Organised by the Literati Philosophia, in conjunction with Eastern Nigeria Writers Forum, it was the sixth edition of the Professor Fidelis Okafor Annual International Conference. The event, which took place recently at Best Western Meloch Hotels, Awka, was themed “Freedom and Security in a Functional Democracy: A Literary, Philosophical and Scientific Discourse,” with scholars examining the implications of security challenges in Nigeria and Africa from intellectual perspectives.
Bonny Anyanwu, a university don and a prominent member of ENWF, served as the compere, and he was at his lively best. The job of introducing the livewire of the Literati Philosophia, Prof. Ngozi Chuma-Udeh, fell on him, and he said, “Since the formation of Literarati Philosophia years ago, she had been the driving force of the annual programme, now in its sixth year.”
Prof. Chuma-Udeh, who teaches in the Department of English, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, Igbariam, said, in her remarks, that, every year, for the past six years, “it has always been the joy of Literati Philosophia to celebrate this man who is at peace with God, man and nature. Professor Fidelis Okafor is a benign soul.”
She recalled when the annual programme began, somebody said it was holding because Prof. Okafor was still the vice chancellor of EOOU, Igbariam, and, once his tenure expired, the programme would cease to exist. “Here I stand tall and proud to say that Literati Philosophia will forever celebrate Prof. Fidelis Okafor,” she declared.
Dr. Anyanwu added to the ratchetting accolades on Professor Okafor, “You don’t need to be shown a gentleman. You have a gentleman before you. Professor Okafor is a gentleman to the core. A lot of people don’t even know he is a knight; a knight with shining armour, not the sword-wielding type, but a knight that wins souls by his action.
“When you talk of mentor-mentee, it is that kind of mentoring that is both conscious and unconscious in the sense that, when you look at him, you say this is the kind of man I would like to be when I grow up. As we go, our children are watching us.”
The keynote speech was presented by the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academics, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof Pat Okpoko, who examined the relationship between freedom and security in Africa, the political factors that threaten them and the way forward, which he said revolved around equity in development model.
Generally, he said, “the desire of every society is good governance, and that good governance brought about the concept of democracy we are talking about, which guides us.”
He outlined five major principles people want to see in the society as decent basic standard of living, freedom to choose how to live their lives, freedom to develop their potentials and flourish in their endeavours without any hindrance, the opportunity to participate, contribute and be treated with care and respect, and opportunity to build fair and sustainable future for the next generation.
He maintained that democracy was built around human rights and personal freedom. “It recognises the rule of law and that an individual’s liberty is central to his understanding of security. Somebody understands security to the extent that it doesn’t not infringe on his liberty,” he said.
Citizens of major democracies, like the United States of America and the UK, he said, “do not generally want their freedom to be compromised. They resist any attempt to compromise their freedom. For instance, United States of America, following the September 11 attacks by terrorists, enacted a law called Patriot Act which gives them authority to investigate persons, particularly federal agencies, without prior notice.
“And people kicked against it, despite the fact it was aimed to protect them. Their feeling is that they didn’t want their privacy to be breached without their prior knowledge. So they expect you to do that only when they have been consulted.”
He argued that “the enormity of security challenges faced by Africans is expressed by their disposition to personal liberty. The way they see the problem determines how they react to the concept of security.”
The issues, he noted revolved around a number of factors, including corruption of state, how security measures were implemented. He lamented that the people who could add value to society were being relegated to the background, while those who had nothing to offer would getter better positions. He also blamed poverty, for “once you are poor, you are likely to forgot your security for your pittance”. He also blamed government’s incapability to solve the security challenges faced by Africans.
He submitted that “development becomes meaningful, including security, if it is anchored on distributional equity”, but “when one group dominates and others lose access to it, there is every likelihood that people will feel insecure. So Africa is positioned to freedom and security,” he noted.
He lamented that, in Nigeria, “We see progressive attempts to muscle personal freedom and human rights. We have also seen the invasion of the judiciary by DSS. We also see the denial and marginalisation that take place in political representation, economic opportunities, and so on, due to ethnicity or chauvinistic sentimentality. We also see regional hatred resulting in terrorism and ethnically motivated attacks.”
The first lead paper was presented by Dr. Chike Okoye of the Department of English and Literature, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, entitled “Between Orwellian 1984 and Achebean Anthills of the Savanah: A Nigerian (Ex)Spectra of Wahala”.
His paper highlighted the state of Nigeria in 1914; what the nation became in 1960 and the republican declaration of 1963; how we had an almost unbroken spell of military junta from 1970 to 1999, save for the only four years between 1979 and 1983 when Shagari and Alex Ekwueme led the Second Republic. His examined the attempt at democracy in 1999, producing presidents, such as Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammed Buhari.
The lead paper presenter lamented that “the Nigerian polity has been marred by a plethora of issues of lawlessness and disregard for the rule of law from both the governed and the governors, the led and the leaders, the aristocrats and the commoners. The society is filled with, more or less, get way get away with what you can while you can.”
He opined that “literature, which is the mirror of the society and which gives us a second handle on reality, has showcased this, and this being a literary treatise, at least, from me (I am in literature; I see everything from literary perspective), brings ready to mind two interesting texts –George Orwell’s 1984 and Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savanah.
“George Orwell wrote like a prognosis that is bent on the prophetic that, around 1984, in future –the book was published in 1984 –the world will become so policed that you cannot do anything in secret; you can’t even think your thoughts in secret, that Big Brother will punish you and punish you for what Big Brother thinks is right and wrong at the same time.
“In fact, the book was so scary that they will tell you that you were invited to the Ministry of Truth –actually, it is the Ministry of Lies. Double speak means it is only what they want you to say that you will say. If you have not read that book, go and read it. The Whiteman has seen what is happening now a long time ago,” he said.
Drawing an analogy with Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Dr. Okoye said Achebe wrote something along that line where Sam, a soldier, took over power and employed professionals in different places. But he got carried away by calling himself His Excellency and, from there, the same professionals and intellectuals he employed, he started hunting them one after the other.”
The connection between these major characters –Big Brother and Sam –in the aforementioned novels, he said, was that “control, oppression and terror are applied in apparently innocuous but highly insidious cruel ways to achieve the results of manipulation, coercion and followership. The state is so overwhelming and overbearing that there is no security.”
The Chairman of the occasion, Barrister Gabriel Orji, said, “Why this topic is important is that Nigeria of today is at the worst impulses and worst threshold of getting scattered,” even as he bemoaned the spate of insecurity in the country.
Awards were presented by the organisers to Alhaji I’saka Sariki Dankama “a nationalist, dedicated leader and a philanthropist”, who came all the way from Katsina State for the event; Hon Chima Obieze, member representing Ezeagu Constituency in the Enugu State House of Assembly, for being a dedicated leader, dedicated to grassroots empowerment and structural development.
Others included Chief Dominic Anolue, CEO of Daily Beverages Ltd, “an astute philanthropist who has instituted multiple scholarships”; Chief Emeka Ozoagu, “a legal luminary per excellence, an astute administrator and a philanthropist.”