Salihu Moh. Lukman
As far back as 1918, the German Sociologist, Max Weber, while delivering the speech, ‘Science as a Vocation’ at Munich University, observed that the “fate of our times is characterised by rationalisation and intellectualisation and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world’. Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life …nor is it accidental that today only within the smallest and intimate circles, in personal human situations, in pianissmo, that something is pulsating that corresponds to the prophetic pneuma, which in former times swept through the great communities like a firebrand, welding them together.” More than hundred years after, logical (rational) and knowledgeable (scholarly) assessments of situations have receded. Disappointment (disenchantment) has taken over almost everybody, such that the direction societies are following deviate from known or predictable experiences. Inspirational (sublime) values have disappeared or are fast disappearing, and as a result, conditions that expedite processes of development and human progress are being eroded.
Instead of nations becoming stronger and people united, citizens are more and more divided, experiencing so many conflicts and wars, consuming human lives and property on a scale that is very alarming. In the midst of all these, everyone, or most people, both leaders and the led, as argued in the book edited by the American Psychologist, Robert J. Sternberg, Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, become ‘trapped in rigid mindsets, …actively drawing novel distinctions rather than relying on distinctions drawn in the past. This makes us sensitive to context and perspective. When we are mindless, our behavior is rule- and routine-governed. In contrast, when mindful, our behavior may be guided rather than governed by rules and routines.’
This is no doubt the Nigerian reality of today – ‘rigid mindsets’ with ‘novel distinctions’ of our diverse sensitive ‘context and perspective’. Behaviour, rather than being ‘guided by rules and routines’ (mindful), is instead directed almost mindlessly. So-called smart people are behaving more stupidly. Therefore, more problems are being created than solutions found. How do we get out of this mess? With all the intractable problems of insecurity – insurgency, banditry, kidnappings, abductions, etc., what will be required to get citizens (leaders and the led) to become mindful and guided and not governed by rules and routines?
Given the excessive politicisation in the country, especially as 2023 comes closer, the temptation to reduce answers to partisan choices are quite high. Valid as partisan choices could be, it is important to recognise that even within partisan choices, citizens will require strong engagements with leaders at all levels and the courage to articulate recommendations as well as win the buy-in of leaders to consider implementation. Part of what must be also recognised is that, important as partisan choices are, beyond the personalities of leaders, the substantive details of initiatives, in terms of strategic plans and the programmes required to recover Nigeria and put the country on the path to resolve all its intractable challenges and accelerate processes of nation building can at best be work in progress.
Perhaps, it is necessary to make important clarification from the beginning. No choice is perfect or absolute, partisan choices inclusive. Citizens’ commitment to develop partisan platforms is a determining factor to ensure that choices produce desired outcomes. When choices of partisan platforms are therefore limited to celebration of ‘rigid mindsets’, it may only be active in ‘drawing novel distinctions’ and not capable of ‘relying on distinctions drawn in the past.’ The difference is that ‘drawing novel distinctions’ will be largely about rationalising choices while ‘relying on distinctions drawn in the past’ is about being able to recognise and acknowledge reality and accordingly envision new realities or at least give new insights to old realities.
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Therefore, in terms of political choices and their applications to contemporary Nigerian reality, the challenge is whether the choices Nigerians make are creating new realities or at least giving new insights to old realities. If political choices are expressed in terms of, for instance, expression of support or resentment to All Progressives Congress (APC) or any party for that matter, including the PDP, to what extent does that produce new realities that can respond to our numerous challenges as a nation? Or in what way is the choice at least giving new insights in terms of how problems can be solved?
There can hardly be agreement in terms of how to produce new realities and it will be fruitless to try to establish any agreement as it will be almost impossible. The important issue is about getting Nigerians to take reasonability and initiate actions to produce the envisioned new reality. This was the point very well-articulated by one of the leading ideologues of the PDP, my good friend and longtime associate, Dr. Sam Amadi, when he reported some reflections, he recently had, on his Facebook timeline, about a ‘friend from Rwanda who’ argued that ‘in Rwanda culture, leaders don’t complain or wail about problems. Leaders proffer solutions.’ This was explained to be because the Rwanda culture ‘was a result of the experience of genocide, when the youths of Rwanda discovered that the world did not offer them support. They took it to mean they alone should solve their problems. So, if you are a leader and you are wailing instead of solving problems, you are shifted from the leadership cadre to the followers cadre. Leaders solve problems.
With such reflections, Dr. Amadi admits that the ‘cultural mindset’ of the Rwandans ‘is the opposite of the culture of leadership in Nigeria.’ In Nigeria, ‘Leaders wail and complain and blame others. It is not their fault. It is the system. It is the federal government. It is the state government. It is Boko Haram. It is Yoruba agitators. It is Sunday Igboho. It is IPOB. It is even the people who refuse to change. It is the former government. It is the dead- Zik and Awo- who didn’t take us out of Nigeria. It is everyone and everything but the leader,’ if one can add, and followers too. Dr. Amadi further highlighted that even ‘in our personal life we fail the leadership test. Our misfortune has to be the work of witches and wizards, or relatives who didn’t help us or government that is corrupt. We are never responsible for our misfortune.’
Dr. Amadi’s reflections excellently highlight part of Nigeria’s challenges. As Dr. Amadi stressed, until Nigerians ‘focus on finding solutions and less on wailing or blaming’, and ensure that focusing ‘on problem should be to find solution and not for the smug feeling of sanctimony’, our challenges as a nation will not disappear. Instead, our challenges are more likely to get worse. The caution however is that this should not be used in any way to rationalise political choices or block criticisms. In fact, what this means is that in the context of taking responsibility, within our different political choices, including partisan choices, Nigerians should constantly be able to recognise challenges and accordingly initiate or propose appropriate responses to them. Inability to do that will only push citizens, including leaders to be mindless, and not mindful, of Nigeria’s development challenges.
Inadvertently, this requires that part of the overarching political goal is to develop Nigerian politics such that both leaders and followers take responsibility. This is not simply about declarations or simply choices of leaders. It is about developing corresponding political initiatives to reorient Nigerians to take responsibility, which entails a clear political vision. Within the context of individual political choices, Nigerians should have the courage to develop recommendations and work to win the support of, first, political leaders to undertake to implement the recommendations, and secondly, win support of Nigerians in general. It should be expected that the requirement for competition will necessitate that each of the partisan choices available to Nigerians, APC, PDP or any other party for that matter, will have to be both responsive and representative.
Ideally, being responsive and representative should compel political parties and leaders to be more guided by rules and routine and to that extent ‘sensitive to context and perspective.’ Without going into analysis of Nigeria’s political history, especially under the Fourth Republic, it is hardly disputable that PDP mismanaged and squandered opportunities for sixteen years between 1999 and 2015. No need to go into details as that is not the focus. What is more important at this point is the recognition that it was easy for Nigerians to register their support for APC, and on that account voted PDP out of power in 2015.
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Of course, there were contextual factors, which made the APC to win the support of Nigerians. These factors include the successful merger of defunct opposition parties – Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and Owelle Rochas Okorocha’s faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) – combined with relatively transparent processes of candidate selection for the 2015 elections, especially the presidential candidate, together with all the inspiring campaign promises and the personality of President Muhammadu Buhari as the presidential candidate of the APC. With all these, the APC was able to win the 2015 elections and Nigerians had very high expectations. The question is, to what extent did the APC and its governments meet or are meeting the expectations of Nigerians? What are the challenges and how is the APC and its governments responding to these challenges? Compared to PDP, how different is the APC?
No need for the familiar debates of PDP vs APC here. The fundamental issue is the question of the extent to which APC leaders and members are responding to challenges. Are we taking responsibility? The good thing is that, in APC, leaders are not in denial of the challenges. This was not the case with PDP before 2015 and up to this moment. However, being members of the APC, we should be able to acknowledge too that although, the slogan of the APC is CHANGE, which underlines the commitment of the party and its leadership to bring about change in the country, the programmatic details as articulated in the party’s manifesto require a mobilisation programme in order to win the support of Nigerians.
One of the big gaps confronting the APC, which unfortunately makes it easy for opposition politicians to dent the party and its governments’ is the absence of mobilisation programme to engage Nigerians to take responsibility in their different fields of endevour in responding to challenges facing the country. Getting Nigerians to take responsibility in their different fields of endevour in responding to challenges facing the country is a critical success factor in terms of producing the change envisioned by the APC and its leadership as articulated in the manifesto of the party. The inability of Nigerians to take responsibility through initiating appropriate actions raises questions about the sustainability of initiatives of government. Beyond questions of sustainability, there is the issue of public awareness and the associated challenges of public support and endorsements. It is not enough for government to initiate programmes and projects as responses to challenges facing the country. Public support and endorsements will be required to make them sustainable, which is not automatic.
Part of what should be recognised and acknowledged is that the challenges facing us as a nation are deep-rooted. It will require a robust programme of reorientation in the country to sustain the envisioned change APC and its leadership are working to achieve. Once the focus and scope of initiatives is limited to operations of government institutions, and non-governmental institutions continue with business-as-usual practices, most of the challenges facing the country will linger. For instance, take the case of insecurity, which is the most important threat to the survival of the country.
As much as combative military operations against insurgency in all its manifestations – banditry, kidnappings, abductions, etc. – are fundamental to restoring order and protection of lives and property in the country, equally important is also how Nigerians across all strata of social life are being mobilised to take responsibility in restoring order and guaranteeing security of life and property in every part of the country. How is government working to raise awareness of Nigerians in terms of what to look out for as danger signals in our different communities? What kind of conducts by citizens, including community leaders constitute risk factors and therefore indicative of security challenges? What should be done, where and who to report to? What other initiatives should citizens take?
Most of these issues are at best taken for granted. There is hardly any planned campaign taking place at national level to mobilise Nigerians with specific sets of detailed responses. Because issues of public awareness around these issues are taken for granted, everybody, both leaders and followers are just ‘complaining and wailing’ as Dr. Amadi rightly observed. Some have gone beyond ‘complaining and wailing’ to propagate false narratives, which can at best be distractive, if not subversive to any campaign or initiative to end insecurity in the country. Unfortunately, most of these false narratives are allowed in the public space without strong efforts to correct them. Take some of the claims by religious and community leaders that insecurity in the country is directed against particular ethnic and religion groups. These are very treacherous narratives, which should be combated not through military operations but civic engagements with religious and community leaders.
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Absence of engagements with religious and ethnic groups is more and more creating factors in the country, which are disorientating and undermining the authority of conventional structures and representatives of Nigerian society, including non-governmental institutions. In their place, unaccountable and self-appointed leaders are emerging and culture of public blackmails against conventional structures and representatives is becoming rampant in the country. It was Benjamin Arditi, the Mexican political scientist, in the book, Politics on the Edge of Liberalism, who cautioned that ‘situations of disorientation can facilitate the appeal of charismatic leaders who present themselves as self-styled saviours, or lead people to seek the sense of belonging offered by aggressive forms of nationalism, uncompromising religious sects, or violent urban tribes.’
One of the major challenges facing Nigeria today is that ‘self-styled saviours’ projecting themselves as leaders campaigning to win ‘a sense of belonging’ based on aggressive ‘nationalism, uncompromising religious sects, or violent urban tribes’ are springing up in every part of the country. This is partly the issue around the Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho phenomena in the South-East and South-West. Unfortunately, because such phenomena are allowed without any counter-mobilisational strategy, they are increasingly becoming threats to political leaders. To some extent, they are also becoming models of responses to Nigeria’s challenges by ethnic and religious groups, which is dangerous.
Therefore, beyond the question of insecurity, the broader issue of mobilising Nigerians to develop new orientation require a programmatic national coverage. Given some of the challenges, especially in relation to, for instance, engaging youth in the country, how can it be handled? This will require partnership with youth organisations. Who are these youth organisations and what will be required for government to be able to develop the kind of partnership that can produce the desired outcomes of changing Nigeria? What is the potential of using the nation’s educational system to facilitate or strengthen engagements with youth groups in the country? Given the challenge of frequent closures of our educational institutions due to strikes by teachers and university lecturers, how will it affect government’s mobilisation of youths in the country? Above all, how can engagement with youths address the challenge of creating employment opportunities in the country?
M Generally, the ‘situations of disorientation’ in the country have created problems whereby the character of Nigerian civil society, including the labour movement has radically change. Most of the organisations that used to be knowledge-driven, based on which they have strong connections with academic institutions, are bereft of knowledgeable viewpoints. At least up to the late 1990s, most of these organisations were very active in policy engagements through campaigning for alternative policy frameworks. When they criticised government policy, they did not only explain reasons for such criticisms, but also proposed alternatives. This is hardly the case today. The main approaches of the work of civil society are mainly to abuse and condemn whatever government is doing with hardly any recommendation for alternatives. If anyone is looking for evidence of how ‘sublime values’ have retreated form Nigerian public life, just look at the character of today’s Nigerian civil society and labour movement today and compare them with what used to obtain in the past.
Beyond civil society organisations and labour movement, the sad reality is also that quality of scholarship in our academic institutions is, to say the least, below standards. We have professors, researchers and lecturers who cannot engage in any useful enquiry about the challenges facing the country. Many so-called professors, researchers and lecturers, rather than working to provide new insights into challenges facing the country and to that extent propose alternative responses, they join the ‘complaining and wailing’ community. They speak in languages that are offensive to government and political leaders with unsubstantiated allegations.
Part of what has been lost is the fact that categories of leaders of non-governmental organisation who used to have strong values that envisioned a prosperous country have disappeared. Instead, we have many leaders of non-governmental organisation who see nothing good in Nigeria and its political leadership. They promote the campaign for hatred against the country and its leadership. The culture of political intimidation using protests and strikes has become rampant. Most demands by non-governmental organisations come with threats of strikes and protests in the first instance. In the context of mobilisation to produce change in Nigeria therefore, what will be required to change the orientation of leaders of non-governmental organisations in the country for instance? Being members of APC, how can we engage our leaders differently without joining the ‘complaining and wailing’ group of Nigerians? If, like other Nigerians, APC members join the ‘complaining and wailing’ community, which is largely the case, how can we take responsibility to ensure that the commitment of our party and our leaders to change Nigeria is achieved?
To be different, APC members should be able to appeal to the party’s leaders to urgently develop a strong mobilisation campaign that can connect citizens with all the initiatives of government. As part of such mobilisation campaign, raising public awareness about the initiatives’ government is taking should be a priority. The second thing is also to be able to provide feedback to government about the effectiveness of initiatives taken by APC governments’ so far. To what extent are government initiatives responding to challenges? How are government initiatives’ being able to envision new realities or at least give new insights to old realities? What are the expected roles of citizens in their different fields of endevour to achieve envisioned realities? In particular, how is government mobilisation programme succeeding in securing the buy-in of especially non-governmental leaders to initiate supportive actions to resolve challenges?
As members of APC, we need to take responsibility and acknowledge that challenges facing the country require a strong mobilisation campaign as a fundamental requirement for bringing about change in the country. This is, at the moment, almost taken for granted. In fact, most of the distortions going on today in Nigerian public spaces, which attempts to dismiss the APC and its governments as a failure is largely because of weak or absence of strong mobilisation programme. Being able to acknowledge this reality should be supported with good recommendation on how best to develop strong mobilisation programme to rally the support of Nigerians to address challenges facing the country.
Noting the existence of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), with the statutory functions of mobilising public support for government policies, programmes and activities, among others, how can it be transformed to get it to develop and drive the kind of strong mobilisation programme, which can begin to re-orient the mindsets of Nigerians and get everyone to take responsibility? The question of why the NOA was unable to develop a strong mobilisation programme since 2015 should be engaged mainly in the context of ensuring that the campaign supports Nigerians to embrace positive behaviours and to that extent therefore envision a prosperous future for the country.
How can this be achieved? Perhaps one of the things that need to be done is to completely re-organise the NOA. As part of the re-organisation, it may be necessary to be moved out of the Ministry of Information and make it a specialised agency of the Federal Government directly under the presidency. Making it a specialised agency under the presidency will strengthen its powers to be able to engage all agencies of government at all levels. Its current status as an agency under the Ministry of Information limits its powers and to that extent its capacity.
The second issue is that there has to be a review of its activities, personnel and general orientation. Elementary logic would suggest a complete overhaul, otherwise, it will simply continue with business-as-usual approaches. Once its approaches are business-as-usual, it will not be able to drive any campaign for change in Nigeria. Largely because it is conducting itself based on business-as-usual approaches, it is hardly present in most of the critical public debates about challenges facing the country. Beyond being absent in most public debates, it is hardly under any consideration in terms of organisations regarded with any visible roles in addressing challenges facing the country. For instance, in the case of insecurity, does the NOA outline for itself a kind of checklist of what to do when incidents of insecurity emerge in any part of the country?
All these need to be put in place. It is not to lament about any failing or rationalising why we have what exists today. As members of APC, it should be about responding to the reality facing us and ensure that we appropriately take responsibility. We must engage the issues with all the confidence that our political leaders, especially President Buhari will favourably consider these proposals and strengthen the capacity of the party and its governments to mobilise Nigerians. The important appeal that should be made is that failure to develop a strong mobilisation programme will continue to create gaps that will make the voices of political opposition louder in the country, even as they don’t have any clear proposed alternatives. They will simply continue to promote divisive politics based on mis-information and falsehood. It is painful that with all the initiatives of APC governments, especially Federal Government under President Buhari, the claim of any failure can be made. Unlike all past governments since 1999, the APC Federal Government is successfully implementing more initiatives and projects. How can the APC government successful implementation of almost all the projects past governments have failed to execute be a failure?
If APC and its governments are being alleged to be a failure, what is the specific alternative being presented by the opposition to APC? The narrative of failure of APC and its governments must be corrected based on a strong mobilisation programme. Nigerians just need to ‘focus on finding solutions and less on wailing or blaming’. Nigerians must be protected from ‘self-styled saviours’ – both politicians and other desperate categories, whose mission can only be self-serving. A stich in time saves nine!
Dr. Lukman is the Director-General of the Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja. However, the position he expresses here does not represent the view of any APC governor or the Progressive Governors Forum.
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OAU’s Honours: Falola, The Iwin Of African Scholarship
By Akin Alao
The academy is a lifestyle, and Toyin Falola lives every bit of it in most impactful ways. Among Africans, there is often a consensus that formal education is a driving force that is pivotal to development. Consequently, academic life has gradually become necessary for the procurement of the African future. What became important to this development has gradually become the lifestyle of many individuals who have dedicated their lives, even their social lives, to the expansion of African epistemology. The orientation life and activities of Falola connote and underline this fact. He has gradually become a face of African scholarship, being that his work has grown to be multidisciplinary and his lifestyle dynamic enough to fit into many niches of academic life.
Falola started as a school teacher in Pahayi, Ogun State, in 1970, and he remains a teacher even today, amounting to about 53 years of teaching experience. Gradually, he became a lecturer at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, in 1981. Later in 1991, he joined the University of Texas at Austin. He climbed up the ladder of academia to the very summit, where the world has to keep celebrating him. Being conferred with a Doctor of Letters at the Obafemi Awolowo University is an acknowledgement of the strides and victories Falola has won for the continent.
This honour is one of the about 18 Doctor of Letters that has been conferred on him across the world and one of many other honorary degrees to acknowledge his consistency in redefining the descriptions of African culture. Some of these include Doctor of Letters from the University of Ibadan in 2020, Lincoln University in 2015, Federal University, Lokoja in 2021, City University of New York, Staten Island, USA, in 2013, Monmouth University, NJ., USA, in 2007, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, in 2018, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria, in 2018, University of Jos, Nigeria in 2015, Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu Ode in 2014, Adekunle Ajasin University, Nigeria, in 2013 and still counting.
While he has been recognized by many Universities and institutions across the world, the honour at the Obafemi Awolowo University serves a significant importance because of two things: it is a university Falola sees as his roots and a place of many firsts, and secondly, it is a university that portrays and celebrates the African intellectual culture and prestige, which has made the institution stand out among her peers. Not everyone gets to get the opportunity to be associated with Obafemi Awolowo University, and its position in the education history of the nation and continent is significant. Hence, a Doctor of Letters from such an institution is a lifetime achievement.
Falola deserves his flowers, days of glory and moments of recognition. The development of his career has been a reflection of his efforts and a high level of commitment. He once admitted that he had lost count of the papers, articles, and newspaper publications he had written. Today, he can boast of not less than 300 books he has written alone or with someone. Without a doubt, this achievement is no joke; it takes an extraordinary individual or academic to reach 100 book publications in Africa; then, one can imagine publishing about 300 books. The quality of thought woven in these texts’ semantic and philosophical composition has created sui generis perspectives about the continent that will always remain monumental references for those who talk about or discuss the continent. Today, there is almost no standard library in the world that has a section about Africa that would not have a piece or collection of Falola’s brilliance, as well as his opinion of certain areas of the continent.
Being one of the most referenced black scholars in the world and one of the most productive scholars in the world has taken a lot of commitment to academics, and the allusion that he represents the lifestyle of scholarship itself is not an aggravated aggrandizement of his person, but evidence of mapped out involvements, dedications and representations. It would not be wrong to call him “Iwin of African scholarship.”
Sometimes, one would wonder how he often pulls these groundbreaking achievements and also marvels at the level he has attained. On October 9, 2023, when he was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Letters at the University of Abuja, Falola “confessed” that he works for about 18 hours per day. Honestly, there is no way one would put in this much work and not come out more like what he is today; this explains the accolades that would not stop coming in for him. His workload could make one say he works with the hand of God or better be convinced that there is a force behind his diligence, but for what it is worth, the accolades are justified.
The contributions of Falola to African History and studies cannot be underestimated. He has been able to lead the struggle in the re-narration of African History and the resurfacing practice of its cultures. In The Power of African Cultures, he believes that African Cultures are so strong that they have been able to transcend the different cultural onslaught from slavery, western invasions, colonialism and globalisation. He was able to establish that despite the whirlpool of foreign influence and imposition of foreign cultures, especially through colonialism, African Cultures rose through the ashes of what they are currently. Rather than dying, they have been able to wear the cloaks of modernity, allowing Africans to adopt both global cultures and their cultures. Falola believes the strength and power of the African culture to have been able to survive different ideological changes and other wrong notions and perspectives that tend to put Africa and Africans in a bad light.
More importantly, Falola serves as one of the major voices against the loud and remarkable voices that have painted the African descriptions, philosophies, norms and culture to be barbaric and inferior. While efforts have been made by different scholars, even from outside Nigeria, to correct some of these notions, many did not retell the descriptions from African angles. So, while many scholars would tell African stories and scholarship through foreign methodologies and prerequisites, Falola and a few others have been unapologetic about their positions on the right approach and understanding of the continent. He has been of the opinion that understanding the African epistemology and philosophy may not be properly done with the same cultural and sociological scopes used for other cultures but must allow the overbearing of the African dynamics. Yoruba Gurus: Indigenous Production of Knowledge in Africa is one of the most important books about Africa, its culture and philosophies, as it unfolds the mysteries behind understanding Yoruba epistemology: it gives clues to why many foreign scholars have missed the right approach to understanding Africa. It shows the fact that knowledge production and transmission in Africa is seldom in formal institutions; however, it grows interestingly from organic scholars who have proven themselves worthy of being referred to as scholars in their respective fields. This and the usage of family institutions were the major sources of knowledge in African societies.
The book and many of his other publications directed scholarships through the pathways to understanding African cultures in their dynamic and raw sense. He went on to write more specifically on the root of some African knowledge and cultures, providing remarkable factual discoveries. More importantly, Falola’s achievements could also be traced to his ability to relate the African past and experience to the present with pointers to evidence of reflections and manifestations in contemporary practices. These are a few of the many wonders he has performed in academics.
Seeing this, and the realization of the ideologies behind the orientations that founded the Obafemi Awolowo University, one will realize that the honor is a confirmation of the similarity of ideologies between him and the institution. Also, drawing from his resilience and commitment to what he sets his mind on, with about 18 hours of work, he serves as an image of the dividend of hard work, as a lesson to students and those in academia. The Iwin of African scholarship has fortified himself with enough intentional attempts at personal and career development, and the honour is OAU’s announcement to the world to emulate him.
It is also not arguable that the love Falola has shown toward the university has been quite obvious in his interactions and publications. Besides the recognition of his efforts, this should surely be a homecoming, like a celebrative medal for a child who left the bosom of his mother only to return with accolades, honours, and pride.
Alao is a Professor of History, Obafemi Awolowo University.
Prof. Olu Obafemi On Nigerian University Education In Constant Transition (4)
By Tony Afejuku
This delicacy is continued from last Friday.
The Internet of Things
Talk about the Internet of Things (loT) and you would not be mistaken as well. This is for its ability to abridge things, reduce exertions and eliminate the drives of yesterday. We may argue that loT is suitable for learning, bringing about a seemly or conducive environment, solving intricate problems and for a greater experience. Outside learning, it is superb for remote working, for automation and for good time management, amongst other things.
Bruce Schneier describes it as “a web that we connect to. It is a computerized, networked, and interconnected world.” He stressed that it is the future of living, which we refer to as the Internet of Things (loT). It is truly the future where the things we could know by other means are harvested by devices and presented to us in quicker, smarter paces and places.
It is a future where humans may not be able to compete with them. Common to all is that they are still evolving. Whilst we might find them awesome, we are assured of higher surprises because the competition and innovations are continuing. Important in the matrix is the confusion of learning, or the changing narrative of pedagogy. It tends to minimize research, as we find what we research on already available in Al.
In simplifying processes and procedures, the technologies are fast diminishing scholarship as we know it, and challenging the sequence of imbibing or internalizing. These sequences were once owned by humanity, through a systematic process. It involves stages of listening, reading, experiencing, trying and failing, and trying again. It encompasses structures and institutions and a painstaking governance process, emplaced by the state, in agreement with the citizenry.
While these bodies remain, the intervention of technology has become disruptive; and likely forcing us to review things many times over. This is because of the merging of truth and falsehood and the linking of hate with love. It is so because of the obfuscation of the real and the fake, or what is and what is not. While humanity is at once somewhat celebratory, they are also jittery about declining values and virtues. The good and the bad are now being muddled.
Learning is dignifying, confidence building and exposing what needs to be positively exposed. It grows the individual as much as it benefits society. It is gratifying to human resource development for the enhancement of society, and the future of mankind. But this is the case when learning is original, natural and is scientifically and technologically procedural and follows a process. It is the case when learning is easily identifiable, reflected in the change it will bring to the individual.
With the new technologies, regardless, we are in the world of assisted learning, a world of machine learning, a kind of scholarship where originality is threatened, obliterated and un-definable. Learners are in a new world where the temptation to outsource to technologies is high. This temptation is innate and unconscious for its fast pace over huge spaces, and in the manner where perfection is likely.
Resulting therefrom is the reduction of dynamism that would have helped internalization, processes that would have assisted memories and institutions that would have been useful for monitoring and governance. ChatGPT is a quick case to reference. Its capacities are thrilling, for being able to process things, probably as close as the man would have done, or even better in some cases.
Upon instructions, it responds with appreciable precision, leaving the learner to do little or nothing, depending on the quality of the question. Here then lies the question of what more the learner should do. How do we then contextualize the losses in the important process of engaging texts, pictures and images, which could be didactic? Deepfake is another case for its capacity to mimic and parrot a real.
Despite the frill around it, the uninitiated could get swayed, deceived or confused. He might be carried away by a confusing reality, leading to a wrong action, or at the least, the formation of wrong notions. Don’t get us wrong. The inventions are groundbreaking, pointing at the new world of growth in thinking capacities and creations. In these learning transitions, machines and robots MUST NEVER replace human activities, reasoning, rationality, values and feelings.
After all, Mark Zuckerberg is quoted to have said “Whenever I hear people saying Al is going to hurt people in the future I think, yeah, technology can generally always be used for good and bad and you need to be careful about how you build it. If you are arguing against Al then you’re arguing against safer cars that aren’t going to have accidents, and you are arguing against being able to better diagnose people when they are sick.”
Regardless, the attendant downsides, especially for learning are an invitation to more critical evaluation. We are surely at another crossroads between a past and a present, which has hallmarked inventions. The aero-plane came and eased long-distance travel, but crashes also came with it. The motorcar similarly came with accidents. The coming of electricity came with sparks and shocks that could lead to deaths (and actually led to deaths). So does the invention of dynamite, leading to misuse, terrorism, wars and deaths. With particular reference to dynamites, Alfred Nobel, its chief inventor and commercialist, had to establish the Nobel Prizes in Literature, Peace, Economics, Medicine, and Science to rescue his name and legacy from being tagged (and being remembered) as a merchant of death.
Despite the ages and flipsides of these inventions, humanity has never ceased to ask questions about them. They are still trying, year in and year out to perfect them, or encourage appropriate use. The coming of the Internet, the rise of Artificial Intelligence, The Internet of Things (loT) and Hypertext Documents may not also be different in revealing its downsides, one of which is the redefinition of learning.
Elon Musk, one of the key actors amongst the big techs recently warned at MIT’s AeroAstro Centennial Symposium that he is “increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we do not do something very foolish. I mean with artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.” We are in the age of technological advancement without a human face or humane attribution—an age which beckons to the end of humanity, the end of the world, at the irrational, distempered moment of pressing the lethal button of the hydrogen bomb.
It may not be demonic, but the outsourcing of reasoning (surrendering the power of reasoning to machines, and robots) is some kind of wizardry requiring our continuous examination, just so that reading or learning will not die. This is the point that Klaus Schwab made when he opined that “We must address, individually and collectively, moral and ethical issues raised by cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence and biotechnology, which will enable significant life extension, designer babies, and memory extraction.” We cannot agree more.
Again, do we need an educational system patterned after foreign cultures and experiences or a system that evolved from our original needs? Do we have a true understanding of our peculiar histories and environments such that our curriculum, theories and notions are instructed by these shared values? How much effort do we invest into reviews, just so that we are not parroting models that are foreign to us and are likely to be irrelevant to our practical realities?
Are we also sure we are not carried away by fancies and fantasies that are distant from our industries and production lines, in what would have boosted our economy for the common good? Abigail Adams told us that “Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence.” Interesting in this quotation is the element of diligence, which envisages the need to be painstaking.
Doing this will open our minds to our common desires, regarding whether or not we need more agriculturists, more technologists and technicians, and more statisticians, humanists and storytellers than space scientists, astronauts, or similar others. Being diligent will permit us to locate our needs for a system in transition, just so we would not only have to look elsewhere for the real manpower we need because we have either over-trained or under-trained ourselves.
Let us remember also that global education funds are available in billions of dollars. An estimate puts it at over $100,000 billion, accessible in grants and aids, if we get our arts and research concepts right. Corporations and philanthropists are also ever ready to support ideas that can lead to innovations, change, and new paths of profits.
We cannot overstate the fact that research is a driver of development. Development is the centerpiece of social progress. The university should be the leader in this narrative, especially in linking the peculiarities of communities with knowledge production, partnerships, and collaborations, in addition to the execution of the policy outlines of government. These are triggers of competition, necessarily leading to quality and efficiency.
“A man’s mind, stretched by new ideas, may never return to its original dimension” and state. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once told us of the alteration of the mind through education. In making alterations, however, we are asking that it should have a root, or relevance, for substance, and for the proper benefit of a society in transition.
To be terminated next Friday.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
Islam In The World Of Global Knowledge
By Toyin Falola
Within the intricate fabric of global historical narratives, the indelible impact of Islamic scholarship serves as a compelling testament to the formidable potency of erudition and intellectual inquisitiveness. The inception of Islam in the 7th century initiated a profound trajectory of intellectual and cultural advancement, which would subsequently imprint an enduring legacy on the global stage. This historical epoch bore witness to an unparalleled convergence of intellectual traditions emanating from Greek, Persian, Indian, and Byzantine civilizations, which were subsequently cultivated and enhanced by erudite Islamic scholars. The Islamic ethos, which finds its origins in the pursuit of knowledge, draws inspiration from the teachings of the Quran and the Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad. These teachings underscore the significance of acquiring knowledge as a sacred obligation.
Throughout the Golden Age of Islamic erudition, which endured from the 8th to the 14th century, the Islamic domain emerged as a fertile ground for the genesis of significant advancements in the realms of science, mathematics, philosophy, and medicine. Prominent figures of intellectual prowess, such as Al-Khwarizmi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), surfaced, leaving an indelible mark on various domains, encompassing algebraic principles and advancements in the realm of medicine. Educational establishments such as the House of Wisdom in Baghdad emerged as prominent hubs of erudition and scholarly discourse, assuming a crucial function in the safeguarding and amplification of the collective wisdom of humanity. The enduring impact of Islamic scholarship transcended geographical boundaries, exerting a profound influence on the intellectual milieu of mediaeval Europe. The establishment of the Renaissance and the European Enlightenment was significantly influenced by the pivotal role played by the translation of Islamic knowledge into European languages, thereby setting the groundwork for these intellectual movements. The dissemination of knowledge, facilitated by prominent centres such as Toledo and Sicily, catalyzed the introduction of scientific and philosophical concepts hitherto unfamiliar to the European intellectual landscape.
Prof. Toyin Falola and others during the lecture.
In the contemporary milieu, the Islamic scholarly tradition persists in its dynamic evolution, actively grappling with present-day challenges and making valuable contributions to the worldwide repository of knowledge. The symbiotic relationship between conventional Islamic pedagogy and contemporary scientific inquiry is readily apparent within Islamic educational establishments, serving as a pivotal conduit for reconciling historical and contemporary knowledge paradigms. The bedrock of knowledge within the Islamic tradition, intricately interwoven with its theological and philosophical underpinnings, highlights the paramount importance of intellectual endeavours. The Quran and the Hadiths espouse the imperative pursuit of knowledge, encouraging adherents to partake in introspection and apprehend the complexities inherent in the world. The prioritisation of education in early Islamic societies engendered a milieu characterised by a profound thirst for knowledge, thereby catalysing the inception of madrasas and other educational establishments.
Islamic scholars played a pivotal role in not only safeguarding existing knowledge but also actively participating in critical analysis, extensive expansion, and groundbreaking innovation, thereby making substantial contributions to a wide range of academic disciplines. They engaged in the scholarly examination of the literary and philosophical compositions of antiquated societies, undertaking the tasks of translation, conservation, and expansion, thereby engendering novel perspectives that exerted a profound influence on various geographical areas worldwide.
Upon embarking upon an exploration of the historical discourse, it becomes evident that Islamic erudition was not merely an insular occurrence but rather a pivotal participant in the worldwide dissemination of knowledge. The profound impact exerted by this phenomenon on the trajectory of European intellectual progress throughout the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and subsequent eras serves as a compelling testament to its fundamental significance in shaping the broader narrative of global intellectual history. In the present epoch, Islamic scholarship encounters the formidable task of effectively navigating the intricate nuances of modernity, all the while remaining steadfast to its profound intellectual legacy. The delicate equilibrium at play necessitates a sophisticated comprehension of established Islamic doctrines coupled with a flexible disposition towards the swiftly progressing realm of worldwide scholarship. Islamic educational institutions globally are actively engaged in the pursuit of integrating traditional Islamic knowledge with contemporary scientific and technological progress.
An essential facet of contemporary Islamic scholarship lies in its active involvement with the realms of science and technology. Islamic scholars have been actively engaged in the intellectual exchange of scientific knowledge, making significant contributions to various disciplines, including medicine, engineering, and environmental studies. The amalgamation of contemporary scientific advancements with Islamic ethical and philosophical paradigms has engendered novel opportunities for comprehensive and enduring resolutions to present-day predicaments. One illustrative example pertains to the notion of ‘Islamic Environmentalism,’ which finds its foundations in the principles of stewardship and equilibrium within the natural world, as expounded upon in Islamic doctrines. This particular viewpoint presents a distinctive lens through which ecological challenges can be approached and resolved.
Contemporary Islamic scholarship has made notable advancements in the realm of adapting Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) to contemporary contexts. Emerging concerns encompassing bioethics, financial systems, and digital technology have engendered a pressing need for a comprehensive reassessment of conventional Islamic jurisprudence. Contemporary Islamic scholars actively employ the practice of Ijtihad, which entails the exercise of independent reasoning, in order to interpret Islamic jurisprudence in a manner that is both pertinent and applicable to the contemporary era. This approach ensures the preservation of the fundamental principles inherent in Islamic teachings while simultaneously accommodating the exigencies of the present circumstances.
Within the domain of education, Islamic institutions have adeptly integrated contemporary pedagogical approaches in conjunction with age-old teachings. This pedagogical approach guarantees that students acquire comprehensive knowledge of classical Islamic texts as well as contemporary subjects, thereby equipping them with the necessary skills to make meaningful contributions across diverse disciplines. The prioritization of critical thinking and analytical aptitude within these establishments is indicative of the Islamic scholarly tradition’s unwavering dedication to intellectual rigour and the pursuit of knowledge.
Islamic scholarship plays a pivotal and indispensable role in cultivating and nurturing interfaith and intercultural dialogue. In an era frequently characterized by misinterpretations and hostilities, Islamic scholars and intellectuals have played a pivotal role in fostering inter-communal comprehension and collaboration. By means of scholarly exchanges, symposiums, and scholarly articles, scholars have underscored the shared principles inherent in Islamic teachings and various other religious and philosophical doctrines, thereby fostering a climate of reciprocal regard and compassion.
In light of these notable progressions, Islamic scholarship encounters a multitude of obstacles within the contemporary global milieu. A paramount concern lies in the imperative for enhanced representation and active engagement within the global academic sphere. Despite the notable intellectual contributions made by Muslim scholars, it is imperative to acknowledge the necessity for heightened visibility and active participation within international academic forums. Furthermore, the intricate endeavour of upholding the genuineness of Islamic doctrines while simultaneously accommodating contemporary circumstances remains a formidable undertaking.
As the field of Islamic scholarship traverses the complexities of the contemporary era, it remains an indispensable agent in the cultivation of the worldwide knowledge economy. The intricate and dynamic relationship between tradition and modernity within the realm of Islamic thought presents a plethora of invaluable insights and perspectives that extend beyond the confines of Muslim communities, resonating with the broader global society. As we direct our gaze towards the forthcoming era, the vast capacity and promising prospects of Islamic scholarship in moulding worldwide intellectual and cultural terrains are of considerable magnitude. The juxtaposition of tradition and modernity, intertwined with a profound legacy of knowledge and ethical principles, establishes Islamic scholarship as a noteworthy agent in tackling the complexities and dilemmas of the contemporary era.
The domain of global peace and understanding stands as a significant sphere wherein Islamic scholarship possesses the potential to exert a profound influence. In an era characterized by frequent cultural and religious misinterpretations leading to societal divisions, the fundamental tenets of tolerance, dialogue, and empathy that are deeply embedded within Islamic teachings possess the potential to serve as a pivotal force in fostering unity and reconciliation. The writings and interactions of Islamic scholars have the potential to engender a climate of mutual respect and harmonious coexistence within diverse communities. The incorporation of universal principles such as compassion, justice, and human dignity within the realm of Islamic scholarship holds the potential to foster the development of societies that are more inclusive and harmonious.
The convergence of Islamic ethical frameworks with contemporary global issues offers a promising avenue for making meaningful contributions. The Islamic viewpoint on matters of social justice, economic equity, and environmental stewardship presents viable alternatives to address contemporary challenges such as poverty, inequality, and climate change. The Islamic philosophical notion of Tawhid, denoting the indivisible unity of the divine, assumes a paramount position within Islamic intellectual discourse. This concept, with its profound emphasis on the interrelatedness of all facets of existence, possesses the potential to engender comprehensive and enduring methodologies in the realms of development and environmental preservation.
Within the realm of education, the forthcoming trajectory of Islamic scholarship is contingent upon the profound amalgamation of conventional wisdom with state-of-the-art investigation and inventive advancements. There is a growing acknowledgement of the inherent worth of multidisciplinary methodologies that amalgamate the discernments derived from Islamic studies with the realms of science, technology, arts, and humanities. The integration of diverse perspectives has the potential to enhance the academic milieu, offering novel insights and resolutions that are firmly rooted in ethical deliberations and fundamental human principles.
Furthermore, the advent of the digital revolution presents unparalleled prospects for the dissemination of Islamic scholarship to a broader spectrum of individuals. The utilization of online platforms and digital media has the potential to democratize the accessibility of Islamic knowledge, thereby facilitating enhanced engagement and the exchange of ideas on a global scale. The advent of digital expansion has the potential to enhance collaborative research and foster dialogue among scholars with diverse backgrounds, thereby cultivating a more inclusive and dynamic intellectual community.
As the trajectory of Islamic scholarship persists in its evolutionary course, it becomes imperative to foster and bolster the forthcoming cohort of erudite scholars and intellectuals. In order to ensure the continued vitality and pertinence of Islamic scholarship in the future, it is imperative to allocate resources towards the advancement of education and research, establish avenues for the expression of youthful perspectives, and foster an environment that promotes critical and inventive cognition. When considering the future, it is evident that Islamic scholarship possesses the capacity to not solely augment the diverse fabric of worldwide knowledge, but also to assume a crucial position in moulding a world that is characterized by justice, peace, and sustainability. By leveraging its rich historical heritage and actively grappling with the complexities and possibilities of the contemporary epoch, Islamic scholarship possesses the capacity to provide invaluable perspectives and guidance in effectively navigating the intricate dynamics of our globally interconnected society.
Excerpt of Convocation Lecture, Summit University, Offa, December 7, 2023.
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