Our countryside does not harbour spaces of ignorance and hostility to knowledge. They were spaces of sophisticated indigenous knowledges and philosophy. The merchants of poverty in the leadership performed the social engineering that drove knowledge away and replaced it with food and unthinking.


Everywhere you turn to in online Nigeria these days, there are folks arguing for ignorance as the most strategic pathway to 2019 and beyond. Niyi Osundare once published a sarcastic essay on the uses of ignorance. It may be time for Prof. to dust up that essay again.

The argument in support of ignorance is simple. It erroneously divorces practice from knowledge. So, the narrative goes that intellectualism is an alienated beast that has and should have nothing to do with the life of the people – especially in the grassroots and in our villages. So, intellectualism – and those blowing too much grammar in the name of it – should be scorned and pissed upon daily. It does not win votes. It does not win elections. It is not practical. And patati. And patata.

Such narratives conclude with a romanticisation of ignorance, which they disguise as practical knowledge of the terrain, connection with the folks, as opposed to alienated and disconnected intellectualism. George Weah is then dragooned into the argument as the icing on the cake.

I do not want to do a long disquisition on this dangerous argument. I should not need to lawyer a case on behalf of knowledge in the court of those romanticising ignorance and questioning the place or role of learning in the body politic and the politics. I should not have to make the obvious case that such arguments – which we hear daily these days – are a double tragedy because they come from the presupposition that our people are not producers of knowledge and intellectuals.

My grandmother, Mama Isanlu, was an intellectual. She did not speak a word of English. But I still remember the protocols of discourse, engagement, and hermeneutic procedures with which she weighed the candidacies of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Aminu Kano, etc, after returning from their campaign stops. I still remember the intellecual analysis of those women as they compared candidates and weighed options. It was rhetorical rigour. They philosophised their choices, options and strategies.
If you are persuaded by the guys mouthing constipated rationalisations in favour of the politics of the belly, constantly saying that all our people understand is cash and rice and stomach infrastructure, while making short shrift of how we got there, that is your funeral. Like I said, ‘I don’t have to lawyer a case for knowledge.’

Do not allow our emergency romanticisers of ignorance to persuade you that ignorance is what led Weah to the presidency because, in their logic, had he invested in intellectualism, he would have been alienated and disconnected from the people and would have become incompetent in grassroots strategy by “blowing too much grammar”.


The only thing I wish to add are some significant details which those playing make up artists for ignorance conveniently leave out in the narrative of George Weah.

When he first ran for office, he was a near illiterate and could barely string two coherent sentences together. He was not well read. He was derided as ignorant.

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George Weah went back to school.

George Weah went back to books.

George Weah went back to learning.

He enrolled for degrees and began to voraciously broaden his knowledge base. He hired personal professors who began to instruct him on wide ranging issues in the global knowledge economy. He read voraciously across various fields and disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. One Liberian professor recently told me that he was drawing up a monthly reading list for Mr. Weah at some point.

Recently, George Weah was at the Elysee on his first official trip to France. Go and watch his speeches – especially his unwritten speeches. Evidence of reading. Evidence of learning.

Knowledge and politics, grassroots politics, are not mutually exclusive. That they became mutually exclusive in Nigeria is a function of four decades of systemic impoverishment of our people, turning them to the primal instinct of food. Those responsible for this situation cannot turn around and start hawking ignorance as the open sesame to the future of Nigeria.


Do not allow our emergency romanticisers of ignorance to persuade you that ignorance is what led Weah to the presidency because, in their logic, had he invested in intellectualism, he would have been alienated and disconnected from the people and would have become incompetent in grassroots strategy by “blowing too much grammar”.

Knowledge and politics, grassroots politics, are not mutually exclusive. That they became mutually exclusive in Nigeria is a function of four decades of systemic impoverishment of our people, turning them to the primal instinct of food. Those responsible for this situation cannot turn around and start hawking ignorance as the open sesame to the future of Nigeria.
Through their clever but mischievous separation of knowledge and practice, they romanticise lack of illumination and poverty as the singular condition upon which our people can and should be engaged – the people don’t understand grammar! This is the poverty they induced!!

Poverty is not romantic. I repeat: poverty is not romantic!

My grandmother and her peers in the village were philosophers and intellectuals, who pondered their political choices.

They did not speak a word of English.

They never pissed on intellectualism.

They extolled the values of imo ati oye (knowledge and intellectualism) in any and everything they did.

Our countryside does not harbour spaces of ignorance and hostility to knowledge. They were spaces of sophisticated indigenous knowledges and philosophy. The merchants of poverty in the leadership performed the social engineering that drove knowledge away and replaced it with food and unthinking.

They cannot now be allowed to start theorising this as the only viable condition of our people.

Pius Adesanmi, a professor of English, is Director of the Institute of African Studies, Carleton University, Canada.