By Obi Nwakanma
In the 21st century, when people in various parts of the world are making artificial intelligence, and there is increasing and scary talk about “singularity,” when kids in middle schools are in workshops creating robots and exploring robotic applications,
Nigerians, even those with doctorate degrees in the sciences and humanities awarded by Nigerian Universities are talking about haunted state houses filled with “demonic spirits.” Nigerian newspapers publish such accounts with relish. Nigerian newspapers also now rely on prophets to make economic forecasts and political predictions which they retail with gusto to the reading public.
Prophets and priests, not trained economists in universities, research institutes, policy councils, or the research arms of the civil service now guide our economic policies. Perhaps this is much so because, actually, and someone should correct me if I’m wrong, there are no Economic Research Institutes of any serious weight anymore in Nigeria, especially since places like NISER – the National Institute for Social and Economic Research founded by the indefatigable Kenneth Dike in 1960s in Ibadan following the dissolution of the West African Institute of Social and Economic Research have narrowed their mission to become policy wagons rather than drivers of the wagon of research since its appropriation by government in 1977. NISER no longer has the kind of weight it should command as a serious site for economic intelligence and research. Nor does the Center for Development Studies established at the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus, in 1963 to conduct social and economic research. These places have not only become bureaucratized out of their functions, they have stopped being go-to places for serious research into national economic and social behavior.
The work done in these places are limited because it is generally incestuous. There are no residences for visiting scholars, research fellowships, and action plans. There is no connection between the works done in these places and government’s strategic economic masterplan, and yet these are centers established to provide serious economic and social research for the benefit of government and independent actors in the economy. Aside from the decline of these places, I need someone to also correct me on this: there is no contemporary Nigerian economist of the weight of a Pius Okigbo or Aboyade or even H.M. Onitiri: there is Charles Soludo, of course, but sometimes he feels like a flash-in the pan. There was a time when Ndu Ughamadu, now with the NNPC, but then Chief Economist and Business Editor of the now defunct Daily Times, used to be Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Economic Society, and you would think that with all his experiences in journalism and industry, particularly the oil industry, that some University, perhaps even his alma mater, Nsukka, would think to engage him as a Visiting Research Professor in the Economics Department, or a Senior Research Fellow at their Research Institutes. You would think that Ughamadu might even think to write a serious book based on his experience as a trained Economist, a journalist who covered the Economy of Nigeria and has watched and hopefully measured its transitions, and an industry player, particular in the oil industry that is crucial to Nigeria’s economic life.
There is no sign yet, that such thinking is abundant in Nigeria. Such thinking is rather more prevalent, which prevented the University of Ibadan, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, or even the University of Jos, for instance, from recruiting Odumegwu-Ojukwu or Yakubu Gowon as a visiting Professors of Politics in their political Science programs, or even Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, and the very many intellectually minded public servants like Asiodu or Ayida or Udebiuwa, or Anyaoku, Adamu Ciroma, or Jibril Aminu, and so on, who had attained high positions and acquired high degrees of experiences as top diplomats, Intelligence and National Security experts, Journalists, top civil servants, and industry leaders who retire or are suddenly disengaged from their services. Universities in other places in the world often search for and benefit from these people who they recruit into their faculty, one, to raise the timbre of work done in the universities form these uncommon experiences, two, to raise the profile of the universities who advertise these people and that is why Nigerian universities currently rate very low on the scale of the index of world universities, and three, to provide a good space for these individuals to be debriefed as a way of sustaining national institutional memory and discourse.
The energies of these individuals are diverted towards creating national values. In sum, the connection between Nigeria’s national research infrastructure and its national policy infrastructure does not exist because these places have narrow missions; primitive orientations, and quite frankly, the disjunction reflects the state of public governance in Nigeria. Nigerian intellectuals are irrelevant in the affairs of the nation because those in the universities do not want to engage and create synergy with those outside the ivory tower.
So, the cobwebs gather increasingly over the ivory tower while Nigerians now rely on soothsayers and Babalawos to deal with problems that require empirical solutions. As a matter of fact, the soothsayers are themselves establishing universities and the cultures of the academy are now increasingly determined and defined by faith healers and religious fanatics. As a matter of fact, I have heard it on good authority that in Nigerian universities these days, Lecturers begin their classes, but first after a “worship session.” Faith-healers and demon-hunters are now in charge of the Nigerian mind. And that is why PhDs can talk with bold faces about “demons” in Aso Rock and there is scant satire to it. Newspapers now go to prophets to predict the 2019 Nigerian elections: not political analysts, not empirical surveys commissioned or conducted by the research and investigative arm of newspapers to actually measure voter behavior.
It seems that Nigerian newspapers did not learn anything from the faux pas of the pastor of the Synagogue of all Nations, a Joshua who saw “a woman” winning the US elections; nor have they yet discerned the signal lessons of the life, times and metamorphosis of the “magnificent” brother Jero, Wole Soyinka’s very prescient satire on faith in the Jero Plays.
Perhaps it is all now entertainment, but when we now talk about demons in Aso Rock, and give it long, serious play in newspapers that take themselves seriously as purveyors of serious information to a reading public, we surely must see that the handshake has now crossed the elbows: the Nigerian mind is sick. It has been made sick by too much koolaid. All one needs to do is take a consistent look at the quality and pattern of comments in Nigerian newspapers, and some in response to newspaper columns, and it would be abundantly clear that the Nigerian mind has suffered terrible and tragic regression. But let me return to the question of demons in Aso Rock. I should now say that there may indeed be demons in Aso Rock. Yes! But hear me out. Every house is a haunted house. All you need do is listen very closely to the beat of your own heart in the dark, and you will see spirits moving. The swoosh of the curtain by a slight wind will take new significance, as would the rustle of branches behind the house.
The glow of something in the dark, and yes, that footstep that sounds like something is stepping out of the closet. This is the quality of nightmare. But let me say that Reuben Abati’s ghost story of Aso Rock should now qualify as a genre of the Nigerian gothic alongside Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard and Soyinka’s A Dance of the Forests. As for me, I think that the real demons in Aso Rock is the demon of inefficiency and ignorance; of unearned privilege and greed; of tribalism, nepotism; and religious fundamentalism; of corruption; profiteering; budget-padding; contract-inflation; push-me-I push you, arrogance, over-consumption, and selective amnesia. It continues to haunt that place with the current occupants.
As for the symptoms that Dr. Abati identified, specifically the loss of erection and sundry appetites that afflicted his friends in the last regime: well, think about it folks: lack of exercise and sleep, alcoholism, over-consumption of the rich food freely available at Aso Rock, and depression are factors liable to cause that kind of energy crisis and the deflagging of the pole. So be warned guys. Seek help from the Aso Rock shrinks, and not your pastor or faith healer. Everyone in Aso Rock needsProzac.