Orunmila, Odia And The NLNG Prizes

by Damola Awoyokun

We need to confront head-on some arguments that may pass for truth in the minds of not too weary because they happen to travel on logic, high learning and pedantic scholarship. Not all that glitters is gold. Well, Orunmila, Baba mi Agbomiregun did not go to school yet young though he was, was an embodiment of wisdom and cleverness. In his altercations, Odia struggles to provide grounds on which the general critique of the NLNG prizes could be lodged. However, he carelessly sows, in the early part of his essay, the seeds of his own destruction. By the time his essay runs along, the basis of his venom-quilled, ghetto criticisms, well rooted in etaanu (bad belle) assumes the breasts of a woman on strike after a trade dispute with age. Ifa, father of wise secrets is pertinent:

If someone makes a habit of wolfing Do-Not and Nobody ask questions, sooner or later What ask questions would query Nobody and Do-Not would strike back. (Irosun Meji, an Odu of caution)Odifa fun Odia Ofeimun in his essay Against A Ghetto Prize. therein he brings Hummer Jeep vocabularies to bear against the conditions of exclusion associated with the NLNG Prizes. He moreover, gives the screw another twist by projecting his illusions on the consequences of those conditions and ill-compares the prizes to some of their foreign counterparts in terms of “symbolic and material gravitas”. Yes Odia has an opinion in this matter that “affects him and the climate in which he operates as a writer” and he is entitled to his opinion. But no man, no opinion, as Ose Itura, one of the 256 application softwares of Orunmila’s Ifa, sermonises, has the right to dissent from what is truth. The Man-Booker prize is for fiction (a condition) written in English (another condition) by a citizen of UK, the Commonwealth, Pakistan or South Africa (condition again). The Japanese Person of Cultural Merit is an award that comes with an annual dividend of $35,000 for the remainder of the recipient’s life.It is given to Japanese (a condition) resident within or without the country. Why given to a Japanese? Why not blacks also or is this racial bigotry? Yet the prize has not become “a disaster” nor “a pursuit of absurdity in the name of national pride or racial bigotry”. What determines the substance of a prize’s prestige weighs heavily on the side of the cash and kind put on a prize and, much more on the qualitative standards used in determining the winners, the integrity of the judicial process and the impartiality and independence of the panel of judges but less on conditions surrounding the prize.

Every prize in the world lives not on bread alone but also from conditions that flow forth from its overall objective. Since prize sponsors have the freedom of conditions, what then is bad if the architects of the NLNG Prizes compose conditions that exclude offshore Nigerian scientists and writers with the view that original products of Nigerian talents are placed at the disposal of Nigeria not just only recognition of their efforts like the Japanese prize? Simply because the prizes primarily are there to stimulate the production of quality literary outputs and scientific innovations in Nigeria; to be a pinnacle of ambition for Nigerianed scientists and writers; to enhance the life and diets of the mind.In the long run, if initiatives like this persist, eradication of poverty will be for real not by the false logic of financial capital inflow but by increasing and the nurturing the fullness of intellectual and cultural capital within the nation.

How can such intention translate to “turning abnormality into style, over-valorising the poverty of our research base” or disdain for competition? How can it delete the prizes’s claim to eminence? We do not say that because the Orange Prize for Fiction for women writers is of diminished worth because women are merely shying away from competing with male writers. Neither would it not stand in irreconcilable conflict with good sense to claim that since creativity also flourish beyond America, hence the “parochialized” Pulitzer Prize, the ultimate accolade for writers in America, is less worth it. Ditto for Russia’s Alexander Solzhenitysn Prize and even the annual BBC African Performance Prize that explicitly bans from competing, Africans resident in the UK ONLY or should we say it is a “celebration of disabilities” since better works may exist elsewhere.

That the houseflies side with somebody means the person is afflicted with sore? Celebration of disabilities, Odia Ofeimun? But Intellectuals in Nigeria still publish qualitative papers, researches and experiments from “decayed laboratories not worthy of acclamation” using “archaic and moribund research methods and practices” in influential foreign journals like Journal of Pure and Applied Physics, Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, BMJ, Modelling Design and Management of Engineering Systems Journal, Journal of Geological Sciences, The Lancet, etc.By the way of an example, Ade Akinboh’s research into performance management was published in the International Journal of Public Sector Management. His thesis has since been used in the development of performance management policies for four local councils in the UK. How come? Truth: the dilapidated conditions in Nigeria are exaggerated to outdo the biblical Nathaniel in despondency: can anything good come out of Nazareth/Nigeria? Secondly, the hood does not make monk. Even if the monk spruces up in rags he can still officiate as a monk. There are still pure intellects, formidable acumen, expert minds, energies of intelligence in this country, though I admit, the songs of the laboratories are harsh with the hymns of decay but something is still simmering like a kettle on the fire of our minds.It is this that the idea of the prizes wants to work on. A scholar worthy of his/her salt suppose to be able to, in the word of Salman Rushdie, commenting on James Joyce’s Ulysses, “build a whole universe out of a grain of sand”. Just think about the outstanding accomplishments that are materialising from Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex, Ile-Ife in recent times: kidney and heart transplants, separation of conjoined twins yet these are those that are working with decrepit equipment in alarming state of affairs. But the hospital still has the most important: brainy human resources. This is what the idea of the prizes wants to work on. Or what about Mohammed Bah Abbah’s simple manipulation of clay pots combined with a heavyweight of common sense? It won him in 2001, the best innovation of the year in Time Magazine, a cool $75,000 Rolex Award. Innovation and creativity can come from any sound mind set for it anywhere in the world. They are not distant stars in another galaxy. It is just that those who are set for it must have their minds washed by the gods.

Hear Ifa:

It is better and easier to make the stone that you have to glitter like gold than to start looking for gold that glitters. (Contemporary Eji Ogbe)

What is more, we often think that technology invents great innovation rather great innovation invents technology. In the world, once upon a time, there was darkness in calculus, mechanics and optics, let there be Sir Isaac Newton, God said and there was light. His Principia Mathematica (1687) came as a proceed from mere observing the fall of an apple, yet he gave birth to law of gravity and Newton’s gravitational constant. It has not being faulted. Relativity only widened the circle of its limit. Also the spark of this relativity needed nothing beyond a brain only. The depth of its genius was beyond the astronomical tools available then. The development of technology came to later confirm Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity when state-of-the-art satellites, telescopes and space travels came to the fore. That was even after it took astronomers three years to test. We do not need sophistication of equipment or superfluity of journals afar of what the Internet is offering before, for example, somebody determined, programmes a marriage of partial differentials

of multivariate calculus with Ifa’s hypertext transfer protocols (http) or using Navier – Stokes equations, an improvement of Euler’s to compute juju flow dynamics.

You invent base on the realities around you and the raw materials available to you except you want to play to the gallery of the West. If so, then nothing worthy can be called innovation just like civilisation. The way civilisation is defined warrants that only the West has been and would be civilised. Except those who ape them. Likewise for terrorism.Eni to ba fi omo we omo a naa ti e pa. (Thou shalt not uncritically compare) History of inventions in science is all about solving problems pertinent to local realities before they gain universal applicability, while creativity in arts is about mirroring brilliantly realities local to you. How many Nigerian scientists in Diaspora do researches that bother on Nigerian priorities? They are de facto serving Western interests. What troubles Bamidele may not trouble her daughter. While Bamidele longs for money her daughter is longing for a child.

We all know that impoverished conditions – I do not speak of lack of equipment – challenge one to be physically and mentally tough and it ought to “hurt one into creativity”; that even if everything around you is comfortable, discomfitures should be created, as a matter of choice, because they are sine qua non for the creative impulse. Necessity is the mother of invention. Nigeria is a place of chaotic necessity, and inventions have been going on. We were either not paying attention to them or have been dismissive. This is what the idea of the prizes wants to work on.

The flash whose conclusions today became Emegwali’s supercomputing’s massive parallel technology feat that Mr Ofeimun’s essay invoked, was derived from the theory of tessellated models he got from mental visualisations of river flows, Fibonnachi series and Euclid’s geometry. This can be thought out from anywhere including Nigeria. Fibonnachi, let us be reminded, was an African mathematician of the 15th century but later emigrated to Europe. Euclid the greatest mathematician of all time is also an African. He never left Africa! Achimedes is Greek, he made original contributions to mathematics and hydrostatics but he studied in Africa. What about Chike Obi? And younger presences like Shittu Hammed, Funsho Aweda, Dupe Omueti, Elimma Ezeani? Except Odia wants to join voice with Roland Barthes, the French structuralist, in proclaiming the death of creativity in Nigeria with the clause of foreign intervention! Only a fool, a Russian proverb states, would pass through a forest and say there is no firewood.It is 9ija-pessimism and also an outline of intellectual rubbish that somebody in this country would say I cannot be innovative in here except. Odia’s essay is a good ambassador of this.

Today, Emegwali’s use of assembly coded routines in massive parallel computing has made it possible to generate X-rays of subsurface formations of impervious layers of soil that contains hydrocarbons thereby making it possible to recover more oil. Its fingerprints are also in aerospace technology, weather predictions and it has travelled all over the world when hardware manufacturers like Cray, IBM, Linux Network bought the research after it was patented. Let me tell you that the ability to mass-convert the innovative outputs to large-scale commercial use maybe lacking in Nigeria due to lack of technological wherewithal but that does not mean, the deep thought, the innovative flash, the paper work, the prototype cannot come from a Nigerian in Nigeria. And this is what the idea of the prizes wants to work on. This distinction, I reckon, is what Odia, a black-belter in verbosity, conflates and builds the first part of his disquisition on with the vigour of a just-turned end time propagandist who has just received the vision of hell and the illusory 666. Let us also be remained that the yam pounder was invented in Nigeria but taken to Japan for large-scale production. Zobo, a Nigerian drink has been taken to Germany to be exported in large quantities to countries all over the world including Nigeria.

Furthermore, besides the fact that ‘foreign Nigerians’ will remote control the prize through the politics of yahoo (tendency of those abroad to exult themselves in a triumphalisitc manner over those at home whom they put under their pyramid of power), that Nigeria (both with the educational institutions and outside of them) is not of technological splendour is enough reason to discourage the prize from casting wide to embrace inputs of ‘foreign Nigerians’ if it wants to abide by the philosophy of a prize as a stimulant of tremendous ferment of enthusiasm and outburst of creativity. However, it is left for the judges not to submit to easy standards because that is the sole determinant of the prizes’ stature. Note: I am not articulating justifications for the status quo. And I am not saying that the extant situation of rottenness is not affecting scholarship, It is really limiting the diverse directions creativity can take, not that it has annulled it’s right to life and it’s right to flourish in Nigeria. It is this that the idea of the prizes wants to work on.

The concept of producing NLNG laureates is therefore an act of self-defence for Nigerian education that has turned into a valley of tears courtesy of the government and all of us. At the same time, it administers a stern rebuke on that government and 9aija-pessimists: those who believe that all the minds and muscles of our race are offshore hence the rest is all decay. It is finally, the first chapter of the success story in the battle to call our soul our own. Yes those who cannot create their own system, Lord Orunmila admonishes, must be prepared to be enslaved by the system of others.

Technologically no country can boast of absolutely self-sufficiency.Artistically, none epitomises the richness of creativity. Omode gbon agba gbon lafi da le Ife. (Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom) It is the Other that does the boasting, which often commences on the foundation of fallacy of hasty generalisation and unwarranted assumption. I dare ask: at what level of scientific or technological know-how/ignorance must a country reach before such a country can institute a science prize for itself and not be guilty of Odia’s mythical fear: lower order of excellence, valorisation of disabilities, competiphobia? The way Japanese technology has overtaken western (an absurd term in this regards, hence) British, German, American technology is breadth taking. I dare ask again: should we then say The Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Sciences is less worth it because it glorifies unsofisitcation and avoids competition because it bars nationals of a superior technology?

Does Odia know that Stephen Hawking, a victim of the progressive neurological disease: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, yet a genius of The Brief History Of Time and Hawking Radiation of the cosmic blackhole who took a magnificent step further in unifying the quantum world of electromagnetism and gravitational field in a single mathematical formulation, is being flown out to Switzerland from Britain for quality medical attention? And that patients from America are flown to Japan for treatment? Yet too many Nigerians see places like Britain, America representing absolute competence. Over to you Orunmila:

Ose Itura says what is truth? I ask what is truth? Orunmila answers:

Truth is the Unseen One guiding the earth.

Truth is the wisdom of Lord of Heaven guiding the earth.

Truth is the character of Olodumare.

Ose Itura says what is truth? I ask what is truth? Orunmila answers:

Ifa is truth

Truth is the word that cannot fall, the word that cannot spoil

Might surpassing all

Speak the truth tell the fact. Tell the fact speak the truth.

Those who speak the truth are those whom the gods will bless

(Ose Otura)

The Nigerian NLNG prizes with its incumbent conditions would give Nigerian creativity a home and a hope; a

hope that is home and a home that is hope. However the logic of reason coincided with the logic of Odia and with the logic of the inner workings of my mind when he categorically affirmed: the NLNG prizes must be endowed. And indeed they must be endowed.

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Benny July 5, 2006 - 10:41 am

Great words! But the unnecessary references to Ifa and Orunmila can easily confound the mind, though!

Tim June 21, 2006 - 12:53 pm

Great, I concur!


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