Growing Up in Nigeria


By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

*This is in support of an upcoming Nigerian book, as a Foreword.*

The nature of an education amounts to the preparation of the mind for an independent existence in ideas. In a manner of speaking, this means a philosophical life. A life built from the quest for increased epistemic justification for some fundamental grasp at the ontological structure of the world and its emergent or derivative manifestations seen in the perceived world inhabited by us. Thus, four referents implied with reality, our selves, the relation of reality with our selves, and the relationships of our selves with other selves. Each implying different standard strata of analysis of the world and applying different conceptual frameworks for comprehension. Every area of education deals with a distinct domain of discourse within these four systems.

In a near idealistic context, these would form the basis for a universal education: What defines reality? What defines our selves? What defines the relation of reality with our selves? What defines the relationships of our selves with other selves? A universal education should include these without explicit statement of them. Looking at the selection of the quotations by Olumide in the Mental Development: A Nigerian Child’s Perspective, we can note the Satanic Verses author, Salman Rushdie, who constructed words in such a manner to enflame dogmatic inquisitors’ ire at him, even though among the irascible, granted.

Further examine the terminology used by Rushdie with the word “childish,” the leaving of childish things behind us, in a way echoed speaking. This reflects the notion of Albert Einstein, Steven Weinberg, and 1 Corinthians. Fundamentalist religious belief as childish and a moon to the Sun of humanity’s frailties. As Einstein opined, “The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this,” the compilation of immature fables for the human soul with reflection in the parts seen inhumane but ever-so human.

The philosophical life requires questions to terra firma, to the Earth, toward the empirical in addition to the sky, to the heavens, toward the abstract and theoretical. We live in our stories. Also, our narratives live in us. A mutual cohabitation of the soul in spiels. In some sense, the tall tales of old remain important but marginal to much of modern life while important, to most, for some edificative purposes. The more famous, and infamous, individuals with the ability and opportunity to live a philosophical life retain particular misrepresentations.

To the fundamentalist religious view of the world, as American Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson states on several occasions, the ability to manufacture the image of a famous, unimpeachably brilliant individual into their – the fundamentalist religious – ranks creates a peculiar, deliberate, and false cachet of some brands of fundamentalist religious worldviews, where this can apply to fundamentalist ideologies of most or all forms. The operations of fundamentalism remain the same. Take, for example, the notion of Einstein in support of fundamentalist Abrahamic religions or the Abrahamisms – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (and Bábism, Bahá’ísm, Druze faith, Mandeanism, Rastafari, Samaritanism, Shabakism, Yazdânism).

Einstein remarked, “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

In this, we can observe the direct explication by Einstein of not only the Abrahamic religions but “all others” as a product ‘incarnate’ of the “childish superstitions” of human beings. Our weaknesses anti-sublimated, superimposed, or superjacent onto the texts and traditions of fundamentalist religion. In particular, we may see the wisdom, too, in the abhorrence or, perhaps, only conscious avoidance of power. The misrepresentation of Einstein remains common, benign in some circles and malicious slander in others, of which he remained aware and spoke firmly against in terms of traditional fundamentalist religious belief.

True education, as affirmed and hinted in Mental Development: A Nigerian Child’s Perspective, permits open inquiry and discovery of the world in minds old and new, especially the true statements of prominent individuals in history. To question, for the current example, the notion of Einstein in some basic sense in support of the fundamentalist religions seen throughout the world with the simple quote, or potentially misquote, stating, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Indeed, Einstein held fast to a belief in God within the philosophical constraints of the Laws of Nature and the God of Spinoza. Some form of deism or type of pantheism acceptable within the modern scientific discourse and evidence of the 20th century. The inability to distinguish truth from falsehood creates a problem. Olumide explains, “Religious truth, cultural truth, racial truth, political truth, economical truth, to think all these correct and worth considering is to travel in an abyss, an endless and fruitless moral adventure.”

To the misrepresentation of Einstein, as implied in the prior quotations, he stated, “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.” Herein, we find the belief in a Spinozan Deity or Pantheity, and not a Theity – an important distinction, conceived within the constraints of the Laws of Nature while also dismissing the honorable, primitive legends of the Bible as “pretty childish” and the Jewish religion and others as “childish superstitions.”

Saliu states the strange situation of rapid societal alteration with the concomitant stagnation in the upbringing and reading of Nigerian youth. He notes, “…to read and repeat words in languages they don’t understand every day, without provision for independent reasoning, critical thinking and profound education, which could have made them better individuals, great human resources and an asset to our dear country and the whole of humanity.” This reduces education to parroting or repetition, and memorization, rather than individual discovery and enquiry for the benefit of Nigerian civil society.

An honest and universal education may lead to questions about the outgrowths in public life about the superiority and inferiority of one’s own nation and associated dominant faith. As Steven Weinberg, in the Atheist Tapes, said, “I’m offended by the kind of smarmy religiosity that’s all around us, perhaps more in America than in Europe, and not really that harmful because it’s not really that intense or even that serious, but just… you know after a while you get tired of hearing clergymen giving the invocation at various public celebrations and you feel, haven’t we outgrown all this? Do we have to listen to this?”

Note the phrase of “outgrown all this” as a query of someone feeling weary of tiresome activities, to grow out of something means to become unlike a child or to develop from the contractive to the expansive horizon and vision of the world, this move from the childish to the mature echoes the sentiments of Einstein in other contexts. Education, in some sense, becomes about a philosophical life, where a life of philosophy produces someone with a mature soul.

Olumide directly notes the purpose of the text as conquering the world with courage and placing Nigeria rightfully in its place as one of the beautiful colors that forms the mosaic of world civilization. The text, in many ways, may become a brief introduction to theories about and means by which to nourish the mind of Nigerian youth at crucial periods in their life trajectory from childrearing to diet to limits on environmental influence on biological outcomes, to sex to addictions to critical thinking and more.

To the last example from the outset, even the wise aspects of holy texts speak to the nature of removal from the childish ways of the past, 1 Corinthians in the Bible speaks about this. 1 Corinthians 13:11 speaks about the leaving behind of childish things when thinking as a child, saying, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (NIV) To speak, think, and ratiocinate as a child, this rephrases the essence of the statements by Einstein, Weinberg, and Rushdie, and the thrust of the overall text of Olumide. The philosophical life, the mature mind, and the universal education come from the passing of childish ways.

Photo by Bradley Dunn on Unsplash

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