Nigeria and the culture of anti-intellectualism (1) By Kayode Ketefe

A recent incident reminded me of a rather mischievous joke I heard some time ago.

The joke has it that four friends from four continents, (Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa) won a lottery of $1million each.

“I will invest the money in shares and in five years’ time, I will be in wealth,” enthused the European.

The American said he would start a small a company and in five years he would be a great entrepreneur.

The Asian from Japan said: “I will invest this money in technological research; in five years, my company will spearhead major breakthroughs in science and technology.”

The African, from em, em, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, said: “Thank God! I will use this money to marry more wives; in five years’ time, I will be a father to countless number of children.”

Incidentally, at the end of five years, they all became successful in their missions but the African was so much stricken with poverty, hunger and diseases that by the end of the fifth year he was begging his three friends to send him money.

Imagine one million dollars plus five years ending in misery!

While this joke may appear self-denigrating, the underlying message, beyond the harsh satire, is instructive as it speaks to the undeniable reality of our society in relation to what we treasure, value and glorify.

There is simply no denying the fact that the emphasis we place on human development projects and intellectual endeavours in this clime, vis-à-vis other mundane issues, is abysmal. In particular terms, our society would appear to be remarkably anti-intellectual with entrenched systemic hostility to intellectual pursuits.

To start with, the last national honours bestowed on numerous Nigerians on November 14, 2011, was basically an exercise in glorification of mediocrity and mockery of intellectualism as there were more intellectual nitwits and lightweights than the cerebral savants among the honorees.

But national awards apart, even the traditional honour of chieftaincy titles are more commonly bestowed on moneybags than on those who distinguished themselves by the powers of their intellect.

Our university gates are shut continually as Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities embark on strikes in endless circles. Students, rendered idle by these forced recesses, find ready employment in all kinds of appalling vices. Yet, this is not seen as a national calamity but a mere regular occurrence that should not distract the government from things of “greater” priorities. Very sad!

Qualified and skillful job-searching graduates are forced to roam the streets uselessly; their years of learning in the universities, in the view of our policy makers, means nothing to the developmental quest of the nation.

In the social circle, universities professors are not as respected as illiterate, but wealthy, businessmen. Scholars are poorly paid and are mostly impoverished while every mediocre in the showbiz is adored.

Our corporate organisations are steeped in the culture of enlisting movies stars, beauty queens, sportsmen and women or other possessors of mundane qualities as their corporate ambassadors whom they give mouth-watering multi-million naira contracts termed “endorsement deals”. This writer has never heard of graduates who emerged with First Class degrees from their respective universities or those with doctorate degrees in some fields particularly beneficial to the society being offered such deals. That alone speaks volume of the value we attached to the intellectual enterprises. Why can’t we make celebrities of the people with superior acumen?

Even in the political circle, the same old story of discounting the powers of acute human intelligence in preference for “mere” money holds true. This writer finds it appalling that when politicians want to make selections or vote in their primaries for elective offices, intellectual depth and resourcefulness of the potential contenders is rarely factored-in rather criteria that are far inferior to keen intellect are unwittingly embraced.

What is important is how “loaded” the candidate is, even if the sources of the wealth is cloudy. How many times have you heard of anybody being put up for the elective offices on account of being the first person to obtain a doctorate in a particular uncommon discipline in his community?

Yet, the process of intellectual development is a laborious one that requires a lot of discipline and commitment to continual drilling for excellence, and its effect is the potential capacity to lift the society from ignorance to knowledge, stagnation to development and poverty to sustainable prosperity.

Countries like Israel, Japan and Taiwan between themselves have either remarkably insufficient natural resources to sustain an economy or

virtually no resources at all, yet all of them are giants with vastly developed economies on account of the sheer strength of the intellect of their citizenry.

The Nigeria society is anti-intellectual and until this attitude is changed, our quest for development would remain a mirage. The human intellect is the spring of all development and no nation can develop beyond the extent of the intellectual dynamism of her people.

Now, let me share with you the incident which I said reminded me of the joke at the beginning of this article, which inspired this piece, with a view to thrash out its implications on Nigeria’s quest for development.

(The concluding part of this article will be published next Wednesday, April 11, 2012)

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