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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #10 of 52: Igbo Culture and Paranoia | Main | Population Control: Target Africa »

March 01, 2006

Nigeria and the End of Humanity?

Njoku's Review: by Uzochukwu J. Njoku, Ph.D. (Leuven, Belgium) --- The title of this essay has the capability of causing consternation. It may direct the reader’s mind to the apocalyptic catastrophism, which some fundamentalist Christian groups propagate (the rapture or the end of the world). This essay is not about the end of the world or the annihilation of the human race.

It does not intent to argue in any sense about the physical termination of humanity either in the country presently called Nigeria or in the world at large.

“Humanity” as used in this text proceeds from the philosophical tradition, which conceives the human person as a bundle of infinite positive possibilities. An example is the Igbo saying: “anaghi ajụ nwoke (madu) ọga eme gini. Maka ịjụa ya ihe ọga eme, ya eme ihe.” (To ask a person ‘what can you do?’ is to throw a challenge to him or her, which is usually received and responded to, with every seriousness). Granted that conceiving the human person as a bundle of possibilities could mean ‘possibilities for good and evil’, my use of ‘humanity’ in this essay, builds on the direction ‘of infinite possibilities for good’. This does not mean, being blind to other realities like slave trade, genocides, the Inquisition and other dark sides of the human history. It does not overlook the familiar stories of poisoning, witchcraft, assassinations, and other processes aimed at putting tears on the faces of others. Nevertheless, the human possibilities for evil (though real) cannot negate the human infinite possibilities for good. The human possibilities for destruction cannot negate the human possibilities for creation and innovation. The human possibilities for deconstruction cannot negate the human possibilities for positive construction. The human possibilities to tear down cannot negate the human possibilities to build up.

These two sides of understanding the human person are (in no doubt) at war with each other. However my Igbo background influences my philosophical reflection on humanity from the perspective of infinite possibilities for good. My ideas are influenced by the Igbo word for humanity or person – madụ. Madụ could mean two things. In the first place it could mean mma-dụ(ị) – “there is beauty or goodness”. In this sense, the human person or human life ought to be a concrete affirmation of the metaphysical qualities of beauty and goodness. In the second place madụ could mean mma-(n)dụ - the beauty of life or existence. In this sense the human person or human life ought to epitomise the beauty of creation, the pearl and crown of the cosmos, the bearer of meaning and goodness. This idea could be said to share the same insight as contained in the second creation narrative (Gen 2), where God brought animals and birds to the man he created “each one was to bear the name the man would give it.” (v. 19). The significance of this is that it is the human person who gives meaning and beauty to creation. Another biblical passage that shares the insights of the human person as mma-(n)dụ (the beauty of existence) is Psalm 8, which praises God for making the human person ‘little less than a god’, “crowned him with glory and beauty, made him lord of the works of your hands, put all things under his feet.” (5-6).
Whether it is in affirming the beauty (or goodness) of existence or in crowing the beauty (or goodness) of existence, the concept of humanity in Igbo thought underscores the centrality of goodness or beauty. (The Igbo root word for the human person ‘mma’ means beauty or goodness. ‘Mma’ shares the same alphabets with the Igbo word for knife but the pronunciations of the two words indicate that the ‘mma’ of the human person relates to beauty rather than to knife). Consequently, the expression ‘the end of humanity’ as used in this essay is an attempt to raise questions about the worth and meaning of humanity in a context that is not only consistently loosing the mark of beauty but also in which human persons (and communities) seem to be increasingly loosing the characteristic of infinite possibilities to change society for good or maintain it on the path of beauty and goodness.

This essay argues that goodness or beauty ought to constitute the central dimensions of understanding the human person and human communities. It insists that any human existence (personal and communal), which is deficient of beauty or goodness and which manifests lack of either courage or power to strive towards it has come to its end. The questions which I intend to raise in this essay include: where has the infinite possibilities of the human person (and community) gone in the face of the fast deteriorating social amenities and infrastructures in Nigeria? Where have the human appreciations for beauty and goodness gone to in the face of the dilapidating structures of social welfare? Is there really a relationship between the human person and the metaphysical qualities of beauty and goodness? What do beauty and goodness mean? Does beauty mean cosmetics?

The Ariaria market Aba is one point, which helped to inspire this writing. Before I left Nigeria in 1997 for further studies in Europe, I had cause to always visit the city of Aba and the mega market Ariaria. The roads that led in and out of the market were terrible in themselves (nevertheless, one managed to drive through with difficulty). I could still drive from Faulks road through the market itself to the Enugu/Port-Harcourt motorway. I visited Nigeria some years later, and attempted my old routes. I was shocked not only to discover that the road through the Ariaria market has become impassable with a car but also even becoming increasingly difficult to go through on foot. I paused a while not just only to contemplate on the next possible route to take but also to watch how human beings were struggling to make their ways through the pools of dirty waters on the roads, through the pillars of refuse bins, through roads almost cut into several parts by erosion, through valleys that have replaced the road I once used. As I looked at the movements of people before me, the nature of the entire environment and the hopelessness before me, I could not make sense out of the clapping of hands, the loud blast of radio sounds from nearby houses, the smiles and laughter of the passers-by. It was a typical replay of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s ‘suffering and smiling’. I wondered how people sleep and wake up in this environment, make babies, make money, live ‘happily’ and unperturbed irrespective of the general ‘Armageddon’ unfolding on their streets and business areas. The scene reminded me of the reference to “the valleys of the shadows of death” in Psalm 23. Although I do not know what the valleys of the shadows of death look like, but I thought one stood before my eyes.

This scene contrasted from propagandas of the Abia state government-owned media house (BCA), which gives the false impression that every place in the state was like paradise. My mind recalled how I spent over three hours on the Ariaira end of the Enugu/Port Harcourt motorway a week before due to the fact that heaps of refuse deposited beside the road had expanded unto the road. Secondly, the smoke rising from the refuse heaps and the obstruction on the road helped to cause a long uncomfortable drive. Some other towns, which I visited during the trip either to deliver messages or to do other things bore almost semblances. Onitsha, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Owerri are some examples. Beautiful houses and mansions in front of water-logged and impassable roads. Latest and expensive automobiles produced in Germany, France, Japan and USA plying on ‘valleys of death’ called roads. Police checkpoints located at about every 500 meters, oppressing commercial vehicle operators and extorting money from other innocent road users while armed robbers pass freely on the same roads. Schools, hospitals and other institutions of social welfare being consistently turned into huge jokes. Politicians, public officers and public affairs increasingly leap into the abyss of recklessness while the general populace almost helplessly watch the evolving scenario before their eyes. These features demonstrate the level of decay, which our country has fallen into.

These situations raised questions in my brain: does the human person have the power to change his environment for good? Where is the ‘mma’ in the ‘ndu’ of the human person? Is beauty only restricted to how I build my house and the type of car I drive or the cosmetics I use? Does it involve the entire framework of society? Where is the so-called philosophical claim of the infinite possibilities of the human person for good? Are the human possibilities for good come to an end in Nigeria? In fact, is humanity, (understood as the dynamism of persons and their infinite abilities for goodness) came to an end in Nigeria?

As I was lost in this contemplation, the announcement of a passing vehicle distracted me. It was inviting people to a deliverance crusade and healing service. All the sick, all those who have bad dreams, and those who experience other problems were being specially invited to be healed by God. I asked myself how can a person who lives in such an environment before my eyes not have bad dreams, how can he or she not be sick? I turned around and looked at the announcers of the healing service. I wanted to ask them when the general apathy of our people, our defeated mentality and our growing collective inability to confront social evil would be healed.

Uzochukwu J. Njoku. PhD

Posted by Administrator at March 1, 2006 10:40 AM


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