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It is this spirit of inquiry; this permanent search for knowledge and this daily concern for its dissemination to awaken the overwhelming majority of the people to their condition, rights, duties and potential, which, in my view, are some of the most important aspects of his legacies, which this country badly needs now if its democratic system is to survive and grow.

By Yusufu Bala Usman

This contribution to the symposium is limited to drawing your attention to the important, but largely neglected, relationship between ignorance, knowledge and democratic politics. Drawing your attention to this relationship is relevant to the theme of this symposium and may raise awareness with regards to one of the obstacles to the building and the consolidation of a democratic system of government in Nigeria.

Democracy is built on the equality of citizens; the freedom of these citizens to associate with one another for the realisation of their ideals and the defence and promotion of their interests; and the freedom of these citizens to choose between the different political platforms of various political parties and candidates, and see to the actualisation of the platforms they have voted for, if their choices win. This is only possible if the citizens are well informed about their country, their governments, their circumstances and the various interests contending in the various parties. To put all this in a very simple way, this, requires knowledge.

Without knowledge, the association, the citizens enters into is one based on irrational, but no less powerful, instincts of fear, greed, envy, fascination, or, hatred. This is because the citizen entering into this association has no rational basis for assessing whether, or, not it serves his, or her, interest and promotes and defends his, or, her, ideals and principles.

Without knowledge, the exercise of the democratic right to choose lacks a stable and rational basis and, therefore, does not enable the citizen making the choice to make the party and the candidates accountable.

In short, democratic politics is not possible when the citizens who constitute the electorate are ignorant about the basic elements of the country, its economy, its political system, and its position in world affairs.

Ignorance is not the same as illiteracy. Knowledge is not the same as literacy, or, even the same as the acquisition of educational certificates, or, academic ranks. Some of the most highly literate Nigerians, and the most highly educated, by virtue of their certificates and ranks, are some of the most ignorant over many crucial areas of natural and human existence and over our national life, like our geography, history, economy and politics.

The person whose legacy this symposium is addressing is an outstanding example of a profoundly knowledgeable man, who did not get any high educational qualifications, or eminent academic ranks. He was, and has remained to all of us, the mallam, the teacher, the learned one, because his life and his politics were imbued with the quest for knowledge and the dissemination of knowledge.

His house, before he moved to Mambayya House, and Mambayya House itself, was not only a place where politics was a daily affair and the centre of all activities, but, was a place where people went to learn, about religion, science, culture, language, Nigerian politics, economics, world affairs and almost everything else.

Moreover, this learning was not being disseminated by Mallam Aminu Kano, his colleagues and his disciples, just for the sake of it, but for political action. Mambayya House, where this new research centre of Bayero University has the fortune to be located, was the place where, throughout Mallam’s residence there, the dissemination of knowledge and the struggle for democratic emancipation in the country were integrated. It is often said that the main achievement of the NEPU led by Mallam Aminu was to teach the talakawas to say “No” to their oppressors and their deceivers. But Mallam, and the party he led, did not just teach them to say “No” to injustices and oppression. They taught them first to say “Why”. For, they only said “No” after asking “Why”. They did not just say “No”, blindly, like donkeys.

This questioning, is, from my very limited experience of his style of discourse, one of the most distinctive features of Mallam Aminu Kano’s interaction with people.

It is this spirit of inquiry; this permanent search for knowledge and this daily concern for its dissemination to awaken the overwhelming majority of the people to their condition, rights, duties and potential, which, in my view, are some of the most important aspects of his legacies, which this country badly needs now if its democratic system is to survive and grow.

The Politics of Ignorance

Right now, in Nigeria, the freedom of political association and the exercise of the democratic right to choose freely in all elections is being denied to tens of millions by ethnic, sub-ethnic, regional, and sectarian religious organisations. They are loudly insisting that Nigeria is made up of ethnic, regional and religious groups which are monolithic and all those who belong to them have a common interest and have to act politically together, making all those who do not agree with this type fascist politics, traitors, who are liable to be ostracised and violently dealt with.

This politics is built on the dissemination of ignorance about how Nigeria and its people have come into being. It is the Yoruba Race, the Ijaw Nation, the Igbo Nation, the Urhobo Nation, the Hausa-Fulani Nation, etc, etc, who are said to be the original building blocks which are said to have agreed to come together to form Nigeria.

But all this is only politically potent because it is based on ignorance and the entrenchment of hostility to knowledge, which has come to riddle Nigerian politics and allow racist and fascist politics, deeply hostile to democracy, to flourish.

Anybody who has read the scholarly writings that have come out of the University of Ibadan from the early 1950’s knows that there has never been and there is nothing like a Yoruba “Race”. Anyone who is familiar with the works of Professor Kenneth Dike, one of the greatest academics of the 20th century, knows that there is nothing like the Igbo nation. These, like the Hausa-Fulani, Ijaw, and the other nationalities of Nigeria, came to be formed in the course of the formation of Nigeria in the 19th and 20th centuries, as we have brought out in the Ceddert publication, The Misrepresentation of Nigeria: The Facts and the Figures.

The Example of G. G. Darah

The degree to which ignorance has replaced knowledge and this ignorance is used to promote racist and anti-democratic politics in Nigeria, is most clearly illustrated over the claims made about the Urhobo and the petroleum resources they are supposed to possess, by Dr. G.G. Darah.

Here, the claim coming from a prominent Senior Lecturer in the Obafemi Awolowo University, now Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Guardian Newspapers, is what will be cited. In an interview published in the Sunday Punch of 3rd January, 1999, on page 3, Dr. G.G. Darah, said:

“I come from an area of Urhoboland… the Federal Government makes N41 billion a day from the oil produced in that place… we are asking for a hundred per cent because after all in America where this thing is exploited, your farm if they find this oil, government has no business with it. The Federal Government is rampaging our land… That land is Urhoboland. And Urhobo people were there before Nigeria was founded. Nigeria is only 87 years old. We have been here for 6,000 years.”

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