Amaechi, Fashola and the allegory of the cave

By Bolaji Akinola

The agonizing fuel situation, vexatious Apapa gridlock, distressing slide in the value of the naira and the generally bewildering living conditions of the masses combine to provoke the feeling of a rudderless state. The level of frustration is rising ever so much faster than Nigeria’s economic growth. Insinuations are rife that the progressives did not really have a plan and that all they possessed was a plan to develop a plan.

Nevertheless, Nigerians look up to the new government to earnestly deliver the promised change. Much hope is hinged on the two super Ministers – Fashola and Amaechi. Our hope of a better maritime industry also rests on these two former Governors.

While eager to make suggestions to the duo, one is at a loss as to the type of advice that would be suitable at this time. Amaechi is not ignorant of the problems facing the country. He is not a total stranger to the maritime environment either having served as Governor of Rivers State – a state that hosts the nation’s oldest seaport and the world famous Onne Port – for eight years. Ditto Fashola. The nation’s two major seaports are located in the state he ran commendably well for eight years. Fashola was a regular visitor to Apapa. His administration initiated the construction of the Lekki seaport. He had a clear understanding of the importance of the waterways. He set up the Lagos Waterways Authority (LASWA) to encourage the use of alternative mode of transportation by Lagosians. He even went as far as creating a sort of Coast Guard for Lagos.

So what does a man who vastly feels compelled to give advise say to these gentlemen?

Aha, the allegory of the cave! Plato’s allegory of the cave would be apt.

The allegory provides an interesting perspective to life. It was written as a dialogue between two brothers, Socrates and Glaucon.

Socrates begins by asking Glaucon to imagine a cave where people have been imprisoned from childhood. These prisoners are chained so that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them and not look around at the cave, each other, or themselves. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway with a low wall, behind which people walk carrying objects or puppets “of men and other living things”.

The people walk behind the wall so their bodies do not cast shadows for the prisoners to see, but the objects they carry do (“just as puppet showmen have screens in front of them at which they work their puppets”.

The prisoners cannot see any of this behind them and are only able to see the shadows cast upon the cave wall in front of them. The sounds of the people talking echo off the shadowed wall, and the prisoners falsely believe these sounds come from the shadows.

Socrates suggests that the shadows constitute reality for the prisoners because they have never seen anything else; they do not realize that what they see are shadows of objects in front of a fire, much less that these objects are inspired by real living things outside the cave.

Plato then supposes that one prisoner is freed, being forced to turn and see the fire. The light would hurt his eyes and make it hard for him to see the objects that are casting the shadows. If he is told that what he saw before was not real but instead that the objects he is now struggling to see are, he would not believe it. In his pain, Plato continues, the freed prisoner would turn away and run back to what he can see and is accustomed to, that is the shadows of the carried objects. He writes “…it would hurt his eyes, and he would escape by turning away to the things which he was able to look at, and these he would believe to be clearer than what was being shown to him.”

Plato continues: “suppose…that someone should drag him…by force, up the rough ascent, the steep way up, and never stop until he could drag him out into the light of the sun.” The prisoner would be angry and in pain, and this would only worsen when the radiant light of the sun overwhelms his eyes and blinds him.

The sunlight is representative of the new reality and knowledge that the freed prisoner is experiencing. But slowly, his eyes adjust to the light of the sun. First he can only see shadows. Gradually he can see the reflections of people and things in water and then later see the people and things themselves. Eventually he is able to look at the stars and moon at night until finally he can look upon the sun itself. Only after he can look straight at the sun “is he able to reason about it” and what it is. Plato continues, saying that the freed prisoner’s perception would be permanently altered. He would think that the real world was superior to the world he experienced in the cave; he would bless himself for the change, and pity the other prisoners and would want to bring his fellow cave dwellers out of the cave and into the sunlight.

The returning prisoner, whose eyes have become acclimated to the light of the sun, would be blind when he re-enters the cave, just as he was when he was first exposed to the sun. The prisoners, according to Socrates, would infer from the returning man’s blindness that the journey out of the cave had harmed him and that they should not undertake a similar journey. Socrates concludes that the prisoners, if they were able, would therefore reach out and kill anyone who attempted to drag them out of the cave.

Honourable Ministers, you’ve been out of the cave a while. You’ve seen the true light. You’ve heard the true sound and seen the real images. You’re back now to take this imprisoned generation out into sunshine; please don’t allow the people you desire to save resist you. Maritime industry confusionists are very loud and unrepentant. Please don’t let them hold you back.

Drag, pull, push and force us up the rough ascent. Ignore the hues and cries. Make the change happen by all means. Please.

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