Ill fares the land
To a hastening ill a prey
Where wealth accumulates
And men minds decay.
his is one the poems I read for my WASC exams in English literature. I was riveted by its relevance to my Nigeria of today. So relevant that Oliver Goldsmith might have written it for the then non-extant Nigeria. In truth it was written for England of the industrial revolution era.
The acquisition and accumulation of wealth have always been the pre-occupation of people of all era. Every era also had sections of the society that were more or less insulated from such crass materialism. The sanity and stability of the society depended and rested on these sections. They formed the bulwark against the corruption that resulted from inordinate desire to acquire and amass wealth.
In the not too distant past, two sections of the society used to form the sanitizing bulwark against lucre-mania. They were the church and the academia. The church was mainly the clergy while the academia was, in the main, the university lecturers. Nigeria's glide to dystopia started when these two sections of the society joined the rat race. And they joined it in such a way that they have raced past all the rats. For the past five months, ASUU, which represents the academia in Nigeria, has been on strike. In a given period of ten years, ASUU spends about two of it on strike. It has found strikes so beneficial that it goes on strike at the drop of a pin. Strike used to be momentous events. But ASUU has made it so common place that nobody really cares anymore. Sometimes, the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education would all be on strike at the same time. Life went on as usual. The people most worried were parents that had to deal with the restless young adults idle at home.
But how about ASUU while on strike? The members enjoy the best of all the possible worlds. They get their pay. When their pay is stopped under the no-work no-pay policy, they know it is a joke and their pay accumulated while they have the time to devote to their private businesses. ASUU the consummate business people and factually part-time lectures.
Something stirred me to take up pen on this issue. A few days ago, I got involved in a discussion with two members of ASUU from a university in Imo State. In their view the following justify their strike.
- The government is responsible for the rot and falling standard of education in the universities.
- ASUU is fighting this war in the interest of the students.
- The citizens, including the students, have not been supportive enough.
I tried to take them up on these three headings. The discussion gradually became an argument and was degenerating further into a shouting match. I had to back out. After all, I am neither ASUU, nor government or student. However, on getting home I started reviewing the men's views. Their glib view enraged me so enough to make me pick up pen to repudiate them publicly. First and foremost, let everybody know I hold all levels of government in Nigeria in utter and absolute derision. So my contention that ASUU is mainly responsible for whatever conditions that obtain in the universities should not be misconstrued as absolving the government from blame. Between the government and ASUU, each is worse than the other, and none has any redeeming quality.
The two gentlemen I encountered cited the late fifties and sixties and even up to the seventies as the quintessential era in Nigerian education. Infrastructure and facilities were adequate and up to date. This view ennobles their strike at first glance. But a little critical exam exposes its short coming. Infrastructure and facilities are just inert things that cannot do anything on their own. Human element must be brought into the equation for infrastructure to function. In the fifties and sixties, funds meant for infrastructure were judiciously spent on those purposes. As budgets were made for these things, individuals at various levels of management did not make their own personal budgets based on how much they would be able to sequester from those funds. Who, with a straight face, can argue that up to 50% of funds meant for the running and development of our universities go to that purpose. Individuals siphon the funds at various levels of implementation using various guises and subterfuge. A land where wealth accumulates and minds decay.
In the fifties and sixties, academicians lived simple and serene contented lives. A life conducive to intellectual pursuit. Check them out. From the likes of Professors Chike Obi, Eni Njoku, Awojobi, Ndili, Kodilinye and their numerous contemporaries. None was wealthy but they were intellectual giants. How many of them owned top of the line cars available at that time? How many built estates that were rented to students to generate more wealth? How many built palatial houses? Let nobody get me wrong. Everyone is entitled to the good things of life. But there is a level you take it and it becomes obnoxious.
ASUU is fighting this battle in the interest of the students. If it is so, I cannot understand why the students and their parents have not joined in yet. Members of ASUU themselves have expressed disappointment in the non-supportive and indifferent attitude of the students towards the strike action. These studies are not kindergartners. They know who is for them who is indeed against their progress. How can ASUU members claim they are fighting for these students whom they have exploited ad libitum? Lecturers these days don't see students as human capital potential to be groomed for the development of the nation. They see them in terms of cash flow potential. That is why every lecturer in Nigeria today is an author. But you can't see their books in the market. These apocryphal publications are meant for the students who must willy-nilly buy them if he or she has any hope of passing the course the author teaches.
What is more damaging to the student's intellectual development is that these spurious authors make the students believe that the mere purchase of the "book" has passed the course up to 50% for them. The remaining 50% is achieved by the student cramming all the plagiarism in the book and regurgitating it for the lecturer. That is why these days you meet a first class or second class upper degree holder who can't articulate a thought. But the same ASUU that has stunted the students' intellectual growth is now fighting for the students. This is just like the police telling me they are on the road in my interest.
The myriad of evils that have rendered Nigerian degrees and certificates phony, are traceable to lecturers' lucre-mania. "Sorting" is a newspeak that was not there about ten years ago. This term means literally the art of negotiating for a grade. The higher the grade you want, the higher the amount you pay. Interesting enough is the fact that no lecturer I have spoken to has denied its existence or reality even though none agrees he or she has ever done it. Did the government introduce it? Some eggheads in the academia have argued that sorting is traceable to the poverty of lecturers. That's a pitiable argument. Lecturers in our tertiary institutions have never had it so good. The point is that their Oliver Twist mentality does not allow them to reflect. A time there was, when lecturers used to look like Cassius of Julius Caesar. But these days their heads are as round as a soccer ball with shiny faces. They ride top of the line SUV's of which some refer to as "this scrap I ride". Truly "amo habendi"…… the love of having grows by having. Every dutiful interaction most lectures have these days with their students, the students have to pay for individually: marking of assignments, project supervision, and even exam grading. Pity the poor student who cannot meet these bills. His or her future is compromised through punitive subterfuge like missing scripts. Imagine that a student attended an exam, wrote the paper, handed his or script and signed the exam attendance sheet. Later his or script is declared missing. It is the student that suffers the consequence while the vindictive lecturer goes about smelling like a rose flower. Yet ASUU is surprised the students are indifferent to ASUU strike action. All this ignominy is happening because the lecturers are looking at the income or lootings of the members of the National Assembly and want to be paid as much. The saying used to be: if you want to be an intellectual, an egghead, become a lecturer, but if you want to establish a financial dynasty, go into business and or, in the Nigerian context, go into politics. This used to be true of Nigeria of the sixties and early seventies. Not any more. The present crop of lectures want to be intellectuals and money bags at the same time. But is it possible?
It was Marie Corelli, the mystic writer, who answered this best. She said in her book The sorrows of Satan, "great originality and inspiration, strange to say, seldom endow the millionaire. It often happens that when bags of money fall to the lot of the aspiring genius, God departs and the devils walks in." Who would doubt the devil has walked into the life of a lecturer who ruins a student's future because the student did not buy the lecture's text book? The ultimate question is; Is there anything the government will give to lectures that will make them stop these spurious and apocryphal publications? Is there anything that will make them forego sorting?
A short trip down memory lane will show that people achieved intellectual distinction when they were far from the luxuries of life. What had Albert Einstein when he discovered the theory of relativity and the famous E= Mc2 equation? What had Marie Curie when she discovered radioactivity? What had Charles Darwin when he put together his theory of evolution? Back home, what had Wole Sonyinka when he wrote the works that earned him the Nobel prize? What had Chinua Achebe when hw wrote the cerebral Things Fall Apart? You can hardly find one who produced intellectually while basking in luxury. Lectures may now turn their heads and ask: but are we basking in luxury? Luxury is a relative term. When ordinary cars can no longer contain you and you can only survive in a top of the line SUV, you are basking in luxury. When you can no longer live in a decent and modest house, but can only survive in a palatial two or three storied house, your are already basking in luxury.
There is nothing wrong per se in the attainment of luxury if achieved through genuine hard work like the publication books one can buy in the market or the development of a patent or process that is sold to the industry for millions. It only becomes egregious when it is achieved at the expense of the intellectual and academic progress of our students.
Hope for the redemption and reformation of the Nigerian Nation was lost when Nigerian academia joined the police and the NEPA among the institutions that killed\ruined Nigeria. The Nigerian police killed Nigeria by corrupting and bastardizing everything connected with security and justice. NEPA killed Nigeria through the ruination of the energy sector thereby forcing establishments employing hundreds of thousands to flee the country. The action of the academia in killing the Nigerian nation is the most catastrophic. This is because it is invidious and systemic.
The lectures ( from universities down to colleges of education) have unwittingly given our students a four or five-year course in corruption, extortion and blackmail. When a student is forced to buy (every semester for four or five years) a book he knows is of doubtful academic value, and at a most exorbitant price, that is extortion. When this forced purchased is backed by the threat "you buy it or else" that is blackmail. When blackmail and extortion mate, their offspring is corruption. A student that has been exposed to this vice for four or more years comes to internalize and rationalize it. He becomes so inured to it that the vice loses its egregiousness. Thus he leaves the university or college fully armed with a corrupted mind. This is the birth of a corrupt mind. This is the mindset that is inculcated in our students during their four or five year stay in a typical Nigerian tertiary institution. Corruption used to be the preserve of the police and politicians. It has become so systemic that one feels something is wrong if it is not encountered in any dealing in a public place. This is because the public sector is now filled with people well schooled in extortion and blackmail.
Extortion and blackmail through the forceful sale of "textbooks" have so become the order of the day that the few lecturers so lazy that they cannot staple together their own books buy from others to resell to their class. He triples his price and holds the student by the scruff of the neck to buy the book at his most exorbitant price or else… . In order to pass the course the student has no option. You need to see the scramble for classes with large number of students like the general course every new student must take. You see professors who should be preparing graduate students jostling to teach first year students for the simple reason it means a larger market for the burlesque they pass as text books.
And the parents from whose skins all this "suya" is being made are groaning under this burden. Mind that some have two or more wards in the tertiary institution. Yet ASUU is surprised at the indifference of parents towards the strike action. This speaks volumes of the naivety of the academia and its disconnect with reality.
Just as Marie Corelli said, the wealthier the academia becomes, the wider the distance between it and ingenuity, inspiration, imagination and resourcefulness. How else can one explain why the campus of a university that offers a course in environmental science should be an environmental disaster. They first kill off all the trees in sight to prepare a site for a building project. Then they go ahead and dig up and tear the soil all over. Later they start screaming about erosion menace and the fund to control it. Is this a case of foot in the mouth disease of sheer ignorance?
Again, is there a reason why the campus of a university that offers landscape architecture should look like a dump yard? Where do their students practice what they learn? Where do they do their projects? Just like the in the primary schools, where, instead of handiwork, the pupils are asked to bring money. Instead of asking the students of landscape architecture to use the beautification of their campus as project, they are asked to pay money. That's the syndrome of " a land where wealth accumulates and minds decay. Please note that the use of landscape architecture is just an example of the lack of imagination in the use of potential resources available to tertiary institutions. It is not peculiar to landscape architecture or environmental science.
If ASUU or its other variants were to say to the government thus: We will not reopen the tertiary institutions until we are assured of at least 15 hours of uninterrupted electric light per day. You will see the whole nation will be behind it. This is because the absence of electricity is the greatest handicap confronting our educational institutions. When intellectuals world over are pondering creation of antihydrogen atoms, Higgs Boson or the God Particle, Nanotechnology, cloud computing, epigenetics and the like, the Nigerian "intellectual" is awake too, but only wondering if NEPA will restore light so the expensive soup his wife made will not go sour. But does power supply issue concern ASUU? No. Simply because it does not translate into direct cash into their pockets. A land where wealth accumulates and minds decay.
Fear him not who can only kill the body. But fear him who can kill body and soul. So said Jesus somewhere in the bible. (sorry I can't quote where in the bible) While NEPA and the police have killed the Nigerian nation in body, the academia has killed it in body and soul. (the soul of course is the mind) It has systematically thought our youth corruption by osmosis and induction. In the past fifteen years or so, ASUU has gone on strike more that six times. It got what it wanted before the strikes were called off. What improvement did we see from the several concessions it won in the past strikes? Did the concessions not only sharpen its greed for more? We are at a point where ASUU evaluates its members by the size and make of SUV they ride and the real estate they have built. They are no longer evaluated by how cerebral their publications are.
Someone may rightly ask why I am so acerbic. I am so because they say a mind is a terrible thing to waste. ASUU is wasting the minds of our youth by under-developing them through the use of apocryphal publications that are purely mercenary and commercial and not in the least intellectual or academic. It is claimed among them that their books are sold in their bookshops and nobody is compelled to buy. Yet the lecturer uses only his book for all his lectures, all assignments are from it and must be done on blank pages provided in the book. Photocopies are not accepted, yet there is no compulsion in the purchase of the book!! In human world of the modern times, teachers and lecturers try to instill in their students a mind that challenges them (the lecturers) and the status quo. But in Nigeria, the students are conditioned to be fearful of and subservient to their lecturers. Teachers in the tertiary institutions are important. But they are not the most important in the totem pole of education. That honor goes to the elementary school teacher who writes a sort of the operating system on the blank mind of the child. That is teaching at its most difficult. Yet nobody has remembered to compare their salary with that of members of the national assembly. Shut down all elementary and secondary schools for five years and we would have a generation of stone-age people. But shut down the universities for ten years, the difference , if any, would not be significant. This is because none of all the discoveries, processes, inventions and technologies that keep us alive and going owes its origin to a Nigerian university.
I urge the government to concede to the demands of the lecturers to the extent it is possible. Let the lectures be ready to compromise in the interest of the student they claim to be fighting for. At the same time, the lecturers must undertake to remove all these phenomena that were not there when the ivory tower was indeed ivory. As soon as mercenary publications, sorting, missing scripts, selling of admissions, charging to grade assignments and to supervise projects are eradicated from tertiary institutions, the standard of education will start to look up again.