Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Virus Of Illiteracy Is Killing This Country Slowly, Silently

Excerpt of an interview of Prof. Niyi Osundare on Sunday, 08 January 2012  

Last Sunday, Poet laureate and literary scholar, Prof. Niyi Osundare tackled the monster of fuel subsidy and how impoverished Nigerians would be by the time, according to him, the IMF-induced policy would have run its course. Osundare passionately appealed to President Jonathan to remember his famous ‘shoeless boy from Otueke’ campaign days and why subsidy removal is an ill wind likely to rouse Nigerians from their perceived docility to confront those who have “ruled them to ruin”. His prognosis has proved somewhat prophetic, as the country has been under tension since January 1 when the subsidy was suddenly removed by the government. In this concluding part of the interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Osundare takes on the familiar malaise in the educational sector, saying that only through education can the citizenry be galvanised to overthrow the yoke of insensitivity of the “oppresive” class of rulers. He regards the current ASUU strike as part of the distrust that exists between government and the governed. Excerpts:

HOW do we address this malaise of docility?
Education, and education and education through conscientisation! Our people need to be aware of the power they have as citizens; their inalienable rights as people; the fact that the power enjoyed by the rulers should actually flow from the people. They should stop glamourising and beatifying the bad rulers that make life and living impossible for them and their children. Honestly, there is too much power-worship in this country, a habit I see as part of the Baba ki e pe (Boss, may you live long) syndrome. Just look at it: in Nigeria, the political ruler (and virtually anyone in a position of authority) is treated and venerated, like on with royal and/or priestly/divine powers, appeased with abject genuflections and lavish prostrations. Their birthday ‘felicitations’ take up substantial spaces in the newspapers; their oriki (praisename) is loud, lurid, and ludicrously extravagant.
So, in a way, it is Nigerian people that tell their rulers: rule us forever; rule us the way you choose; rule us the way that pleases your whims. Surely, this is one of the terribly negative parts of our traditional culture that is blatantly antithetical to the idea of democracy. For, the pervasive vestiges of divine kingship which tend to colour our concept of political power actually dis-empowers the people by erecting their rulers into some kind of sacred, unquestionable Kabiyesi alaye lorun (the unquestionable on who has dominion over heaven and earth). From this apparent verbal hyperbole emerges a state of mind, a political habit, and followership style that makes democracy impossible by belittling the people while inflating the essence of their rulers. All over the world, we know that tyranny never flourishes without the people’s abasement.
Urgently needed: a regimen of political enlightenment! The kind of education we have at the moment is cheap and pedestrian; it is education for enslavement. How many universities did we have when this country made most of the progress that we rely on today? Four! Compare what we have now to what we had in the 1970s and 1980s. I was an under-graduate in 1969-72, and I knew what this country was at that time; the quality of education, the quality of graduates at that time and the caliber of teachers that produced them. Nigeria was more literate at that time, and more purposeful, and more honest.
Today, it’s about 120 universities, and still counting. There are so many universities now that some well-run high schools are much better, more genuine, less crude than these latter-day pretenders to higher education. Yes, indeed, the days of the Ivory Tower seem to have receded into memory; what we have in Nigeria today is nothing better than Straw Towers. Just consider the galling politicization of the location of many of these “universities”. Along the pot-holed, blood-sucking Lagos-Ibadan express road, “new universities” are now contesting for space and notoriety with evangelical temples. (I counted four of these roadside “universities” on my last trip two weeks ago, and there is every possibility that the number may have increased since then!).
And what do we say about the Federal Government’s recent additions to the flood: nine universities, two of which were donated for siting at the birthplace and/or local government area of the President of the Federal Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and some functionary in the Federal Ministry of Education?
So, we end up with a saddening paradox: more universities, less education. It’s as simple as that. Look at some of the universities, too, particularly the private universities, the religious ones. Many of them are so fundamentalist I wonder the kind of graduates they are turning out: you must not wear earrings, no make up, no cell phones, no talking at certain times of the day (And these are no monasteries!).
In some universities, teachers are made to sign attendance registers; stand and bow when the proprietor passes/enters. Painfully at work here is the loss some of the desiderata of free enquiry and intellectual assertiveness, the triumph of robotization over purposive education.
A university is not made that way; that is not the idea of a university; high school, yes! It is in high school that you are supposed to go through some of these regimentations because you are still young and still cannot make up your mind and so on. The moment you get into the university, you are supposed to have acquired a certain level of independence, a certain level of liberation of mind and of thought and action. As I said in my valedictory lecture a couple of years ago, a university is a place where you are supposed to experiment, stumble, fall, pick up yourself again and walk, ask questions, do the right thing most of the time; at times do the wrong thing and see what it means to do the wrong and the difference between wrong and right. We all learn through the seek-and-find, the experimental way.
Today, in many of the new universities, that kind of policy doesn’t exist. All decisions are taken for the students; they are like robots, but they end up with a first class degree all the same. I don’t know how many first class degrees the private universities produce every year. There is a serious inflation of grade and class of degree. Not much of quality control. And many rational people are asking: how many of these high-flying degrees are genuine, and how many are obligatory rewards for the exorbitant fees paid at these universities? Besides – and this is very important – there is no proof yet that graduates from these expensive private universities are better than their counterparts from public universities.
These universities are being run as commercial enterprises, not real universities, or if they are universities, they are universities with the universe in them missing. This is why we have more universities and less education...
(cuts in) The public universities are not even faring better, even when the minister of education is usually taken from amongst them. Why is it so?
Public universities are freer, although some people see this freedom as libertine. Such people are saying we should measure the length of the ladies’ skirts; we should make every holy effort to banish provocative cleavages; we should gauge the lushness of lipsticks, and so on. We really have no business doing all that. Let students do whatever they like so long as it is legitimate and within the law. If students dress in an attractive way, if you don’t like that, take away your eyes. Why must you say you have to… No, no, no; we cannot put students through Talibanic torture and hope that they will come out as broad-minded, free-thinking, and independent adults and citizens. Many private universities are doing that; public universities are also concerned. They put too much premium on appearances. Of course, appearance is important, but we must make sure we go beyond the conspicuously external in our consideration of the important things of life. It is worth noting that most of the so-called ‘stakeholders’ in the educational sector who worry so much about external appearances take little or no interest in the not-so-conspicuous aspects of our students’ education.
How many parents, for instance, have raised issues regarding the institutional facilities that produce their wards’ education: the laboratories, classrooms, the library, bookstores, etc? How many show interest in the books they read, the curricula which undergird their education, the ideology which inflects their thinking? We have to reconsider our narrow and hypocritical definition of ‘discipline’ and realize that our students do not live in a societal vacuum. They are listening, for instance, when the story is being told about public functionaries who play foul with the public purse. They know practical thugs and illiterates who have become millionaires through political jobbery and blatant corruption. Incidentally, many of these thieves are impeccably turned out in the garments bought with money stolen from the Nigerian people.
So, public universities are fairer as far as the liberal attitude to university education is concerned, but in terms facilities they are worse. Our laboratories still remain underequipped, our libraries still remain outdated; our book stores are still without books; our classrooms are still over-crowded, and teaching is not being done the way it should be done. Morale is low amongst university teachers and I think many of us have to be more conscientious in the way we practise the profession. When you are given a student to teach and/or supervise, do it well. Read the thesis chapters with thoroughness and dispatch. Don’t just put them in your drawer, and two weeks to the deadline, throw them at the student and say ‘go and type’. Don’t use your big status as “Professor Sir” or “Professor Madam” to intimidate junior colleagues and students. Don’t hide behind that big status to evade your professional duties. The Kabiyesi syndrome we identified with politicians earlier on in this interview is also very much present in our institutions of higher learning. There must be a reasonable democratic atmosphere before adequate teaching and free inquiry can take place.
Some of the documents that pass as PhD theses, MA dissertations, BA long essays in Nigerian Universities are simply atrocious. Real, genuine education is disappearing. To bring it back, we need students who are willing to learn and teachers that are prepared to teach. There is an urgent need to restore performance evaluation and quality control in our universities. The time for the introduction of compulsory Student Evaluation of teachers is NOW.

Nigeria is moving from a pursuit of know-how to the doldrums of know-not’.
What do you make of the current strike in the universities? The current ASUU strike follows a familiar pattern. First ASSU complains, ‘we cannot teach because the conditions of service are bad’, ‘we cannot teach because we don’t have the tools to work with; we are poorly paid and so on’. Government pretends not to listen. Then a short warning strike; government still pretends not to know. One week passes, government pretends not to hear. Then one month or even longer. Then the real strike, and parents start complaining: ‘ah! my children are idle at home; they are eating all the food, and they go out at night. Please, let them go back to school’. Traditional rulers will also join the plea, and then government will reluctantly set up a committee to look into issue and the government committee and the ASUU committee will meet and it will take a long time and then a decision will be taken. Eventually, after a long period of deliberation, both parties reach a conclusion and sign an agreement. Back-slapping and hurrays! ASUU will go back to work, expecting government to honour the agreement. But government will not fully do so, thus setting in motion another round of crisis. It takes a keen sense of honour to sign an agreement and abide by it. But that virtue is in short supply with Nigerian public functionaries..Hence this recurring cycle of strike, school closure, and reopening.
Now to the point you made earlier on about the present minister of education being from the university herself. Well, you use a monkey to catch other monkeys. Yes, it is not the first time it has happened. We have always had more problems with professors as ministers for education in this country. Remember Prof. Ben Nwabueze and his ‘Parity’ bogey — a hot, nasty issue that rammed a wedge between the administrative staff of universities and the academic staff, a devious divide-and-rule subterfuge with a strong Babangida streak? Our university system never knew a moment of peace during Nwabueze’s tenure. Of course, you remember the tenure of Prof Jubril Aminu as education minister, and the unending round of crises in the education sector. And M.T. Liman and the six-month strike of 1996, when both General Abacha and his education minister pretended for weeks that they did not know that Nigerian university system had been done down by a protracted strike.
I think the only exception to this vicious rule is Professor Aliyu Babs Fafunwa, the avuncular education expert with a lot of insight and sagacious diplomacy. He served as a useful buffer between the federal government and the Jega-led ASUU, and there was progress in the negotiations the negotiations under his watch.
Let the Nigerian people take more interest in the quality of education their children are receiving. Convocation time is not just time for the wearing of the mortarboard and the gown and the eating of jollof rice and chicken. Let parents go to the laboratories, the book stores, the libraries and the classrooms and the halls of residence and other places on campus which aided the acquisition of their wards’ education. Let the parents interact with the teachers and understand their problems. This is important. The interest of parents must go beyond the glittering diplomas dished out to their ward on convocation day. They must ask why our graduates are becoming less and less competitive nationally, and why internationally the Nigerian certificate has lost its value. It is not enough to beat your chest and proclaim: I am parent of a graduate; the crucial question now is: what kind of graduate?
And, as a country, we need to consider the connection between educational failure and the failure of the nation. The virus of Illiteracy is killing this country slowly, silently. Nigeria is moving from a pursuit of know-how to the doldrums of know-not. This is certainly not the best way to become “One of the World’s Twenty Greatest Economies in Year 2020”. If what we are experiencing in the educational sector now is not a profound crisis, then I don’t know what else is.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chess and the Nigerian Situation

The game was played between the Federal Government of Nigeria (as white) and the Nigerian masses (who regrettably was represented by NLC/TUC, as black). White opened by pushing e4 (declaring removal of fuel subsidy on the 1st of January 2012). This move was not expected by black who had thought that white was going to play c4 (flank opening) based on older games. Black therefore had to take a while to respond to white’s move. Black responded with e5 on the 9th of January. Considering the situation on board, it was the best response to white’s opening move as it meant a head-to-head approach to the game, a fight for the centre. Many commentaries were run on TV, Radio, Newspapers and social networking sites. Many of the predictions were in favour of white, 1-0, while others predicted a draw but there was no prediction of a win for black. The game continued for 5 days with so much vigour and exuberance from black while white hoped to cash in on his “first-to-move” advantage as well as his positional (authority) advantage. Black on the other hand drew upon all his goodwill, knowledge of white’s tendencies, courage and determination towards the game. At the end of the 5th day, the representative of the masses began to lose stamina and negotiated with white (who initiated the negotiation). Black was urged to rest/refresh for the weekend and suspend the game to continue on Monday, the 16th of January to allow the representatives broker a good deal for the game and if white was unyielding, the game was to be continued on the 16th of January. 

Negotiations went on for long hours and many of black’s fans were quite expectant of a good deal. White was expected to give a speech on the night of Sunday, the 15th of January at 9pm which should give information to the audience about the outcome of the negotiation but White did not show up and kept the audience in suspense till they all slept off. They only woke up to the announcement that the game has been agreed to a draw to the advantage of white (white took home the trophy). Black also announced on Monday morning that he would not be showing up at the game venue and also urged his fans to stay home as white had deployed armed personnel to the various locations where the game was being watched. This move by white also changed the dynamics of the game and there was clear intimidation of all black fans and supporters. It was later learnt that black had given in to white’s threats and lures.

During my public opinion gathering, I found out that quite a number of black’s fans were irked by his withdrawal from the game. Some believed it was prearranged to go that way (like a script being acted out). They reasoned that the representative was given too much to handle and was not mentally and physically strong to persist for a long term game. They openly advised that the representative should not be given to NLC/TUC for subsequent games. Many of the fans opined that black would have won against white if the representative had not given in. However, they were quite encouraged with the turnout of their members who showed solidarity to the black’s club. They however mourned the loss of a few of their men who were brutally taken down by white’s men. They were deemed heroes of the struggle.

From what I gathered, members of black’s club are re-strategizing and preparing for another game which is scheduled to hold later this year, next year, two years’ time or three years’ time at a maximum.

This is Mary Achor-Ogungbola reporting for Chessheights .

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy Subsidized 2012!!!

Happy subsidized 2012, lol.
The events of the past eight days which stemmed from the announcement of the Federal government of Nigeria that the subsidy of PMS (Premium Motor Spirit) or popularly know as petrol has got me involved in a lot of discussions on facebook and other media so much I put aside any update on this blog. The melodrama which got the term "Occupy Nigeria" has infused a lot of life into the political life of otherwise "docile" citizens. Many people came out (willingly) enmasse to occupy various places in different states of the federation. Information travelled at the speed of light through all the various media within the Nigerian space - Facebook, Twitter, Newspapers, Blackberry, Radio, Television (Channels TV was on top of the reporting and interviews). The normal conversations among neighbours were taken over by the dicussion about leadership, corruption and the impact of the subsidy removal on every item/service one might want to purchase. It was such a heated period, the anger and tension was palpable in virtually every Nigerian as the issues are discussed.

One highlight of the event was when a group of non-muslims in the North formed a barricade and watched while the muslim folks observed the jumat prayers and consequently the muslim went into the church on Sunday (15th January 2012) to solidarize with their christian counterparts. This is the climax for me and it was exhilarating to see religious walls being brought down to pursue a common cause. There are so many people with the walls still high up inside them but this singular example has shown that it can be overcome.

After much negotiations between government and NLC/TUC officials, the govt later proposed N97 and the tempo lost steam for the representatives of the Nigerian masses. They must have been overwhelmed by a lot of factors which are not immediately obvious to other folks who were not in the negotiating room. The factors may include death threats, Ghana must go bags of untold large sums of money, offer of juicy government positions, or simply unwilling to go another week of standstill since many people were unable to access banks for money to refuel and restock as planned for the weekend of Saturday and Sunday (14th and 15th Jan). The initial stance of NLC/TUC was N65 or no end to strike action. One would then understand the disappointment of many Nigerians when they heard that the strike has been called off on the afternoon of Monday the 16th of January when there had been an earlier announcement of a sit-at-home strike in the morning. The change in tactics was attributed to security threat as soldiers were seen deployed to strategic places in major cities which had hosted successful protests in the previous week.

I am quite satisfied with the result achieved and I believe a statement has been made loudly in the ears of those "cabals" who have held the people captive over many years in the name of governing them that power indeed belongs to the people.

So many articles have been published regarding the so-called fuel subsdiy, here is a link of my view written on the 24th of October 2011 when the government first hinted at the removal.

The people of Nigeria are unnecessarily suffering under a yoke of corruption which is being perpetuated by a group of people who desires power solely for the purpose of oppression and personal aggrandizement. The issue of subsidy or not would be needless if corruption is checkmated in the corridors of power and in government institutions. One achievement of this drama will be a quick passage of the PIB (Petroleum Information Bill) which is crucial in the fight against corrupt practices in the one sector which solely provides the country with over 90% of its economic gains.
I believe one who has courage today to say NO with large turnouts of young Nigerians will be able to do so again tomorrow (future) if the govt decides to play another trick on the people. Let the people in power know that the people are not foolish, cowardly or forgetful anymore..power belongs to the people and not the PDP type. This is only d beginning. The future is here and soon enough it will become more apparent.
Indeed this year will be different as the beginning has clearly shown and I'm confident that it will be for the good of each and every one of us.We need to keep our spirits up and be willing to converse more and more on the issues with our friends, family members, colleagues, church members, okada man, market women, barber, salonist, just about anyone we come in contact with.....we have this event as a reference point henceforth. We all need to keep the tempo of enlightenment up especially at the grassroots and anywhere we gather. Let as many people who are awake join in the cause of stirring the consciousness of those who might still be in slumber (this state is perilous).
The new Nigeria is close at hand, the God of heaven has heard the cries of Nigerians but we must persist in righteousness regardless of what the cabal does and call for accountability of the resources meant for every single Nigerian and not just a group of people. May the souls of those whose blood were shed in this struggle rest and may the people look back in retrospect to honour them. God bless every honest Nigerian!
This is just the begiinning.....

Monday, January 9, 2012

WHY ARE THEY THIS WAY? An article by Prof. Niyi Osundare (Relationship between the state of the nation and religion)

In the past five years or so, I have been reconsidering my long-held opinion about the relation between leader...ship and followership. Time there was when I laid all the blame on leadership. Now I’m beginning to say that the followership should also take their fate in their own hands. This is what I see most of the time, for example, in the plays of Femi Osofisan, one of our top writers. Play after play after play; the leaders are there doing things. But the address is to the people. Why must you continue to be ridden like a donkey? Why can’t you, too, get up in the saddle? Nigerians are too docile, too forgiving of bad leadership. Why are they this way?

A number of reasons. The first one is religion. The kind of religion we have in Nigeria is one that puts you to sleep, and after that, puts you to death. It’s not the kind of religion that’s after social justice; it’s not the kind of religion that is after the welfare of the people and the independence of their existence. Particularly guilty in this regard are the Prosperity Gospellers of the Pentecostal variety who hawk faith on the air and convert religion into superstition. If you have no job, we are told, it must be because of your sin. Your poverty (or pauperization) is a result of the offence you have committed against God. Blissfully indemnified are the rogue-rulers whose greed has corrupted and ruined our social estate; those whose policies or lack of them have made job creation impossible by sabotaging our productive capacity? So, if you have no job, blame your sins; if you wallow in poverty, you only have yourself to blame. In the thinking and preaching of many of these latter-day evangelists, every scoundrel in power in Nigeria is “God-chosen” and must be treated as such. Religion in this country is a dangerous opium; really dangerous opium. And that is why our rulers are encouraging the building of churches and mosques all over the place. 

When in December last year the newspapers carried the picture of a kneeling President Jonathan with a ministering Pastor towering above him in prayerful supremacy, we were presented with an image so symbolic of the relationship between the state and religion in Nigeria. No picture could have been more emblematic! Religion has killed rational thinking in this country. I say this all the time, our country is still in a pre-scientific era. That is why things are like this. We don’t think logically; that is why any ruler, any fool would seize the reins and rule us, because we would always find an excuse for being ruled or being led by the nose. Not long ago a pastor said he was between two cities and he discovered that the fuel in his car had run out. He actually checked and saw the fuel in the car was completely gone. But because of his act of faith and on the strength of his prayers, he was able to do two hundred miles on an empty tank! When he declared this testimony, people clapped and shouted “ Hallelujah!” I never heard anybody say how can? Nigerians don’t ask questions; that is why the imams and the pastors lead them by the nose, and the politicians also complete their humiliation and disempowerment. And between the clerics and the political functionaries, there is a very close liaison. It’s a kind of power structure; one controls the political, social realm, the other controls the spiritual, metaphysical realm and they are together. Many Nigerians are not rational, interrogative people. In fact, in this country today, if you are the interrogative type you are easily labelled, branded, and condemned. People even wonder: why are you always asking questions?’  

When the blessed Tai Solarin was alive, he agonised and agonised over this issue. The way he was misunderstood, the way he was misinterpreted and his anger at the way many of our people were going - that we should be up in the streets. Another problem: well, our people are docile and the reason why they take all kinds of cheating is that many of them envisage themselves in the position of power someday, too. If I am X and the oppressor is Y, and the oppressor is oppressing me, stealing all the money, and making life difficult for me and my children, I am not likely to attack him. I’ll pray to God to let my own “miracle” happen so that someday, he will go and I will be in his place. No; I am praying for him to go but for the structure to remain. This is the social psychology of Nigerian politics. So many people don’t see it as wrong. When they see it as wrong, it’s because it is putting them at a disadvantage; they are not really concerned with the social order or the commonweal. That’s a very important issue.

If our rulers were people with a sense of shame, they wouldn’t be talking about subsidy at all. They should cover their faces in shame and apologize to the Nigerian people; for if anything, it is the Nigerian people that need some form of hardship allowance from their incorrigibly incompetent government. And our President and his officials have been going from church to church (have they called at the mosques yet?), asking for God’s blessing for the kind of socio-economic mayhem they are about to unleash on the Nigerian people through the removal of the so-called subsidy; asking the pastors to pray to God to make Nigerians compliant to and accepting of their impoverished situation, begging Almighty God to soften the minds of Nigerians. But no one entered a plea for God to smash the incubus of corruption and mismanagement that has brought this country to its knees. Our President never asked God to grant him the courage and candour to make a public declaration of his assets as required by the constitution of the country he rules...