The Orbit

March 3, 2022

The ghosts of Nsukka


By Obi Nwakanma

Last week, I was at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, to give the keynote at the International Conference on Igbo Political Power convened jointly by the Institute of African Studies of the University of Nigeria, and the Harris Center of the University of Chicago, Illinois.

I did explore the question of “Igbo Enwegh Eze” – this cardinal political idea at the core of Igbo civilization that insists that the Igbo do not make kings, and that all men are born free and equal.

Thousands of years before modern Europeans thinkers in an era they called the “European enlightenment” caught on the idea that the monarchy was a primitive stage of man’s political development and enlightenment, and that the “rights of man,” are granted at birth by their God, the Igbo thinkers of antiquity had already circulated that idea and the Igbo lived in absolute freedom from immemorial time.

That is why Igbo captured into slavery resisted slavery with every fiber in their being and brought it down. That is why the Igbo led the anti-colonial movement  in Africa and the Civil Rights movement in the Diaspora – for which they are still paying a high price.

The first shot in the anti-colonial Nationalist movement was fired by Igbo and Ibibio Women, who fought the attempt to impose kings and taxation on them in what has now been canonized as the “Aba Women’s War.” The Igbo say, “Chi Onye N’edu ya” – one is guided only by their “Chi”. Sometimes, if you push them a bit more on the question, the true Igbo is most likely to say to you, “Onweghi Onye wu Chi Ibe ya. Nani Chukwu bu Eze Ndi Igbo” – “there is no man who is king of another.

Only God is the king of the Igbo.”  An Igbo who bows to another is considered “Ohu.” He or she disavows their “Chi” according to the ancient laws of the Igbo. These facts are often emphasized and made very clear even to a properly trained Igbo child.

But of course, today, there are many revisionists – pseudo monarchs and proto-monarchs – who are busy inventing monarchies, mud-footed Majesties, and “ancient kingdoms” created only in the last fifty years, at the most, where there were once none. Some would say, what about Eze Nri. Well, Eze Nri was never a King.

He was High Priest of a sacred priesthood, much like that ancient, mythical priest Melchizedek. As evidence, Eze Nri Obalike, whom the British met, did not disavow his priestly duties, but he disavowed monarchical power. He rejected the attempt by the British to make him, “Paramount Chief.” Obalike was in fact,the model for the fictional character, Ezeulu, in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God.

In any case, what is the use of all these “ancient kingdoms,” and “traditional rulers,” and “Majesties” North and South, in a modern society? What values do they bring with them in the 21st century? I daresay, pretty little. At best, these “preserved” institutions are Museum pieces who embody the stage of our primitive politics as proto states, or even as vanished kingdoms and principalities. They are a curious, and needless distraction, often used by the real state actors to confuse, contain, and deceive Nigerians that there is such a thing as a primary customary identity. Nigeria is a federal republic, and power radiates at three principal levels – the federal government, the state government, and the local or municipal government. Nigeria is not a constitutional monarchy. It is a federal republic.

The principal guarantee of the Constitution of a Republic is that there are none who are “subjects” to any monarch, everyone is a “citizen” and subject only to the Constitution of the Republic, which sets out, in the case of Nigeria, its charter of Fundamental Human Rights.

That is the founding idea of this nation agreed on by the “Founding Fathers” of the nation. Nigeria is a modern nationwhich was brought together, first by the Force of will of great Britain, then by the willing compromise of those who led it to independence as a modern sovereign nation.

At the core of that agreement was that Nigeria would be (a) A secular republic which grants each citizen their right to conscience, that is, the right to have faith or be faithless; (b) that Nigeria would be a nation of  Citizens, each free to live freely where they choose, be protected by the state, and abiding only to the Laws of the federation. Igbo traders for instance, who sell beer in Kano, have a right to sell and drink beer, for as long as they obtain the liquor tax, and pay the requisite fair tax to the city of Kano.

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They are not subjects of the Emir of Kano. They are free citizens of Nigeria resident in Kano. Not even the Hausa residents of Kano are the “subjects” of the Emir of Kano. They have been given freedom, under the constitution of the republic, to be citizens of Nigeria, and not subject to any other. They are protected by the Constitution of the republic, which makes Alhaji Sanusi, Emir of Kano, equal under the law of the republic, with the lowliest Almajirin on the street of Kano.

Under the constitution of Nigeria, it is criminal dispropriation  for an illegal religious police called the Hisbah in Kano, to destroy beer sold by Igbo, in the guise of enforcing some unconstitutional religious mandate.

In the same way, it is illegal for anybody to target and destroy cattle in the cattle market owned Fulani herders in so far as such cattle is not trespassing private property or destroying farms in Onitsha, Enugu or Onitsha. The point I’m making is that diffuse authority may be at the very heart of the disorganization of the Nigerian state.

If you have ten thousand “traditional rulers” – these pretend monarchies – you have ten thousand divided loyalties. No one cares about Nigeria. And this is the exact problem with having these competing, diffuse zones of authority.

The only arbiter for the constitutional rights of the Nigerian must be the Courts of Law established under the republic. In point of fact, the position of the “traditional ruler” in Nigeria is illegal because it violates a cardinal principle in the republican constitution – the equality clause  in the Charter of Fundamental rights – which holds that every Nigerian is equal under the law.

It is about time to abolish these primitive institutions, North and South. The Indians abolished the Raj, after all, in 1972, in order to establish a modern democratic republic. Besides, as I have said, these contending authorities draw loyalty away from the idea of “nation” and “nation-belonging.” Nigeria is an orphan today as a result. A nation whose citizens detest its very existence, because they have only fleeting stakes in it, is doomed. Nigeria in that sense reminds of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It is clearly a university in shambles, both physically and intellectually.

It is poorly managed, there is no doubt about that. Else, why would the physical environment feel like a vast ghetto where time seemed to have stopped. The University of Nigeria is physically ugly. There is no landscaping. The Zik library is painted in this  loud, ugly colours that clash with everything else. The building itself is architecturally unremarkable.

Student Housing and Residential life is a terrible sin against humanity. No student trained at Nsukka currently and who lives under that environment will get any education worth a darn, or leave the university with their dignity intact. For a school with one of the oldest Architecture and Fine and Applied Art Schools, the University of Nigeria at Nsukka has the ugliest and some of the dourest architecture of any university in the world.

With such an ugly campus, with third-rate building designs, how does the University of Nigeria hope to market graduates of its own Architecture School? We drove to the Auto workshop on campus. It as an eyesore. It had no modern tools.

The only thing that suggested that it was an auto workshop was the years of accumulated grease in a hazardous environment. I mean, I literally gave up! There is a certain absence of finesse in both the governance and the current imagination at Nsukka. It would take one only a cursory look to see the problem: the loss of human capital, as well as the will of the university to continue existing. Nsukka used to be the gathering of super stars – in the humanities, the social sciences, the sciences and in Medicine. No more.

There are lots of hardworking folk at Nsukka, certainly, but over the years, the recruitment pattern has distorted the high-minded expectation of the university. Let’s put it simply and without equivocation: the University of Nigeria, Nsukka is in a freefall, and requires intervention. It may indeed be underfunded. But UNN has one of the richest alumni of any university on the African content.

So, the question is: where are the Nsukka alumni? Where are the lions and the lionesses? The University of Nigeria needs to be closed down for at least three years ,and rebuilt from the grounds up with a  new masterplan.

It is also about time for the University of Nigeria and the Town of Nsukka (the Nsukka Local government) to establish a joint Planning Board, and create a  “town and gown, “  venture, to properly redesign and lay out Nsukka Town, and turn it into a proper university town, with pubs, bookshops, galleries, modern residences for faculty, students, research workers and international visitors who may want to come to Nsukka.

Vanguard News Nigeria