When the idea of this essay came to my mind, I browsed through the net to find out if someone had expressed a similar idea in the past. The only significant one I found was the write-up of Ozodi Thomas Osuji titled: Karma and Africans (The Nigerian Village Square, 03 February 2009). This remains a very interesting piece to read, no matter what your view of Osuji is. In there lies some fundamental truth. It is perhaps important for us as a people and as a nation to begin to be more introspective about our being and existence. The present muddle called Nigeria has underlined the need for sober reflections and non-sentimental introspection. We have tried force (war, religious uprisings, political uprisings) and to certain extent peace without achieving much. Religion that should possibly provide succour has taken flight of reason and turned to a monster that should be feared. Religious leaders have discovered that it is more rewarding to liaise with temporal leaders to achieve complete subjugation of the citizenry. This is the sort of situation that allows fertile minds to flourish.
The number of mosques and churches in Nigeria today with, presumably the intensity of prayers, special prayers, intercessional services and revivals for Nigeria has not influenced the destructive and retrogressive path we seemed to have charted for ourselves as a people. Hence resorting to esoteric meaning of being a Nigerian should not be a puzzle to anyone. A situation that defies physical and spiritual interventions necessarily calls for an attempt at esoteric divination in the effort to find meaning and reason.
Africa would continue to remain the Dark Continent, not so much for the complexion of the bulk of its inhabitants but for the unshakeable hold of karma on it. Karma? That word re-echoes again. For a continent of over a billion people, supposedly the origin of creation and now the bastion of underdevelopment and unprecedented poverty and diseases, the concept of karma do not seem so alien. The concept is only alien to those who are alien to it. While the supposed off-shoot of Africa in other continents of the world have moved on, Africa has remained stagnant, commendably assisted by greedy and incompetent rulers and fundamentally entrenched in superstition, ignorance and poverty. The continent has reeled from one disaster to another, from warfare to warfare and from catastrophe to catastrophe. Painfully, Africa is a rich continent, perhaps a testimony to the intent of nature for its inhabitants barring the invisible hand of karma. Karma again!
For the purpose of this essay, I would want us to confine ourselves to Black Africa only. Relating the concept of karma to Africa may not be as difficult as it appears. It is true that the term â€œkarmaâ€ is not of African origin, but its explained modus operandi seems to give an uncomfortable meaning to the travails of Africans. Taking Nigeria as a microcosm of the African continent, the concept of karma gives an uncomfortable meaning to the reason why we are Nigerians.
Most African cosmogony implies explicit belief in the continuation of life and the linkages of existence. It is perhaps more pronounced in some cultures than in others. A study of the Yorubaâ€™s way of life shows an inherent belief in the concept of re-incarnation. This is manifested in many aspects of their culture, including the names of children, ceremonies indulged in at the birth of a new child â€“ the Ifa-oriented Akosewasaye ceremonies and so on. Ozodi Thomas Osuji affirmed that the Ibos also believe in reincarnation and this is evident from the names of children like Nene, and so many other aspects of the Igbo cultures. I really cannot say much about the Hausa/Fulanis, being a culture that has been swallowed by the Arabic Islamic way of life. Nevertheless, so many other characteristics of various Nigerian ethnic groups serve as a solid pointer to the almost universal nature of the belief in re-incarnation.
The concept of re-incarnation is extremely intertwined with that of karma, hence my discomfort with Thomas Osujiâ€™s position in affirming that â€œthe Ibos believe in reincarnation but not in karmaâ€. It is difficult to separate one from the other as then the isolated one fails to make sense. Reincarnation, the concept of birth and re-birth, may not appear such a strange term to so many people. It is that inherent belief that we live to die, move to a celestial plane and then come back to the physical plane again. It is plausible and non-controversial to interpret that physical plane as this world but for those more open-minded, the physical plane could be any plane of existence within the physical world. It is, of course, still contentious but many are convinced that earth is not really the only plane of existence on the physical plane. True, science has not yet identified any other within our solar system but then, has science explained everything pertaining to manâ€™s existence? We need not digress.
If the purpose of re-incarnation is an opportunity to work out accumulated karma, then it thus makes sense. A school of thought believes that the concept of re-incarnation in the physical plane is particularly important in the sense that the karma that was accumulated in the physical plane could only be burnt off in such. The principle of karma is a universal one that transcends any particular faith or religion. It has even been boldly stated to be one that defies acceptance or rejection in the sense that it works mechanically and efficiently, whether one believes in it or not. Reconciling this concept with some modern day religions remain a nightmare. However, I think the problem should not be that of fitting in this concept to these religions but that of the adherents of such faiths learning to be receptive to this ancient knowledge.
If karmic influences (as distinct from fate) play a role in where a child is born, type of parents born to and so on, it thus makes a lot of sense to say that karma determines even the country where we are born. Stretching this further, it becomes obvious that being born into a particular country is not an accident of fate, but a need to work out mutual karma amongst multitudes. Being born a Nigerian is thus not an accident, no matter how forthright, pure or uncompromising we might be. It could sometimes be perplexing to imagine that in a country renowned for its prolific attributes to breed international 419s, embezzlers, thieves, unscrupulous politicians, dubious international businessman, exist respectable, humane personalities like celebrated playwrights, a Nobel laureate, renowned scientists and academicians. The lack of balance could be amazing but becomes clearer when viewed from the point of view of karma. Perhaps at this point, it is essential to state that even in this cluster, different beings operate on different levels on the karmic chain. Thus, for a Nobel laureate to exist in the midst of 419s does not imply that he was a 419 in a previous life or vice versa.
The postulation above may explain the confusion in the minds of those still baffled about why they were born Nigerians. In the present circumstances, it is nothing glorious being a Nigerian. This is the fact, irrespective of what the irredentists might say. A country with a completely battered image where hope effectively turns to despair, where pains, hunger, ignorance, corrupt and ineffective leadership, political mismanagementÂ and you name it, remain the order of the day. A country existing in the midst of abundance and that yet abundantly impoverishes its citizens. It is has been a really dark night for Nigeria and her citizens. Could it also be a dark night for our collective karmas? This is a big question, one probably beyond the scope of this write-up.
From the point of view of karma, why is one a Nigerian? You could be a Nigerian for one of millions of reasons. It could be that having been a fraudster in a previous life, it became mandatory for you to be born and exist in a similar environment to work out this karma. Presumably, working out such karma implies the ability to resist the lure of such a venture again. You could also be a Nigerian because you have so worked out your karma such that you needed to move to the next level. However, you needed such a negative environment like Nigeria to actually cement your place in the higher order of creation. Thus, Nigeria becomes your testing ground and could be your waterloo if care is not taken. You could also be a Nigerian because you are still so new and hence so low in human evolution that the best place that could be found for your initial tests or baptism of human existence is Nigeria. You equally could be a Nigerian simply because one knot or the other in your accumulated karma warrants an environment like this. Thus in the myriads of Nigerians that we see exist pious men and women, fraudsters, ordinary souls trying to forge ahead on the path of spiritual unfoldment and lesser, raw and uncut souls, new to human existence. It is indeed a spectacle and hence our current dilemma as a nation becomes understandable. The mix of incompatibles breeds nothing but turbulence of a volcanic nature. Is there any other way to compare the situation in Nigeria today?
The Buddhists teach us that karma is the law of moral causation. It explains why one man is brought up â€œin the lap of luxury, endowed with fine mental, moral and physical qualities and another in absolute poverty, steeped in misery (http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/karma.htm). Karma attempts to explain the observed inequalities in this our plane of existence. It is a Pali word that has remained the core of the fundamental truth in explaining existence. If I may borrow liberally from the quoted source above, the observed inequality in human beings is due not only to heredity, environment, “nature and nurture”, but also to Karma. In other words, it is the result of our own past actions and our own present doings. We ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery. We create our own Heaven. We create our own Hell. We are the architects of our own fate.
I need to state that the concept of karma is pretty complex and its workings so intricate. It is not a fatalistic principle where everything we do on this earth and our birth is so pre-ordained because of some past actions or karma. Rather, it incorporates the principle of choice or what is recognised as free will. We might have been ordained to be born Nigerians as a result of some past deed, yet we retain the free will not to be limited by the Nigerian concept or Nigerian dream. We retain the choice to rise above the limitations of Nigeria and function as a free, enlightened being that has made the pursuit of knowledge and freedom its choice. Some Nigerians, by their deed and words are already operating on this plane. The principle of karma did not set out to create a mechanical life that totally conditions present existence. It is not a fatalistic belief.
I have touched on a contentious subject but with a conviction of belief in its certainty. The subject of karma is complex but understandable for those who take the pain to study it. My purpose is just to plant a seed. A seed that can give meaning to life and living. A seed that can give meaning to the vagaries of existence. The aim of this essay is to emphasise that even we as Nigerians, despite the burden of collective karma, still have the free will. In that free will lays our strength as individuals and as a nation. The knowledge of our being and existence is a weapon to make a meaning of life and in the process work out accumulated karma. This essay cannot, of course, replace bigger texts on the topic.
An attitude of sorrow, apathy and lamentation may not be the right one to the current travails of being a Nigerian. Rather, one where positive values remain entrenched and determination its core. We owe it to ourselves to do the best we could for our nation. We owe it to ourselves to stand firm in the face of tyranny and suppression. We owe it a duty to reject corruption, aggrandisement and greed. We owe it a task to abandon those negative attributes that perpetually ties man into the unending cycle of birth and re-birth. We owe it a duty to confront political tyranny and mismanagement. We owe it a duty to protest corrupt leadership and shameless vote manipulations. We owe it to ourselves to create a better Nigeria. This is perhaps a way to work out our mutual karma and possibly cease to be a Nigerian in another life!
I have attempted to align the esoteric teaching with a temporal order. The orthodox line might frown at this but it is an inescapable part of the Nigerian dilemma. Being a Nigerian is not easy in these times and there must definitely be a way out. I am not advocating for uncontrolled militancy. I am only calling for rejection of all that that perpetually ties us to the unpleasant chain. Wole Soyinka did not boldly affirm that the man dies in him that fails to react in the face of oppression and subjugation for nothing. It was probably the principle of karma operating in its subtlety when this famous sentence was made!