Professor Sophie Oluwole (aka Mamalawo), the first Nigerian woman to bag a Phd in Philosophy, was born in 1936 in Igbara-Oke, Ondo State. She had her primary and secondary school education in the town.
Thereafter she gained admission into the University of Lagos where she had her first degree and was later a graduate assistant in 1972. She then proceeded for her second degree in the same school where she was employed as an Assistant Lecturer.
Prof. Oluwole went on to University of Ibadan for her PhD and later became a Professor of African Philosophy.
After bagging her Doctorate Degree, she lectured in the University of Lagos for six years and moved to the Lagos State University as Head of Department and Dean of Communications. She resigned in 2008 to run the Centre for African Culture and Development Research Institute.
Professor Oluwole’s passion for Yoruba philosophy has opened a new frontier in the field of 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.
She has however debunked that claim. In fact, she, argued, she has discovered, in the course of her research, 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.
Prof. Oluwole is an epitome of originality. She is not a campaigner for gender equality but opposes the relegation of women to the background. She is working with other African countries to have indigenous African knowledge systems included in the schools’ curriculum.
She has published many books, the latest two being katafuru and Socrates and Orunmila
In this interview with The New Diplomat crew of YEMI OGUNSOLA and LEKAN OKEOWO, the octogenarian pan-Africanist, canvasses a re-orientation of the country’s system of education and other issues like the Nigerian economy, the judiciary, insecurity, illegal refineries, Obama, Donald Trump, Western propaganda etc.
Nigeria’s economy is in a parlous state. How do we get out of the woods?
Simple. Look for alternatives. My only addition is we have been saying don’t rely on petrol alone. There is agriculture, yes, but my problem with that is the number of graduates in Nigerian universities have increased considerably. And you think education is going to help you. But what competence do you give these people who are graduating? Nothing. Why Not train your graduates to be workers not employees. Education is to make you earn a living for yourself. What do you expect a graduate of Philosophy, for instance, to do in terms of self-employment? Our education is theoretical. And when you have theory the only thing you do is look for employment. What have you learnt to do after going to UNILAG? Literature, French, so…? You must be able to do something.
If I were the Minister of Education, out of 183 federal universities, I will reduce the theoretical ones to 20. Others will be technical & professional schools. As graduate, you must be able to do something.
I applied to the University of Columbia, the form came and they told me, 700,000. American have Phd in philosophy and have no work.
My definition of education is acquiring culture so that you can produce something and survive.
Are you saying that our sense of earning a living before Western education came was more practical, more realistic than now?
There was nobody in my village before education came that had no job to do. Either you were a palmwine tapper, a basket maker or fisher man. And some people would need your services. A principal of a secondary school just told me that it is now compulsory for every student to learn a professional course. Which means when you leave school, you can find something to do. We were not doing that before. My definition of education is to prepare you to earn a living —not earn a salary. If I know how to plant plantain or sell tomatoes am I not earning a living?
When I was in Western Germany, some Nigerian students were sponsored there to study Agric. After three years they were sent to the farm to spend one year to learn to drive tractors and till the ground. The students protested that they were not in Germany to be agriculturists.
When Nigeria complained, The German government told Nigeria to come and carry their students —because you can’t be an agriculturist in Germany without being able to do farm work. Professional work is part of living, go and learn theory, but you must practice. My father did not learn theory but he planted rice.
Why should it take us so, so long to realise all these ? Have we not been thinking?
The impression we were given is that you must be educated. When I applied to the university of Colombia for Phd, the form came back saying 700,000 Americans had Phd in philosophy and had no work. Nigerian education means reading and writing. But in reality, education means culture so that you can produce something and survive.
What’s your take on the performance of the Judiciary, especially, in the ongoing anti-graft war?
Which one are you using, British or African? Go to Lagos. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), the African judiciary. The Western judiciary is that when two of us go to court, one must be a total winner, while the other is a total loser. Not so in Africa, when two of you appear, they tell you where you are wrong and where you are right. That’s ADR. Even to go to court, do I have the money to pay? Even, if I get judgement what do I gain? My father gave an illustration. When your Western judiciary came, the man who stole my yams worth N1,000 is taken to court. They pronounce him guilty and send him to prison. But my father asks “Where’s my yam?” Is it not better to send the man to work for the worth of the stolen yams? So, at the end of the day, I remain uncompensated. That’s your theoretical justice. It is not useful, not practical. I know a man in my area, he stole millions from the bank. They said he must defend himself, but he said he had no money. So they sent him to prison. The day he was released, he came home in a Mercedes Benz. Is it not to stay in the prison for three years? No problem.
As you don’t have confidence in the Nigerian judiciary, what else will you suggest as means of obtaining justice?
You are confusing issues. The judge may be very honest and articulate. But he is handicapped by the system. A former Chief Justice of Ondo State was going to resign. And he was interviewed, Know what he said? The Police will intentionally charge the man they know is innocent. And when they put him in the dock he would not be found guilty. The judge knows the man who is guilty but he cannot arraign him. So criminality goes on. Do you expect the judge to discover that and still jail the wrong person? Let me repeat, you charge an innocent man with robbery and I find he is not guilty, am I to send him to jail? We are just playing. Come back home.
What do you mean by ‘come back home’?
Let us use our traditional method of judiciary. Another example, when my husband beats me, I go to the police station. They lock up my husband. My husband’s sisters and brothers must look for money to have him released. After his bail, can I go back to that home? But if I take him to the chief of the village, he would pacify the two of us and we come back home. Nobody is going to detain my husband. The Western judiciary we practice is too legalistic.
There are agitations for review of the country’s unity. What is your take on this?
Unity does not mean that the federal government should poke-nose into my affairs. For instance, when I was in UNILAG Ifa was studied as part of Yoruba. But later I learnt that the study of Ifa had been stopped by the federal government. I went to the head of department and he told me Ifa was stopped because no other state studies it. Must I do what other states do? Do I ask them to come and study Ifa? Because the Igbo man does not study Ifa, does that mean I must not study Ifa which is my own? Why should the federal government stop the study of Ifa? If the Hausa man does not want to study Ifa, is that why I should not study it? Unity should be beneficial to the constituent peoples. There is strength in number. But no part should try to lord it over any part.
Fulani herdsmen are killing all over Nigeria. In Plateau State before Buhari became president, they usually came in army uniforms. What’s your take on this?
I always ask myself, When did that start and why?
It has always been happening but it escalated after Buhari came in
When Buhari lost election some people vowed to make this country ungovernable. Do you know whether that is the source of Boko Haram and other attacks?
For about ten months while Nigerians were complaining about the killings that were going on, Buhari did not utter a word in public. It was only yesterday that I heard him in public speaking about it. But today herdsmen are still killing. How do we address this?
Why are they killing?
They call it farmer and herdsmen clash and it occurs whenever herdsmen pass through farmlands
It is not a matter of “passing through”. Why don’t you tell the truth? How can cattle pass through your father’s farm without destroying what you have in it. Who asks you not to pass, but when you ruin and eat everything on my farm, and after you are gone I become poor. Don’t say “passing through”. Nobody says you cannot bring your cows but when you start grazing on my crops. That’s the trouble. When they no longer have grass in their region, they come down here to destroy my father’s farm. And you say I must not talk. These are simple things. You don’t need any judge to judge that.
Nigerians wonder why the federal government is not going after the herdsmen the way it is going after pipeline vandals
My attitude is very different. When government discovers these local refineries what do they do?
They destroy them—
Why? All these things is mere brainwashing. Must Oyinbo people be the only ones to come here and refine petrol? Why not take over the illegal refineries and use them for government? If I discover illegal refineries, I will take them over and refined crude. We don’t have enough petrol, still we are destroying local refineries. Whatever Oyinbo asks you to do that’s what you accept.
Mama, the Yoruba says, an elderly person (knowing he or she cannot run fast) devises ingenious ways to escape a raging bull. That’s what you have done by artfully avoiding the original question we asked you.
What do you want me to say?
Why has Buhari not dealt with killer herdsmen the way he’s going after pipeline vandals? Especially considering the fact that Buhari himself is Fulani?
I will. I will. I am not saying we should not criticise Buhari. But I am saying we should reduce this ethnicity thing. Obasanjo himself was accused of favouring the Yoruba in his appointments. But he responded that they were actually Kogi. I can criticize buhari outside being a Fulani man…There are some terrible things going on now that have nothing to do with ethnicity.
Budgetting. Is it the Fulani that are padding?
The United States recently advised its citizen against travelling to about 26 Nigerian states—
It says they are not safe —
Are they safe in America? How many people are killed in America in one day? Don’t mind those people. There is no day they don’t kill up to 20 to 25 people in America. These people are doing propaganda. They have their grudges against Nigeria. Look at their two biggest parties… how can Trump be talking like that in public? They are not criticizing him. If it were Nigeria now, they would be saying we are bush people, we are Igbo, we are Hausa. They don’t have Igbo or Hausa but they have Trump. And do you think American election is not manipulated? When Bush was contesting we were told that Al-Gore won in Arizona or so. But the very next day, they said he did not win, that it was a mistake. They said there must be a recount. At the end of the day, they found an excuse to stop the recount. Again, let me tell you, they had decided two presidents earlier that Obama would be president, do you think it was voting that brought Obama in? And now they are planning to have a female president.
Why did they so decide?
They want to make history. That a black man is made president…