The Why Factor

February 16, 2017by Tope Fasua0

We hear it said often how Africans are as smart as Caucasians or even smarter. Nigerians, in particular, often appropriate superior knowledge in everything to themselves, over every other people elsewhere. You hear how we get First Class ahead of other people in foreign schools and so on. But usually, intelligent people do not say they are intelligent, except one is Honourable Gudaje Kazaure, who once asserted “I’m intelligent… very, very intelligent!”.

On the other very extreme of the intelligence divide, we have Socrates, whom the Oracle of Delphi in Greek times once declared to be the world’s wisest man. Said Socrates in response, “Only one thing I know… and that is that I know nothing”. It is written that Socrates questioned the wisdom of those who boasted to have knowledge and discovered that they were overrated, or that indeed they were prisoners to the brand of knowledge that they professed. In having an open mind, Socrates mopped up information and knowledge, and refined what he thought he knew. That is real knowledge. So I most humbly posit herein, that real knowledge and wisdom is not in knowing the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’, but in knowing the ‘whys’. That’s right; the why factor. Why do things happen? Why are we doing what we are doing? This is one area where the developed countries are several steps ahead of some of us. We may attend their schools and top their classes, but what we know are the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’. It is left to us to understand the ‘whys’. But we have never really tried. It is probably not in our culture to so do. Yet we have to find that missing aspect to add to our culture in order to genuinely move ahead.

It is perhaps that ‘why?’ deficiency in our culture that is probably responsible for our ability as individuals to excel among peoples of other nations in matters academic, and even technical, but we fail to translate the same into better societies in our land, because we cannot come together to do great things and don’t know why we need to sustain any effort for any considerable period of time. We just don’t see why it may be important to build greater societies. We don’t see why we need to be united. We don’t see why we need to sacrifice today so that our children’s tomorrow may be greater. We don’t understand why we need to go through the pains and struggle that others have gone through to create great nations. Let me take a pause and explain again. Understanding ‘why?’ is the very depth of thinking. To understand the why of something you have to necessarily think of the issue to its very logical conclusion; and not only that, like Socrates, you have to be able to leave your mind open to more information as things evolve. Socrates said that philosophy begins when one begins to doubt. When we try to find out the ‘why?’ behind things, it takes us to the beginning of history. When we know the why behind things, it alarms and energises us to do the needful and do it immediately. It changes our vision.

Have you tried to explain why to a Nigerian? He tasks you to the limit. His mind is made up on the way things are. He likes them this way. Or when he doesn’t like them, he still does not understand ‘why’ it has to be different. Why contains too many explanations. It demands that we hang up our prejudices and preconceptions. A Nigerian just cannot be bothered. It is because we do not know how to search for the why factor that religions easily captures us, and totally so. It is easier to just hang it all on God. He has preordained that our country be this way. The next thing is to ask him to just sort us our personally. Why ask that things be different? Why question the conclusions of the great religions? Why bother? Yet, the people who introduced the great religions to us have kept finding out why. They questioned why can man not fly like birds? Why can people not talk to themselves across great distances? They kept innovating. They questioned why can they not build the tallest towers in the world? Or turn the desert into a vast oasis. We just refused to follow their leads.

It’s just like I say about Economics. I figure myself an Economist, though I have only one degree in the discipline and subsequent degrees in other fields. Some people are trying to convince themselves that only one with a PhD in Economics is an economist. But I doubt very much. My own keen study of issues reveal that an economist is someone who doubts everything. Even after being presented with evidence, he questions the evidence. He questions the circumstances in which the evidence has been obtained. He never stops asking questions. That is why when we form models in Economics to explain an issue, unlike the scientists, we always have an error term. This error term says that no matter how hard you try to estimate a phenomenon, there is a possibility that you will err, because human beings are unpredictable and respond to all sorts of crazy stimuli. In Econometrics, we would list variable factors that affect or explain a phenomenon under study, and then start to think of whether those variables are really relevant or whether they merely coincidentally move with what we are estimating or are real causes (correlation vs causation). We start to look at the behaviour of each variable, and even the error term. We just never stop questioning. That doesn’t mean the Economist doesn’t reach a conclusion. It just means that before he does, he would have eliminated most reasonable doubt. Yet he believes he doesn’t know it all because the error term cannot be eliminated fully. When I see people who call themselves Economists and seek to plug and play economic policies on their country, I just know that they understand the whats and sometimes the hows… but hardly the whys.

There are still many whys that the African society needs to ask itself. The other day in Abaji, Abuja, some hunters killed a Hippopotamus and made a show of it. The Hippo had been disturbing some farming communities. One newspaper (ThisDay) carried an editorial on this some days later challenging Nigerians – especially the government – on the need to preserve some of these species. But the fact is that we don’t understand the why. Why should we not kill a Hippo? Who cares if there aren’t more than 50 remaining in the whole of Nigeria with its almost one million square kilometres? Who cares if there may not be any elephants in our land anymore? Why do we need to have elephants? Why do we need to preserve species of poisonous snakes rather than kill them all? Why do we have to push back a beached baby whale into the sea rather than cut it up for fish Suya? Why do we need to study microorganisms? What is the difference between evil spirits and microorganisms? Both are invisible. Both could kill. Whereas I don’t believe in evil spirits, I know that many ailments affecting our people are readily written off as the work of evil spirits. But with a mere microscope, the black man could find out that there are so much more to life than the eye can easily see. The only problem is that he hasn’t taken the knowledge further. Why should he improve on what the white man has done? Why not just wait for the next innovation from abroad, which will solve his local problems? Why bother to go through the grind and take pains to improve on himself, his circumstances and his environment when he could just focus on the enjoyment of the moment? Why suffer now to enjoy later? What’s the point?

Why explore the moon and the stars when you could just stand in dread of God and the spirits and worship them all day in the hope that they will not only make you exceedingly rich and solve all your problems, but also solve all the problems that you and your people daily create for your country? Why bother about the future of humanity and planet Earth, after all if it all ends today, it would have been explained for us in the Holy Books that someday it will end in pandemonium? Why think your own thoughts when you can get other people to think for you? Why do we have to do anything to save Nigeria from its present dalliance with the abyss when we can wait for the status quo and do nothing? Why should Nigerian youth come together to get something started for themselves when they can generally queue behind the status quo and complain about how older generations are not giving them a chance? Why do the extraordinary when the mundane and the mediocre will do?

To answer these questions we will have to look into our mental laziness, our self-centredness, our lack of vision, irrespective of the certificates we pile up. The certificates show that we know the whats. We also know the hows. But we don’t know the whys. We don’t even know the why behind the kind of knowledge we were offered at the schools we attended; the whys behind different bodies of knowledge, and where everything is going to. In getting educated, we hop onto the bus without knowing the destination of the bus driver. We obtain certificates and hop off the bus at some point, not caring where the bus is heading to. We cannot then claim to own the bus. Because we don’t.

I recently watched a 2003 movie titled The Core. It is a sci-fi movie built around a hypothetical scenario whereby the core of the earth stopped rotating. The white man knows that if this happens there will be electromagnetic consequences, and the destruction of life forms on earth. While one marvels at the work of God, who created the earth and made its hard inner core made of solid iron to rotate eastwards, while its outer liquid core rotates westwards thereby creating a pull, God gave us brains to think and preserve ourselves still. I think he tests us sometimes.

According to writing about the core of the Earth;

“The magnetic field pushes eastwards on the inner core, causing it to spin faster than the earth, but it also pushes in the opposite direction in the liquid outer core, which creates a westward motion. The solid iron inner core is about the size of the Moon.”

But sometimes these creations of God refuse to function the way they should. That is why we have earthquakes and so on. What do we do in such moments? Throw up our hands in despair? The reason why Caucasians, Chinese and so on are sitting pretty at the top of the world food chain is because they have engaged their brains in taking responsibility for their environments. They seek the why factor.

In the movie, the Americans build an indestructible craft that goes into the earth’s core. The distance is 6,371 kilometres. The white man has measured it, and even though he sometimes makes mistakes, he daily gathers and refines his knowledge. The black man cannot be bothered with such things, especially today’s black man, the Nigerian type, whose concerns centre around the need to show off wealth, especially the things he could never produce. Our problems are way too deep, beyond the need to borrow large amounts and build infrastructure. Before building infrastructure we need to think about the why factor.

And so they went there deep into the earth’s core, eventually detonating some nuclear weapons that restarted the rotation of the core. They lost men. Does Africa know the reason why we may have to lose men for greater causes? Are we ready? One of the interesting things in the movie was the revelation by one of the American scientists that because of the fear that some enemy countries had perfected the science to cause earthquakes and deploy it as a weapon against America, they too had perfected the art of causing artificial man-made earthquakes by detonating nuclear weapons that will cause shifts in the Earth’s tectonic plates which they can deploy against enemy states. This movie was done in 2003.

When in December 2004, the Asian Tsunami happened, killing about 300,000 people, some people alleged that such a weapon had been deployed at sea. In the Asian calamity, there had been a shift in the tectonic plates of planet earth far in the middle of the sea, causing a high tide of water to sweep away so many people and properties. A lot of scientific improvements have been made since then to enable humans detect these things on time. With science almost every thing is possible. God gave humans the brains to think and improve the earth… or at least to adapt and survive in it.

It was in Dubai in April 2013 I was in Dubai that when I experienced an earthquake for the first time. It happened quickly and I was dozing when it happened. Luckily it was about 4.5 on the Richter scale, otherwise those inside houses and office complexes could have been harmed. I just felt the house shifting bizarrely for a few seconds. That earthquake was actually bigger in Iran (which is across the seas from the UAE), and Iranians alleged that some enemy country had caused the earthquake which measured 7.7 on the Richter scale at their end. The Haitian 2010 earthquake was also alleged to have been caused by an enemy country who wanted to make a point. The issue is not that natural events don’t occur anymore, but to say that more and more, humans are getting smarter because they chose to understand the whys, while we here in Africa know the whats and the hows and stopped there. The world has become infinitely more complicated and the snippets are out there for those who care to learn. In every good work of fiction are some timeless and priceless gems of truth and reality, if only we’ll open our minds’ eye, or ask the question ‘why’?

My prayer is that, especially for Nigeria, we should do less of this mind control that we have perfected with religion. Having millions in church and mosques and deadening their sense of inquisitiveness is not the way to the future. It is great to commune with God but there is an awakening we must also get. Our business schools should also grow up and stop teaching competition only as an end in itself. There is more to life than making money. Already in Nigeria, we now see that uneducated people who manage to synergise and cooperate are the ones leading those ones who say they are too educated to work together. Our government committees are filled with bus conductors and area boys, while the forlorn ‘consultant’ is sometimes invited and constantly ripped off while thinking he’s smart. Coming together means that one is ready to share ideas; that one admits that he doesn’t know it all. That is the Socratic factor.

Nigeria should also look at the little things; like the preservation of species and of records. I asked someone one day where one could find the first Nigerian Nollywood movie, Living in Bondage. It was nowhere to be found. Our contemporary history is lost while we stand aside and look. The youth aged 30 and below don’t know Nigeria’s founding fathers. People are complaining that our languages are disappearing, yet no one is storing the ones we still know in indestructible manners in different places. Another documentary I am watching presently is Daniel Yergin’s The Prize – the history of crude oil. To my shock, they have videos of the first exploration of crude oil by Colonel Drake somewhere in Pennsylvania, USA. They have everything. Here we cannot keep the records of last year. We cannot even keep a car for two years if such a car was bought with public money.

So how can we understand the need for exploring Mars and Jupiter? I was in NASA around September 2014. I was shocked when the scientists there explained to us how the US, Russia and China cooperate in space exploration. If I’m not mistaken, the only serviceable space ship as at then was owned by China and the US has to book and borrow it. Cooperation. And why do they explore Mars? So that if the earth’s core stops to rotate like it may someday, or humans find some ways of destroying it all, at least a few people will jet out and live there. Certainly, they may not want to repeat the mistakes of today by taking laggards along with them. No one should complain if they don’t make that journey. But asides from the possibilities of humans destroying the earth, they explore the spaces to see and document interactions. If an asteroid was heading for the earth that was large enough to obliterate Abuja city, and it was heading for Nigeria, the white man, out of his heart’s benevolence can help to detonate or shatter it into smaller pieces.

And we would be here, blissfully on our knees, praying that God should solve our problems…


by Tope Fasua

Tope Kolade Fasua is a Nigerian ex-banker, entrepreneur, economist and writer with 28 years of work, business and policy analysis experience. He is the founder and CEO of Global Analytics Consulting Limited, an international consulting firm with its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, and footprints in the United Kingdom, USA and United Arab Emirates. Fasua has authored numerous columns on newspapers and six books. He currently keeps regular columns on policy analysis issues with Premium Times and Daily Trust newspapers.

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