Panacea To Nigerian Predicaments In The Light Of Soren Kierkegaard’s Authentic Existence

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Panacea To Nigerian Predicaments In The Light Of Soren Kierkegaard’s Authentic Existence


It is an apparent danger in the existence of modern man that abstraction is substituted for reality. The truth of uniqueness of each man and the various situations of life where one cannot but make a personal choice and decision, compel on man the need to authenticate his being.

It is then pertinent at this time, when there is not only a loss of personal identity but morestill a total flaw of existence in our country, to pin-point what authentic life should be. Hence, a Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard has done a mastery work of authenticating one’s existence, becoming an individual instead of being swallowed up in appraisal of untrue crowd.

It is only in the conviction and actual practice of this, that a better Nigeria free from political instability, economic malaise, and religious conflicts will give way to a genuine life for the people and then to Nigeria as a nation.

Thus in the five chapters of this project, we are going to see how an individual can be in the public yet remain himself. Chapter one comprises a general introduction to the work. It starts with displaying the problems of inauthentic living in our country which instigated the choice of this project. Chapter two delves into different facets of one of the philosophical movements, viz existentialism, through which I intend to proffer some solutions to our predicaments. The next chapter is a presentation of existentialism in the work of the founder, Soren Kierkegaard. Chapter four dwells more on our Nigerian situation, exposing the evils seem in her different systems. The last chapter is blending and analytic in nature. It is a synthesis of authentic existence juxtaposed with our Nigerian predicament. In doing that, it suggests that authentic living which is the desire of every country would be realized in the light of existentialism when we embrace its tenets.

Table of Contents

  • Title Page
  • Certification
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgement
  • Table of Content
  • Introduction

Chapter One

Problem and Background

  • 1.1 Purpose of the study
  • 1.2 Statement of the problem
  • 1.3 Scope of the study
  • 1.4 Methodology

Chapter Two

2.0 General Review on Existentialism and its emergence

  • 2.1 Historical Development
  • 2.2 Human Condition
  • 2.3 Freedom and Responsibility
  • 2.4 Everyday Existence, Anxiety and Guilt
  • 2.5 Authencity
  • 2.6 The Individual Subject

Chapter Three

3.0 Authentic Existence in Kierkegaard

  • 3.1 The Aesthetic Stage
  • 3.2 The Ethical Stage
  • 3.3 Religious Stage

Chapter Four

4.0 Nigeria Paradox

  • 4.1 Politics
  • 4.2 Economy
  • 4.3 Education
  • 4.4 Religion
  • 4.5 Corruption

Chapter Five

5.0 Challenges of Authentic Living

  • 5.1 Restoration of Nigerian Politics
  • 5.2 Cultivation of honesty and self-reliance
  • 5.3 Existential Approach
  • 5.4 Evaluation and Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Chapter One

1.0 Problem and Background

1.1 Purpose of the Study

It was Martin Heidegger in his Being and Time, who changed the course of study laid down by his predecessors who were more interested in autonomous sciences. He set out to revive philosophy, not only of the problem of man but also that of ‘Being’. It is also the view of anthropologists that the study of man be given a central place in existence. They hold that all that exist is directed towards the explanation, understanding and well-being of man.

However, man is far from realizing the plans made for him, when he demotes himself as one of the ‘thrown objects’ of Spinoza. Thus, the conscious realization of man as regards his place in the world will qualify him as not just ‘being-there’ as posited by Heidegger but more of an independent being capable of making choices as well as being responsible for them. It then behooves on man, the need to assert his existence in an authentic form. Having realized his being as one placed in charge of all other things according to Genesis account of creation, he must seek a way of giving meaning to his personal life. This constitutes the main purpose of this work.

Furthermore, man’s existential struggle and facts of life (grenz-situationen) daily unveil to him the more need to be personally responsible for his life. It is this background acting as the anti-thesis that provides for him the thesis of transcending the ‘crowd mentality’ to the awareness that he is but an individual. As a result, he sought to explain the world from his own person instead of the crowd. Here rests the importance of self-formation, not just for the sake of others but also for one’s personal life.

It has been said that cultivation of citizens is the fertile ground for that of a nation. A glance at the occasional situations of unrest in our country cannot but reveal the extent of our existential doldrums. The polity, economy, religion, etc are nothing without the existence and activity of man.

Bearing this in mind, it then means that our problems lie primarily in cultivation of people because as Plato had it, a non-philosopher leader is not worthy of being the leader; a non cultivated leader is nothing but canker-worm to any society.

Primarily one should be good in himself in other to radiate goodness unto others, for nobody gives what he has not. The same applies to those in the helm of affairs, be that religion, economy, education, etc, they should be cultivated to live as authentic being before they can lead others well. (With this, we Nigerians shall come to the realization of our potentials, extricate ourselves from European colonialization, modernized in form of trade union where they dictate the stand of our products.) Hence, if the ruler and the ruled in Nigeria live genuine and existential life, malaise of any sort will give way to a more responsible life. Then is the aim of this work realized.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

It is over-laboring the obvious if one should ask what the problem is. It is experienced right under everybody’s nose. In politics, our leaders do not heed to the basic unwritten law that their private interest should not come in conflict with that of the public. We have experienced series of political crisis, economic malaise, social instability, and even religious upheaval.

‘The fact that every where in the world, Nigerians are generally feared like mad dogs, dreaded like criminals, cautiously approached like dangerous snakes and watchfully avoided like lepers’[1] is a glaring prove of the extent of our problem.

It was John Stuart Mill who said that ‘it is a crime, punishable by law to bring a child into the world without giving him a necessary education’[2]. If education is left only in the hands of the few, what then becomes the fate of the future generation? Definitely, we shall not meet up with knowledge which Francis Bacon said is power. The widespread ‘okada’ syndrome, conductor and driving profession, increasing number of hawkers, etc, that are mainly taken up by youths who should be in the school and under the guidance of the state, undoubtedly unmask deadly canker worm in the bones of our society.

Professor C.B. Okolo underlined ‘squandermania mentality’[3] as the central problem of our country. This he defined as a situation whereby every Tom, Dick and Harry develops a passive consumerism rather than productive attitude to issues. Our leaders, just like their citizens, are mostly preoccupied with the here and now that they fail to see beyond the immediate satisfaction and interest of the moment. As a result, there is no provision for the future and its generation. An immersion into the world of ‘now’ shows some kind of resistance to pain and discipline needed today for a better tomorrow.

Another problem that is associated with this is alienation and marginalization of oneself. Authentic life has to do with being oneself and having freedom either to choose or reject something. Because of the absence of this awareness, people do not even recognize what is their right and position in the society. We tend to project our problems as caused by the westerners or others. We alienate ourselves from our resources and the revenue that accrue from them.

Unemployment has even affected the enlightened class. What then is the stand of uneducated? It is not uncommon to find grown-ups with negative orientation that is dangerous for our society. As a result of the hard situation, one makes up his mind to take the risk of life, which will either see him out of his pitiable situation or face the wrath of infringing the law of the state. The fact that criminals, drug barons, prostitutes, etc, are on the increase is not unconnected with this.

1.3 Method and Scope of Study

My task in this project is not to review or reinterpret the work of existentialists or Soren Kierkegaard precisely, but more of a synthesis, sieving, abstraction, mediation on the hinge points of existentialism, with that of Kierkegaard and then juxtaposing it with our country’s predicament. It is in this synthetic work that I will arrive at a more practical ways of curbing these problems.

Precisely, I am to make use of Soren Kierkegaard’s individual authentic existence in which he not only takes cognizance of the individual but also his genuine relationship with the crowd, search for ultimate good and meaning of life. Morestill, I do not intend going theocentric, rather a search to fill the deep chasm in man by personalizing the objective truth in every individual person.

It is the thought of Paul Ricoeur and Hans Gadamer that before a background, there must be a foreground, for no one speaks from nowhere. Similarly, this project is set up because of some problems. It begins with the background and the problems that led to the emergence of existentialism. The various thoughts of existentialists are not left out, and then follow Kierkegaard’s works and contributions. A review of Nigerian situation is followed by some restorative measures. Finally comes, the evaluation and conclusion.

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Challenges of Authentic Living

Some of us prepare ourselves for the role we play in life but not the authentic demands of our positions. Some have their own agenda, often filled with negative personal interests, while the main program of establishing our positions are there merely for decoration and to add colours to our personal agenda.

The feeling in Nigeria today does not matter. It is a feeling that once a person gets into power, the laws are not for him; he is above the law and in most cases the law itself. He knows how to interpret and bend the law to extend or shorten his tenure, to cover up his mistakes and crimes. Thus many desire offices for the enhancement of their personal status which such position brings and not necessarily for the duties and obligation attached to such offices. That explains why many enter into many compromises, only to unveil their true colours when they finally succeed.

This is but inauthentic life. A person of high position, who is soulless, lacks sense of duty, is greedy and seeks always to announce that he is in a high position, is making mockery of himself and his position.
On the personal esteem, Innocent Asouzu said:

What makes a person’s position high is not the number of his bodyguards, the coldness of his air conditioned car, the recklessness with which he spends public fund, his ability to make senseless demands and cash in his allowances. The height of an office is measured by integrity of character and its importance is measured by the ability of a leader to attend to his duties well most especially to reach out to those who need his attention most. This is in what authentic existence consists .

The best way to inculcate discipline is through self-discipline. This reaffirms the primacy of man over everything, thus man should be built first in order to build the nation. Our true calling in any position in life is but to help alleviate the burdens and sufferings of others. In this we shall be fulfilling the golden rule, which says that you treat people in the same way you will like to be treated.

Relationship is an affair of healthy individuals who seek to compliment and build up each other. It is something that takes place where efforts are made to see the other in his unique nature and singularity and where one is able to practice live and let live and know that this is a credible maxim of co-existence for mature persons. This co-existence can never succeed where people do not make effort to live their lives in a way that is borne out of conviction and grounded in tasted wisdom of ages. Such wisdom that ensures healthy living consists in reciprocal respects between the old and the young ones. It is expected that much comes from whom much is given. In the same way, we should respect rights and privileges of others. This is the law of love.

A wise person, when it must be, accepts half bread and is strengthened to fight for full loaf. It is for this reason that we must be disposed to suffer presently for some higher value in the future. Often times we speculate thinking that the situation would change to suit to our desires because we are special breed of human beings. Bending the rules of life is unnecessary invitation to conflict. Thus if the sum of #100 would not be enough for someone to travel to a certain destination, why expect miracle on the way. If you want to have a peaceful sleep at night, it is needless running generator throughout the night. Whatever one sows such shall he reap. The onus lies on us to painfully plan for our future. It is in order, that if your family needs the necessities of life, so do other families from whom you take bribe. If you want to build a house in the village, so does your neighbour want to send his child to the hospital. If you cheat to pass in examination, remember that others have lower marks have laboured day and night. If you think you are free to swing your arms, bear in mind that the next person has the human obligation to protect his noses. This is the life we live where we can represent impossible and selfish personal interest. The love of neighbour is a comprehensive law and it demands that we neither constitute a nuisance nor become sources of contempt for others.

It is a glaring truth that we are all human beings but we are not all equal. One is whatever he is out of chance. Thus it is very important that each person takes to his state and position, satisfied with it, instead of prying into other people’s affairs. That is why many people are not contented and that has sent many to early graves. This is a big problem. Recognition of one’s place in life is a necessary ingredient for the perfectibility of any system, and not a reason to fill inferior or superior to others. This presupposes the ability of people to know and understand their roles and play them well. It is one of the secrets of success of the so-called modern developed and industrialized societies.

A situation where every one thinks that everybody can do the same thing in the same respect is flawed. It is only when we start to understand the sacredness of our positions and learn to react to them with the mandate of common good that things would change. ‘Authentic living entails therefore having a very wide and accommodating horizon, it is life of tolerance, devotion to one’s calling and openness to the unexpected’ .

Furthermore we are often very myopic about the future that we immerse our mind in the immediate advantages. It has turned out that one of the greatest hindrances to any project in societies and organizations is people’s inclination to pursue and accumulate gains, without plans for the future. This was the problem B.C Okolo described as ‘squandermania mentality’. In authentic living, the logic of economics must be supplanted by the logic of universal care and concern. It is only in this manner that we can say we love each other, the generations coming after us, and our country.

The logic of authentic living is never practicable with the type of mind-set that does nothing for nothing, and reaping where one has not sow . It is rather a mind-set that is built on service and unconditional dedication to neighbour and borne out of farsighted considerations. In such a situation, the input is normally greater than the output and this is authentic pragmatic living.

Restructuring of Nigerian Polity

It is an indisputable fact that every nation longs for a good government irrespective of whatever system it upholds. Although almost everybody opted for practice of democracy as the best, yet I object that the problem of a country especially Nigeria is not that of the different systems used but the failure to use it well. I should suppose that whatever system that would be of benefit to any country must consider that tenets of authentic existence. On this Asouzu said:

Authentic existence lies in the desire and movement for the actualization of oneself in life, among others, for others and with others. It connotes big responsibility, freedom and choice.

It is my opinion that whatever system may not be a major problem to the practicing country but where the problem lies is in actual implementation of the system. If what constitutes a real democracy is the power of the people as drawn from its Greek etymology ‘demos’, meaning people and ‘kratos’ meaning power of, thus its full meaning becomes ‘rule of the people by the people and for the people’ , its real implementation can take Nigeria to a great height.

It is of no use stressing the importance of education for any system that can survive. It is one of the greatest tools of development. Informed citizenry is one of the conditions for actual democracy. Thus Jefferson and John Stuart Mill emphasized its importance for any democratic community. It provides the citizenry the ability to assess the suitability of some ideologies and decisions. The informed citizenry equally acts as the chargers of democracy. The judgment of the enlightened citizenry keeps to the barest minimum the possibility of abuse of power and unscientific decisions . Through this we get rid of ignorance and timidity and become bold to expel the ugly factors in our polity. Where this is not done, indifference and increasing dangers of illiteracy will be the outcome.

There should also be intelligent and responsible delegation of power which should equally reflect the freely given consent of the people. The executive, legislative and the judicial arms of government should function independently in authentic way in a real democracy. To ensure this, a democratic government should have a known constitution which its citizens as well as the leader are obliged to observe. This will go a long way in curbing dictatorship.
To restore our Nigerian situation, tribalism should also be fought. It has eaten deep into the fabrics of our nation and should be addressed in order to ensure appropriate position for people without regard to tribe, race, language, etc. It will also curtail the tendency to remain in office longer than necessary. This attitude is seen as quickest avenue to amass public wealth and it has had some influence on many Nigerians.

There should also be re-orientation of our ideas and mentality. The pre-occupation with the present has closed our eyes to the demands of future and those coming after us. Thus it is in the search to authenticate one’s life that one finds that there is more to life and posterity than eating and drinking. This is what Kierkegaard described as being in the aesthetic which either faces transcendence or the existential guilt and unrest. Thus there is need for us to think about our future and the next generation. By doing this we shall be plunged more into taking some risk for not only our life but also for others.

Cultivation of Honesty and Self Reliance

It is often true that good things do not come by so easy without some work. It is indeed easier to change to another course of life than to unlearn a habit. Authentic existence according to Jean Paul Sartre emphasizes the need of being individual in whatever cause of life one takes. When he said that it is deception for one to choose a course of life without considering others, it seems contradictory to his long discussion on the place of individual. In as much as he suggests being individual, he reaffirmed the place of the group in any society. Thus he argues that each person carries with him the whole of humanity, and as such one cannot just act anyhow without considering the feelings of others.

It goes that the ‘Magna Carta’ of authentic existence does not have much difference with Jesus’ biblical teaching on golden rule, ‘do unto others what you will like others do unto you’ . If this is accepted, nobody will harm the other. Hence, the different posts given to people in different offices are seen as avenue for service, and not for personal enrichment. This will ginger everybody to work and to depend on the earnings of his labour. In this situation reward would be more of self-fulfillment and transcendental. Since the material reward is not reliable people will opt to die in scientific discoveries, in aspirations to keep legacy for their brothers. This is what I feel is the religious stage of Soren Kierkegaard where the need of obeying the moral laws are not more important than to search for the highest or ultimate goal of life.

On self-reliance, in the recent case of Zimbabwe and the white, president Mugabe showed signs of a leader who is independent. Although he knew that his country is not sufficient enough, yet he had to face the truth of refusing the white influence. He had to stand by the truth irrespective of whatever personal interest he would have gained by dancing to the tunes of the white. He is one of those who have shown examples of honest and self-reliance.
The same goes for many others, who distinguished themselves from the influence of the crowd and went about doing what they were convinced of. Such people like Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Martin Luther King Junior, persevering scientists like Galilei Galileo, Albert Einstein; Rev. Fr. John Ode, who has become a thorn in the fresh of many politicians through his writings, Peter Obi of APGA who refused to dance to the whims and caprices of presidential party, Dora Akunyili, who has turned down millions of naira to preserve medical ethics etc.

They are among us as our very brothers and sisters. Most of them have paid dearly for what they intend to put up and some have even paid with their blood, but that is the existential call on everybody to assert himself positively in the course of existential struggle. They understood the freedom slogan that one is more devilish if one is to keep mute in the face of evil or corruption.

Self-reliance is a call for one to embrace what he or she has with contentment. We are so blessed with natural resources, good weather, stable atmospheric condition, not much experience of natural disaster, etc.

However, it is pathetic and unbelievable that we are still alienated from these gifts. That is why many Nigerians prefer being refugees in other countries. We depend on foreign countries to get finished products of our own resources. It is high time we got to pin-point our problems and face them squarely. We should start to depend on our own products and learn to become self-reliant, with whatever we can afford ourselves.

Existentialists Approach

It is a common understanding among existentialists that ‘existence precedes essence’, or if you prefer, that subjectivity must be the starting point. Thus they belief that man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. It means that man has a greater dignity than a stone or table. Man is at the start a plan, which is aware of itself, rather than a patch of moss or stone.

It is the belief of existentialists that man is responsible for the way his world looks like. Thus his first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to take the full responsibility of his existence. Man is not only responsible for his own individuality, but also he is responsible for that of others. In other words, we are all responsible for the way Nigeria looks like.

Similarly, ‘Subjectivism’ in the terms of existentialism has an essential meaning which include the individual and others around him. Thus,

When we say that man chooses his own self, we mean that every one of us does the same thing likewise; but we also mean by that that in making this choice he also chooses all men as well .

The existential call on Nigerians is that authentic life will be realized when in our actions and decisions, position in offices and leaders of any sort, we bear in mind that we represent the whole human race in every choice we make. Jean Paul Sartre succinctly put it like this: ‘that in choosing myself, I choose others’ .

Thus it is required that whatever anybody would do, he should ask this intrinsic question: ‘What if everybody acted this way’? The doctrine of existentialism is against ‘quietism’, which says ‘let others do what I cannot do’, but it holds that ‘there is no reality except in action’. Nigeria is nothing except by carrying out her plans; she exists only to the extent she fulfils them. Man is involved in life only when he is able to leave his good impression outside of which he is nothing. This is a pinch on those whose life has not been successful but, on the other hand, it prompts people to understand that reality counts more, than dreams, expectations, and hopes.

Evaluation and Conclusion

Nigeria is a great nation and her beauty lies in the variety and colour that is her heritage. The strength, weakness, success and failure are what make up her greatness and heritage too. But its growth and development depend on how we manage or mismanage this heritage. It is surprising that Innocent Asouzu said that amidst all these good and bad aspects of Nigeria as compared with other countries, he loves being a Nigerian . Not because of our stylish reputation but because of the wonderful and very promising gifts that are deeply buried and hidden in this enigma called Nigeria.

However, this project is aimed at the measures and ways of authenticating our beingness in order to rise to what we ought to be. The gamut of existentialism is the realization that one is not just a being ‘thrown there’ as Heidegger would say, but that he is an ‘actor’ in the existence, a being always in struggle to actualize his being among others. An insight into our Nigerian situation will show that the cause of our predicament is not unconnected with inauthentic living. A latin adage says: ‘nemo dat quod non habet’ (no body gives what he has not). In order to radiate goodness, we must invariably possess it ourselves. Primarily, we must embark on being real in our lives, so that we can authenticate our country. It is said that the stand of any nation greatly depends on the number of its cultivated people. Thus in order to build Nigeria, the first task should be to build her citizens.

What lies at the heart of all these problems is the lack of the consciousness or awareness of what authentic life involves and yields. Authenticity cuts across all commitments to duty, rights and responsibilities, freedom as well as choice. Morestill, it involves a selfless service, hoping or storing for the posterity. Thus, Kierkegaard summed up his work on existentialism by saying ‘that every human being should be assumed in essential possession of what essentially belongs to being a man’. What else is man if not a being among others, a social being without which Plato says one is either a beast or a god. The task of every office irrespective of how menial it is, is the realization that one is called to serve and be responsible for his choices. It is in this personal integration enforced by the political powers of the states that due regard and attention will be paid to duties and responsibility.

It is also central point in Kierkegaard that each person possesses an essential self, which he or she ought to actualize. It is then in the imperfections of life, burdened with experience of despair and guilt, which creates in us an awareness of faciticity of life, that we can start to live genuine lives. Also, the qualitative differences in various modes of existence, which show that some mode of living are more authentic than others, challenge and urge in man the desire to transcend above his giving situation. It is required that we, in our different little contributions, must not only handle them with devotion and dedication but also leave a legacy for our future generations. Inevitably, this requires a lot of commitments, hard work and realistic, and that is why, I consider existentialism, as a necessary aid to seeing ourselves out of our predicaments.

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