Renowned Nigerian philosopher, university don and gender activist, Professor Sophie Bosede Oluwole, died on December 23, 2018 at the age of 82. No doubt, her death is a great loss to African philosophy. She will be sorely missed by many of her admirers. She was a promoter of African culture and gender equality. She also promoted African languages.
The deceased was the first female doctorate degree holder in philosophy in Nigeria and became one of the foremost African philosophers. Oluwole studied History, Geography and Philosophy at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) but later specialised in philosophy. She got her Ph.D in Philosophy at the University of Ibadan in 1984 and taught African philosophy at UNILAG between 2002 and 2008.
Oluwole was vocal about the role of women in philosophy and the disproportionate representation of African thinkers in education. She was a great role model and mentor. As a dedicated teacher and well-respected scholar, Oluwole inspired many female academics. Born in 1935 in Igbara-Oke, Ondo State, the deceased went to school in Ife and was said to be critical of the education system in the 1940s.
As a traditionalist, Oluwole published many books that reflected her beliefs in Ifa, Orunmila and Yoruba philosophy. Her teachings and works are generally attributed to the Yoruba school of philosophical thought, which was ingrained in the cultural and religious beliefs of the Yoruba. She held the notion that this branch of philosophy predates the Western tradition, as the ancient African philosopher Orunmila predates Socrates.
It is believed that these two thinkers, representing the values of the African and Western traditions, are two of her biggest influences. She compared the two great thinkers in her book, Socrates and Orunmila. The deceased contributed immensely to scholarship in African philosophy and culture through her numerous publications and lectures.
Her death has attracted many eulogies from Nigerians. In his tribute, President Muhammadu Buhari mourned the death of the philosopher who through her teachings celebrated the Yoruba culture, history and worldview. Buhari said the deceased will be remembered for her commitment in promoting African tradition and culture.
Similarly, Senator Bola Tinubu described the deceased as a distinguished academic, pan-African philosopher and Yoruba nationalist. As Nigeria’s first female doctorate degree holder in philosophy, she truly earned her stripes. According to Prof. Ola Oni of the University of Lagos, “Nigeria has lost an international scholar and academic colossus of the Africanist mold of philosophy.”
Oni stressed that “for many years that she taught philosophy at the University of Lagos, she always gave it an African philosophical perspective. She believed in and advanced the contribution of Africa to world discourse and civilization.”
Oluwole’s impact was also felt at the Lagos State University. To Professor Rotimi Olatunji, “As Acting Dean, School of Communication, Lagos State University between 2004 and 2006, she brought her philosophical yet analytical mind to bear on the School’s management.” According to Olatunji, “Oluwole infused a couple of philosophy courses in the curriculum, thus exposing Mass Communication students to philosophical tools to enhance their academic and professional competence.”
Oluwole lived the life of a philosopher and gender activist. To Odia Ofeimun, “Prof Oluwole had great respect for African traditions, in terms of fixing them into broad spectrum of philosophical thinking across the world and showing how we could make use of them for a more advanced African civilization.”
Her gender activism is anchored on the equality of the sexes. She believed that the society must be ruled by philosopher kings. She was a rebel of a sort and nick-named Mamalawo (female herbalist) because of her love for Yoruba tradition and philosophy.
Oluwole studied African philosophy to prove that Africa had ideas. Her published works include Philosophy and Oral Tradition, Witchcraft, Reincarnation and the GodHead, Socrates and Orunmila and Two Patron Saints of Classical Philosophy.
Oluwole will be remembered for her witticism and African philosophical ideas. She was a great Nigerian teacher and philosopher. Let the Federal Government immortalise her for her contributions to African philosophy. We commiserate with her family, the academic community and Nigeria for the great loss. May her soul rest in peace.