One feels compelled to write this piece on the recent announcement by the government of the State of Osun on the introduction of the study of Ifa religion in all its schools. While no time should be wasted in congratulating the government led by the visionary Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola on this courageous and needful step, a conscious attempt must also be made to educate those who may be genuinely regarded as ignorant on the socio-legal imperative of permitting a pan Yoruba ethos play a pivotal role in the development of a society. All efforts made at raising the level of development must be anchored on this all-embracing substratum. As for the mischievous and the proselytising hypocrites, commercial religionists with vast business empires which thrive on the very objects of deceptive public excoriation, we must hasten to allay their fears that this novel but necessary introduction will not affect the enterprise of “miraculous healing” and the promise of prosperity in a land already devastated by political locusts.
A multi cultural milieu, such as Nigeria, must recognise and accept the reality of ethno-religious pluralism and the attendant divergence to promote equity, fairness and justice among the ethnic nationalities and groups, the necessary conditions for amity, peaceful co-existence and realistic aspirations towards growth. This is the irreducible minimum below which no group should be subjected. The omniscient posture adopted by the adherents of the so called prominent religions, Christianity and Islam, exposes abysmal ignorance on the essence of other indigenous religions and explains why intolerance adorns an official garb in various shades. This combative attitude is also symptomatic of a post-colonial society still reeling from the debilitating effects of foreign subjugation in all ramifications.
The dubious and ostentatious display of piety by these self-appointed men of God, on one hand, and their obscene materialistic disposition, is more than sufficient to cause a serious study into the misfortune of a society in decline. We leave this interesting topic for another time. For now it suffices to assert that this present move by the government is the most significant since independence. If development is about the people, then it should be taken as given that understanding the ways of life of all who live in the society is a sine qua non to planning. The challenges faced by various categories of people compel introspection and determination which will ultimately lead to progress. Professional politicians, deprived of patronage for two years now in the State of Osun, considered the source of the people of the south western part of the country, will also stop at nothing to confuse the people who have been dispossessed over the years.
If our children are made to study foreign religions and some even get higher degrees, including PhDs, knowing other peoples’ cultures, then it is rather salutary that a government is considering making the study of Ifa religion an option in the school curriculum in the State of Osun, albeit belatedly. Nigeria is a place where elites take pride on being proficient speaking and writing other people’s languages. We crave advancement depending solely on the cultural ethos of other lands. Our claims to decency are often predicated on the fact of our adherence to the precepts of either of these foreign religions. We are nurtured to imbibe the customs and traditions of those who treated our ancestors with utter contempt. We grew to hate what is truly ours. We receive awards aping the ways of life of other lands. What belongs to us is despised and treated with unimaginable derision. Our cultures are subjected to foreign prisms in determining their acceptability.
It is expected that deluded beings, who either believe genuinely in the myth of superiority of these imposed sub-sets, products of the perceptions of other peoples on natural phenomena observable within their societies, will join issues with this truly progressive leader of the people. What we must, however, eschew is silence which suggests connivance at the unwarranted attacks on the dynamic governor who has turned the fortunes of the state around positively with the little resources at his disposal. Nuhu Ribadu, a man not known to suffer fools gladly, just attested to the sterling qualities of this exceptional character. Several other people have been commenting on this ascetic being whose energy belies his physical stature.
Religion was central to the development of ancient Egyptian civilization. The challenges faced by the Egyptians compelled them to look for solutions in the spiritual realm. Disasters, prominent among which was the constant inundation of the Nile were considered as sanctions from the celestial beings. These ancient people used their belief in life after life and the existence of a supernatural being, Ra, whose decisions were unquestionable, to interact with their natural environment. The modern world is the direct beneficiary of the legacies of their fecund minds. Their children were nurtured on the nuggets of beliefs which propelled keen observation of natural phenomena. This attitude gave provenance to the unparalleled scientific discoveries for which the Egyptians are still widely acknowledged.
The originality of the thought process ensured that all nations in the ancient world looked up to it. Greece became the greatest beneficiary of this unique ancient civilization and, by necessary implication, the western world in the modern sense of the expression. What the average hypocritical and ignorant Nigerian will regard as superstitious and sinful formed the basis upon which his faith predicated on this imported religion is established. The judicial system of the ancient Egyptians was an aggregate of their socio-cultural values. These were contained in the curricula of the schools at various levels of learning.
The Chinese also developed their civilization independent of other existing ones relying heavily on their cultural values. China today is an exemplar in advancement because it has never allowed any undue influence on her socio-political system built on oriental values. This country stands out today as a bulwark of inspiration when most western nations are grappling with issues of survival occasioned by debilitating economic circumstances. A Chinese child will never look up to the west for socio-economic redemption. The child believes that his/her language is the best and only learns other foreign languages to derive advantage in a competitive world. He/She does not in any way feel inferior to the western child. The state has no official religion yet the Chinese child is not precluded from studying any subject of interest.
American students now come to Nigeria to study specific aspects of our much despised culture. They speak impeccable Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo, among other Nigerian languages. That is not a challenge to them at all. They are keen researchers on the mysteries of our ancestral past. They come to study Egungun cult, the talking drum and its significance in information dissemination, cultural values as encapsulated in the Odu Ifa corpus, among others. They become initiates of the Ifa religion which ignorant and ill-educated Africans denigrate. The tragedy of the whole scenario is that they are now in a position to educate us on our past. While we struggle to ape the Europeans, Americans and Arabs, we have become alienated from our origin. Nothing from us is good except it is subjected to western approval. So deracinated and uprooted from our origin have they become that fanatical members of some families openly destroy artifacts and other valuable vestiges of the glorious epoch when crass mercantilism had no impact on the psyche of the people.
Traditional rulers are the most pitiable characters of these tragic-comic elements. Some of them employed all manner of under hand methods to subvert the process of selection to become deluded kings in a republic. Once they ascend the so called throne of their fore-fathers they soon discover that their past was sinful. In their hypocritical exhibition of vacuous devotion, they destroy shrines and shun religious rites which justify their anachronistic existence in the first place. They invite commercial pastors to come and preach to their so called subjects to do away with the traditional ways. These religious businessmen in turn flaunt these clowns as trophies won in the battle to civilise the natives. They denigrate the very essence of their sustenance as custodians of the people’s customs and tradition.
They cherish the flowing three-piece traditional attire and the complementary pony tail, veritable emblems of indulgence and vanity. And just as their forbears collaborated with slave traders, commercial precursors of the proselytising hypocrites to raid villages and hamlets for slaves, they too are willing participants in the pillaging of the resources of the state at the local government level. Very few of them deserve attention in the midst of decent people.
Granted that the retrogressive position held on indigenous religions is correct, does it not make sense that our children are trained to know why their ancestral past must be condemned? We have fed generations of Nigerians, nay Africans, on foreign diets before independence through post colonial period to the present time. The ultimate ambition of an average child is to be white in everything. Is it not ironic that at a time when the western world looks towards African for cultural renaissance our people strive unabashedly to cast aside everything which reminds them of their beginnings?
Adherents of African traditional religions have been discriminated against over the years. The Nigerian experience has been heart-corroding. Supposedly educated religionists jettison family names which remind them of “pagan” practices. They adopt scriptural names of other cultures alien to the continent without understanding their significance. Thus we see funny names such as “Olugbemi” in place of “Fagbemi”. Jesus, which is a very common name among the Jews, is affixed to praise names to depict piety. What ignorance!
The new policy on education in the State of Osun will afford our children the opportunity to know that the difference you find in all religions of the world is in the practice. Doctrinal issues have now subsumed the didactic and edifying aspects of religion. In Nigeria economic consideration far out-weighs the sincere quest for spiritual regeneration. The Osun example has exposed the lie peddled by people who exploit religion for selfish purposes. Our children must be allowed to know something about what they are called upon to hate. They should be able to decide if there is any remarkable difference between the promoted religions and the message in the Ifa corpus. Students whose parents are adherents of Ifa religion must also be allowed to study their faith in an ambience devoid of discrimination and intolerance. Virtues such as continence, loyalty, honesty, piety, civic responsibility, devotion to parents and elders, humility, among others, are embedded in Ifa. Any child who has the good fortune of being nurtured on this unadulterated teaching will be useful to himself and the community at large. The hypocritical posture of politicians on this policy must be condemned.
Our children must be allowed to understand, for instance, that Esu, the perfect trickster with a dual personality is not Satan or Lucifer, the arch angel in the Christian pantheon of the gods. When our children hear names such as Esubiyi, Esugbayi or Esuronmbi, the ready connotation in their minds is the devil of the Bible or the Quran. They cannot fathom why anyone who is not insane will bear such names in the society. Beyond names, certain virtues are considered the exclusive preserve of the established religions. Experience has, however, shown that there is a wide gulf between mere avowal and the actual deeds of those who profess piety.
The very first lesson to the Ifa devotees is on contentment as against complacency.
“Ohun enu ri ni enu nje,
adifa fun igbin ti o je erupe la”.”
The mouth is satisfied with whatever comes as food just as the snail relishes in the nutrients of the soil.” There are fables of the adventures of Orunmila or Obatala which are also didactic. The treacherous deeds of the bush rat, Okete and Osanyin, are replete in the Ifa corpus. The consequences of unfaithful deeds are taught with the fables of these mythical characters. Temperance is a virtue of the gods and any mortal lucky enough to be endowed with this special gift will experience peace which is beyond the understanding of man. A man’s character determines how successful he will be on earth. The story of “Iwa” teaches us that one of the greatest gifts bequeathed by the gods to man is the ability to do what is right.
I had the rare privilege of listening to Professor Olu longe who informed most of us who were ignorant of the invaluable contribution of the Ifa religion to the Yoruba accounting system. The basis of the computer is the Odu. The first 8 in 2 places making 16 multiplied by 16 making 256 to infinity is the principle upon which the operation of the computer is based. Whoever insists that our children do not deserve to know this fact is not only ignorant but wicked. I enthusiastically recommend the eminent professor’s lecture, “Irapada Onka Isembaye wa ni ile Yoruba”, to those who may not know that such as the ancient Egyptian religion, the Ifa corpus contains aspects of science, mathematics, accounting, medicine and ethics. It is most unlikely that any child properly nurtured on these pristine values can ever grow to become a burden to the society.
The government of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola is among the very few that can be regarded as focused. All good people must come together to encourage this exceptional leader who has displayed rare administrative acumen amidst the daunting challenges faced by him since he assumed office as the governor. Other ACN governors should follow the good example of this diminutive man who has taken giant strides in ensuring real development in a state once ravaged by locusts.
Doyin Odebowale, PhD, LLB (Hons), BL.
Lecturer, Department of Classics, University of Ibadan.