23 Apr 2013


The able-bodied men on the street
without motive, without vision, without mission....
Hungry and desperate
P.O.C Umeh [Ambassadors of Poverty]

"Over forty thousand people applied to this great institution but only four thousand of them were invited for the post UTME screening. Out of those four thousand students, only about two thousand five hundred of you were offered provisional admission into this great and esteemed institution. If you are sitting here in this hall, I want you to know how lucky and privileged you are and also to congratulate you on scaling the first hurdle...."
Something like that was what one of the principal officers of my school said during the first day of the "Freshers' Orientation". Freshers as we were, we absorbed everything hook, line and sinker and we started to carry ourselves in the regal manner only we could muster; little did we know what was in store for us.....

The next hurdle came during the examinations, we who were used to secondary school and WAEC standard exams were  flabbergasted by what we met (cc PHY 114), we could no longer use basic formulae like v = u + at for velocity problems. We were hearing velocity notations as 5i + 3j - 4k and such others; in mathematics we could no longer use the regular methods to find the determinant of matrices but we had to use echelon form and series of dead men we would never meet, we learnt that the square-root of a negative number actually existed, we learnt that our secondary school work was synonymous to basic arithmetic. Some of us scaled through nevertheless, some of us were not so lucky (cc Tsunami list).

My understanding of the truth in the pursuit of knowledge by the Nigerian youth is a tad complicated. We want to pass our WAEC and JAMB and emerge with first class degrees, we want to emerge top of our class and be recognized by our peers, we want distinctions in all our courses, we want to be the best. But the question here is: why?

Why do we struggle to get 'good grades' and the best results? A number of people argue that (There are people in the room where I am writing this article and they gave the following replies which I will paraphrase) "Ehh, so we can have  good jobs" "Ehh, so we can get scholarships from big companies" "Ehh, so that we will be outstanding in the global community"; The big question still remains unanswered and as much as their answers seem to satisfy them, the look in their eyes says otherwise. I see how they look at each other, then at their feet, trying to believe the words they are speaking but facing their own little demons within their minds.

Why do some lecturers when introducing a course tell you something like "Learn the principles, understand the method and you will have your distinction”? Why do students try with their whole hearts to pass a course when at the end they do not understand any bit of it and when they are called upon to solve problems they consult books first? Why do we keep aspiring to top a class and excel when we have sold out on our true quest: The honest desire for knowledge. If we want to understand principles, why not understand them simply. When Ferdinand Magellan could no longer stand the fallacy of saying that the Earth was flat, he questioned the system and his great voyage and discovery sped up the development of the world. Throughout the history of the world we see people who questioned the system and we see the changes they brought: Galilieo, Copernicus, Bill Gates, Wole Soyinka and the likes. A university degree is a piece of paper, the immortal knowledge is the degree to which we absorbed the universalized teaching.
The answer to the question of 'why' is in itself quite simple really: Because we want to 'belong'. We want to belong to the group of academic officers and 'intellectuals' who have little intellect. We want to be able to quote formulae and prove equations from inside our heads. We want to be able to read the whole Tao-te-ching from memory. We want to read inaugural lectures and don the 'academic' gown. We want good jobs, a dog, a company car and a picket fence.

We do this not because we all like it, but because it is the Nigerian Way. The way in which we were brought up. Nobody wants to be a deviant or an outcast, nobody wants to be the one who gets sent out of the lecture theater by Professor X, nobody wants to question the system and shake it to its' foundations; why? It is akin to a man chopping down the branch of a tree on which he is standing. We cannot question a system which we promulgate every day. We are scared of getting rusticated and becoming Okada men. This fear, this false evidence affecting reality (Wolves of the Calla: Stephen King) is unfounded and we see it in lives of those who dared to be different. We all want to be rich like Bill Gates but are we prepared to take the risks he took? Our president went to school without shoes, how many of us would go to the lecture theater with faded shirts or even slack trousers?

The system is bad and our hearts are gone with it. Being a deviant does not make you foolish, it makes you a hero in your own regard, upholding (if you ever had such a quest) your quest of finding the path of enlightenment. We can only change the system when we change our hearts, we need not concern ourselves with the mundane trivialities of job-security and the lot but in forging our destiny with our own hands. Good things do not come easy, great things hardly ever, to truly excel in our hearts, we must stop this trade of our soul to a zombie system and build a Nigeria that is befitting for us to bring children into. Our parents failed in this regard, it is left to us not to fail our own children.
We are Nigerians, we are one.

Ezim Osai
Department of Physics,
University of Ibadan.

1 comment:

  1. Surely I cant be the first to comment? This is beautiful clear thinking. Thank you.