The Sophie B. Oluwole that I know

by Dele A. Sonubi
Sophie B. Oluwole

What can anyone say about a woman who died at the ripe age of 83? Would I say, she went so soon? Yet, by the time this extra-ordinary woman left this world, she had made such a massive impressions on many people chief of is me! Luckily for me, I got to know Prof. Sophie Bosede Oluwole during her prime years at the University of Lagos when she delved heads on into the controversies of the existence or otherwise of African Philosophy. My knowledge of her is contained in the following descriptions

I am happy about the heart-rending and appalling tributes to this great woman. Everyone has fantastic things to say about her and in a way it is pleasingly exciting for me to read all these. It is a real proof that Prof. Mrs. Sophie B. Oluwole lived well and impacted knowledge. She must have done something right for her to receive such encomium and huge departure waves from people who are not even philosophers. She must have been so great to be so greatly saluted!

In my final year at the department of philosophy in OSU, Dr. Sophie B. Oluwole came to give a short lecture. I was totally carried away by her insights into philosophy in a way that rendered the four years I spent at the Ogun State University Department of Philosophy a philosophical experiment. One lecture for one hour and then 4 years was ridiculed for me. I imagined how nice it would have been if I had spent my 4 years under her tutelage. However the chance was to come when I went to UNILAG for a short research and I ran into her at the Philosophy Department. We started off with abuses and jeer. She laughed at me that I was half baked student and I protested. After these insults, she asked me to go and buy her groundnuts and guguru (popcorn). That was the best errand I ever ran for anyone till date because the errand, and the fights brought us into a relationship. I suddenly wanted her to send me on another silly errand, for her to jeer at me again and for me to have concrete facts to defend my academic background (even though at that time, the Ogun State University I attended was in no way at competition with the University of Lagos where she taught, still it was good to defend my school and those who taught me.) I went home that day drunkenly happy with my luck and mesmerized at my hunger for advance knowledge of philosophy. I did not know until then that I love philosophy so much that I would do anything to gain the knowledge and competence to understand the discipline more. I showed up in her office the following day asking if I could go and buy some guguru and epa and for more than 3 years after that first day, I continued to show up in her home(s) and in her office(s) and I never consciously allowed anyone else to buy her guguru and epa (groundnuts) with some soft drinks. This was primarily my duty and no one would have that pleasure.

At the time we began our relationship, “mummy” was digging through the shackles of Yoruba traditional oral legacies and trying to move arguments and issues beyond the rhetoric of “whether or not there was or there is African philosophy.” She wanted to proof in empirical terms, what African philosophy was. She wanted to flow at scientific levels of arguments (albeit dialectics); that indeed traditional Africans had philosophies that guided their lives and communality spirits and she planned to show some of them for appreciation and basis of new arguments- not just wallowing in rhetoric of the glorious pasts. Interestingly, Odera Oruka, one of the great African minds from Kenya, pivoted his arguments and demonstrations of concrete African Philosophy on the wisdoms (wise sayings) and aphorisms of our elders as evidence of philosophy and called it “Sage/Sagacious Philosophy”. For her own demonstrations, Sophie B. Oluwole went into the studies of Ifa literary corpus, used proverbs and similarly leaned on aphorisms as empirical evidences of critical thinking by our indigenous pasts. She pulled some fellow human/intellectual resources at the UNILAG faculty of Arts with her as combine resources in the venture to proof that indeed Africans philosophized. Her primary concerns then were that if it can be evidentially accepted that indigenous thoughts pass muster as philosophy, then contemporary Africans can have legitimate grounds to propound new theories and or introduce dialectics to the indigenous theories with the view to improving on them. There was Dr. E.A Babalola (Department of English lecturer who was a guru with words appreciations beyond “literary translations” of languages. He would translate Yoruba to English and you would stop and starred at him mesmerized and totally flabbergasted. He had degrees in phonetics, classics and had a great gift for understanding of Yoruba language and expressions. He was good at detecting western sophistry and counter arguing against them using Yoruba examples. He was the strength of mummy in these period because he could translate a word into English in a way that you would be so excited, motivate and happy that you would want to kiss his mouth. He was an albino and so because of the stigmas, had limited friends. His brilliance was what kept him at the top of his peers and his broad mind for both English and Yoruba was simply captivating and limitless.) There was Dr. Dimeji Ajikobi (Department of Yoruba who would rush into our office so constantly because he just discovered an idiom and we would break it down for meaning and translation(s). He would provide background to some Yoruba concepts and gave us great insights into things we never imagined went on in the traditional Yoruba cosmology). Then there were occasional collaborations with history department, Mrs Aribisala (English department. She was of relevance because she was into linguistics and West Indies studies. So she was rich with the experiences of translation from one language to the other without losing meaning but enhancing them). And there I was, a bachelor degree holder in the midst of these geniuses, rear breeds and endangered species who were in processes of branding indigenous thoughts as a discipline. I was caught, I was mesmerized and my function in the lot, were below clerical works. I was to buy groundnuts and guguru, provide cold water, carry Mummy’s bags to meetings, call taxes to take us where we were going, remember to remember her appointments, start tape recorders whenever these ones were brainstorming over concepts and indigenous thoughts, run downstairs to call Ajikobi or Babalola or to tell Dr (now Professor) C. S Momoh to get lost (they were intellectual rivals jostling for healthy competitions such that made the department one huge intellectual laboratory). These were exciting periods. Even when arguments left the realm of reasons and became personal, there were still great philosophies produced, and great inputs into her paper presentations and public appearances.  And I was deep inside these intellectual eruptions just by mere coincidence (or I dare say; divine providence).

And I adored this woman. I was not even sure the extent of my obsessions of her. She would pass her speeches drafts to me to read for review, I would read and critique and she would rain abuses on me and questioned my competences to even think of adjusting her thoughts. But then she would make the corrections as I suggested and add my thoughts without telling me that I was right. She did not need to, I would have seen the changes in the final draft anyway. But then the onus was on me to aim higher make further researches on my own and hope she would one day say, “but that is right”. And so I was perpetually doing researches and paying fascinating attention at the gurus’ discourses. The next speech she wrote, if I was not available to read and make passable comments, hell would break loose. When introduced to philosophy at this high level, I was already made to shine. I was relating to academics beyond my level. I was reviewing the works of a material genius and facilitating periods of intellectual eruptions. Incredible! All our collaborators acknowledged me as “mama’s son” and no one would dare touch me beyond giving me messages to deliver to “mama”. At that time, her PhD students were seeking my assistance to reach mama. I was in between her and the students and I would tell them the right time to go in and see her in the best moods (her angry moods must have been triggered by opinion she had just read against African philosophy from some pro-Western teachers or Professor P. O. Bodunrin- her PhD supervisor or other Africans who were “doing the biddings of the West by condemning African indigenous thoughts”). Oh, these ones could get her into a wrong mood.  If you were her student, it was better to stayed away until she had met with Babalola or Ajikobi and her nerves were calmed. These ones knew the right incantations to use to calm her down; they just discussed into the day and often times, into the nights.

Interestingly, these processes or rich intellectual exchanges between her as a philosophy and others as practitioners were what gave mama great happiness. From one second to the other, she would sleep deep and rise up searching for pen to scribble things. She would sleep on the office floor and wake up with expressions, sometimes a sentence that would be added to bodies of thoughts. My job during those fatigue periods would be to shield her innocence away from anyone who might want to wake her up. This was because I knew if she woke up, she could produce something that would generate something that would lead to contributions into body of knowledge.

Mama, Mummy, Professor, was invited to several occasion to speak. She did and captivated the minds of folks who had been yearning for discussions that hinged on self- pride, cultural superiority, re-awakening of civilization and glorification of our indigenous thoughts and histories. She spoke, not in refined English, but her thoughts and lessons were clear. No one had problems understanding her nor issues with her extensive uses of proverbs and aphorisms.

Because she was vocal and insistence on appreciation of her Yoruba thoughts and philosophies, no one wanted to offer her a professorial chair. Because as a professor, she would be untouchable. She went into campus politics, her candidate won the VC-ship of UNILAG, and then it became easier for her to receive the license to criticize anyone who challenged her views because then, as a university professor, there was nothing anyone can do to slow down your progress. But not too long after her offer of a Chair, she retired from the university teaching owing of the number of years she put into civil service. She then turned the world into her classrooms and started teaching the students of the world who seek knowledge at the Center for African Culture and Development.

This woman is gone now, gone to rest. And rest she will. She will wake up in the heavens and continue to share knowledge with Dr. Babalola, C.S Momoh, P. O Bodunrin, Odera Oruka (of the Sagacious Philosophy fame), Susanne Wenger (the famous Austrian Adunni Olorisha, who lived and died in Oshogbo. They were friends and admirers by the way), And she would be welcomed by a huge numbers of philosophers and teachers of philosophy who had fallen by death before her

Rest mummy, Rest Professor Sophie B. Oluwole… rest… Your long journeys to “proof” is here ended. From heavens you will be shown the Truth.

Rest Mama, gbogbo aye lo n se’daro re (the world salutes you and wave farewell)

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