Ikhide

Father, Fighter, Lover

Month: September, 2013

ASUU is on strike again. Who cares? SMH

The Academic Staff Union of Universities of Nigeria. ASUU. ASUU is on strike again. Who cares? They are thugs, they are always on strike, nobody seems to know why, except that it involves being paid a boatload of money by their counterparts, those thieves euphemistically called the Nigerian government. ASUU. My contempt for that body of narcissistic thugs knows no bounds. There is really not much one needs to say about how these rogues in academic robes have colluded with any government in power (AGIP) to defraud and rob generations of beautiful children what is their right – a good education. To say ASUU is on strike is to state the obvious, they are nearly always on strike, even when they are at work, they are on strike. Their members want to have sex with every child that walks into their pretend classrooms, when they have satisfied themselves, they pimp their helpless wards, yes, they do, to their friends, constipated generals and pot-bellied rogue-politicians who have too much money in their thieving pockets.

If you don’t believe me, Farooq Kperogi has a disturbing piece here on the sexual harassment epidemic in Nigerian universities. You read that piece, and when you have stopped shuddering, you understand why fully less than 10 percent of Nigerian university dons have children living in that mess called Nigeria, let alone inside the filthy chicken coops that pass for classrooms from preschool to the tertiary level. In those criminal hovels, children of the poor and dispossessed are trapped and mis-educated by those whose children are being nurtured in the West. Their children will come back home from North America and Europe on holidays to the pretend suburbs of Abuja and Lagos island, wave a Cold Stone ice cream cone at the wreck built by their thieving parents and berate Nigerians for being wretched Nigerians. They often travel First Class. Ten percent? I made it up of course. I am a Nigerian intellectual. We are lazy like that. It could be less even.

Follow me, let’s go to the silly website of ASUU right here. Let us visit their officers, all of them mean looking men, except for one harried looking token lady who has the cringe-worthy patronizing title of “welfare secretary.” I am sure she does important things for the #OgasAtTheTop of ASUU. Maybe she is responsible for making pounded yam and bringing water so the men could wash their filthy hands. SMH. Yes, Nigeria is the patriarchy from hell, in Nigeria, misogyny reigns even in the 21st century and even among the men of the ivory tower. Hiss. Here’s ASUU’s list of  men “leaders” and one token woman: Dr, Nasir Isa Fagge, president, Bayero University, Kano, Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, Vice president, OOU Ago-Iwoye, Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, immediate past president, IMSU, Owerri, Professor Victor Osodoke, financial secretary, MOUA Umudike, Dr. Ademola Aremu, treasurer, University of Ibadan, Professor. Daniel Gungula, internal auditor, MAUTech, Yola, Dr. Ralph Ofukwu, investment secretary, FUAM, Makurdi,  Dr. (Mrs.) Ngozi Iloh, welfare secretary, University of Benin, and Professor Israel Wurogji, legal advisor, University of Calabar. All the men and one woman have horrid looking pictures of themselves on the website, except for Professor Wurogii, ASUU’s “legal advisor” who either is too lazy or too busy to provide one. He is perhaps genuinely afraid for his life – not from the SSS but from irate abused students who have spent the past decade trying to get an education from these thugs.

If you think I am being harsh, ASUU is a body that works really hard to be disrespected. Read the message on the website from the president, Dr. Fagge. It is unprofessional, coming from an educated don, grammatically challenged and in need of a weed whacker, not just a professional editor. Somebody actually wrote that letter, proofed it and approved it for world consumption. ASUU should go hang its greedy head in shame. You go past that obnoxious letter written in the syntax of the 60’s cold war, and desperate for a reason to empathize with these guys, you root around for what it is they want (we know what they want, lots of money and in dollars please!). You find “Memorandum of Understanding, MoU that led to the truce in January, 2012. Government is still playing the ‘deception game’.” You truly want to do some serious research and contribute to the “debate” about “money, mo money for oga professors dem.” Nope, the link is broken, you can’t download anything. These people are not serious.

ASUU’s website is a dump, one that clearly advertises the mediocrity and incompetence of a body of people that only want to be paid. If you cannot maintain a simple website, why should you be trusted with the education of children? If you cannot provide on one page, a simple summary of what the issues are and what your ask is, why should you be taken seriously?  Click on all the pretend-links on the right hand side and weep for our children. If you can get two to work, you are lucky. When it works, it is unreadable, consisting of mostly dated material (try the one on conferences, SMH). This is not the first time I have called ASUU’s attention to that disgrace of a website. There are some on their roll that truly believe that in the 21st century, websites are an inconvenience. It is a distinctly Nigerian phenomenon, one that I have been blogging about for years now (Viewing Nigeria through a web of broken links).

The dysfunctions in the Nigerian educational system are well documented on the Internet. You must read Okey Iheduru’s heartbreaking experience as a Fulbright scholar in Nigeria.  If my rant sounds very familiar to you, it is because you have read me over and over and over again on the ASUU wahala, since 2009. ASUU does not listen. I now believe that ASUU has earned the right to be banned. I personally believe in employee unions and collective bargaining, I don’t support bans, but these thugs are pushing my patience. It is a body of carcinogens inflicted on the children of the poor. As if poverty is not enough. ASUU is an irrelevance that Nigeria should get rid of. Until then, I say continue to ignore their blackmail, it should make no difference given the products of their laziness. We have writers that cannot tell an adjective from a noun (and sometimes win big Nigerian prizes for that honor), engineers that threaten to build things that would collapse on the innocent and now, get this, a postgraduate student of the University of Lagos, Nigeria hopes to win the Nobel Prize by  trying to prove proudly, through the use of magnets, that homosexuality is unnatural. I would not be shocked if his “academic supervisor” is a member of ASUU.  That my people is my generation for you. We are today’s intellectuals, today’s politicians. From Aso Rock to the moldy hallowed halls of Nigerian universities, we have MBAs, master bull artists who say all the right things to the masses and do all the right things – for themselves only. Our children do not attend public schools in Nigeria, our families treat their rashes abroad. When all of this is over, history will record that democracy came to Nigeria to prove once and for all, that we are incapable of governing ourselves. And of course it is all the white man’s fault. Na today? Hiss.

PS. And yes, I don’t need any patronizing lectures about how I am generalizing, prattle, prattle, prattle, we all know that not all ASUU members are self-serving thugs, we all know that not all our students are being abused in Nigerian classrooms. I am too lazy to put “most” in front of my sentences. Do it yourself!

 

Afam Akeh: Letter Home & Biafran Nights – The poet as priest

For Ingrid, whoever you were… wherever you are…

 London. April 2013. The days are wondrous and enchanting even under England’s moody skies, communing in a lazy haze, days with a friend, hands in my khaki pants, wondering the wondering. London was wonderful and words fail me each time I remember. I would like to write something – of days spent in the company of kindred souls, relishing the warm comfort of similarly vulnerable members of my writer-tribe. And I met the poet Afam Akeh. Akeh came from somewhere in England, Oxford I think it was, to grace the panel of writers honoring the works of our friends. He came, spoke, hung out with us for a little while, and disappeared into the gloomy English night. Just like that. I have pictures.

Afam Akeh? Who is Akeh? How do I explain Akeh? Well, Akeh is in my view, one of the finest writers, definitely one of the most important poets to come out of Africa in contemporary times. If he is relatively unknown, it is because he and many in that army of writers coming after Professor Niyi Osundare’s generation are notoriously reticent about the limelight. Akeh is elusive, perhaps reclusive, definitely enigmatic. I think of him and strangely each time, Christopher Okigbo comes to mind. Which is interesting, because as poets, they are very different – in attitude, temperament and perhaps vision. Where Okigbo’s verse is opaque and beautiful, Akeh’s is transparent and beautiful, their verses united primarily by degrees of obliqueness.

Akeh is different from Okigbo in one important sense; his verses allow you to own them personally, and he is generous enough to e-smile indulgently when you claim them as your own. But I think of both Okigbo and Akeh as master wordsmiths, fastidious almost to a fault. I think of them as master gardeners, tending a postcard-perfect garden, each flower in its right place, a snip here, a touch there, nothing goes to the market until it is perfect. And because the master gardener is rarely satisfied, the market is starved of the genius of prodigy.

afam-akeh1959

One can never get enough of Akeh’s verse, and his latest volume of poetry, Letter Home & Biafran Nights proves that beautifully. Letter Home & Biafran Nights was longlisted for the 2013 NLNG Prize in literature (poetry) First things first though: This reader must stop to congratulate the NLNG Prize folks for compiling a most thoughtful 2013 longlist: Afam Akeh, Amatoritsero Ede, G’ebinyo Egbewo, Iquo Eke, Obari Gamba, Tade Ipadeola, Okinba Launko (Femi Osofisan), Amu Nnadi, Obi Nwakanma, Promise Ogochukwu and Remi Raji.  It was a great list with pretty much everyone a strong contender. Although, Tade Ipadeola, Amu Nnadi and Promise Ogochukwu ended up on the shortlist, it is actually the case that many on the list deserve the prize and our eternal gratitude for a lifetime of meritorious work in the service of literature. Outside of the legendary Femi Osofisan, I am thinking of Afam Akeh, Remi Raji, Amatoritsero Ede, Tade Ipadeola, Obi Nwakanma, virtually all of them in the 35 to 50s age range who have distinguished themselves through consistent output and outstanding leadership in the digital age, an era when the book has come under fierce competition thanks to new and muscular digital tools that have democratized the reading and writing culture.

The 2013 NLNG longlist was an unintended gentle nod to that quiet group of folks, most of whom started out in the Krazitivity listserv in the early 2000s, and set out to fashion a way of telling our stories in the new dispensation. There are too many names to mention, but I am thinking of passionate digital literary warriors like Molara Wood, Olu Oguibe, Obiwu Iwuanyanwu, Lola Shoneyin, Toni Kan, Victor Ekpuk, Chika Unigwe, Victor Ehikhamenor, Obododimma Oha, Chuma Nwokolo, Sola Osofisan, Abdul Mahmud (Obemata), Nnorom Azuonye, Chuma Nwokolo, etc. In those days they hosted and participated in online poetry workshops and many listservs were fierce places to be in as a writer. If I had the money, I would give each one of them a $100,000 prize for their service, they are still here, quietly influential in the background, and still devoting hours daily to the written word and the visual arts. I don’t often agree with many of them, but they have all earned my respect. I salute every one of them.

So, yes, this group of writers came right after Niyi Osundare’s generation. They had to deal with the new dispensation called the Internet. They had to bring Nigerian literature into the new medium. Quietly, they fought (many times each other) brainstormed, dreamed, and built new houses for our stories. They labored quietly in the shadows, they did not have time to worry about writing books. Occasionally they would write their own, and it would be published in some obscure and often prestigious journal. But they were the new priests, working to give others succor and to build up the work of others. Many of them are aging now, and the world is just now coming around to give them their dues. It is awesome that this year, Nigeria’s increasingly prestigious NLNG Prize for literature unwittingly acknowledged their influence and industry by including several of them in the NLNG long-list. It bears repeating: Each of these writers and many more of their generation deserves the prize and more – not just for their books, but for a lifetime of selfless dedication to the cause of world literature. These are unsung giants toiling quietly and with great determination in the shadows of lesser – and noisier mortals. I salute them all.

So, Akeh was longlisted for his new work, Letter Home & Biafran Nights. I will say it again: Akeh’s generation will not be judged by their books, they will be judged by their immense contribution in harnessing the digital world and bringing the African writer to the reader, managing the morphing and blurring of roles between reader and writer and creating a new genre of literature in the call-and-response mode of our ancestors, bringing the reader to the writer, and the writer to the reader. Under their fearless leadership, the writer is gradually metamorphosing from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side of the reader. It is a beautiful new world, thanks to these visionaries.

afamka2Now, dear reader, you must read Letter Home & Biafran Nights. This is not your mother’s poetry; this is not postcolonial poetry as we remember it. Here is a journey – of man and movement, a restlessness even when one is still. The pages hum with energy, longing, alienation, and a certain triumph of spirit. There are warriors everywhere, not victims. All through one’s tribulations, even in the throes of the Sokugo’s suffocating grip, thoughts of home are never too far away.

Akeh walks around, as if in a trance, reminding us of the miracle, the pain, the wonder that is Babylon. But then is this not home also? Hear Akeh in the long poem, Letter Home:

Let it be told how the gecko
seeking warmth
behind shut doors
clambered
to its new perch,
dreaming of home
in another life.
That familiar dream
a constant lure,
many roads after
still distant
as at the beginning. (Letter Home, p 4)

Ah. When I am stressed, good poetry will comfort me. Akeh is great poetry. That is as it should be. In the 21st century, more than ever, the reader is not an expert on poetry, does not want to be, the reader simply wants to enjoy a good word or two. Letter Home & Biafran Nights does the job and more. You read Akeh’s profound words, and you own them, but still, it is not about you. It is about the movement called this life. And somehow Akeh manages to remind you of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, of Uchendu, Okonkwo’s maternal uncle comforting Okonkwo in the chilly winter of his exile (in this memorable passage).

In Akeh’s musings, the reticence of the traveller shows, haunts, hunts, hurts, and bleeds fiercely through the dirty curtains of memory – and the living. And the rhythm of the words, gently comforting, reminds the reader of the gentle rocking of a lorry enduring worn, broken roads with that sign that sighs and mutters, If Men Were God:

One thinks mostly
Of smells and touch,
Spring on treetops,
Radio voices from
A childhood of dream-
their broadcasts
through an uncivil war
assurance that peace
was English, life
English as they rhymes
One clung to beyond
The carnage, hugging
the promise
of an English day. (Letter Home, p 2)

 And the majesty of Akeh’s words and vision makes you gasp sometimes as your heart soars with the force of the pulsating mind of this owner of words:

The heart as a bird
In flight, wings spread
To every wind
Every flight in its search
finds a perch
some place of rest
or lasting jelp,
sometimes caravan,
sometimes nest, sometimes
a grave in the open earth.
Somewhere in time,
Someone digging in
or moving on,
between a reset
and delete button. (Letter Home, p 6)

The long poem, Letter Home, comprising four movements is the immigrant’s story. Any immigrant, especially of color, could title it ME and it would fit snuggly.

If some left familiar shores
And pulled down totems
To raise a new world
He thinks he can.
And they turned hostile lands.
Taming horses and cacti,
going as if their earth
never shifted, that frontiers faith
in all or  nothing. (Letter Home, p 11)

Akeh does portraits of friends, of cities, of continents roiling in the sweat of immigration and alienation. Exile wears a new face every day. Here is a portrait, and a portrait, and a portrait.  Movement. Africa is restless. The warriors of Africa are in Europe, turning tricks for Africa’s survival. Antwerp is on Akeh’s mind, the sisters on cold city streets turning tricks for hard men, whose dreams have gone flaccid. The puns are sly, oh so sly. And everything comes together in a brilliant collusion of pretty and vibrant colors dripping with sweet innuendoes and plump puns:

Antwerp of storied lives.
Rubens, son of the soil, had
a rogue eye on his muses,
painted them wanton, like
Venus and the Graces.
Helene, his delight, posed
Like a window woman.
The female nude
In Baroque contours
Andromeda, maid Susanna,
Leda and the Swan, art
making love not war,
Caravaggio’s rage
defused by desire. (Letter Home, p 17)

In the travels of Wole Soyinka and other writers unknown, Akeh plumbs the depths and anxieties of sojourn. Read Letter to Soyinka and marvel at Akeh’s profound mind.  Defiant, he politely but firmly speaks truth to Soyinka’s angst about a certain generation flung and scattered all over the globe as if lost. In Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known (2002), Soyinka muses ruefully:

The children of this land are old
Their eyes are fixed on maps in place of land
Their feet must learn to follow
Distant contours traced by alien minds
Their present sense had faded into past.

Akeh’s response is luscious, defiant and delightfully impish. And wintry rage meets thunder:

I am that brood of brats
you haunt in verse.
Some feet I know
may never walk home.
They are alien
to any land.
Memory is not their friend,
They have lived
many lives
away from childhood.

I am with my fellows
less convinced.
I have shit.
And I dump.

I dump in poems.
I dump on people.
I dream of home
and dump.
The world I walk
Is not your world.
It has neither clarity
nor empathy. (Letter to Soyinka, p 30)

Now, this is poetry: In general, each movement of Akeh’s poetry starts as a quiet spiritual chant, grows into a grumble and a rumble, and in the last gasp, it roars and fills the mind’s stadium with wonder – and longing.  In the poem, At the Common Room, you lay on pretty lines like this: Someone asleep/ with open eyes lets his bowels speak. And the sighs tumble out of your soul.

In Biafran Nights. Rage, controlled rage is a powerful undertow in this little volume of words that speak truth to hell:

There are nights that speak with clenched teeth.
A sense of depth comes with their dark,

 Awareness of things not present, and
to remember is to relive what is not redeemed… (Biafran Nights, p 67)

The book’s end signals the beginning of the loss of a certain innocence. Biafra. 1970. The poem. 1970. Ripe, bursting with hope and joy.

And you the child saw that change had come,
the adults like children bouncy with wellness,
hugging and shouting ‘Happy survival!
Happy survival!’ Folk, singing all the time.
What else could it be but that bread was back.
Life could eat without guilt, school as before
the convoys passed and everything changed,
Boom! Bang! Hunters saying it with guns,
saying yes to hope, nothing fired
in anger, no one bleeding. (1970, p 77)

 Finally, in Finale, Achebe’s Uchendu, strong voice, returns to console the weary traveler:

If in your way, you wake up in your puke, or feel
Raw and far from home, put your ears to the wind
And listen. You will hear colours and movement,
Birth and death colliding, waves of white noise.
Hearts beating, hearts breaking. (Finale, p 79)

I love Letter Home & Biafran Nights, even with all its imperfections. And there are several. First of all, it is unconscionable that the book is not available as an e-copy, how difficult can that be in the 21st century? African publishers have to understand that in the absence of physical distribution channels, their best bet is the Internet. Akeh struggles with his own spirituality, the church is on his mind and one suspects that sometimes his poetry is inspired – and compromised by his near-unquestioning allegiance to his Christian faith,  for example, Messiah, is quite simply proselytizing – and disappointing. (p 46) Akeh tries gamely to wrestle his faith from his work as a writer, he is not successful. In No More Elliot, She Said, great lines remind the reader of Okigbo’s deeply spiritual lines but then they wrestle with Akeh’s own struggle with his Christian faith, awesome lines looking askance at sermons begging to be preached. (p 48) I don’t believe the poet should proselytize. Akeh’s demons sing lustily with his long poems; some of the short pieces (Portrait, Slug, etc.) read like warm-up acts for the long pieces, they feel to me like works in earnest progress, not quite ready for prime time. Billy Boy is quite literally for the dogs, and not in a good way (p 50). Silly Poem, is just that, silly (p 58). And I would have loved a publication that looked a lot better than it was merely stapled together. SPM Publications stapled Akeh’s pieces together and did a great job with the editing. However, this reader expected more, perhaps a collaboration with an artist to sketch in pencil, Akeh’s thoughts, and bring the words to life even more, if that is possible. The good news is that the power of Akeh’s words easily trumped these failings.

It is quaint. No one writes letters home anymore. Oddly intriguing, the choice of title. But that would be Akeh for you. Intensely private, the reader strains to read pieces of Akeh’s life in the pages. The evidence is scrawny, but you read Role Play (p 37) and you wonder about a little boy with a certain intelligence and just wonder, who is this boy? And Akeh’s indulgent e-smile returns. And my favorite poem? Ingrid. Don’t ask me, you must go find that poem. And read it. It is in the book. Buy the book and read Ingrid. Thank me later.

The NLNG Prize for literature: Honoring phantom books, laziness, and mediocrity

The final shortlist for the 2013 NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature is out.  Sincere Congratulations to the lucky three:  Tade Ipadeola (The Sahara Testaments), Amu Nnadi (through the window of a sandcastle), and Promise Ogochukwu (Wild Letters). This year, the prize is for poetry and the purse remains a whopping $100,000 (US dollars, a Nigerian prize offered in US dollars, that is another story in itself).

Last month, eleven poets graced a thoughtful longlist: Afam Akeh, Amatoritsero Ede, G’ebinyo Egbewo, Iquo Eke, Obari Gamba, Tade Ipadeola, Okinba Launko (Femi Osofisan), Amu Nnadi,  Obi Nwakanma, Promise Ogochukwu and Remi Raji. I thought it was a great list with pretty much everyone a strong contender.  

But this is what struck me after the longlist was announced. I have great respect for the longlisted writers. However, of the eleven books, just TWO were available for sale online or anywhere – Afam Akeh’s Letter Home & Biafran Nights and Amatoritsero’s Globetrotter & Hitler’s Children. Shortly after Iquo Eke’s Symphony of Becoming joined the group online, followed by Tade Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testaments. I would like to own each of these eleven books.

Several of my friends are on the ground in Nigeria looking for the books in bookstores. My friends are either lying to me (possible, but highly unlikely) or these books are simply not available for sale. They are definitely available for prize sponsors. I own and have read Akeh’s Letter Home & Biafran Nights, Ede’s Globetrotter & Hitler’s Children and Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testaments. They are beautiful books deserving of the recognition that they have gotten from the NLNG folks. However, I cannot tell how many copies of these books have been sold at home, worldwide or even on Mars; it is not the fault of the NLNG folks, but it is the truth. We need a conversation about the (lack of a) distribution network of books in Nigeria.

Of the three shortlisted books, only Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testaments is available for sale or review anywhere I can think of. My friends are hunting for the other two books. I am sure the books exist, how else would the judges have judged them worthy of consideration for $100,000? As things currently stand, this is not a literary prize; this is a lottery, a jackpot for one lucky writer. Let me just say this: It is quite simply appalling, no, disgraceful, that the NLNG Prize is in danger of being given to a book that no one else but the judges has seen.

It is a mockery of literature and a huge farce that the NLNG will spend $850,000 annually to honor what amounts to laziness on the part of book publishers and writers. In the 21st century, it is not hard to sell a book on the Internet. There is absolutely no excuse for this farce. It is not too much to ask that between now and October 9th, 2013 when the winner will be announced, that Nnadi’s through the window of a sandcastle, and Ogochukwu’s Wild Letters be made available to the general public online and elsewhere. It would be nice if the publishers would go online to announce where these books may be bought by regular readers like me. We would like to buy the books; we would like to see with our own eyes, what the judges saw in the books. This is what obtains elsewhere with real prizes. When the shortlist is announced, there is usually a run on the books. And trust me, no prize sponsor worth its name would dare put on a shortlist a book that only the writer, his/her publisher and friends have seen or read. They definitely would not be getting $100,000. Nonsense. 

It bears repeating: It is hard to justify giving $100,000 to an author for a book that only 20 or fewer people have read. Again, the NLNG prize costs $850,000 to administer yearly. We really need to have a conversation about how best to use that money to honor our writers – and to support our literature. The publishing industry could use some of that money. What is wrong with us?

The press release announcing the shortlist says this of previous prize winners:

“The Nigeria Prize for Literature has since 2004 rewarded eminent writers such as Gabriel Okara for his volume of poetry The Dreamer, His Vision (co-winner 2004 – poetry); Professor Ezenwa Ohaeto, for his volume of poetry Chants of a Minstrel (co-winner 2004 poetry); Ahmed Yerima (2005 – drama) for his book Hard Ground;  Mabel Segun (co-winner 2007 – children’s literature) for her collection of short plays Reader’s Theatre; Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (co-winner 2007 – children’s literature) with her book, My Cousin Sammy; Kaine Agary (2008 – prose) for her novel Yellow Yellow; Esiaba Irobi (2010 – drama) who clinched the prize posthumously with his book Cemetery Road; Adeleke Adeyemi (2011 – children’s literature) with his book The Missing Clock and Chika Unigwe (2012 – prose), with her novel, On Black Sisters’ Street.”

And dear reader, just in case you think, I am picking on this year’s prize, try this game; please go to any bookstore online and try to find any of these books that won previously. If you are in Nigeria, go to as many bookstores as your energy can muster and look for the books. Come back and tell me how many you found. I know the answer but I am trying hard to make a point, that we have to find a way to use the NLNG funds wisely. The NLNG folks are wasting money that could be better utilized to help our ailing publishing industry for instance. Do not get me wrong, I have said this ad nauseam, many of these writers deserve to be honored and rewarded for a lifetime of work in the service of our literature, but that is not what the NLNG Prize is currently doing. It is honoring books that are remarkable mostly by their absence from the market. That is absurd. There has to be a structural way to ensure that our  writers are not hurriedly stapling things together just to meet the deadline of a jackpot er literary prize.

And I have another suggestion for the NLNG folks. I know Nigeria honors patriarchy and gerontocracy but the NLNG prize does not have to replicate such foolishness. There is nothing wrong with having one or two elderly professors on the judge’s panel but for heavens’ sake please include some young people who actually read contemporary literature, I am saying include someone really young and knowledgeable, who does not actually use bifocals to read stuff. I doubt that there is anyone on that judges’ list that knows what a blog is. Don’t get me wrong, I have grown fond of the NLNG Prize but I think that there has to be a concerted effort by readers, writers, and publishers to ensure that the money allocated to this laudable activity yearly is well spent. Right now, I believe it is shaping up to be an annual farce.

What do I really think of the shortlist? Well, Ipadeola’s book sings. The Sahara Testaments is quite simply drop-dead gorgeous poetry. I am sure that Nnadi’s and Ogochukwu’s are similarly drop-dead gorgeous, offering awesome writing and deeply profound vision. It is just that we have not seen them.*cycles away slowly*

Our America

America. The leaves are falling in America. And we celebrated the changing of the seasons with a barbecue. The kids love things that come off the grill. We had hamburgers, chicken, hot dogs and steak. I cooked the steak the way my American foster parents taught me; introduce the meat to the fire enough to race the blood juices in the steaks to medium rare glory. And like their American forefathers and foremothers, I fed my children bloody strips of meat hot off the grill. They loved it, the little carnivores. Oh yes, and the corn and the plantain. They loved the corn but they were indifferent to the plantains – big bananas, they called them.

Change is hard. In America. We live in a land where people with strong opinions stuck deep in the rigid ways of the land devise engineering experiments that dream of mixing the rich, vibrant colors of our humanity into a cloying palette of meaninglessness. The result deceives and lulls the senses away from where the real communities are. Subversively, people are forming neighborhoods a la carte. Here in America, I don’t know my physical neighbors and I don’t care. If I need a cup of salt I will order it online. Long live the Internet! The spirit lives on my monitor screen.

There is a yard sale down the road, past the blonde kid manning the lemonade stand. They sell used languages and broken cultures, and my people come in broken trucks to buy tee shirts and dying books that will go to die in Africa. Buy one, get a free hot dog. And some lemonade. I bought shadows of our former language and the owner of the hot dog stand gave me a hot dog, some ketchup and some mustard, and I said, Hola! America wishes to sell Africa’s carcass to my grandchildren. Welcome to the new world. Say hello to Babylon, the ultimate blender, mixing little bits of truth with gallons of lies, mixing skin colors to produce virtual vitiligo, mixing sexes and sexuality to produce nothing.

America, take our children, these rejects from the indifferent gods of the land of my ancestors. They stumble through the land of their birth, these brand new warriors, pants at their knees, knees rubbed raw from worshipping the gods of the dollar. They speak in the funny accents of the masquerades that raided my father’s yam barns in his sleep, and they mock me, scandalize me behind misty veils of nuances and insincere platitudes. And we ask you, father, we ask you mother: “What have you done? See what you made us do?” Did you not say: “Go to America, they will like you over there,”? America has snatched our offspring from us, and like a hungry hyena, made away with our jewels dangling merrily in her jaws of steel.

Here in America, we see our children; they don’t see us. What the eyes see confuses and aggravates our anxieties. Looking away in sorrow, I shudder at the past, hug my son and hold him close. I remember my chores at his age – splitting firewood, getting water from streams, going to the market, baby-sitting fellow babies, and maneuvering my way around adults sporting dark, dark issues. Oh, Nigeria. It was not always suffering. There was some smiling, through the tears. Oh, Nigeria. You should see my little son, he is every inch the spitting incarnation of our ancestors; every cell of his, every muscle, every attitude, that face. Oh, that face; may our enemies never catch up with him at that junction that houses ethnic cleansers; he would not stand a chance of survival.

But hear my son speak; watch him eat; he is an American, no ifs, no buts about it. Goddamn it, he is an American. What have we done? My friend, she lives in Nigeria, her daughter goes to school here in the United States. The other day, as she listened to her daughter speak in her new “perfect American accent”, she broke out in grateful song to her Lord Jesus Christ, she clapped, hooted and hollered with joy; her daughter’s vocal cords have been liberated from the tyranny of that “Igbo-made” accent that followed her like an unwanted guest from Nigeria. She will throw a big owambe party to celebrate the blessed event – the graduation from the shame of our being. I shall invite you to the party.

We are living witnesses, perhaps, to our own irrelevance because we are not managing change well. It is our turn, perhaps, to be hunted, captured, skinned alive, kept alive long enough to supervise the annihilation of what stands, what once stood, for us. For, even as the world browns, we have ensured that this is still not our world.  First, we will let them bake us into willing caricatures, and then they will kill us off. Have a glass of lemonade. And a hot dog. Do you want fries to go with your hot dog? Here, have some mustard; it gives your hot dog some taste. Welcome to our America.

The library lives still

For my friend, Uzo Onyemaechi, the Millenium librarian. Biri kwe!

The writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a lovely piece in Guernica magazine, Why Are You here?. It is a sobering commentary on what passes for education in Nigeria.  Hear Adichie:

“It is not surprising that parents do not want their children to attend university in Nigeria. Many students themselves would leave if they had the opportunity. About ten years ago, I left after almost three years at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, not so much because of the conditions, which were not good, but because I no longer wanted to study medicine. Now, the student complaints are sadly the same—the classes are overcrowded, no books in the library, no computers, no chemicals in the lab, lecturers force students to buy handouts which are just recycled outdated textbooks, incessant lecturer strikes elongate programs, exam schedules are often haphazard. Private universities are increasing in the country, many of them affiliated to churches, many of them expensive.”

Adichie’s piece is fascinating reading. Lately, I have been reflecting on what used to be the hub of learning in every institution – the library. Once upon a time we had to go to the library, the house of books for knowledge and entertainment. Now, ideas and entertainment come to us wherever we are. Our leaders persist in building houses of books still and they are despondent that increasingly few people come to visit the temple of books. The world is changing. Traditional libraries are dying everywhere for different reasons. In Nigeria, academics and rulers entrusted with the sacred rite of educating beautiful children have made off with the funds meant for education and deposited them and their children abroad for personal safekeeping. There is a hot place in hell for them. It is the eternal shame of my people that the only libraries that ever functioned for the children of my generation were libraries founded by white folks. When they left, the libraries were mulched by thieving termites and locusts.

This is a huge shame. I would not be here today without the library of my childhood. I salute the Catholic priests for the gift of reading. They did many wrong things to us but they certainly gave us an eternal library of ideas that many of us carry with us everywhere we go today. As a little boy growing up in Nigeria, I travelled the world in books. The walls of my school’s library fairly throbbed with the power of words. I loved the library and it was one place where you could find me, basking in the smell of books. I remember the few distractions that kept me from the library of my childhood. There were girls. Then there was the coming of television to the same village. The library suddenly started getting stiff competition.

Advances in media technology are forcing libraries to go to people rather than for people to go to them. Distributive, push, rather than pull. I would argue that the custodians of libraries all over the world did not see the internet revolution coming. When they did, they remained complacent, convinced that it would be a passing fad.  Attempts at reform have been half hearted; it is not enough today to simply install a bunch of desktop computers in a library and christen it a “media centre.” When librarians bother to examine how today’s children live their lives they would understand why funeral dirges keep humming in the ears of their dying libraries.

The other day, my daughter and I went to a newly built library in our community. It is a beautiful library, well thought out, spacious, with meeting rooms and couches for reading. It is welcoming, warm and nurturing, with art adorning its walls. As we walked the halls, I asked her what she thought of the library, she shrugged: “Seems like a waste of space. All of this would fit in my laptop.” When I recovered from the shock of her words, I wondered if anyone had ever thought of including a student in the design team. I thought of my daughter doing her homework on her computer, along with her colleagues on Skype.  I thought of the way she puts together her papers and it occurred to me as I came up with the decision tree, increasingly, the traditional library is no longer part of the equation. The library is going the way of the post office.

Many institutions now have media centers, staffed by media specialists, a happy medium of analog books and digital media that tries to make the point that both can co-exist peacefully. The march to the current dispensation is stalled only by the denial of the powerful. These are incredibly stressful times. They are also exciting times to be alive. Let us dream of the possibilities. What will schools look like in the future? Leadership involves charting society’s changes and forging an appropriate communal vision. Ideas live. Books are dying. What will a library look like in 20, 30, 100 years? Who is today’s librarian? The library lives in all of us.

Remembering Ekwensi’s spirit: Ode to the Sokugo

For Cyprian Odiatu Duaka  Ekwensi (1921-2007)

Deep in America’s grinding labor mines, my memories hear my childhood chiming the Angelus. I pause to luxuriate in the coming pleasure of tugging at the camphor smell of mama’s wrapper. The bugler stands, starched khaki clean, on the hill of many wars, horns hollering Taps for a warrior struck one last time by the sokugo. Our dispatch-rider, high on joy, and apeteshie, stands tall on giant Fanta bottles of ogogoro balanced on his Triumph motorcycle. Uniformed myrmidon of the coming darkness, dispatch rider of generations of Africa’s worst despots takes a break from ushering yet another coming of yet another dictator and performing somersaults on the motorcycle of many memories, and confirms the final journey of the warrior, Cyprian Ekwensi. Here in America, we shiver at attention in our blue suits – alien regalia offspring of our ancestors apologizing in alien regalia.

cyprian_ekwensi

I write this for Cyprian Ekwensi,  loyal teacher, who moved on to the pantheon of our ancestors several moons ago. We celebrate the life of a great soul, Cyprian Ekwensi, rising one last time in joyful defiance of the call of the sokugo. The sokugo? Ah, if you have never read Burning Grass, find a copy and read of Mai Sunsaye’s restless journey under the arresting spell of that mesmerizing wandering disease, the sokugo. We also salute the living, great warriors of a raging battle for the heart and soul of Africa. I salute Chukwuemeka Ike, T.M. Aluko, and John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, seer-poets with a deep abiding love for and pride in Africa. It was probably a function of their time – you just knew you were not going to be rich from writing but in the name of our ancestors you were going to enjoy doing it. These visionaries wrote for a precocious generation (mine) that went through books with the same intensity with which today’s children flip through the pages of the Internet. The pressures on these writers of Africa were enormous; readers were impatient for entertainment and education and they just could not get enough of their stories. And they delivered story after story, as they painstakingly transferred them long-hand from foolscap papers onto the typewriter. In their time, the god of mischief was still cooking up the wonder that is now called the Internet. And as children, we sat at the foot of these teachers and listened with rapt attention, in awe, to the stories of these gentle warriors

Burning grassThe Sokugo is a metaphor for the movement of change. The first step is for the writer to accept some ownership for the circumstances Africa finds itself. Show some respect for Africa, actually model respect for Africa and everything African. Immersing ourselves in a contrived culture of despair may earn us fame and fortune but the damage to Africa is permanent and incalculable. The Stepin Fetchit character occupies a prominent place in contemporary African American folklore. It is all about investing in self respect and dignity. It will pay off in the long run; it certainly won’t hurt. The world we live in is a different world from that inhabited by the youths of Achebe, Ekwensi and Soyinka. It is a world at once large and small.- there is an impish deity up there re-arranging relationships. Our ancestors did not go to the moon because they did not need to. There was no clutter in their lives because they knew the benefits of clarity in everything physical and spiritual. Their meals were simple and in the seeming simplicity of their lives, life triumphed in joy and song over the tribulations of the day. And then the walls came tumbling down, brought down by white masquerades. And things fell apart, crushed under foot and the totems of our gods spat on the virility of their old masters. And wise men became idiots and our poets and poetesses were proclaimed illiterates because they shunned alien hieroglyphics.

We mourn the loss of order. We are still here, children of the teacher, sitting at the foot of these griots and listening with rapt attention for the return of the stories of these gentle but solid warriors. Teacher, thanks for everything. And now I must sit down.

Jagua Nana

Lost in America: Self-portrait

Who am I? I am glad you asked. I am an area boy. That is the sum of my essence. I have been loitering around this earth doing what, I don’t know. I expect that when I get to the pearly gates, Orunmila would ask me: So… what did you go do over there? And I would reply: I have no idea! Shebi you were the one that sent me over there!

So I have told you that I don’t know what I am doing here. I have found myself floating lazily on bits and pieces of the flotsam and jetsam of life, sometimes enjoying myself, sometimes, just being miserable, call it a bi-polar existence. I have three sets of admirers: Those who love me when I am rolling with the joy of the ride, those who love me when I am rolling with the rage of my condition, and those who love me anyway. I don’t like formal education; I am happily anti-intellectual. My most miserable times have been spent being miserable under classroom arrest, quaking in my boots before someone with enough gumption to call me a student. The forced structure of a classroom experience, the suffocating dictatorship of the classroom’s hierarchy, the sage on the stage silliness instead of that guide by the side paradigm, man, that stuff eats me up. But I lived through it all, I survived (I think) the tyranny of Catholic Boarding School (five hellacious years) and the phoniness of a university education.

IKHIDEIMPSo I have all these certificates but so what? Na book man go chop? I can honestly say that they have been worthless to my sense of self-worth – they read like an after-thought, an irritating footnote to everything that I hold dear. I still read a lot but I don’t read a lot <grin>. I mean, if you read something and you don’t remember that you read it have you been reading? I think that the book as a medium of communication is dead. I exaggerate slightly. The book is on life support. Who read reads books anymore? Why bother? A monkey with a credit card can bag a PhD off the Internet in two weeks flat. Money talks. Just click on the one you want, it goes in your electronic shopping cart and voila, in two weeks when the post office delivers your certificate, you are now Obo the monkey, PhD!

Books just confuse the hell out of me. Take Ben Okri’s books for instance. I am yet to finish any one of his books. My ego will not let me denounce them as unreadable. I wish I had Chinweizu’s courage, he famously said that  Wole Soyinka winning the Nobel prize would be a nice instance of “the undesirable honoring the unreadable.” Soyinka went on to win the Nobel prize in 1986.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that Ben Okri is a genius. In his books, poetry shows up in many places. Okri is a survivor of a war. Westerners roaming Okri’s world would definitely find a magical world, albeit one that is a grimly overrated reality for many children of Africa- mute witnesses to a looming tragedy.  Okri is one brainy warrior determined to tell a story to the world. But I don’t get Okri. I started out with The Famished Road. Dropped it. Picked up In Arcadia and left it somewhere in the bathroom, awed by its incoherence. Picked up The Famished Road again. And I have just stopped reading it again. The Famished Road is a ship-wreck of a novel – shimmering like glassy pieces of brainy material glued together by Okri’s nightmares. The Famished Road immerses you in the despair that you already know of – a story that goes nowhere, fascinating in its mindlessness, but Westerners in America’s suburbs would find it riveting in its grounding with an imagined reality. They will see a society forced into mindless drudgery, its citizens worshipping the deities churning their dreams into nightmares. There will be a need for heavy lifting to shift from this paradigm of irredeemable despair. Hope assures us of the triumph of the will of the beautiful children of Africa willing themselves to survive the vat of hellish carcinogens that is the world they have been thrust in. You will not find that hope in Okri’s world. Despair sells like hot crumpets. I will probably be back because my friend (who is soooo smart) loves Okri. She is always saying, Ikhide you must read Okri, you must read Okri, he is a diviner! I will read Okri again because my friend says to read Okri. But I don’t get Okri.

I haven’t read a real book lately. I read a lot of junk on the Internet. Every now and then one comes across some good stuff but I wonder if the author knows… I recently read this really nice piece by the writer Tolu Ogunlesi – Burn a Bookshop Today and here is an actual quote from this genius: “After the man who invented education, the guy who invented books and publishing deserves the title of Public Enemy No.1.” And I say, Amen! And one last thing, this visionary (Tolu Ogunlesi, that is, not me!) suggests: “If you can’t burn a bookshop, there’s something else you can do: Kidnap a writer, especially a published one! That will discourage the unpublished ones.” A double Amen! to that! I shall be back. A ga na hun O!

Guest Blog Post – Missive to Ikhide Ikheloa: A Diasporan Fulbright’s experience of Higher Education in Nigeria

Professor Okey C. Iheduru teaches at Arizona State University, in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

Preface: This essay is a compilation of two postings I made beginning 28 August 2013, in which I responded to a discussion on the listserve USA-Africa Dialogue Forum occasioned by a Call for Papers by the editor of the Unilag Journal of Politics. The subject of the heated debate was the propriety of demanding upfront payment from prospective authors by a supposedly peer-reviewed journal. In that intervention, I also promised to do a proper write-up of some of my two-year sabbatical/Fulbright and LEADS Scholar experiences, particularly as it concerns higher education in Nigeria.

I am a full professor of Political Science in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University, Tempe. Given the time constraints I face (especially readjusting to life in America after two years plus the incinerating heat of the Sonoran Desert), this may never happen if I wait for the opportune moment. Consequently, I have decided to post short accounts of my experiences from time to time and whenever time permits. I have entitled this write-up as “Missive to Ikhide Ikheloa:” Ikhide, in my opinion, is the most trenchant, if often unrepentantly acerbic, critic of higher education in Nigeria. In fact, the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) are lucky he is not the Minister of Education. He also often enthralls his audience with nostalgic tales from his younger days, especially about the antics of Papalolo. Ikhide actually speaks for many Nigerians, at home and in the Diaspora, even if his “solutions” often come across as a cluster bomb. I have never met this social and literary critic, but I hope my “missive” to Ikhide will be of interest to you the reader, and possibly generate further intellectual discussions about the epidemic level of debased scholarship and academic fraud that pervades Nigeria today vis-a-vis the gallantry of a handful of our colleagues who daily give their all to ensure that we still have a higher education system that is even worth criticizing.

I just completed a 2-year sabbatical/Fulbright Fellowship LEADS Fellowship at the National Defense College, Abuja in Nigeria during which I participated in six (6) National Universities Commission (NUC) program accreditation visits to one federal, two state and three private universities for Political Science and International Relations, Economics and Sociology.

I learned a lot about the opportunities and challenges of university education in Nigeria. I’ll never forget many of the exceptionally brilliant students my panels and I interacted with as part of our assignment. Some economics departments have advanced electronic labs for their formal modeling/econometrics courses, while some programs have easily accessible subscriptions to various research databases for their electronic libraries. When time permits, I’ll do a proper write-up on my experiences, more broadly.

I would like here to respond to the “Call for Papers” from the University of Lagos (Unilag) that asked prospective authors to also send money. During the accreditation visits (which are really meticulous and rigorous), I found that while quite a number of colleagues are doing serious scholarship, the overwhelming percentage is engaged in what you call “Vanity” journal (and book) publishing. Every department–100 PERCENT–that we evaluated had its own “journal” which is “edited” in-house. Thereafter the authors literally put a gun on the head of administrators to count those “publications” as part of the percentage of scholarship that can be locally published. Even Colleges of Education and Polytechnics have departmental journals in Nigeria–there was a CFP from one of them on this list recently.

None of these “journals” is indexed, either locally or internationally; so, colleagues who live/work five kilometres away from the institutions may not even know that such publications exist. Some institutions have been posting some of their publications online to give them visibility and possibly generate citation counts. There are claims (I have no proof; it wasn’t my charge) that some of the articles are plagiarized or may even be exact copies of papers published elsewhere with a new author and institutional affiliation.

Sadly, there is no nation-wide outlet to present, publish and/or professionally review recent work in the fields I evaluated since, for instance, the once-famous Nigerian Political Science Association and its journal died following the zoning of its leadership to the North who must have their “turn” at leading the association. A similar fate has befallen many scholarly groups–the Historical Society of Nigeria seems to be one of the few exceptions. Asked why these colleagues shouldn’t be reading and/or publishing in outlets put out by older institutions with seasoned academics with more credible track record, I was hushed down with: “Why should we be reading their own? Why can’t they read our own [journals]?” A PhD is a PhD, I was told, even if it’s awarded by a two-year old caricature of what others know as a university.

It’s worth noting that in one state university we visited, of the nine (9) lecturers on the Sociology faculty, six (6) obtained their PhDs (as well as their BSc and MSc degrees) from that very same department. Not only do you smell “in-breeding” you can assume they were also taught and mentored by senior colleagues who rose through the ranks based on publications in departmental journals. Indeed, many colleagues on the Deans and VC ranks today cut their academic teeth in the “Volume 1, Number 1” syndrome of the 1990s and early 2000s. It’s worth noting, though, that no more than 68 percent of faculty in all Nigerian Universities have doctorates; not easy to produce one, really.

It was amusing to find senior lecturers, associate professors/readers and even full professors with 50-100 “scholarly papers” almost 9/10 of which appear in these in-house and other publications. I’m not making any judgment regarding the quality of these publications since I have not read them. Yet, I find the culture very worrisome. Sometimes “books” (especially edited volumes) are published without a clear reason why such a “scholarly book” should be published. I earned some reputation as a snub whenever I explained my inability to honor “Prof, can you please contribute a chapter for my book” requests.

Many of these colleagues with very long list of “scholarly papers” have fewer than five (5) citation counts on Google Scholar, if at all they do. Of course, many of us Diaspora academics have relatively very little citation counts. It must be stated that, as at this point, the NUC has not taken up the responsibility to regulate this aspect of academic quality—not sure it should. What are department heads, deans, Senate and vice chancellors supposed to be doing?

From our Diaspora stand point, many of these publications are clearly “Vanity” journals and books, but the reality is that it costs a lot of money to publish them. Cash-strapped departments, faculties and/or universities have more weighty priorities. Perhaps, a much better write-up could have been on ideas/strategies to help these colleagues to get out of this morass—many of them teach 3-4 courses of 200-500 students a semester without TAs and get as small as N10,000 a year for academic conference presentations. Any ideas?

From Vanity Publications to PhD Production and Professorships in Nigeria

While I can understand and explain why some of the lecturers in some of the programs I evaluated as part of the NUC accreditation panels chose to engage in what we might term vanity publishing, I was surprised at the virtual absence of policies or discussions about quality assurance regarding scholarship outputs in many universities. Not one scholar I met had heard about Google Scholar (and its citation counts for every published piece of journal article, including those published IN NIGERIA), let alone other (sometimes controversial) measures of quality, such as Web of Science/Word of Learning and Pearson’s annual reports of “Impact Factor” of journals and academic publishers. It was therefore not surprising that a member of USA-Africa Dialogue Forum from the University of Lagos (Unilag) claimed that the Unilag Journal of Politics was “highly rated” without, of course, indicating who rated the journal and how, given that it is not indexed anywhere, and there is no rating agency in Nigeria. On two occasions, two editors of two different journals (very senior academics) proudly defended their journals to me by stating that they were “recognized and good quality because [they have] an ISSN number!”

While Google Scholar and other measures of quality sometimes exclude chapters in edited volumes, it should worry us that an academic that boasts 50-100 “professional papers” cannot equally boast ONE citation count (including the discounted self-citations) on Google Scholar! As I stated in Part 1, more than 90 percent of the CVs I reviewed listed as publication outlets “Volume 1, Number 1” or Departmental journals or self-published books or books whose publishers’ names and addresses are more innocuous and lesser known than the remotest streets in Ajegunle, Lagos or Ekeonunwa Street, Owerri. I concede that “writing for themselves” is not unique to Nigeria, but most scholars elsewhere don’t engage in this kind of massive inflation of output that is clearly indefensible.

Each of the six universities I visited had disproportionately more junior faculty (Assistant Lecturers–MA/MSc holders—and Lecturers I & II—anywhere from recent PhDs to PhDs with 3-6 years’ experience; and even master’s degrees with years of experience and/or professional certificates) than senior faculty (Associate Professors/Readers and Full Professors). A few of the Lecturer IIs and Lecturer Is were effective Acting Heads of Department (HODs). Yet, this contravenes NUC’s policy of Senior Lecturer as the minimum for the HOD to be able to provide a modicum of “academic leadership” to the unit. Some of the Assistant Lecturers and recent PhDs were quite good, but a large number were both victims and perpetrators of another form of fraud. In response to the NUC’s directive that the PhD is the minimum qualification for teaching in universities, several new universities have mounted PhD programs, some without NUC approval, even though they lack the resources and capacity (faculty members) to mentor the PhD students—who are mostly their academic staff without the doctorates. Many “older” universities have also expanded PhD enrollments to soak up the demand, even as some departments have upwards of 70 master’s degree students in a department boasting less than four full-time lecturers with PhDs.

While some departments (especially in most of the older universities) are still graduating quality PhDs that are garnering local and international awards and publications in some of the most competitive outlets in the world, a large number of the new PhDs are actually “arrangee PhDs.” In some cases, ONE retired professor is hired (often as an adjunct) with the sole terminal purpose of mentoring and awarding the PhD to one or two students—often relatives, pals or concubines of “the Ogas at the top” and/or a favored staff member. Once the deal is done, there is no more PhD program and the old bloke collects his money and goes home, or perhaps to another mercenary assignment. Where the programs exist formally, it is not unheard of for ONE professor to “produce” over 10 doctorates in ONE year. One household name in Political Science has become notorious for serving as SUPERVISOR to several PhD candidates in more than SIX universities at a time! His detractors call his mass-produced protégés “Pure Water PhDs,” but they are all happily teaching in a university near your villages! I politely turned down an offer to supervise a well-connected PhD candidate in one of the universities in central Nigeria. I would have had no other affiliation with the institution. My eldest brother, a former professor at a university in Georgia, USA, had to recall two PhDs already awarded for insufficient work in 2011 as Dean of Postgraduate Studies and later Acting Vice Chancellor at a private university in Nigeria.

I have always wondered what the external examiners (the second level of review after the candidate has passed the oral defense at the departmental level) have to say about this madness. But again, if the candidate has to pay the N350,000.00 to N500,000.00 cost of scheduling a doctoral defense (includes transport, accommodation, per diem for the External Examiner; and other incidentals), plus over N700,000.00 total cost of the program (from start to finish), few External Examiners would like to look too deeply and probably rock the boat. A repeat visit is always a consideration. Candidates are often compelled to foot this bill (pending reimbursement by the university via the Supervisor, which may never come or may be misappropriated by the Supervisor) because waiting for the university to provide the funds might mean waiting a year or two more to defend. Besides, if you’re fed up with having to fork out N10,000.00 to N20, 000.00 as “reading fee” for every graduate seminar paper, wouldn’t you gladly mortgage grandma’s grave to extricate yourself from the clutches of your “Profs”?

Rigorous external review of portfolios for promotion to professorships is still the norm in most universities, especially at the federal and state universities, although occasional deviations occur. Some private universities also follow this practice, but many are too young for observers to know how that process actually works. It is known, however, that several private universities are notorious for the tendency of their proprietors to unilaterally promote staff, rather than allow the Senate and/or Governing Council to perform this function. A program can receive a failing or interim accreditation if it does not have the right staffing mix (Assistant, Lecturers, Associate and Full Professors) as stipulated by the NUC, among other indicators. That could spell trouble for enrollment, especially in highly sought-after programs (Law, Medicine, Accountancy, etc.) and consequently for the university’s bottom line. Some proprietors have also dictated the admission of students without requisite admissions requirements (e.g., many of the ex-Niger Delta militants ended up in some private universities as part of the Amnesty Program. I wish Boko Haram lunatics would be amenable to such a treat, despite the headaches that would create for lecturers and administrators!). One proprietor reportedly wondered why lecturers refused to award First Class degrees to students if that is what they wanted. The man understood the “price system” better than the “foolish professors” paid with the students’ tuition! The NUC, of course, frowns at such indiscretions and has not hesitated to sanction the affected institutions whenever accreditation panels report such violations.

One of the most pervasive but difficult fraudulent practices that the NUC’s Quality Assurance Department (which is responsible for program accreditation) has to contend with is the use of “academic mercenaries” by universities during accreditation exercises. Programs that have been staffed for 3-4 years by an army of full and part-time assistant lecturers would suddenly list full-time and/or part-time associate professors/readers and full professors in order to meet the NUC staffing mix requirements. The worst culprits seem to be the sectarian universities. It is common to find some lecturers (including retirees, civil servants, pastors, etc.) on the payroll (perfunctorily) of two to three universities simultaneously.

As an accreditation panelist, you know a mercenary HOD when he/she is unable to answer simple questions about personnel, curriculum, exams, budget, etc. concerning her/his unit. In one university I evaluated in mid-2013, the “Dean of the College of Natural Sciences” happened to be an old acquaintance of mine with whom I have lived in the Phoenix metro since 2004. Interestingly, he told me (perhaps without realizing the riskiness of his flippancy) that he was returning to his “base in the [Phoenix] Valley in two weeks.” A different panel, not mine, evaluated his College. The employment letters of many of the mercenaries, including my friend’s, in the personnel files we reviewed are always backdated by at least six months. While many public and private universities (including those in the United States) will not be able to meet their obligations to their students without these often under-paid and poorly appreciated adjuncts, my concern is the intentional fraud that is being brazenly perpetrated in Nigeria. Sure, NUC should (and does occasionally) crack down more on this practice; but it is not feasible to turn accreditation panels into EFCC hounds, given the mountain of documents and files and the tortuous reports they have to write in two extremely hectic days. These are my thoughts, the good news is that many concerned Nigerians are beginning to focus on the challenges in our educational system. I am happy to be part of the conversation and I welcome any ideas and suggestions for concrete action to stem the hemorrhage. In the name of generations of children.