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Professors of shame

By Yinka Odumakin

GREAT artists sometimes get prophetic and often more accurate than some professional prophets who engage in guesswork to remain relevant or bind their flocks. Upon reading an advance copy of Chinua Achebe’s novel, A Man of The People, Achebe’s friend, Nigerian poet and playwright, John Pepper Clark, declared: “Chinua, I  know you are a prophet. Everything in this book has happened except a military coup!” Nine days after the novel was published the first coup in Nigeria took place. Were it under the fertile minds of Nigerian crude order, the novelist would have been arrested for being accessory before the fact of the military interregnum.

Like Achebe, Mr. Dapo Adeniyi was in the prophetic in our days in Ife when he wrote an unpublished play whose title I have forgotten now. The artist himself has produced volumes upon volumes to remember the titles of all when I called him a few hours before writing this. But I cannot forget some of the characters in that play as I watched some pathetic university professors making mockery of the intellectual region of Nigeria with their wretched conduct in the Bayelsa/Kogi elections held on Saturday.

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Effective reality

I am no longer interested in anything election in Nigeria having accepted the reality, our “effective reality” (apology to Governor Seyi Makinde). I had naively spoken with someone who should have an idea weeks back that I hoped INEC should use the two elections to reinforce the confidence of the electorate in the ballot box. He looked at me furtively and asked: “What is the basis of your hope. Does INEC have its own security to conduct election?” I went numb.

In “Do Nigerians Need Free and Fair Elections,” published on this page on October 22, I had the following take: “I have no doubt that we are locked in this rigged arrangement until we realise that we cannot be waiting for the electoral body to deliver to us free outcomes from a compromised system. It will never happen! When would it then be manifest that Nigerians need free and fair elections? It is the day they would stop blaming the electoral umpire and demand institutional reforms that will ensure that even if you brought a known chieftain of the ruling party to superintend the electoral process, he would be able to do very little to manipulate the process.

To start with, it was the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin, who was quoted to have said: “Those who vote decide nothing. It is those who count who determine everything. Why do we then concentrate only on running around what determines nothing while ignoring what determines everything? We cannot allow just one arm of government to handpick those who determine everything.” The present arrangement where the President alone picks all the regulators of the electoral commission is unhealthy. We must insist on a process that involves all the three arms of government. The judiciary should be the search committee that will throw up names that the executive will pick from and send to the legislature for screening and confirmation. That would bring in some degree of independence for the electoral body.

“The police is very crucial in our electoral process and whoever controls it already has won 70 per cent of the contest before the blow of the whistle. A police that is answerable to the executive arm during elections easily becomes part of the enforcement arm of the ruling party on Election Day. An electoral body that does not control the police is only independent in name. We must empower our umpire like India has done in terms of election policing. All police officers who are responsible for elections in India are not under their regular command for the process but seconded to the electoral body that deploys them, pays their salaries and recommends erring ones for discipline.”

But Nigerian politicians only want to win and are not interested in insisting on reforms that would guarantee a level-playing field and they continue to knock their heads against the bind and getting bruised periodically. They immediately begin preparation for another humiliation once they recover, always hoping to get a different outcome from the same process. From my vantage and detached observatory, I was prepared for everything that happened last Saturday except the waywardness of our professors whose conduct was worse than what  agberos  boys would have done if they were given same assignment .

The classless act of men brought from what is left of our universities was what brought Adeniyi’s play to my mind on Sunday. It was totally inconceivable that we would ever get to the sorry state the playwright characterised some silly professors in the play as they were wasting their talents fawning in the court of a politician as palace jesters. There were three of them in the play with names that depicted their fall.

They were Prof. Ladiladi (as licker), Prof. Bamgbobe (bring me soup) and Prof. Ajetooba (lick spittle); who against all known intellectual traditions were full of backward ideas to sustain the politician’s grip on power and despoilation of society. It was inconceivable then that Adeniyi was seeing the future career of our intellectual class. His “professors” came alive on Saturday as filthy lucre turned our dons to people who can’t function in arithmetic.

Functional society

They brought in wretched sheets with figures not adding up and they were ready to die defending them because of….(you know what). Even when civil servants were correcting them to ensure they do it right, our professors were so adamant in their shameless commitment to perfidy.

Are these fellows teaching in the same universities that were the guide of this country in the 70s and 80s when the best and brightest ideas that build a functional society were coming out of the university unlike the intellectual recession of today? We wore it like a badge of honour when Prof. Jubril Aminu talked of the “Ife fortress” in reference to the fervency of our Great Ife. As education minister he declared war on “those teaching what they are not paid to teach.”

Pray, which ruler will pay any serious attention to the universities where the type of characters we saw on Saturday teach beyond earmarking their envelopes to aid shenanigans? Are we going to hear anything from ASUU on the conduct of their members? If they kept silent on this, should we take them serious when they call another strike?

I doubt if those clowning on Saturday ever came across the words of Gian Tu Trung: “As I see it, intellectuals are those who have diverse wisdom and foresight, who apply their intellect and forward-looking visions for the purpose of awakening society. They help to divert the masses from what is unwise and wrong toward what is righteous and the good. No wonder, then, that vietnamese word for intellectual, trí théc, is a combination of “mind” and “awaken”.

There are three key factors in nurturing intellectuals: knowledge, ability and willingness to awaken society; and doing so for a noble cause or purpose. The lack of any one of these elements is inconsistent with the definition of an intellectual. I find a great deal of truth in Einstein’s words: “The world is a dangerous place…, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

A person with capabilities and knowledge bears this kind of responsibility and owes his or her world the benefits of their profound wisdom. Intellectuals need to use their capacity to contribute to steering society  away from  the negatively-impacting results that they foresee, not just for past mis-directed efforts, but also for current and future inappropriate endeavours…..Building on universal and timeless values, intellectuals also apply their knowledge to shape, and protect, social standards and values.”

For the sake of professors still committed to true tradition like my course mates (Profs Gbemi Adeoti and Biodun Salawu) and their ilk, I will not call for the abolition of universities yet. But any society that entrusts the nurturing of its future in the hands of the Bayelsa/Kogi elections professors is doomed. No,it is doomed!

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