By Toyin Falola
On November 21, 2020, a new book that I edited, The Philosophy of Nimi Wariboko, will be presented to the public at a major conference. The book celebrates the thoughts of a Philosopher King, an economist, a theologian, an oracle of God, a strategist, a teacher, and a public intellectual.
NEW, an acronym coined from the combination of the first letters of his names, Nimigborueneboa Elekima Wariboko, is used to describe the intellectuality of the stellar figure at the center of this piece by one of his many admirers, Dr, Itohan Idumwonyi. Nimi Wariboko, the preferred version of the names he has adopted and for which he is well known, is not only an Africanist of global acclaim but a pathfinder of multi-disciplinary stature. He is an excellent theorist, theologian, ethicist, cultural theorist, and philosopher. He is also a fine economist whose studies have impacted the understanding of African economic history, business management, valuation of corporations, and financial statement analysis. He has been an economic and strategy consultant to the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Central Bank of Nigeria, even as he works as a philosopher, theologian, and social ethicist. Wariboko is a very prolific scholar, having published eighteen monographs and co-edited four volumes; two books (one on economic philosophy and the other on Pentecostal philosophy) are expected to be published in 2020, bringing his total number of monographs to twenty. He is currently also involved in co-editing three volumes spread across multiple disciplines. Furthermore, he is a co-editor of Pneuma, the most prestigious and widely acclaimed journal of Pentecostal studies, and he is on the board of many academic journals and professional bodies.
NEW thrives by feeding his curiosities about the humanity, the society, and the lived experiences of post-independent African peoples with a transdisciplinary model of inquiry in philosophy, history, economics, theology, political theory, and anthropology. Fusing all of these together, NEW built the foundation of his economic philosophy around Paul Tillich’s theology of culture, which sees humans as a complex web of an interrelated and intertwined body of system whose interactions and interrelations should only be mirrored by their relations with the supreme being. One might ask: What has the relationship between humans and God got to do with economics? Or what has the extraterrestrial pursuit of the theologian and his preoccupation with the spiritual got to do with our understanding of the material condition of man? In the face of wanton killings, the intermittent recession of the economy, the worsening human condition in the land, and the unbridled frivolousness of our public officials as epitomized in the character in my op-ed on the Thabo Mbeki School, what does a discussion on an African Philosopher King has to offer us? These questions are valid, and the answers to them form the crux of this piece. In addition to this, in these trying times like never before in the history of the make-up of our country, Nigeria, we owe it to ourselves to follow the ancient wisdom which advises that we look for bridges within; bridges in the sense of knowledge to navigate the peculiar and uncharted route of advancing our civilization.
If Professor Wariboko’s thesis on the economics of life is premised on Tillich’s submissions on culture, it is because Tillich’s ideas were immersed in the African philosophy of living and humanity. Ubuntu, the Zulu framework for human relations, “I am because you are”; Omoluabi, the Yoruba framework for good character; and many other fundamentals of different African cultures, all speak to the sanity in considering others in one’s actions, economic matters inclusive. This paradigm of lived experience falls within that space in which morality and material accumulation meet. Meanwhile, due to the socio-economic configuration of the modern state and its social fabrics that have been punctured by the type of excessive capitalism that perpetually takes from the poor to feed the rich and weaken the already weak, morality and economics exist in a different space; the ecumenical and the secular.
And this is where NEW comes in. As a trained economist and theologian, NEW founded theories and modelled approaches to the study of the society that blends theological teachings of nature and awareness of cosmic intelligence with the preoccupation of the economist in understanding the material composition and distribution in the society. It is in light of this pursuit that his ideas on Pentecostalism and economic ethics express the critical points of Africanness.
In the older African setting that sustained the civilization of the cultures in this area before the European colonial incursion, the Indigenous knowledge system was never departmentalized but fused. The mathematics, science, art, technology, language, language usage, and the entirety of the intellectual basis of the civilization, were incubated and inoculated in the cosmological and metaphysical understanding of the people. Nothing exists outside of this paradigm of understanding. Hence, the economic, like the social, shares the same burden with the epistemic value and ontologies of the people. In this way, the ancestors who have transformed into the world beyond our present in recent dealings, and every individual in the society, are connected to the same cord of humanity which the ancestors serve to protect. Since the blessings and the woes of the individual and the society are believed to be connected to these extraterrestrial entities, the extraterritoriality of their actions is what calls for consciousness that has been variously codified in such Indigenous frameworks, as mentioned earlier. This epistemic value enshrined in the mechanism of the social relation of the productive forces in Africa meant that no rational member of society would want to arouse the ancestors’ anger.
When Christianity and colonization came with their European epistemologies and ontologies, all of these notions and praxis began to lose their form as they were fast shrinking. Orthodox Christianity, as motioned by the European missionaries, concretely thought about a God, as against the formless interpretation in the African cosmology. Education was categorized, and so was the paradigm of knowing, as against the fusion of the African Indigenous knowledge system. With these punctured social realities, the ancestors at the core of the social and economic relations lost their place in the society as the frameworks within which this consciousness is embedded—themselves under severe heat. Although with Islam as an imminent force in Africa since around the seventh century, the epistemic understanding of the afterlife by the people have mutated. Christianity made this more ubiquitous, thereby feeding into the hope of the bourgeoisie and the petite bourgeoisie class to keep the proletarians at the margins of existence for the domination of their capital. This is trouble for which the two Abrahamic faiths promised a reward in a paradise hidden in the afterlife.
It was against this backdrop that NEW’s scholarship was birthed. His argument: “Following the economic model of an imposed imperialist order, Africans cannot but find themselves in an identity crisis that shuttered their economic ethics.” Five cardinals are therefore essential to draw from his teachings on social ethics: (a) everybody matters; (b) differences matter, there are different conceptions of the good life; (c) all persons are entitled to human flourishing; (d) in every situation or reality there is a capacity to begin, to call forth new possibilities, to initiate something new; and (e) we are called to resist all that thwarts abundant life and the creative actualization and expansion of the potentialities of every human being.
In 2018, NEW made clear on his years of an idea about Pentecostalism in Africa when he published The Split God: Pentecostalism and Critical Theory. This text validates the plurality of existence and manifestation of the Supreme Being as it explains the Africanization of Christianity in what is today known as Pentecostalism. When we begin to reflect on the possibilities of a “Split God,” then we can imagine that everyone matters, differences matter, all persons are entitled to human flourishing, and the other five cardinals noted above. NEW is calling for us to go back to the basics of our civilization, having had enough of contradictions.
It is agreed that the socio-cultural setup and trajectory of the northern and the southern regions in Nigeria are different; if Muslims and Christians can live peacefully in the southern part of Nigeria, the North shouldn’t have been an exception with the grounding of the society in the understanding of the ideals of a “Split God.” Similarly, with an immersion in the economic ethics that prioritizes collective good over and above excessive individualism, our public officials would have been more cautious in deepening their hands into the public coffers. Therefore, we must begin to rethink our social relations as Nigerians, and have faith in our common humanity, nationality, and Africanity in place of chasing primitive shadows cast on our imaginations by imperial cultures from the West and the East. No state in history has ever developed without basic guiding cultural principles known today as national consciousness or ideology. As we gravitate towards the future in whatever form as a nation, it is pertinent that we begin to reinvent our societies in light of the five cardinals of NEW’s ideations. This must be reflected in our education system, routed in government and private businesses, and present in our households, neighborhoods, and society at large.
*Prof. Falola is University Distinguished Teaching Professor and Humanities Chair, The University of Texas at Austin, USA.