Although there were sufficiently probing questions thrown at the presenter, it still wasn’t exactly an explosive session as they come. Still, there was something about the seminar topic to warrant being treated beyond a typical or routine university ritual. It must be the audacious articulatory move in trying to harmonise the essentialist narrative of Africans as subscribers to the Ubuntu world view and the image of human beings as ‘caring members of the community of God’s creation’.
The Catholic or Christian or theological sprint in that effort must be obvious to everyone but presenting it as an intellectual endeavour rather than a preachy campaign makes Prof Michael Udoekpo, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Veritas University and the paper presenter a scholar to watch in relation to the possibility of hegemonic tendential grip on that particular university. Of course, every university goes through all of that.
It will remain a debate if it serves any purpose to establish a university and make a particular tradition of scholarship hegemonic but it cannot be ruled out that one tendency or the other is always at the corner, particularly in a faith based university with a clear faith sensibility. What seems clearer at the moment is the desire for a university offering balanced education for whoever comes around in the tradition of the Catholic Church and university education, historically. At least, that is the direction Bishop Mathew Kukah headed in his keynote speech at the November 2017 conference on Peace and Development by Veritas University, Abuja. He went further to add how the Catholic Church has been a leading player in all upheavals in history and in managing such upheavals, including predicting the crisis that ended the Cold War and the role of the Church in managing the outcome. In other words, the Church has always had its own intellectuals with the capacity to bring all angles to whatever issue. Such intellectuals might not necessarily have attended faith based universities but must have received the most thorough grooming whichever institutions they attended.
It is to that extent that a scholarly outing beyond dogmatism from a very young campus as Veritas University, Abuja must be such a welcome development. After all, Prof Mike Kwanashie, a former Vice-Chancellor of the university, once asked the academic world to note that Veritas University was now fully planted in Abuja, Africa’s political, security and diplomatic capital. He obviously had in mind that a Catholic university in a country with a huge Catholic community such as Nigeria cannot lower its gaze in theoretical grooming of its products to speak for Catholicism, Nigeria, Africa and the black world, all at once.
It is arguable but the compatibility between Ubuntu and the image of humanity in Genesis argued by Prof Udoekpo fits neatly into this line of argument even as contentious as the claim is. At least, this is the argument also pushed by Prof Gabriel Egbe who chaired the Faculty Seminar series November 16th, 2021 where Udoekpo made his move. He reinforced Udoekpo’s position that Ubuntu as an ideology of the inherently communalistic sociality of man is original to Africa and serves as a critique of imperialist narratives of the continent. It is not a case of who wins the argument whether Ubuntu and the image of God’s creatures in Genesis are harmonious. Rather, it is a matter of which side more successfully articulates this to a consensus in the various audiences involved, far beyond the campus of Veritas University.
Luckily, the paper presented by Udoekpo has already been published in Light in a Once-Dark World and interested readers might wish to read it there or in Google Scholar under the title “A Contextual re-evaluation of Humanity’s Responsible Identity in Genesis 1: 26-28 in the Light of African Sense of Ubuntu”. That journal might not be a SCOPUS listed platform but that doesn’t diminish it in anyways whatsoever. SCOPUS doesn’t say much about a journal essay. For all we know, the University of Bristow based E-INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, for instance, is not listed in SCOPUS but that is where anybody who is anybody in International Politics scholarship across the world, including Stephen Walt, Lene Hansen, John Mearsheimer, Joanne Sharp and who have you have published. I could not see International Security, the leading journal in International Relations in the world today with an impact factor of 7+ when last I checked SCOPUS listing.
So, the strength of Prof Udoekpo’s paper does not lie in whether or not it was in SCOPUS or not but more in the questions thrown at him at the seminar by some of his colleagues. Those questions give us an idea of what the merits and demerits of his argument might be. There were many questions but a reporter has the right to be careless as not to have followed all of them in a hall that echoes badly. All one knows is that Prof (Monsignor) Sasa, the Head of the Department of Philosophy at Veritas University, Abuja asked how the High Table (rather than Udoekpo as such) could reconcile Rene Descarte’s “I think, therefore, I am” with Ubuntu. Prof Chimalum Nwankwo posed two questions. (1) Why is an ontological ecumenism impossible if Western theology and philosophy recognises the concept of Ubuntu which is expressed globally in American Emersonian transcendentalism; in Hinduism, in Buddhism and so on in Asia? (2) Is the burning of African shrines many of which also espouse Ubuntu helping the understanding and promotion of the concept?
Dr. Emmanuel Egar, immediate past Head of the Department of English wanted to know how human beings could know their image without knowing the image of God. He was recalling what most Christians learnt in Catechism that they have been made in the image of God. Dr. John Adole, the Head of the Department of History asked why Ubuntu was being spatialised in terms of South Africa when nearly all of Africa, according to him, subscribe to it? Dr. Fidelis Egbe of the Department of History was curious to know what Eve might mean if Adam in the Bible is to be understood as signifying ‘human beings’. He assured Intervention that his wife did not ‘bribe’ him to ask the question.
There were more questions, some of which were lost to note taking. The debate has just started because there are people who are still angling for a discussion with Udoekpo. One of such scholars is wondering how we can talk of a communal ideology such as Ubuntu without risking essentialism when eve individuals are a fragmented entity. People believe they are one temperament or another – socialist, capitalist, northerner, southerner, Christian, Muslim, Black, White, etc. But not even anybody’s mother says the same thing about him or her as the wife or husband. Nobody’s son says the same thing as his wife or peers. Yet, the idea of the integrated rather than the fragmented individual is what is marketed all over the place.
But the point is that the attendance shows that the seminar culture is gradually being consolidated on the campus. That is one sure cure for the phenomenon of unemployable graduates!