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Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III: The Legacies Of A Great King



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon
Prof. Toyin Falola

Photo: The late Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III


Toyin Falola

I knew the late Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, at a most personal level. We had such a cordial relationship that I had his private cellphone number. Professor Akin Alao of Obafemi Awolowo University was our go-between, and he was at the palace with me many times. Oba Lamidi honored me with his presence at conferences and showed me some of his draft papers. He accepted the idea of creating a museum at Oyo. He revealed his knowledge on the depth of his understanding of Yoruba history.

When he turned 80 in 2018, Professor Siyan Oyeweso of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding invited several professors, including my humble self, to a conference in his honor at the Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo. At the opening ceremony of this conference on October 8, 2018, I called for the creation of Alafinology as a sub-field in the broader context of kingship and argued that we could have created degree courses around divination and kingship to strengthen our indigenous knowledge system. I knew him, and he knew me. We were united in advancing the project of the enhancement of African civilization.

That was a memorable conference for reasons additional to the main objective of celebrating the Alaafin at 80. Ibadan was in an uproar over the decision by the governor, the late Senator Isiaka Abiola Adeyemi Ajimobi, to fragment the Olubadanship into dozens of other titled Obas. I was tasked with being part of the delegation to talk him out of it. It was an unsuccessful mission, with the governor telling us privately that he could use his authority to remove the Olubadan if he did not cooperate with him. We were supposed to do the talking, but the governor was then suffering from acute verbal diarrhea. Still unsuccessful was the mission endorsed by the Alaafin to speak to the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Adewale Akanbi, over the style and substance of His Majesty’s administration. The breakout of Oluwo’s irregular psychotic episodes turned a correctional mission into expressions of condolence. October 18 was the last time I would see Chief Lekan Are. Chief Are revealed a secret: he opened his cellphone to show me the devastating data on his health conditions. He did not recover. May his soul continue to rest in peace. There remain the living, many who attended the conference, including Professors Akin Ogundiran, J. Lorand Matory, and Tunji Olaopa, who gave the major addresses. Ogundiran has become the greatest Alaafinologist in African history with his well-received book, The Yoruba: A New History, which covers a long span of two thousand years.

Ikú Bàbá Yèyé – Aláàfin

Whenever I come across a key part of his cognomen stated above—the most prominent words to address one of Africa’s most historically powerful kings—I marvel at the etymological ingenuity that went into coining such cognomen to aptly portray the power and influence of the largest empire in Yoruba history.

Yes, Alaafin remains renowned as Ikú Bàbá Yèyé, but ironically, however, death is the ultimate leveler and regulator. Only in death does the poor church-mouse measure up to the extremely wealthy; of course, that is after the fanfare and glee of the rich’s burial ceremony, not in terms of the amount spent on coffins and all the glitz. Undoubtedly, everyone gets to die, so living to witness another person’s burial is never a sign of advantage or supremacy over them. As a result, death is considered a natural phenomenon most feared, which no one, no matter how powerful, can evade.

If death is the ultimate leveler and everyone gets to die, why then are the ascendants to the throne of Oyo, the historically rich town in Nigeria, referred to as children birthed in the loins of death? Omo Iku t’iku k’ole pa, Omo Arun t’arun k’ole se. The Ikú Bàbá Yèyé appellation has its etymological roots in the words: “Ikú Ni Bàbá, Ikú Ni Yèyé,” literally translated as “Death is both the father and the mother,” the ultimate reality of human mortality and the gender-neutral anti-climax of life. It is the conquest of death in its spiritual essence. Thus, the Alaafin is not dead; rather, he only relocated his dwelling, first to the attic and then to the cloud. The cognomen signifies the depth of the Alaafin’s power and authority. Therefore, drawing such parallels between the Alaafin and death serves as a means of relating the unquantifiable nature of his power and significance.

Then, there is the “Aláàfin” appellation. Aláàfin, made soothing on the lips by transforming the two words Oní and Àaàfin — loosely translated as the “Owner of the Palace.” Now, it must take a deep sense of awe and reverence for His Imperial Majesty, the King of Oyo, to be referred to as the Aláàfin within the Yoruba nation in the context of power and authority in Africa and the world at large. So, for a people to refer to their king as “the owner of the palace,” not “the owner of a palace,” the respect and sovereignty accorded that king must be enormous. And such is the authority and power that all ascendants to the throne of the Aláàfin have enjoyed, from the first Aláàfin in an undated historical moment to Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi, whose life and impact we are reminiscing on today.

READ ALSO: Alaafin Adeyemi III: The Throne Of Numerous Authorities

Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, now alive in the company of his ancestors in the Oranmiyan compound in abode beyond the skies, ascended the throne of Oyo at a time the whole of Nigeria was undergoing a crisis. The Nigerian Civil War had just ended ten months before his ascension to the throne, and if anything, the country was not in a celebratory mood. Close to a million lives had been lost. It was also a politically tense period, with people hurt physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Any misstep from anyone, especially those in positions of power, could relapse into another war. Additionally, it was during the height of the military government that overthrew the First Republic. Coupled with the bitter taste of the dregs of the Civil War, the Aláàfin’s ascension to the throne was in a period in which any monarch could easily get confused about where their loyalties should lie and how they should form alliances.

On the contrary was a lingering story that cut deep: the story of the politically masterminded deposition of Oba Adeniran Adeyemi II, father of the recently deceased Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, in 1955. Thus, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III ascended the throne in a politicized atmosphere that required him to be cautious, both for himself and his people. The politicians who humiliated his late father were still alive. The precarious situation shaped the philosophy of the longest-reigning king of Oyo: be bold, be truthful, and be wary of poisonous snakes in human skin.

The late Aláàfin, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, who reigned for 51 years and 5 months, was one of the most progressive kings of his era, both in Yorubaland and throughout Nigeria. Deeply rooted in the Yoruba belief system, traditions, and history, His Imperial Majesty was proof that education must be combined with culture to produce knowledge. The Aláàfin was known for his diplomatic and strategic approaches to political affairs. He drew his friends close and his enemies closer. He was a deep-thinking and progressive monarch who earned the love and respect of his people and other kings alike. His influence spread beyond Oyo State to the Southwestern part of the country and even to other parts of Nigeria. He was a man who wielded power democratically and commanded respect from his strategic position in Oyo-Ile.

READ ALSO: Alaafin Of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III: On History, His Kingdom, And The Yoruba

Until his last days, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III was an active ruler and considering that he was a king who transcended different periods in Nigeria’s existence and evolution, it is applaudable and worthy of remembrance to note that the enthusiastic Oba Adeyemi who ascended the ancestral throne of power in 1970 remained relevant and vibrant until his 83rd year when he journeyed to Baara. He was a king who witnessed the different aspects of the Nigerian state — both military and democratic — and their attendant characteristics. Despite the sour history that preceded his ascension to the throne, he remained relevant even with the transition of time and approaches due to the way he intensified the need to unify the people of Oyo. The Aláàfin extensive political acumen made him the Head of the Council of Obas in Oyo State for a very long time.

Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Atanda Adeyemi III was a man who knew how to rule. He was not oblivious of the need to be close to the people while ensuring that familiarity did not breed contempt. He was close enough to spend time with the Oyo people and win their respect; yet he was quick to make moves to warn those who wanted to plot against him. His Imperial Majesty showed political prowess and demonstrated that not all political power was lost. Aláàfin never shied away from promoting the Yoruba culture and people. He was a man who had his people, beliefs, and traditions at the core of his system, as evident in the way he gave precedence to Yoruba religion and Oyo traditional practices.

On October 24, 2021, we hosted Aláàfin Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III on the Toyin Falola Interview series. It was not my first encounter with him, but it was many people’s closest interaction with him–an encounter that helped them to see the Aláàfin from some newer perspectives. During the interview, the Aláàfin addressed the state of traditional rulership in Nigeria, the state of our institutions, belief systems, and cultures, and the role that he and other like-minded Obas played in ensuring that the traditional institutions were preserved. He was a king who did all he could to keep traditions and institutions alive. Remarkably, he was never wont to give his take on issues. He was diplomatic, yes, but fearlessly so. The transcripts of the interview with the Aláàfin have now become a permanent record:

READ ALSO: Outrage As VCs’ Wives Plan To Hold Training In Turkey

Until he took his last breath, Ikú Bàbá Yèyé, the Aláàfin of Oyo, was an energetic, people-embracing, knowledgeable, and powerful monarch. His sheer knowledge of the Yoruba nation, founded on his education in history at strategic cultural institutions, including at the Alake’s Palace, where his father sent him for socialization, was remarkably profound. The demise of the Alaafin has left a void at the core of the Yoruba nation. History, power, alliances, collaboration, and politics will not be the same with the transition of Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III to the realm of ancestors, where he is now ruling in the unseen world.

For a monarch of Yoruba extraction to sit on the throne of his ancestors for more than half a century, surrounded by the powerful (and much-dreaded) Oyo Mesi, the Ultimate Council of Kingmakers, this Alaafin was a regal, spiritual and political enigma whose reign will be indelibly carved in the annals of Yoruba history,

Remain alive, Ikú Bàbá Yèyé, Omo iku t’iku o le pa!

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.


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Nigeria’s Forthcoming Presidential Drama



Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof. Tony Afejuku

By Tony Afejuku

    Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s political strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s democratic strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s law and legal strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s capitalist development strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s economic strategists? Who are President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s media strategists? These questions consisting of verbal repetition which emphasizes what President Tinubu and the masses of our people are up against are ones that cannot be swept under the carpet and must not be swept under the carpet. 

    Our new president is barely less than a few days in office yet he and his strategists have conspicuously made conspicuously avoidable mistakes – which indicate to me that sooner than later the president and his strategists will distrust themselves.

    Let us take the president’s “subsidy is gone” issue – which I referred to last week. Hell! His first outing has caused us a disastrous disaster. He and his strategists are behaving as our conquerors right from the day the first of their presidency which is our new presidency. They want us to sink it in our consciousness that their concrete actions any time and at all times will and must achieve particular outcomes which will and must prosper them. The people don’t matter. Or the people will only matter if and when they want them to matter. What this means is that our new helmspersons have no eye to history. The people and the masses are forever to be cheated and treated unjustly. Their thinking is absurd but there is no absurdity in their consciousness. This explains why the president, encouraged by his strategists in every department, could terminate fuel subsidy in one wicked and malicious phrase and simultaneously could similarly allow a litre of petrol to be sold for above five hundred naira. As many people have rightly said, no thought of the masses of Nigerians came out of the hearts of President Tinubu and his cohorts of flatterers. If the president and his cohorts were comrades we would have discovered and discerned order and discipline and justice in their first undertaking which has foreshadowed what is to come from this regime. They behaved as if the people and the Nigerian Labour Congress did not exist. 

    Now when the Nigerian Labour Congress and its affiliate leadership bodies and organisations were ready for a strike and un-strategically gave sufficient notice to that effect, what did President Tinubu on the advice or prodding of his strategically conscious lieutenants do? Rather than admit his strategic error and apologise to the people and the NLC for taking the clearly wrong action, President Tinubu put on a bold face to tell us that he is another ugboju (strong eye/strong face) president of your country my country our country. We expected a drama that never came as expected. But the drama will still come.  Next time NLC and the people will no notice give this regime as President Tinubu did not give them any notice before he did to us what he did to us.

    As the last horrible regime did to ASUU, this new regime hopped to an Industrial Court in Abuja to halt the NLC’s well but strategically advertised strike, as I have said above. The new regime’s strategists wanted all of us to know that they are like the strategists of the former regime who were in total control of our courts and judges and justices. The judiciary’s fear of the executive is still very much alive. And the judiciary has no soldier it seems again to stand up for the judiciary. There is no judge or justice in the land who justly can stand up for the rule of law, it seems. The masses and people and labour unions will always be worsted by the executive in our courts of law regardless of what the law is or says. The image of the law yesterday is still the image of the law today before our very eyes. Is it not absurd that the rule of law only favours the executive in all sensitive cases? Must every sensitive case be in favour of the federal government and its mighty might that readily is no might that is might at the end of the day? But every court in the land is more or less a riddle which only our presidential strategists and democrats who in fact are not democrats have numerous keys to. But the whole thing is a joke. Our sanctuary or temple of justice is a stage for the theatre of the absurd. Here I remember the words of William L. Howarth, a more than worthy international literary scholar and critic – “when absurdity meets absurdity, the result is perfect sense.” Phew! 

    So far I have learnt nothing from the case the PDP and LP presidential candidates and their parties have taken to the presidential election tribunal. I know nothing of the happenings there so far. But the drama there will soon hit us. And those who have been following events there closely and reporting them in our newspapers will soon inform us of a visual riddle and its peculiar image being observed there. The lines of the presidential lawyers and those of the opposing lawyers will sooner or later be openly on display on our screens via home video. All notions will be dramatized even though the masses of our people have been barred through the presidential election tribunal preliminary ruling from enjoying live television broadcasts, transmissions and reports of the exciting expository that would and will be revealed at the tribunal. The authority of the court that has prevented our people from exercising their rightful large and tranquil eyes is the undemocratic authority against the doctrine and principle of protecting the weak against the strong – who more often than not are always in the wrong. For how long will the doctrinal barriers placed between our common people and their right to equity and justice continue? Let the people keep on experiencing the hardship they are experiencing. Let the people keep on being oppressed. Let the people keep on being graceful and melancholic in their pains and travails. And let, too, the president and his strategists and cohorts continue to go to our televisions stations and tell lies and lies. Let the president and his strategists and cohorts through their power of dogmatic religions and of their practicing or public oratory, keep on doing in so short a time what their predecessors did – everything will turn out to be what they never saw in their havens and ovens of rituals. And the drama in the court will be the drama of dramas. All of us reading this will in the end be exciting exciters. The judges and justices will  realize, before they know it, that the courts have their limits no matter the conditions of tyranny and despotism they work under. Let us all expect the expected and the unexpected at the same time. 

    The strategy of the people is the strategy of the people. We wait for the drama through the manipulative power of the people that no witch-doctor can cow. Unless President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is on the side of the people and he becomes their president rather than that of the enemies of their progress, there is nothing his strategists can do in the end to bail him out of the drama that is to come. All the master rhetoricians thoroughly versed in the arts and magic of persuasion or argument and capable of logical manoeuvres that serve his and their purposes, will inevitably become non-persons in their own drama of greatness. Let us expect the expected and the unexpected. This columnist who loves this country your country his country our country more than you do has spoken. Ignore him at your peril. Thunder! Yes. But it is not yet. But its time is its time. 

Afejuku can be reached via +2348055213059.

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African Marginal Identities And The Tyranny Of The Majority



Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Nothing is far worse than the tyranny of the majority, and if one hides under the primacy of the majority, it will not always be a representation of the truth, reality, and the right perception. The majority can always be wrong. Many of the greatest atrocities in human history are committed by the general subscriptions of the majority and justification thereof. The domination of one group over the others creates a margin in society, casting some into the quest of finding their strength and re-understanding their identities. Africa has more than 1.4 billion people, but with a high rate of diversities, understanding, culture, and conviction. Also, the propensity of general similarities of societal attitudes has exerted similar problems across the continent.

The fate of marginal identities has much to question and a lot to discuss, despite the easy exits Africans take from advancing such discussions and ignoring the obvious. Those with marginal identities are evidence of realities and their discriminations, oppression, and subjugation are disguised issues the continent enjoys suffocating luxuries from and care less about giving the marginals breathing space, which will be discussed in this part. Diversity ought to foster unity and strengthen the development of the continent because of the availability of creative variety, making it a model to all. Unfortunately, ethnic hegemony, fundamentalism, gender domination and subjections, extreme cultural conservativeness, and prejudicial convictions have created more gaps among the people. While these are unsurprising, the deafening silence, oblivion, and discussion-apathy that those who matter in the continent have shown towards the subject put one in fear of what is yet to come.

Millions of Africans die year in and year out from the hegemony of the majority, which drives many into psychological and physical damage. One then tends to ask what the fate of minorities would be in years to come. The LGBTQI+ persons are victims of entire citizenries and systems, including rural dwellers who make up about 52.13 percent of Africans and are destructively cut off from the mainstream supply lines; refugees, displaced and stateless individuals subjected to inhuman treatments, constant persecution, and wasting away at borders and camps despite the supposed celebrated African unity mentality; slaves and pawns that society have drawn out their wills to the hands of some wicked individuals; disabled people with lesser societal attentions, with the few given to them objectized; marginalized ethnic groups; politically disadvantaged women and youth; secluded women; and people living with albinism. Many of these are common marginal identities with daily unfavorable encounters with others. 

The level of diversity in Africa has necessitated the rise in marginal identities and their marginalization rate. While it is desirable to keep the tenets of culture intact at all times, one fundamental characteristic of culture is its susceptibility to change and its ability to accommodate those changes, expand, and adapt them with contemporariness subjected to the details of the people. Societies change, and Africa has seen several developments in ethical values in recent times as many of our convictions are questioned and their continuous viabilities are in doubt. The influx of globalization and modern cultural advancements that have diffused into Africa has allowed people to gain and regain consciousness about their identity and re-construe the perspective understanding of who they are.

Society is ideologically expanding on all fronts and there is nothing anyone can do about it, no matter how long parts of society hold back. Do not get me wrong; I do not state that African cultural values should change or that the novel perspectives about values should displace the traditional preconceptions that would be a step towards attracting identity loss and defeating all the aims of Pan-Africanism and Africanism endeavors made in the past and striving in the presence. The position is that the culture must adjust to accommodate people who are inhumanly subjected to identical massacre, personality conflict and oppression. It is to say that the culture should shell off dangerously prejudicial values. For instance, the killing of twins was part of the etymological conviction of the Efik people in Nigeria, who believed the children were a bad omen. Such trials by ordeal and other similar cultures have given way because of their negative impacts on society, despite the resistance of some people. This is the same spirit of logic I draw this disposition from and it compounds the need for cultural adjustment.

Issues around LGBTQI+ persons in Africa are one of the most controversial subjects of discussion to raise in Africa, even among scholars. This stems from Africans’ understanding of the subject as there is a general disposition about it because of its strong contradiction of several African cultural values and ethics. Gender and sexuality are core to African institutions, defining all activities and behavioral spaces in which people operate. As a result, one will understand the disposition of the continent to non-conformist sexualities and societal reactions to them. In several quarters, they are perceived to be an abomination to society, which may attract spiritual repercussions because of their capacity to degrade social contracts and fibers. Therefore, one cannot claim that the boasts of Africa in the spirit and existence of diversity spread to tolerance towards the LGBTQI+ community. This explains the disposition of the African governments and the jamborees of anti-gay or anti-sodomy legislations and policies that limit the constitutional rights of people with different sexualities.

Harsh societal reactions, vulnerability, and marginalization towards the LGBTQI+ community is a global phenomenon, as has been asserted by the Human Right Watch report in 2015, but Africa takes a strong position in antagonistic dispositions. Aside from cultural disposition, a strong angle to understanding the people’s reactions towards the community is the level of understanding an average African has about members of the community. Africa sees the identity as an emerging and novel culture inherited from Eurocentric domination and American influence rather than biological or instinctive orientations. Furthermore, Africans discuss it in lieu of spiritual conditioning that points against the emotional states of the African minds. Hence, they are subject to public criticism, embarrassed on the streets, sometimes stripped naked to “shame the devil,” and killed in the most inhuman manners on very bad days. But LGBTQI+ persons are human first, and many of them get their sexual orientations beyond their will and control. Would “what is” be considered non-existent? No matter how biased society might be, it is important to protect the people who identify as such, first as a human, before considering sexuality.

Another identity worth contemplating is women who continuously fall victim to societal bias against the role of women and the understanding of women. Africa has a special hierarchical approach to social structure, and after the advent of colonialism, the response to the status of women has worsened from the level and rate of patriarchal prejudice that existed before. However, one must state that the continent has been moving positively towards gender inclusion and reconstructing the role of women. Politics, social roles, sexualities, and identification are problems women face in African society. There is large political marginalization in terms of contesting or participating in roles and elections. Although the political spaces in Africa have been opening up to women, the continent has seen female presidents and leaders like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Slyvie Kiningi, Ivy Matsepe-Cassaburi, Rose Francine Rogombe, Joyce Hilda Banda, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, Sahle-Work Zewde, Samia Suluhu Hassan, and other influential female African leaders. In the Nigerian 2023 general elections, there was a considerable increase in the number of female voters–52.5% were male voters, and a close 47.5% were female. However, females still face social discrimination in the continent as several believe that the only place they can function is the home.

In addition, millions of African women still live in seclusions in one form or the other, including Purdah systems, widowhood, and different religio-cultural conditionings. Some of them are cut off from the rest of society, incapacitating them and reducing their role in the developmental process of the continent. This results from beliefs, as several of the secluded women are not victims but have done so intentionally. Hence, addressing marginalization in this context must be done within the confines of culture and tradition. Women’s sexuality is taken very seriously in an average African society. It is the reason for many conservative cultures and opinions about women and a driving factor behind the evils of female genital mutilation and rigid sexual rules around women. The sacred African angles to women’s sexuality have brought about spiritual constructions that have attracted nebulous assaults and ritualism towards women because of the conception that they are especially spiritually different.

Also, ethnic differences and conflicts result from marginalization, creating compulsory but strong marginal identities. The diverse characteristics of the continent have brought about the existence of small minority groups shocked by the hegemonies of the majority. Crisis in Ethiopia, rivalries in Zimbabwe, agitations in Nigeria, unrests in Rwanda and Burundi, Kenyan wars, and other unrest in Mali and others are largely traceable to ethnic marginalization and domination. This has claimed millions of lives on the continent and has rendered many helpless. Ethnicity is the test of African unity and the continent is failing woefully in this regard.

    In 2021, it was stated that Africa has about 52.13% of its population dwelling in rural areas. This shows that sometimes majority and minority factors are not often based on the number in comparison but influence in comparison. Burundi alone has about 85.94% of its population living in rural areas. According to the World Bank, there are no less than 687,081,738 Africans in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Individuals are the majority but have minority voices and influence, except in certain situations. Interestingly, the food-producing populations are rural dwellers, yet development often passes over them. This continuous marginalization of these people is as dangerous to the continent as taking slow and gradual poisons. On a larger scale, this goes to the root of refugees, stateless, and displaced persons who are not considered key to societal constructions.

    People living with disabilities are another identity that society has not been able to open its arms towards, and when such sympathy is done, it is often done in the most embarrassing forms. Africans have generally stereotyped people with disability with some level of condemnation. It does not matter what one does; as far as one is living with a disability, you are considered poor and discriminated against because society does not expect any level of mental or physical ability from people with disabilities. It is more pitiful that a spiritual status is attached to these persons, making them vulnerable to abuse, violence, ritual killing, and objectification. More particularly, people with albinism, hunchbacks, twins, and others with special forms of birth are subjected to consistent violations, abuse, and ritualism. Countries like Tanzania, Malawi, Nigeria, and others have reported cases of grievous assaults and killings of people with albinos. They are often seen as ritual objects and materials for power.

    Notably, the first step towards achieving reasonable solutions is to allow society to become more tolerant through awareness and collaborative approaches. There is a need for orientation change across Africa and the development of enforceability measures. Without a doubt, solutions to several of these discriminatory social convictions are not in aggressive movements, as many international and non-profit organizations have taken gradual steps that incorporate cultural and traditional peculiarities.

(Prt 1 of the Extract of the 2023 Audrey Richards Distinguished Public Lecture, University of Cambridge, June 7, 2023).


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Think Aloud: Beyond Literacy and Numeracy In Schools



Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State
Dr Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

Think Aloud is an initiative by the Critical Thinking Social Empowerment Foundation to foster critical thinking culture in schools, and in the society at large. The goal is to realize a sociocultural change and substitute a culture of suppression of questions with a habit of expression of doubts and critical viewpoints. The poor state of education and schooling is often rooted in limited focus and appreciation of these mental skills. Educational authorities put much emphasis on literacy, that is, the ability to read, write and effectively communicate. And numeracy, the ability to understand and work with numbers. No doubt, these skills are foundational to education and learning. But they are not enough. For instance, in an attempt to improve the quality of education, the government launched a program, Read Aloud. This initiative encourages children to read out loud, to improve their proficiency in reading, comprehension and communication. This program aims to create and stimulate interests of children in reading books and other forms of literature. It is a part of the effort to improve the reading culture in schools and society at large. To this end, the Lagos state government has been promoting “Read Aloud Lagos”. It urges parents and families to read aloud every day for 20 minutes so that children can develop and become lifetime readers. According to the Read Aloud Lagos web site, the program “builds many important foundational skills, introduces vocabulary, provides a model of fluent, expressive reading, and helps children recognize what reading for pleasure is all about”.


Indeed, reading is the bedrock of learning and comprehension. It helps in nourishing the mind. Without a robust reading culture, children cannot effectively communicate or express themselves. Their ability to demonstrate knowledge and understanding is impaired. While it is important to teach children to read, and get them to improve their use and knowledge of words, it is equally pertinent to get them to think about what they read, and communicate. Children are by nature curious and inquisitive. It is necessary to encourage them to fully exercise their curiosity and inquisitiveness, to question and interrogate the texts that they read. In many cases what children read or are made to read are not true or are partially so. Many texts contain gaps in reasoning and construction, incorrect ideas and mistaken opinions. They misrepresent issues, and portray one-sided views and representations.


So, while it is important to encourage children to read aloud, it is imperative to equip them with questioning skills and complement their reading program with an initiative that emphasizes critical thinking, reflection and interrogation. It is necessary to give children and families the tools and facilities that can enable them to ponder and contemplate, think aloud, yes critically reason aloud.


As a part of this program, participants, in this case, children, are made to generate questions without inhibitions. They are nudged to give free rein to their curious and inquisitive minds. They are encouraged to ask any questions that occur to them; questions that go through their minds while performing particular tasks, and while carrying out everyday duties and assignments. The program is predicated on the notion that humans have and habor questions from childhood to adulthood, from the cradle to the grave. Human beings are questioning beings, Homo interrogans. They entertain doubts and objections in all areas of human endeavour. Interrogation of issues is a part of the human makeup, mental operations and intellectual chemistry. Questions occur or pop up in the minds of people while performing various tasks. Many people refrain from asking questions due to the heavy price and penalty on interrogation of issues and authorities. Questions are part and parcel of everyday experiences. Questions draw attention, and enlighten. Questions try to foreground sides, aspects and forms too often ignored or overlooked. Questions accentuate human sense of taste, and appetite for knowledge, the hunger for wisdom and the quest for truth and understanding. Questions form a key part of the human learning process. They drive human curiosity, exploration, investigation and sense of inquiry. Incidentally, many questions largely go unexpressed or suppressed due to a lack of space, program or opportunity to openly and publicly ask them. Many questions do not see the light of the day due to dogmatic and authoritarian vested interests, due to a culture that rewards and makes a virtue out of blind faith and unquestionability, rote learning, memorization and regurgitation of whatever has been taught or preached. The program, Think aloud, is an effort and initiative to change this culture of learning and foster curiosity and inquisitiveness in children. It aims to transform the educational sector by encouraging free interrogation of ideas, texts, issues and experiences in schools.

Education authorities should embrace this initiative, and seize the opportunity to improve the quality of learning in schools. Children should be taught to read and numerate. But more importantly, children should be taught to question what they read and numerate.

Dr. Igwe directs Critical Thinking Social Empowerment Foundation

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