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PROFESSOR JOSEPH C. A. AGBAKOBA is a renowned professor of philosophy at the UNIVERSITY OF NIGERIA, NSUKKA and the National President of the NIGERIAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION. In this interview he spoke about the association’s forth coming international conference which will hold at the University of Lagos in October, the national questions still plaguing Nigeria 100 years after amalgamation and reasons why Nigerian scientists have not had any major patent right in the last 30 years. Excepts…
What is the NPA all about and the intent of your next international conference coming up at the University of Lagos?
The association was formed in 1970s/80s to bring Nigerian philosophers together to discuss philosophy and explore its relevance to our lives as a people and as a country. Philosophy as an academic discipline is largely misunderstood by the public. When we talk about philosophy, often, most people in this country see it as an abstract academic discipline that has no place in today’s world whereas it is the foundation of all learning in the past as well as the present; virtually all branches of knowledge have their roots in philosophy. Since it started in 1970s/80s different leaderships of the association have worked to move it forward; the current leadership is continuing in that tradition. With respect to our conference, the NPA members in Nigeria meet biennially, that is once in two years to discuss philosophical issues in the search for new knowledge, to address the interests of the association and deliberate on the state of affairs of the association vis-à-vis the study of Philosophy and the society generally. Usually our meetings go along with a national academic conference. This time however it will be an international conference, which will hold at the University of Lagos from October 15th-18th, 2014 with some of our colleagues from outside of Nigeria attending. We have participants from Universities in Ghana, Cameroun, Ethiopia and South Africa. The theme of the conference is: Nigeria: 100 years After Amalgamation: Philosophical Issues and Perspectives. The conference is motivated by the need to look at Nigeria after 100 years of our amalgamation by Lord Lugard in 1914. We can all agree that in Nigeria today there are fundamental issues of justice for the Minority and Majority groups. There are issues of culture, value systems, political structure and ideology that are facing the country. There is also the issue of the justification of the economic model we are running vis our model of capitalism and our traditional culture. We also have issues surrounding revenue allocation. Don’t forget that Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914 because of the budget surplus in the South and the deficit in the North. And since then the South has been paying the bills of the country in terms of the extra money needed to balance the budget and pay for infra structural development. The outstanding foreign exchange earners in this regard have been first Palm Oil, then Cocoa and now Crude Oil. This is not say that the North has had no money at all, we must not forget tin in Jos area and the groundnuts pyramids, but they were not enough to gain budgetary surpluses. The conference will look at all these issues and examine them from various philosophical standpoints. It promises to be very intellectually engaging and enriching.
So who are the resource persons that will be attending the conference in Nigeria to discuss some of these issues you mentioned?
I would not want to mention a particular person. Like I told you, we have our colleagues from all Universities in Nigeria and those from Cameroun, Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa coming to participate and present papers. We will have many sessions and mentioning any particular person will be out of place. The conference should help further the philosophical debate in Nigeria and proffer solutions to some of the socio-economic and political problems facing us as a country. We recognize the support and cooperation we have received from the Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation in making this conference to hold on an international scale and particularly for setting up a prize for the best philosophy book in Africa. The Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation has generously agreed to sponsor a prize. The Prize is The Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe Prize for the Best Philosophy Book in Africa and it has a cash value of Naira 780,000 or $5000 US Dollars. The winner can come from any country in Africa. An international team of assessors determine the winner. This is the first time the prize will be awarded. We are very happy about this development and with our work with the foundation. We seek more of collaborations like this.
What are the other objectives of your Association that has social relevance and impact apart from just being a forum to discuss philosophy?
As an association we are also focused on how Nigeria can implement the UNESCO directive on the teaching of philosophy in secondary schools, especially the teaching of ethics, logic, Critical and Creative thinking. We want the government to incorporate ethics, Logic and Creative Thinking into the secondary school curriculum for all students as compulsory subjects so that our children from secondary schools can be imbued with proper ethical standards and that they may become logical and creative thinkers – these are the real stuff of a nation’s development. During my tenure as the President of NPA in the last 3 years we have been part of the International Philosophy Olympiad which is an international secondary school philosophy competition. We had the 2012 edition in Oslo , Norway and the 2013 edition in Denmark where Nigeria became a permanent member of the IPO. The 2014 competition was in Lithuania. Nigeria was represented at the 2012 and 2013 Olympiads by students of University of Nigeria Staff School because of the little time we had to prepare and the paucity of funds. We didn’t have much time to do a national competition to select those to represent Nigeria from secondary schools and also no sponsorship for it. In the 2014 edition we had students from Enugu and Benue States. We would like to work with the Federal Ministry of Education on this matter to have a national framework and support to have more secondary schools in Nigeria to participating in the competition.
What concrete steps are you taking to realize the UNESCO directive on teaching Philosophy in schools?
We are launching a campaign on this matter in collaboration with the Anyiam Osigwe Foundation. One of the main things we will do in our forthcoming conference and general meeting is the launching of NPA/Anyiam Osigwe Foundation campaign for the teaching of philosophy in schools. We intend to sensitize Nigerians on this matter as well as make a presentation to President Goodluck Jonathan. This is a crucial development matter. We have failed in our development effort because we have imagined that development can wrought without the appropriate values, including attitude to learning, knowledge generation and creativity – inventions and innovations in technology, organization, service delivery as well as creativity in the arts. Philosophy provides these values and attitudes; it guided development in the West and recently in the East. Remember, that the development ‘miracles’ of the ‘Asian Tigers’ has been explained principally in terms of ‘Asian values’. If we go back a little we see that it was the ideas of the philosopher Marx (regardless of its demerits) that led to the easing of the capitalist yoke and strangle hold on the middle and working classes of the world; that John Locke among other philosophers provided the justification for the democratic framework that capitalists wanted; that Gandhi grafted elements of Buddhist and Christian philosophy unto his Hinduism to create Satyagraha which first gave a major breach to the wall of British imperialism in the so called Third World and paved the way for the independence of all Third World countries. Etc. We therefore hope that our campaign will be successful so that our country can get the right orientation for development.
You said that in the last 30 years by available records no scientist in Nigeria has patent right to any innovation that is really commercially viable. Is it because Nigerian scientists are not qualified? What do you think accounts for this poor situation?
We have found ourselves in this situation because our scientists do not largely appreciate the philosophical underpinnings of their work. When a man or woman gets a PhD – that is becomes a doctor of philosophy for that is what a PhD means – he or she is an expert in a given branch of knowledge or area of specialization and he/she ought to be imbued with the philosophical underpinnings of the field and philosophy generally. And by this I mean the metaphysical, epistemological, logical and axiological underpinnings as well as the concomitant habits of mind, dispositions and actions that makes it possible for one to generate new knowledge and technology in a given area. To be a scientist or philosopher is to be a seeker after truth and knowledge. And, one needs the appropriate values and attitude to life to succeed, which includes among other things a detachment from crass materialism; otherwise one may sacrifice truth and knowledge on the altar of self aggrandizement and other passions. Further, one cannot for instance be crassly materialistic, seeking immoral and illegal gain and advantages and at the same time spewing novel scientific and technological theories and innovations. This is because one’s life negates order and truth which are crucial to the generation of new scientific and technological ideas in and about the real world. To be a scientist is to have a profession; but it is also a vocation and those who take it as a vocation make the break through frequently. In Nigeria, it is mostly a profession, which is supposed to pay the certificate holder; the idea that it is a vocation for which the certificate holder should make sacrifices in order to gain and propagate truth and knowledge is not appreciated readily. `And, for this the values of our society is largely to be blamed. Our society is very vulgarly showy and grossly materialistic. I must say we do not have the values that drive science here. So when people talk about funding and infrastructure as the bane of innovation and research in Nigeria, I don’t fully agree; the values are not there too. Some scientists have been known to embezzle the funds meant for the equipment of their laboratories and spend such monies on some luxury item or the other. So scientists in countries like India with similar experiences of poverty as we have perform generally better. You can link the development going on in such countries to the outcome of the work of their scientists and other researchers. No tangible innovation can ever come out of a very hedonistic and materialistic culture like ours. It is for this reason that a scientist who wants a high post in government or even in a university could run to a native doctor for assistance thereby showing that he/she is not convinced about and committed to the fundamental rationality that governs the universe, which is one of the metaphysical assumptions of his/her profession. We do not have a culture that promotes science here. This has to change as quickly as possible.
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