Saturday, November 26, 2016 12:21 pm
By Raji Fashola
This is the greeting amongst students on the campus of the University, and it has endured after graduation and stayed with the alumni; decades after graduation.
May this greeting endure also for all of you who graduate today, and may you fulfil your destiny of greatness as products of a great institution and citadel of learning.
That this university is great is beyond argument now.
The evidence of this abounds in the human capital supply she has produced for Nigeria in fulfilment of the objectives of founding fathers.
It is a rich store of personnel, not only in quantity, but defining in quality.
In all spheres of Nigeria’s developmental endeavour, there is a representative of great UNIBEN, not only in a participatory role, but also in a leadership role that is setting worthy and commendable examples.
The boys and girls of yesterday have become the men and women who define the developmental character of our nation and they are waiting for you all to join them to play your role.
Therefore, I intend to start my interaction with you today by telling a story.
Many years ago, sometime in 1983, in a Philosophy classroom, a lecturer was telling his students about the theory of evolution, based on the Big Bang and atomic perspective of our evolution.
He charged them not to believe things that were not demonstrable by evidence.
He taught them about cause and effect relationships of man’s existence and that everything was ultimately traceable to Matter – something that can be seen.
The students it appeared seemed to enjoy this explanation of life and their own existence; the problem was that it debunked their understanding of faith, religion and God.
They had grown up believing, as Christians and Muslims, that there is God. But they could not see him. How were they going to resolve this matter of ‘Matter’ and science on one hand, God on the other hand.
This lecturer professed no faith, and did not believe in God, or so the students thought, until one fateful morning when one of the students sighted the lecturer walking out of church after a Sunday morning service.
Bewildered, confused feeling misled or deceived by a teacher who told him not to believe where they did not see or could not prove, (and this in the student’s mind extended to God) and to see the purveyor of that view walking out of church, with Bible in hand, was the biggest betrayal that was not going to pass unchallenged.
The student walked up to his teacher, quickly conveyed his courtesies of “Good morning sir” and the following conversation ensued:
“What are you doing there sir? You came to church?”
“Yes,” answered the teacher. “I worship here every Sunday.”
“You believe in God?”
“Yes I do.”
“Why have you been deceiving us?”
“How have I been deceiving you?”
“You taught us to believe that God does not exist since we cannot prove it,” the student said.
“No. I did not. I believe in God,” the teacher replied.
“My faith is different from my job. Your school is training you to become lawyers.
“They have employed me to develop your minds to question and challenge things. To seek knowledge, never to be easily satisfied.
“To think, and to challenge the existing order, to drive change and never to settle for the path well-travelled.
“To dare and to dream, to seek new ways of doing the same thing, because as lawyers, people’s fates will be defined by choices you make.
“Their lives will sometimes depend on your abilities, as will their businesses or their marriages. That is my job.
“Whether you believe in God or not is not my business. That is your personal choice.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, that is as best as I can recall this event.
The school where this event happened is where we gather today. The great University of Benin.
The faculty that offered the course in Philosophy is the Faculty of Law.
The lecturer was either Greek or Cypriot. His name was Theodoropolous. I was the student in question.
That encounter shaped my life in many ways; and even if I say so, I am the better for it having gone through it.
If I had to choose a university again, it would be University of Benin.
It is that experience I had that I feel bound to share with you today as you leave the University.
If I successfully connect with only one of you, I believe the effort will have been worthwhile.
That is why I have titled my intervention: “FREEDOM FROM FEAR, CHOICES BEFORE THE NEW GENERATION”, in the hope that I will challenge you to take control of what happens to you and what happens around you.
I say this because there seems to be an increasing manifestation of our collective surrender of our individual choices and free will to divine intervention and the possibility of endless miracles.
We are now in the realm and reality of constant expectations of miracles and divine intervention.
Superstitions have taken over reason and logic.
When we pass examinations, win football matches, conduct successful elections, or achieve any feat, we seem all too frightened and unsure of ourselves to take credit for even the most modest of successes attributable to our efforts.
The first thing you hear is God did it.
For the avoidance of doubt, I believe in God, and only He can question my faith.
But I also believe He gave us a lot of free will.
Regrettably, we have surrendered our capacities and abilities in a frightful way to FEAR, that we have become victims of some confidence tricksters who deceive, disentitle and prey on our fears and frailties in ‘gods’ name.
Every man and woman of substance now has a Pastor, Imam, Spiritualist or even a witchdoctor or Dibia who is responsible for telling them what to do, when to do it, in a way that diminishes his abilities and surrenders his talents and free will to divine intervention or spiritual consultation.
Many people are disappearing and are being murdered in a crazed quest for human parts because some who have been entrapped in fear and superstition, believe that you can make money through ritual sacrifice.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
Human parts are tissues, bones, muscles and all that, and they have no place in the materials used to manufacture money.
There is nothing Divine in money making. It is entrepreneurship, production and hard work.
The teaching of science as espoused by Theodoropolous tells me that money is a product of man and not a product of God.
It is manufactured in a place called a Mint, by a process of printing, using special paper, ink, engravement and embossment, to make it difficult to fake or counterfeit.
When we play a football match and get to half-time, which is a few precious minutes to quickly refresh, renew and re-plan in the dressing room, we instead gather to pray, on the field, in a huddle that the whole world is still trying to fathom.
We waste the precious time that is allotted for tactical review, and return to the second half, singing and praying, “He is a miracle working God” in search of divine intervention.
The truth is that we have done well when we prepare and done badly when we do not.
Sometimes of course, working hard does not always bring the expected results but it is better than not working hard.
Yes, God is a miracle worker. I believe, but he is not an unjust God who rewards those who make no effort at the expense of those who do.
I once listened to a sermon broadcast on Television, asking people who are indebted to step forward for prayers that will make their debts disappear.
It frightens me. It does not make sense to me.
Debts are accounting, matters of credits and deficits. They do not vanish.
It is people who live in FEAR who fall prey to such teachings and become victims of misery from poor choices.
I urge you to free your minds from such fears.
There are many teachings about freedoms.
Freedom from want, Freedom of Associations, Freedom of speech, freedom of choice (including the choice of leadership by voting at elections) and many others.
But the least expressed freedom, is the freedom from FEAR, which in my view is the most important.
A mind taken over by fear cannot express free will and will therefore not fully optimize or benefit from the other freedoms.
For example, we have seen that elections are conducted in other parts on the basis of polls, campaigns, analysis of human behaviour rather than any occultic or sacrificial offering.
Candidates who wish to win elections must persuade people to agree to their messages and promises, and seek to change the minds of those who are unpersuaded, by understanding what they want and taking steps to address them.
Those who may not be initial converts can change their minds, as we have seen in our own President who finally won after 3 (THREE) unsuccessful attempts.
For those who do not know, let me share with you some of the things that President Buhari did to win the last election.
A poll was conducted across Nigeria and administered to 20,000 Nigerians as a sample, with each person answering 60 (sixty) questions administered face to face.
That meant that the poll had to analyse1,200,000 (ONE MILLION, TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND) responses on what Nigerians wanted in the 2015 election.
The top 3 (THREE) were security, corruption and economy, which was to form the core of candidate Buhari’scampaign message that produced President Buhari. This is how to win elections.
Polls are of course not fool proof. They can be manipulated or misinterpreted by those who analyse data. They can also be misunderstood . – Hillary leading but had over 60% Trust deficit.
Let me tell you another story related to me. This is the story of the ram.
A friend related to me how his mother had a bad dream concerning his well-being.
The dream was related to the mother’s Imam.
His response was that there had to be a sacrifice.
I interrupted by asking if the sacrifice involved buying a ram and he said yes.
Seeking to know how I knew. My response was that Ileya (the Muslim festival of Eid-El-Kabir) of Ram sacrifice was 3 (THREE) weeks away and (at the time) any trickster who could not afford one would find foul or fair means to get a ram even though Islam does not make it a matter of compulsion.
Whilst I am not passing any judgement on the Imam and any other man of God, because I cannot question their faith, the coincidence was just too uncanny. Yet I agree I may be wrong.
However, I do not see how sacrifices are solutions to dreams.
Dreams are scientific events occurring as a result of the Rapid Eye Movement during sleep at a stage when our brains are most active.
Let me reiterateagain that I have no quarrel with faith. What I seek to advocate is the lack of FEAR, and the resort to faith out of conviction rather than as a result of FEAR.
Fear takes choices away, and choices can and must be the product of conviction.
If we pursue our choices with as much conviction as we pursue our faith, we will certainly be a more prosperous society.