My African ancestors were deeply spiritual and deeply intellectual. They were too uncivilized to separate intellectual depth from spiritual depth. They did not have western education, and some of the deepest and wisest sayings are African, indicating outstanding intellects. They were wise enough not to limit themselves to intellectual wisdom. They understood that there was a reality outside of the natural human sphere, which our sound intellects could neither pierce nor function in unaided. Modern civilization may consider them primitive, barbaric and superstitious but they understood that there was an invisible reality from whence come good or evil. In their own way, they understood when their intellects fell short of the challenges they were facing and when to switch realms. They learnt to spiritualize the thorny individual and societal issues of their day without suspending the use of their minds. I am proud of my African heritage because being African is synonymous with soundness of mind and spirit. Any deviation from that is untruth.
Deep in our genes, we know that economic theories only go so far. Social development strategies only go so far. Logic has limits. We know from first principles that if the foundation is faulty, no structure can stand, no matter how strong it is. We know deep down that there is a reality outside of all that we see, hear or feel, that forms the foundation of healthy societies, families and individuals. Social, political, economic theories and strategies have their place. They work only when all is well in the invisible reality our ancestors were familiar with, which we have been “civilized” away from. Using intellectual strategies without addressing our spiritual foundation is like building a beautiful and solid structure without laying a good foundation. Even after a million years of trying, the building will still not stand, regardless of the quality of materials used. This is why it is deep folly to import economic theories that may have worked elsewhere and expect them to work in Nigeria, without considering the peculiarities of the Nigerian context.
A terrible aftermath of colonialism is the tendency to discard anything local and native to us including the good, in favor of everything foreign to us, including the bad. Our spirituality helped us to thrive and build kingdoms and vibrant societies that lasted thousands of years in the harsh African environment. We will have to go back to the spiritual in order to build the foundation of our beloved country. Spirituality does not have to be evil, involving sacrifices of humans and animals. The perplexities we all experience today have nothing to do with the impossibility of rebuilding our country and ridding it of corruption in its various forms. It has everything to do with neglecting our invisible reality, where there are no impossibilities including renewing Nigeria and creating a nation of honor and glory.
Before being accused of promoting Ifá, I would like to confess that I am not an Ifá priest. I have an MBA from McGill, a top business school and yes, a BSc from Obáfémi Awólówò University, Ile-Ife, incidentally the home of Ifá. I follow Christ. I study economics but I study history, I study wisdom, I study men and women from the dawn of time, I study the rise and fall of societies. I study truth.
The spiritual in this context is simply the realm where thoughts are fashioned. We act the way we do because of our dominant thought patterns. Thoughts are not visible but they rule the world, they rule nations, they rule societies and they rule individuals. The spiritual shapes and creates new thought patterns while the intellectual functions within existing mindsets and ideologies. When a person changes their dominant thoughts, which most humans live and die without doing, they are functioning in the spiritual. In Yoruba language, repentance, a spiritual exercise, has a deeper and richer translation as one would expect from an African language, Ìrònúpìwàdà, which means changing one’s character by changing one’s thoughts. Thought leaders are spiritual leaders whether they accept it or not. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Great men are those who have realized that the spiritual is greater than any material force, that thoughts rule the world.”
Nigeria is not a peculiar case when examined under the lenses of wisdom and truth. We are the way we are, we act the way we do because of how we think and until our thinking is corrected, there cannot be progress. There is a Nigerian mindset. Corruption in all its various forms is a mindset, that can be corrected but not without access to the realm where thoughts are set and reset and this is much more difficult to achieve than double digit GDP growth that propel us to the position of Africa’s largest economy. This realm is not intellectual or psychological. It is much deeper than getting people excited through motivational speaking. It is the realm our ancestors understood to be the controller of economies and societies.
We are in need of nation builders today, not just mere intellectuals but men and women regardless of social, political or economic status who can help reshape the Nigerian mindset. The prevailing tendency to sacrifice all (in religious, political, business and civil society) in the pursuit of status and material possession needs to be replaced en masse with the mindset that sacrifices all for compassion and contribution. “I pass my neighbor mentality” has to be replaced with “I love my neighbor” mentality. Without that, decadence will only increase as our population grows and our economy expands. Without that, expecting progress is like expecting oranges from a mango tree while continuing to nurture the mango tree. As the Yorubas say, “Ọmọ àjànàkú kìí ya ìrá, ọmọ tí ẹkùn bá bí ẹkùn ló máa jọ” which means the elephant cannot give birth to a horse and the tiger will always give birth to a tiger.
When our ancestors spoke in times of crises, they often spoke after strong spiritual consultations and deep thoughts, judging by history. Their words were not mere intellectual words but words capable of rearranging societal affairs, including thought patterns en masse. This is why Yorubas sometimes joke, “O f’ògùn s’enu sòrò ni?” In order words, is there a charm in your mouth that would make your words come to pass? We need spiritual intellectuals today. We need men and women as of old who combine deep spirituality with commanding intellects with or without modern education. We need people whose actions align with written and spoken words that move mountains and demolish mental fortresses of corruption. Nothing else will move us forward.