Heart of Arts

A Review of Toyin Falola’s “Beyond Sectarianism: Harnessing the Socio-religious and Political Values for a Greater Nigeria”

Abdulkabir Muhammed

Earlier last week, Professor Toyin Falola delivered a lecture at the Lagos State University on Beyond Sectarianism: Harnessing the Socio-Religious and Political Values for a Greater Nigeria. A Konk Africanist, Falola, appeared in a blue Babariga and delivered, as always, an outstanding lecture that left me wondering why Nigeria still remains in these shackles. The Nigerian government disregards intellectuals. While not totally surprised, especially as I had witnessed his presentation two years ago, delivered at the first distinguished lecture series hosted by my department, History and International Studies, LASU, I still could not help pondering the practicality of Falola’s presentation. This is because the latter does not theorize his lectures; he relates practical examples.

For the first time such terms would be formalized, Falola categorized the Nigerian political leadership into four: Oselu, Ojelu, Otalu, and T’eminikan. These are Yoruba terms that can literally be translated as society’s administrators, society’s exploiters, society’s chapman or auctioneer, and the selfish, respectively.

Connotatively, Oselu is concerned with the day-to-day administration of a society. It was, according to Falola, a historically positive idea, which means “the ability for a set of leaders to transform society.” The Ojelu, on the other hand, permeates Nigeria’s politburo, which diverts society’s resources to their pockets. These are Nigerian politicians who hoard palliatives meant for the poor and vulnerable. A lawmaker who allegedly shared COVID-19 palliatives as birthday gifts falls under this category, and we can keep relating. The Otalu are those people who prefer to make gains in their country, even if this would cost them some invaluable members of such a society. This set of people, Falola claims, existed not later than the 15th century, when foreign slave dealers waited at the coasts to collect Africans captured by their own kings and slave raiders for personal motives. This explains why some African rulers, as history has it, signed treaties with European imperialists—during the heydays of imperialism—in order to keep a monopoly of the land. A close example was King Akitoye of Lagos, who conspired with the British to enable him to reinstall himself on the Lagos throne after he had been ousted by his uncle, Kosoko. A contemporary example may be sought in the successive government’s neglect of reviving Nigerian refineries. This would prevent them from cutting from the “cake of the subsidy.” What this translates to is a continuous dependence on the outside world. The T’eminikan are those leaders who would prefer to reach their ends, even if that would infringe on the rights of their people. This set of leaders is concerned with their own interests only. And I thought I had heard enough of these funny terms until another distinguished professor, Professor Amidu Sanni, begged to compliment the aforementioned elements by adding “Opalu”. This set of people results from the above categories, and their aim is to wreck (as the term implies) the whole society by pursuing their selfish interests. Opalu would not mind initiating policies that would leave their subjects in catastrophe.

All of the aforementioned, except the Oselu, Falola claimed, are present in Africa at the present time. One would want to ask why a society can be so corrupt. The professor gave two reasons: lack of shame and the absence of guilt (conscience), both of which are elements of values.

When some acts used to be shameful, social leaders led moderately. Titles and names were guided. Leaders realize they own the glory and shame of whether their society flourishes or withers. They know how disgraceful it is if a leader is to be jailed upon the end of their tenure. Hence, they are accountable to their subjects. These leaders, Falola claimed, are not limited to those in government; they include patriarchs, teachers, and even religious leaders; the former constitutes an informal authority. The sanctity of “shame” and the authority of a family head were what brought about the Yoruba maxim, “Olori ebi O’ gbodo gbo”, The patriarch must not know about it. This maxim exists no more in principle in Nigeria, where patriarchs and religious leaders decidedly desert values for personal gains. It is no more alarming to hear news of Alfas and pastors engaging in money rituals, sexual abuse, and money laundering. This kind of person would help Nigeria no more than by being a bad role model for the youth. Guilt, on the other hand, has bid Nigeria farewell. According to the professor’s definition, guilt is when you do a wrong act in secret and feel very bad about it. One wonders if Nigerian leaders (and followers alike) feel guilty about diverting public resources for private gains, rigging elections, and engaging in bribery, nepotism, and favoritism. They don’t!

The compere wouldn’t listen to Professor Toyin Falola talk the whole day. The professor recommends that Nigeria maintain the following: The two Abrahamic religions in Nigeria, Falola agreed, are full of values. While I was wondering why the professor was referencing holy books in such a situation, I remembered he once told a Tribune reporter how he believed in a Quranic verse that states that every man shall taste death. The professor admonishes us to make good use of those values in our religions. He added that values have to be integrated into leadership. In his 41-page lecture document, where he referenced about 63 books, journal articles, and conference lectures—I thought he was writing another book—he recommends that the Nigerian government establish harmonization (p. 23) and run an inclusive government (p. 24) that also appreciates “mentorship initiatives.” (p. 25) He tasked the Nigerian government to replicate a “Scandinavian paradigm of leadership”, (p. 24) as well as invoke the African philosophy of Ubuntu, “which espouses the notion that one’s existence is contingent upon the collective….”
Professor Toyin Falola is an ambassador for Nigeria, and the academics cannot afford to lose him at the time. His immense contributions to scholarship would probably have led Professor Amidu Sanni to name him Nigeria’s Aristotle. Although he conceded that his generation has failed the Nigerian youths, I join Professor Toyin Falola in reiterating that Nigeria can and will rise if all Nigerians see it as a responsibility.

Abdulkabir Muhammed writes from Lagos State University. He writes via abdulkabirm87@gmail.com.

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