The anti-intellectual character of Nigerians (3)

on   /   in Sunday Perspectives 12:21 am   /   Comments

By Douglas Anele

I strongly believe that when the President, governors and other top public office holders regularly solicit for prayers and attend extracurricular religious programmes, superstitious emotionalism is being substituted for strategic thinking as the best approach to the challenges of leadership.

In other words, the penchant of our leaders to seek divine intervention in critical matters that require calm, rigorous, scientific examination of relevant data and taking decisions in the interest of Nigerians is dangerous. It leads to intellectual confusion and unrealistic expectation that “God will see us through.”

To cite just one example, for all his pretensions of being a born-again Christian, former President Olusegun Obasanjo did not manage our national resources prudently for genuine economic transformation. The modest achievements in fighting corruption are insignificant compared to his shambolic policy implementation strategies and the elephantine amount of money squandered during the same period.

obj-jona-churchNow, President Goodluck Jonathan is repeating the same mistakes by Chief Obasanjo. He is chasing a mirage, indulging in the same futile appeal to Nigerians for prayers and more prayers, convinced that prayers will help solve our hydra-headed problems. He also hobnobs with well-known Christian clerics and very eager to demonstrate his Christian piety.

But the picture of him kneeling down before Pastor Enoch Adeboye soliciting for divine help is odd; it creates the erroneous impression that the Presidency is subordinate to religion, which is contrary to the secularity of our Constitution. Inspite of such ringing religiosity, his performance thus as President is mediocre.

The showy religiosity of top public officers in the country has not impacted positively in the discharge of their duties. Or else how can one explain frequent reports of financial rascality and obscene ostentatious lifestyles by top officials of government at all levels? Nigerians should wake up from their intellectual and dogmatic slumbers to the reality that religion is a smokescreen used by members of the ruling elite to deceive, and oftentimes divide, them.

But what is the probability that our people would put on their thinking caps and face reality, when they are more catholic than the Pope, more Muslim than the Chief Imam of Saudi Arabia? That Nigerians are the most religious people in the world is beyond dispute, which also indicates that they are averse to critical thinking and healthy scepticism.

Ordinary Nigerians eat, drink, sleep and cuddle religion. Habitually, they attribute negative experiences and misfortune to the Devil, whereas when things turn out as desired or surpass expectation, the average Nigerian will exclaim “Thank God.”

The question is, if God or Devil is responsible for whatever happens to humans, what is the level of our responsibility as rational and moral creatures? Again, assuming that a supernatural being answers prayers, to what extent should we supplement that with our own efforts? Supposing that our human efforts, though imperfect and sometimes ineffective, nevertheless enable us to achieve our realistic and reasonable desires, what is the point in praying to God or Allah?

The problem is that most Nigerians, irrespective of educational background and socio-economic status, go into intellectual hibernation because of religion. They naively believe, wrongly, that no one can question God, simply because religion is a matter of faith, not of reason. Nothing can be more anti-intellectualistic than that.

Contemplating the level of religious gullibility and stupidity in Nigeria is a disquieting experience, given the absurdity of beliefs and behaviour allowed on religious basis. Is it not the apogee of silliness to think that “holy water” or “anointing oil” or the gibberish uttered by pastors pretending to be speaking in tongues can cure diseases, that a special white handkerchief from a “man of God” secures for the believer anything he or she desperately desires? What about the unemployed and very low-income earners who “sow seeds” every Sunday in churches whose pastors move around in private jets?

Psychological placebos are now packaged and sold regularly in churches as “miracles,” and Nigerians are really buying! But why, despite continuous increase in the number of people with mental and physical disabilities all around, our churches and mosques are filled to capacity with people earnestly expecting their own miracles?

Perhaps, Nigerians are so intellectually opaque that they cannot see that being a general overseer or imam is the fastest means of becoming a multi-millionaire and the most effective strategy for having sex with some of the prettiest women around.

In our universities, anti-intellectual outlook is spreading, and the chief culprit is religion. Several principal officers in these institutions, including Vice-Chancellors, are members of the clergy, committed Christians and Muslims who promote and actively participate in religious programmes on campuses. To most people, domination of the mind-set of university management by devout religionists is good.

For me, it is deplorable, given the high probability of religious bias, which engenders inappropriate decisions and choices. A Vice-Chancellor dominated by religious consciousness would waste time, energy, and money on religious activities hoping for divine intervention, scarce resources that could have been channelled into more productive activities to boost teaching and learning.

Religion befogs issues by shifting attention from scientific problem-solving approach to naive expectation that God or Allah will come to our aid when our efforts fail. Those who think this way hardly realise that, ultimately, human problems are solved by human beings through creative deployment of their productive powers.

Dogmatic reliance on God inhibits our creative potentials, misdirects our focus, and substitutes wishful dogmatic thinking for strategic critical thinking.

It is disappointing that highly educated people, some of them Professors in the sciences and engineering, with better knowledge of the laws of nature than ordinary Nigerians, cling tenaciously to pronouncements in antiquated literature uttered by ignorant ancient pastoral peoples.

Karl Popper’s emphasis on criticism as the foundation of rationality must be accepted by anyone who chooses to live rationally and wants others to so live as well. The best way to reduce human proclivity to substitute illusion for reality, ignorance for knowledge, and falsehood for truth is through critical thinking, that is, the commitment to subject our beliefs and actions to ratiocinative scrutiny constantly.

From the foregoing, it can be deduced that uncritical or dogmatic acceptance of religion is the major provenance for the overarching anti-intellectual attitude of Nigerians. Other sources include intellectual laziness and faulty education curricular, which emphasises passing of examinations and certificates rather than training in the acquisition of critical thinking skills and development of the spirit of scientific inquiry.

In that regard, the best way to combat anti-intellectualism is by exposing the dangers of rampant and dogmatic acceptance of religious superstition and ensuring that primary and secondary school curricula are designed to promote the attitude of free critical inquiry or scientific reasonableness in children.

Exposure to philosophy lowers dogmatism. Therefore, philosophy teachers across Nigerian universities should develop appropriate philosophy courses for primary and secondary schools, as is the case in several countries. Certainly, it is much easier to live with an anti-intellectual mind-set than to struggle with the demands of scientific reasonableness.

That is why most Nigerians, and indeed people all over the world, eagerly embrace irrationalism in all its ramifications. Still, a life dominated by the scientific attitude is preferable, because as Bertrand Russell correctly remarked, the good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. CONCLUDED.

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