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Urgent questions of our times and humanities research

By Kole Omotoso
09 December 2018   |   3:35 am
If we look at our country today, what do we see? Nigeria today is “a land of generals without war professors without discovery politicians without...

If we look at our country today, what do we see? Nigeria today is “a land of generals without war professors without discovery politicians without ideology wealth without prosperity religion without Ethics leaders without vision the oppressed without worries courts without justice criminals without fears history without glory heroes without honour schools without learning artists without taste intellectuals without thought terrorists without identity appointees without life hunger without famine change without progress next level without foundation democracy without citizens unity without love heroes without sacrifice policies without plans crime without culprits saints without humility integrity without performance wars without enemies, victories without victors billionaires without business youth without dreams elders without wisdom. . .”

We can go on and on. And if you doubt the veracity of these “withouts” let us do an audit of culture today, let us do an audit of life style today and what we see is that while the rich are happy in their wealth the poor are happy in their poverty.

Yet what we are living through today are the legacies of historical trauma. The trauma of material loss. The trauma of spiritual loss. Slavery, apartheid, civil war, military rule, colonialism external and internal, political shenanigans, unexplained assassinations and murders and the phenomenon of “no one to blame”, the twin birth of “the unknown soldier”. We are in the Era of the Passive Tense. Things fall apart but who tore them apart? Who are these people who are responsible for these crimes? Projects are abandoned across the country, on public university campuses, who abandoned them? What stories do they tell their children about our shameful history? How are the memories of this shame passed on? How do perpetrators and victims continue to live in the same country in happiness in the aftermath of violent crimes, massive stealing and unexplained assassinations? Buildings reclaimed by the forest, who left them fallow?

These and more are the urgent questions of our times. We need to pause and ask them. We need to stop and answer them. We need to use our academic training to ask these questions. We need to use our expertise to answer these questions.
There are, of course, the larger global questions of our times as well. Climate change is taking place. Sea levels are rising endangering lives and properties and histories of those who live on islands, in low-lying countries and in coastal areas. There are virtually insoluble questions of ever galloping inequality and unresolved questioned posed by ever lasting capitalism.

Discriminatory populism and right wing rightness is becoming king in many powerful kingdoms across the earth. Discrimination and claims of human rights violations by wrong doers proliferate. As earthlings, we cannot turn blind eyes to these questions. But unless we address the immediate challenges – material, moral and ethical – that we face, nobody in the rest of the world can take us seriously.

And we wish to be taken seriously. Our youth want to be taken seriously but if their dream is to end up in Europe as sweepers and minders of mortuaries, who will take them seriously? Our professionals wish to be taken seriously by the rest of the world. But who can take us seriously as professionals when some of us perform miracles overseas while the rest pray for miracles at home? Our old men and women want to be taken seriously. But who can take them seriously when they no longer guard the traditional wisdom of our ancestors. Who can take them seriously if they are no longer the persons to go to when disputes arise and our people call for justice in their disputations?

In a recent media posting entitled why ASUU is on strike 62 reasons are given describing the state of our universities, the condition of our university staff, academic and administrative together, the absence or deterioration of equipment and the sorry state of teaching, learning and research. There is the point that there are more administrators in these public universities as against academics. What is the correct ratio of administrators to academics to achieve necessary balance? Is there a science to this issue?

But the Humanities are our pain. International research and development will do it for themselves and we would piggyback on them as we have been doing since civilisation began. But if our Humanities do not humanise us, we are worst than mere walking dead phantoms. How we restore the humanities to their rightful places through meaningful teaching, learning and research is our entry into the world of international intellectualism.

In the first place we need to restore our literary studies. If English is the lingual franca of this country, then the learning of English through reading and writing must be restored from kindergarten upwards. Reading and writing in English must be pursued vigorously from infant school. This means the making available of reading materials.
Publishing must be restored and copyright must be seriously protected.

At the same time the learning of a second language must be made compulsory. The superficial knowledge of English language displayed by some of our undergraduates is deplorable, especially where the subtle aspects of the language is lost to them.

Two examples are enough to show what is meant here. Asked to explain the following statement, many failed to show understanding:
“Time flies. You cannot. They fly too fast.” The other example was the British Labour Party slogan at last year June British elections: “Make June the end of May!” referring to Theresa May the leader of the Conservative Party. A little English learning is a dangerous thing especially now that we have adult young people who claim to speak only English. Speaking of another language must be made compulsory.
In the second place Literary Criticism must be restored to our English department curriculum.

In the third place Linguistic Studies should end empirical compilations of the mistakes of one local language and concentrate on the subtleties of language display by multilingual speakers of historically different languages.

Finally, the pride of place that our Social and Political Science learning, teaching and research used to have must be restored.

If we do all these it will be well with our academic lives.

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