Dr. Kevin Sludds is probably the only philosophical therapist in Ireland and Nigeria. He is also a professional ethicist with 20 years’ experience of teaching, consulting and training. Kevin is recognized in Ireland and abroad for his innovative and progressive work on Emotions and Ethics in the workplace. He has worked in Europe, Africa and India and published widely. Despite this, he is a very modest man, which is why many of his books are published under a pseudo name. In fact, as he said to me during one of my privileged moments of strolling with him on the university campus: “I don’t want to have a personality in writing”. However, among his known books are: Emotions: Their Cognitive Base and Ontological Importance and The Incurious Seeker’s Quest for Meaning. Kevin is a recipient of a number of awards, including two national poetry awards.
Currently, he is Head of the Department of General Studies at Baze University, Abuja. It was in his office at Baze that Kevin finally agreed to grant his younger colleague, Andrew Bula, this interview, after much persuasion from the latter.
AB: Sir, you are welcome from a three month research leave.
KS: Thank you, it’s nice to be back.
AB: a) Can I describe you as a writer, academic and philosopher? b) How would you describe yourself? c) In short, what is your educational profile, your interests and achievements?
KS: a) Yes you can though asking me to provide a description of myself will probably mean it’s lopsided. b) I suppose and to try to be brief, I’m someone who tries to make coherent, or moderately coherent, the sense of bafflement he often feels in the face of everyday life. If that sounds pompous, I apologise. c) My primary degree was in philosophy and English and my post-graduate degrees are in philosophy; regarding what you kindly call ‘achievements’, they are far too insignificant to mention.
AB: What project(s) were you focused on during your research leave to extend the frontiers of knowledge?
KS: I appreciate the sentiment of your question Andrew, though ‘extend the frontiers of knowledge’ sounds rather grand. Nevertheless, I wrote a poem, completed an article on some misinterpretations of Martin Heidegger’s work by Charles Taylor and Stephen Mulhall and finished a book chapter I was invited to write which relates to the ontology of ethics.
AB: Could you inform a bit about Irish Literature?
KS: There is an historical literary thread to Irish writing which, I believe, moves from contemporary authors such as Colm Toibin and William Trevor to people like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Jonathan Swift encompassing the Nobel prize-winners Heaney, Beckett, Shaw and Yeats. I suspect at least a part of the reason why such a small country produces so many noteworthy literary figures has to do with this very literary thread which is pinpointed in our use of English, in other words, our Hiberno English. We tend to use language not merely as a conduit to communicate reasonableness or logic but to explore new pathways of expressing what is fundamentally poetic or philosophical about human nature.
AB: The British nearly colonised the world…
KS: As I understand it Britain’s period of colonial power in Nigeria lasted 60 years, you must add a naught to the end of that figure to find the number of years they held power in Ireland. Edmund Burke, the political theorist and philosopher, summed up just how savage the Penal Laws imposed on the Irish were when he wrote of them as “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man”. There is something of the Stockholm syndrome however about being oppressed for such a time and it would be foolish to imagine there exists immutable lines of demarcation between Irishness and other races. Nonetheless, over the centuries many observers have discerned Hiberno English as being unique and, perhaps, not altogether distinct from Chinua Achebe’s notion of a “new English” for African authors.
AB: How much knowledge of African literature is there in Ireland?
KS: For those with an interest, the big names of African literature-WoleSoyinka, Nadine Gordimer, Chinua Achebe, Naguib Mahfouz, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and so on, would be quite well known. I understand that in my old Alma Mater, Trinity College Dublin, and at many other third level institutions in Ireland, there are African literature courses which are quite popular.
AB: How is the experience of working as an academic and as HoD GS at Baze Universty?
AB: How would you describe the quality of education in Nigeria taking Baze University as a case in point?
KS: Let me take those two questions as one. If by ‘case in point’ you mean precedent, I’m unsure it is. What I mean is; Baze University’s approach to learning both from an academic and infrastructural point of view is quite distinct from other universities in Nigeria. When the Pro- and Vice-Chancellors’ speak of ensuring the highest standards they sincerely mean it. Naturally, as with any new venture, there are teething problems but the essentials are sound and great emphasis is correctly placed on academic integrity. As a result, rigour and scrupulousness are bywords which students and staff must always pursue.
AB: Is race and colour still an issue among peoples of the world?
KS: I’m sure it is. In fact, if you delve deeply enough I’m certain forms of chauvinism or bigotry or prejudice exist not just among large groups of people(e.g. nations, states or cities) but in small communities and even within families. At its core racism is about an intolerance born of absolutism, so that, where there is difference, or perceived difference, it will inevitably show its ugly head. What people globally appear to find most difficult to do in life is to stop proselytizing. It seems to me that being human has, at least from an historical perspective, very little to do with being animal rationale or even a wise man (Homo sapiens) and everything to do with accepting the profound uncertainties and ambiguities of our existence. At best we might accurately be described as a questioning species and, as such, the embrace of pluralism should be our strongest foil against racism.
AB: What is your take on the large-scale terrorism by Boko Haram in Nigeria?
KS: I am far too ignorant of the complex socio-political and religious dynamics of Nigerian society and culture to offer a view which would be more than facile.
AB: As one of the resource persons nurturing this young institution, what are your hopes and aspirations?
KS: If Baze University can do all, or almost all, of the basics right the foundation will have been built for it to tangibly make manifest its potent Vision & Mission Statements. To do that, would be a major achievement.
AB: Best wishes and thank you very much for your time, Sir!
KS: Thank you.