosper
You are my counselor (Abimbola 1997, 19).
In the verse of divination, Akápo’s situation was held up to the archetypical moral/honor code, which is:
Honest people are not up to twenty on earth
The wicked ones number over a thousand and two hundred The days to retaliate are not indefinite
Hence we don’t feel seriously embittered.

The verse outlined what could mess up a being – dishonesty, wickedness, revenge and a bitter heart. By keeping to the code, Akápo sustained a character that could get assistance towards the resolution of his problems that was emanating from the lack of the “ire” aspect of his being – money, women, and children. The factor of Èṣù in the poem is to cause Akápo to have a hearty decision, devoid of the “seems like” that generate anxiety. Èṣù, which the Christians mistakenly refer to as Satan, simply brought certainty into uncertain possibilities.

Both orí and ire functioned in the story as causal factors of situational conflict, including situational moral dilemma of choice and interest, as well as the physical wants. Orí allows ire to be; and ire celebrates the orí. This development happens in a process of self-becoming that ultimately leads to the birth of a conformist, conservative, individual adopting historically validated values and standards. The standard moral universe may or may not necessarily enter into a struggle with representation and with the limits of a self or moral field in any obsessive way, but nevertheless it is there for the individual to have, a good existence, “such as is rational to conceive that nature intends that he should have” (Oyeshile 2003, 75). The moral placard itself can be linked to the “moral reasoning involving the supernatural” (ibid), which may be approached rationally or by mentality. Both Orí and Èṣù (the god of possibilities) are incorporated into that religious world and in the moral placard serve as ontological predicate of a spiritual-based morality, which introduces the possibility of non-rational or irrational thinking because they can do and undo. Without them there is possibility of failure, for nothing about life is totally rational, at least to the Yorùbá; and irrationality or nonrationality may cause problems of relationships.

A moral placard that inevitably problematizes rational and irrational or non-rational thinking already suggests that there are unlimited type of character to contend with: when humans produce the world of their own making and we have no guarantee that it can be shared with other teams of production; that means there is possibility of rejecting the notion of transcendental morality and so both that of the individual and the society can admit of new moral universes in order to account for reflection, criticism and justification. If morality coincides with each person’s moral compass, then that may or may not be rational, that may or may not be spiritual, but who can act independently and yet be seen as having meant well or bad by the society? It is, in this sense, that the Yorùbá moral placard was open to admit the characters of people like Ṣàngó (god of thunder and lightning), Ògún (god of iron), and the other vanishing heroes and heroines—people who otherwise should have been condemned by the standard moral placard that frowned at their violations of ethical norms of suicide, murder, abuse of power and anger. Ṣàngó, for example, might have been in historical accounts the authoritarian, maximum ruler that Òyó people did not want and thus forced him out of office. He might have been called all kinds of names but he became a deity. Ògún might have, as historical accounts say, killed his people in anger, through what is unbecoming of royalty but he was pronounced a hero. The moral universe of these individuals definitely extended beyond what is good in it for them to have, to the freedom of action and the openness of meaning which allow for what is good in it for “us”.

The Vanishing Heroes/Heroines and Moral Placard

The traditional heroes and heroines in Yorùbá land are likely to be adored because they have such outstanding and awesome presence to be feared and worshipped. They were heroes because they were founders of communities. They survived the travails of being different, which led to the expulsion from their homeland, and or instigated the determination to overcome the odds against them by environmental challenges and human vagaries. They were heroes because in wars of liberation and creation of self-autonomy they expanded the meaning of freedom and what it was to be free. Most likely, they have unusual capabilities, as creative agents, or as one that created the agency for social change, social delivery and cultural transformation. Most likely, in setting themselves apart from a group or a community, they were more violent than diplomatic, hence, their death in wartime or peacetime usually remain a mystery. These happen as way of constructing a larger-than-life image for themselves or for them.

Their extraordinary performance as priests, warrior, hunter, administrator, and/or, creative agents forces the society to create a space for their reckoning in historical consciousness, as they offer for reflection a way of thinking and re-thinking, and of performing that can establish values and morality capable of changing realities of a fundamentally hierarchical order and multiple identities.

Ṣàngó, as we have mentioned earlier on in this paper, made a difference to the fundamental reckoning of elite as hegemony of common interest and immoral bond. His self-defining, as thunder and lightning, attests to a sense of non-boundedness, of capability of shattering order, of ability to develop and exploit humans in their situations, and of the speed that is needed to cause change that cannot be resisted. But he committed suicide on the outskirt of the community and that is as an outsider that he was to the extant moral placard. Ayélála, among the Ìlàjẹ in Oǹdó State, was a mythical heroine that set up a narrative of a largely and unresolved moral dilemma of crime in a simple, rural society, with the power to affect people spiritually and their actual relations by distorting the experienced environment. Dying, still complaining about her innocence of crime credited to her, she disappeared on the outskirt of the community. She would later re-emerge spiritually in the people’s fascination with dead power, characterized by a simultaneous “resurrection effect” (Baudrillard 1987, 9), as in a parody of justice.

Èṣù, the quintessential public–private operator challenging both spaces into new moral definition of persons and actions, knew that he had to overcome death, to become a hero. He had a fight with Death and was defeated. In Yorùbá mythology, this was a pyrrhic victory for Death, because Òrìsà Ifá interferes and Death was not able to spiritually kill Èṣù. The two deities, linked by the work of divination, overpowered Death (Hallgren 1988, 31). Esu’s eventual death is the stuff of hero/heroine making: the challenge of an existing moral order to force inclusiveness that reckons with the self – as a potential actor/actress. The stuff of heroism is created where death can replace life, as life replace death. Both life and death can co-exist and may not destroy each other. In the same vein, art is life and life is art. If art can imitate and reflect life, by the same token, life can imitate art and reflect on it. The point is death is a reflection on life, as life is reflection on death. The mythical hero/heroine represents that hegemony of life and death; it is what you want to see that you see. Their performances as heroes/heroines are usually conflicted with the power of the visible and the shadows of the invisible.

Take the case of Òwu’s mythical hero, Aálugbúà, an accomplished personality and indefatigable nationalist who entered into Òwu’s cosmogony at death as one who bestrides the universe of ideas and social consciousness as a colossus of unparalleled fame and significant impact on value system. No blame was ever laid on him; but the myth accounting for his deification suggests that he was nevertheless ignored by society; for on a return from a war with the enemy, he was not given the deserving respect, and he walked out of the community and vanished into the ground with a promised to return anytime his people needed his help. Mabogunje and Cooper wrote on this account highlighting the death-life imagery, and the reversal principle that throws dominant moral placard into question:

The story of Asunkungbade’s return from the dead appears to be a version of a well-known legend accepted by most of the Owu groups about a dead hero who would return at a time of crisis to save his people. This is more usually attributed to the Orisha Anlugbua than Asunkungbade (Mabogunje and Cooper 1971, 35).

There is a yet unresolvable historical mixed-up of the two personalities called Ańlugbúà (or Aálugbúà) and Asunkúngbadé. In some accounts of Òwu’s history, Asunkúngbadé was the founder of Òwu Empire and Aálugbúà a mere successful war hero. In other versions both were one and the same person. The mixed-up should not delay us however, as the point being made is that any of them, in the life-death imagery, orchestrated, projected, and represented, as well as actualized, the ideal in the moral universe of the Òwu.

Ordinarily, the Òwu, as valiant warriors, might be less inclined to accepting someone who weeps in order to get a crown as a symbol of their nationalism – the meaning of Asunkúngbadé is one who weeps to get a crown. But they would probably identify with the one whose onomatopoeia name, Aálugbúà, demonstrates a force of strong impact. Asunkúngbadé appears to lack the manly attributes, as an intrepid, though stubborn, individual, but Aálugbúà does not. He, as well, works with the people’s fascination with and adoration of a vanishing power. In that power is the universe of meaning which makes sense to the people and to him: the freedom that is distinctive, independent and impactful as the dissolute phenomenon of tradition.

Critical analysis of the vanishing heroes indicates that they are into a moral – building enterprise as the “outsider” uncomfortable with the lack of culture “within” (since they wandered around in the bush they know better; and are not socialized into the unread and speculative in the minds of men). In all cases involving their deaths, they owned up to a sense of responsibility but not of accountability. The latter would have meant that they accept the standard moral code in the society. They were responsible from the viewpoint of their own code of honor, and it is to that code they were accountable.

Ògún, like other vanishing heroes, equally played the insider-outsider game, but ended up in the final account of his experiences as an outsider to a society that appeared strange to him, for they behaved strangely and irresponsibly towards him. There is a narrative about Ògún’s depersonalization that bears out our analysis:

Ogun at a time in history settled in this town (Ire) after fighting wars all over the Yorùbá land. But he was approached to fight war for the people of Ondo land. When he was going to fight the war….. he left his son, Ire, to hold brief as traditional head of this town till he would be back. At last Ogun returned home from the war and made to see his family and the Chiefs he left behind. But by that time, the Ire town had become much bigger than he left it. There was a set of prominent Chiefs headed by one Chief Olomodire, they were the council of Chiefs holding meeting about the welfare of the town in those days.

During their meeting, they did not talk but communicated in sign language. It was after their meeting and after they had eaten and drank palm wine that they then talked and greeted themselves. So when Ogun finally returned from the war front, he arrived at the place where the Chiefs were already holding their meeting in sign language. He greeted them, but they didn’t reply him. He then examined the gourds which they were to use to drink palm wine and found no wine in about three that he checked.

Ogun became angry at this point and unsheathed his sword and began to behead the Chiefs at the meeting. At this critical point of trying to destroy the hegemony of the elite, the Chiefs began to rush out of the venue speaking. So they could speak up! Feeling terribly guilty for his impatience and undoing, Ogun swore never to see his son, Ire. He then turned back to where he was coming from. It was when he was leaving Ire that he met an old man on his way. The old man sensed that he was a warrior and very important person but troubled in his spirit, he then appeased him with a piece of roasted yam and palm wine and succeeded in calming him down.

When Ogun had eaten the yam and taken the palm wine and calmed down, he touched the earth with his sword and made some declarations that he was going to enter into the ground at that spot. He ordered Elepe (the one who appeased him) to go to Ire and continue to appease him there but should never set his eyes on his son, Ire, the same way, he, Ogun, would not be seeing his son again. Ogun also told Elepe to tell his people in Ire to summon him whenever they were to go for war that he would fight for them. Ogun then disappeared into the earth with his crown and weapons at that spot which is called Ijù in Ìrè-Èkìtì till date (Daily Sun 2014, 29, 34).

What unites the myths of Ṣàngó with that of Aálugbúà and Ògún is the way(s) they bring to the fore of public discourse the critical moral issues of responsibility, obligation and choice. When Ògún went back to Ire, after the wars in Ondo land, he met a “dead” society where there was no revelry, no voice, no eating and drinking, no exchanges and, therefore, no culture. This, ordinarily, should not have disturbed him as an outsider, but the myth flashed back to the past and passed a judgment on his character: “this was not what he left behind”. The value system had changed; the sense of morality had been lost. Obviously, the society, had developed a new moral placard grounded on silence. The Chiefs and the common man were not morally accessible for cross examination and there could be no exchange of shared ethical messages or demands across a barrier of silence, all amounting to patent absurdity, blurring of categories, and mistaken representations. Yet, even outside that community he could found morality, as entreaties, careful reading of personality and needs, provision of food and drinks, and verbal exchanges which Elepe ymbolizes. What he met in his town was intolerable to him, so there must be a moral reversal, which is in the frame of life and death – life brings death and death brings life.

Ògún preferred to be buried outside the community where he found culture. But even though the outside had culture and life, he still went into the ground. However, he promised to be back on the surface when services are requested. Simply, he was not going to trade his moral placard for that of the society he found inferior, and where he already found a moral placard that corresponds to that of his, he is contented to leave it as it is. In the long run his community recognized the error of holding individuals to the mirror of a placard that is meaningless and crisis prone and was, therefore, willing to change its own. The issues of existence, performance, and morality were examined in this myth and resolved in the narrative. The community moral card, in any case, was eventually opened up to speculations and conjectures.

We may ask, why did Ògún forgive the community? Where did he get the crown that was buried with him at Ijù? Did the old man singularly buried him or we should take it literally that he commanded the ground to open and then close on him? These questions are not trivial; they are pertinent to the conception of power and the unresolved issues in Ògún’s own moral placard – based on individuality and life choices. Indeed, the search for goodness that resonates often in the myth of the vanishing heroes brings an unending quest for the selfcritical and self-confident person:

Certainly, we may make some rules to live by, but sooner or later we are obliged to scrutinize them with a view of revising them if we want to avoid reverting to a substantively defined concept of morality and defining goodness in terms of our rules of conduct (Larsen 1987, 8).

We found Ògún insisting that the community moral placard be revised, and avoid reverting to one that is not life-changing. We found him insisting that goodness must be in terms of the self and rule of conduct rather than in accordance with a moral placard that was rather too conservative. What he did was to separate intent from action as autonomous spheres in person: The action may be unacceptable, but the intention may be good; the action may be bad but then it might have sprung from bad intention. The challenges of everyday life are trials which are conceivable from the need to choose between, or negotiate the bridge of, life and honor, shame and death, death and honor, life and shame. Every desire of humans to avoid shame initiates a strong tendency towards having honor. But intention is the continuous economy of life and death, honor and shame; it is not just the price that is paid for any of them, it is equally the excuse that is offered for not exchanging one for the other.

The last of the outstanding characters to be considered here is Ọya, the goddess of river Niger. She, indeed, was the symbol of the feminine side of the patriotic. Ọya was initially married to Ògún who, in the myth associating them together, was said to have abused her. She later married Ṣàngó, the god of thunder and lightning. She was betrayed by Ṣàngó who leaked her secret as a half-woman – half animal character to a co-wife. The co-wife confronted her with the reality, and in anger she changed to buffalo, her original animal character:

The buffalo went straight for Ọya’s jealous co-wives and butted them to deaths. She revealed herself to her nine children and told them that she could no longer live among men. She removed the two horns on her head and gave them to her children. She said whenever they needed her help they should strike the two horns together and she would provide assistance. After blessing them, she rubbed her body against theirs. Suddenly, she bolted full speed into the bush and disappeared forever (Isola 2010, 168).

The Ifá corpus, in which the story was told, never mentioned she came back to fulfill her pledge. But that is not the main issue in our consideration. What is significant is the phrase, “that whenever they needed her help… she would provide assistance”, that seems to echo Ògún’s own pledge, as well as that of other Yorùbá mythical heroes, to assist the community in providing solution to their problems. She, though depersonalized, was simply acting out of moral code which again is individualistic and which again created the space for her importance in historical consciousness – in-spite of being animalistic.

She had played the insider-outsider game, as heroes do. She had condemned the popular moral placard that society held up as the “truth,” as the men considered it right to do. She disappeared to the outside of society, signaling her difference as well as the willingness to be re-incorporated into such a society again, under proper morality. Should the society change, however, she left words with her children: she hinted that she will be willing to accept a sense of responsibility to the society; that is, if they would be willing to recognize and accept her person. Her deification, in our view, indicates that there is no abstract conception of a person’s goodness in Yorùbá society; for in the society which can accept an animal-like character for whatever length of time they did, character is reflected in the role played, the statuses assumed, and the challenges confronted. These create the obligatory term in all placards, in Ọya’s and in that of the society. The term ìwà is rested on values shared with others that an individual can make a difference to any situation.

Nigeria and the Hero/Heroine Placard

The consideration of the Yorùbá moral placards done here has enumerated three basics for the emergence of a hero/heroine; namely, 1)The sense of being different from others, internal to the person, in terms of certain categories and possibilities of action( particularly more physical than verbal) that transpire within that notion of difference. The moral is not obvious, because it is not about the special context one happens to be in, although it will still be recognized as special, but it is about what you permit others to see which is inescapable but not too obvious to them. 2) A sense of sacrifice of the self for a cause, which obviously is beyond intentionality, but is placed experientially within the considerations of inside/outside, smooth/rough, access/denial in phenomenological sort of reality-dividing and the absolutizing of Yorùbá title/ status systems. This is the divide the hero/heroine transverse to place him/her in the akọni/akíkanjú way of looking at person and situation as though they were the bridge waiting to be crossed by death or life into a total pattern of life for the person and the community. 3) The sense of resurrection effect, which brings the dead alive in the same way that, as Ricoeur (1979, 79) would put it, the text frees itself from its mental intention and take its meaning from its ostensive references which, among others, include situation, signs, and symbols, history and historical consciousness and change.

Heroic acts in Nigeria are not ofcourse constructed along the Yorùbá senses and may not have to be. But whatever moral placards justify its existence cannot be immune from change. It is not our desire here to set up the parameters for the change but we can at least consider whether Nigerian heroes and heroines would be, in traditional Yorùbá society, considered such. We examine a few cases.

Historically, Nigerian heroes/heroines, since the inauguration of the nation in 1914, have emerged from political systems as resistance-liberation elements and as state builders, and less as moral canvassers. Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Herbert Macaulay would belong to the resistance-liberation mode. Awolọwọ and his Premier colleagues in the First Republic may also be considered as nation builders. However, in our view Chief M. K. O. Abiọla and Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi would fall into the category of those we would like to consider as moral canvassers

Most of the resistance-liberation heroes fought the British colonial masters to earn Nigeria’s independence. Some did so in their various communities within the post-colonial state, as those who have raised cultural, art and political critical discourse in the context of the exigencies of the political economy of which their identity is part. Few in this group, to the best of our knowledge, played up the resurrection effect, or were so portrayed by the public thinking mode. The second group, the state builders, may, in fact, include some of those in the resistance category. However, the defining logic of difference is in the way morality is evoked in the positioning of the self in a heterogeneous cultural space called the nation. Their views and actions in the strategic destruction and reconstruction tap into the unstable, cloudy nature of infrastructure of the national collective body, with their own brand of self-assertiveness evident in material input into the developmental space, their opening up the public space with new demands on performance and selection, and sometimes their putting up new structures of ideas. But even then their moral clout, as moral agents, can hardly be said to be such that act as “pure,” self-reflexive signs to nation building. Only a few of them qualifies as having evoked a resurrection effect within the realities of a fundamentally multilingual and deeply divided ethnically conscious nation in such a way that shift previous narratives of self and its historical and moral consciousness to create a space as moral hero/heroine of spectacular beings.

Fajuyi and Abiola become very significant if we were to go by the parameters of a self-sacrifice which is beyond intentionality, without the least prospect that the action could be paradigm changing, and could in fact bring about a resurrection effect in an unexpected form. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, in the military coup that ousted the regime of General Aguiyi Ironsi, offered the self as a sacrifice in an attempt to save a friend, Ironsi, the military Head of state, and by such save the country. Chief M. K. O Abiọla died trying to recover the presidency he won in Nigeria’s freest election so far, in 1993, through being poisoned. These are the strongest candidates for Yorùbá heroism achievement. What Abiola did knowing fully well that he could be charged for treason, that he could be killed by state authority, was no doubt a daring action without a clearly ethically considered decision of morality-changing act. And thus far he appears to be the only Nigerian hero that is yearly brought back into life through rituals of public acknowledged sacrifice – though only within the Yorùbá space of the Federation – in ceremonial appreciation of the heroic act the public considered a moral deed.

Conclusion: The Honor Code and the Heroic

The honor code is precisely the critical issue where two distinct paradigms of morality clash. That clash sets up a I – You correspondence, and any of I or You can be accepted or rejected. In the instances of Ògún’s and Ọya life history, there were personal assault on identity and identification, legitimacy and opportunism, self-claims and heritage. These were felt as betrayals by the society. The signs of this betrayal were felt in bodily reactions to a situation, as that of a disconnection from people and from society, which will eventually reveal the true character of persons. The myths on the heroes and heroines recognized ability, innate or not, that define status and direct performance credited with honor, as should be the case in a hierarchical society as the Yorùbá where each stratum, each position, has its exclusive moral rules and status – specific expectations and moral excellence. What society does sees in each person is not just the status held, but also the moral expected of that status. When they see the person and not the conformity to the moral code associated with the status, they could remark: “ọmọ ojú ò rí ọlá rí” “the one that never experienced wealth”. When they say, ó jọ ara rẹ̀ lójú, he is full of himself, they imply that he is acting the status and not the moral.

Ògún and Ọya became hero and heroine respectively, walking the dangerous and treacherous path of shame and honor. What made the difference to the walk towards what one is, or becomes eventually, are activities separating voice and silence, action and inaction, rejection and accommodation, insider and outsider, elite and non-elite. In the path towards shame, Ògún was not the insider he thought he was, just as the billionaire M. K. O. Abiọla was not the insider in the military camp he thought he had friends, and the signs defining him otherwise were voice and action that he could not understand. These caused his rejection of society’s moral placard. To play their game, he died as one silent and inactive. That opened the door for his readmission into the membership of the society – for they realized it was too painful to bear, and consequently need to change their moral placard.

What counted towards, Ògún’s heroism was also noticeable in other case studies, of Aálugbúà, Ayélála, Ọya, etc.: the power to vanish and reappear, in which they played the real and the seeming game of life and death. This also parodies justice and right, in which I and you can simultaneously experience “resurrection effect”: the magic irrealities of an endless possible-impossible scenario that playfully inhabit the vacant spaces of our mind. The hero or heroine does not think the possible is impossible, he/she plays the transgressive politics, and the anti-aesthetics and anti-normative game of a rebel that announce iyì (honor) against the background of dis-honor; ire (luck/grace) against the background of ill-luck and lack of grace; and action that would be truly liberating against that which is restrictive.

Works Cited

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Sharon Adetutu Omotoso
Institute of African Studies University of Ibadan, Nigeria


Nigeria’s political sphere is fraught with violence, electoral frauds, unfulfilled promises and negligence on the part of the ruling class, hence political communication in Nigeria have been faced with hostility from electorates spurred by public distrust of the mass media. This essay philosophically argues for a culture-bound understanding of political communication in a way that enables a strategic decolonization of communication concepts and ideologies. This cultural understanding advocates the need for the domestication of information prior to their application in a way that enable us to properly reflect on and engage with the existential complexities of Africa’s political landscapes. The central claim of the Yorùbá political communication is that local and national communicative principles in political discourses should be subsumed under epistemic, ontological, and ethical dimensions drawn from Yorùbá histories, cultures, and values. This essay therefore deploys Yorùbá philosophical insights underlying the creation, distribution, use and control of information as a political resource that could be adopted by governments, organizations, the media, and individuals in Nigeria.

Keywords: Political communication, Mass media, Democracy, Proverbs, Political symbols

Introduction: The Nigerian democratic experiment

Though defined and understood in myriad of ways, democracy has been widely described as the most attractive form of government. Democracy emphasizes equality of citizens and freedom of expression, such that legitimate power resides with the people while government gains legitimacy only by the consent of the governed. Although differing in characterization, democratic theories have revolved around processes and principles that will result in political freedom for all, supremacy of the rule of law and a commitment to the progress of the political entity (Dunn, 1994). Noting that “the people cannot decide until somebody decided who the people are”, Rustow (1970, 11) suggests that constituting the rules of democracy must be preceded by national feeling or a sense of national unity which does not exclude any group regardless of gender, ethnicity or class. In recent past, Africa has been faced with the task of defining, re-defining, shaping and grooming her democracies, a process which has been filled with political adventures including decisions on what forms of democracy to adopt, how government should be structured and what dividends should be expected from democratic rule.

The return of democratic structures to Nigeria in 1999 marked an epoch in the political landscape of the multi-ethnic and heterogeneous state. It presented democracy as most synonymous with holistic development and aggregated growth and led to the pursuit of constitutionalism and good governance, measured in terms of an efficient and effective delivery of public goods. Sadly, Nigeria has since been faced with problems of concretizing the professed democracy. Leadership and followership problems exhibited by political opportunism (Hassan, 2010); elite fragmentation (Oseni, 2014); a decline in the functions of parliament (Achebe, 1984); lack of ideology on the part of political parties (Bello-Imam, 2010); problems of judicial freedom and neutrality (Owoeye and Kawonishe, 2011); security challenges (Sampson, 2014) and economic downturn (Nwoke, 2013) consequently calls for a re-assessment of specific frameworks being used by the Nigerian state (Omotoso and Akinpelu, 2014). Among other issues, problems of establishing and maintaining national order facing local and national democracies (Omotoso, 2016), are being assessed in multidisciplinary ways, especially through political philosophy, political economy, political science, political communication, among others. Of all these, political communication is central to this paper.

According to Salami, “Democracy recognizes the differences in human interests and put structures in place to provide the means for the genuine meeting of the minds, and considers ‘politics’ as the area of negotiation” (Salami 2006, 68). Such means are created, nurtured and sustained by political communication. Political communication has been variously defined: it is the “pure discussion about the allocation of public resources (revenues), official authority (who is given the power to make legal, legislative and executive decision), and official sanctions (what the state rewards or punishes)” (Denton and Woodward 1990, 13); “that subset of communicatory activity considered political by virtue of the consequences, actual and potential, that it has for the functioning of the political system” (Rahman 1991, 21); “the creation, distribution, use and control of information as a political resource, whether it is done by governments, by organizations like pressure groups or the media, or by individuals” (Manheim 1991, 7); it consists of “not only verbal or written statements, but also visual means of signification such as dress, make-up, hairstyle, and logo design, that is all those elements of communication which might be said to constitute a political ‘image’ or ‘identity’” (McNair 1995, 4); it is a process “entailing the issues, ideas, policies, personnel, structures, organs/channels, problems, people, messages, and even feedback involved in political activities” (Nnadi 2008, 250). These definitions present a wide terrain including such aspects as political agenda setting and agenda building, the uses and effects of political advertising, the relationship between journalists and politicians, the framing of political news by reporters, gatekeeping processes, and more recently, the uses and influence of the new social media in election coverage and public opinion management (Okigbo and Onoja 2017). In line with this, Lin, identifies five traditions within the study of political communication.

The first is the tradition of rhetorical analysis of public political discourse…. The second,… how different governments use propaganda/persuasive messages to influence public opinion… the third, the tradition of voting studies… the fourth is the study of mass media effects… and fifth is the tradition of institution study of the press and government in their relation to public opinion (Lin 2004, 70).

The peculiarity of political communication (hereafter policom) cannot be underestimated, as the intents of government and the governed rides on the wings of how adequately policom has been channelled to achieve pre-defined democratic objectives. Hence, this paper attempts to use policom to develop paradigms that will take into cognizance the communicative components of Africa’s, and particularly Nigeria’s, democratic realities. This work connects with the idea of Afro-constructivism, which raises the need to reconstruct the society from the realities of the history of such society, based on the perception that African thought does not apprehend an independent metaphysico-social reality, but construct a system of principles or norms governing clear understanding of social order (Chukwuokolo 2014). In the same vein, the paper’s methodology aligns with Fayemi’s Hermeneutico-reconstructionism entailing

the creation/formulation of a contemporary African philosophy that recognizes, identifies and explains the intellectual foundation of ancient African philosophies upon which specific ideas, beliefs and principles in oral tradition can be demonstrated (and interpreted) as critical and rational, while at the same time trying to explore the potential of some humanistic aspects of the techno-scientific and philosophic resources of other cultural traditions to contribute towards the creation of a contemporary decolonized African system (Fayemi 2012, 200-201).

Here, I shall be utilizing the strengths in the methods of cultural reconstructionism and hermeneutics respectively to interpret the African intellectual heritage so as to deploy such interpretation for solving current problems. This work recognizes the need for an African political communication constructed upon a solid philosophy; one that is not alien to African histories, cultures, and values; a philosophy which scrutinizes the epistemic, ontological, and ethical dimensions of the subject matter (Omotoso 2017). Accordingly, this work is significant in its offering of a fresh perspective to the policom discourse, aiming to show by its restatement of beliefs, ideas and theories which have been suppressed or denied,1 but which are necessary for the completeness of the discipline, that there are deep-seated ideas which could be garnered from Africa, to address Africa’s problems. Following the introduction, section II discusses political communication in Nigeria; section III articulates the understanding of political communication arising from Yorùbá history and philosophy, and section IV presents critical insights from Yorùbá cultural understanding of political communication when applied to contemporary Nigerian democratic situation.

Political Communication in Nigeria

Noting that good communication is tantamount to informative democracy for societal transformation, Omotoso (2015, 327) remarks that “the message, that is, what is to be communicated, and the media, that is, how the message is transmitted” constitute the two contexts within which one can argue that “the power to influence (political power) is embedded in the power to communicate.” Given this crucial insight, policom becomes fundamental to democratic theory. Despite this, policom is unfortunately a latecomer within the study of Africa’s democratic discourses, hence, justifying Popoola’s (2017, 15) argument that the late evolution of political communication reflects state hostility to political science in Africa and Nigeria in particular.

According to Osagioduwa, Omotoso and Olukotun, “political communication cannot be unequivocal in that it diversifies as dictated by situational contexts in relation to era, societal traits, geography, culture, race, system of government, behaviour of leaders and the led, and opinion of communication scholars….” (Osagioduwa, et al 2017, 1) By implication, the history of political communications in Nigeria is interwoven with the history of colonialism, Christian missionary society, political development, socio-economic structure, ownership of newspapers and other mass media of communications (Rahman, 1991). Policom in Nigeria has taken different forms. From dissemination of political views in terms of governments’ positions on issues; soliciting for support in political activities, to presentation of masses’ grievances and so on, policom has transited through periods including what could be called authoritarian policom, which pervaded Nigeria’s early post-independence era where media ownership and control rested solely on government and so was characterized by one-way-communication of government policies and programmes to the masses for compliance. There was also the Soviet-Communist Policom which pervaded the later part of military rule in Nigeria. It was characterized by party press ownership; media as teacher of the masses; emphasis on the positive harnessing of media outlets for the goals of national development and social change; placing value on unity (Rahman 1991).

The return to civil rule which began with the failed third republic in 1993 heralded the arrival of the social responsibility policom. This is contrary to Rahman’s claim that not much relevance can be derived from a social responsibility theory of the press for Nigeria, as social responsibility policom directs critical attention at media commitment to both the government and the masses. Libertarian policom began to grow in Nigeria as democracy was taking root. Thus, since 1999, the press has been in the struggle for freedom of information. On this, the proliferation of new media in the 2000s brought unprecedented but questionable level of liberty, reflected in uncensored news reporting, internet journalism and unrestricted mass participation in information gathering and dissemination, through social media. These theories provide a viable starting point for the discussion of political communication; particularly the transitions and frequent meandering of the Nigerian state between authoritarian, soviet-communist, libertarian and social responsibility since colonial period characterized by a teeming population of non-literate masses; the post-independence media of the 60s and 70s; the military incursions of the 80s and 90s, and the democratic regimes since 1999. Although, these theories of communication have been used to explain policom in Africa, none has successfully and completely captured the African situation, since most are alien to Africa’s indigenous structures. The following section therefore presents elements of cultural framework indigenous to the Yorùbá people of Southwest Nigeria as a critical dimension for understanding policom which foreign theories and models have failed to capture in the African policom discourse.

Yorùbá and the Idea of Political Communication

Indigenous/traditional communication recognizes the existence of traditional structures and channels of communication used as verbal and symbolic aspects of interpersonal and group communication.2 Beginning with communication in pre-colonial Nigeria, Omu, (1978) identified oral communication (informal transference media) and organized communication (formal transference media) as the two agencies of communication. The oral communication media on one hand explored informal contacts and spontaneous gatherings such as family gatherings, village festivals, marriage, circumcision feasts, public meetings and traditional court sessions, moonlight gatherings and so on, to exchange and disseminate information. On the other hand, the formal transference media was a more organized mean used by the traditional administrative organ to disseminate information and communicate with their subjects. Other forms of indigenous media include oral literature, trade, festivals, gunshots, drawing on the cave walls, thick cloud smoke, talking drum and gong-men/town criers which could each fit into earlier categorization as either formal or informal media.3 Indigenous communication was not only vertical/formal (from rulers to the subjects), but also horizontal/informal (individuals to other persons and groups). For instance, individuals communicate with society through physical and metaphysical means. A farm owner, for example, may mount a charm conspicuously on his farm in order to stress private ownership and to scare off human intruders…. Rainmakers communicate their power to disrupt events through various psychological means. The distant bull-roar of the Oro cult (Yoruba, Western Nigeria) in the night warns women to stay-off the streets at the approach of the cult men. Special drum beats communicate various messages. The gbedu rhythm, for instance, signifies a royal occasion: coronation, funeral, the traditional dance of a king (Oduko 1987, 3)

Notably, the indigenous communications systems use local languages; they are interactive in the form of several chains of face-to-face activities from the source or sources to the receivers; they are exclusively integrated into local cultures; they do not depend on Western technology and they are dissimilar from the Western model of communication consequent upon which colonial governments found them inadequate. Through colonial to contemporary times, these means of communication have managed to survive although some have been tagged out-dated.

Yorùbá, noted for their urban lifestyle, rich artistic culture, and sacred kingship, had unique manner of leadership and administration before colonial incursion; in actual fact, they are well known for their sophisticated centralized governments (Atanda 1980) and a political system which is analogous to what Oduko (1987, 4) describes as “constitutional monarchy”. With such high urbanization index, politics among Yoruba is held to begin from the home, into the towns in the form of kinship which help to produce monarchical systems so that mini-states provide political frameworks for mega-states. These political structures according to Adekunle indicates how “the political philosophy of the Yoruba, their political institutions, and strong organization were indigenous to them” (Adekunle 2006, 275), and how these have played out over the years; hence, Fayemi and Omotoso (2010) note that in Yorùbá traditional societies, the distinction between ìjọba and òṣèlú encouraged the culture of community service. Here statesmen’s and stateswomen’s concern for improving lives aided development in traditional settings.4

Traditional Yorùbá political and governance structure begins with an administrative and political head, usually the ọba and the cabinet made up of chiefs who assist in the running of their domain and the maintenance of law and order. Decisions are consensually made alongside council of chiefs who make laws and set punitive measures. Although the ọba among Yoruba are supreme leaders, the political system is structured with checks and balances to check tyrannical rule. The Ọỳ ọ́ Empire provides a vivid example with the Aláàfin as the administrative head (with the baálẹ̀ of smaller towns being answerable to the Aláàfin), the Ọỳ ọ́ Mèsì (the council of kingmakers), the age grade, and Ògbóni cult acting as a check on the powers of the chiefs and the Aláàfin who can be impeached if found tyrannical. Yorùbá belief in good governance is founded on a sense of responsibility from all actors, that is, the recognition and willingness to collectively do what the society requires. Take this proverb for instance:

Ọkọ kú, ọmọ ọba mẹ́ta a pète; Ọbẹ mú epo, Lálá mú iyọ̀, Àjùwọ̀n mú ata.
(The husband died, and three princesses made their contribution [to the feast];
Ọbe brought palm oil, Lálá brought salt, and Àjùwọǹ brought pepper).

Communication in Yorùbá culture is pre-historic, but then, for Hachten, the “lack of mass media, which implies technology, does not mean that no media have been used” prior to colonial incursion (1971, 11). The following proverb further establishes the importance of communication among Yorùbá:
À-jókòó-àì-dìde, àsọ̀rọ̀-àì-gbèsì, ká sinni títí ká má padà sílé: àì-sunwọ̀n ní ń gbẹ̀hìn-in rẹ̀ .
(Sitting-without-getting-up, speaking-without-waiting-for-responses, escorting people on their way and not turning back: unpleasantness is what they breed.)

Yorùbá communication strategies maintain high regard for the private and public spheres. The following proverbs exemplify Yorùbá’s regard for the public sphere:
Moní: Àjọwò; Wọ́n ní: ‘Àjọwò; Ohun tí a bá jọ wò gígún níí gún.
(I said, “Let us mind it together;” and they responded, “Let us mind it together”; whatever has everyone’s attention and care comes out straight.)
Pípé là ń pé gbọ́n, A kì í pé gọ̀
(Assembling is what we do in order to be wise, we do not assemble to become foolish)
Ọ̀rọ̀ tí ó yẹ k’á sọ ní fìtílà, a kì í sọ ọ́ l’ókùnkùn
(What should be discussed in public ought not be discussed in private).
Àdáṣe níí hunni; àjọṣe kì í hunni
(Going it alone is what gets one in trouble; collaborating with others does not get one in trouble).

On the other hand, the following proverbs exemplify Yorùbá’s regard for the private sphere:
A kì í bọ òrìṣà lójú ọ̀ fọ́n-ọ̀n; b’ó bá dálẹ́ a máa tú pẹpẹ.
(One does not sacrifice to a god in the presence of a house rat; otherwise, when night falls it invades the rafter shelves).
Bí iṣu ẹni bá ta, a máa d’ọwọ́ bò ó jẹ ni (Success is better managed on a low key)

It is however worthy to note that operations in both spheres, the personal and the political, have been mutually inclusive. For instance, while politics and administrative issues in pre-colonial Yorùbá communities were regarded as public issues, several factors at the private spheres contributed immensely to decisions and events at the public sphere.

Instances existed in old Òyó Empire where personal misunderstanding turned out to create strains in political relations, and where domestic/marital issues culminated into political rivalry among communities. Proverbial examples include:
Bí a bá pé bíríkótó, a máa ń pé bíríkótó
(General meetings must necessarily be followed by inner caucus meetings).
Àìkọ́wọ̀ọ́rìn ejò níí ṣekú pa wọ́n lọ́kọ̀ọ̀kan
(Snakes are easily killed one by one because of their failure to operate as a group).

An example to ascertains how policom among Yorùbá operates on mutual inclusiveness of both public and private spheres is the historical account of Ẹfuń ṣetań Ani ẃ uŕ a,̀ an Ìyálóde of Ibadan whose family background and internal dynamics including procreation challenges made her strict on her slaves and was thereby misinterpreted as being wicked, particularly in her relations with her community.

Political actors in Yorùbá policom span persons and groups who operate in both public and private spheres including constituted authority (the paramount ruler, chiefs, family heads, youth leaders, religious leaders and so on), citizens (members of the communities under the administration of the paramount ruler), and the media (basically constitutive of tools for indigenous means and forms of communication as well as their custodians including town criers and coded message bearers). Citizens in traditional Yoruba society were largely described as subjects. Although they are free born having full rights as members of their communities, they are normatively described as “subjects”,5 due largely to the fact that citizens owe allegiance to the constituted authority; however, they enjoy rights of citizenship and often proceed to convey their grievances in order to check perceived despotism of constituted authorities. It is also pertinent to note that colonial invasion has drastically altered this traditional idea of “subject” and “citizen,” with grave consequences for policom as would be seen below. In the light of the transitions, it will not be out of place to regard the masses in traditional Yorùbá societies as “subjects,” while referring to the masses in modern times as “citizens.”

Of these three actors (constituted authority, citizens and media), the media stands as mediator (Omotoso 2013). Although town criers/gong men were not accorded so much regard by the ruling class, citizens respected town criers and viewed them as the face of leadership. Remarkably, town criers had the moral capital to not only organize and re-organize messages, but also a moral duty not to distort or misinform citizens. Also, unlike coded message bearers who often await and report responses of coded messages, town criers’ roles in policom was characterized by a one-way communication in which they are not permitted to bring back publics’ views to leaders.

The Yoruba understanding of political communication in this study is connected with three different forms or dynamics of communication—àrokò, òwe and ẹsẹ Ifá. Àrokò (coded messages) combines symbolography, objectifics and signs to offer profound meanings in the process of interaction between the sender and the recipient. Symbolography present symbolic writing or representation using graphic descriptive representational device to convey a message which is understood within the context of a known social event and an accompanying verbal message. Objectifics are media presented in concrete forms which may have significance for a specific society only or may be universal through their traditional association with specific contextual meanings. For example, kolanut, charcoal, white pigeon or fowl, white egg, feather, cowries and so on are objects which are meaningful because they connotatively represent something.6 The political import of àrokò is established, as they could be sent by a traditional ruler, chief, Ifá priest, Ògbóni cult member, hunter, artisan, warrior or individual citizens to a counterpart or any other person, group or body (Falola and Adebayo 2000). It involves sending an item or a combination of items to a person from which the decoder (or receiver) is expected to infer a piece of information which could be of a warning, admonition, punishment, conflict, announcement/marketing strategy, indicator/ directive, expression of affection and pleading (Abudullahi-Idiagbon 2010). Examples of political communication via àrokò include:

1. Presentation of an empty calabash to a king or a traditional ruler as a mark of no confidence meaning he/she is expected to leave the throne or commit suicide.
2. When a ruler of a village sends a knife, sword or red cloth to another village, it signifies disagreement and war. Feedback would be determined by the receiver’s decision to seek peace or to start preparing for war.
3. A comb for parting the hair signified the irreconcilable end of a relationship between individuals or communities

Òwe (proverb) is “a saying in a more or less fixed form marked by popular acceptance of truth tersely expressed in it” (Finnegan 1970, 393). It is a speech form that likens, or compares, one thing or situation to another, highlighting the essential similarities that the two share (Owomoyela 2005, 3). Proverbs often provide connective platforms to generate and retain interest in issues and events by summarizing expectedly long narratives with unequivocal accuracy. Policom-related examples include:
Àsọ̀rọ̀ àìlàdí rẹ̀ ló pa Elémpe àkọ́kọ́ tó ní igbá wúwo ju àwo
(Speaking without elaborating is what killed Elempe the First who said cal-
abash is heavier than china) (Owomoyela 2005, 19).

Here, communication is deficient as the Elempe failed to explain the context within which a calabash could be heavier than a china. It connects with the parody of a politician in the following conversation on the campaign ground:
Electorates: “We want free education”
Politician: “Forget it”
Electorate: “We want good roads and free healthcare” Politician: “Forget it”

When such a politician is accused of failing to fulfil the desires of the electorates after winning election, he/she says; “I did not promise those things, I only said ‘forget it!’” In this case, “forget it” serves an ambiguous purpose since it could either mean “it is impossible” or “consider it done.”
Competence in leadership:
A kì í fi’ni joyè àwòdì k’á má lè gb’ádìẹ.

(One cannot be given the title “eagle” and yet be incapable of snatching chickens. (One should be able to live up to expectations.) (Owomoyela 2005, 42)
Àì-kúkú-joyè, ó sàn ju, “Ẹnuù mi ò ká ìlú” lọ.
(Not-assuming-the-position-of-ruler-at-all is far better than, “My word is not heeded by the people.) (Ibid, 52)
Decorum in leadership:
Àgbà kì í ṣerée kí-ló-bá-yìí-wá?
(An elderly person does not engage in the kind of play that provokes the comment, “What brought all this about?) (Ibid, 49)
Àgbà kì í ṣorò bí èwe.
(An elderly person does not perform rituals like a youth) (Ibid, 49)

Proverbs are widely used on the political scene—at political rallies, for election campaigns, political advertisements, political public relations and public communications. They have also been used to establish superiority, higher capacity/experience of a political party above others, to gain trust, to build electorates’ confidence and to assure citizens of a better future.

Ẹsẹ Ifá (Ifá verses) derives from Ifá, regarded as a living body of wisdom handed down by Olódùmarè (the Supreme Deity) to Òrúnmìlà (the first diviner priest) who used it to resolve human problems. The Ifá literary corpus, called the odù, consists of 256 parts subdivided into verses called ẹsẹ Ifá which exist in thousands and comprises all of the science, cosmology, metaphysics, medicine that embodies the wisdom of life, truth, the revealing of destiny and destination. Each of the 256 odù has its specific divination signature, which is determined by the Babaláwo using sacred palm-nuts and a divination chain. Considered the most important part of Ifá divination, ẹsẹ Ifá presents Yorùbá history, language, beliefs, cosmo-vision and contemporary social issues; and they are chanted by the priests in poetic language.7 As a source of wisdom and intellectual development, the Ifá divination system has been preserved largely through the oral tradition of memorization and is applied whenever an important individual or collective decision must be made. Such collective decisions could be political, social, economic and familial, and they include election into leadership roles (Ajayi and Ojo 2008), resolving climate problems, diplomatic relations among communities, and so on.

One may connect the role of key actors (political actors, citizens and media)8 with selected Ifá verses to tease out embedded Yorùbá policom elements. With regards to political actors, Ọs̀ á Ìwòrì says:
Ìmọ̀ràn l’à á kọ́kọ́ ń dá kí a tó d’í fá. Ìmọ̀ràn ní s’ẹ̀gbọ́n Edu
(Reasoning with other humans should precede the search for supernatural assistance).

Here, emphasis is placed on the importance of deliberative democracy via communicative leadership. Similarly, the Èjì Ogbè speaks to the citizens:
Òrúnmìlà ló d’è jọ. Mo ló d’ẹ̀ jọ. Asọ tó bá jọ’ni là á mú ró.
Ẹ̀wù tó bá joni là á mú wọ̀,
Ohun tó bá jọ ra a wọn là á f ií wé ara wọn. Òkẹ́rẹ́ lo j’ọkún, oyunkun si jo afè,
Túrùkú jọ Ẹlẹ́dẹ̀-Ẹgàn, Èèpo ẹ̀pà jọ pósí ẹ̀lírí. Èòpo awun jọ àhún ọ̀pẹ,
Ọ̀rẹ́ ẹ̀ mi jọ mí, mo jọ̀rẹ́ ẹ̀ mi.
Kí iwájú ó jọ, kẹ́hìn ó jọ.
Dífá fún àbíjọ tíí ṣọmọ wọn lóde-Ìgbájọ.

Òrúnmìlà said:
Consider ‘ẹẹ́ jọ’, the number eight”.
The word ‘jọ’, the root means ‘similar’
as when we say the dress should fit the wearer in colour and style.
As in dress, so other matters of comparison should be between similar things.
Ọ̀kẹŕ ẹ́ and Ikún resemble each other as squirrels,
Even though the former is quick to hear while the other is deaf. Oyunkun and Àfe are alike as rats.
The wild Boar resembles the pig
But one is vicious the other is domesticated.
The groundnut shell looks like the coffin of ẹ̀lírí.
My friend looks like me when viewed from the front
Because I look like him when viewed from behind.

This is however different from genetic resemblance between father and son, Or the claim that the people of Ìgbájọ look alike.

Many people do not easily comprehend these important distinctions. The above reflects how naive and ignorant citizens could be about political issues, including their rights and obligations within supposed democratic dispensation. It also concretizes the need for political communication as a guide for citizens in these regards.
On the part of the politicians, Ọẁ ọǹ rín Méjì says:
Ajùwọ́n, Ajùwọ́n, Òpó ẹran ò júkòó
Òun ló dífá fún Alákólẹ̀ẹ́ jù tí ó kó wọn jẹ n’Ífẹ̀ Oòdáyé Èyí tí wọn ní kí ó sọ‘gbó ìta dòde,
Wọ́n ní kí ó má sọ igbó ìgbàlẹ̀ d’ọjà,
Wọ́n ní kí ó má fi igbo Ọ̀ṣun s’ede..
Ǹjẹ́ Alákólẹ̀ẹ́ jù kò gbọ́, ǹjẹ́ Alákólẹ̀ẹ́ jù ò gbà.
A ò fẹ́ ọ nílẹ̀ yí mọ́, máa lọ.

We are greater than them all.
We are more important than everybody else.
The tracks of bush animals are difficult to trace”.
These were the principles adopted by greedy politicians
Who managed public affairs in pristine Yoruba society.
They were cautioned against playing politics,
As if hunting animals in the forest.
They were warned not to turn political parties to cheating organizations. They were told not to convert public funds to personal use.
The greedy did not listen. They did not change.
In the end, the people said:
Go away! We do not want you in this society anymore.

The above, highlights political rights of citizens, as well as their use of the media as a viable information resource and a virile platform for activism. This could also apply to media organizations as they engage in the rat-race reporting of political activities.

The above discussion has shown, with examples, how Yorùbá traditional political systems harness proverbs and other cultural elements in their political communications. Since the creation of Nigeria, Yorùbá politics have always deployed party symbols and campaign songs, speeches and manifestos from these cultural elements. There are several examples in the use of palm tree, horse, eagle, and broom among others since the First Republic.

Of the three media forms selected for this work, proverb has retained prominence. This corroborates Tatira’s assertion that the ability of proverbs to “comment on widespread human experiences enables them to remain relevant; they fit any place, time, and function in spite of the technological advancement of a particular community” (2001, 239). However, this does not render the other two irrelevant. It must be noted that àrokò, òwe and ẹsẹ Ifá share an attribute which could be called “codedness”:
Òwe ni Ifá ń pa, ọ̀mọ̀ràn níí mọ̀ ọ́’
(Ifá always speaks in parables; and only the wise understands).
Òwe lẹṣin ọ̀rọ̀, bí ọ̀rọ̀ bá sọnù, òwe la fi ń wá a
(The proverb is the horse of speech. When speech is lost, the proverb is the means we use to hunt for it)

Likewise, it takes deep insight and communal belongingness to utilize and interpret the àrokò and the ẹsẹ Ifá. Their coded nature in policom generates several critical insights for accountability, mutual respect, separation of powers, check and balance mechanisms, conflict resolution and so on, with each playing critical roles in ensuring responsive governance and good citizenship.

Policom in Yorùbá politics has been characterized with political messages embedded in family history, dress patterns/styles, mastery of language, politics-based entertainment, political advertising among others. Certain family names resonate veteran political experience such that there are high expectations from people associated by blood or mentorship with such families. In his work on “Branded Political Communication,” Albert (2017) expounds on how political communication is framed in an iconic manner that easily attracts attention to the brand through (1) branded political titles, (2) branded dressing patterns or (3) mixed method. For instance, Chief Obafemi Awolowo left behind two iconic elements in dressing (a famous fez cap now known as “Awolowo cap” and a special kind of pair of spectacles) by the time he died in 1987 (Albert 2017, 173). Similarly, the late Chief Bola Ige retains a high reputation for his linguistic dexterity and oratory prowess, and the late Adegoke Adelabu was reputed for his deft political rhetoric. It is within the context of political rhetoric, for instance, that it is possible for Yorùbá political actors to undermine political coinages as a potent means of desecrating the political messages of their opponents. For instance, a “thumbs up” image of a political party could be interpreted as the sign of whitlow. Also, a party acronym like PDP (People’s Democratic Party) could be recreated as “pindipi” (meaning a stuttering or faltering team).

What insights could then be drawn from the foregoing for contemporary Nigerian democratic dynamics? This is the focus of the following section.

4. Critical Insights from Yorùbá Political Communication

In Africa, the lack of balance in reporting, fuelled by the misconception of roles and obligations in media and government relations, has both internal and external implications that do not augur well for the sustenance of democracy, as well as social and economic development” (Isike and Omotoso 2017, 217).

The crux of the argument here is that traditional political communication tools are still very relevant in Nigeria’s political landscape. Development connects with a scrutiny of what is being politically communicated, by who and for what purpose. In fact, most of the elements highlighted and discussed in the body of this paper are engaged on daily basis by all actors to communicate politically, yet, scantly have they been discussed in scholarly engagements on Nigerian politics. Likewise, many actors misuse these elements unconsciously and consequently lose out in their judicious applications.

Modern democratic Nigeria is fast losing track on carefully harnessing traditional and modern values. Of utmost importance at this point is the place of the encoder, decoder and message. The moral character of the encoder ‘who’ and the decoder ‘who’ is also important in the determination of message viability.9 According to Omotoso (2013, 61):

In Yoruba communities the initiator in a communication process is important as this person also determines what reaction will be elicited from respondents. When a person initiates communication, the Yoruba respondent will usually weigh the worth of that person against the power he or she holds. How this is done can be typified with the conversation below:
Son: My father has promised to punish your community if you fail to pay taxes
An elder in the community: Who on earth is your father?
Son: My father is the newly installed King.
Here, viability and validity of a message is premised on the personality and moral status of the “who”.
This has retained its place despite media and communicative transformations. Regrettably, many political office holders in Nigeria have lost their foothold in this regard; their reputation has been so battered that they have lost the credibility to endorse electoral candidates or political parties. Anyone whose words must be taken serious in today’s political arena must work hard on their personalities and moral standing. These principles are largely embedded in Yoruba Philosophies of governance, of which Yoruba political communication is a sub-set.

If there has been corresponding recognition and understanding of political symbols (Palm tree, Umbrella, Broom, Thumb etc.) by members of other ethnic groups constituting the Nigerian State despite relative social dispositions, it follows that indigenous communication could be re-visited, reconstructed and harnessed for policom purposes in present day Nigeria. Whatever enhanced the universality and usage of smileys in the new media, such that they are also employed in political communication, could also be employed in the use of àrokò in physical, mediated and virtual forms. Nigerians must begin research and re-invigoration of indigenous values into current systems both to re-define and preserve these values. Currently, political communication in Nigeria has been thrown off balance; the old are not catching up and the young are gradually losing touch. Political campaigns are fast losing educative contextual and critical content. The media is getting distracted with imitations of foreign patterns of coverage and reportage of political news; the rural masses are getting excluded due to media illiteracy and politicians are fast embracing manifestos and campaign that lack substance. Prominent among traditional policom ideas brought into modern Nigeria’s politics are ideas of: costuming political aspirants for national acceptability; aṣọ-ebí syndrome for political campaigns; competitive songs and slangs for political campaigns; use of indigenous languages on campaign grounds; creation of rhetorical political advertisements and so on. These have failed to foster the united aim of nation-building; rather they have been instruments for looting of public treasury. It is therefore not a question of whether the traditional policom tools are relevant or useful in modern day politics, but a question of how to bring them into the realities of contemporary times in the purest form.


Today, indigenous media of communication seem to be waning in popularity in Africa largely arising from the advent of modern communication media; dearth of skilled personnel; the drastic reduction of the power and influence of traditional rulers; availability of globally acceptable signs; domination of the global economy and culture by powerful advertisers; and the negative influences of globalisation on indigenous cultures and languages (Olatunji and Thanny 2011).

Nigeria is not just fragmented, it is also polarized. Under the best of circumstances, it is hard for people to reach compromises about the use of culture-based tools for policom across the country without alienating some cultures. However, if policom in Nigeria continues to follow foreign cultures, the country’s real social and economic shortcomings will not be addressed10, and in a matter of time more problems will break out spontaneously among an increasingly embittered public. Having established the symbolic, linguistic, metaphysical and moral values of òwe, àrokò and ẹsẹ Ifá for political communication in the Nigerian democratic sphere, embedded moral, spiritual and patriotic constituents provide viable platforms for their re-enactment into current political settings.

Compared with the traditional application of policom tools, the contemporary Nigerian electorate is better informed and better equipped, but to what end? Just as politicians must begin to consider their speeches, dress sense, physical gestures and communication skills, the media must arise with renewed interest in educating the masses and constructively presenting political issues, likewise, the masses must awaken a sense of commitment to judicious interpretation and use of communicative gestures from political actors.
There is no harm in projecting Yorùbá philosophy of policom to be equally studied, mastered and imbibed by Nigeria, Africa and the world; groups who find equally worthy values within their cultural systems could present them to afford a pluriversal global community. There is hope that issues raised here will trigger a recovery of philosophical discourses embedded within African cultures, systems and values to facilitate their application to burning issues on the continent.

Specifically, if Nigeria is facing difficulties in achieving the imagined democracy at a national level, perhaps building viable democratic structures could begin at regional levels whereby ethnic nationalities consciously revisit their indigenous value systems, re-organize from within, before considering a national approach. This would fall in line with the sayings of our elders that “Ilé l’a ti ń kó ẹ̀ṣọ́ r’òde” (charity begins at home)!

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1 This is drawn from the words of Onyewuenyi (1993, 39-40).
2 See Folarin (1987) and Ebeze (2002).
3 See Ebeze, 2002.
4 Fayemi and Omotoso (2010) identify conceptual conflation wherein ìjọba (act of rulership) is erroneously described as government and òṣèlú is erroneously termed politician. These errors downplay elements of statecraft without necessarily being a politician which is being emphasized in contemporary politics.
5 But not within Mamdani’s (1996) context of “decentralized despotism.”
6 For details on this, see Wilson (1987).
7 See Salami (2002), and Ajayi and Ojo (2008).
8 For details on actors in political communication, see Omotoso (2013, 54).
9 Actor(s) are key players in any communication process. The actor can be referred to as the ‘who,’ comprising of both the encoder and the decoder; the person who is disseminating the information and expecting a response from his or her audience in return, and the receiver of the disseminated information, respectively. Therefore, both the leader encoding information and the led receiving and interpreting the information, are “who” in their varying capacities. They are moral beings who can be held responsible for their actions or inactions. See Omotoso (2013).
10 See Mudhai (2017:242) who argues that “With large populations remaining poor due to corruption and resource mismanagement and with clouds of violence and electoral malpractices hanging over polls in some African countries, it is difficult to tell whether involvement of Western communication strategists adds value to African politics through their well-funded munitions of the mind.”