By Joseph Ushie
Still as within the precincts of the metaphor of the racist knee on the neck of the African American George Floyd, we also consider complicit in the killing of the nation’s university system the Nigerian public who include the parents and students themselves as the replicas of the other three police officers who did nothing while Derek Chauvin’s satanic knee sniffed life out of George Floyd. These other Nigerians, unlike the citizenry of other countries who are gravely and passionately concerned about the state of health of their countries’ education system, are either doing nothing about the asphyxiation of the system or even lending their weight to the government’s murderous knee. However, while a segment of the American society – the African Americans themselves – was not represented at the scene of that horrendous crime, the Nigerian situation is different in the sense that here even some of the primary victims, the members of the Nigerian university system, are complicit in the killing of the education system. These include the management of some of the universities, the teaching and non-teaching members of staff and, again, the students. What this tragic complicity in the death of the nation’s education by most of the citizenry entails is that the entire nation itself is a debris, a wreckage of a collapsed system of which the education sector is only a fragment, a piece of shrapnel. Indeed, it seems certain that the Nigerian nation actually died on, or about, the very date of its birth in 1960. How did this happen?
The engine of all nations and societies that propels their growth and development is the collective intellect of the nation or society. In Nigeria, the roots of this terrible, horrible condition are in the tragic deletion or casting away of intellectual input from the affairs of the polity by successive governments not long after the ersatz independence. Intellectual input has been the foundation from which all civilizations have sprung and thrived. It was the intellectual muscle that interplayed with the immortal River Nile to yield the early Egyptian civilization, just as the Euphrates and Tigris watered the early Persian civilizations. It was the rebirth of learning during the Renaissance that established the foundation for European advancement, particularly for Britain’s Industrial Revolution and the birth of the British Empire, a situation in which a relatively small group of four million or so Caucasians could control vast territories in Africa, Asia and the America’s. When the Europeans wanted to enslave Africans, their intellectuals had to, first, bring up theories to justify the crime by “proving” that the Africans possessed just about three-fifths of the characteristics of other human races. The Whites know and value this indispensable factor in the development of any society. That was why White America, as a policy, prescribed the exclusion of African Americans from benefitting from the kind of education that could make them think and reflect cerebrally on their existence, a concrete manifestation of the policy being in the establishment of the Tuskegee Institute with the mandate to provide such an education that could enable the Blacks to have a meal ticket only. A replica of this policy is what the neoliberal Breton Wood institutions of World Bank, the IMF and WTO are prescribing for the African education system today through the agency of our purblind, visionless leaders. That is why these agencies prescribe for their proxy African governments undue emphasis on basic education to the neglect of the tertiary level. This lethal prescription for African countries profits the advanced economies in three or more ways. Their economies continue to receive a huge boost from the school fees paid by the children of Nigerian affluent families into the foreign economies; the frustrated Nigerian professional emigrates to enhance the provision of services in the predator-nations; and the perpetuation of knowledge famine in African countries guarantees the continuation of the neocolonial grip on the African economies. Hence, the knee on the neck of Nigeria’s development is, to a great extent, externally powered, and it would take the collective and revolutionary fervency of the citizenry, not just of a small group such as a trade union, to remove it.
There is something else which the West and Asians know, but which we, Africans, have not appreciated. This is the role of social, cultural, political and administrative institutions in the health and progress of a society. This position has been best articulated by the sociologist, Ankie M. M. Hoogvelt, “No society can successfully dominate another without the diffusion of its cultural patterns and social institutions, nor can any society successfully diffuse all or most of its cultural patterns and institutions without some degree of domination”. This explains why, in spite of their possession of the Maxim guns and other superior weapons in their war with Africans, the Caucasians still deliberately worked hard to replace our cultures and traditions, including our beliefs systems, with theirs through their form of education, literature, culture, fashion and religion. This way, the African cultural institutions became diffused and weakened and hence, preferred by the naïve Africans to their own more potent indigenous social control and value systems. But when Asians found themselves in similar circumstances as Africans did, the Asian intellectual community first worked to consolidate typically Asian values as expressed in their cultures. It was after the Asians had fortified themselves and their young ones against the possible negative influences of western life that they then brought in western science and technology, which they merely mapped onto their existing Asian cultures, worldviews and value system. Thus, western science and technology came, and with it some aspects of western ways of life, but these were placed only on Asian skin, never inside their flesh let alone in their bones to become the doctrines they would worship.
One illustration of how the Asians value their culture, orientation, value system and worldviews as the firmament on which to develop a sane and progressive society is in the establishment of Chinese Towns in nearly all the major cities of the world which largely insulate the Chinese from the influences of the cultures and worldviews of their host countries. This way, the Chinese in Chinese Towns all over the world borrow selectively only the aspects of the cultures of their hosts which they consider beneficial to them and which would not erode that solid socio-cultural foundation on which their civilization, including science and technology, is built. But Africans first kicked off their intellectuals who ought to nurture and sustain the health of our own value system, our worldviews and our social control institutions such that western lifestyle would only remain on our skin as Asians experienced. Consequently, the omnibus rich African cultural package which contained our value system, our do’s and don’ts, our laws forbidding stealing and lying; our songs in which vices and their committers were pilloried; our oral heritage which held our proverbs, our codes of existence, our languages and histories and folktales with deep moral cleansing lessons; our sense of communality as against western individualism and the net implications for the nuclear and extended family systems, all were first washed away.
To bring this matter home to reality, let me illustrate the point using my local government area of birth, the Obanliku Local Government Area of Cross River State. Persons from this area and even the neighbouring Obudu Local Government Area know that the Obanliku Local Government Area has two noticeably distinct orientations or ways of life. The minority Utanga-Becheve axis is about 85% – 90% African in its ways and cultures and worldviews and traditions while the rest of the LGA is about 85% – 90% “modern” in its ways and cultures and traditions. The Utanga-Becheve axis, too, has the presence of modernity in the forms of schools, modern health facilities, courts and other government outfits, yet its underlying justice and social system is the typical indigenous African mode. Thus, while the Utanga-Becheve axis is not absolutely free from vices, especially those inherent in Africa’s own “past” as we have in other parts of the world, the widespread, uncontrollable society-consuming epidemics of perversion of justice on account of a bribe, cultism, rape, kidnapping, cheating in trading and other business transactions, defecation of the environment and other vices which are common in the rest of the LGA and her neighbours are uncommon in this minority area. As a consequence, any civil servant, teacher, court official, traditional ruler or even business man who goes into this area does so with the consciousness that there will be dire consequences other than those punishable by government or the church if he or she goes astray in his or dealings. Such consequences can come in the form of a spontaneous revolt by the youth, thunder striking the perpetrator of injustice, or the perpetrator getting drowned in any shallow stream or river or even brook. So, whoever has to find himself in that part of the LGA in the line of official duty or business must always drop the usual mindset of corruption that characterizes dealings in the rest of the LGA or country. This is a rough equivalent of what the Asians did, and which has preserved the social health of their countries even as they imbibe some aspects of western science and technology and ways of life. And it is the absence of this sort of control system in much of the rest of Nigeria that has crashed the nation into its present pathetic state of debris and wreckage totally bereft of code of conduct or conscience.
If, at independence, the intellectual wing had not been cut off from the affairs of governance, it would have been the responsibility of actors in that enterprise to midwife the nation into a phase in which the good and healthy aspects of our indigenous institutions and those of the modern world would be harnessed into a new firmament upon which to build our values system that can ensure the sustainable global health of the nation. But this was not done. Instead, that essential, indispensable component, which had seen to the rise of Egypt, Europe, Asia and the Americas, was yanked off, and with it the prospect of developing a virile, strong cultural and ethical firmament for our values system and identity. Most tragically, even our bid to acquire western science and technology failed in many respects as our supposed intellectuals have been too hamstrung to be able to domesticate the western science and technology. We failed to realize that nations do not invest their incomes in research only to hand out the fresh outcomes to a beggarly African country. They can only give out the discarded version for your raw materials. And, of course, the advanced economies of the world, who know how indispensable to development culture is to true development, quickly began the process of filling the gaps with their own culture as a necessary weapon in their total domination of our world. Ultimately, therefore, the guns, the bullets, the bicycles, the cars, the knives, the public offices, the kind of education we had, the judicial system, the savvy that western civilization implanted were all swallowed with even their toxic elements without the moderation that would have come from a potent, vibrant value system erected from the intellectual input in the forms of African cultural products such as music, oral songs, written literature, intellectual discourses, taboos and such other forms of input. As a net result, these “gains” from western civilization became like weapons in the hands of a mad society, which have ultimately been used to hack down every fabric of the society. This is why nearly everyone has become complicit in the murdering of Nigeria since we all face this huge mud in which the children of the elephant grow and feed fat, some others watch with their mouths salivating for the rare opportunity to get into the mud and eat, while the decent few who forbid the eating of mud must starve and wail and watch. That is why the General in the nation’s armed forces today can steal the money meant to fight Boko Haram, insurgents, kidnappers, bandits and armed robbers. That is why the policeman is now in league with the criminal against the innocent citizen. That is why the lecturer can now exchange marks and admission for cash, and the health personnel can now sell day-old babies to ritualists in our hospitals. That is why fathers and guardians can now rape their own daughters and wards. And that is why the civil servant’s pen now pushes the commonwealth only into personal purse.
Thus, the intellectual input which was a major contributor to independence, and which earned the education sector some recognition and relevance soon after independence, as we find in the level of funding, standard of infrastructure, remuneration of staff and autonomy turned out to last only like a meteor flashing through the night sky, a mere soliton wave which ends soon after the ship has anchored properly. More specifically, this period of the soliton wave, when the intellectual input mattered, witnessed the remuneration of the labour of intellection such that a university professor earned higher then than a cabinet minister, which was why professors often turned down ministerial appointments if they had crucial research work at hand. As a result, Nigerian universities ranked among the very best in the world, unlike now that only two out of nearly 200 of them can be counted among the very last out of a total of 2000 in the world. Indeed, as recently as when some of us were undergraduates in the late 1970s and early 1980s lecturers from all over the world, including the United States, the UK, Germany and Asia rejoiced if they were given appointments in any of our public universities. This global mix of staff and students is always a big factor in the ranking of universities in the world today, which is one reason why universities in other lands will always come up early in the rankings because they have Nigerian students and staff in their staff mix. This promising era in the life of tertiary education lasted until the onset of military rule when the soldiers most brutally completed the severance of the intellectual component from the nation’s building process. The climax was in the early 1970s when, in a strange, unprecedented manner, the military government of General Yakubu Gowon defiled the sacred nature of our universities by ordering professors out of the nation’s university quarters. The launching of this bomb against the education system also ignited the birth of the patriotic University Teachers Association, which later metamorphosed into the present Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Union that has continued this battle to ensure the survival of Nigeria’s public universities, and to rejig the nation’s intellectual component for national development. This is the battle the Union has fought till date against successive Nigerian governments, military or civilian, and this is the struggle that has provoked the placement of the composite lethal knee on the nation’s development by government which does not realize the neck beneath its knee is that of the entire nation rather than of just ASUU. The paradox of why some members of ASUU are also complicit in some of the vices in the university system when the Union has been engaged in these self-emulating struggles for the survival of the nation through its intellectual input is the quarry for the next and final segment of this essay, and it comes shortly.
*Prof. Joseph A. Ushie, University of Uyo (www.joe-ushie.net)