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Role of the humanities in national greatness

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Prof. Nnanyelugo Okoro


A lecture delivered by Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher during the First Eminent Persons Lecture series organised byProf. Nnanyelugo Okoro, Dean Faculty of Arts, University of Nigeria, Nsukka

It is a rare privilege, an honour and pleasure to be here today at the invitation of this great university, a university conceived as the intellectual engine to generate ideas for the growth of this great country and restore the dignity of man. This was why this University is called the University of Nigeria. I wish to thank the Vice-Chancellor of the university Prof Benjamin C. Ozumba, and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts Prof. Nnanyelugo Okoro and also by extension the Pro-Chancellor Chief Mike Olumfemi and His Imperial Majesty the Ooni of Ife Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwumi Ojaja11 the Chancellor, for inviting me to deliver the Eminent Persons Lecture of the Faculty of Arts of this university today.

In the developed world, it is a common sight and practice for presidential candidates and aspirants to be on campuses of universities during electioneering They come to be defined, characterized and their views and programs sold to the academic communities where the future progress and direction of the country is being incubated and the future of the nation is determined. Not so in Nigeria, where politicians are afraid of intellectual engagement with the universities and the universities on the other hand have abdicated their role as custodians of knowledge. This apathy and fear have cost us our beloved nation, which is now dying slowly for lack of new intellectual ideas. The Universities are needed now more than ever before to mount the moral barricade against the forces of retrogression in the land. Few universities today are willing to invite any politician, least of all one from an opposition party to air his political views. I congratulate the University of Nigeria for the moral courage for inviting me.

My mission today and purpose of my lecture is to engage you as my primary constituency. I consider the university campus and the intellectual community as my primary constituency since I don’t live by politics and have for over forty years been a person living by ideas and producing intellectual property rather than amassing wealth. The typical Nigerian pities and laughs at us when one of us seeks to be a governor of a state and not to talk of our striving to become Nigeria’s President so that the future of this country can be changed by new thinking. Only last week, I was told that my manifesto for Nigeria’s greatness was excellent but that it was too academic and not yet ripe for implementation into action by a trusted older politician who believed that only money-bags can and should aspire to be presidents of this country. He believed that Nigeria must only be led by a conclave of retired venture capitalist generals and billionaires that look at candidates as investment ventures to perpetuate the status quo ante.

I am here at the university of Nigeria to ask ourselves why our country has wasted 500 trillion dollars, which we got from our revenue from 1970 to date and yet we do not have a befitting infrastructure? I drove here through one of the worst roads on earth from Otukpo to Nsukka, yet we have had people awarding and supervising contracts on that and other roads for decades. Almost all road contracts in Nigeria are crime scenes where Nigeria’s corruption is hidden under the layer of laterite and bitumen. Everywhere in the country corrupt politicians have colluded with dirty and corrupt businessmen to steal and plunder Nigeria’s future and greatness by massive grand corruption that affects Nigerian leaders at the highest levels. Nowhere is grand corruption more virulent than in the award of infrastructure and other capital project contracts. This why, there is insignificant attention, paid to social welfare schemes in education, health and culture.

I am here to ask my academic constituency why we are hiding from the great political agenda since independence. When are we going to take our country back from criminals and bandits? Why must our generation accept crumbs from those that have stolen our birthright to be at the helms of affairs of this country? Our Vice-Chancellors rush to announce election results and hope the politicians will remember them as their enablers of stolen mandates. The rest of us are drafted during elections along with our NYSC students to legitimize their electoral corruption? Our departed literary icon, Chinua Achebe, in his book, “The trouble with Nigeria”, identified the problem with Nigeria as leadership deficit. He was referring to the deficit of new ideas with which to birth a new great Nigeria as envisioned by our founding fathers. Achebe was not clamouring for brain dead politicians who simply want to replace one brain-dead politician with another more of the same. Chinua Achebe by the end of his life bemoaned the loss of Biafra in ‘‘There was a country’’. But Achebe was misunderstood by many who thought he was advocating for dismemberment of Nigeria, when instead he was advocating for a new great Nigeria, which would be built on new ideas like those of the “Ahiala Declaration” that bore the vision and seeds of National Greatness. Many Nigerians who proclaim Murtala Mohammed as the greatest of Nigeria’s leaders have attributed his greatness to the ideas emanated from the Ahiaras declaration. Achebe had written in his book, “ The Education of a Britsh Protected Child” that if he was to incarnate he would love to be Nigerian again.

There is a lot at stake in the 2019 election. Our country’s constitution does not yield protection for the weak in our society, the Federal system is too strong and presidents have become emperors rather than servants of the people. There is massive inequality. Nigeria has never been so divided by inequality. There is growing income of the wealthy while the rest of Nigerians are left to live on less than three hundred naira a day. There is increased religious and ethnic intolerance. Whole communities have been wiped out in the Middle-Belt and their lands occupied by terrorist herdsmen who have been on rampage killing throughout the rest of Nigeria. Meanwhile the government that confessed that it does not know how to stop the killings has refused to call them terrorists!

There are less than 3million Nigerians consuming more than 90% of our annual revenue and thus leaving more than 198 million Nigerians in poverty. These 3 million Nigerians comprise the entire presidency and the National and state Assemblies and the governors and local government chairmen with their bureaucracy of advisers, special and personal assistants.

According to statistics from the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) 350 Nigerians or their businesses owe 4.3 trillion naira which is more than 50% of our national budget for 2018 where education for the whole country receives less than 7% of the National budget. We have 1.3million school age children not enrolled in the school system. We have become the worst-case scenario on earth of a country depriving her citizens of education, civilization and a meaningful life. Life without a sound education is not worth contemplating. This is the country we have continued to labor for when the university and the entire educational system has collapsed. Even our great University of Nigeria has been badly disfigured with scars from wounds of the civil wars and recurrent wounds of bad governance and state collapse.

The Role of the Humanities in National Greatness
I have dwelt at length on the sad situation we are in and how the country could be salvaged through the critical role of the Humanites.

Defining the humanities
The Humanities are disciplines that explore the human experience and document the experience through philosophy, literature, religion, art, history, language, law, mass communication, theater arts etc. The main role of the humanities is to mark progress of the world by connecting the past and the present; so as to tell us where we have started, have been and to envision where we are going.

Defining National Greatness
For a nation to be considered a great, it must first of all have decided to be great. There must be a consensus between the leaders and the led about the desire to be great and this is followed by architecture of greatness. The leaders who must be dreamers and motivators and must envision a future of greatness and inspire the citizens to subordinate tribal, class and regional identities to identify the nation state, its main unit of identification. A badly divided Nigeria where our radius of identification are our families and ethnic groups cannot enter the league of national greatness. The architecture for greatness can only be constructed on the foundation of the emerging national consciousness rather than tribal consciousness and the increased prominence of national collective consciousness.

The intellectual humanities class of such a nation often drives this consciousness. In the 17th Century. Prof Robert Morton published a monogram, which highlighted the pre-condition for the growth of scientific knowledge in England which reconciled the spiritual protestant culture with the scientific enquiry and concluded that the study of science was not opposed to the worship of God and that in fact science validated the greatness of God. This discourse helped the expansion of the growth of British Empire that increased in productivity growth and dominance. The sad story of Nigeria is often compared to China. In 1970, Nigeria had a GDP per capital of $219 dollars and economically ranked globally as 88, China on the other hand had a GDP of $112 dollars and ranked 114 in the world. Today China is a world power, which rivals even the US in economic terms having made the most remarkable quantum leap in greatness after the cold war and the collapse of Soviet Communist Doctrine. Chinese humanities scholars, intellectuals and well-educated people, writers, artists and cinema became the driving force and articulators for a rising nationalistic discourse in the 1990’s that caused a dramatic paradigm shift and China took its place as a great nation that is today lending its surplus to Nigeria and dictating terms for this unfortunate country.

Japan’s rise to National greatness should also be a lesson to Nigeria. While British and Spanish Empires, took centuries to achieve greatness, Japan took only 80 years to become a world power and one of the world’s few great powers that determines the fate of the world. Japan a tiny overpopulated island with no natural resources depended upon her intellectuals to pivot the spirit of greatness, after a pathetic defeat by the Allies during the Second World War. The role of the Mejii writers is documented as humanists who possessed a strong sense of cultural identity. They were the first Japanese intellectuals who were exposed to the influence of the west in every aspect of life and thought. They had a dominant mission to make Japan great and create a new world civilization out of Japan that would bring out the best of the West and the best of Japanese features and remain Japanese at the core.

These writers with combined sense of national mission social responsibility and cultural identity gave Japan the claddings for greatness. Today Japanese are fighting for a new World Order. The Japanese rise to greatness should be a lesson to Nigeria where after our Biafran/ Civil war we are still whining and unable achieve proper integration of the Igbos while Igbo youth and leaders are still sabre rattling. We must not bifurcate. We must have a peaceful revolution on the Ahiara Declaration model for the whole country, which others lamely politicize as restructuring.

All great nations provide qualitative life for their citizens by building a sound infrastructure. Agriculture and industries are developed to overcome the necessities of life. They also provide for the social welfare of their people in education, electricity, potable water, medical care, food production, housing, road networks. and enlightenment. Above all else, great nations guarantee their citizens freedom from threats to life, physical harm, diseases, unemployment and human right abuses.

Nigeria is not great today. Its large population and size are nothing but a disgrace. We are a consuming nation, a greedy nation, and a parasitic nation that consumes all the world produces and contributes nothing in return. Our potentials have been potentials for too long. The ships that deliver finished goods to our shores go back empty with nothing except our oil which gives us revenue that we waste on things we shouldn’t be able to afford. This is a disgrace!

Nigeria must rise from its stupor determined from today as I will show you how the humanities can make a difference and become the engine of growth for Nigeria’s greatness.

The Role of the Humanities
There is no other group of intellectuals better to engender national greatness than the humanities. Nigeria can become a great country. When we generate powerful ideas rooted in the knowledge of the present and the historical necessities of the future that are fought for with fanatical devotion we can defeat the present decaying and failed systems that have outlined their time and lost their meaning.

The humanities are necessary to give us a new revolution of consciousness necessary fo greatness like that of the African intellectuals that fought for decolonization in the 19th and 20th Century.In Africa, culture had been an instrument of decolonization. Slave trade existed, and for so long as a consequence of a cultural war. Africa had engaged Europe in cultural conflicts in which Europe was both contestant and referee.

Europe judged our cultures inferior and thus proceeded to justify slavery, colonialism, and now neo-colonialism. It was as a result, that the African, both at home and in diaspora, woke up and creatively challenged white supremacy and dominance through intellectual and creative instruments of literature, arts and culture. Negritude was a critical and powerful weapon of decolonization. Its founding fathers, Marcus Garvey, Aime Cesar and the ex-president of Senegal, Leopold Sedar Senghor, its chief exponent, challenged colonialism, debunked the myth of cultural superiority, and promoted African and Black-consciousness. It gave birth to black power and the spirit of resistance and collective re-awakening of consciousness that eventually overthrew the imperial impositions of colonialism in Africa.

In Nigeria, the late Hubert Ogunde used his skill as a dramatist to engage the British on performing spaces throughout the country. His plays, “Tiger’s empire”, and “Bread and Bullets” sent him to jail, but aroused the masses of Nigeria to throw their weight behind the Nationalist fighters like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and others who aroused public consciousness in their writings. The early years works of Chinua Achebe especially, “Things Fall Apart” were negritudinal in conception and served to establish that the African did not exist in a cultural vacuum, before colonialism.

The works of art, literature, politics and philosophy that fought colonialism in Africa and for Civil Rights in America, attests to the mandate of culture. On the one hand culture serves, as an instrument for the preservation of status quo, while on the other hand, it is a weapon for the overthrow of the decadent social order. Amilcal Cabral’s words illustrate this reality:

Culture is simultaneously the fruit of a people’s history and a determination of history, by the positive or negative influence, which it exerts on the evolution of relationships between men within a society, as well as among different societies.

At independence, the vision of the founding fathers was betrayed, as each independent State became an extension of European neo-colonialism. Even though the artists became more productive and Europeans critics and publishing houses founded Arts Schools in Africa, their emphasis was to promote the nostalgia for the old culture, the old ritual, the past docility of some African cultures. The dark years of African past, from the sixties to the nineties and even now, in certain cases can be traced to a negation of responsibility by the Literary artists to enforce a new consciousness of liberation. Rather than literature and culture seriously engaging in decolonization through the emancipation of consciousness, by creating preconditions to overcome economic and social slavery, it instead, served to re-domesticate consciousness. Literature and culture rendered consciousness impotent against the ruthless neo-and internal-colonizers, the emergent nationalist elite of corrupt politicians and their successors, on behalf of international capitalism. perhaps Nelson Mandela was referring to the New African intellectual of literacy and culture when he said:
We need to exert ourselves that much and break out of the vicious cycle of dependence imposed on us by the financially powerful; those in command of immense market power and those who dare to fashion the world in their image.

The likes of Amos Atutuola, Ayi Kwei Armah and Wole Soyinka, our Nobel Laureate, wrote excellent works of earlier literature that were steeped in a mythical consciousness where the old motifs, symbols and images of African societies were re-interpreted for the Western audience, and set out to enslave consciousness to re-emphasizes the importance of old static customs and traditions that had made Africa the world’s human zoo and a museum of human evolution. By engaging more in mystical consciousness and less in ethical consciousness, literature was enforcing customs that no longer catered adequately for the development of human expression to engage with contemporary reality.

The criteria of choice, structures and patterns as well as the philosophical foundations capable of changing consciousness were lost. In drama even though the quantity increased, the quality of dramatic discourse became esoteric, and i mystified in tribal cosmology. Opportunities for building a macro-national consciousness and national greatness were lost on the altar of individualism and myth making rituals.

To be great Nigeria needs new humanities as the vanguard in the struggle for life that we are engaged in today. We are in dire need of the new artists and intellectuals who can help unplug the ears and remove the blind fold of the world, to hear the anguished cries of despair in Africa and see the horror of degraded humanity in Nigeria as two of the worlds most dreaded terrorist groups kill with impunity.

As we stand on the threshold of human disaster, the significance and power of today’s humanities culture to help us out of the human crisis we are in seem more critical. We live in a world whose boundaries are no longer predicated by geography. The globalized world, is entirely dependent on psychological conditions of human consciousness through virtual reality, tele-presence, robotics and other cultural instruments. The old humanities and intellectual can no longer be relevant for national greatness unless they engage these powerful tools of culture to understand and control them. This is the most crucial and critical response, relevant, since the interpretation of reality is what concerns us most. According to Kenneth Burke.

Critical and imaginative works are strategic answers to questions posed by the situation in which they arose.We need to produce literature and culture to pull us out of the deep sewers of despair and death. The late Burkinabe Leader, Thomas Sankara bemoaned the absence of the new intellectual, saying:
We would search in vain for genuine new ideas that have emanated from the minds of our “great” intellectuals since the emergence of the now dated concepts of Negritude and African personality. The vocabulary and ideas come from elsewhere.

Nigeria needs the new humanities discipline that can answer Nigeria’s most challenging problems. These are: Neo Liberal economy and globalization (b) Insecurity © Ethnicity (d) Corruption and (e) Poverty. Nigerian leaders in their anxiety to impress the West have whole heartedly embraced neo-liberalism and globalization without the needed manpower of incorruptible men and women whose interest in the greatness of Nigeria rather than their being big men and personalizing power. Nigeria needs leaders whose actions are from an intuitive result of experience in thinking and acting. The reckless application of liberal democracy in Nigeria must be contested and reformed if we can achieve greatness. We need humanities scholars like the late Prof. Claude Abe who pronounced liberal democracy workable and unstable due to its emphases on liberalization, privatization and individualization instead of communalism. According to him. ‘‘ It cannot be democratic to arrogate to oneself of the prerogative of deciding how someone else must choose ‘‘

This is happening as our leaders sheepishly accept a democracy and economic model that is wrecking havoc on our people. Nigeria has become the home and face of poverty and the dumping ground for western manufactured goods that are not needed anywhere else in the world. These include guns, assaults rifles and even second-hands clothes and shoes, which have destroyed our peace and the textile and leather goods manufacturing. We need writers, artist and musicians to rise to greatness and challenge our having become the exhaust pipe of the world in creative and innovative ways. We need a new spirit of we are Nigerians and too proud to carry drugs to other countries and too Nigerian and too proud to allow our beautiful young women wear discarded hair from Asian countries, Brazil and America.

Nigeria is today one of the most risky countries to live in. The lack of security and lack of peace has destroyed the economy, businesses, infrastructure, properties and lives. Insecurity creates political instability, refugees, brain drain, capital flight reduction of Foreign Direct Investment and unemployment. We need academics in the humanities to resolve the dilemmas of religious intolerance and even the best way to fight corruption. Corruption in Nigeria is endemic and the fight against corruption cannot be won until the Humanities wade in and make the people ashamed of its practice. It is a fact that it is the humanities that must assume the role of town crier and sound the battle cry against tribalism and a clarion for national unity..

Conclusion
The humanities must above all else rise up now and wage a campaign against analogue politicians old and those not too young to run who are handicapped with the old mentality of mediocrity, nepotism, ethnic bigotry and religious intolerance, and corruption. We need the Humanities to lift us towards dignity and transcendence so that we can imagine a better world in order to change the present rot and decay. Our greatness must be prepared to compromise instead of polarizing, we must emphasize our unity instead of exclusions and ostracizing and we must seek the Nigerian greatness that humanizes us rather than demonizes the other.
God bless you all. God bless Nigeria and God bless the University of Nigeria.

Thank you all


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