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Immanuel James: The Ndananya Theory



My late, wise uncle, too lazy for speech, developed a very strange mechanism to discipline anyone who would not heed his counsel. He called it ‘Ndananya’, a compound word from my Igbo dialect that translates to something like ‘silent aloofness.’ After his advice on any matter was blatantly ignored, he would withhold further participation in the debate, neither affirming nor disproving, waiting for the inevitable result of stubbornness to do the convincing.

Ndananya is the last resort after your voice has gone hoarse from the screaming of caution, or after a failure to administer truth to those who need it.

My first deployment of the Ndananya principle was when I newly arrived Lagos. My two female neighbours had spent all day on a vicious transaction of insults, barring my pleas for calm and reconciliation. On two occasions, I had separated them from what proved to be a mere rehearsal from the major fight. So I decided that Ndananya should be applied in the circumstance.

And soon, the real scuffle began. I stood akimbo, enjoying a well-deserved spectatorship that lasted for close to ten minutes, before one of them yelled:

“Broda James! You just dey there dey look!”

I ignored them, still. I knew that when two people fight, they will eventually get tired and quit, if only we can be patient and bear with them.

Ndananya is also fit for public use – like in Nigerian politics. After you have failed to educate fellow Nigerians that the political elite are one and the same; that, dichotomies in religion, tribe, gender, etc., are deliberately inserted into the national debate by the politician. That such dichotomies gained traction only because the masses have blessed the deceit; when fellow Nigerians fail to see that both the APC and the PDP unite to pass bills for senatorial over-feeding; when the masses stubbornly tear down one another to defend the politician, who chuckles secretly in sadistic delight, it is time for Ndananya.

But my latest Ndananya application is in the realm of religion. I had written, in articles, even in a book, that at the base of the religious war that has engulfed the world, from the Middle-East to Africa, and beyond, is one tiny matter that has been taken for granted: the arrogance of Truth claims. When all artificiality is pulled down, between Israel and Hamas; in Iraq’s ISIS; in Bashir Al-Assad’s Syria; in Al-Shabaab, Al-Quaeda and Boko Haram – what will be left bare is that men are fighting to insist that they and their worldviews are the ultimate truths, that all others are false and evil.

Each religion insists, arrogantly, that it is the absolute truth about the human condition.

“The Bible is the ONLY word of God; all others are the devil’s, and are meant for hell”, boasts the Christian absolutist, omnisciently.

“Shut up!”, retorts the Islamist, menacingly, stamping a foot on the ground, “It is the Qu’ran and that is final!”

“It’s neither!”, barks the atheist, categorically, “the ultimate truth is that God doesn’t even exist!”

Every one of them is talking but none of them is listening, because they are all sure of their “facts”. Each accuses the other of subjectivity, foolishness, and of the propagation of evil.

The Christian absolutist is patient anyway, waiting for the end of the world and Rapture, when the others will be hurled into hell-fire where they “truly” belong. The Islamist has no time for patience; he is so sure of his “truth”, so angry at its refutation that he is bent on sending the other guys to hell, but in parts and pieces, with IEDs and Ak-47s. The atheist is laughing hysterically at the “foolishness” of the other duo, yet angry that their commotion has rattled the world for too long.

The next set of terrorists will be fundamentalist atheists, who will attack religious institutions, a Third Force angry at the world’s pulverisation in the hands of religion.

Many humanists have been advocating inclusiveness, asking each camp to calm down and recognize that the world and the human condition are relative realities over which no one should claim absolute knowledge of Truth. The world has refused to accept that each worlview is most likely a product of socialisation, with valid, inherent contradictions. No one is willing to admit that Ultimate Reality is what man is seeking, not what he has reached. Man is free to pursue that Truth through any peaceful, dynamic systems of thought, but he should understand that whatever truths arrived at are only relative. Life is dynamic. Any form of absolutism negates that dynamism.

The only people that are probably entitled to claim absolute truth are not here – dead people!

But the loud, ear-splitting assertion of Ultimate Truth has muffled the scream of caution. The argument has reached the highest pitch, such that the blast of bombs, much louder than argumentative haggles, has become the only logical noise audible enough to win the debate.

From the Middle-East to Europe, to Africa, to Nigeria’s Borno State, the Truth war has waged on. Then, Kano, Yobe, Jos, Abuja. And, Lagos! Owerri, Abia? Only years ago, we used to watch it on cable TV, wondering how life rolls in such places like Afghanistan, Gaza, Somalia, etc. Yet even at the blast of bombs, each one is still clutching his own truth in death, both the suicide bomber and the victim. Technically, each is going to the other’s hell! Even within denominations, the Truth war is raging fiercely. No one is willing to concede relative validity to the other, or say: live and let live, in peace; while we continue to dig for answers.

At this rate, those of us whose voices have gone hoarse from the sermonising of peace and tolerance, (from the preaching of caution) have earned the right, even as possible victims, to sit and mope. And that is Ndananya, the theory which states that aloofness is justified after a loss of voice.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime |Monkey Business Images

Writing is my means of saving me from myself! Immanuel James, author of 'Under Bridge', is the winner of the 2014 ANA National Prize for Prose.