I have decided to take a break this week and share these thoughtful responses to my article with readers. Enjoy.
Your column hits at the Nigerian reality. Gbam! I was involved in a car crash near Gusau a few years back when one 'kabu kabu' leapt his car into the highway from a gas station...leg out leg in. We thought someone was just standing beside his car, but he was pushing to start his car with one leg out! And the car started and jumped into my lane like a frog. We swerved off the road and ended in a dangerous somersault. That's when I witnessed the magic of airbags; we just removed our seat belts and came out. Now the trouble: kith and kin asked that I be careful with my 'enemies.’ How? I wondered. I don't have enemies. ‘It is our prayers, if not, they'd have succeeded in finishing you off’; ‘you'll not understand, it is 'spiritual’; One sister went: ‘my mind was not at rest...I should have told you not to make that trip.’
I asked them to explain to me the connection between my 'enemies' and the car-pusher that jumped into my lane. They couldn't. They just wished me a bigger car, so that my 'enemies' will be 'shamed'. Well, because the car was insured, it was immediately indemnified and I got paid, and I got another car within 3 months. Some of them went on traducing 'my enemies' on my behalf...and singing how God has replenished me with another car.
Another one: A 'man of god' came visiting my house at about lunch time. Noticing he was really famished, I quickly served him a cup of tea before lunch was ready. After filling up with the sumptuous lunch, he launched into a prayer, wishing punishment for my 'enemies' and those that will 'stop my promotion in office'. Well after his prayer, I called him and told him not to bother praying in that manner anymore: I have no enemies, no one can stop my promotion, only I can threaten my own promotion if I decide to be lazy; if anyone does, I'll simply protest and get whatever promotion I deserve. Then my 'man of god' apologizes and says: ‘Ah, oga your own na oyinbo style. That's why. If na civil service, you for understand.’
Philip Ikita, UK
I just want to briefly point out that Malaysians are not without their own idiosyncrasies. Several days following the missing airline, the government contracted a well-known 'bomoh' or herbalist to locate it. He was allowed into the airport to conduct his 'investigation'. Needless to say, the result was hilarious and has been parodied all over YouTube. So, sometimes when people are desperate they revert to religion and superstitions.
Mama ToMosh, Malaysia
Well written sir. Nigerians are so religious to the point of forgetting their responsibilities. The Gallop International Millennium Survey found that 86 percent of Americans believe in God.
Abolaji Sharafadeen Adekunle, Australia
Spot on, Prof. Nigerians have a capacity for material but not mental sophistication. From superstition to the tendency to seek absolution by peddling conspiracy theories. When a young woman can't find a husband because her bad manners and temperament drives all suitors away, it is blamed on her step mother, when an extended family unit is full of under-achievers, it is blamed on rival families and when youth who have been denied opportunities take to militancy, it is blamed on a conspiracy by the South. Conspiracy theories are convenient because they free us from blame or responsibility. The mother of the unmarriageable young woman avoids the responsibility for the poor upbringing of her daughter as long as the blame is placed on the step-mother, the family of under-achievers can avoid having to face the true causes of its under-achievement if the blame is directed at rival families while northerners can avoid facing up to the fact that they have wasted the lives of their youth if a southern conspiracy is blamed for problems in the north. Conspiracies exist but they often don't succeed until we allow them. The blame lies not in the conspiracy but in the allowing.
Raji Bello, Abuja
Thank you Prof for this brilliant summation. I can't help but wonder if this 'infancy of human reasoning' that is pervasive among Nigerians is not genetic. I have always held that as much as we try to dismiss Watson's opinion regarding racial disparity in intelligence, the Nigerian example lends credence to his assertion.
Mustapha Abubakar, London
These terms— “prescientific mindset,” “anti-scientific attitudes,” and “infancy of human reasoning”—ring a very loud bell in my mind, and truly that’s how we are. You were right when you said “there is no doubt that unthinking obsession with supernaturalism and metaphysical claptrap is Nigeria’s, nay Africa’s, biggest stumbling-block to progress.” May the almighty Allah have mercy on those in MH370.
Muhammad Sulaiman, Malysia
You called these things (superstition, sorcery, witchcraft, among others) by their English names. What it means is that they exist even among the more developed nations of the world. Who gave them the English names? Nigerians? As a Muslim, I do not believe in the power of these things, but we can't deny their existence among mankind. The evil of witchcraft and sorcery is even mentioned in the Holy Qur'an.
Abdulsalam Yakubu , Lokoja
Religious zealotry is the root cause of all this ignorance, this uncritical and anti-scientific mindset, as you have rightly pointed out. I thought you would say something on the much-talked-about T.B Joshua’s ‘failure’ to foretell this tragedy and the other that happened during the NIS employment scam. I however found the two ministers’ mischief to bamboozle Nigerians via this means very, very astonishing. If highly educated people like the university don believe this crap, then who will not?
Muhsin Ibrahim, India