Book Review — Omoluwabi 2.0 by Adewale Ajadi

Last night I finished “Omoluwabi 2.0: A Code of transformation in 21st century Nigeria” by Adewale Ajadi. Adewale Ajadi describes himself as a creative consultant, leadership educator, change agent, and storyteller. When I checked him out online, I saw that he works with African Leadership Center to deliver training on Leadership in Peace Operations across Africa and the rest of the world. This book was published in 2012. The quality of the print is arguably the best I have seen in the Nigerian space.

Omoluabi 2.0 whose meaning in Yoruba is “the child of the Lord of Character — Omo ti Olu iwa bi” is offered by the author as a new kind of engagement about Nigeria that would take its root from its pre-colonial past, especially from a system of that of the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, and fashion out a roadmap for the transformation of Africa on Africans’ terms. And in truth, there are several of our indigenous processes and practices that are begging to be adapted to provide solutions to Africa’s contemporary issues. A good example, which many intellectuals have mentioned and which the author also points to, is the Gacaca tribunal, an indigenous legal system, that was modified in Rwanda for reconciliation purposes in the aftermath of the Rwanda genocide when the Western system of achieving criminal justice objectives proved insufficient.

Using this to great effect, the author then focused his energies on lampooning those he says elevate the problems of Africa to the world without discussing enough about the goodness therein (Tip: Wole Soyinka did not escape his tongue-lashing). The historic successful peace creation by ECOMOG in Sierra Leone was highlighted as one which should be celebrated but whose depiction by Hollywood is the opposite as seen in a movie like Blood Diamond. You may then be surprised that on Page 13, he did some generalizations of his own saying the Nigerian public space has been hijacked by “the intellectually indolent”.

Btw, please where are the books written on ECOMOG? Reading about the heroics of General Maxwell Khobe makes me proud. When Khobe got to Sierra Leone, he met a discouraged troop which he worked to transform to be compact. Using his ingenuity, he ensured that ECOOMG was never ambushed under his command. General Khobe, according to the author, is arguably the first-ever documented leader of a successful peace creation effort by an external force in modern times. That makes him a hero who should be celebrated globally.

Adewale argued that a major part of why Nigeria is the way it is is because of our complexity (he says Nigeria is the fourth most complex country in the world without providing his source) and that our diversity of peoples, culture, and languages can be blamed. Using similar countries like Indonesia and Pakistan, he goes ahead to show 8 charts spanning 1960 to 2008 to prove that Nigeria is not radically different from the other two countries and that in some ways Nigeria is better off. However, less than 10 years after he released his book, I wonder what he thinks about his comparison, with Nigeria significantly worse off than the two.

#WILT Among the top ten most populated countries, Nigeria is the only country that uses a language totally imported to her peoples as its only official language (English). {Update: A friend told me this is untrue has Brazil has Portuguese as its only national language.}

The author believes that the problem of the country is not that of leadership or pathogens like corruption, but that ours is a problem of systems and without adopting an indigenous system of revamping its character, any attempt to address what’s wrong with the country will only lead to partial analysis and often-incorrect conclusions. He was emphatic that attempting to modernize Africa through Westernization will not work. In its place, he says the Yoruba system of Omoluabi is what should be used. Pointing to his experience at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he narrated how he used the Yoruba Ebi system — which he compares to the Chinese system of Guanxi — to disarm a hostile situation to the admiration of all.

Anchoring the entire book on the Omoluabi system, he spent the longest chapter in the book discussing what he terms the seven elements of 21st century Omoluabi — Olaju, Oju Inu, Ami, Iwalewa, Eniyan Laso Mi, Ase, and Ire. He boldly declares that any modern system that will transform the Nigerian society must have the attributes of the Ifa corpus — a system he calls holistic, adaptive, and invariably complex.

As the reader turns the pages of this book, he is left with more and more questions. For one, the system Adewale espouses has not been tried in the modern era therefore the conclusiveness of its effectiveness is still left to be seen. He mentioned that at the time of writing the book, he was working to get the Ibadan people to buy into the concept and revamp the city he considers to be in serious disrepair. So it begs the question, using the methods he urges the reader to use to engage others and transform the country, how well has he succeeded in his quest? Some of the examples he uses are often the best versions of this system. For example, he says that the agbo ide or idi ile system of the past catered to the needs of a woman who is divorced from the family. In other words, the husband’s family continues to care for her. There have been worse outcomes and his perspective from stories from my grandparents is an exception.

Many of the claims in the book are a stretch. On Page 75, he says that a system that allows the King to be chosen from only three lines is “democratic”. I’m not sure how democratic that is. Also, as mentioned earlier, he considers Ibadan to be in serious disrepair yet he praises the late Adegoke Adelabu who is reported the person who handpicked governors in the state as an Omoluabi. It’s difficult to reconcile.

The author balked at any person who paints Nigeria or Africa with a wide brush. Using the May 2020 edition of The Economist as an example, he was aghast that the title read, “Africa, Hopeless Continent”. “How can a continent of over 700 million people be written off so casually”, he asked. So you can understand that I was taken aback when he described Ibadan as “a dusty, filthy and backward shell”.

Some tiny details cannot be missed. For instance, he says that Lagosians leave their houses to get to work at 8:30 am and leave work at 4:30 pm. I wonder where this happened before COVID-19 and if it is even representative of the general Lagos workforce even at that time. I worked on the Island at this time and I cannot say I know any company with this schedule.

The author strikes me as a Pan Africanist so I was not surprised when he blamed the transatlantic slavery for the problems in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The jury is still out on if this is a major factor in underdevelopment considering the counter examples. His Pan-Africanism may also inform why he romanticizes the Lagos chaos. He says the perception of Lagos as a place of danger and chaos is not in order and puts that perception on those coming from the West. But even those who live in Lagos recognize how chaotic the city is and the fact that markets spring up in seconds in traffic jams is not exactly something to be proud of. The author however proclaims that’s what makes it the city of wisdom.

Also, contrary to the claims on Page 119 that the Guanxi (family) system of China led to the Chinese economic miracle, it was the opening up of the economy that doubled the per capita productivity of the country in record time. To say embracing the idile system will do the same is one such example of the author inserting his own bias. Another example is how he says on Page 139 that the private sector should take responsibility for providing employment for the tens of millions of unemployed. I don’t think that’s how it works.

The criticisms of the details in the book aside, my submission is that different systems and combinations of them should be tried. This is why I am interested in the result of his experiment in Ibadan. These ideas should be tried on a local level and if successful can then be done on a much larger scale.

I thank Jekwu Ozoemene for sending me this book. It engaged me.