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Character As Devotion: Towards A Transformative Ethos


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Speech Delivered at the Public Presentation of a book, Omoluabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria, Authored by Adewale Ajadi, 24th August, 2012 in Lagos.

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Character As Devotion: Towards A Transformative Ethos

  1. 1. Character as Devotion: Towards A Transformative Ethos By Dr. Kayode Fayemi, The Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria[Being a Speech Delivered at the Public Presentation of a book, Omoluabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria, Authored by Adewale Ajadi, 24th August, 2012 in Lagos]Protocols. Every society has its own fundamental conception of socialorganisation, social composition and the world. Such conception is thebedrock of how every society functions - or is expected to function – inrelation to itself and the world. Also, that conception not only determines theframework and the totality of social, political and economic life, itestablishes and governs the relationship between the structures of societyand human agency. That conception, first described by the famous Germanphilosopher, Immanuel Kant, as Weltanschauung, is called worldview, inEnglish. Worldview is a “fundamental cognitive orientation” which includes thetotality of knowledge in any society, covering natural philosophy, existentialpostulates, ethics and values. It is “a global outlook on life and the world”.Wilhelm Dilthey identifies it as "a general view of the universe and the placeof human beings in it, especially as this view affects conduct". Worldview 1
  2. 2. forms the foundation of the way in which a person, cultural group or societycomprehends and interprets the world. Leo Apostel, a 20th century Belgian philosopher, argued that aworldview is a system of ideas about existence or a descriptive model of theworld. In his understanding, as one of the exponents of his ideas states, aworldview "is a shared, rationalised, approximately coherent, open andplural, aggregate of knowledge systems, valuative ethical systems, andconcomitant action guiding systems." Apostel and his collaborator elaborate that any worldview mustconsist of six questions: 1. What is? This question is directed at constructing a model of realityas a whole. 2. Where does it all come from? This is concerned with a model of thepast. 3. Where are we going? This addresses a model of the future. 4. What is good and what is evil? This leads to a theory of values andethics. 5. How should we act? This question is about a theory of actions. 6. What is true and what is false? This question addresses a theory ofknowledge. In many ways, the book which we are here to publicly present today,Omoluabi 2.0: A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria, is anattempt to answer the questions posed by any worldview. In a sense, we can say that any worldview, given its grounding in aparticular moral and rational understanding of the relationship between theindividual, a group or a society and the rest of the world, is an ethics of theworld. Every religion, every culture, every system, be it social, economic, orpolitical, is predicated on a particular worldview. Against this backdrop, we 2
  3. 3. can argue that every system is based on, and reflects, its own ethics of theworld. What I have called ethics of the world would necessarily involve asystem of values and virtues. In the African world, specifically in the Yoruba context, our traditionalreligious precepts form the foundation of our worldview. Indeed, eventhough modernity has reconstructed and repositioned our worldview andcontinues to do so, there is no doubt that the fundamental character of thatworldview is based on our religious culture and historical experience. Togive a concrete example, the Yoruba worldview is most evident, andexpressive, in the 256 volumes of Ifa - called Odu Ifa. Even though many people have the wrong impression that Ifa isexclusively a religious system, the truth is that Ifa is not merely thefoundation of a religious culture. It is much more than that. Ifa is a scienceof ideas; it is literature; it is sublime and practical poetry; Ifa is a system ofthought; it is a conception of the universe and the relationship of humanbeings with the elements and the structures and dynamics of society. Ifádeals with all subjects including history, geography, sociology, religion,music, philosophy, etc. Indeed, it is a worldview. Distinguished guests: At the centre of this worldview is what is calledIwa. In the Yoruba worldview, iwa, which translates in English to character,is at the centre of human life and social relations. Its centrality is such that,among the Yoruba - just like among the English and the English-speakingpeople - iwa (character) is used essentially positively. The Yoruba regardiwapele (gentle or good character) “as the most important of all moralvalues, and the greatest attribute of any man” or woman. As ProfessorWande Abimbola states, “The essence of religious worship for the Yoruba 3
  4. 4. consists therefore in striving to cultivate iwapele.” This is why for theYoruba, God is also Olu-Iwa (Lord of Character). This is so despite the factthat character is also distinguished in specific context by its positive andnegative manifestations. Thus, there is a distinction between iwa rere (goodcharacter) and iwa buburu (bad character). This binary between good andbad is understandable, because, as the primus scholar and practitioner ofYoruba religion, Professor Wande Abimbola, reminds us, Ifa is based on“two binary orders as in the binominal theory of mathematics.” The first isthe binary order of opposition, while the other is the binary of order ofcomplimentarity. And as the Awise Agbaye of Ile-Ife and scholar andbabalawo points out, this is similar to the binary order from which thecomputer originates. Against this backdrop, it is possible to think of themodernity of Ifa. Indeed, the wisdom of the ancient are still very relevant incontemporary times. Iwa is at the centre of the Yoruba universe. It is so central that, in theaesthetics of life, the Yoruba not only conceive of character as beauty whenthey say iwa l’ewa (character is beauty), more profoundly, they link itdirectly with, and in fact, pronounce it as, devotion or worship by saying thatiwa l’esin (character is devotion, piety or worship). By this, we canunderstand that the Yoruba, like many other cultural groups around theworld, perceive character as something that is at the centre of the structureand agency of life and living. A Nigerian philosopher argues that: “As the most important pursuit, embedded in the concept of Iwa is the idea of a good moral standing in the society. This is reflected not only in interpersonal relations but also in public and 4
  5. 5. communal life. The concept of Iwa is a standard or aspiration in- built into the framework of societal institutions. In other words, Iwa must be reflected in the laws of the society, the collective aspirations of the societal norms and regulations. It appears very strong a view that in Yoruba land, the basic standard for which every attempt at and enterprise of communal and collective [life] is to be evaluated and judged consist in the approximation and reflection of the concept of Iwa. This is true in marriage, dressing, in communal service, kingship matters and legislation, religious worship and family affairs.”As something that denotes a high system of values and virtues, characterhas some important suffixes in Yoruba, such as Iwapele (gentle character)and Iwatutu (cool character). All these are different expressions of thequalities of a good character and the ethical necessities of a good life. What is the relationship of character and our search for atransformative ethics and ethos in Nigeria?As a social thinker reflecting on the role of character in contemporarysociety, Oluwo Phillip Neimark argues that the Yoruba conception andpractices of iwa is a reflection of our culture’s thoughtful intelligence, ratherthan blind obedience to rules. It is based on logic. It is “about working withinthe logical matrix of the Universe to improve our lives without damagingthose around us or the Universe we must live in.” This is why goodcharacter invites the best in us and invests the best in society, and 5
  6. 6. therefore leads to common or collective good. Consequently, character issuperior to laws and formal rules. In one sense, it is what makes laws orformal rules of conduct unnecessary, and in another sense, it is whatmakes laws and formal rules easy to obey.Who then best reflects iwa (good character)? Or rather, what is the besthuman reflection of iwa? In the Yoruba world, the best human reflection ofiwa is anyone who is qualified to be called an Omoluwabi. The Englishgendered approximation of that would be a gentleman or a lady. But it isbetter expressed as one who is well-born, or well-bred. An omoluwabi is thevery epitome of iwa; in him or her is reflected all the fundamentals of theethics of the world that produced and nourishes him or her, and which he orshe best represents. An omoluwabi is an excellent agent of the worldviewthat is prevalent in his or her culture. Therefore, in many ways, anomoluwabi constantly reflects upon, and engages with, the ethical issues ofcontemporary society on the basis of the lessons of the past, the duties ofthe present and the challenges of the future.To return to the philosopher, Apostel, and in the context of the challenges oftransformation, as reflected in Adewale Ajadi’s brilliant book, Omoluabi 2.0,an omoluwabi is concerned with explaining the world, posing criticalquestions about the implications of the social process by asking “Where arewe heading?”; an omoluwabi is immersed in the struggles about socialvalues and social goals by constantly asking “What should we do?”; and heor she presses further into action by seeking answers to the question, “How 6
  7. 7. should we attain our goals?” An omoluwabi also goes beyond that to seekand establish what is true and distinguish that from what is false – andthereby avoiding the false. Above all, an omoluwabi is concerned withcausation or origination and therefore constantly focuses on the processesthat lead to particular social results or social phenomenon, whether of goodor of evil. Against this backdrop, an omoluwabi then establishes links withother omoluwabis in the social totality to expand and accelerate the good insociety and limit and, if possible, obliterate evil.In a sense therefore, an omoluwabi as an embodiment of iwa and areflection of the Yoruba aesthetics or the philosophy of the beautiful (ewa).Also in this way, an omoluwabi constitutes the personification of a criticalreflection on art, life, beauty, values, culture, and nature.Distinguished guests: The book which is being publicly presented today isnot only one that critically reflects on art, life, beauty, values, culture andnature of life around the world within the worldview grounded in that whichis represented by the omoluwabi concept and practices, it is also one that isauthored by an omoluwabi. Adewale Ajadi is a well-bred Yoruba man andNigerian, who has the sophistication, the expansive experience, thecosmopolitan intellect, as well as the native intelligence to reflect on thecritical issues of transformation in 21st century Nigeria. He is a citizen of theworld as well as a product of a specific dynamic and proud culture.As I note in the Foreword to this book, the author runs “through the lessonsfrom this continent’s greatest tragedies through [his] many reflective 7
  8. 8. journeys, into nature’s lessons about complexity through the eyes ofancestral wisdom and finally into the waiting guides of a re-emergentomoluwabi gospel.” This book, I must re-emphasise, is a genuineexpression of the promise of Nigeria. I also note in the Foreword that thisbook “offers an original and fresh spectrum of ideas and ideals that willorganise our better angels into the transformation we seek and forgenerations to come.”Let me conclude by saying with a measure of pride that, in Ekiti State, wehave embraced the spirit and letter of the concept and practices ofomoluwabi in our effort at a comprehensive and cohesive transformation ofthe lives of our people. This is why we proclaim our State as: Ile yi, ile eye(This land, a land of honour).We have, and we will continue to, construct a future of values and virtuesbased on the best ideals of public education and public service. We arecommitted to ensuring the creation of a new generation of young peoplewith the foundational skills that will prepare them for competition not onlynationally, but globally. We are conscious in Ekiti State that the foundationsof our worldview is embedded in one of the most robust and most dynamiccultures in human history; one that is predicated on the understanding thatcharacter is devotion, worship, or piety (iwa l’ewa).It is a duty that we owe to the present and future generations to continue torecognise that, in the modern world, all the virtues of good character suchas excellence, devotion to duty, service to humankind, humane andegalitarian governance, respect for the rights of others, democracy, 8
  9. 9. freedom, justice and equity, must continue to be as much the legacy of ourgovernment and as well as our individual legacies as leaders of our people.Let me end by chanting, though in English translations, some of the minorverses from Ifa literary corpus which speak to the centrality of iwa(character). Orunmila, the father of Ifa, had a beautiful wife, called iwa,which he had sent away. But not long after she left his house, Orunmilacould no longer live without her. He not only missed her, he had also lostthe respect of his neighbours and clients because of his action. Hetherefore went in search of iwa. In every home he visited, he would sing asong. Some verses of this song from Odu Ifa go thus:... Where did you see Iwa, tell me.Iwa, iwa is the one I am looking for.If you have money,But if you do not have good character,The money belongs to someone else.Iwa, iwa is the one we are searching for....If one has a house,But if one lacks good character,The house belongs to someone else.Iwa, iwa is what we are searching for....All the good things of life which a man has,If he lacks good character,They belong to someone else.Iwa, iwa is what we are searching for. 9
  10. 10. After a long search, Orunmila eventually found his wife in the house ofOlojo whom he threw several miles away with a charm. Orunmila then tookhis wife away in peace.I urge you all to go in search of your own character and bring her home.I commend this book to you all. And I thank you for your attention. 10
  11. 11. ReferencesAlbert M. Wolters (1983). “On The Idea of Worldview and Its Relation to Philosophy.” InP. Marshall et. al. (ed.) Stained Glass. University Press of America, pp. 14-25.C. Vidal, C. (2008) Wat is een wereldbeeld? (What is a worldview?), in Van Belle, H. &Van der Veken, J., Editors, Nieuwheid denken. De wetenschappen en het creatieveaspect van de werkelijkheid. Acco, Leuven.Gary B. Palmer (1996). Towards a Theory of Cultural Linguistics. University of TexasPress.Jan Broekaert. (1999). "World views: Elements of the Apostelian and GeneralApproach." Foundations of Science, 3: 235–258.Oluwo Philip Neimark (n.d.) “The real meaning of Iwa Pele.” Ifa Foundation International. Eglash. (1997). ‘Bamana Sand Divination: Recursion in Ethnomathematics’,American Anthropologist 99(1): 112–22.Wande Abimbola (1996) “Wapele: The Concept of Good Character in Ifa LiteraryCorpus.” In Molefi Asante and Abu S. Abarry, African Intellectual Heritage. Philadelphia:Temple University Press, pp. 98-106.William Idowu (2005). “Law, Morality and the African Cultural Heritage: TheJurisprudential Significance of the Ogboni Institution.” Nordic Journal of African Studies14(2): 175-192. 11