Ossie EzeakuThursday, August 11, 2005
Antwerp, Belgium



he search for knowledge has been an ancient endeavour of man,which seemingly accounts for man's quest to explore and conquer the universe. The strides made by the civilizations of the past were driven by their desire to create great and original societies respectively. These strides constitutes the nucleus of today's advances in science, technology and other fields. While the Arabs (Islam) take pride in their introduction of Algebra (Al jabr) to the world of mathematics, African scholars cling on Imhotep the master builder as their own.

Imhotep designed and master-minded the construction of the great pyramids of Egypt. Today the Egyptian pyramid, 4000 years after, remains the greatest civil engineering master piece in skill, accuracy, durability and complexity. The success in Egypt had led to the spread of the quest for knowledge, which subsequently kick-started the Greek-Hellenic civilization. For some obscure reasons, the pace in Africa dwindled, but the zeal for knowledge in Europe continued into the medieval period leading to the era of Industrial revolution.

That era witnessed the trend by humans to tinker with their brains and stretch them to their extreme limits; technical and engineering inventions of all sorts, ranging from railways, telephone, automobiles etc., were recorded. Civil engineering for example, was then taken to a new and enduring height by the ingenuity of a young British,named Brunel Kingdom Isembard, and his crew. Their objective was to construct a tunnel under the great River Thames. An unthinkable feat then. With the training Brunel had acquired in France, and the hands-on practical experience gotten from his father Sir, Mark Isembard, Brunel and his gang underwent through many risks, difficulties and casualties, but later achieved that feat. All through he was there, under the ever leaking and collapsing tunnel, a quality possesed by a few Nigerian professionals of our generation. Today, Brunel Isembard is regarded as the greatest British Civil Engineer of all time.

I must emphasis that knowledge, abilities and the development of mental powers are the attributes of education, or being educated for that matter. And when a society forms a tradition of faking these qualities, or willfully ignoring what these qualities stands for, then mediocrity emerges. So desecrating it is that some Nigerians of today, sees academic qualifications as chieftaincy titles that can be acquired at all costs, through any shady means, and appended to their personal names.

The Nigeria of the 19th till the mid 20th century recorded a true,original and a solid set of educated citizens with values and abilities. It would be recalled that Nigeria produced its first University graduate, a Yoruba in the name of Sapara Williams in 1879 followed by Herbert Macaulay a Civil Engineer,and much later from the eastern flank, in about 1934, emerged Dr. S, Onwu,a medical Doctor. There after came the pace-setting quartet of Zik, Ojike, Orizu and Mbadiwe. Certificates, diplomas and degrees were treated with decorum, because the performances of the holders simply stood them out from the non-holders. The holders had this innate sense of challenge of what ought to be accomplished with their respective laurels, hence they did well in their chosen fields.

The Biafrans of the civil war era,held their heads high in their ability to augment their ever depleting armoury with improvised,but effective weapons designed by their own technologists and engineers. Thanks to great minds like the Late Godian Ezekwe, Roy Umenyi, Eni Njoku and others. Certificates were then certificates. You had either an Uncle, a brother or a public figure you were looking up to emulate academically. Real and popular role models were abound;the likes of the ace medical practitioner, late Dr. Walter Eze, Chris Okigbo, Adeniran Ogunsanya, Dr. Okechukwu Ikejiani, Wole Soyinka, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Chief J.O. Awolowo, Dr Mbazulike Amechi, Chief Alakija and the others. Every other young man and woman wanted to simply work hard in a chosen field and excel like these men. A fraudulent certificate, diploma or degree was not an option.

The beginning of the seventies saw the continuation of the good old order. Every well accomplished level of education, no matter how low, was respected and warm-heartedly welcomed. As an 11 year old in 1973, I witnessed the great admiration and respect that visited my senior brother's success in the WASC exam. Family members and well wishers were highly elated. The news spread fast. It was a big news indeed. And that was the eyes with which people saw education then.

I get very nostalgic when I remember those times and what is obtained now. The falling academic standards in Nigeria's secondary and tertiary institutions today are worrisome. So much has been said and written on this issue, but no solution has ever been proffered. Reuben Abati of the Nigerian Guardian, had recently in one of his editorials, complained about the poor and error-ridden English, in the job applications of Nigeria's University graduates flooding his office daily. According to him, one of the applicants even had to end her letter with "Yours lovely". Then you to start ask yourself, how such individuals had intended to work as Journalists in the first place, and the integrity of their degrees.

The trend of buying admissions into our higher institutions, or examination marks being bought with money or sex is evil. When the chips are down, the obvious will happen. Today, low-storey buildings designed and manned by our certified architects and engineers are collapsing on our heads, while sky scrappers manned by technologists in other lands are standing firm, to the testimony of the genuineness of the certificates of the builders.

Something urgent must be done by the federal government, or else, how do you explain the recent situation in which a welder was caught writing exams for a University student of International Relations? The same story by the Sun tabloid,had secondary school students writing examinations for University under-graduates. Haba! The government must quickly, through the help of employers in the public and private sector, begin to to confiscate certificates of individuals whose abilities are deemed not commensurate with their credentials. There is an urgent need to set up a commission that will review certificates, diplomas and degrees issued in Nigeria especially in the last 15 years, else we are doomed. What sort of knowledge would such a generation impact on their next, if this monster is not crushed now?