I’m like a bird, I only fly away. I don’t know where my soul is. I don’t know where my home is.” Singer Nelly Furtado.
The news of the death of Prof Sophie Oluwole on December 23 last year hit me like a thunderbolt. It was totally numbing. Mama had always been vivacious, effervescent – and full of life.
Of course, we have every reason to thank God for her life. She lived to the ripe age of 83 in an environment where life expectancy is put at 47. Her passage therefore was the celebration of a glorious transition to join the pantheons of the sages, after living an impactful life on this terrain. Professor Sophie was one of the rare, very special people, usually sent to their people for specific missions. She, I believe, played her role excellently and fulfilled her mission, before her departure.
She broke on the scene in a field that had been considered the exclusive preserve of men – philosophy – at a time it would have been considered an excellent choice if she had chosen to study education.
But she excelled in her field, after threading on paths angels dared not, so to speak, and made such significant contribution to the scholarship of African philosophy that she would be remembered for ever. She will also be remembered as one of the scholars that decolonised the study of philosophy in Africa. In her seminal works, she was able to wean philosophy from its Eurocentric foundation. More importantly, she was able to establish that Africa had philosophy before contact with Europeans and it was in the bid to establish intellectual hegemony in Africa that Europeans actually sought to destroy African philosophy which was already thriving by the time they came to Africa. Prof Oluwole, through her scholarship and cultural nationalism was able to project the rich culture and philosophy of the Yoruba.
She demonstrated that Oduduwa predated Socrates and his thoughts were as profound, if not more than the Europeans. She was also able to clarify the muddled idea that Esu is the Satan of the Christian and Islamic faiths. For her, Esu is one of the Yoruba Gods of creativity, though noted for mischief, but not Satan, as the personification of the antipode in the dualism of good and evil, with Satan being the evil. Her work brought a lot of respect to Yoruba philosophy and culture and in the process, she herself was well regarded by her peers, which brought her global respect in her field. She will remain a leading light and reference in the study of African philosophy for a long time to come. She was a great humanist. She loved people and she gave herself wholly to all the people that came into her sphere of influence She was kind-hearted, loving and generous to a fault. No wonder she was well loved by all her students and colleagues. Her traditional African beliefs, no doubt will not readily endear her to the predominant orthodoxies of Christianity and Islam in her environment, she nevertheless was a shining light, a beacon of hope. As an African traditionalist, she was a righteous person and imbued with high integrity. She lived a transparent life and lived the courage of her convictions. She was a role model to all her students and was a good mother.
Her classes were always well subscribed because of the depth of her scholarship, her humour, her power of conviction and her style of teaching. We were not related biologically but in philosophy and attitude we shared a lot in common, particularly her elevation of African philosophy. She was married to an Ijesa man whom I never met but spoke about with her. As an Afrocentric scholar that advanced our values and customs in her works and researches, I greatly appreciate her efforts.
Her passage is therefore a personal loss to me. She has left a huge void that can never be filled. As we celebrate her passage, I found solace in the good life she lived, in the goodness she brought to people and the enlightenment that came from her fecund mind.
On behalf of myself, my family and associates, I send heartfelt condolences to her family. May God comfort them and grant them the fortitude to bear this irreparable loss. May the Almighty grant the repose of her soul and give her comfort in her next estate.
Rauf Aregbesola is the immediate past Governor of Osun State.