THE METAMORPHOSIS OF THE NPA TO PAN: AN INAUGURAL ADDRESS
Jim Ijenwa Unah, PhD, FNPA
Distinguished Professor, University of Lagos
& President, Philosophers Association of Nigeria (PAN)
Permit me to begin this inaugural address on the metamorphosis of the Nigerian Philosophical Association (NPA) to the Philosophers Association of Nigeria (PAN) with a few preambular statements. Permit me also to congratulate and appreciate the members of the Conversational School of Philosophy (CSP), at home and abroad, for executing this momentous academic event in the name of Philosophy. And more importantly, let me congratulate and appreciate most sincerely the Vice Chancellor of this most environmentally clean, healthy and peaceful University in the Southern part of Nigeria and Professors of Philosophy in this institution for hosting this great global conference on African Philosophy. And lastly, let me dedicate this rebranded subject association of Philosophy (PAN) to every Nigerian, at home and abroad, who has obtained a degree or degrees in Philosophy.
The last part, the celebration of every graduate of Philosophy, is important because, together, we are going to make Philosophy bubble, pulsate and take firm root in the Nigerian soil. It is my considered opinion that while we should continue to labour with our peers elsewhere in the world to continue establishing and re-establishing the universality and world citizenship of Philosophy, we cannot and should not shy away from prosecuting the mandate of Philosophy encapsulated in the programme documents of the National Universities Commission (NUC). If you go through the mandate carefully, which I cannot reproduce here for lack of space and time, you would search in vain for the intended outcomes in the lives of the graduates and those in the social environment which philosophic learning is supposed to impact. Where are the autocracy and aristocracy of thought embedded in culture; the sagacity, urbanity, logical rigour; the character orientation, the pragmatism, and inclusive diversity characteristic of the philosophic endeavor? While you may find some traces in Lagos, Ibadan and now Calabar, philosophic depth and activism are so uncoordinated today as to warrant an answer in the negative. At the risk of producing a prodigal philosophy, the Conversational School in Calabar, organizers of this global scholarly interaction, appears to be in the forefront of philosophic activism, except that it is still not impacting the Nigerian public space.
Indeed, we cannot deny that Philosophy in African Universities has come of age, but we cannot equally assert that it has grown beyond a toddler when it comes to impacting the lives of the average African. Early attempts at making philosophy come alive and bubble in the African life-world were obstructed by the stigmatizing offensives against these efforts by some philosophers who described themselves as modernist thinkers. Those early laudable attempts at domesticating philosophy in African Universities and African public space were callously trumped and stunted as “crazed philosophy” and labeled only for sighting as “ethno-philosophy” or better still “sage philosophy”; thus, unwittingly portraying philosophy as a fruitless pastime of old bearded men endlessly contemplating the ultimate nature and consequences of infringing a taboo and courting the umbrage of ancestral spirits and the gods. These disdainful attacks on attempts at cultivating and domesticating philosophy in the African soil were manifestations of the Western metaphysical tradition fostered and sponsored by colonial imperialism whose debris and vestiges are yet to exit the African space.
You find this attitude of unrelenting neocolonial stranglehold on Africans everywhere you go. You find it in the economic models of the Bretton Woods institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank fashioned to stifle Africa’s development. You find it in African Magic home video productions in which only the intervention of foreign life ways can bring succor to the primordial, cultic and twisted ways of African communities. Even African scholars, especially those in the Diaspora give emotional aid and comfort to this unabated castigation and denigration of African cultures and life ways. You find it in medicine in which Western trained medical personnel, Africans and non-Africans alike, proudly denigrate and trump the largely untapped, uninvestigated, undeveloped, undocumented and unimproved traditional African health care and healing practices. The instances are legion. The question to ask now is what is the way out of these endless onslaughts on the African psyche, this endless colonialism of the African mind, and this unabated denigration and trumping of the African cultures and life ways?
It does appear that a return to African philosophy to probe and properly document the alleged “crazed philosophy”, “ethno-philosophy” and “sage philosophy” is the way to begin to recapture the African past and rich cultural heritage now almost completely relegated and consigned to the dustbin of history. The debate is over, but it is not yet uhuru as the only credible path to tread has continued to be littered with thorns and thistles, booby-traps and stumbling blocks; surreptitiously being laid every day, through attractive foreign research grants that restrict the grantee to research topics and proposals that further strengthen the stranglehold of neo-colonialism on Africans.
As African scholars brainstorm on all of these and chart a course or strategize to excavate and exhume the ontological and epistemological building blocks for a new Africa, the Philosophers Association, with your active support and cooperation, will labour to take character training and moral education to elementary and secondary schools in Nigeria and beyond. That is the way, in my view, that we can arrive at a holistic understanding and effective management of Africa’s diversity and challenges; a proposal that will form the kernel of my other intervention in this conference.
At this juncture, it appears opportune to return to where I began, that is, the metamorphosis of the NPA to the PAN.
The Metamorphosis from NPA to PAN
As soon as we were elected into office, we wasted no time in marshalling out a road map on how the association should go. However, since the association has no permanent official Secretariat, we were constrained to operate from our various school offices. This of course raised a fresh challenge of how to keep in touch in terms of holding meetings and taking critical decisions. Needless to say, that did not dampen our enthusiasm. As a matter of fact, we responded to it by taking advantage of the revolution in Internet Communication Technology by creating an online social network platform (WhatsApp Group) which hosted all the members of the executive. In addition, another WhatsApp Group was further created where all professional Philosophers in Nigeria and in the Diaspora were invited to join. These two actions proved effectively delightful as the fact of distance no longer constituted a problem to the members of the Association. While this was going on, concurrently, efforts were being made to reach out to every school in Nigeria where we have a department or unit of philosophy or General Studies Centres; where there is no department or unit of philosophy; but where philosophy courses are being taught to the students. Within a time frame of one year, we can say that we had reached out to virtually all departments of philosophy either through their Heads of Department or colleagues in the departments. It should be noted that more efforts are still being made in this direction.
Problems and Challenges
Another similar action that we took in the above direction was the need to have a functional website for the association. We responded to this by commissioning the construction of a website where all the information about the association could be found. Procedures and requirements for membership registration into the association for all professional philosophers residing in Nigeria and those in the Diaspora were structured into the website. Unfortunately, while the website project was going on, we ran into a brick wall as we realized that the name, Nigerian Philosophical Association (NPA), was not recognized by the Nigerian law, hence, it was an illegal association as far as the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) was concerned. It amazed the members of the executive to say the least that our professional body which all of us had paraded on our CVs for years and paid dues to, had been operating without recognition from the laws of the land. Thus, without further ado, we swung into action by initiating the process for the organization to be registered. We promptly applied to the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). In the course of time, the process of registration became so cumbersome that certain portions in the registration forms demanded that signatures, stamps and passport photographs of some of the executive members be collected. Such bureaucracy required that those forms be sent to each of the signatories located in the Middle-Belt, South-West, South- East, and South-South, for signing. This exercise was time consuming because of the staggering geographical spread of members of the Executive. Consequently, we engaged some courier services to move the documents around to various signatories in different locations. In some cases, due to oversight, some of the signatories either did not properly sign all their portions in the forms or forgot to include their personal identification items. This, again, warranted that another courier service be engaged to re-convey the forms back to the signatories for correction. While we were trying to get the right things done, little did it occur to us that there was always a stipulated period of time within which an application for registration is made to the CAC and when the forms ought to get back to them for final processing. Thus, by the time the processes for the signatories were completed and the documents returned to CAC, we were then told that the time frame stipulated had lapsed, in addition to the fact that our application was caught up in the CAC migration from the old analogue system to the new digital online system. However, a special request for reconsideration was made on behalf of the association by the Deputy Director processing the documents. Unfortunately, at the point of final approval and endorsement, the routine check of the NPA name status with the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA)—the operations Manual of the CAC—revealed that no association that is not established by an Act of Parliament is allowed to prefix its name with “Nigeria” or “Nigerian”, since the 1990s that the regulatory manual came into existence. Consequently, we were instructed to come up with another name for the organization since the former name NPA could no longer fly. This again warranted that members of the executive should go back to fashion out a new name for the association. At the end of the day, a couple of names were debated and subsequently forwarded to the CAC for consideration; depending on whether or not any of the suggested names had not been used by another association. More distressing still was the hint from official quarters that some individuals were making frantic efforts to register a name under the subject of Philosophy to upstage, sabotage and frustrate our effort. Luckily, the Executive members had accepted all these as teething challenges which would fizzle out soon, and the association would then swing into action with full force.
Furthermore, it may interest you to know that while all the processes targeted at getting the association back on tract were going on, we did not just rest on our oars. We initiated a campaign which we tagged “Taking the Teaching of Virtue Ethics and Character Training Principles to the Schools”. Within the last one year, we had carried this campaign to various fora; including appearances in Church book events, Radio programmes, Conferences; both local and international, the most recent being a conference of applied research in Africa held in August, 2017 in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and the First National Conference on Inclusivity, Equality and Diversity in University Education in Nigeria, organized by the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, held in September, 2017 at the Sickle Cell Foundation, Idiaraba, Lagos. All these conferences, including the one of today, the website construction and the registration and incorporation of the association at the CAC, are entirely funded from personal resources of members of the Executive.
This report in no way suggests an indictment or apportioning of blame to past Executives of the association. No association, just by being called an association, can come into prominence and reckoning, without the active cooperation and support of all of its members. I have been privileged to check the Curriculum Vitae of members of the Philosophy association for regulatory purposes in the past. Virtually every one of them listed the NPA as its main professional association; but hardly up to ten percent (10%) of the lot ever attended the biennial conferences of the association; least of all pay membership dues to sustain its operations. So, past executives had practically nothing to bequeath to successor executives.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Be that as it may, I am pleased to announce that all the narratives of insolvency and lackluster performance of the NPA should, today, begin to pass into history; with its incorporation on 29 September, 2017 as the Philosophers Association of Nigeria (PAN). I also like to announce to this august body, in the month of October, that structures have been put in place for all members, at home and abroad, to register and support the association as it is done everywhere else in the world. I therefore seize this opportunity to urge all members here present and those unavoidably absent to log on to the association’s website and register properly, in order to store their full and accurate data, in the PAN database to facilitate its activities and constructive social engagements with industry, civil society and the Nigerian State.
Mr. Chairman Sir,
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar,
All Professors here present,
My worthy colleagues,
Graduates of Philosophy here present,
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen;
That has been the PAN Inaugural, and
I thank you for your attention.