Top African philosopher, Sophie Oluwole, dies at 82

Professor Sophie Oluwole, a towering figure in African philosophy, who altered the course of womanism in the country, is dead. She died on Sunday at the age of 82. It was reported that Oluwole died around 8:00pm on Sunday evening after a protracted illness.
Prof. Sophie Oluwole

Prof. Sophie Oluwole

Professor Sophie Oluwole, a towering figure in African philosophy, who altered the course of womanism in the country, is dead. She died on Sunday at the age of 82. It was reported that Oluwole died around 8:00pm on Sunday evening after a protracted illness.Her death was confirmed by one of her colleagues, Prof. Muyiwa Falaiye, the Dean of Arts, University of Lagos. Prof. Falaiye described the death as a great loss to African philosophy.

For the university teacher, Oluwole was a champion and promoter of the African languages.He said, “It’s a big loss to the country and the university community. She was a founding member of the African philosophy community, where she spent the largest part of her life training students.”

Also speaking on the contributions of the late Oluwole, the erudite scholar said, “she was a spokesperson of What Is Africa, dean of Students Affairs and head of Department of Philosophy.”
Falaiye said Oluwole was a shining figure and an icon to many, “it’s a big loss to me, because I happened to be one of the candidates she supervised for my Ph.D. I’ve known her for almost 38 years and her demise is a painful one but we accept it in good faith.”He said, “she was a foremost academic, internationally known and one of the strong pillars of African philosophy. She was one of those who domesticated African philosophy to African culture.”

Falaiye added, “she encouraged the idea of indigenous languages and one of those who mentored young people towards the part of sustainable moral practice. As an individual, she was a good mother to her children and a good wife to her husband, and she was a role model to many of us who had formal relationships with her.”

The Dean of Arts said, “as a well respected person, who delivered lectures on important issues around the world, her memory would remain in our books and our works, the students she trained and worthy legacies she left behind in the department of Philosophy, University of Lagos.”

According to Prof. Peju Olowu Layiwola of the Creative Arts Department, University of Lagos, “she was a very good woman, quite outspoken and one of the foremost African philosophers.”

Layiwola added, “she contributed immensely to scholarship in African philosophy and culture and was well known for her publications and lectures.”She continued, “one of her foremost texts is based on a comparison between two great cultures, Greek and Africa, in her comparison of Orunmila and Socrates.”

For the creative arts teacher, Oluwole inspired a lot of female academics as a woman who was very dedicated to the growth of career and strove for the best.Also speaking, former Deputy Vice Chancellor, Management Services, University of Lagos, Prof. Duro Oni, said, “Nigeria has lost an international scholar and academic colossus of the Africanist mold of philosophy.”

Prof. Oni said, “for the many years that she taught philosophy at the University of Lagos, she always gave it an African philosophical perspective. She believed in and advanced the contribution of Africa to world discourse and civilisation. She confronted issues head on and made frequent appearances on television to advance the cause that she believed in.”

Oni concluded, “she was also, to the best of my knowledge, the first and only female Dean of Students at UNILAG. May her gentle soul rest in peace and May God grant the family the fortitude to bear the loss.”On his part, Dr. Tony Okeregbe said, “Oluwole was my teacher, mentor in the University of Lagos. She was my supervisor for my master`s degree in African Philosophy and she was my project supervisor. I saw her three years ago, when she published her book and asked me to review it.”
According to Okeregbe, “Oluwole’s agility was something that was phenomenal. For somebody of that age, it was as if she got better with her energy, her intellectual energy grew with age and for us, it was very remarkable. She spent her time to promote African culture and the African womanhood.” For Okeregbe, Oluwole`s death is a big blow to Africa, especially in the area of her influence. “I don’t know many women philosopher on the continent that have risen to the status of Professor Sophie Oluwole, the kind of global influence she had, and the way she used her energy and time to promote womanhood, not feminism but African womanhood, and her dedication towards African culture.”

He said, “her demise calls for more mentorship; as people are growing in the area of their endeavour, they should be able to mentor people, have replicas. Oluwole is irreplaceable. It was as if life was just starting for her. By the time people retire, they think of death, they think of eternity but Oluwole continued as if she was not going to die, and that was phenomenonal of her.”

Professor Rotimi Olatunji, Dean, LASU School of Communication, said, “Professor Sophie Oluwole was Acting Dean, School of Communication, Lagos State University between 2004 and 2006 during which time she brought her philosophical yet analytical mind to bear on the School’s management. I recall that, with the instruction of the then Vice Chancellor Prof Lateef Huseini, she mid-wived an entirely new B.Sc. Mass Communication Curriculum for the LASU School of Communication.”

He went further: “Oluwole infused a couple of philosophy courses in the curriculum, thus exposing Mass Communication students to philosophical tools to enhance academic and professional competence. I served as Sub Dean of the School under Professor Oluwole. Her management style was exemplary. Every staff, teaching and non-teaching had to imbibe the spirit of discipline and dedication to duty. Everything about her exuded the African philosophical way; she drew a strong parallel between binary scale, the modern computer and the Yoruba Odu Ifa. Meetings at Board of Studies and Board of Examiners were very lively and unique. Although a Philosopher of global repute, Professor Oluwole proved her mettle as a communicator per excellence thus demonstrating that there is philosophy in every discipline.”

According to Olatunji, “her life and times were premised on the need for philosopher king in society or that rulers must become philosophers. Although the first female PhD holder and Professor of Philosophy in Nigeria, her activism was based on the need for equality of the sexes; superiority of the individual man and woman anchored on individual wisdom, self worth and dignity. She lived and fought for gender equality not women empowerment. Professor Sophie Oluwole made an indelible mark on the sands of time at the LASU School of Communication. Professor Oluwole joined the saints triumphant as 2018 winds to a close. Her demise represents a loss to the African rich scholastic tradition. When comes another Amazon. Adieu.”

Oluwole, the first female doctorate degree holder in philosophy in Nigeria, was a practitioner of Yoruba philosophy, a way of thinking, which stems from the ethnic group. She was vocal about the role of women in philosophy, and the disproportionate representation of African thinkers in education.

She studied History, Geography and Philosophy at the UNILAG in Lagos, and eventually settled on philosophy. Following her first degree, she was employed in UNILAG for a time as an assistant lecturer in 1972, and went on to complete her Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Ibadan.

Oluwole taught African Philosophy in the school for six years between 2002 and 2008. She resigned in 2008 to run the Centre for African Culture and Development Research Institute.

The well-respected scholar and teacher went deeply into the study of African philosophy, because while in school, she was only taught Western philosophy.According to her, before her decision to explore Yoruba philosophy, which sparked her desire to study Ifa, it was believed that only the Classics and western philosophy existed.

Her words: “I was always taught that Africans had no ideas, they cannot think, they are stupid, they have no philosophy, they have nothing, and each time they said that I was agitated to find out whether that was true. If you say Africans had no ideas, I was interested in finding out; is there anything in Africa? That was how I started looking to see if I could find African ideas. I know that there are so many theories, proverbs and so on, but I discovered that the Yoruba people had something, which they call Ifa system.”

Her teachings and works were generally attributed to the Yoruba school of philosophical thought, which was ingrained in the cultural and religious beliefs (Ifá) of the various regions of Yorubaland.

According to Oluwole, this branch of philosophy predates the Western tradition, as the ancient African philosopher Orunmila predates Socrates by her estimate. These two thinkers, representing the values of the African and Western traditions, are two of Oluwole’s biggest influences, and she compares the two in her book Socrates and Orunmila.
In the book, she argued that in the course of her research, she has discovered, that Yoruba philosophy predated its western counterpart by centuries as Orunmila had existed long before Socrates (generally regarded as father of western philosophy) was even born.

Born in Igbara-Oke, Ondo State, in 1936, she went to school in Ife, and was critical of the education system in the 1940s, saying a woman’s career prospects were “not your ambition: it was your parents’ ambition.” In an interview with the Nigerian media, Oluwole described an event, where she was sent to a hospital to distribute food and medicine, and was scared by the desperately sick patients, saying, “that day, I knew I was not going to be a nurse.”

She published many books, including, Philosophy and Oral Tradition, A Witchcraft, Reincarnation and the God Head, Katanfuru (to show that Africans have ideas), Socrates and Orunmila (to compare the Yoruba thoughts in Ifa and thoughts of Socrates in the West), Two Patron Saints of Classical Philosophy (2017) and Co-authored; African Myths and Legends of Gender with J.O. Akin Sofoluwe.
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