Very early in life, I noticed a connection between questioning and change – between asking why? Why not? How do you know? and the project of societal renewal. Evidently, questioning is a product of discontent, of lack of satisfaction with the way things are, with the status quo and a desire for how things should be, for the new and the different.

Risky Journey in the Mediterranean Sea: Africans en route to Europe Image Credit: BBC Africa
Risky Journey in the Mediterranean Sea: Africans en route to Europe Image Credit: BBC Africa

I realized that the skeptical outlook contained the ingredients for social transformation and that in critical thinking lurks potentials and possibilities for a proactive life and an engage existence. I noticed that in the absence of this life of questing, questioning, and inquisitiveness, passivity, and resignation would constitute the defining canons of life, of being that precluded becoming.

This realization motivated and inspired me over the years to work, campaign and contribute to progressive causes. It drove me to make a case for change – to effect or resist change in many areas of human endeavor.
While growing up in Nigeria, I encountered and came under the influence of various beliefs, disparate cosmological perspectives. These conceptions were often presented as religions, as traditions or cultures and so designated, they were considered sacrosanct and beyond questioning and tinkering by any mortals, especially the non-initiates.

I encountered practices, which I found distasteful, objectionable and unworthy of human beings, disgusting rituals clad with the façade of normality, bereft of befitting worthwhile intellection, which I was told not to question or challenge or do so at my own peril, at a price that ranged from ostracization to incarceration to execution. I was constantly reminded of that saying which the Igbos in Nigeria use to suppress the open expression of dissent or inquiry. It says: “If a child does not become an adult and wants to investigate and inquire into what killed the father, whatever killed the father would kill him or her”. Definitely, this adage is enough to instill fear into a person. It is capable of shutting down a curious mind.

But given that human beings will die anyway, I found the process of inquiry with its promises of intellectual emancipation and enlightenment worthy of the risk. So the imputed fatal undertaking needn’t be feared but must be confronted head on. Threats or intimidation should not stop us from embarking on this important adventure of achieving a critical Africa, that is, the Africa that questions.

I noticed that these penalties were but devices used by those with a vested interest in these sacred dogmas and the political and economic bounties they attracted. These custodians used the beliefs and traditions as a power base and tried to shield them from the withering effects of critical examination and inquiry.

Due to the disdain for critical investigation, these beliefs and traditions have persisted. The damage caused has festered. These faith narratives have endured and have been handed down to generations, not because of their timeless appeal to fact, not because they are compellingly true or right, but because of the gatekeepers. The thought, moral or normal police who have zealously guarded the frontiers of change, revision, and correction.

Put simply, dogma has persisted because critical thinking has been held hostage. Change has been held to ransom.
So ‘progress’ has awaited the emergence of rebels, of reformers, and revolutionaries, the defiers, people with promethean spirit who are ready to pay the price. Those who are ready to take on the establishment, speak truth to power and take the society, Africa and humanity at large towards a new direction

By: Leo Igwe

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