Contemporary Problems With Roots In History: The Need Of Reappraisal
May I indulge Ray of Thought to grant me the leeway to title this lecture ‘CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS WITH ROOTS IN HISTORY: THE NEED FOR REAPPRAISAL.’
And I am going to depend on the thoughts and wisdom of late sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He is the ‘best president Nigeria never had’. He was recalled from prison during the turbulent period of Nigeria’s history to play the leading role as Commissioner for Finance and Vice Chairman of Federal Executive Council. He prosecuted the Nigerian civil war without borrowing money from IMF. As we shall see later, as the Premier of Western Nigeria, he structured his administration on four cardinal programmes:
- i) free and compulsory education
- ii) free healthcare provision
iii) minimum wage and
- iv) integrated rural/urban development.
Problems have characteristics. I’ll try to identify them and at the end hazard a definition of the word in the context of this lecture.
1) A problem is anything that adversely affects man’s physical, mental or psychological wellbeing and constitutes an obstacle to his enjoyment of life. Illness, physical or mental is a problem because it is an obstacle to enjoyment of good health.
2) Any situation, or state of affairs that stands between man and the attainment of objective to which he aspires is a problem. A student aspires to go to the university for a degree in a chosen discipline. He has the prerequisite qualifications but cannot because he has no money. He has a problem.
3) We may have a problem without being conscious of its cause. Our ancestors and some of our people in the remote rural areas, knew that mosquitoes exist. Even though they suffered from what came to be known as malaria, they did not know anopheles mosquito constituted a problem to them. Again Sahara Desert was for many centuries an insurmountable barrier to communication, cultural diffusion and commercial intercourse between Africans north and south of it. It shut off Africans in the south from intellectual and spiritual enlightenment that thrived and pervaded Egypt and the Mediterranean region. Though our ancestors were aware of the existence of the desert, they did not realize that it constituted an obstacle between them and the tremendous benefit that could have accrued to them.
4) A problem can be latent. Whether we are aware or not, it exits all the same. It continues to grow until something is done to exterminate it. Related to latent problem is its sister, referred to as patent problem. We are aware of the problem, but do not know what caused it. We might ascribe its cause to witchcraft, juju, and other means. Superstition takes over reason.
5) Solving a problem is akin to climbing a hill. The top opens up a new vista of cognition and widens the horizon for conceiving and perceiving fresh needs. In other words, the solution of a problem, ipso facto, sets in motion other dynamics which leads inexorably to the introduction of new problems. Consequently, the failure to solve a problem compounds the inevitable succeeding problem. Any failure, whether deliberate or inadvertent, to recognize and solve an instant problem will aggravate and complicate the next problem and make the solution of both old and new more intractable.
6) It is not enough to identify and ascertain what problem there is. Identification is not enough. The why of the problem must first be investigated for the purpose of understanding the problem in all its ramifications and for the purpose of devising an effective solution. And corollarily, problems are like plants. They have roots. If we destroy the roots, we would extirpate the cause of the problem and prevent its recurrence. But if we just cut the stalks and leave the roots untouched, the plant will without exception sprout again.
We can now attempt a definition of problem in the context used here.
“A PROBLEM IS ANYTHING OF WHICH MAN MAY OR MAY NOT BE CONSCIOUS OF, WHICH AFFECTS OR IS LIKELY TO AFFECT HIS WELLBEING ADVERSELY, AND WHICH HINDERS THE ATTAINMENT OF HIS OBJECTIVES AND THE SATISFACTION OF HIS NEEDS. ”
PROBLEMS IN HISTORICAL PERPECTIVES:
From the beginning of time, society has always been stratified into powerful minority Karl Marx referred to as bourgeoisie and majority enslaved proletariat. This dichotomy generated resentment and occasional hostility from the majority who were exploited and dominated class. The dominant class devised means to resolve these problems through ingenuity and manipulation. These means were not for the solution of problems created by the dominant class. They were for suppressing and containing the restiveness of the lumpenproletariat. Let us bear in mind that the dominant class had superior intellect. They exploited the ignorance of the dominated and enslaved class by creating socioreligious and sociopolitical myths. They created ‘gods’ in the sky well out of view, and spirits which filled the earth and its atmosphere. As the ‘gods’ and ‘spirits’ were invisible, the oppressors facilitated the emergence of priests who could hold dialogue with the gods and the spirits. They acted as spokesmen and interpreters for them through oracular pronouncements and laying down of taboos. The priests were very versed in the ritual of appeasement when the gods and spirits were angry. To complete the total control of the weak and the dominated proletariat, the bourgeoisie created the institution of divine kingship. The priest was the spokesman, interpreter and appeaser of the gods and spirits. The king was the divine representative on earth. His power over his subjects was absolute, overwhelming and unquestionable.
The masses were steep in ignorance, superstition and fear of the unknown. They wrongly imagined unknowable forces around them. The myths created by the bourgeoisie enjoyed indubitable credibility, and were accorded unquestioning obeisance in all things and at all times. The more awesome and gruesome the demands of the gods and the spirits thorough the priests, and more arbitrary the dictates of the kings were, the swifter and more devoted the hapless people were in their response and obedience.
These types of sociopolitical problems are still pervasive and resonate today in our society. They are called assignments and sowing of seed. Even though the proliteriat became conscious of the problem, they applied wrong solutions. To treat diseases they resorted more to incantations and black than than herbal preparations to effect cures. These problems were carried over into the next phase of history.
INTERCOURSE WITH WHITE MAN:
Our ancestors faced two main invaders: the missionaries and the merchant adventurers who were initially from mainland Europe. While the missionaries were trying to win souls for Christ, the merchant adventurers had one interest and one interest only: to extract as much of the mineral, natural and human resources for their personal interest and for the aggrandizement of their countries. They would stop at nothing, however odious and hellish, in accomplishing these ends. Consequently, at a time when Renaissance and Enlightenment was liberating Europe from spiritual and intellectual bondage of the Dark Ages, the White Race laid on our forebears four hundred years of spiritual and mental darkness, human degradation, darker and more macabre than anything known to mankind in history.
Slave trade posed for our ancestors many manifold and concatenated problems. Some were intangible and latent, which they were not aware of. They looked up to heaven for their solutions. Others were palpable and patent. These were deliberately ignored by the dominant classes who could have solved them. Their minds were thoroughly warped, debased and imbued with callousness and contempt towards their kith and kin. The resultant effect was that our ancestors cultivated inferiority complex, more deep seated as the centuries passed. Majority of them were stark illiterates. Even now illiteracy prevails in our rural areas. Even those who claim to be educated cannot be said to be well educated. All these denigration, man’s inhumanity to man, lack of education led to the underdevelopment of the subjective phase of the mind of our forebears.
Let me digress a little in order to explain what I mean by ‘underdevelopment of subjective phase of the mind’.
There are two levels of a man’s mind: the subconscious mind and the conscious mind. Let us look at subconscious mind first.
For those who proclaim theism, the subconscious mind is the indwelling God. (For discerning minds, God is not in heaven, He is in us). For psychologists, it is the seat of supreme intelligence, and of memory. Its resources can be tapped for man’s own good and wellbeing through certain techniques such as mysticism and autosuggestion. The condition of nirvana experienced by Buddhists and Hindus is the manipulation of the subconscious mind to obtain perfect bliss or oneness with Supreme Being. For biologists, the subconscious mind is the autonomic controller and regulator of all involuntary functions of the body, like heart beat and blood circulation. It must be stressed that the subconscious mind is complete and self-sufficient at birth. It cannot be educated. Neither can its performance be improved. But its operations can be impaired by negative reactions by the subjective phase of the mind.
We now turn to the second level of man’s mind: the conscious mind. The conscious mind has two phases: the objective and the subjective phases. The objective mind consists of the five perceptive organs of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling.
The subjective mind is what John Locke referred to as tabula rasa, the blank slate. As the name implies, it is completely blank at birth. But as time goes on, if there is life, the subjective mind acquires manifold information through the five perceptive organs mentioned above. The subjective mind is the only part of the mind that can be educated. It performs all the voluntary functions of man: interpretation, recollection, conception, imagination, inductive and deductive reasoning, volition, affection and recognition.
A man’s educational or intellectual standing depends on the level of development of his subjective mind. Every professional’s ability to perform according to his chosen field of expertise is the outcome of developed subjective mind. We have to bear in mind that every subjective mind is blank at birth. The difference between one subjective mind and another arises wholly and solely from the extent and quality of development of the two minds that has taken place in the interval.
THE NEED FOR REAPPRAISAL:
In the course of this lecture, I have delineated some obvious problems that have played the society false. Some are latent. Others patent. Latent or patent, they remain problems. Something must be done to truncate their growth. Two of these problems stick out like sore thumb:
- i) use of socioreligious solutions for sociopolitical problems. In Karl Marx’s diktat: Religion is the opium of the people.
- ii) inferiority complex, compounded by illiteracy, superstitious beliefs, poverty, disease, ignorance and primitive cultivation of land. These were mundane and earthy problems that could not be solved by the creation of gods in the sky, filling the atmosphere with spirits and imposing despots on the community. The resultant effects were the underdevelopment of both the mind and body of our forebears.
At the beginning of this lecture, I referred to Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the ‘best president Nigeria never had’. I stand by that incontrovertible statement. Born in 1909 in the former Western Region of Nigeria, he rose from humble beginnings to become the Premier through the instrumentality of Action Group, the party he formed, in 1951. He advocated Federalism as the only basis for equitable distribution of resources. He was responsible for much of the progressive social legislations that catapulted and propelled the region to the status of modern state. The motto of Action Group was ‘Life More Abundant’ and his political ideology was Democratic Socialism.
In seeking the solution to the problems that have afflicted society I shall direct my searchlight towards the following:
- i) socio-politico-economic systems,
- ii) constitution making,
iii) synthesis of both and conclusion.
- i) SOCIO-POLITICO-ECONOMIC SYSTEM:
Granted that man is the sole creative and purposive dynamic in nature and that the central problem of man is economic, it behoves upon man to devise a socio-political-economic system that best solves the problems adumbrated above. The State is designed by man to ensure a congenial atmosphere for his economic advancement and prosperity. It is also the function of man to regulate economic relations and intercourse between him and his fellow men within the State. It is apposite to invoke the authority of Plato who said in ‘The Republic’, and I quote,
”A State rises out of the needs of mankind. No one is self-sufficing. All of us have many wants. Then as we have many wants and many persons are needed to supply them, one take a helper for one purpose and another for another purpose. When the helpers are gathered together in one habitation, the body of inhabitants is termed a State. And they exchange with one another. One gives. Another receives. This is done under the idea that the exchange will be for the general good.”
He then declared, rightly and unassailably,
”The true creator of a State is necessity, which is the mother of our invention. The first and greatest of necessities is food. The second is dwelling or shelter. And the third is clothing.”
The only justification of a State is the economic and social advantages it confers on its inhabitants. It is the responsibility of States to provide the necessary facilities that will lift its inhabitants from quagmire of backwardness to enlightenment and economic deliverance.
States the world over have adopted socio-politico-economic systems to advance the welfare of its people. These have been capitalism, democratic socialism or outright dictatorship. In my mind dictatorship, benevolent or what have you, is out of the question. Capitalism, neither its concepts nor techniques are suitable for mankind generally. Capitalism perpetuates the dehumanization, exploitation and division of society into haves and have-nots. By means of monopoly, the capitalist rig and subvert state economy for self-interest and damnify the interest of the majority of the people. It
establishes what we least need at the expense of what the majority is crying out for.
Democratic Socialism has a lot going for it. It attempts to abolish the dichotomy that divides man into exploiting and exploited classes. The beauty of democratic socialism is epitomized in its motto:
‘From each according to his ABILITY and to each according to his DEED.’ A man can contribute to the development of his society according to his ability only if he is in a position physically and mentally to do so. And since each member of society is going to benefit from the resultant development according to his contribution to the social pool, he should have equal opportunity to contribute as his ability allows. As we cannot leave this to the whims and caprices of market forces it behoves the State to accept full responsibility for the provision of:
- i) free and compulsory education at all levels, and
- ii) free healthcare delivery.
Health facilities do not consist in the provision of hospitals alone. They embrace the whole compass of preventive medical facilities, good food, water, decent housing, clean and wholesome environment.
- ii) CONSTITUTION MAKING:
Across the countries of the world, two types of constitutions prevail. These are Unitary and Federal Constitutions. In a unilingual and uni-nation configuration, Unitary constitution is in vogue. France, Italy and Portugal are good examples. In a multilingual, multiethnic configuration, as in Nigeria, the constitution must necessarily be Federal. Nigeria has played games of Russian roulette with her constitution making. She has gone from independence to republican to military dictated unitary constitution. Nigeria must recognize that the country is multiethnic and multilingual in composition and must therefore adopt Federal Constitution.
iii) SYNTHESIS AND CONCLUSION:
The problems identified in this lecture can adequately be handled by choosing socio-politico-economic system of democratic socialism. The State must play the overriding influence of ownership of means of production and distribution of goods and services that are directed to the satisfaction of human needs. The State must accept full responsibility for the provision of,
- i) free and compulsory education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels,
- ii) free medical services for all,
iii) minimum wage,
- iv) social security and
The State must also divest herself of sponsoring any state religion. Secularism must be the rule rather than the exception.
The solution recommended above in no way prohibit private sectors from participating with the State to promote private public partnership. Both should be partners in economic emancipation.
Thank you. May God continue to bless Ray Of Thought