Friday, March 5, 2021 6:25 am
By Chris Anyokwu
Charles Robert Darwin, born on 12 February, 1809, was an English naturalist, geologist and biologist. He is well-known for his contribution to the theory of evolution whose basic mechanism is the so-called law of natural selection. Significantly, Darwin’s undying reputation is anchored upon his famous publications, notably On The Origin of Species (1959) and The Descant of Man (1871), among others. He argued that all species of life descended over time from common ancestors. However, prior to the advent of Charles Darwin, humanity had measured its earthly temporal existence from the point of view of creationism.
Creationism, to be certain, is the belief, based on Judeao-Christian account as recorded in the Bible, that homo sapiens is a product of God’s creative power. Thus people dated the age of the world to the creation account of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created heaven and the earth ….” (Gen. 1:1). Unsurprisingly, for eons, humanity measured how long or short it had survived on planet Earth based on the ancient Hebrew myth of origin. Before we proceed to bring Darwin into the discourse, it’s remarkable to note that most ancient cultures have their own myths of origin.
For instance, the Yoruba myth of origin revolves around the story of Atunda (re/creative essence), an iconoclastic slave who, in an irenic moment of rebellion and revolt, had rolled a huge boulder over his master, who was working on his farm at a hillside. Atunda had dismembered Orisanla, the Original Oneness, into two hundred and one (or four hundred and one) separate deities, which, today, constitute the Yoruba pantheon of idealities, deities and demiurges. In this pantheon of gods and goddesses include Ogun, Sango, Obatala, Osun, Esu-Elegbara, Saponna, Olokun, Oya, Yemoja, Ifa-Orunmila, etc. It is only fair to assume that the Hausa-Fulani, the Igbo, the Ika, the Urhobo, the Izon, the Ibibio and other ethnic minorities have their own creation myths which, regardless of modernity, still inform and shape their outlook on life and fundamentally undergird their workaday modalities of social existence. It is equally fair and reasonable to imagine that the paradigmatic shift in both epistemic and ontologic orientation inaugurated by Charles Darwin was nothing short of tectonic and seismic.
It’s an utterly radical and revolutionary torpedoing of the status quo ante. Darwin had announced to the world that the Scripture was wrong about the primal provenance of humankind; that the God of all creation, the Hebrew Yahweh, was nothing but a tissue of untruth, a Big Lie forged by the right-wing, reactionary and conservative religious establishment of the day. He was saying, just like Karl Marx did, that religion was “false consciousness”, a Freudian consoling myth designed by society to mollify and salve the guilty conscience of class, an expertly-executed humbug confected to dupe the credulous herd, disenfranchised and disinherited on this side of the grave but holding out an irresistibly teasing illusion of a compensatory Afterlife.
Charles Darwin had told the world that life, human life in particular, began and ended here on earth, the terra firma. No heaven anywhere. So, the punch-line is: catch-as-catch-can, as they say in America. Enter the doctrine of the survival of the fittest. Have you ever seen or witness two agama lizards fighting to the death over the right to top a female lizard? Have you ever seen the same scenario re-enacted over and over again among animals such as elephants, lions, giraffes, bears, apes, monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, dogs, goats, and even tortoises? How about cockerels vis-à-vis hens? This agonistic ritual of coital ordeal is as old as creation, and is trans-generational in nature, obeying neither logic nor table manners.
It’s the illogic of the loins which oftentimes rides roughshod over peace treaties like the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), the Peace of Westphalia (1648), the Treaty of Paris (1783), the Congress of Vienna (1814 – 15) and the Treaty of Versailles (1919). Thus, the Alpha Male, high on testosterone, having defeated and put to flight all genuine contenders and hollow pretenders to the throne, rewards itself with a great time with the female(s) in the in-group. The female, therefore, is the motive force of imperial territoriality. She is the quarry, the trophy of war. So as it is with our four-footed brethren, so it is with us humans. Take the ancient Greek and Romans, for example. The main motivation for war was loot – jewellery, monuments, heirlooms, artefacts, property, livestock, slaves and, more strikingly, women. We see this in Greek drama, particularly in the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes (see, for instance Euripides’ Suppliant Women).
Homer’s epics, Iliad and The Odyssey also dramatise this cargo mentality. In the African experience, men went to war over women; the burning desire to possess beautiful women as dramatised in Femi Osofisan’s The Women of Owu, an African adaptation of Euripides’ Suppliant Women. But beyond this human predisposition and penchant for conquest of the female, this thingification or reification of females, Darwin, more importantly, laid the groundwork of what is known as social Darwinism. Social Darwinism refers to “various theories that emerged in Western Europe and North America in the 1870s that applied biological concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest to sociology, economics, and politics.” (Wikipedia). It, in fact, posits that the strong see their wealth and power increase while the weak see their wealth and power decrease.
It is equally said that various social Darwinist schools of thought differ in opinion regarding the degree of influence of the law of natural selection on the nature and character of social organisation. By the same token, these schools of thought agree that, under the sway of social Darwinism, strength is rewarded while weakness is punished. In the same vein, the theory stresses competition, the basis of laissez-faire capitalism; the struggle between national or racial groups; supports nationalism, authoritarianism, eugenics, racism, imperialism, and/or fascism. In brief, the ideology of social Darwinism, it is argued, inspires perpetuators of genocides, ethnicides, linguicides, epistemicides and even ecocides. Reformulated more simply, social Darwinism can be described as a social situation in which a person or group of persons completely dominates another person or group for whatever reason.
A few scenarios would suffice. In a school environment where students study and research and finally sit an examination, the result would show the performance levels of all the candidates involved, regardless of sex or gender, age, parentage, ethnicity, religion or class. In sport, Team Nigeria might square up against Team South Africa or Ghana. One of the teams might employ unethical means to secure victory. After all, all is fair in love and in war. This same underhanded, unconventional strategy is deployed in real-politik, thereby rubbishing the laid-down rules of engagement. As the saying goes: politics is war by other means.
Therefore, the political gladiators involved resort to Machiavellian cloak-and-dagger tactics to swing the vote. But here’s the nub. At Independence in 1960, the local ruling elite who had taken over the reins from the British did not only replicate all the bad habits of the erstwhile colonialists, they went further in driving a wedge between the ruling class and the people, thereby turning the masses into endangered species (see Achebe’s A Man of the People).
Having established the template for subsequent leadership cadres, the precursor-politicians, the likes of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, among others, had taken their bow when the bell tolled for them, making way for their successors. But with the emergence of each class of “leaders”, hope dimmed in the popular breast, and in its place despair built its sovereign throne.
Fast-forward to the New Millennium, in fact, the present, i.e., 2021. What do you see all over the place? Ethno-religious leaders freely making inciting and incendiary pronouncements, hoping to precipitate a conflagration.
With the extant “No Visa-needed-to-enter-Nigeria” policy of the incumbent administration, ill-motivated foreigners have now inundated our country, infiltrating every nook and cranny intent solely on maiming, raping and killing Nigerian citizens without consequence! One of the abhorrent spin-offs of this anomalous state of affairs is the grim and grisly reality of banditry as business. Under these circumstances, the abductees, usually school boys and girls, are used as bargaining chips in this macabre market where human lives are the only wares. Yet, curiously both villain and victim are usually on the same page, angling for the same outcome, namely: the redistribution of commonwealth, almost always from our petrol-dollar honeypot in the Niger-Delta region to the dry and desiccated savannahs of the north. What’s more, people now prefix their statements with the ethnic identity of whoever they are referring to: southwest governors, Igbo leaders, Ijaw militants, Aboki Okada rider, Hausa trailer driver and so forth, ad nauseam.
This ethnic profiling has now been elevated into notions of territorial domination and campaigns of irredentism. Small wonder, our security architecture is overwhelmingly northern in composition, with two or three southern representatives thrown into the mix to give the elaborate charade a semblance of balance and legitimacy. What a damp squib! Nigeria as it is at present constituted is a forest of a thousand demons into which otherwise respected religious clerics saunter to hobnob with killer herdsmen and terrorists and killer bandits! It’s vital to stress that these forest denizens are enemies of the people; they are sworn against peace and prosperity, happiness and the good life. And, what’s worse, they are intent upon upending and obliterating our way of life, our civilization.
The crucial question to pose now is: Who owns Papa’s land? Is it bandits or the people? Who is in charge? Is it bandits or the Federal Government? To whom do we bear our sacrifice? Bandits or Government? In what direction will the pendulum swing, in the end? This is a classic case of survival of the fittest or the pitiless logic of natural selection. The average citizen, ethnic groups, and all people of good will – Nigerians – as a composite entity have got to pull themselves up by their bootstraps; they’ve got to defend their turf against bandits and criminals of every stamp. Doomsday is upon us; forces of Good are in battle mode against those of Evil.
The battle-line is, finally, drawn and the countdown is on … Darwin was here but, alas, his ghost still stalks our forlorn, woe-begone and beleaguered land. Shall we pray.
*Chris Anyokwu, PhD.Associate Professor of English,University of Lagos.