12 August 2012

Nigeria: Literature and Praxis - Humanism and the Almajeri Education in Nigeria

In the twenty-first century, the study of literature must reflect the dynamics of society. In other words, there has to be a way in which literature, in refining our faculties and heightening our sensibility, must be functional -that is, the knowledge of the scholar of literature must not only be concrete and practical, but also applicable.

Training in engineering and technology-based subjects is geared towards producing graduates who will eventually engage in practical things, using tools and skills. Quite unlike training in engineering and technology, training in literary education demands also practical engagement, but not with tools but instead with knowledge: Years of preoccupation with texts means being exposed to information -what might be termed here to be macro information on cultural types, political, religious, historical, sociological, philosophical and human psychological types. On the individual level, culture as a macro-information type has micro-information types, for example, values, morals, belief systems, ethics. Politics as a macro-information type has micro-information types, too, for example, power dynamics, power relations, political players and politicking. The micro-information types of religion are the denominational issues, the Moslem/Christian issues, the supernatural issues, etc. The micro-information types of history will be all about origins, evolutionary trends, hindsight and foresight, etc, while the micro-information types of sociology will orientate the individual on human relation, its motives, interests and needs, gender problems, etc. The philosophical micro-information types will be on life, its essence, its future, how it is spent, etc; and finally the human psychological micro-information types are always about human behaviour and psychology.

All these are pieces of information derivable from texts, but which also demand transformation into knowledge. It is at this stage that information transformed to knowledge becomes power. This power that the individual, that is the scholar of literature possesses is actually that state that he has attained in his level of cognition that has made it possible for him or her to become a better person or a bad person. That state must, however, be made concrete and practical through the application of the knowledge, which has actually made him or her powerful.

In the last essay on Literature and Conflict Resolution, the writer argued that the ability of the scholar/critic of literature to become a mediator in Conflict Resolution is only one aspect of his or her method of making his knowledge practical. He or she may decide to apply his or her knowledge, which has become a source of power for him or her in fighting against oppression and injustice anywhere he or she senses them. He or she may decide to go into party politics and seek elective office to affect people's lives thereby. He or she may even begin to apply words to paper, that is, become a writer. The fact of a writer being a person who is making his or her knowledge practical or functional lies in the fact that, first of all, he or she has a reason for wanting to write -what the Marxist critics would call authorial intention in writing: if he or she is not trying to reform a morbid psyche, he or she might intend to teach or raise issues about a condition that he or she thinks needs to change. He or she could even inspire a revolution. He or she might decide to report events as well as ensure that people become informed, because it is in being informed about something or a situation that change becomes inevitable.

Today in Nigeria, Nigerians are faced with the challenge of religious extremism that borders on terrorism by those who profess Islam. As always, the terror is unleashed by Islamic religious sects. Previously in history, a macro-information type, the Maitasine Islamic sect terrorised Nigerians and justified their action through misappropriation of Koranic injunctions. Today in history, the Boko Haram are terrorising Nigerians and justify their action through a medley of reasons that are religious, political and ethnic.

The chaotic state of the Nigerian state at present could be compared to the situation of England during the Victorian period, where the progress made in science and technology brought man to the brink of apostasy. The fact that science could not verify the existence of God led many to trust solely in the proven capacity of the human mind. Boldly the German philologist and philosopher Fredriech Nietzsche declared in his fictional work, Thus Spoke Zoroaster or Also Sprach Zarathustra, that God was dead ... that He died in his pity with humanity. The Godlessness of the age as well as the doubt cast upon the divine authority of the Church led Mathew Arnold to propose in his Literature and Dogma the need for Literature to take the place of religion.

This he thought was possible because in his Culture and Anarchy, his social criticism and his own way of defining his Humanism, literature was culture incarnate, because its humanism consisted in getting rid of ignorance, narrow-mindedness, prejudice and a continuous quest for the ideal. Therefore, in his Literature and Dogma, he argued that sacred texts should be read as literature because values and morals are derived from them and as such they contained things to make us better persons. In other words, the people of that time should read sacred texts whether or not the existence of God was verifiable or not, because reading them would eventually make them men of culture or people who have overcome their ignorance, prejudice, narrow-mindedness and continually desire the ideal or perfection.

By implication, therefore, literature or humanism must come to the aid of religious bigots. Recently, the Federal Government of Nigeria had shown interest in getting to the root causes of religious extremism among Moslems in Nigeria. The Almajeri factor has been identified as one of the causes of religious extremism in Nigeria. Somehow, they have come to terms with the fact that the high rate of poverty and ignorance among some class of individuals or Almajeris in the North, whose condition was occasioned by some form of religious perception and belief, caused the frustration that led to this cataclysmic turn of event in Nigeria. Now the federal government is thinking of rehabilitating this class of individuals through education.

Now the question is: what type of education do these people need? What type of culture will the education teach them? Education liberates the mind, especially good education in the humanities. Vocational education no doubt will teach them practical skills, which could help them in creating employment for themselves; however, for their ignorance to be conquered, for their minds to be liberated, for them to become truly free and genuine human beings, who will harness the potentialities of their mental faculties, who will make their knowledge functional and applicable, they need that type of education that will make them become men and women of culture. They should be exposed to the transformational effect of knowledge. Their education should be such that occurred in the Renaissance and Reformation period in Europe, where a brand of humanism, literary humanism and a method of approach to textual issues evolved. Like a humanist, they should be encouraged to look at things objectively, to value the power of reason without necessarily rejecting the Godhead, to question the origins, authenticity and credentials of texts, even sacred texts, to, in fact, practice rational Islamism and see whether it is possible to evolve Islamic humanism, which has taken root in countries like Turkey, where the great Islamic scholar, Fethullah GÏ‹len has emerged as a love-and-peace-force.

The writer, teaches literature at the Nigerian-Turkish Nile University. He is also the head, Department of English Language and Literature.

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