Sunday Perspectives

October 30, 2016

Appearance, reality and the idols (1)

Appearance, reality and the idols (1)

Edo Election: PDP supporters in mass protest

By Douglas Anele
One of the most interesting issues dealt with in metaphysics as a branch of philosophy right from the time sages in different parts of the world began to philosophise in antiquity is the question of appearance and reality. In thinking about the subject, philosophers use it to signify a contrast between the world of “mere appearance” usually considered to be nothing more than a reflection or shadow of something greater, with what is real and, therefore, probably of more value and permanent. It is claimed further that when the “really real” is cognised as such, it serves as the foundation of wisdom and knowledge.

According to Simon Blackburn, the distinction between appearance and reality is prominent in many eastern philosophies, Plato, christianity and the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. In African philosophy, sages posit that behind the appearance of physical entities there is a higher order of spiritual reality. The distinction between appearance and reality can be contextualised within the phenomenon of illusion, because the way people take things to be is oftentimes different from what they really are. Concerning empirical matters of fact, illusion must be identifiable against a contrasting background of veridical perception, whereas in intellectual plane good background information and sound reasoning are of primary importance for differentiating between knowledge, on one hand, and mere belief or wishful thinking, on the other.

On the other hand, whenever the word “idol” is mentioned, it conjures up the image of people worshipping a certain object, figurine or totem believed to have supernatural powers capable of influencing outcomes in the real world whether for good or evil. However, the conception of idol we are going to use in this discourse is different from the popular conception. The British philosopher, Francis Bacon, projected it into philosophical limelight more than four centuries ago. According to him, idols are bad mental habits that cause people to fall into error. He identifies four of them. Idols of the tribe are those habits that are inherent in human nature; he mentions specifically the habit of expecting more order in natural phenomena than is actually to be discovered. I would also add the propensity of people to exaggerate the virtues and downplay the vices of their favourite political leaders. Idols of the cave are idiosyncrasies or personal prejudices characteristic of a particular person. Idols of the market place designate errors in thinking that arise from the tyranny of words or language, while idols of the theatre signpost those mistakes connected to a particular school of thought or ideological orientation.

Superficially, our brief excursion into the arcane world of philosophy may seem unconnected with the main thrust of our discussion today, namely, an assessment of the current leadership of Nigeria under the incumbent President, Alhaji Muhammadu Buhari. But it is relevant because a sizeable percentage of those for whom the President’s “good intentions” and “body language” must elicit uncritical commendation from everyone are probably victims of prejudices and bad habits of thought that prevent them from noticing the fundamental differences between wishful thinking and reality. For Prof. Itse Sagay and Femi Falana,

President Buhari is always right even if his words and actions project Nigeria to the world in bad light, aggravate ethnic tensions and marginalisation of the south east geopolitical zone, or tacitly endorse actions by his subordinates that threaten the fundamental human rights of Nigerians opposed to his style of governance.Some ardent Buharimaniacs, including influential members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who excoriated Buhari before he eventually won the presidential election last year now deliberately substitute appearance for reality in their quest to be “politically correct” or escape visitation, intimidation and harassment by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Moreover, in evaluating the quality of governance especially at the federal level,

Nigerians tend to ignore the Igbo adage that “the sound of bitter kola in the mouth is quite different from its taste.” For example, since the first military coup of January 15, 1966, whenever some group of soldiers take over power illegally and justify their treasonable act by concocting all sorts of reasons, a broad section of the populace, including so-called intellectuals, support the new regime. Of course, the degree of support is largely a function of the extent of resentment of the previous administration by Nigerians. From experience, we know that justification of military coups by citing bribery and corruption is misleading, a smokescreen used by power-hungry and ambitious soldiers to hide their selfish intentions. Nigerians have learnt the hard way that successive military regimes tend to leave the country worse than they met it at the beginning of their regimes.

Thus, when Colonel Joseph Garba his cohorts sacked General Yakubu Gowon, he rationalised the coup on the ground that Gowon ran a hopelessly inept, weak, incompetent and corrupt administration. But it is debatable whether the Murtala-Obasanjo government that succeeded Gowon can be unequivocally adjudged to be better than its predecessor. Less than two years after Major-General Buhari became head of state, he was overthrown by a fellow experienced participant in coup plots, retired General Ibrahim Babangida, on the ground that “Everybody was frustrated. People were unnecessarily jailed.” But Babangida, as a matter of fact, added to the frustration of Nigerians. Although his regime was not as draconian as Buhari’s short-lived junta, the high level of financial rascality and extremely wasteful transition programme which ended with the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential elections, among other manifestations of misgovernance, cast a long dark shadow on Babangida’sgovernment.

As Max Siollun correctly observed in his engrossing book, Oil, Politics and Violence: Nigeria’s Military Coup Culture (1966-1976), the various coup d’états in Nigeria represent how factions in the military were able to hold on to power and resist pressure for consolidation of democracy by exploiting the country’s oil wealth and ethno-religious differences to their own advantage. Now, even with the return to democratic rule since May 29, 1999, Obasanjo and Buhari, two beneficiaries of coup d’états, have mutated into civilian Presidents, an indication that our democracy is still suffering from the hangover of military dictatorship.

But the deliberate substitution of appearance for reality in the quest for political power and personal enrichment is not restricted to retired soldiers alone – it is also a stock-in-trade among politicians as well. When politicians canvass for votes, they bombard the electorate with highfalutin promises. Invariably, these promises are broken with impunity: once in elected, ourpoliticians seem to forget that they hold power in trust for the citizens that voted them into office. The same vicious cycle repeats itself again when the next election comes around. Politicians all over the world do not fulfil all their electioneering campaigns. That notwithstanding, in a mature democratic setting such as the United States of America and Britain, there is greater likelihood that the politician or party that failed to fulfil important electoral promises (such as more and better paying jobs, enhanced wages, improved education and affordable quality health care, for instance) would be defeated in the next election than in our own case where politicians have perfected the art of rigging to the extent of subverting the will of the people. That said, it is possible that with time Nigeria will improve its practice of election management; but as a people desirous of good democratic governance we must address together the problems of inappropriate political structure, expanding poverty and unemployment, ethno-religious rivalries and corruption in the three arms of government among others before we can hope to have, in the immortal words of Abraham Lincoln, a genuine “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

As part of the inability to differentiate appearance from reality, those that have a worshipful attitude to wealth, influence and political power do not realise that no Nigerian, irrespective of his or her socio-economic standing, family background and educational level, is more Nigerian than any of them. In otherwords, all Nigerians are genuine stakeholders in the Nigerian project which was launched unilaterally by British imperialists in 1914. Therefore, it is ridiculous for fellow Nigerians, especially former or current heads of state, top political appointees, extremely wealthy or influential individuals and so on, to behave as if they are more Nigerian then the rest of us who are struggling so hard to meet the challenges of living in a horribly misgoverned country such as ours.

Nigeria is not yet a nation in the real sense of the word, because the awareness of belonging to a community with shared history, common values and feeling of oneness and solidarity to shape the future has yet to germinate and blossom in a significant number of Nigerians. Nationhood is not just belonging to the same geopolitical space with others; rather it entails a nexus, a glue of creative imagination and habitual feeling of unity-in-diversity with fellow nationals at both conscious and subconscious levels, including a shared strong belief in one destiny that must be worked for – and, if necessary, die for as well. To be continued.