I’m big a fan of Wole Soyinka. Surfing YouTube for his lectures is one of my favourite pastimes. Some years ago, I was watching one of the tripartite inaugural lectures he delivered at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and almost immediately, I felt embarrassed that I never had the opportunity to attend such lectures when I was in Obafemi Awolowo University. Needless to say, that wasn’t the first time Soyinka was invited to an African – nay, South African – University as a Nobel Laureate. He had previously been invited in 2016 to give a keynote address for a BRICS Summit, also at the University of Johannesburg, in which he bemoaned the descent of Nigerian academia into mediocrity, chiefly aided by religion.
One would expect a university to be the hub of scholasticism; the land where knowledge is pursued both by the studentry and teaching staff with devout commitment. In Nigeria, the narrative is in stark opposition. There were more pastors and politicians than there were intellectuals and scholars invited to OAU during my time. And every time these politicians came, they were flattered with honorifics and panegyrics. That’s the only way the university could get fat cheques from the Agbada class. Not minding whether graft cases have been levelled against these politicians, the university trades its intellect in a moment of partisan sycophancy for largess. And you wonder why academia in Nigeria is fraught with a ton of problems.
It’s telling how religion thrives on our university campuses. Not saying there’s anything necessarily wrong with religion. But when students believe angels can write exams for them, you know there is a real problem with the kind of education they are receiving. In OAU, there are hundreds of churches and Christian fellowships that compete for lecture rooms to host their services. You can then understand why far more pastors are invited yearly than academics of repute. To get a sense of the level of religiosity in OAU, I detailed some of my experiences here.
Another problem with academia in Nigeria is our anachronistic curricula. When compared to the dynamics of the postindustrial age we live in, I share the sentiment that very little effort has been made to update our repertoire of knowledge, especially in the Humanities. I’d be lying if I said I don’t understand why things are the way they are. It’s mostly about funding. And even private universities that should ordinarily excel in this regard are nothing to write home about.
The government treats issues pertaining to education with brazen insouciance. University workers can down their tools for as long as the government deems fit. During strikes, most times, the government is constrained to reach a compromise with university workers to save itself from a backlash of criticism from pundits and parents. Not because it really wants to. Last year’s eight-month ASUU strike readily comes to mind here. Remember when LAUTECH was prone to strikes though it was jointly owned by Osun and Oyo states? Such administrative ineptitude is very common in our universities.
I’m afraid my generation hasn’t got much to offer the country. Of course, there are pockets of youths making the country proud here and there the same way there are some among the older generations who have made and are making the country proud in various fields of human endeavour. But largely, my generation isn’t far from the failures that characterised the generation that parturiated us. The university should ideally be an agent of nation-building. It should give footloose access to students to contribute meaningfully to human flourishing. Unfortunately, that is not the case with our schools. It all starts with the cavalier manner undergraduate projects and dissertations are treated. More often than not, these projects are fated for the dunghill. Little wonder many resort to plagiarism at the end of the day or they just pay someone to write for them.
The importance of the gown is to serve as a model to the town. It isn’t to recite pretentious slogans in describing just how great your university is or to engage in what I call ‘institutional ultranationalism’ by casting banter on students of schools with lesser pedigree or to romanticise the level of rigour and languor associated with studying in your school. It is simply to contribute to knowledge. Politics has failed the country. Maybe it’s time academia became the messiah.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.