A confederacy of dunces called Nigeria By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

The largest collection of dunces on God’s earth can only be found here, in Nigeria, the self-acclaimed Giant of Africa.

There is no greater authority to attest to this truism on the lack of education of Nigerians than the country’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo who could not but lament while he was in power that he was presiding over a people who were so uneducated as to end up only studying useless subjects such as Sociology and Mass Communications instead of good old lucrative Computer Science.

Of course as the great satirist Jonathan Swift had said: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

What does it say for a country whose erstwhile leader had no faith in the scientific study of society and human beings? The failure of leadership comes down from the fact that all our leaders know very little about human nature and the drive of society. This way, a paltry sum is annually allocated to education in the national budget while defence and whatever take the larger sums. Even the idea of education is not understood by the leaders.

It is culture that matters, not education by rote. Any dummy can cram up figures to qualify as a scientist or artist, but if he or she lacks the requisite culture to apply the knowledge then the society gains nothing. It is through the inculcation of values that learning makes sense, not just studying Computer Science or Engineering. To add value to learning there is always the need to nurture the creative spirit as opposed to the consumerist ethic in white collar education.

The Renaissance Man is celebrated for being abreast with most subjects instead of carrying on as one with a one-track mind. Of course one is not saying that specialisation has no use; but then no subject is an island unto itself. Anton Chekhov, one of the greatest dramatists and short story writers, actually studied medicine in his native Russia but he is universally known today in the field of literature.

Chekhov had to explain his career thus: “Medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress. When I am tired of one, I spend the night with the other.” It is in the nature of the world that his mistress is celebrated throughout the world today when next-to-nothing is known or said about his wife, that is, medicine.

Chinua Achebe was admitted into University College, Ibadan, to study the much-coveted Medicine. He changed his course to the liberal arts much to the chagrin of his parents and guardians. It is in the lap of the gods whether Achebe would have made a good doctor, but what we do know now is that that the world would have been the poorer for it if the “Eagle on Iroko” had not written _Things Fall Apart. _What that single book has done is akin to discovering an entirely new world.

The departed guru Cyprian Ekwensi could have made tons of lucre as a pharmacist, which was the course of his training, but he doggedly took to creative writing and became a legend in his own lifetime. Professor Peter Desbarats, former dean of The Graduate School of Journalism, University of Western Ontario, Canada , told me in London-Ontario that Ekwensi’s _Jagua Nana_ is the_ _one book out of Africa that captures the human imagination shorn of societal pretence. It is not that pharmacy is not good, but Ekwensi could achieve more for his life and times through the vehicle of literature. T.M. Aluko trained as an engineer but his novels such as _One Man, One Matchet_ and _His Worshipful Majesty_ have given him a larger space in history.

In denigrating Sociology and Mass Communications, Obasanjo amply showed that he does not understand the true drivers of history. Mass Communications and Sociology are subjects applied everyday throughout the march of history. The fight against the colonial masters in Nigeria could not have been won “on a platter of gold”, apologies to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, without ample deployment of mass communications and sociology. Zik’s training in America about the relationship of peoples armed him with enough education to do battle with the weapon of journalism against white supremacy. All the dictators in Nigerian history have been undone with not a little help by the students of the accursed courses. In fact without the work in the newspapers it is doubtful that Obasanjo would have survived Abacha’s gulag.

No knowledge is useless. Karl Marx used to be a penniless asylum seeker in London but he was voted as the greatest thinker of the 20th Century by the listeners of the BBC. Globalisation and the new economics of today had been predicted by Marx whose lifework was erroneously seen as only being about Communism in the old Soviet Union.

The moral here is that nobody should be dismissed too quickly, least of all great subjects that an African leader may be hard put to understand.


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