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Nigeria: A Case of Metaphysical Amnesia In Politics and Governance



When Nigeria became an independent nation in 1960, the nation had a rich history, diverse people and a growing economy. The optimism and hope that heralded the independence and the pace of growth and development was commensurate with any developing nation.

The country was run as a parliamentary democracy modeled on the British system, with a multiparty system. Most of the political parties if not all were the outgrowth of nationalist or cultural movements rooted in the various regions

There was the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) from the Bauchi General Improvement Union, the Action Group (AG) from the Awolowo’s Egbe Omo Oduduwa, Azikwe’s NCNC from the Nigerian Youth Movement and Amino Kano’s radical Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) which opposed the NPC in the North from its Kano base.

The 1963 Republican Constitution made the system a competitive federalism by providing incentives for hard work and competition in the revenue allocation formula. The standard of education was high, wealth creation was a competitively growing in the different regions, industries were stringing up, and violence and insecurity were at its minimum; while poverty and unemployment was not an issue to raise concern.


Lessons of History

Much have been written about the importance of remembering the lessons of history. Lessons gained from history are a very rich pool of knowledge and resource for growth and overcoming the ills of the past. Psychologists have shown just how interpretations of memories can alter future behaviour.

Memory organizes information so that when we retrieve it, we can apply that information in the proper context and use it in the current activity we are involved in. Surely we should be able to recall the mistakes that led us to failure, or to many of the other deplorable actions of our collective and individual pasts, so that we can use the past to avoid repeating previous errors in politics, governance, social policy, and health care.

Sadly, it appears that human nature benefits less from past mistakes than it ought to. However it isn’t all bad if we cannot completely learn from previous mistakes, but it is worse if we can’t even gain simple lessons from the past and we continue to wallow in the dirt and pits of the past.

History cannot be estranged from one’s life and especially from the life of a community or a state. However with the recent play of events in my country especially in politics and governance I can say that we have lost it all. Nigeria is a state that has lost touch with history, and so it suffers from continuous economic, social, and political somersaults.

From Anamnesis to Amnesia

Socrates in response to Meno’s question on his search for the nature of virtue developed the theory of Anamnesis. Meno was puzzled on how Socrates was searching for something he himself doesn’t know. How will he recognize it even if he comes across it, since he lacked the knowledge of it.

For Socrates, the soul is immortal, repeatedly incarnated and that knowledge is in the soul from eternity, but each time the soul is incarnated its knowledge is forgotten in the trauma of birth. Thus, what we perceive as learning is the recovery of that which was forgotten in the trauma of birth. Once it has been brought back it is true belief, to be turned into genuine knowledge by understanding.

Anamnesis is the fusion of two Greek words “an” (un) and “amnesia” (forgetting). This mean literally un-forgetting; a reawakening of already existing dormant or latent knowledge. It is like bringing back that which one already knows but is somehow is laying fallow.

The concept of anamnesis as remembrance is taken up by the Church and furthered. Anamnesis is an essential dimension of all of Christian liturgy. It is always in memory of Christ that the church assembles, the biblical word is proclaimed, prayer is offered, sacraments celebrated, and all of the story of Christ remembered anew in the course of the liturgical year.

Liturgical anamnesis, therefore is not merely a mental recall of something past, over and done with, nor is it the fond recollection of something or someone absent. Rather, in the Church’s liturgical anamnesis before God, Christ is truly present now. This form of remembrance is a “made present” remembrance.

So, what happens when a people and a government cannot tap into the lessons of the past to bring about a desired future? How do one explain the inability to reawaken already existing facts of a country, and bring the latent knowledge to use? What is the fate of a nation that has lost remembrance; a situation of losing the “an”, the recalling factor?

Once “an” fizzles away, we are left with “amnesia”; and so we have become a people that forgets; forgetfulness has become a cloak, a standard, and a way of life. Indeed my people and government have embraced this way of living. Amnesia has replaced anamnesis and what is displayed is a political metaphysical amnesia. Yes, Amnesia is the ailment and the symptoms are so many to count.


The Ailment is Amnesia

If the ailment is not amnesia, how then do we explain the symptom of memory loss in the recycling of old, tired and corrupt leaders? The way these leaders they are celebrated and the expectations required from them suggests a complete loss of memory. People that have failed in every given responsibility are given more responsibility to showcase failure. More work is the result of hard but here, more work is the result of underperformance.

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If the ailment is not amnesia, how then do we explain the symptom of confusion in embracing failed leaders in different garments? The same failed military leaders whose exit heralded joyous excitement are the same leaders we embrace just because they changed military garments to civilian garments. It is the same failed local government officials that are sent to the state houses. Underperformed and corrupt governors find their way to the senate and are given ministerial appointments. I don’t really understand how our memory has failed us.

If the ailment is not amnesia, how then do we explain the symptom of our inability to recognize positivity seen in repeating the same failed policies and style of governance and expecting different results? Nothing gets a person more annoyed as the experience of continuous mistake and the foolishness; repeating failed acts as if they are new. There is no show of innovative thinking, no laudable strategies, no diversity of opinions, resources and planning. When governance is just a one-way traffic, and policies are the same as always, results definitely will be the same; but their reaction seems to say that they expect something better; this cannot but be amnesia at work.

If the ailment is not amnesia, how then do we explain the symptom of forgetfulness in referring back to history in our everyday dealings? If not then what do we say about our continuous falling and rising like a kid trying to walk? The height of this amnesia was experienced when the study of History was removed from the curriculum of educational institutes especially in colleges and secondary schools.

Our memories are what we are, what makes us make the decisions we make, act as we act and love as we love. My people can now be called “the forgotten”. It is impossible to reason with the forgotten, because there is no residual of knowledge to fall back to, no claims to hold on to; it is like a clear slate with nothing written on it. We would be nothing without our memories, without it we return to perpetual infantilism.


Voluntary Amnesia

Socrates’ theory leaves open the question as to whether the soul is voluntarily or involuntarily reincarnated, and the question therefore of whether this metaphysical amnesia is voluntary or involuntary. This question is important for me, my country and her citizens, because we can only be cured if we get the right diagnosis.

After careful observance and meditation, I have come to liken the Nigeria situation to the doctrine associated with the New Age movement which states that humans are infinite beings voluntarily having a finite experience. For this to be possible, one must forget one’s identity as an infinite being, and so the idea is that human beings have voluntarily entered into a state of metaphysical amnesia. Nigerians truly have voluntarily entered and embraced metaphysical amnesia in politics and governance.

We can thus say that we are operating the nation under the influence of a voluntary retrograde amnesia. Retrograde amnesia involves losing the ability to recollect past memories, although the ability to create new memories may remain intact. However voluntary forgetfulness has its danger.

Memory is something we deal with every moment of the day even when it seems like we are not actively using it. The danger of forgetfulness is that every time we give ourselves the permission to forget, we are forgoing the opportunity to make new and interesting connections. We cannot think coherently well when we are habitually forgetting what we learnt; we cannot be concrete innovators and rational thinkers if we cannot retain our knowledge base.

All memories carry with them one emotion or more associated emotions. Those who come with more powerful emotions, fear, disgust, anger, sadness, nostalgia, happiness, etc. are the ones that last the most in our memory. It is precisely these emotions that get us to learn from our experiences so that in the future, we know how to make the decisions that will cause us a more pleasant emotional state. The experience here is completely the opposite, we forget the most powerful emotions and go on with life as if it never happened.


A New Ailment

The depression felt with this voluntary retrograde amnesia is quite overwhelming. As I was trying to recover from the depression I was hit by another reality that shook me so vigorously that the foundation of my existence in this country was questioned by me. This new ailment is familiar with the initial one, but carries more weight; this is the case of Anterograde amnesia.

Anterograde amnesia involves the loss of the ability to form new memories. This means that with the failure to recollect the past, we are faced with the inability to start anew, to build up something in the present, that we can reach out to and that can serve as our new history.

More disheartening is the recent discovery by scientists that anterograde amnesia is actually far more common than retrograde amnesia. And already the symptoms are so glaring for all to see.

Every four years of election seems like a new year. It feels like a new beginning instead of a continuation. Such that every four years we are starting things anew, we start all over again from the foundation. What was laid is forgotten, long time plans are abandoned and new ones are inaugurated; the slate is cleared, we return back to square one.

How do one explain an administration making the same silly mistakes in her policies, appointments, and decisions within a short period of time? Recycling the same projects, investing capitals in the same water baskets. Every year should be an experience of forward movement, but what is experienced is backwardness, corruption and decay.

We have gotten to disgraceful destination where we cannot but retrieve our memory and go down history lane in order to restore sanity, development, and progress back to the nation.

This is a clarion call for us to wake up from our amnesiac slumber and put our house in order. We have to resurrect the post-independence period, the parliamentary democracy, the multi-party system and the competitive federalism. Our only point of growth is to embrace a historical anamnesis; to recall the saving events of our heroes past that ushered in the glorious years of our existence, and to make it a truly present reality like the liturgical anamnesis.

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