By Donu Kogbara
LAST week on this page, I expressed the view that Nigeria could have produced a COVID vaccine if our government was seriously focusing on the need to transform this country into a real Giant Of Africa.
Jonas Odocha ([email protected]), a former Group General Manager at NNPC, the state oil company, responded thus:
Education in Nigeria was rated very highly globally until the military and its regimes began to bastardise it at the end of the unfortunate civil war in 1970. Primary, secondary and tertiary institutions have since become mere shadows of what they were in the ’50s and ’60s.
If you are 50 years and above, please visit your primary, secondary or tertiary institution of today and compare notes. You will discover that both infrastructure and quality of education have deteriorated tremendously. How then do you expect the accomplishments of the earlier years to be replicated today?
As a secondary school student in the ’50s and ’60s at Government Secondary School, Owerri, we could boast of both Nigerian and foreign tutors of commendable quality backgrounds. Please permit me to mention names of some of them that we were very proud to have on the staff then:
Mr. Mozie taught Biology with an M.Sc from a reputable university in the US; Dr. Nwankpa taught mathematics, Dr. N. Nagia from Pakistan taught physics, Mr. M. Khatri with an M.Sc from Bombay, India taught chemistry and Mr. J.A. Garrod, from Surrey, England, the school principal then was teaching geography. He was football referee, conducted church services and was also the sports master. And there were other quality staff.
Why would such schools then not produce quality students? Our tertiary institutions then were loaded with both Nigerian and foreign professors of world standard. Research was the main mission and objective of these universities and funds were readily available for extensive research.
Have we forgotten Professor Eni Njoku and his research that led to the production of the cholera vaccine of that era? I can readily recall that in 1970 as an undergraduate geologist interested in Paleontology I accompanied Prof. E.A. Fayose to collect samples of Foraminifera along the lagoon from Lagos to Badagry, while he was researching on their distribution and classification.
Institutions were keen on promoting research and the professors themselves were equally keen to train and nurture future scientists. But today, funding of institutions and remuneration of professors and other staff must be haggled over and delayed, resulting in incessant strikes and untoward practices in these institutions.
With a scenario like this, who will be expecting an enabling environment to focus on research for vaccine production?
Donu, there is no way you can deliver what you do not have. Period!!!
Most of the Nigerians I know come across as aggressively self-confident to the point of arrogance. They don’t do self-deprecating and frequently boast about their academic achievements and the fact that Nigerian students abroad often trounce their foreign counterparts in the classroom.
When they have money, they flaunt it and delight in unrepentant conspicuous consumption. Even when they don’t have serious bucks, they still strut their stuff like highly entitled peacocks and spend as much as they possibly can on flashy cars, clothes, jewellery, burials, weddings, birthday parties, naming ceremonies, etc. The word bling could have been invented with the average Nigerian in mind.
Even if you are an urban sophisticate who went to a top Nigerian or overseas university and have travelled extensively, relatives who have never left your village will still be convinced that they know far more than you do and will constantly inflict advice on you.
Many Nigerians are so sure that they are amazingly marvellous and they feel better than Black folks from other countries…and superior to Whites, Lebanese, Indians, etc…even though there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this rampant egomania doesn’t make sense (the last time I checked, for example, there was no centuries-old edifice to rival the Taj Mahal in any part of Nigeria!).
Given our unshakeable self-belief and refusal to keep this unshakeable self-belief to ourselves, it is not surprising that we are often disliked by indigenes of nations we visit or settle down in.
I hear that the anti-Nigerian riots in South Africa were partly triggered off by Naija men dating South African women and noisily informing South African men that they were more skilled at taking care of South African females who were seeking various benefits, including financial security and exciting bedroom action!!!
Long story short: If you assess most Nigerians superficially, you will conclude that they do not know the meaning of low self-esteem.
But you know what?
Whenever I suggest that they stand up and fight against the injustices they are always complaining about, they shrink back and look cautious/afraid and mumble excuses for inertia.
And when I say that I don’t see why Nigeria cannot produce a vaccine, they look at me as if I am stark raving mad!
Jonas Odocha shares my view that we can produce a vaccine under more conducive circumstances. But everyone else with whom I’ve tried to discuss this idea seems to think that it is insane to imagine that there could ever be circumstances that would make a Nigerian vaccine possible.
Long story short: Too many Nigerians lack real self-confidence! Real self-confidence is knowing that you can be as productive and inventive as the Western World on your home turf. It is not particularly clever – and it is certainly not enough – to shine in foreign organisations that are run by the white establishment.
To get to a point at which you can legitimately claim equality with our former colonisers, you need to learn how to create and sustain your own successful indigenous institutions.
You need to truly believe that you can rise above mediocrity and failure.
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