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Of Harvard and upstart governors

By Obi Nwakanma

LET us be quite upfront with truth: Some of the individuals who are the governors of Nigerian states today could not pass their basic West African Schools Certificate examinations even in more than one sitting; some could not pass the Joint Matriculation Exam when it was the gold standard for academic performance in Nigeria; as a result they did not have the kind of standard university education available to the more talented of their peers in Nigeria, many of who probably ended up in academia, the first call in those now seemingly halcyon years, for  the best products of the then highly competitive Nigerian university system. Yes, indeed, the very best were immediately recruited and retained to teach in the Universities.

Nigerian universities then had the first pick of candidates, followed by  the bureaucracy of state, before industry and commerce. Not many of these governors made the cut into that select category of performers and high achievers of that era.  Indeed, a number of these governors had what may be called adult or “cut-and-join” education, a dash of which like bitters in whisky, gives enough base for slight discernment of the letters but possibly not the full weight or spirit of what bureaucrats call policy. There is great dilemma there. Chief of that dilemma is that Nigerian governors have inferiority complex.

They frequently need the services of parrots, ventriloquists, mendicants and praise singers. These they pay for with their security votes to help them answer that question asked of the mirror on the wall. Sometimes of course, they pay the parrots for silence. For instance we have it on good authority that a certain governor East of the Niger is buying up all the noise factors in the country to stem the potential ruckus and the consequence of a certain scandalous financial transaction involving certain members of his family and alleged unseemly money transfers.

But that is another story brewing on the now loquacious internet and which will certainly, inevitably, spill into the streets. Thanks to the democratic media. But the sum of my argument is, to stem the diversion, that the governors have always recruited courtiers to massage their egos, and at crucial times, have deployed publicans to bring out their chestnuts from the fire.  But  these courtiers are not always enough. It seems clear that our governors are bored because they have not much to do at home. So what do they do? The governors’ forum, a mutual admiration society, met and thought-up this hoax of a scheme, in conjunction with Professor Robert Rotberg, chair of the famous Kennedy School of Government’s professor of government, with a “towering” profile in the areas of governance, conflict management and peace studies at America’s top university, Harvard College, in far away Cambridge, Massachusetts. Professor Rotberg is also said to be vastly “knowledgeable about Africa.”

That is all well and good. To be fair, we can take nothing from Professor Rotberg’s sterling accomplishments. But the scheme to train Nigerian governors at the Kennedy School of Government on “Conflict Resolution and Peace building and governance” is not only ridiculous but it also insults the sensibility of Nigerians in the extreme. Nigerians have justifiably reacted with outrage over this so called collaboration with Harvard. Why should Nigerian governors seek to learn how to govern their own societies from Harvard?

What happened to the University of Nigeria at Nsukka or the University of Ibadan, each of which has, or ought to have, well established schools of government? There are Nigerian resources, including top class Nigerian scholars who could provide the same insight, with the same authority, and within the environment of the Nigerian university, if these governors so relish the ambience of the university. But that is not to be: since the subaltern elite deliberately ruined the Nigerian university system and drove much of its first class human resources out, and have refused to strategically rebuild and upgrade the infrastructural base of these epicenters of knowledge, there has been a decline in the quality of Nigeria’s knowledge-making capacity. There is no doubt about that. But what should be top of the agenda of these governors, who use any excuse to travel to America, and go to Harvard where other men have built should have been to rebuild the capacity of Nigeria’s knowledge making system through recruitment of the kind of human capital and the infrastructure necessary for the kind of thing they seek out of Harvard. But that is not part of their agenda.

They simply want to go to Harvard just to add another feather to their bags of fake plumes. But the authorities of the Kennedy School would be insulting their much revered institution and the sensibility of the Nigerian people should they continue with this so-called training scheme.

Nigerians are outraged because they sense the absolute ridicule to which these governors constantly put Nigeria. There is no other country in the world whose public officials gallivant to America with the shameless frequency that Nigerian public officials do. The crucial questions around these frequent junkets by Nigerian governors and other political operators to the United States have been, of what palpable or direct benefits have these being to Nigeria? Many Nigerians find none, except an increasing sense of a colonial relationship, right or wrong. Indeed, the quiet murmur on the streets and within key discourse communities out here simply is that Nigerian government officials are blatantly turning over Nigerian institutions, including the offices of the governors to the Americans, who are slowly turning Nigeria to the fifty-first state of the United States of America.

Let truth also be told: there is nothing that Robert Rotberg knows about Nigeria or Africa, its society and its governance, that can match Okwudiba Nnoli’s or Omafume Onoge’s experiential and theoretical involvements with Nigeria and Africa. But it is quite clear, that the utter disrespect which Nigeria’s subaltern elite has for its knowledge_making class prevents it from seeking insights and home-made truths but would rather seek the cozy and pretentious unguents from Harvard. This disregard for its indigenous capacity is also one of the core reasons for Nigeria’s unimaginable underdevelopment.

It is important therefore to point these out to these governors, many of whose budgets for entertainment for the State Houses in a quarter by far outstrips the annual budgets of their state universities. It is by far more prudent to restore the capacity of our centers of knowledge than to seek diversionary collaborations that neither adds a solution nor resolves the urgent questions that confronts Nigeria at this stage of its underdevelopment… .


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