Monday, December 24, 2018 3:49 pm
The Nigerian academic community has lost a star, Prof. (Mrs) Sophie B. Oluwole. The expert in African Philosophy died in the wee hours of Monday at the age of 83.
The former Dean of Students’ Affairs at the University of Lagos who was known as Mamalawo (coming from the Nigerian for professor, ‘Babalawo’), was the first female doctorate degree holder in Philosophy in Nigeria. She is a practitioner of Yoruba philosophy, a way of thinking which, as a writer puts it, stems from the ethnic group based in Nigeria. She is vocal about the role of women in philosophy, and the disproportionate representation of African thinkers in education.
Oluwole was born in Igbara-oke, Ondo State, in 1936. She went to school in Ife, and was critical of the education system in the 1940s, saying a woman’s career prospects were “not your ambition: it was your parents’ ambition.”
She studied History, Geography and Philosophy at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), and eventually settled for philosophy. Following her first degree, she was employed in UNILAG for a time as an assistant lecturer in 1972, and went on to complete her PhD in philosophy at the University of Ibadan. Oluwole taught African Philosophy at UNILAG for six years between 2002 and 2008.
Oluwole’s teachings and works are generally attributed to the Yoruba school of philosophical thought, which, as another researcher explained, was ingrained in the cultural and religious beliefs (Ifá) of the various regions of Yorubaland. According to Oluwole, this branch of philosophy predates the Western tradition, as the ancient African philosopher Orunmila predates Socrates by her estimate. These two thinkers, representing the values of the African and Western traditions, are two of Oluwole’s biggest influences, and she compares the two in her book Socrates and Orunmila.