Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The allure of the humanities

Chuks Iloegbunam*****

(lecture given on the occasion of the 2018 Grand Alumni/Friends Homecoming of the Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Thursday 26 April 2018)

Our history strongly suggests that we need to moderate strength and power with discretion and diplomacy, not only among our leaders but also among the generality of our people. It is not weakness to recognize the value of discretion. It is foolhardiness to choose death (or something close to it) in place of life.”
                                   Michael J C Echeruo
I DECIDED to open today’s discussion with the above quote from Professor Echeruo’s “A Matter Of Identity”, his November 1979 foundational lecture of the Ahajioku Lecture Series. The reason is that it encapsulates the theme of my presentation, which is that E’kesia n’obi, ekee na mkpuke.

But, first of all, permit me to deliver to protocol its due. I count myself privileged to stand before you today, even if to do a job outside my professional territory of operation. I am a journalist who, by virtue of political appointments, has operated within governmental circles in the last 15 years. I have never been a teacher, not even a nursery school teacher. Yet, I have been pressed into service here, to deliver a disquisition to those whose primary and professional responsibility is the impartation of knowledge. In my view, it is like taking coal to Ngwo, Nigeria’s Newcastle! It has its risks and thrills. Theoretically, I could be ordered at any point of this assignment to return to wherever I came from, my thoughts and pronouncements considered no better than garble to the educated ear. On the other hand, I could be tolerated, in which case my representation could form a pedestal for firing crusts in order to extricate diamond. That would be thrilling.

Now, let me take us to the clay that molded this day. It first came in the innocuous form of a text message I received on Sunday February 2, 2018 from a functionary of this institution. This was what the message said:

“Good evening sir. I’m Professor Tracie Utoh-Ezeajugh, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University. We’re organizing an Alumni Homecoming/Luncheon Ceremony, to hold on 26th April 2018. The Faculty Board has nominated you as the person to deliver the Alumni Lecture. We will greatly appreciate your disposition and availability. I hope I can call to discuss this further? Thanks.”

I considered the message for a few moments and concluded that there must have been a mistake. It certainly was meant for someone else but got accidentally texted to my number. My first disposition was to ignore the communication, convinced that the sender would realize her mistake and quietly make amends. On second thoughts, however, I decided otherwise. Although I couldn’t remember ever personally interacting with Professor Utoh-Ezeajugh, I wasn’t unaware of her existence. I often read The Creative Artist – A Journal of Theatre and Media Studies, of which she is a coeditor. This led me into thinking that she probably was someone I could do business with. Still, I decided to approach the matter on a tentative note, by responding to her message in the following mode:

“Greetings, Prof. You’re in total freedom to call. But, wetin I wan talk? And whosai I go begin? Best regards. Chuks.”  

She gave me a ring thereafter. We discussed the matter, and I accepted the invitation to be here. There is, of course, a second reason for my presence today. I should leave mentioning it until the tail end of my presentation.

The allure
ALLUREMENT comes in multiple fashions. As a matter of fact, it is doubtful that there is any aspect of life in which it is not present, if not dominant. This makes it imperative to discuss some of its ramifications, especially in so far as they are relevant to my argument. We have the moth’s allurement to fire. If you lit a storm lantern, you would within seconds have around it swarms of moth trying to make contact with the lantern’s flame. The predictable outcome of such contact by any moth is its instant incineration. It happens with human beings, ready examples being the lunatic’s irresistible temptation to strike a match in an ocean of highly inflammable gasoline, and the too determined child that would, Superman fashion, leap from the father’s fifth floor flat to the shiny automobile down in the parking lot. The lunatic will set off a conflagration to extinguish his miserable life and raze much more. The pull of gravity will drag the child to a thud on metal that would leave only the remains of gore and blood. These sorts of suicidal allurements are self evident in everyday life, even when those involved are folks believed to be perfectly sane.

There is the natural allurement. A biologically healthy adult is normally drawn to the attraction of the opposite sex. The young, fashionable female will see no reason why the make up or makeover should not be a distinct part of her daily routine. The adolescent will be drawn to the ball game, or to pugilism or to Ping-Pong or to some other sport. The old man with the tired limbs may resort to short walks or the game of Chess or Draughts or Ludo or Whot. In all of these allurements, there is hardly ever cause for alarm because they are natural.

In the arenas of learning and application, a number of problems inevitably arise. Learning begins from childhood. This learning may be partial to the humanities. A child, consciously or otherwise, begins to learn languages, music, fashion, literature and sport. All these are in the humanities. But, where a child’s first allure to learning is in the realms of quantum physics or quadratic equations, that would be an aberration. The child would be a prodigy. Even if a child unfortunately has boxing sparing partners or quarrelsome ones for parents and thus learns aggressiveness and garrulity from an early age, his learning, at the last word, would still be situated in the humanities. The contention here is that the allure of the humanities is primarily and essentially human. All other broad branches of learning come only a distant second, or third or fourth, as the case may be. In essence, all humans are schooled in the humanities as a matter of course whereas swathes of humankind pass through life with scant affinity to the sciences of fetal surgery and rocketry. Please mark the learning in question by various degrees on a 100-percentage index.

The allure of learning
AS A child grows, inherited genes and environmental circumstances determine to what specific areas of learning and/or occupation the Allure would drag them. That explains why today we have at the Chelsea Football Club in West London a wing half called Marcos Alonso. His brothers are all professional footballers. His father was a professional footballer. And so was his grandfather. Soccer runs in their family. When I was on the staff of the Vanguard newspapers in Lagos, I used to spend time at the newspaper’s Enugu offices on Obiagu Road. Near that office was a shed of vulcanizing business that boasted the grandfather that started the business before the Nigerian civil war, his first son, and his grandsons. None of them looked beyond the First School Leaving Certificate. As far as the ordinary eyes could see, none of them looked dissatisfied with life. None of them seemed to be suffering from want or privation as a result of the career choice they collectively made. Vulcanizing ran in the family.

In some cases, people whose progenitors had nothing to do with formal education end up following the academic path, or at least finish off with university degrees. My father, for instance, was a carpenter, my mother a petty trader. Rear Admiral Alison Madueke’s father had to flee from his Inyi home in order to make four years of primary education. He ended up a successful businessman, whose nine children all benefitted from tertiary education.

Now, as a child grows into adolescence or adulthood, he or she decides the course of study or formal training to pursue. They could delve into the Humanities because, from earliest days, they were exposed to it. Or because, their secondary school experience was diffident in the sciences. They could elect for military school because the parents lived near an Army barracks and it was common to see smartly dressed soldiers marching elegantly to the tunes of brass band music. The young fellow could turn their attention to Law School or Medical School or Business School. Whatever course of study they eventually elect to pursue, one consequence would ultimately be inescapable. And that is that they would be compelled to elect courses in the Humanities.

The allure of the humanities makes it natural for there to be in universities what is known as English 101 or the Use of English. No one requires proficiency in the English language to become an accomplished medical doctor. After all, medical courses in Argentina are not conducted in the English language, but in Spanish. Medical courses in Russia are not taught in English but in Russian. The point, though, is that in whatever language a science course is taught, the inevitability of the humanities course of language is taken for granted.

It is not only in the matter of the language of rendering that the humanities “intrudes” in other disciplines of learning. For instance, the anthropology of medicine is vital for medical students.  But, that is not because a good doctor cannot emerge who has no knowledge of anthropology. No. The consideration is simply that doctors practice their profession best in settings they understand the culture and lifestyle of their patients best. A gynaecologist in Kano would be more effective if he is knowledgeable in the culture, religion and social predilections of those he would be attending to their medical needs. Unless a doctor has no aversion to decapitation, he may not readily load a backwater woman in a rigid religious setting with condoms who he thinks is in dire need of birth control. He would not readily prescribe the “morning after’ tablets to a girl whose puritanical parents cannot contemplate the contingency of their daughter’s non-virginity. Thus, the entire thing pertains to the Igbo saying that “all dance settles in the waist”: agbasia egwu o’naa n’ukwu! In other words, you could learn technology, or graduate in the sciences, or study astronomy and master the geosciences, yet something pivotal would still be missing in your scholarship unless more than a rudimentary knowledge of the Humanities supports it.  

Learning the humanities
Take Mandarin, the official Chinese language spoken by more than 750 million people. There was this young lady who gained university admission to study Mandarin. Her father believed that fate had dealt him a particularly bad card. Mandarin! Of all subjects, he moaned. Indignant, he asked the daughter what she expected to achieve in life by taking a degree in the Asian language. Because the young lady insisted on going ahead with her chosen discipline, the father threatened to withdraw his sponsorship of her further education. More than that, he summoned an extended family meeting at which he derided both her daughter and the language she would study. Fortunately, there were in the meeting some people with commonsense who told the old man to back off.

China holds 20 per cent of the world’s population. It controls 15 percent of global trade. Nearly a fifth of the population of Guangzhou in China today is made up of Igbo traders. What proficiency in the Chinese language means today is a broad highway to the countless advantages inherent in China’s preeminent position in global affairs. A graduate of Mandarin could teach the language anywhere in the world and at any level. He or she could be an interpreter. (I recall with pride that when the Anambra State Government signed the protocols for the Umueri Airport City with a Chinese consortium, one of the interpreters at the function was an Igbo lady.) The Mandarin graduate could find employment in the Foreign Service. As the economic activities between China and Africa grow, it will take little time before Mandarin becomes in the Black world as important as any of English and French.

Take now the English language. No one requires it to become a pilot. But because English is the international language of aviation, it is near impossible to be the aviator of a jetliner without knowledge of good, old English. A pilot from Yangon, Myanmar, on an international flight to Ecuador is going to have to communicate with air traffic controllers in Quito in the English language. A pilot from Suriname intending to land in Anchorage, Iceland, will have no option other than to speak the English language. Apart from the indispensability of English in intercontinental air travel, the other uses of the language are legion. Decades ago, when I gained admission to take a first degree in English, a friend casually mentioned that I was embarking on a journey that would remove me from the category of society’s flotsam and jetsam whose English was only of “is” and “was”. But, the studying of English does not just accord and afford anyone with simply the pride of and the facility for rendering sentences buckling with subordination and polysyllables.

The question could be posed. Why do we, in fact, even talk of the Humanities? It is because it is the foundation of human knowledge. The ideas we formulate in the acquisition of human knowledge are what we employ to organize the state and its interactions with other societies. There are people who think that when we study English it is in order that we blow grammar. That happens not to be true; that’s far from what we do. In reality, English studies means we are studying the literate culture of what constitutes the English, including to various degrees its mathematics and sciences in all their documented forms. In studying English we interrogate English ideas. We examine the Colonial project, London being a principal historical bastion of transcontinental colonialism. In studying English, we come to terms with the communal psyche, and the foundational and cultural ideas that led a geographically tiny people into controlling for many centuries the trade and politics of much of the world. We home in like a laser beam on the ways and means the English survived, and built themselves up. That’s what the Humanities deals with.

A Nigerian graduate of English should know and understand better than his friend in a non-Humanities discipline why London behaved the way it did in 1984 when there was a botched Nigerian attempt to kidnap and crate the politician Alhaji Umaru Dikko from London’s Stansted Airport to Murtala International in Lagos. The unquantifiable learning that accrues from learning and fully grasping the nuances and peculiarities of a language explains why those in the Humanities formed the bulk of Foreign Service officials deployed by Whitehall to the colonies on His or Her Majesty’s Service. If language weren’t crucial for the subjugation of peoples, colonial officers sent to “primitive” territories in far-flung places would never have paid more than a fleeting attention to learning the languages of their subjects. Where this failed to yield total results, they imposed their own language and its values. That is why I am addressing this audience today in the English language whereas most of us here are Igbo, a language that is second nature to me. That is why President Muhammadu Buhari, if he spoke at informal circles today with his own people would be employing the Hausa language, rather than his native Fulfude in which his proficiency is not even certain. This speaks of the place of power, especially political and economic power, in language, for the Fulani did not have the population. They, therefore, borrowed the language of their subjects for their very subjugation.

Can we now say that the premium placed on language and the humanities still plays out today in the affairs of Nigeria? People grounded in history, poetics and culture abound. But those places in administration in which they could become round pegs in round holes are indiscriminately ceded to owners of arcane certificates who know next to nothing regarding exactly what the call of duty is or should be. It may be trite to say, but the fact is that people can hardly function successfully in areas where they are bereft of philosophical foundations. Why, for instance, should an acclaimed professor, and a former vice chancellor, play second fiddle in a key establishment like the education ministry if not because it does not offend the sensibilities of those who believe that society’s overall good should be subordinated to political expediency? Does that not tie in to the valorization of mediocrity? How does anyone expect to function optimally in an area in which he lacks conceptual education, which is the ability to generate ideas? The ability to generate ideas is what leads an official into instructing that, “those buildings should be erected on the west wing”, because that’s where they stand no chance of being jeopardized. If built other than on the west wing, they would sit precariously on a flood plain. Allow the flood plain to await proper channelization, while the business of erecting solid structures go on! Things like that. 

Language gives us the key to balanced analysis of society. When we create structures of memory relating to our literature, our theatre, the film industry, the very narrative of our sojourn as a people, our historical foundations, we use these to create. People must tell their stories. If you don’t preserve your story, your disappearance is only a matter of time. Nobody would remember you. Your culture will not be preserved. Culture is the way people make an image of themselves. People who have no image of themselves invariably become forgotten. We give a proper definition of ourselves by the level of seriousness we attach to the Humanities.

Teaching the humanities
SO FAR, we have tried to demonstrate the central place of the Humanities in the affairs of man. A natural question follows. Who might teach the humanities? In a broad sense, the answer is All. Everyone is naturally a student of the Humanities. Everyone is also a teacher of some components of the broad discipline. Of course, if a student required a bachelor’s degree in the humanities, they would need the services of a degree-awarding institution. But Queen Theresa Onuorah of the Egedege Dance Troupe in Unubi controls our minds and excites our dancing abilities without our registering for formal academic courses in folk music. The white man understood from the beginning that knowledge does not reject impartation or expansion because the harbinger of such an action cannot boast as many degrees as a thermometer does.

A few examples are apposite here. In 1985 when Paul Simon, the American singer-songwriter, was working on a solo album that featured an eclectic mixture of musical styles, it struck him that he needed to visit Nigeria to hire the services of an expert. That expert turned out to be Demola Adepoju, a member of the King Sunny Ade group, the African Beats. Mr. Adepoju didn’t have a cache of degrees. In fact he had none. But his forte was the pedal steel guitar. As we all know, the pedal steel guitar isn’t an African invention. And there were scores of white men and African Americans that played the instrument with élan. But Paul Simon saw in Mr. Adepoju what blinkers prevent most of us from ever seeing – to the detriment of the promotion of the Humanities.

Each time Muhammed Ali (Cassius Clay) was mentioned, people remembered him first and foremost as a former world heavyweight-boxing champion. But he was also a poet, a poet good enough to be nominated by two dons for the post of professor of poetry at the centuries old Oxford University.

This is the kind of poetry that Ali wrote:

Everyone knew when I stepped in town,
I was the greatest fighter around.
A lot of people called me a clown,
But I am the one who called the round.
The people came to see a great fight,
But all I did was put out the light.
Never put your money against Cassius Clay,
For you will never have a lucky day.

That was in 1962. If your yardstick for poetic entitlement were J. P. Clark Bekederemo, or Wole Soyinka, or Chimalum Nwankwo, or Obi Nwakanma or John Donne or W. H. Auden, you probably would not consider Ali’s name worth mentioning, not minding that he always strove to achieve rhymes at the end of his lines. But informed people found some merit in his verse to nominate him for that largely ceremonial but highly regarded position. Now, if a resourceful Unizik undergraduate took the pains to go to Amanuke not far from here, to collect and translate into English the songs and verses of that town, would his volume make the Long List of the LNG Literature Prize? Or would the experts pronounce the volume a collection of doggerel? The point is that it takes the absence of can’t, and an eye for exploration and experimentation, for the humanities to march on with dignity and achievement.

In 1989, my friend, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, a poet with a resonant voice, found himself at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States. The South African poet, Dennis Brutus, had invited him. There, Professor Brutus asked Uzor to teach his students two key African novels – Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe and Devil on the Cross by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Brutus didn’t ask Mr. Uzoatu to teach those novels because he held a professorship in Literature. He did not. Those novels were among the lot that Brutus had taught his students over several years. But he felt that coming from Africa, Uzoatu was in a position to introduce something novel in his interpretation of the works that came from his continent of origin, especially Arrow of God that is of his Igbo ethnic group. In some countries, the students would have revolted and disdained tutelage from a novice! Faculty members would have filed a petition, claiming that Brutus had introduced dilettantism in the teaching of the humanities. Again, if Morocco Maduka suddenly got appointed to a professorial chair in the Music Department of a Nigerian university, would some of the more educated members of the institution aggregate to hire the services of a witchdoctor to inflict insanity on the minstrel? Or would they?

But Mr. Uzoatu’s experience was even more astonishing in Canada, where he had been invited as a distinguished visitor, and from where Brutus had asked him to look in at Pittsburgh. Uzoatu found that at the University of Western Ontario where he was an intern, the head of The Graduate School of Journalism was a certain Professor Peter Desbarats, who held no university degrees whatsoever. Yet, each time any difficult question came up, the Journalism Faculty and students referred to Desbarats and invariably got their problem solved. Would someone without a basic university degree earn a tenured position, or any academic position for that matter, in a Nigerian university? There is something to be understood for our overall benefit. The adept has a critical role in this matter of promoting the Humanities. And so do those best qualified as middling.

The place of caution
IT IS important to stress that the mere fact of a general teaching field for all cadres should not mean a free-for-all. People should teach the humanities. But they should teach only in those areas that they truly have something worthwhile to offer. General teaching should never mean general dabbling. Unfortunately, that is what is often on offer almost everywhere. And this is so primarily because little attention is paid to the consequences of square pegs in round holes. To demonstrate just how dangerous the proposition of meddling is, a number of questions are apposite. How many women here would, if pregnant, willingly submit themselves to caesarian section after learning that the scalpel had been abandoned to the devices of the butcher at the local abattoir? How many people here would happily board a flight after discovering that a fellow whose previous flying experience was of kites had stormed the cockpit and seized the plane’s controls? Yet, scary as these scenarios are, they happen on a daily basis because, in matters especially to do with the humanities, nearly everyone strikes the pose of an expert.

As someone interested in the game of soccer, I can claim knowledge of the technique employed to strike a penalty kick in such a way that the goalkeeper is sent diving to the negative corner while the ball hits the back of the net. But, in my autumnal years, do I still possess muscles powerful enough to imbue the ball with enough velocity to send it spinning quickly away from the one delegated to stop it? If the answer is No, why should I play Cristiano Ronaldo, the dead ball expert, by grabbing the ball and insisting on taking the spot kick the moment the referee’s whistle goes? Is it not in the overall interest of humankind if reason prevailed and people played only in their appropriate wings?

Let me expatiate. Most of my working life has been media-related whether in government or out of it, whether at the state or at the federal level. My experience is that if you put out a press statement, voices would rise in the thousands, charging that your message had not been delivered in the right key. Why were you not solicitous, seeing that you were dealing with a disagreeable or unpredictable audience? Why were you groveling when you represented accredited political authority? Not only that, busybodies with access to the governor or the president would contact him to vehemently protest your crippling lack of professionalism! Meanwhile, all the protesters would be fulminating from a standpoint bereft of the inside knowledge that informed the tenor of your press release. If you were a singer and rendered your song in contralto, the meddlers would become agonistic, alleging that you were singing a part written specifically for bass. That’s the way it is with the humanities. How many people ever heard the all-knowing protesters chanting that a spacecraft had gone into orbit on defective propulsion? How many ever swore that a satellite circling the moon was doing so at an angle guaranteed to make it come apart in less than half the lifespan conjectured by the manufacturers? No. Hi-tech and the pure sciences are not the domain of all-comers. Yet, the grouse is not really that people protest what they wrongly think or believe is out of place. The problematic is that, oftentimes, people abduct issues outside their competence – to the negation of the guiding spirit of the humanities, to the scuttling of hopes and aspirations, and to the tune of ruinous complication of straightforward questions. The flipside is that, against the stipulation of commonsense, experts in the humanities often escape into nonchalance, rather than actively contributing to the resolution of matters crying for enlightenment.

The guru’s role
IF we assumed for one moment that meddlers and pretenders would surrender some space to the Humanities, the allure of the vast field would pertain essentially to the gurus. The guru in the humanities is the one that has received proper – not necessarily classroom – training in the faculty. He or she may have listened masters in the field. They probably kept a good library or had access to one, the contents of whose tomes they could boast considerable knowledge of. A guru is not in the humanities because he belonged to a religious order antipathetic to sin and its deleterious consequences. But, because the Humanities humanize, the allurement to the discipline carries the burden of promoting a healthy and stable society indexed on human values, especially those celebratory of the ethos of justice, equity, fair play and good conscience. The guru is doomed to precise pronouncements on black and white. If he took the attitude that something was white, it would only be because he possessed the instruments to demonstrate its whiteness. He dares not make a declaration on blackness without the facility or intention to delineate the pigmentation of the colour. For him, there could be no question of dawdling in Gray as a ploy for escapism. The temptation of the guru to perch in the shade of Gray must be in order to establish verisimilitude between the two primary colours of black and white, nothing more.

Bearing this burden in mind, it was something of a shock to read recently that the ban on the teaching of history in our schools had been lifted. My apprehension is tied to a number of questions. Was the ban on history teaching not motivated by the considerations of blatant political partisanship? If so, are the architects of this blinkered evacuation of history from classrooms likely to rehabilitate the subject without first putting in place adequate means of attaining the objectives that informed the ban in the first place?

Let us spare a moment in considering the catastrophic consequences of a people not knowing where the rain began to beat them. This post came recently to me by WhatsApp:

Biography of Thomas Sankara

Thomas Sankara was Burkina Faso’s president from August 1983 until his assassination on October 15, 1987. Perhaps, more than any other African president in living memory, Thomas Sankara, in four years, transformed Burkina Faso from a poor country, dependent on aid, to an economically independent and socially progressive nation.

Thomas Sankara began by purging the deeply entrenched bureaucratic and institutional corruption in Burkina Faso. He slashed the salaries of ministers and sold off the fleet of exotic cars in the president’s convoy, opting instead for the cheapest brand of car available in Burkina Faso, the Renault 5. His salary was $450 per month and he refused to use the air conditioning units in his office, saying that he felt guilty doing so, since very few of his country people could afford it.

Thomas Sankara would not let his portrait be hung in offices and government institutions in Burkina Faso because, as he declared, every Burkinabe was a Thomas Sankara. Sankara changed the name of the country from the colonially imposed Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means Land of Upright Men.

Thomas Sankara’s achievements are numerous and can only be summarized briefly. Within the first year of his leadership, he embarked on an unprecedented mass vaccination programme that saw 2.5 million Burkinabe children vaccinated. From an alarming 280 deaths for every 1,000 births, infant mortality was immediately slashed to below 145 deaths per 1,000 live births. Sankara preached self-reliance. He banned the importation of several items into Burkina Faso, and encouraged the growth of the local industry. It was not long before Burkinabes were wearing 100 percent cotton that was sourced, woven and tailored in Burkina Faso. From being a net importer of food, Thomas Sankara began to aggressively promote agriculture in Burkina Faso, telling his country people to quit eating imported rice and grain from Europe. “Let us consume what we ourselves control,” he emphasized.

In less than four years, Burkina Faso became self-sufficient in food production through the redistribution of lands from the hands of corrupt chiefs and landowners to local farmers, and through massive irrigation and fertilizer distribution programmes. Thomas Sankara utilized various policies and government assistance to encourage Burkinabes to get education. In less than two years of his presidency, school attendance jumped from about 10 percent to a little below 25 percent, thus overturning the 90 percent illiteracy rate he met upon assumption of office.

Living way ahead of his time, within 12 months of his leadership, Sankara vigorously pursued a reforestation programme that saw over 10 million trees planted around the country in order to push back the encroachment of the Sahara Desert. Uncommon at the time he lived, Sankara stressed women empowerment and campaigned for the dignity of women in a traditionally patriarchal society. He also employed women in several government positions and declared a day of solidarity with housewives by mandating their husbands to take on their roles for 24 hours.

A personal fitness enthusiast, Sankara encouraged Burkinabes to always keep fit, and was regularly seen jogging unaccompanied on the streets of Ouagadougou; his waistline remained the same throughout his tenure as president.

In 1987, during a meeting of African leaders under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity, Thomas Sankara tried to convince his peers to turn their backs on the debt owed western nations. According to him, “debt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa. It is a re-conquest that turns each one of us into a financial slave.” He would not request for, nor accept aid from the West, noting that “…welfare and aid policies have only ended up disorganizing us, subjugating us, and robbing us of a sense of responsibility for our own economic, political, and cultural affairs. We chose to risk new paths to achieve greater well-being.”

Thomas Sankara was a pan-Africanist who spoke out against apartheid, telling French President Jacques Chirac, during his visit to Burkina Faso, that it was wrong for him to support the apartheid government and that he must be ready to bear the consequences of his actions. Sankara’s policies and his unapologetic anti-imperialist stand made him an enemy of France, Burkina Faso’s former colonial master. He spoke truth to power fearlessly and paid with his life. Upon his assassination, his most valuable possessions were a car, a refrigerator, three guitars, motorcycles, a broken down freezer and about $400 in cash.

Few young Africans have ever heard of Thomas Sankara. In reality, it is not the assassination of Thomas Sankara that has dealt a lethal blow to Africa and Africans; it is the assassination of his memory, as manifested in the indifference to his legacy, in the lack of constant reference to his ideals and ideas by Africans, by those who know and those who should know. Among physical and mental dirt and debris lie Africa’s heroes while the younger generations search in vain for role models from among their kind. Africans have therefore, internalized self-abhorrence and the convictions of innate incapability to bring about transformation. Transformation must run contrary to the African’s DNA, many Africans subconsciously believe.

Africans are not given to celebrating their own heroes, but this must change. It is a colonial legacy that was instituted to establish the inferiority of the colonized and justify colonialism. It was a strategic policy that ensured that Africans celebrated the heroes of their colonial masters, but not that of Africa. Fifty years and counting after colonialism ended, Africa’s curriculum must now be redrafted to reflect the numerous achievements of Africans.

The present generation of Africans is thirsty, searching for where to draw the moral, intellectual and spiritual courage to effect change. The waters to quench the thirst, as other continents have already established, lies fundamentally in history – in Africa’s forbears, men, women and children who experienced much of what most Africans currently experience, but who chose to toe a different path. The media, entertainment industry, civil society groups, writers, institutions and organizations must begin to search out and include African role models, case studies and examples in their contents.

For Africans, the strength desperately needed for the transformation of the continent cannot be drawn from World Bank and IMF policies, from aid and assistance obtained from China, India, the United States or Europe. The strength to transform Africa lies in the foundations laid by uncommon heroes like Thomas Sankara; a man who showed Africa and the world that with a single minded pursuit of purpose, the worst can be made the best, and in record time too.

I AM still searching for the original author of this Sankara tribute, so as to accord due credit. What the piece demonstrates is the failure of the Humanities by the African, but particularly by the Nigerian. Because Thomas Sankara is hardly mentioned anywhere on the African continent, his memory and legacy are deliberately being extinguished. Is the case not the same with such Nigerian greats as Obafemi Awolowo and Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi? Of course, it is fantastic that this great institution is named after one of Africa’s greatest nationalists. But how many students of this university will readily retell the signposts of Dr. Azikiwe’s greatness? What would be your reaction if I recall that a Yoruba journalist friend of mine, who earned a master’s degree in the humanities from a British university, went on record to say that, because he was pivotal in the enthronement of the Buhari presidency, Bola Tinubu had done more for his ethnic group than Awolowo ever managed?

LOOK AT Michael Iheonukara Okpara. He was the Premier of Eastern Nigeria from 1959 to 1966. He died a poor man, without using his political position to amass wealth, without being corrupt, without even owning a decent house of his own. Apart from leading by the personal example of rectitude, Okpara’s greatest accomplishment was that he faithfully continued his predecessor in office, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s programme of economic restoration, indexed on the Eastern Region Reconstruction Programme of 1954 to 1964. When Okpara took charge in 1959, he saw to the inauguration of the University of Nigeria. He established the university's College of Agriculture in Ogoja. His entire Agricultural programme, modeled after the Israeli kibbutz, translated the various farm settlements he established in key parts of the East and ultimately made Eastern Nigeria the country’s breadbasket by 1965. It is a matter of public record that, by 1965 school children were having an egg each for their breakfasts in Eastern schools as a result of the quantum of eggs produced in the region. Under Okpara’s watch, industrial centers were created in key Eastern Nigerian cities. Aba, Calabar, Enugu, Onitsha, Owerri, Umuahia and Calabar had industrial layouts designated Factory Roads, but far more crucial was that artisan and technical skills were so high through the many Technical colleges and training centers established by Okpara’s administration. The result was that the East virtually had dominance of skilled workers and artisans nationwide. Okpara also built on Azikiwe's school programme, so that by 1966, the East had the highest number of secondary schools in Nigeria; the highest number of teacher training colleges; and the highest school enrollment in West Africa; the highest number of community health centers and hospitals in Nigeria, and better still, by 1964, it was seen as the fastest growing economy in the world, ahead of the so-called "Asian Tigers" that later took over.

The Nkalagu Cement Factory came on stream under Okpara. He built the Turners Asbestos Cement Company at Emene. He built the Presidential Hotels in Enugu and Port Harcourt. He built the Golden Guinea Brewery (Oyoyo Mmi!) and the Modern Ceramics Industry at Umuahia. He built the Obudu Cattle Ranch nearly 60 years before retrogression reintroduced the idea of Cattle Colonies. More than all else, he was not corrupt. Yet, what percentage of Ndigbo remember today his legacy? If he is hardly remembered in the Igbo country, it is little wonder that, in his Inaugural speech of May 29, 2015, President Buhari remembered by name and gave credit to the premiers of Northern Nigeria, Western Nigeria, and Mid-Western Nigeria but conveniently forgot Michael Okpara who achieved much more than all other premiers of his contemporaneity! If truth be told, Thomas Sankara was, except in the manner of death, a replication of Michael Okpara. Why then should Igbo parents, including the gurus, expect the teaching of Dr. Okpara’s legacy to devolve on a Mamman Katsina or an Oladele Bank-Alakija or a Basil Davidson?

Let me put a question to this audience: Was it not in front of all your eyes that some Igbo politicians, acting in the name of partisanship, set ablaze bales of cloth imprinted with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s image? This leads me to a number of critical areas in which, instead of speaking out, our gurus respond with deafening silence. Take Chief John Nnia Nwodo, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Chief Nwodo was at the Grand Hotel in Asaba on Saturday October 7, 2017, for the 50th anniversary of the Asaba Massacre. Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State was there. Mr. Donald Duke, the former Governor of Cross River State, was present. It was one of the last public outings of former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. The occasion was a memorial to the thousands of Asaba indigenes that were led to the town’s square and mown down by Nigerian soldiers during the civil war. Despite the gravity of the occasion, Chief Nwodo began his address by recalling to the distinguished audience the trauma that attended his 125 kilometre journey from Enugu to the Delta State capital. His car was stopped 20 times at various Police checkpoints. On the average, that meant a mandatory halt of his journey after every 6.25 kilometres!

Chief Nwodo lamented that the largely peaceful South East geopolitical zone had been turned into a vast cantonment of checkpoints, something absent in the other five geopolitical zones of the country. He didn’t discuss the permanent chaos that passes for the Onitsha end of the Niger Bridge. There, you have the army, the air force, the navy, the police mobile force, the customs, the immigration, the road safety corps, the DSS and the civil defence, their men and women mostly armed with assault rifles, impeding traffic, extorting road users, frustrating dreams and endangering lives. Onitsha is far from Nigeria’s borders. It is 950 kilometres to the northern tip of the country in Katsina. It is 510 kilometres from Badagry to the west. It is 354 kilometres to Calabar on the Atlantic. Yet, it appears to be the main operational base of the Customs!

Vehicles coming into Anambra State have to drive on a single lane as the uniformed personnel at the bridgehead invariably narrow the double lane passage to only one, thus creating tailbacks on the creaking, 53-year old bridge. Is the Niger Bridge designed to bear for most hours of each day such near-static deadweight? Or, are otherwise sane people willfully inviting a catastrophe that they would later call “an act of God”? Should a whole people remain in bondage in order that armed and uniformed people can carry on with the collection of “Rogers”?  Is that really the way to prosecute the war against corruption? 

Chief Nwodo demanded the dismantling of these checkpoints. His outrage raises a couple of fundamental question. Why are security personnel and checkpoints massed in the Igbo country when, as President Buhari recently revealed, waves of Libya-trained terrorists are breaching our borders from the Sahel and inflicting death and destruction on the entity? Why are these checkpoints not teeming in the North-East geopolitical zone where Boko Haram terrorists are still on their killing and kidnapping sprees? Why are our people carrying on as though Nwodo is the only tongue that ever tasted salt and pepper, the only pair of lips that could ever part to insist that, the monkey’s hand not being human, it should be removed from the soup pot?

Take in addition four faulty interpretations of Nigeria’s contemporary history crying to be redressed. Two of them issue directly from the military action of January 15, 1966. The third was in Biafra, and the fourth during the years that immediately preceded Nigerian Independence in 1960. I bring them up because, as Ndigbo insist, “It is always advisable for elders to keep a watchful eye on the homestead, so that children do not roast and eat the vulture for meat.”  

Richard Osuolale Abimbola Akinjide is 87 years old. He was the Federal Minister of Education in the First Republic, and the Federal Minister of Justice in the Second Republic. He is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). Now, Chief Akinjide granted an interview to Thisday newspaper on October 1, 2017. The following is an except of the interview that had to do with the January 15, 1966 putsch:

Question: Did anybody raise any objection?

Akinjide: Of course, we asked him (Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi) and he said just to keep us safe. We didn’t ask him to come. We didn’t need your security but he kept coming. Right then, we smelt a rat. Later on, I must tell you that I got a report, very big report, from foreign intelligence that in fact Ironsi was the leader of that coup.

Question: But Nigerians believe it was Major Kaduna Nzeogwu who was the leader of the coup?

Akinjide: No, no, no. I was given a bulk report on Ironsi’s involvement in the coup. As said, we didn’t know where the Prime Minister was but Ironsi was going left, right and centre. We discovered later that he was indeed the leader of the coup. He now asked us to hand over power to him for safety. I said why do we have to hand over power to you? You are the head of the army, keep the country safe. But he insisted and ‘forced’ us to hand over power to him at the cabinet meeting. Power was not handed over to him but he took power from us by force.”

Alhaji Abdul Ganiyu Folorunso Abdul Razak is 90 years old. He was the federal minister in charge of the Nigerian Railways in the First Republic. He is the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria produced by Northern Nigeria. He was in the meeting at the Parliament in Lagos where the rump of the federal cabinet handed over political power to the soldiers. He keeps to this day in his private library a document that rightly belongs to the Nigerian public.

Brigadier Victor Adebukonuola Banjo was executed in Enugu on September 22, 1967, along with Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Arinze Ifeajuna, Major Philip Alale, and senior Foreign Service official Samuel Agbam. A Special Tribunal had found them guilty of treason against the Biafran State. Below is produced unedited the Wikipedia entry on Banjo:

Victor Banjo (April 1, 1930 – September 22, 1967) was a Colonel in the Nigerian Army. He ended up in the Biafran Army during the struggles between Nigeria and Biafra. Victor Banjo was mistaken for a coup plotter against the Nigerian Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, by the Government of Aguiyi Ironsi (according with the book Why we struck” by Adewale Ademoyega) He was alleged to have staged a coup plot against Biafran President Odumegwu Ojukwu and was executed as a result. It took a second military tribunal judge to sentence Victor Banjo, because Odumegwu Ojukwu's first military judge stated that there were not enough evidence to convict Victor Banjo of coup charges. There has been no third party verification of Victor Banjo's involvement in the Nigerian Coup nor Biafran Coup. His alleged involvement in both coup plots has been based on unsubstantiated hearsay.”

About a week before the burial of General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu on March 2, 2012, Owelle Rochas Okorocha unveiled the statue of the ex-Biafran leader at the Heroes Square in Owerri. It was the first manifestation of the Imo State Governor’s proclivity for erecting statues. There were inscriptions at the base of the Ojukwu statue, only one of which is of immediate interest. It stated that Ojukwu was the second indigenous graduate officer of the Nigerian Army.

A string of subterfuges connect the above points. I will deal with them all, beginning from point Number 4, in order to set the records straight for posterity. The information that Ojukwu was only the second commissioned graduate in the Nigerian Army is false. The information that Major General Olufemi Olutoye was the first graduate to receive an Army commission is misleading. For the purposes of this paper, I asked a friend in Owerri to visit the Heroes Square in order to determine whether or not the Imo State authorities had corrected their unpardonable mistake. They had not. Perhaps, I was the one mistaken? I decided to clear all lingering doubts on the controversy by contacting the Public Relations arm of the British Armed Forces by email, and asking for the testament of their records. I got a response in hours to this effect:

According to the Supplement To The London Gazette of July 19, 1960, Cadet Olufemi Olutoye (W.A. 97) received a Short Service Commission in the West African Forces in the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on May 7, 1960. 
But according to the Supplement To The London Gazette of November 4, 1958, 2nd Lieutenant C O Ojukwu was promoted to Lieutenant on March 22, 1958, with seniority backdated to September 22, 1957.

WHAT the above official entries from London show is that Ojukwu became a Full Lieutenant three whole years before Olutoye attained the lower rank of 2nd Lieutenant! Honour should disqualify General Olutoye from being numbered in the coterie that pronounced him the gold medalist on that historical milestone.

The information from Owerri is that Governor Okorocha is replacing the old Ojukwu statue. He should be told to correct his government’s earlier mistake. Beyond this counsel that Okorocha sorely needs, it deserves to be stated that this matter represents a failure on the part of our Humanities gurus. They looked the other way as the tethered goat writhed in labour. There are at least five tertiary institutions in Imo State. Owerri, the capital city, bristles with professors of History and assorted experts in other branches of the Humanities. Yet, a brazen falsehood regarding General Ojukwu was allowed to insult public sensibilities for six whole years. If people blamed the ban on the teaching of history for this terrible lapse, they would incite skeptical smiles from all over.    

We come to the issue of Victor Banjo. The Wikipedia post on Banjo is a horrendous amputation of history. It is not true that a first tribunal had acquitted him, following which an unsatisfied Ojukwu appointed a second tribunal that returned a guilty verdict. There had been only one tribunal in the trial of Banjo, Ifeajuna, Alale and Agbam – the one headed by Justice G. C. Nkemena, which had Brigadier U. O. Imo and J. Udoaffia as members. The Wikipedia post on Victor Banjo remains an affront to history that must be dismantled. The certified true copy of the verbatim report of the trial/verdict of the Justice Nkemena Tribunal is in the public domain. In fact, it is the basis of a book by the renowned journalist Nelson Ottah, which has the uncanny distinction of appearing under two different titles. It was first published in 1980 by Fourth Dimension, Enugu, as The Trial of Biafra’s Leaders (ISBN 97815600983). Mason, Ikeja, issued the same book a year later as Rebels Against Rebels, (ISBN 0722314302)! In my view, only people who have carefully read the Tribunal’s judgment can realistically take a position on whether or not justice had been served. Like a sour taste in the mouth, it leaves a lingering question. Who do our Humanities gurus expect to correct the inherent falsehood in the Wikipedia post on Victor Banjo?   

Let me now address the mater of Alhaji Abdul Razak. I met with this eminent Nigerian when I was writing Ironside, my biography of General Aguiyi-Ironsi, nearly 30 years ago. The story he told me then, which appears in Ironside, is not exactly in sync with Chief Akinjide’s tale. Chief Akinjide claims that he questioned Aguiyi-Ironsi on why he was at the Parliament on the morning of the coup d’etat. No previous account of January 15, 1966 credits Akinjide with vocalizing any exception to Ironsi’s hearing. But Akinjide declares 52 years after the event that he had expressed outrage to Aguiyi-Ironsi himself! This is hardly surprising because every first-person account of the events of those days has invariably cast the raconteur in the mode of a superhero!

Of graver concern, however, is that Alhaji Abdul Razak had revealed to me that he had kept in his possession the document in which he and other Cabinet members/Parliamentarians of the First Republic signed away their political mandate to the Nigerian Armed Forces. I tried in vain to get a copy of this document of great import for my book. More worrying is that it is still not in the public domain. Why are Abdul Razak’s fellow Senior Advocates amongst us not asking why the document should not be in the public domain? It cannot be because it has never been publicly raised before. This was how I treated it in January 15, 1966 was not an Igbo coup, an article that I published in January 2016 and which is still all over the Internet:

Although I count (Dr. Reuben) Abati (who called January 15 an Igbo coup in an article) as a friend, I had tagged him “a conceited ignoramus” in my 2011 piece (refuting his claim). Today, the temptation is overpowering to dub him a recalcitrant recidivist. But, I will resist it and, instead, introduce specificity in my challenge to Nigeria and Nigerians.

The original copy, and exemplifications, of the Magna Carta, the charter of liberty and political rights that rebellious barons obtained from King John of England in 1215, survive to this day and are available for public scrutiny. That is the way of serious countries desirous of learning the appropriate lessons of history. In Nigeria, priceless historical documents are either doctored or destroyed or dumped in private vaults, a lamentable practice that encourages Abati’s ilk to go sowing the seeds of discord. Nigeria should place the transcripts of the meetings of Aguiyi-Ironsi’s Supreme Military Council (SMC) in the public domain. This will, among other things, confirm that the body had decided to court-martial the January 1966 coup plotters.

Also, 50 years after the event, the document by which parliamentarians handed over power to the military remains in the private hands of Alhaji Abdul Rasak (SAN). He should be persuaded to relinquish it to the Nigerian state.

IT IS because Nigerians make a joke of historical facts and documents that Chief Akinjide could claim preposterously in 2017 that he “got a report, very big report, from foreign intelligence that in fact Ironsi was the leader of that coup.” Under what auspices was the “big report from foreign intelligence” handed over to Akinjide? Who exactly did the handing over of the document? Why has Chief Akinjide kept this “bulky” intelligence report concealed for 52 years? After claiming that he had it, why are other eyes still prevented from reading it? Could it be because the fabulous intelligence report exists only in the octogenarian’s fertile imagination? In parenthesis, I may just add that, until Akinjide’s astonishing interview, no one had warned that “going left, right and centre,” which he accused Aguiyi-Ironsi of, amounted to a capital offence!

Every country places a moratorium on classified documents for a given period. Thereafter, the documents are declassified. In the United States secret documents are declassified by default after 10 years unless there is a specific warrant against declassification. Still, documents not declassified after 25 years mandatorily come up for review. In the United Kingdom, declassification is automatic after 30 years. That was one of the reasons why I waited until 1999 to publish Ironside. I had first to visit the British Public Records Office at Kew Gardens in London, to extricate previously classified Cabinet records that unambiguously demonstrated that Lieutenant Colonel Yakubu Gowon was going to declare the Independent Republic of Northern Nigerian in the wake of the bloody countercoup of July 1966 but was dissuaded by Whitehall and the White house.

But Akinjide claims possession, since 1966, of a bulky foreign intelligence report that placed General Aguiyi-Ironsi at the leadership of the January 1966 coup. Yet he will not release it for public consumption! It shows that, to varying degrees, people like Akinjide, Abdul Razak, the ghostwriter of the Wikipedia balderdash on Victor Banjo and the statue-monger of Imo are, deliberately or inadvertently, in the service of the grand schema to keep Ndigbo permanently demonized as a justification for perpetually holding them up for opprobrium, marginalization and thralldom.

It was, of course, natural for such an upheaval as grotesque as January 15, 1966, to give vent to numerous interpretations. Some said it was a coup plotted and executed to institute and drive the machinery of Igbo domination of Nigeria. Others countered that an Igbo coup could not have had as a central objective, the institution of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba, as head of the government of the conspirators’ establishment. Some of the diehard believers of the first interpretation went ahead to organize the July 29, 1966 countercoup, which remains the bloodiest putsch in Africa’s history. Some of those who denied or refuted the claim of an Igbo coup in January 1966 have, to this day, shouted themselves hoarse in the hope of winning adherents to their tendency. Most do not give a damn.

But for the reflective, it all boils down to licking one’s lips or letting harmattan into the destructive job of doing the licking. It brings me back to theoretical formulations in the earlier stages of this presentation where I stated that, “People must tell their stories. If you don’t preserve your story, your disappearance is only a matter of time. Nobody would remember you. Your culture will not be preserved. Culture is the way a people make an image of themselves.” This is the point at which to bring into consideration the wisdom inherent in the advice from Professor Echeruo that prefaces this paper:

Our history strongly suggests that we need to moderate strength and power with discretion and diplomacy, not only among our leaders but also among the generality of our people. It is not weakness to recognize the value of discretion. It is foolhardiness to choose death (or something close to it) in place of life.

The alternative to the macabre choice of death or something close to it is to be found in entrenching one’s identity. To be sure, it is not the kind of fire a man stands astride in order to warm himself. This is because the flames of this fire are of the leaping variety that licks the testicles! It is not the sort of dance one engages in with their palm cupping snuff. Otherwise, the black, powdery stuff scatters to the four winds. The instruments required for this operation are discretion and diplomacy. Diplomacy and discretion that are channeled into telling our story for the irreversible entrenchment of our identity! You can inscribe this on a wall where it is unlikely to be effaced by seepages from rainwater: the threat against us is less of super-structural savagery than it is of the insidious self-denudations of our identity by conscious and unconscious acts of commission and omission. We long abandoned our definition to the devices of voices emitting nothing but howls of execration against us. Who does not know that the consequences of this collective self-abnegation are too hazardous to contemplate? Who does not know that the continued preservation of geographically tiny Israel in the midst of hostile neighbours is due more to the uncompromising sustenance of the Jewish identity than to the state’s legendry military prowess? Is it not given trite that identity and centripetality are conjoined?

I am no prophet of doom. I do not believe that any objective classification would lump me with people who would tell the seeker of direction that there was a roundabout two kilometres away, without going one better to advise the sojourner to turn left or turn right or move straight ahead on getting to the roundabout. I aver, therefore, that there is a panacea to the contingency of ethnic suicide. The late, great poet, Christopher Okigbo, told us how to go about it 52 years ago. In “Hurray for Thunder,” the fourth movement in Part of Thunder: Poems prophesying war, Okigbo gave us this couplet:

The eye that looks down will surely see the nose;
The finger that fits should be used to pick the nose.

My proposal toes that line. In the journey of life, there is always an ambience in which all opinions are freely aired. But, when the deluge has risen from the ankles and become neck deep, the gurus must play significantly in the position of ideas and the mechanisms for obviating the contingent catastrophe of drowning. This dismisses what obtained in the recent scenario that posed the all-important question of where, between our homes and Rockland, we should wake up each morning. We witnessed the avoidable babel that ensued, especially in the social media. We also saw to our chagrin the Grim Reaper disregarding age and remorselessly transporting youth to demise by various vehicles, including drowning in mire!

My attitude is that the babel is a natural consequence of the abdication of responsibility by the gurus. Our gurus must return to the noble and self-preserving task of lighting the torch in order that the people will see through the labyrinthine pathways of life. The ostrich option must be jettisoned. Individuals in the know may not indulge in the escapism of nonintervention, which is like roasting and feasting on rodents while the homestead is on fire. At the collective level, a good way of maximizing the functions of our gurus is by setting up a non-tuition university, a well-funded, properly equipped and competently administered research citadel where our eggheads both at home and in the Diaspora will often retire, especially during sabbaticals, to study our multifarious challenges and posit informed options for sustained existence in dignity, safety and security. Ndigbo are in dire need of such a Think Tank! Its realization cannot be as onerous as the mastering of rocket science.

DISTINGUISHED ladies and gentlemen, I am now in the final lap of this race. To redeem my promise, I will now reveal the major reason why I accepted the invitation to be here today. More than a decade ago, I found myself as a geriatric student in this university, doing a master’s degree programme in English. Two university professors, both of them female, averred that I could do with the diploma. I thought differently. But, insistent, they dragged me, kicking and screaming, into the course. The reason I disdained returning to school wasn’t because I had suddenly developed Boko Haramic tendencies. No! But I was antipathetic to the idea of reengagement with formal education because of a 1983 experience that had left me traumatized. I was then on the staff of The Guardian newspapers in Lagos. The paper’s editor deployed me to the old Cross River State, to cover the presidential election. I had the option of doing the trip to and from Calabar, the state capital, by air. But, because I would be away for about two weeks, I elected to drive.

Well, I covered the election all right. The Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) declared Alhaji Shehu Shagari duly returned for a second term of office. On the journey back to Lagos flattened tyres abandoned me at dusk somewhere not far away from Odogbolu in the Yoruba country. While trying to plot a way out of my predicament some armed men surrounded me and yanked my car keys from me. By some miracle I escaped and fled into surrounding bushes, my fear of adders and vipers temporarily extinguished.

At the scene of the robbery the following morning, the car was still there. I had, prior to the bandits’ arrival, disabled it by removing the rotor. But other valuables had gone, including the dissertation for a University of Lagos master’s degree in mass communication that I had almost completed, and the typewriter I was using to write the treatise. (We didn’t have palmtops and laptops and desktops in those days.) I decided it was farewell to formal education, and stuck to the resolution until the two ladies that weren’t even acquaintances at the time railroaded me right back to Unizik auditoriums and classrooms.

I later regretted acquiescing to their importunity. The master’s degree programme was to last an academic session. But it took many more years to accomplish. While at it, my daughter caught a flight for the United Kingdom and returned twelve months later armed with a master’s degree in her area of specialization. Not only that, my son who was a Unizik undergraduate soon left with a science degree. Beside myself with indignation, I vowed to expose the morass that had forced us into dawdling for years for an MA in English. I mobilized fellow journalists for muckraking, only for us to hit outcomes that left everyone pleasantly surprised. We found that what had happened to my course mates was no more than an unfortunate blip, an aberration. We found that Nnamdi Azikiwe University, especially the Arts Faculty that we had specifically targeted, was acquitting itself creditably in terms of its raison d’être. Academic sessions were progressing with the efficiency of a chronometer. Following our eventual graduation, some of my course mates registered for doctoral work in the same English Department. Upon the invitation to be here today, I did a onceover of the Arts Faculty. My findings were exhilarating. 

I FOUND that the faculty has 10 solidly established departments, thus:

C     1. Chinese
2     2. English Language and Literature
3     3. History and International Studies
4     4. Igbo, African and Asian Studies.
5     5. Linguistics
6     6. Modern European Languages
7     7. Music
8     8. Religion and Human Relations
9     9. Philosophy, and Theatre and Film Studies

Further, since the inception of the university in 1991, the arts faculty has graduated some 4,189 students that undertook regular studies and 748 that underwent part-time programmes. The faculty has awarded 271 doctorate degrees, 816 master’s degrees and 36 postgraduate diplomas. It currently has under tutelage some 2,611 regular students, 451 part-time students in undergraduate work, and a total of 485 students pursuing postgraduate diplomas and MA and PhD degrees. In my book, this distinction is stunning. As someone who prefers to learn from the titans, I had no option but to say a resounding “yes” when the invitation came for me to share my thoughts with you. That is the allure of the humanities.

I THANK you for your time.

*****Chuks Iloegbunam is a distinguished journalist and author of Ironside, 1999 (chuksiloegbunam@gmail.com)

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