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‘Why I abandoned academics, failed to publish’

By Sunday Aikulola
20 November 2022   |   2:36 am
Architect, painter, set designer and pioneer proponent of African aesthetics in building designs and technology, 87-year-old Demas Nwoko of New Culture initiative has revealed why he unceremoniously left the University of Ibadan

Nwoko

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Architect, painter, set designer and pioneer proponent of African aesthetics in building designs and technology, 87-year-old Demas Nwoko of New Culture initiative have revealed why he unceremoniously left the University of Ibadan and abandoned academia entirely for private practice.

He said Nigerian academia does not value and reward creativity, preferring instead to base promotions on article publications, whether of little or no merit.

Nwoko made this startling revelation at the launch of his two books, his first in over 60 years long after he left academia.

His two new books are titled, Concrete Thinking, which focuses on his life’s works and his memoir, The Happy Little African Prince, while ‘Some Architectural Design Parametres for the Tropics’ is billed to come out next year.

He cited the case of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka who also acrimoniously left the University of Ibadan and went to the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), because, Nwoko said, “when it was time for him (Soyinka) to be conferred with a professorship, they passed over him. I remember that Wole Soyinka was our Head of Department, but when it was time to give him a professorship, the University of Ibadan ignored him. They said that he was creating books, but he was not writing academic books.

“This is why we are not self-sufficient or independent, because our universities are manpower institutions but they don’t recognise creativity. I was creating works including aesthetic philosophy and all that. I chose not to be in a hurry to publish my pieces, because I wanted to try them out, build them and make sure that the philosophy works ever before I put them down between hard copies. But I did publish in art and culture magazines when I left. So, the maxim then was published or perish. I chose to perish and left.

“So, really, I deliberately kept my formal book compilation to virtually the end of my life, when I’m sure that I’ve practicalities all my thinking and the tinkering also. That’s why they coming out at this time. People have asked me ‘what if you didn’t live long to this time? Well, it didn’t matter really, because the workers are there. So even if I didn’t write a thesis about them, other people will write about them. So really, I was not under pressure to the author or write about my work. But well, I thank God I’m alive and healthy. So I decided to compile them, and I’m still compiling more.”

Nwoko blamed Nigeria’s stunted growth as being traceable to the first military incursion into politics, when it suspended the federal constitution, saying it also meant suspending the country’s culture and ways of life and that Nigeria is yet to recover from it. He said that singular action has had far-reaching implications for the Nigerian polity and is why the country has remained mired in under-development. He canvassed the need for the country to make a fresh start that entails a re-engineering of the country’s foundational issues.

Nwoko also said the country has failed to midwife its own peculiar building technology, preferring instead to ape the West with the result that our buildings are ill-suited for our purposes.

“Lagos is an environmental disaster,” he declared. “Why are you not changing it? Lagos is showing a bad construction example for the rest of Nigeria, who have abandoned their African building construction aesthetics to copy what they see in Lagos. If there is no oil money, where will Lagos get the money to be building the unlivable houses that have no ventilation.”