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
Reading Professor Olu Obafemi’s Melodies Of Inclement Climes
By Tony Afejuku
“Happiness is a crime in Nigeria.” This is a line – a line of distinction – I am lifting from a message sent to me as a response to my last Friday’s column on ‘“Professor Mabel Evwierhoma on Rubiales and “Wetin women want.”’ The owner of the lifted line is a positively dangerous poet, radical scholar and critic Professor Owojecho Omoha of the University of Abuja. I will at a later date revisit the full message of this literary scholar who is one of the distinguished boosters of this column.
Why is his quoted line meaningful or relevant to me today? For good reason, I have been trying to reinvigorate the idea or thought of happiness in Nigeria – your country my country our country – despite our common concerns concerning our dissatisfaction with our ungrateful leaders who significantly are our demonic consumers consuming this land, our land centuries and more than centuries ago. On my way to Warri last Friday I was thinking deeply about this when I was caught in the Benin-Ologbo obstacle on that cruel stretch of the Benin-Sapele-Warri Road of urbanized or almost urbanized jungle. I was clutching Professor Olu Obafemi’s very new book of poems, his fresh new volume of poetry which he quite properly entitles Melodies of Inclement Climes. I was looking at the moving poems in my desire to erase temporarily from my mind the vicious, tedious, muddy, degraded watery road which is evidently and steadily now the road of the unhappy people of the Niger Delta, and it was at this moment that Owojecho Omoha’s line found me. But I was already engrossed in the first offering, the first poem, in which the Niger Delta malaise stares at me – even though Professor Olu Obafemi is not from the Niger Delta, your Niger Delta my Niger Delta our Niger Delta. Ologbo where conservatively above three thousand trucks (trailers) and other uncountable vehicles – commercial and private – were practically at a stand-still, moving without moving because of the motorable-less motor-way, is one of the unfortunate or tragic by-products of urbanization that is no urbanization in the Niger Delta. Ologbo is a border town, a border community that links Edo State and Delta State. It is the most significant place that links Itsekiri, Urhobo and Edo (Benin) communities. It is the place where the work of cooperation and mutual help among the communities and travellers through the communities can find significantly honest expression that should capture our cultural and patriotic ethos that should give us good health and happiness. This is what Olu Obafemi seems to tell us, among other things, in “Those who gaze beyond today:”
While others like us
Bleed our land to death
Greedily erecting mansions
In other people’s lands,
Laundering filthy coins
Stolen from the sweaty brows
Of the poor and the deprived
In our own un-honed beaches and sandy shores!
Lay to ruin and waste and wreck
The black Gold!
As I read Professor Olu Obafemi’s Melodies at the shores of Ologbo two things emerged to me and rose to my dense imagination in a more than realistic way and manner. The first is that Olu Obafemi is a patriot and a national poet. His imagination extends beyond his Kiri-land (North Eastern Yoruba-land in Northern Nigeria) streams to dwell on national problems that depict our respective inclement climes – or, to put it differently, in his “Streams of Kiriland” (I am not alluding specifically to his poem that bears this title) we have a glimpse of our respective communal malaise that shows us our respective inclement land in our untamed beaches in Ologbo of the Niger Delta and elsewhere outside Ologbo or Kiriland. As beautiful and as nostalgic Kiriland is or may be it is strange that urbanization and civilization have not befriended it. It is this perspective that throws up to me the second vital aspect of Melodies of Inclement Climes. Olu Obafemi conservers what is best from his (and our) past in order for the merciless problems and inclementness of today can be properly addressed. So I am not reading Professor Olu Obafemi as an entire nostalgic poet after all! Our lives’ test is not and cannot be the past or the future. It is now. It is today. It is the present. It is the here and now. Are we happy today in our country – economically, commercially, politically, educationally, medically, technologically, hygiene-wise and otherwise? Without endorsing the present that is before us we cannot honestly face tomorrow. We live in an economy and in a political clime ruled and propelled by ingratitude, disaffection and dissatisfaction and exploitation and oppression. Let me quote our poet of melodies dwelling on our inglorious climes: “Let our earth be replenished again/As scavengers and scoundrels are rid of our land.” (39).This must be so if we must eliminate “Death [that] clings to our throats/As mortal Anopheles, King of Death –/Husband of malaria, swarm/And corpses hold parades on our shores” (44). What our country needs now is a renewed vision, a full insight into our shortcomings, limits and possibilities informed by our awareness and knowledge of our place in the comity of nations. This is an absolute necessity if we must live an adequately and properly human life.
Professor Olu Obafemi is a super ambidextrous writer and scholar of more than numerous parts. He is best known as a play-wright, dramatist and theatre personage, theorist and critic of a profoundly profound mind. But he is without question a poet of distinction as well – which the present volume superbly makes evident. Melodies of Inclement Climes appeals to me exceedingly from the perspectives of the rhetoric of poetic drama, phenomenology, biography, memory, wrap of childhood, autobiography, history, activism, politics, geography, social exploration, revolutionary revolution, psychology, public health, progressive variation in language and feeling. I am on purpose not dwelling on all these perspectives in this briefly appealing enterprise to engender every reader’s interest in Melodies. (I am thinking of something adventurous and enchantingly enchanting outside here). With respect to the last named subject, let me titillate my readers thus: I wish you to join me to think of Professor Olu Obafemi as a magnificent poet who concentrates everything feelingly into a sentence –“Melodies of Inclement Climes;” “And hardened villains of misrule;” “And love shall visit these shores again;” “This is the story of our nation now; Debtor-elephant.”
The beauty of Professor Olu Obafemi’s new volume of poetry is the trick of its language. The emotions or feelings the poet generates are significant enough to ensure full daylight in our inclement climes. It is thus not for nothing that Professor Olu Obafemi has been a recipient of the Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) and wearer of other laurels. His rhetoric is not any adornment or inflation of words done for the reader’s unquestionable insight or for a particular effect but for a general creative power that has an intensity and concision of indubitably great poetry.
Melodies of Inclement Climes will leap in my arms, hands, and mind for a pretty long time of creative reading and critical happiness. This is not an ostentatious praise, but the true judgment of a reader and critic – this reader and critic – of esthetic and moral sensibility. I duly bow and salute the poet for this fresh volume. Join me in my bow and salutation.
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
The West And The Hypocrisy Of Democracy
By Toyin Falola
Western deception has been with Africa forever:
1493: Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull, “Inter Caetera,” proclaiming the right of Spain and Portugal to enslave Africans and own the land. They were subjects. They stole your people and your land.
1885: Africa was a Dark Continent. It required colonization to become civilized. Europe would bring change and civilize them. They stole your raw materials and truncated your self-development.
1940: When over a million Africans fought in Europe, North Africa and the Far East during the Second World War, the West convinced them they were dying for freedom and democracy. But where in Africa do they receive freedom and democracy? Indeed, Apartheid was inaugurated in 1948 in South Africa.
When will this deception come to an end? So, Gabon and Niger were democracies before the 2023 coups? You must be using the wrong dictionary to define democracy. Cameroon under the invalid Paul Biya is a democracy? You must be confusing the Mali Empire with the modern country of Cameroon. And the presidents who rule for as long as they want practising democracy?
You need a little education.
Recent developments in Africa’s political space, particularly the growing number of military takeovers, have informed fresh queries around the expressions of neo-colonialism in Africa and the commitment to liberal democracy as the ideal political model for the region. The point of reference for these queries is the ceremonial reactions from the acclaimed “champions of democracy” in the West, who waste no time issuing condemnations at every instance of “democratic failure” on the continent without any actual commitment to ensuring that power indeed lies with the people. Not only have these champions of African interests—the United States (US), Britain and France—touted democracy as the best system of political organization to achieve political stability and economic prosperity in Africa, but they have also prosecuted wars, allegedly in its defence, which cost millions of lives and destabilized entire regions. However, it is not enough to accuse our benevolent friends in the West of hypocrisy without providing compelling proof of double-dealing in delivering their duties as democratic crusaders. After all, in a democratic setting, all are innocent until proven guilty.
As a philosophy of government, democracy has existed since the Greco-Roman times. However, its foray into Africa can be traced to the eve of independence when Britain and France introduced forms of local representation as concessions to indigenous demands for independence. Thus, from 1959, parliamentary elections and other democratic institutions started to become commonplace on the continent. But, as it would turn out, this democratic experiment, which formed part of the third (global) wave of democracy, was to be short-lived—derailed as it was by fluctuating Western interests on the continent.
Guiding Western interest in Africa from the 1950s was the ideological war between the West (mainly the USA) and the Soviet Union. The “Cold War,” as it came to be known, was the first incident to unmask the real intentions of the West for post-colonial Africa. In their quest to emerge as the world’s sole superpower, the US and the Soviet Union, who actively strove to undermine each other’s influence by, among other things, advancing their political ideologies around the world, turned to Africa as another important frontier of conquest. While the Soviet Union armed African revolutionary movements against their Western colonial overlords and provided support to openly communist governments, Washington concluded that, to effectively check the spread of Soviet influence on the continent, it was more expedient to enthrone biddable leaders in African states than it was to woo them with any ideological arguments or economic incentives.
Anxious to ensure power was handed over to reliable politicians, Britain and France became eager participants in the US policy in Africa. Together, the US and its allies targeted venal local strongmen, preferably with military backgrounds and authoritarian tendencies, who, in collaboration with its intelligence agencies, ousted legitimate/democratic governments. Notable victims and beneficiaries of this plot included (in the former category) Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Patrice Lumumba of Congo DRC, Sylvio Olympio of Togo and (in the latter category) Idi Amin of Uganda, Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo DRC and Gnassingbé Eyadema of Togo, to mention a few. Consequently, thirty-three African countries that achieved independence between 1956-1970 became authoritarian immediately or not long after.
Another demonstration of the complete disregard that the West has for democracy, peace/stability and human rights in Africa is its willingness to engulf the entire region in conflict so that it can achieve its “strategic interests.” Once again, we begin from the Cold War era where, having recently come out of a highly destructive war in Europe (in 1945) and being cautious of engaging in another, the West and the Eastern Bloc turned Africa into the site of their proxy wars. In southern Africa, where the US considered both Angola and Mozambique as areas of “strategic interests,” Washington armed the 200,000 Portuguese conscripts, who went on to fight a protracted war against local nationalist revolutionaries, with imported weapons, which included defoliants and napalm. In Angola, the US, in cooperation with Apartheid South Africa, backed the National Union for Total Independence (UNITA) against the country’s (Soviet-backed) leading national liberation front, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). There were also similar cases in northern Africa where Sudan was funded and armed by the US against Egypt and Ethiopia, who had also pitched their tents with Moscow. These conflicts and the resultant proliferation of arms saw the loss of millions of African lives from war and famine and a general destabilization of the region.
While the West cannot be said to have been directly involved in all the occasions of transition from democratic to authoritarian rule, in more than a few instances, the leaders of newly independent democratic/multi-party African states seized the opportunity of Western patronage to quickly switch to one-party/despotic rule. In other cases, it was the corruption, resource mismanagement, “tribalism,” patrimonialism, clientelism and imperialism perpetrated by a Western-backed ruling political class which formed the basis of military takeovers (coups). Nevertheless, in this atmosphere of quasi-democratic rule, full-fledged despotism, military rule and Apartheid—where national resources were siphoned by kleptocratic regimes and millions of Africans either became refugees or died as a result of civil wars, hunger, and human rights abuses—our western “friends” were content to look the other way if the government in place proved itself an ally of Washington.
Perhaps the most glaring example of the West’s democratic hypocrisy in Africa was its age-long support for the highly racist and politically repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa. Like the French, who were able to cajole Washington into believing that they were fighting communist-backed insurgents in Algeria, the South African Apartheid regime, for forty years, posed as the last bastion against communists in Africa—an attitude that was able to secure a steady flow of western arms. This, alongside the West’s tacit approval, allowed for one of Africa’s most despicable shows of human debasement, carried out in the name of imperialism and racial superiority. After all, as President Ronald Regan remarked in 1981, South Africa was “essential to the free world in its production of minerals we all must have.”
The end of the Cold War changed Western attitudes towards Africa. Without the Soviet threat, the West leaned more towards development diplomacy and foreign aid regimes as the main thrust of its foreign policy in Africa. Foreign aid to Africa, however, turned out to be a Trojan horse. Already saddled with the task of building vibrant economies whilst also harmonizing the aspirations of the different ethnic nationalities which characterized them, African countries, especially in Francophone Africa, also had to grapple with the undermining economic and political agreements they had been coerced into signing with their erstwhile colonial overlord as a condition for independence and continued patronage. To make matters worse, some African countries were, at the end of the Cold War, either fighting or had just come out of civil war. This, combined with the widespread corruption and mismanagement of national resources which characterized Africa’s tyrannical governments, put many Af5rican countries at the mercy of international monetary agencies (the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank) and their financiers whose aid they were now heavily dependent on.
At first, these Bretton Woods institutions were content to grant loans/aid, at debilitating interest rates no less, to authoritarian leaders who used them to perpetuate themselves in power and, in return, provided the former with mineral and other economic concessions. However, without the Cold War pressures, more emphasis was placed on the liberalization and capitalist/free-market aspects of US foreign policy to guarantee return on investments. Soon enough, Structural Adjustments Programmes (SAPs) were introduced as a precondition for further loans/aid. Said adjustments, which demanded limited government intervention in the public sector, i.e., removing government subsidies in energy (fuel/gas), education and health care, brought untold hardships to already suffering populations. And as research has shown, poverty and non-tax revenue make for the ideal democratic environment. In other words, “when the government is not beholden to citizens for its funding, there is less accountability and less reason to democratize” (Tilly 1990). Instead, leaders simply use the “free” funding from natural resources (oil) and foreign loans/aid to buy enough support to remain in power.
Judging from the various expressions of Western interests in Africa over decades, it goes without saying that the West simply pays lip service to ideologies when convenient. Although many Africans might not object to the cynical pragmatism that has always guided Western foreign policy in Africa, I dare say they will not stand for the continued lies and hypocrisy that have characterized Western reactions to African developments. Even if the above-described instances of Western hypocrisy in Africa were to be argued to be in the past, it is a living past for Africa.
Africa, today, still has authoritarian governments in place whose political repression and human rights abuses go on unchecked by our democracy and rule of law-loving friends in the West. After being siphoned by kleptocratic governments, our commonwealth still finds its way to Western banks, where it sits and improves the local economy. Western interests continue to impoverish Africans and destabilize their regions. So, Africans are today saying to the West, its diplomats, presidents, and the other agents of its propaganda: “Your gambit in Africa is up. Our people are awakened!”
The West has sold you a fake product called democracy. Africans, your vote is not a sign of democracy. It is no more than a deception. There is no democracy without accountability. You are just voting thieves to power. There is no democracy without transparency. You are just using your votes in support of crooks and thugs. There is no democracy without good governance. Your vote is facilitating theft. Maybe you are waiting for your turn to steal. There is no democracy without development. Your vote is moving you back to the Stone Age. Even early humans knew when to replace stones with iron during the Stone Age. Africa, you don’t have a democracy. Anyone you have not appointed cannot disappoint you! Citizens are being deceived, and they are deceiving themselves. Organize yourselves at various levels and think of alternatives to democracy or, at the minimum, how accountability and transparency will form the core of your democratic practices. Your lifetime president is not a Democrat. He is an authoritarian kleptocrat far worse than the combination of Doris Payne, Stephane Breitwieser, Simon Leviev, Veerappan, Derek Smalls, Vincenzo Peruggia, Bonnie and Clyde, Natwarlal, Carl Gugasian, Frank Abagnale, Anna Sorokin, Albert Spaggiari, Jesse James, Anthony Strangis, and Bill Mason. Do you know these names?
Informaction: Theory Of Change And Witch Persecution In Africa
By Leo Igwe
A theory of change explains how activities, measures, and steps undertaken to address a problem could facilitate or help realize certain changes or outcomes. It articulates how an impact would be achieved and some progress made. In this case, the expected outcome is an end to witch-hunting in Africa. Unlike in Western countries, the persecution of supposed witches persists in the region. Witch bloodletting takes place in many parts of Africa. The persecution of people accused of witchcraft leads to horrific abuses and death. Alleged witches are attacked, tortured, lynched, imprisoned, or banished. They are subjected to jungle justice, trial by ordeal, forced disappearance, and internal displacement. Simply put, those who are accused of perpetrating occult harm are treated without mercy or compassion. Incidentally, the impression is that nothing could be done to combat or neutralize this dark and destructive phenomenon, that witch hunting is cultural to Africans. The impression is that seeking to eradicate witch-hunting in African societies is a futile effort. This notion is gravely mistaken and needs to be corrected. The Advocacy for Alleged Witches was launched in 2020 to correct these misconceptions and facilitate effective actions. It works to fill the missing link in the activism against witch persecution in the region. The AfAW is a protest initiative, and exists to challenge and dispel allegations of witchcraft.
The main goal is to end witch-hunting in Africa by 2030. This objective sounds like an ambitious goal or some pipe dream, but it can be achieved. And AfAW aims to end witch hunting based on an informactional theory of change. This theory rests on two pillars: information and action because witch hunting persists in the region due to lack of information, or misinformation, and due to lack of action, inaction, or infraction. The Advocacy for Alleged Witches uses this two-pronged approach to combat witch-hunting in Africa.
At the global level, there is a lack of information about witch-hunting in Africa. Although a lot has been written and published on witchcraft in African societies, many people in Europe and America claim do not know about raging witch hunts in the region. Part of the problem is that these publications are filled with misinformation and misinterpretation of witchcraft accusations and witch persecution in the region. Scholars have presented witchcraft accusations as benign and useful to African societies. Meanwhile these accusations are not in any way gentle or pleasant. Studies have portrayed witchcraft allegations as stabilizing and harmonizing mechanisms. They have overlooked the critical and skeptical perspective of witchcraft beliefs. Scholars have largely ignored the accused side of the story, the harmful and destructive consequences of witchcraft imputations. At the Advocacy for Alleged Witches, we work to correct the misrepresentation of witchcraft accusations in Africa. We campaign to draw attention to this imbalance in the perception of the phenomenon. But correct information is not enough. Balanced interpretation does not suffice. To combat witch persecution, information needs to be turned into action, into effective policies and interventions.
On the action side, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches takes measures to address the problem because lack of adequate information has occasioned inaction or infractions. Wrong information has resulted in apathy and indifference towards witch hunting in Africa. Many international agencies are reluctant to act; they have refused to take action or to treat the issue with the urgency it deserves. With adequate and balanced information, international organizations would take appropriate actions.
At the local level, the Advocacy for Alleged Witches works to fill the information and action gaps. Many people accuse and engage in witch hunts due to a lack of information or misinformation. Accusers act based on a lack of information about the cause of illnesses, deaths, and other misfortune. Many people persecute witches because they have incorrect information about who or what is responsible for their problems, because they are not informed about what to do and where to go, who or what to blame for their misfortunes. Many people do not know what constitutes sufficient reason and causal explanations for their problems. As part of the efforts to end witch-hunting, the AfAW highlights misinformation and disinformation about causes of misfortune, illness, death, accidents, poverty, and infertility, including the misinformation that charlatans and con artists, god men and women such as traditional priests, pastors, mallam and marabouts use to exploit poor ignorant folks. The AfAW provides evidence-based knowledge, explanation, and interpretation of misfortunes. It informs the public about the law and other existing mechanisms to address allegations of witchcraft. The AfAW sensitizes the public and public institutions, including schools, colleges, and universities. It sponsors media programs, issues press releases, makes social media posts, and publishes articles and blogs on witch-hunting in the region.