Celebrating Late Prof. Sophie Oluwole, Nigeria’s First Doctorate Degree Holder in Philosophy

by Joseph Omoniyi
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In the quiet town of Igbara-Oke, nestled in Ondo State, a remarkable woman shattered glass ceilings and paved the way for generations to come. Born in Igbara-Oke, but hailing from the illustrious Edo state, Prof Sophie Oluwole etched her name in the annals of Nigerian history as the first woman to achieve a doctorate degree in Philosophy. Her indomitable spirit, intellectual prowess, and unwavering dedication to African philosophy have left an indelible mark on the academic landscape of the country.

Prof Oluwole embarked on her academic journey with a thirst for knowledge, studying History, Geography, and Philosophy at the esteemed University of Lagos (UNILAG). After completing her undergraduate studies, she was swiftly employed as an Assistant Lecturer in 1972, marking the beginning of a distinguished career that would reshape the philosophical discourse in Nigeria.

It was at the prestigious University of Ibadan (UI), in the ancient city known for its rich intellectual heritage, that Prof Oluwole pursued her passion further, earning her PhD in Philosophy. Her doctoral research delved into the realm of African Philosophy, with a specific focus on the Yoruba school of thought. As a torchbearer for African philosophical systems, she sought to unravel the cultural and religious beliefs that formed the bedrock of Yoruba land. Her work not only shed light on the profound wisdom embedded in indigenous philosophies but also challenged and corrected the prevailing Western-centric perspectives that often overlooked the depth of African intellectual traditions.

The impact of Prof Oluwole’s teachings and writings cannot be understated. She was a luminary in the field of African Philosophy, sharing her knowledge and insights with students at UNILAG, where she taught for several years. Through her lectures and publications, she sought to ignite a renaissance of African thought, empowering her students to embrace their cultural heritage and critically examine the world through their own philosophical lens.

Among her notable contributions to the philosophical canon is the groundbreaking book “Ifa and Orunmila.” In this seminal work, Prof Oluwole meticulously dismantled the misconceptions perpetuated by Western philosophies about African spirituality and cosmology. She eloquently demonstrated the profound philosophical depth inherent in Ifa, a sacred divination system of the Yoruba people, and Orunmila, the deity associated with wisdom and knowledge. Her scholarship not only challenged the prevailing narratives but also restored a sense of pride and dignity to African philosophical traditions.

Sadly, on a somber day, Prof Sophie Oluwole peacefully passed away in her home at Ibafo, Ogun State, leaving behind a legacy that will forever be remembered. Her wisdom, intellect, and pioneering spirit continue to inspire and guide scholars and philosophers alike.

In her 83 years, Prof Oluwole achieved what many deemed impossible, breaking barriers and opening doors for future generations.

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