Time for Rectification of Names

By Okey Ikechukwu

An Igbo proverb says that a dog does not become a leopard because it is addressed as one by its owner, or even the entire community. That is why you have the popular warning, which is often addressed to anyone perceived to be overrating himself: “Oke aha n’egbu nwa nkita” (a big name, or preposterous self-inflation, leads a low-grade domestic dog to its doom). Now imagine a place where dogs are called all manner of names, except their rightful name: ‘dog’.

Tell me, can you make sense of a world wherein everything you know is arbitrarily renamed? Will you even be able to easily retain your sanity and communicate meaningfully if everyone accepted the new names and carried on as if all was well? especially when there is no connection whatsoever between the names and what the entities really are.

Just picture this: An elephant is walking by and you hear everyone shouting “Oh, see that massive and lovely cockroach”! Then a lion is called ‘mosquito’ and a cow is called ‘toothbrush’. For good measure, it turns out also that what you had always known as, and called, a house is now called ‘groundnut’! Well, there you have it: A land affiliated to bedlam; wherein the criterion for sanity is pronounced irrationality.

Is that, perhaps, what our dear country has turned into today? A place where there is no real connection between government expenditure and the welfare of the citizens in whose names the expenses are ostensibly being incurred? A nation in which many of those parading the title of ‘leader’ at state and local government levels are everything a leader should not be? A land where loyalty means “I support you because you pay me and retain me to do whatever you want”. A nation beholden to tomfoolery perhaps, because its current crop of leaders imagine that truth is circumscribed by what they say and do in enclosed government chambers?

It is so pervading, so surreal, so benumbing, and also so profoundly revealing about how far we have travelled on the wrong road. We need a rectification of names!

The mayhem is such that whoever wants to really do anything meaningful here must first start at what we might just call the ethereal level. First specify, to yourself first of all, the true meaning and purpose of many things. This includes titles, institutions of state and even ordinary names. Can you restore their real names, in terms of getting public consciousness to actually internalize new usages? That means getting the people to use the appropriate designation of each entity when they address it?

Now, don’t start any arguments about Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ‘pictorial’ conception of language. Yes, it is true, as he said, that it is by the association of sounds and the objects touched or pointed at when the sounds are made that every child learns the meaning and names assigned to things in his environment as he grows. But does this apply to full grown adults who are not learning a new language?

Still on Wittgenstein, before returning to our core subject matter for today, it was actually St. Augustine, and not Wittgenstein, who first put forth what is described today in philosophical, philological and linguistic circles as the pictorial conception of language. That was in his book Confessions, wherein he engaged in a detailed personal mental walk-through of his life; beginning with the earliest memories he could recollect of his childhood.

Concerning the matter at hand, let us start by observing that to rectify anything is to restore or correct something about that thing. For instance, if there is a spelling, or entry, error against your name in a document, and the error is taken care of, we say that it has been rectified. So, what do we do when almost everything, and everyone, around us is wrongly designated? Budgets are excuses for fleecing the nation in the name of the people. Constituency projects are new names for subterfuge and organized but, back to the rectification of names!

It was worries like the foregoing that n propelled the Chinese thinker, Confucius, to propose the doctrine, or principle, or “Rectification of names” to his people. He taught his disciples that all would be well in any society if everyone played the roles assigned to him by name flawlessly. If father played the role of father, mother played the role of mother, leader played the role of leader, etc., then there would be no place from which corruption, impropriety and societal decay would come in. The catch, however, is that these roles may actually already be badly defined. In such a situation, it would mean reaffirming and reinforcing nothing but the entrenchment of what is wrong.

The question of “who” defines “father” for instance, and all the other concepts, is the catch and the trap set by Confucius. Once a social concept, or any concept at all, is wrongly defined, all is lost. And lost for good!

Take, for instance, the concepts of Yin and Yang, the active and passive principles in nature. A father is Yang to his son. The latter is Yin to his father, but yang to his wife and children. He must always obey his father and all elders and rulers. This places on the son the obligation of having to listen to, and obey, an entire chain of Yangs, even if he has ideas of his own. So, you must listen to your ignorant father, uninformed elders and misguided leaders, instead of venturing forth any fresh thoughts borne of contemporary experience.

Coming back to our issues here, and bearing in mind the extent of national decay at the moment, we must admit that our crop of leaders today are mostly victims, and willing collaborators in a generation of leaders and followers brought up on impunity, consumption and arbitrary use of state power for personal gains.

As was said on this page on 28th October 2016, under the Title ‘Symptoms of a Deep-Rooted Crisis”, that we are in a deep bind that took time to mature. The article said thus then: “The many powerful people whose interests differ from the national interest are partly responsible for the trajectory of most past regimes and presidents. So let us first calmly admit that our crises have had long gestation. To fail to do so is to ignore history, particularly the essential elements of our own history, and replace it with hysteria. The Nigerian nation has been run as a criminal enterprise for too long”.

It went further to say: “We have been building a mansion on quicksand and with pillars of straw. The soil, quicksand as it is, is further infested with two species of ants, called presumption and nepotism. These ants, which feed exclusively on straw, have been nibbling away for decades. They have left us with a hollow and painted frame that conceals a lie. This lie has been on parade for decades. It is described as an architectural masterpiece by casual observers. An architectural masterpiece that is not designed to withstand the wind? Now that the whirlwind has come, and the elements are in their element, radical modifications (in design and material) have become necessary”.

Against the background of what we are seeing everywhere today, especially the pretence that most people in leadership positions are concerned about the national interest, we must wake up to the fact that something stinks around here. The stench is getting worse by the hour. People are not bearing their real names and they are also not available to have their names rectified.  

What was said here in October 2016 stands, namely: “It is not right that a nation should be undergirded by untruth. It is also not right that a nation should be under a political economy of decay and corruption, warehoused and propagated by a business and political elite that lives in denial. When old lies are told afresh by those who know they are lying, a time comes when even the liars themselves won’t be sure whether they are lying anymore. Now that we have brought up children who have seen shielded criminality as leadership, we have a nation wherein hiding under the instruments of state to violate natural justice, equity and good conscience makes you not guilty of any crime. Look at Nigeria today. The dominant motifs are (1) skewed values, (2) a flawed national psyche and (3) an aberrant leadership recruitment process. These motifs have given us several national ‘leadership pseudopodia’, or “false feet”.

Do we have, today, any intimations of Plato’s “philosopher king? A leader with correct knowledge of man’s duality and a broad knowledge of life? and who could also address everyday issues with an overarching vision that many do not possess? Not anymore. We are all now being nurtured in the available knowledge of wheeling and dealing. It is all about temporary gains, seasonal loyalty and debauched offerings.

The Platonic conception of human development as ‘the nurturing of character and the human person through the education of life’ is no more in vogue. Our founding fathers were not deal makers who were out to fill their pockets. They were ideas inventors and investors of repute. They were leadership entrepreneurs, with deeper than average knowledge, insight and vision. That is why they could fashion and nurture broad-based development projects. They designed holistic templates, with their eyes set on consolidation; in addition to mentoring others.

It is trite to say that the root of all leading civilisations, organizations and individuals in the last 400 years always rested on some philosophy of leadership, human capital management, or service delivery. So, what is our current leadership trajectory based on?  Sustainable human, national, economic and political development, must be multi-dimensional; with spiritual, aesthetic, cultural and socio-economic connotations. National character and national development do not derive from a desperate alliance of mechanics, bicycle repairers, cobblers, one-eyed bricklayers, amoral young people pressing computer keyboards and allied tradesmen. If it were so, Japan would not be in its present quagmire of worry over the growing number of computer whiz kids committing suicide every other week.

As things stand today, we need a re-evaluation of all our values as a nation. Where are we headed exactly, and for what purpose? With our basic political, cultural, philosophical and spiritual, values in limbo, is it any surprise that we do not have enough people in the public space who can be seen as responsible managers of our lives and resources, as human beings? What are the core foundations of our nationhood – of our national political culture? What are we drilling into the average young Nigerian today; both young and old?  As debauchery is on the ascendant everywhere today, it behooves us to consider a rectification of names for everyone.


“…all would be well in any society if everyone played the roles assigned to him by name flawlessly. If father played the role of father, mother played the role of mother, leader played the role of leader, etc., then there would be no place from which corruption, impropriety and societal decay would come in.

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