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NAL questions the humanity in humans

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Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) just ended its combined (8th – 12th August) 22nd and 23rd Convocation and Investiture of New Fellows where Professor Duro Oni was elected new President of the association with a theme: “What is it to be Human”. That theme was dissected in lectures presented by Profs. Olu Obafemi, Lai Oso, Jim Unah and Alex Asigbo. The two most debated ones happened to be the one that concerned the Media by Oso and the one that questions the obligations of humans in an inhuman governance process.

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Indeed, Nigeria, currently, is replete with overarching tendencies bordering on more animalistic thinking than humanistic thinking. Like psychology experts say, if animals are meant to operate on instinct driven behaviour as a result of no cultural paradigm of what is expected to be the best behaviour of animal culture that ennobles, should it be also the case of humans who have evolved cultures and are expected to show great empathy among themselves?

Indeed, such experts believe that if nature is the “constance”, humans ought to be the music that creates beauty in nature. Obafemi believes that understanding the chords that create musical harmony could help humans reinvent their humanity. And Asigbo wonders why Nollywood should not respect the rules of verisimilitude that pervaded in the theatres of the age of enlightenment so as to showcase a better image of the Nigerian, nay African. In effect, the artist should “unshroud and interpret society and piece out a pull that could help the society to mirror itself”, and government should learn from satires and ironies to better the governance process and not to silence the press or artistic performances.

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Lai Oso seems to see artistic performance of inhuman proportion when corpses are lying on the floor and people just go on walking past them as if those corpses are not of human extraction; even the press people prefer to make great reports out of such incidents unmindful of the first step to take that ought to be removing them from the glare of people and camera. Lai acknowledges that it was not the practice when he was a fledgling crime reporter before becoming academic. He believes that the 5Ws and H still matter in journalism but that empathy, in sorrow, requires knowing how to present the “meat” of a story so as not to turn humans inhuman as constant reports of obscenity could make humans develop inhuman behaviour that could even make the first law of instinct drive, observed by even animals, be wiped away in humans as even science and religion seem to be converging in not observing what ought to make humans human.

Jim Unah sees it that way as, according to him, both science and religion had converged in sentimentalism beyond existentialist expectations. If the scientists, as seen among the West, are planning to have a new abode in Mars so as to blow up the planet earth and render animals of the rest that fail to abide by science, and main religions preach of heaven that will accommodate saintly people, then science has also gone into the realm of religion; being sentimental, and not minding the suffering of the majority on earth.

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Ubantu is the African perspective of humanness, that is; “you are” because “I am”. It is also the Bantu philosophy which the Igbos see in “Nma Ndu”, the beauty of life. Humans are known as Nmadu – the beauty of life, just like the bible says about the salt of life – you are the salt of life and if you lose your saltness then you are useless. Humans seem to be losing their saltness. Yoruba see it as “Omoluabi” – the best of human qualities. Kyau or Mutumin Kirki is Hausa’s way of expressing goodness in humans.

There are so much goodness in humans that there is need for education to start emphasizing the importance of character in all spheres of learning because mere knowledge or astuteness in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – do not make humans humane; and in STEM there must be Arts hence STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.

Developing a curriculum that embeds character evaluation seems what NAL is strongly interested in and it can be worked out. A scientist without character cannot be trusted and a governance process with leaders devoid of character could lead to chimera governance.

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Historically, the world had witnessed it; mass suicide by leaders claiming to lead a Christian congregation. Second World War was ignited by inhuman character governance by both divides of paternalistic ideology – whether Nazism, Feudalism, Communism or Liberalism, all competing in the space of the Western world.

Nigeria seems to have entered into the realm of such confused paternalistic ideology as more of inhumanity reigns in all the six geopolitical zones of the country, and no one seems to know who to run to for justice as justice itself runs away from the country that has decided that rule of law must be subservient to the rule of the security of the privilege.

May God help our leaders to direct our noble cause – the cause of human destiny so as to obviate jungle justice. French Academy initiated Human Rights project and, so Nigerian, nay African Academy must initiate Mother Earth Rights as Africa remains the mother continent.

Ariole, is Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos.

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