As I was a teacher, I also had another teacher behind me. Poverty is a tough lecturer, always teaching his own victims all manners of pranks and antics. I remember I suddenly developed phobia for ‘door-knock’ that time. I mean every knock on my door always gave me fear and apprehension. I never had any encounter with a policeman before, let alone visiting a police station. I hold in strict abhorrence the commission of any form of criminal or tortuous act. My fear is not borne out of the commission of any civil or criminal offence. I simply developed phobia at playing host in my own living apartment to visitors. During my lecturing years, I hardly encouraged any visitor to my house. I always wanted to introduce stringent economic adjustment to my personal budget, having consistently exhausted my stipends (sorry, salaries) by the sixth day of every month. I became visitor-phobic.
Entertaining visitors during the trying period merely exacerbated economic hardships; running my purse dry in a jiffy. And I worked out a plausible solution: I permanently engraved the “I am not at home” plaque on my door. Thus, every knock at my door always received no response in those years. Except for my two ever-inquisitive little kids who always queried my strange action. “Daddy, why do you always say you are not at home?” Our modern-day kids are too precocious; always asking suffocating questions. They are so perspicacious and could hardly be hoodwinked. “Shut up your mouth” I would yell, transferring my poverty-induced aggression unto the innocent kids. “I am only at home physically, but not at home psychologically, and anyone not at home both physically and psychologically is never at home.” Such quibbling often ended our discussions. But I was sure they weren’t fully convinced. Poverty breeds unbridled rascality.
But on one memorable Friday, August 9, a visitor would not be convinced with my alibi. Kam! Kam!! Kam!!! He knocked the door endlessly. I kept mum and hibernated. But unknown to me, he had heard one of my troublesome toddlers crying despite my attempt to muffle his voice with a handkerchief. My antics failed. I was compelled to open my door. I felt “sick” within me momentarily. It was an age-long friend paying unwelcomed visit. “Oh! You are most welcome,” I said, with a pretentious smile. I knew I must play host to him, perhaps till the following day. My purse would grow leaner; as he often eats voraciously, and enjoys talking on bottles of beer which had cost about N45 per bottle then! I overheard it is now N250. Though, I care less about its cost; since it is a choice to make it a "want" or”need".
But why would any patriotic person choose that day of all days to pay a visit. An unholy visit on the 9th of a unique month, when all Nigerians chose to stay in-doors to watch the telecast of the triumphal arrival and welcoming ceremony of the nation’s Dream Team and gold medalists at the then concluded Centennial Olympic in Atlanta, Georgia. The day when every Nigerian stayed in-door to catch a glimpse, one more time, of every member of the golden U-23 Soccer Squad; the world conquerors.
I got the clue to the brainstorming issue. My visitor-friend was an ASUU member. He had earned no salary for the past few months because the Government stopped the payment of ASUU members’ salary, for having the effrontery to proceed on a nationwide strike to press home their demands from an uncompromising government. And since nothing thrills the hungry man better than food, my visitor’s interest that time was not in a football game. Not even ten thousand Maradonic and mesmerizing dribbles on the soccer turf ever thrill a hungry man.
My friend had a chain of university degrees, including a PhD in Computer Science. But the unfolding events in Nigeria must have kept him duly informed that he had missed road. Like the legendary Fela Anikulapo Kuti would sing: “You miss road, you miss road, when you miss road you no go reach . . . you no go reach where you dey go, because that no be the road. No be the road wey you for take . . .” It is a pity; my leaned friend had missed the road.
We watched the award ceremony in silence, enjoying the militarized eloquence of the then Head of State, reading his speech and reeling out promises of wonderful gifts to the winning squad. His Excellency was very observant. He saw the need to give sports a better boost, and the necessity for the country to have modern stadium like many great football-loving nations across the world. The Head of State saw the need for the country to build a games village, and a National Sports Academy to be named after the Dream Team. His soothing speech cooled the nerves of millions of football fans and sports lovers across the nation. And the loud ovation greeted his timely promise. The scenario was becoming more and more interesting. My friend requested for another bottle of beer and suya meat, while I opened my tattered purse to pay the bill, while I grumbled, albeit silently as his gluttony was gradually depleting my purse. The historic telecast was on, while we both watched in consternation.
The Head of State showered on the boys more torrents of gifts. He hollered in unbridled ecstasy: “In addition, every member of this marvelous Dream Team and other medalists are hereby conferred with a prestigious national honour of the Member of the Order of Niger (MON)”. And the ovation grew louder. Then came another soul-inspiring promise and mouth-watering gift: “My Government has also deemed it fit to reward every gold medalist in this recently concluded centennial Olympic with a sum of One million Naira each!!!” And the loud ovation that greeted the Government’s magnanimity rose to the high heavens. All Nigerians in their homes spontaneously leapt up for joy and celebration.
Holding my arms out ecstatically to embrace my learned friend and joining in the celebration, I saw a different friend who had suddenly become disenchanted; sweating profusely, gasping for breath on my rickety chair; with his eyes turning ultra-violet red, almost protruding out of their sockets! My lecturer friend looked so gloomy! I was transfixed. “Is there any problem?” I asked my ASUU-member friend: “19 years! … Oh! 19 years! …Just 19 years!!! He kept on muttering. I had heard of delirium tremens as a very serious psychological disease. I thought he had gone berserk. But my friend kept on with his expletive: “Yeee 19 years! Oh, 19 years!! Heee! Kanu. . . Kanu is 19 years!!! He is just 19 years!!!, Haaa 19 years.”
Then I realized that my friend had become overly envious. He was surprised that by mere playing a game of football, Kanu Nwankwo the then captain of the winning team, could suddenly become a multi-millionaire at such a very young age of 19 years. While he on the other hand, with his chain of degrees capped with a Ph.D., had taught in the University for 20 years, with neither a house of his own, nor able to maintain his rickety car to ride to work. As the Nigerian football lovers were celebrating the victory of that year’s Olympics, my learned friend was, on the contrary full of lamentation like the biblical Ezekiel; as he confessed to me he had never seen one million naira in his entire life time as a university lecturer. I placated him with soothing words, singing Jimmy Cliff songs: “Better days are coming, by and by . . .”, and urging him to continue working harder in his academic researches into the worlds of the unknown; propounding more and more esoteric theories and doing his brainstorming laboratory work. That was 24 years ago. By the year 2020, I am personally surprised that the better day was yet to come. His ASUU hadn’t got any respite, while our leaders still remain recalcitrant and complacent with the university lecturers’ perennial problems.
Many of our dedicated Professors and scholars in medicine, social sciences, technology, law, agriculture, education, management, etc. in our universities continue to wallow in penury for opting to become what they are. They chose to be imparting knowledge into our youths so that our nation can attain enviable position educationally amongst other nations in the world. Many of our academic dons who could no longer bear the anguish and the excruciating pain of squalor had fled the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere, while the government is fighting the scourge of brain-drain on paper with her empty media sloganeering. Any nation that snubs her own knowledge givers will wallow in ignorance, because it is knowledge that liberates a people.
It is what a man values that he esteems, and protects with one’s might and resources. How much value do past and present governments place on our educational system? The rich have the option of abandoning our decrepit and decomposed educational system, by sponsoring their wards and children to foreign or private universities. The Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities has always gone on strike in the last 35 years. What makes a situation so intractable that a government cannot nip in the bud for 35 years!? The university system can no longer function with a purposeful academic calendar like in the past, without being disrupted by incessant strike actions, whilst our children’s educational progress perpetually remains in quandary. The rich and the powerful aristocrats in government send their children to private universities, where strikes and lock-outs are almost non-existent, while the government watches our predicament helplessly. ASUU has always accused the government of breaching bilateral agreements by not honouring her own words. The most dishonorable thing for a man or an institution is to breach agreement. A breach of agreement is a criminal breach of trust.
Nigeria is a country with misplaced priorities, and the system has rapidly driven the people into a state of anomie. We have changed to worshipping and celebrating mundane things, far more than what could transform our country and her people into enviable position. As the government continually abdicates her responsibilities toward revamping our educational system, our far-sighted but traumatized youths also observe the official neglect and government’s ineptitude.
The government’s ambivalent position is continually sending wrong signals into the psyche and the impressionable minds of our youth. If our children could always be hurled out of the university campuses, each time for a long period, due to one ASUU strike or another and the government does not seem to know a way out, then how do we convince them about the importance of education and the need to take academic works serious?
As students in the 80’s we pride ourselves at the number of James Hardly Chase books we had read. We formed reading groups and engage in academic competitions. The more Soyinka or Charles Dickens or Ola Rotimi’s literature text-books you read, the more proud you are amongst your classmates and colleagues. The faster you provided answers to Olu Tomori’s objective questions in his English Lexical Structure, or completed assignments in Ronald Ridout the more honourable you are amongst your colleagues. The school system and their products were better for it. School Cert holders, as fondly called then, could teach excellently well in secondary schools, having been well grounded academically in virtually all subjects.
By government’s intransigence on ASUU requests, our youths today are been misled, demoralized and desensitized and seem not to cherish education any longer. In place of academics, they rather devote more than 85% of their time to vain pursuance of the latest fad, musical accessories – i-Pod, MP-3, MP-4, MP-5, Blue-tooth, Red teeth, Game-pad, DVD players etc. Even when campuses are in session, most of our youths now cling to their portable musical facilities as they go about, from and to their schools, and lecture rooms. They often become ecstatic and restless as they dance wriggling their bodies sensuously to the musical beats of their musical idols irrespective of the sacredness of where they are. Their minds are wholly attuned to entertainments and nothing more. While all the names of the local and world renowned artistes are on the tips of their fingers, writing a simple English composition could pose a serious challenge to their academic prowess.
Our today’s youths hardly spend their money buying textbooks, but can spend fortunes to procure musical CD, and spend hours watching home videos. The extent at which they adore their pop-artistes is astoundingly surprising. Though local football administration remains in comatose, hardly there is any student now in the primary school or the university that is not a fan of one or more foreign Football Clubs – Chelsea, Man-U, Barca, Liverpool, Real Madrid Arsenal etc. And one cannot stop being amazed at the craze for the procurement of mementos, souvenirs, jerseys, belts, etc with the logo, trade-marks or inscriptions of these clubs by our youths. Most of the youths even inscribe tattoo and engrave these Football Clubs logo on their own bodies permanently!
While the names and achievements of our Professors and scientists who have made profound marks in the world of academic discoveries and technological designs found no place in our hearts, our local and foreign footballers, pop-singers, film actors, models, stand-up comedians, etc. are our only celebrities. Most of the advanced countries of the world from where we copy all these entertainment craze never toy with their educational system. Every month they invest millions of dollars on their scientists and scholars to break new grounds and make new discoveries. Effective leadership presupposes effective followership. What a man sows he reaps. When our leaders are prepared to know that what we do today have serious impact on our tomorrow, they will wake up from their slumber and do what is right and diligent. Verbum Satis Sapient.
*Tunji Ajayi, a creative writer, biographer and audiovisual documentary producer writes from LC-Studio Communications, Nigeria (+2318033203115) >mobile.facebook.com/tunji.ajayi.946<