Discussing discourse: Of Omoluabi, Pulaaku and Ezigbo mmadu

In continuation of its Distinguished Personality Lecture series, the Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ilorin, under the able leadership of Prof. Noah Yusuf, hosted the Secretary-General of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), Prof. Matt Meyer, as Guest Lecturer, last week. The lecture also served as a forum to present the recent book of the lecturer, co-edited with Vidya Jain, Connecting Contemporary African-Asian Peacebuilding and Non-violence: From Satragraha to Ujamaa (2018).

As one of the discussants of the lecture delivered, along with other former Directors of the Centre, Professors Isaac Albert, Olabisi Olasehinde-Williams and Joseph Fayeye, I started by noting that the combined forces of President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un could not have stopped me from attending the programme, despite a conflict of interest. Apart from the emotional attachment to the Centre, the opportunity cost of not meeting Matt, a vibrant scholar and peace activist, with whom I served on the Governing Council of IPRA till the end of 2018, would be too significant to bear as no one knows when or if he will be in Nigeria again.

The lecture, “International Trends in Peace Action and Peace Research: From South to North and into the Future”, was rich and refreshing in its coverage of people and phenomena of peace and peacebuilding, from Asia to various regions of Africa. Just as innovation is basically about connecting the dots, as noted by Steve Jobs, peacebuilding itself is about connecting with people and it is highly remarkable that the lecturer has demonstrated how connected he is with the people of Africa.

The lecture actually brought to mind the components of peace as espoused during my training at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, Notre Dame University, Indiana, USA.  These components, which are referred to in the lecture, are truth, justice, love and fairness. It is the interplay of these four forces that actually engenders peace between the North and the South either at the global level or within the Nigerian context. In other words, there is a compelling need for us to shake hands but for the handshake to be meaningful and sustainable, we must be truthful, just, loving and fair to one another.

When Prof. Meyer said, “Africa is the cradle of modern, 21st Century peace-making”, it might be difficult for some people to connect with it given the spectra of violent conflicts ravaging many countries in the continent. But I agree with him and we can cite a good example in the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr Abiy Ahmed, who within just a year of assuming office has done what was unimaginable just few years ago. Apart from establishing a Ministry of Peace, a campaign I had been making here since 2014 at several fora in Ilorin, Abuja, Lagos and in the media, he has freed thousands of political detainees, lifted the state of emergency that was in force before he assumed office and resolved the contentious border dispute between his country and Eritrea to the advantage of the latter, with the two countries formally declaring the end of war and thereafter reopening their land borders. He also needed no bogus ‘affirmative action’ before making women occupy half of the ministerial positions in his government. These are success indicators and it is difficult to find anywhere in the world where this commitment to peacebuilding and peacemaking is unfolding.

Meanwhile, if  Satyagraha is understood as “an understanding that the force of truth and soul (or spirit) and love could be converted into a powerful tool to weaken oppression and win victories for the oppressed” in India and Julius Nyerere’s “Ujamaa” is basically the extended family concept underlining “social and economic enhancement through village-based socialism”, a launchpad for authentic pan-Africanism from Tanzania, it goes without saying that we must identify models of revamping our national ethos and recalibrating our values. All conflicts grow from the hearts of people before they become manifest and we need to return to working on the hearts and minds of our people so that Nigerians would be good.

It is in this light that the former President of India, Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, also appreciated the quality of what is in the heart, that psychological harmony and balance that the Germans call Weltanschauug. According to him, “when there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.” So, the whole enterprise of peace and peacebuilding has to be built on character, which is lacking in many Africans today, especially Nigerians.

But we don’t have to go to Asia and East Africa to imbibe values, our cultures have enough formulae that constitute appropriate codes of conduct that we should embrace as a nation. While Prof. Meyer, citing Dr A. O. Babatunde, discussed the concept of ‘omoluabi’ among the Yoruba, the ideal human being imbued with the tripartite attributes of fairness, equity or justice, or according Prof. Abdulganiyu Ambali (2013), “someone who is hard working, diligent, responsible, serious-minded, fair, honest, trust-worthy, kind, respectful and Godly in all his activities.  An Omoluabi values good name more than gold and s/he is a symbol of everything good and admirable” among the Yoruba, there are concepts in other Nigerian ethnic groups aimed at achieving the same purpose.

For instance, ‘Pulaaku’, a Fulfulde term, is an ideal code of character that is expected of every Fulani man. Pulaaku has many semantic ramifications but five of its components are central: bashfulness or having a sense of shame; patience, tolerance and perseverance; kindness and affection for others; manliness and bravery as well as dignity and self-respect. If all Nigerians mind their Pulaaku, we would all be better behaved than we are. Then, the Igbo have the concept of ‘Ezigbo mmadu’, which means good character or moral conduct. When a person possesses Ezigbo mmadu among the Igbo, he is a role model who should be emulated by all as the best of the society.

Ultimately, we owe Matt a debt of gratitude for widening our scope and deepening our insights with his thought-provoking lecture. In the spirit of the lecture, one can only hope that the North and the South of Nigeria would come to a common ground as a way of launching Nigeria into a blissful, peaceful and prosperous future and the future is now.

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