Urhobo Historical Society


By Patrick Utomi
Lagos Business School, Nigeria

An Anniversary Lecture on the occasion of the celebration of  forty years of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, June, 2001


Mr. Chairman
Chairman of Council
Lions & Lionesses
Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen

 Permit me to begin by acknowledging how honoured I feel at being asked to speak on so historic an occasion as the week of activities commemorating 40 years of the University of Nigeria. For anybody to be asked to give the 40th anniversary lecture of as outstanding an institution as this is an immense honor. For an alumnus, it is an extraordinary privilege. This for me is a home coming laced with much nostalgia. But it is also a trip that unveils my anxieties about the waning of hope that dwelt abundantly in the hills of Nsukka and the hearts of young men and women who sought knowledge here when I graduated about a quarter of a century ago. As I watch young men who back then bellowed ‘for the giant awakes’ as they hailed their Alma Mater, in those memorable lines from the university of Nigeria song, look despair in the eye today, I have become persuaded that full value can only be derived from a lecture such as this if we attempt to do a grand tour of the challenges that have blighted the hope of yesterday. Realities of the limitations of time and human concentration have however, informed more modest goals.

Let us establish a first caveat. You are going to hear me use ‘I’ quite a few times today. Those who know me well know that Pat Utomi is not a favorite discussion topic of mine. In seeking to escape from accusation that most critics do not walk their talk, I have chosen to expose myself to flak by using my experience for illustrations. This is why, I, will sound forth today even if I care so little for what I may or may not represent so long as I give everything I do my best shot.

In this pretence to a form of grand excursion through the challenges of both building a University and nation building, I intend to explore a host of reasons that, in my opinion, agglomerate to keep Nigeria prostrate. >From there I will draw on several disciplines from the social sciences, the management sciences and liberal Arts to explore the nexus of meaning in social action, in the hope that the prescriptions that are consequent, may truly be able to make a difference and keep hope alive.

Taking a multidisciplinary approach almost naturally brings me to a time for tributes which are offered in part as an apologia for the broad nature of our approach and in some sense as celebration of liberal education. Homage here goes to the tradition at the University of Nigeria and to the faculty and staff here who labored so tireless through a tradition of General Studies Programs to liberate students from the tunnel vision of narrow discipline focus. This praise due to the University of Nigeria came alive to me when at the closing of the recent National Maritime Authory’s Conference, the agency’s new Director-General, Ferdinand Agu stepped forward to give what was designated a vote of thanks.

So profound in erudition and clarity of thought was his Ex tempore presentation that a very surprised audience rewarded him with a spontaneous and sustained standing ovation. Afterwards, I went to congratulate him, and his modest response was ‘thanks to GS’. That is what the University of Nigeria gave to us. Agu, who studied Architecture at the University of Nigeria may be blessed with the gift of garb but his humble acknowledgement was ample reminder of the debt we owe the founding fathers of UNN for bequeathing to Nigeria this legacy, this system aimed at taking young men and women and shaping them in the image of the renaissance man.

On a personal note, I identify with Agu when I think of those who are resentful of the fact that I am seen as comfortable in several disciplines. In some cases the resentment proceeds from those who may be discipline purists or ‘monogamists’.  The others may have reasons to quarrel with my ‘intellectual randiness’ and apparent flirtations across labeled turf, which they do not make obvious. What I do know is that I have profited much from being at home in several disciplines and I too, like Agu, owe this to the seeds sowed by the GS tradition. It was the broadening of my horizon by the course system and then GS that led me pursuing formal academic study in several disciplines after I originally arrived Nsukka to pursue a course of study in Journalism.

As some of you may recall I recently terminated persistent criticism of my position on an issue as economistic, the point being that I tend not to appreciate the import of politics, by reminding the critic, a political science scholar, that I wrote a doctoral thesis and was awarded a Ph.d in political science. Somehow he did not realize that I had a political science background because I am generally more identified with Business Administration and Economics in the media.

I have also refused to block myself from the wealth of the liberal arts. The fact that a few respected periodicals like the Economist have been generous in highlighting my thinking on Economic matters in Nigeria could not possibly make me rank the economic sciences different than the treasure in my store from History and Philosophy. Indeed you will find later that culture is at the heart of my explanation of Nigeria’s economic underperformance.

I owe all this to a track that only UNN offered in the early days of the evolution of tertiary education in Nigeria. Thankfully others saw the light and the American education tradition which UNN introduced has become the norm.

Let us now turn to how I have chosen to present this lecture which I hope will generate more questions that will set us thinking than answers.  


To proceed from here in some form of order it is my plan to speak to the Nigerian question, which is for me, in the main, an attempt to understand the political economy of stagnation. We will then turn to the very idea of a university and how town-grown relationship in Nigeria has degenerated to a failed promise for nation building not only in terms of producing people who both in character and learning can capture the imagination of the moment and promote the common good therefrom, but in terms of advancing the ethic of discovery. After that we turn to scripture and the Prophet Nehemiah for a philosophical basis on which to commit to reconstruction of both the University and the polity. Finally, we prescribe how we could proceed as a country and then sum up our effort.


Let us now burrow into our subject proper beginning at the macro level with the fallen house of Nigeria. Karl Maier in his recent book of much acclaim: “This House has Fallen – Midnight in Nigeria essentially offers a new metaphor for a failed state. Maier brought his reportorial skills to much use in painting the picture of a people who have dug a hole for themselves, and a state in the firm grip of inertia. Not even a “coup from heaven”, as the sudden expiration of Abacha the dictator is characterized, has thought Nigeria lessons from its past. How did we get here? Tough question. But every Nigerian seems to know the answer. Or do they? Perhaps they do. For me, one possible path to the answer is to look at those who were like us and have managed to do much better.

It is to Illustrate how differently we have fared that my classes in the Social and Political Economy Environment of Business (SPEB) usually begin with a graph tracking nominal GDP per capita in six countries: Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore. The multidisciplinary approach of this course designed to draw from my interest in several disciplines enables us to look at economic, political, social and managerial capacity reasons why these countries almost all of which had more challenging economic, and in cases, socio-political situations than Nigeria at the time of self-government in 1957 have pulled so far away in terms of quality of life of the people. I must admit that I relish observing the reactions to this graphic depiction of reality. I am even more fascinated observing the reaction of students to the Gini index trends. This measure of income distribution gaps which show fewer people controlling more of the wealth of increasingly poorer Nigeria compared with more equitable distribution in rapidly developing and now much wealthier Asian countries, sets the stage for anguished debates.  Since I travel fairly extensively in South East Asia, I am fortunately able to bring our discussions down to earth. The matter is nothing short of the story of the tragedy of a people in the Nigerian experience. What is worse, it is mainly self-inflicted. Nigerians are largely responsible for Nigeria being on its knees.

The guide for my class in these discussions is the 3E framework (the emerging economies environment framework) which I first developed for presentation to a seminar at the World Bank in Washington, in April of 1996. It would become platform frame of my 1998 book, Managing Uncertainty – Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies.  The 3E model which aims to synthesize the most critical variables affecting competition and firm performance in developing countries, indicates fairly well the effect of weak institutions in restraining predatory behavior of government officials and in ensuring rigor in the policy process. I am convinced that the key to unraveling the Nigerian dilemma lies with understanding how our institutions and our cultures are evolving. Highly debilitating corruption and predatory behavior of public officials flow from weak institutions. It should not be surprising therefore that I consider corruption and capacity problems in the public service alongside AIDS as the biggest threats to Nigeria’s future. But how does this explain how we got to culture as a determinant of economic conduct.

In a new framework I am using to explain rapid sustained growth, culture is the core variable, interacting with and affecting institutions, education entrepreneurship and policy choices to produce economic performance. Just as Collins and Porass argue cogently after years of painstaking research, in the book Built to Last that corporate culture was the predominant variable in evaluating corporate success my observations suggest that we may find explanation for Nigeria’s underperformance in elite conduct and habits. Karl Maier captures these habits in his book. I have recently said that I consider the book required orientation reading for all who seek public office in Nigeria, especially if it is read alongside Lee Kuan Yew’s two volumes of his memoirs and the Singapore story.

HOW WE GOT HERE--- the evolution of the Nigerian political economy

I like to break the evolution of the Nigerian political economy down into three broad epochs. Beyond the pre-colonial subsistence moral economy of the peasant, I identify a Cash Crop Colonial period which gradually gave way, with the approach of self-government; a season of developmental competitive communalism, with its focus on fiscal federalism. That period was to be supplanted, under-military rule, by the very corrosive tradition of bureaucratic prebendalism with its rapacious characteristic rent seeking conduct.


It seems to me that the core characteristic of the authoritarian colonial state was minimalism. That which was the minimum required to attain the goal of raw materials flow to the colonial metropole and pride of empire determined government conduct. The cash crop economy that it produced was to accumulate significant reserves in the accounts of the Marketing Boards, as Pius Okigbo tells us in several of his writings, but these reserves were quickly depleted on attainment of self government (Okigbo 1973).

Some may turn to corruption as part of the explanation for this depletion of reserves between 1957 and independence in 1960 but that would be largely incorrect. The reserves were drawn down for investments to provide what the minimalist colonial governors failed to provide, industrial estates, infrastructure, and urban development projects (Cocoa House etc). Underpinning this race for development was competition between the regional, more or less ethnic, communities. I owe a great debt to Robert Melson and Howard Wolpe for a less than pejorative understanding of ethnicity in the Nigerian context (Melson and Wolpe 1977). From their work comes the construction of my views on competition between blocs of nationality groups in the period immediately following self-government. This regional competition sustained by fiscal federalism produced the biggest season of real development in Nigeria. Its sign posts include the Ikeja Industrial Estate of Western Nigeria, Aba’s Industrialization and the Textiles Industry hub in Kaduna, not to add the Okpara Agricultural policy fruits in the East and Awolowo’s free education gains in the West. GDP growth rates averaged nearly 4.0 percent per anum during that period. Countries like Bermuda and Bahamas that sustained 3.0 percent growth rates have become middle income economies.

Let us note here how generally selfless the leaders were then. In spite of the reasons advanced for the 1966 coup we all know now how Okpara presided over apportioning of Enugu GRA and how he practically had no where to live when he left office and how little the Sarduana had in his name. I join Prof. ABC Nwosu in raising the question he put forward at the Zik Lecture in Lagos last November – How many of today’s leaders can share out GRA land and not own dozens of houses there? Since ABC is a minister in the current dispensation I cannot but conclude he knows what he is talking about.

I am concluding here that competitive communalism was marked by leadership sacrifice for the common good of the ethnic nationality and it produced distinct measurable progress in the community, whether it be WNTV – first in Africa, an egg for a penny or Sarduana’s strategic mind selecting young northern boys for military service. In the main, it made for economic growth and improved quality of live even if it deepened social cleavages.


Military rule was to mark the eclipse of that era. In its essence the epoch of military rule is dominated by the ascendance of the patrimonial state where the lines between the state, the operatives of the state and their private economic interest became increasingly blurred. Here I owe some of my ideas for the building blocks of this era to Richard Joseph and his concept of Bureaucratic – Prebendalism which he forged to describe a pattern of conduct in which the obsession is for bureaucratic doling out of prebends – share of the national cake.    

So pervasive has the prebendal culture become that most energies are invested in getting a piece of the cake than in creating wealth. The biggest symbol of this culture is the continuous binary fission that has seen Nigeria go from a three region structure to a 36 State structure in three decades and none of the States come by accretion to the Union as in the case of the United States. So we get more State Governors, more Permanent Secretaries, more motorcades and sirens intruding upon the peace of citizens in a country in which reality is increased disconnect between the State and Society as those in authority, whether elected or appointed, as the result a coup, treat the people as the servants who exist for the pleasure of those in charge. Public life is no more about service to the people. It is about being served by the people.

Indeed leadership behavior in the prebendal epoch remind me of a joke during our undergraduate days  when I was in the students union executive here at Nsukka and Paul Erokoro as Secretary of the Students Union in Enugu Campus used to humorously chant that ‘the masses must survive so the aristocrats can enjoy’. The coincidence of the centralizing tendency in military hierarchy which entered the public arena with military intervention in government and the so called oil boom created the archetype of a prebendal State. The creation of so many parastatals and government owned enterprises in which cronyism was the basis for many appointments showcased the tragedy of the commons writ large. That which belonged to all belonged to none. Managers of public enterprises went so wild, they even gave corruption a bad name. While I recognize the danger of generalizing so broadly I can quote here a permanent Secretary at the federal level, a UNN alumnus who is the chief accounting officer for the ministry of Industry who I told I wanted some of his time for interviews necessary for case studies I am currently writing on NAFCON, ALSCON, The paper mills and Ajaokuta Steel Complex. When I said my object was to find out why these organizations have under performed he smiled wryly and said “Each set of executives that went to manage them simply saw their turn to loot. They stole the places clean”. One can also say that the prebendal culture extended the same effect on the public service which stimulated the parastatal creation frenzy as part of their empire building. The public service had partly become that inclined from the poor morale following the 1975/76 purge which laid ruin the concept of tenure in Weberian bureaucracy.

If we recognize that bureaucratic organizations have a tendency to stimulate goal displacement as Charles Perrrow argues stoutly in his book: Complex Organizations (Perrow 1976) we can then only imagine what instability in the system and lack of security of tenure could do to focus on organization goals. What we have witnessed in Nigeria is large scale goal displacement in which civil servants have abdicated from creative application of intellect to solve problems of society but denominate action in terms of allocation of financial resources for tasks. Many of these tasks get the resources in a manner that a good proportion end up in the pockets of these civil servants as they prepare for a rainy day.

You can extrapolate any which way you want but the naked truth is that in this prebendal culture that suffices till this day corruption is the simple most salient factor of national life. You can find in it the nature of public choice which has resulted in our prolonged economic stagnation. We can therefore not understand where we have come from until we can understand corruption.


I do not exaggerate when I say that I am convinced corruption and AIDS are the biggest scourges afflicting Nigeria. Ironically as with AIDS Nigerians live in denial regarding corruption. Even with my prolonged harangue on corruption it is only in the last year or so that I have come to a more complete realization of the level of pervasiveness of corruption and its highly debilitating effect in the patrimonial prebendal state that Nigeria has declined into.

Ronald Hope Sr., and Bornwell Chikulo in a volume they edited titled ‘Corruption and Development in Africa’ provide us a collection of well thought out essays and case studies on the subject (Hope sr. and Chikulo 2000). Not only do they identify in the very first line of the introduction, that corruption, in Nigeria, is systemic compared to Botswana where it is rare and Ghana where it is widespread, we read in the chapter by Eroro and Oladoyin that corruption is a cultural phenomenon which will remain with Nigerians ad infinitum unless a number of radical changes take place. Among those changes are the arrival of a leadership class that is transparently honest, methods to enable citizens expose public officials as corrupt without fear of persecution and scope of public sector in the management of national affairs and the economy to be drastically reduced. I am sad to report to you that even though I chaired a committee set up by President Obasanjo to  review institutions of transparency in government I now have doubts about the administrations commitment to fight corruption. I, in fact, suspect that the incidence of corruption has increased since  this government came into being.

The abuse of power for personal gain or for the benefit of a group one owes allegiance has had widespread effects that have affected the development process in a way that is responsible for the mass poverty that is our lot today. Rick Stapenhurst and Shahrzad in a chapter on the Overview of the costs of corruption in the edited volume by Rick and Sahr Kpundeh note that corruption is costly if only because it distorts choices. Corruption, they point out, distorts the public expenditure process leading to the funding of inappropriate mega-projects, diverting public funds from more efficient uses. If you think of capital budgeting at State, local government and federal levels in Nigeria something rings true about their point (most offensive recent example must be the Abuja Stadium. As millions starve, USD 800 million is provided for yet another stadium with the many FIFA approved Nigeria ’99 stadia grossly underutilized.)

Stapenhurst and Sedigh also show that corruption (1) increases the cost of goods and services (2) contributes to decline of standards (3) promotes unproductive investments that are not viable or sustainable (4) increases a country’s indebtedness and impoverishment and (5) leads to loss of government tax revenues.

In Nigeria, no thanks to oil, tax collection is paid little attention, thus reducing the incentive for citizens to seek to keep government accountable for use of such revenues.

It is easy for the discussion of corruption to come down to good guys and bad guys. That would be so incorrect. If many of our leaders realize the true cost of corruption as these examples suggest, I am sure they may be more reticent. As it were absence of institutional assurance of basic living standards which make many do damage ostensibly in the bid to secure tomorrow, combined with their ignorance of the true consequences of their action, and the arrogance that blocks any chance of learning, creates the nightmare that is our experience. It is the realization of the foregoing that has caused me to be so impassioned about this subject and to use platforms such as the Concerned Professionals to advance this plank. Some of you may recall how my opening remarks at the recent national symposium organized by the Concerned Professionals was built around Mahatma Ghandi’s famous Seven Deadly Social Sins among them: Politics without principles, Wealth without work, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity; pleasure without conscience and Worship without sacrifice. These sins, all of which are grievously offended against in Nigeria define the culture that has crippled progress.

Imagine that our politicians were principled. Imagine that our reward system ensured that those who worked hardest earned the most rather than those who have access extracting the most economic rent ‘thriving along with society’s most clever fraudsters’. Imagine that all our graduates are people of character. If this was reality, nominal GDP Per Capita in Nigeria would be at least $10,000 (USD) instead of somewhere between $250 and $300. Our frequently offending on these sins tells the story of the Nigerian condition- economic stagnation, moral decadence and social disharmony.


It should be obvious that corruption is at the heart of the stagnation we experience. What is more frightening, however, is that it progressively erodes the legitimacy of government. Seymour Martin Lipset in that seminal book, The First New Nation, teaches without ambivalence that all governments seek to establish legitimacy because they require it to be able to govern. Corruption has unfortunately eroded the legitimacy of the Nigerian state and has lead the citizen in Nigeria to distrust government so intensely that policy ideas that make sense, such as deregulation where institutional frameworks are in place, are rejected outright even though they may actually serve the interest of the citizens. As Adams Oshiomole, the President of the Nigerian Labor Congress said to me in front of the NICON Hilton a few weeks ago – I understand what you mean by deregulation and I believe it is what is best for the people but these government people understand it differently from you, more importantly I do not trust them, they are only thinking of how to extract more money from the people. How can you argue with a man who makes so much sense? I just passed on the subject.

To summarize, corruption has vastly eroded the legitimacy of governments in Nigeria. This is why the politics of power erosion sets in so easily. From my observation deck, I see an ignorant and arrogant ruling elite, unwilling to listen and learn, deepening the viscous cycle of the state disconnected from society. I cannot in good conscience avoid the logical conclusion – THE PEOPLE WILL REVOLT. It is only a matter of time. This is truly sad because Nigerians are long suffering. Little lesson is learnt from the fact that the Sharia movement, much misunderstood in the south, grew out of northern peoples turning to rule by the law of their faith as rejection of the corruption of the traditional northern elite who have ruled Nigeria for most of its history. The politicians who hijacked the instruments of the anger of the northern masses by adopting Sharia were only proactively acting to save their political necks (Maier 2000). Unfortunately, I can predict that it will backfire if they continue in their old corrupt ways as many of them are wont to do. The same goes for the resource control movement. It is a reaction of the suffering people of the Niger Delta to the reckless abuse of those resources by a narrow and corrupt ruling group. All of them point to the fact that the people will seek to reclaim the power that belongs to them from politicians that began gunning for a second term one third of the way into the first with little evidence of what they had done for the people. Without being Nostradamus you can tell that these resilient, long suffering, ethnicity overdosed Nigerians will revolt someday soon.

When that time comes I guess we will account for whatever we did and what we failed to do. I do not, personally expected to escape blame. There was probably much more I could have done to check the rot. My hope is that my prolonged contestation of public space in criticism of the extant order, even at the risk of threat to my life will serve in mitigation. That Abacha sent death squads after me is not a badge of honor but I hope historians will remember that when they try to locate blame for that part of our history. My biggest pity is reserved, not for the perpetrators of injustice, it is reserved for those who stand by watching. I take this position because I side with Dante in his characterization of the hottest part of hell, which is reserved for those who in the face of a moral crisis take refuge in neutrality.


Having reviewed the macro level where the town gets its colour let us come down into the micro level where gown finds its pigments. To introduce this subject I am going to draw extensively on a lecture I gave during my last visit to the University of Nigeria in Enugu in 1999. On that occasion I spoke on the idea of a university. Today we are trying to see how the idea of a university can be applied to Town-Gown relations for the purpose of rebuilding the fallen house of Nigeria.


In defining a matter that is both of general or broad interest and also of particular interest to some holding deeper insights, I have usually found it of benefit to begin with a general understanding and proceed to fuller and more wholesome unravelling of the subject. I think it appropriate therefore to begin this excursion into the idea of a university with a general more commonplace explication of what a university is. For that, I have turned to the ever-handy International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. It tells us that: “Universities are organizations engaged in the advancement of knowledge; they teach, train and examine students in a variety of scholarly, scientific and professional fields. Intellectual pursuits define the highest prevailing levels of competence in these fields. The universities confer degrees and provide opportunities both for members of their teaching staff and for some of their students to do original research” (Ben-David, 1968)

Yet another definition tells us that Universities are: “Institutions of higher education, usually comprising a liberal arts and sciences college and graduate and professional schools and having the authority to confer degrees in various fields of study. The modern university evolved from the medieval schools known as studia generalis. The earliest studia arose out of efforts to educate Clerks and Monks beyond the level of Cathedral and Monastic schools which were institutions in which the essences or universals were studied.” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968) These essences or universals set the course of higher education at this ultimate level along a path that was deliberately comprehensive in scope. This point is in fact more richly summarized in the 1952 preface to John Henry Cardinal Newman’s The Idea of a University. He takes the view here that a university is a place of teaching universal knowledge. This implies that its objective is on the one hand, intellectual not moral; and on the other the diffusion of knowledge rather than the advancement of it. The diffusion need brings the student but they will lack the osmotic capability of absorbing fully the existing base of knowledge unless the universal knowledge includes values that give context, meaning and relevance to the knowledge gained in the university. This is why the university confers its degrees on people who have been found worthy in ‘character and in learning”.          

There are many who wonder if the character part of this qualification is still a serious consideration given the values of graduates in the work place, the incidents of cult violence, examination malpractice’s etc, that have come to become pronounced aspects of the public view of the contemporary Nigerian university.

The idea of a university from the foregoing is of a place that diffuses ideas to people of character so the ideas can be properly utilised. But utilised for whose benefit? Since man is a gregarious animal and has always lived in communities which provide the non-appropriability goods he requires, it should seem reasonable that knowledge should be utilized both for his individual benefit and the benefit of the university community, and the progress of the society in which the university is located. A one time chancellor of the University of Navarra in Spain, the Spanish priest Josemaria Escriva, states this most richly when he points out that: “A university must play a primary role in contribution to human progress. Since the problems facing mankind are multiple and complex (spiritual, cultural, social, financial etc), university education must cover all these aspects.” (Escriva, 1974)

To contribute to human progress, the university has necessarily to advance knowledge to new frontiers that make living more comfortable than has hitherto been the case. Bearing all these in mind, we can say of the university that it is a place of enlightenment for exploring the frontiers of knowledge and socializing people into the application of discovered things, ideas and values; the knowledge of the natural order; for the pursuit of the common good and individual well being. The university is an enterprise in which freedom is a critical variable if the frontiers of knowledge are to be challenged because the status quo often resists new ideas for, as Machiavelli reminds us, in The Prince, those who benefit from extant order usually try to frustrate a new way of thinking.

The university which we have just defined does not differ in Africa from the tradition of Europe even though the academy of learning was a feature of medieval African civilizations such as Timbuktu. Those early civilizations became fully extinct so that when colonial experience led colonials anxious to staff the bureaucracy with locals to decide on universities for the colonies, they were recreating the western university There was hardly any norm from the traditions of the academics of earlier African civilization adopted in today’s Nigerian university. The challenge of the modern academy drawing from ancient African traditions is part of the considerations for today’s universities. But few even have a sense for the early African academics. Ali Mazrui, however, richly articulates the progeny of the African University. “The African university was born as a subsidiary therefore of precisely that Westernizing transnational corporation to which I referred- Western academic establishment. (Ashby, 1964, pp1-2) Colleges like Makerere, Ibadan and Legon in Ghana, and colleges in the Franco-phone African part of our continent, were literally cultural subsidiaries of Btitish and French academic traditions.

“The African was conceived primarily as a transmission belt of high Western culture, rather than as a workshop for the transfer of high Western skills” (Ibid, 96). African universities became nurseries for nurturing a westernized black intellectual aristocracy. Graduates of Ibadan, Dakar and Makerere acquired Western social tastes more readily than Western organizational skills.

“They joined my generation of Africans- the lost generation of the colonial period. They embraced the new gospel of respecting Westernism, and the new gospel was not only born but expanded. The one change which did not take place, was a transformation in the role of the university. The university became a place for perpetuating and expanding the Westernized elite, creating new members for it. The ghost of intellectual dependency continued to haunt the whole gamut of African academia. The semi-secular gospel of Westernism continues to hold African mental freedom hostage”. The imprisonment of the African academic in Western tradition leads us to the question of the place of freedom in the advancement of knowledge.


The advancement of knowledge which is important for improving the quality of life of the citizenry and social progress in general is best cultivated in an atmosphere of freedom. That freedom is necessary, as we have suggested, to prevent the current dominant paradigm from blocking out a potentially better social order. Machiavelli presents the context of this blockage to advancement:

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who could profit by the new order. This lukewarmness arises partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had an actual experience of it”.

To be hindered by extant order from the advance of knowledge seems of its own to be a good reason for seeking academic freedom but the question is, freedom for what? A colleague of mine often refers to a metaphor of the university faculty as a collection of anarchists linked together by a common car park. Surely freedom is not for disruption and destruction except where such destruction is a Schumpeter type creative destruction. Enterpreneurial effort at creative destruction is the source of economic advance. This is a fact first captured in economic sciences view of progress by Joseph Schumpeter. Academic freedom should therefore be able to allow those who apply themselves to destroy yesterday’s truth to create new truths or paradigms that advance social well being. If the house of Nigeria has fallen, academic freedom should be about freedom to say so clearly, and in speaking truth to power suggest constructive paths to reconstruction.

The search for freedom in academics is not only a path of conflict with political order, it is often a battle against the institutions designed to advance knowledge and sometimes against the self. The seminal work of Reinhardt Bendix, Embattled Reason, is for the most part a critique of how the dominant paradigm of the Social Sciences Research Council in the United States affected research funding in the early years following the end of colonial rule.

Just as freedom is limited by the funding traditions in the discipline, the idiosyncrasies of academics can become a block to freedom. My experience in the evolution of ideas about the Nigerian political situation will suffice to make this point. In the days of the last elected federal Government under Alhaji Shehu Shagari, there were academics who for personal, ethnic or other idiosyncratic motives besides regime performance waged a war of attrition against the regime in newspapers. Ostensibly, their objective was to inveigh against the corruption and poor performance of the regime. When the military intervened, many were so blinded by this prism through which they viewed the regime that they warmly welcomed the military and were unable to think through the putative damage to the social order of military rule. I recall a series of views I expressed in interviews on the subject of military overthrow of the Shagari regime which appeared in The New York Times beginning on January 8, 1984. I had predicted that the people would find ultimately that the baby had been thrown out with the bath water. Fifteen years later, many of those same academics who used up much prose welcoming the military are wondering why they have not found the truth of the Nigerian problem. Not considered still by many of them is that the judgement of yesterday in which the military was a legitimate option against a corrupt “elected” government can be logical in rebutting an election annulment on the grounds that the potential for corruption existed in the coming order. Those of us who criticized the military answer of 1983 and 1993, staying consistent with a principle, have had to find a kind way of letting our colleagues recognize that their problem is rooted in loss of freedom brought about by their idiosyncratic dispositions to the subject matter. The cultivation of values which can crystallize into externally visible principles that indiscriminatingly guide our conduct will more likely give us true freedom to act or think without the inhibition of our momentary likes and dislikes.

The point I am trying to make here is that the pursuit of knowledge, which is the pursuit of truth, requires general principles by which if we adhere we are more likely to be consistent and eventually come to the truth. Academics who departed from this found themselves not only in error when the situation of the 1990’s came along but found they had a moral problem. Having dressed military intervention in messianic robes earlier, it was harder to impugn its consequences for the common good as fundamentally negative. Another problem in this matter has to do with humility. Not having the humility to recognize that they may not have full comprehension of the dynamics of the 1983 intervention, it was hard for many of them to have a logical rather than emotional appeal for a rejection of military rule.


The freedom of the academic to pursue activities that advance and disseminate knowledge does not come free. It comes often at a cost to society. Take the example of tenure. The tenured professor is free from the threat of loss of his position after his early work has given his evaluators cause to believe that he will be able to perform. Becoming tenured means a loss of flexibility to deploy faculty by the community that sustains the university. Most universities indeed depend in large or small measures on taxpayers for funding and have an obligation to build Town-Gown partnerships that benefit the community. The cost to the community of the academic being free is a trade off in favor of the right freedom leading the scholar to ultimately produce for the common good, for social progress. There remains the possibility that a tenured professor can choose not to advance knowledge for the common good without any effective threat to his position. It is a cost but the value of freedom makes this cost worth while.

It is also important that the university which grooms the bureaucrats who man the institutions of society have a sense for what is the common good that these students will have to deploy. The common good, which to a large extent is a universal attribute, is something which universities are honor-bound, in their tradition, to protect. The values of their essence may, however, lead them away from it. As Mazrui has shown in the earlier quote, university values may be as disconnected from society as the past in colonial Africa.

This long discussion of the idea of a University and our contemporary experience cannot be complete if we do not review the state of decay in the Universities characterized by much rancor between faculty and administration, students and the authorities, strike action after strike action, closure of the Universities and standards that have been declared hemorrhaging by a recent World Bank study.


It seems reasonable to posit that the Universities have become a mirror image of Nigeria as a failed state, a sick replica in the microcosm of an epileptic macrocosm.

Should it not be so? No. I posit it should not be so. The traditions of ancient scholarship in which the academic guards jealously his knowledge, even in poverty and stays aloof from being corrupted by lucre establishes the basis for my expectation that the Universities be different. There dwells enough discerning intellectual power in the University community to filter out the contaminating attributes of a society at the brink of midnight. That this has not happened seems to me the result of how academia sold itself out cheaply.

Once, I recall, Mrs. Fola Ighodalo, former distinguished Permanent Secretary in Western Region talked about how General Yakubu Gowon, as  Head of State on a visit to the Western region, asked Governor Adeyinka Adebayo what the problem was with carpenters in Ibadan. Chairs, it seemed, were not being produced enough. This had become a problem because they were being bombarded in Dodan Barracks by UI lecturers lobbying for chairs. The poor soldiers did not even know what professorial chairs were about.

Professors desperate to be state Commissioners cheapened themselves before young lieutenant colonels. Those whose financial conducts turned out inappropriate would further worsened matters. Others who rejoiced at hearing their names on radio lost the moral courage to speak up when they were dropped same way. The military was successful in demystifying the academic and then in humiliating him. Reduced to ‘average stature’, the academic imported the vices of macro Nigeria; extorting money from students through the sales of handouts, abuse of students for sexual and other favors and engaging in sales of grades. The Universities have become as corrupt at all levels as Nigerian Ports.      Whatever happened to oasis of sanity and centers of excellence.

In declining so low the academic lost his moral authority and his historic duty to use the trust of student-teacher relationships to build in the student a state that reflects positively on the Hegelian notion of the measure of society as a function of the character of its youth. Today, tomorrow seems frightening because of the loss of utopia which more contemporary philosopher Jurgen Hebamas sees as the legacy of Western intellectual tradition. But today we do not see ideals in young men and women, as was the case in my time here.

I once criticized the academic community, following the tradition of Hebermas, for building utopian mindsets that invariably left policymakers somewhat helpless in the face of these idealized constructs of reality. Social ideas were too idealistic to reasonably expect effective implementation in the real world. Today we have swung to the extreme of the demise of ideals. The student is hardly different from the motor park tout in the construction of social meaning. This is his cross and society’s burden from the fallen university tradition in Nigeria.

To liberate Nigeria from want and backwardness, we need first to liberate the students from the slavery of handouts and professors in cults. We need also to equip him with organizational and entrepreneurial skills Mazrui lamented were not part of the repertoire of the colonial university.  This is why criticism of the Ivory Tower is in order. The fallen house of Nigeria needs reawakening but it cannot do so well enough unless the prostrate University communities experience resurrection. Let me assure you that you can maintain your dignity even if you engage with society and the leadership elite. I am not afraid to illustrate with my experience. I have remained engaged all these years, yet God’s gift of contentment has allowed me to escape some of the vile forms of desecration of man’s dignity. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a commissioner or to serve in any form so long as you guard your dignity jealously.

I recall how in 1986 when the Alpha fraternity marked 25 years of its existence, I was responsible for a homecoming and symposium in Nsukka to which I invited Tony Ukpo and Emeka Omeruah then Governors of Rivers state and Anambra state. I had been very close to Tony Ukpo and spent a bit of my time offering him advise in the early days when he served as Regime thinker, strategist and information minister. Just before he was reassigned to Port harcourt as Governor, a few weeks before he came to Nsukka, he suddenly remarked to me that he did not even have my CV. Those who wonder how come I could very easily be so severe on Babangida in 1991 and 1993 when I was once thought of as a so called Babangida boy will find the answer in the fact that you will find no contract against my name throughout that period. Our friendship was based on policies I supported in the areas of economic reform which they pledged to implement. Once they derailed badly in 1991 and corruption was elevated to the level of a high art, I spoke out, first privately to them and then in newspaper columns.

Close as I have been to the system I have deliberately never requested, hinted or implied interest in any job in Government. I have also always been determined that whenever I am asked I would clearly state my conditions. I do not say these things to show off purity, rather I offer them as examples that you can retain your dignity and still not lose out. I do not believe that I am necessarily worse off than those who begged their way to positions. I also feel obliged to acknowledge that contentment is a gift from God of which I have enjoyed the privilege.

Lest I be seen to deceive, nothing I have said here is designed to indicate that I am lacking in ambition. On the contrary I am very ambitious. When I left for graduate school the very day NYSC ended my intent was to quickly prepare to become a media mogul through additional training in business administration. Those who may have read my autobiographical reflections: To Serve Is To Live, may then recall that when I was encouraged by a Professor at Indiana to think of public service, instead, my further graduate studies emphasized public finance and budgeting and policy economics because I was hoping then to become finance minister or budget adviser. What I have chosen to do is to have the proper end in mind and allow key values and principles to guide the pursuit of ambition as Stephen R Covey and other personal effectiveness gurus counsel. Like the title of a book I am currently reading Lee Plaines: Influence with Honour; The university man committed to restoring the dignity of man should see engagement with power as an effort to exert influence with honor. How then do we rebuild the fallen house through exercising influence with honor?


As Nehemiah prayed the King Artataxerxes for relief to return to Judah and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, the time has come for a serious push to rebuild the fallen house of Nigeria. It is a tall task because those who pulled down the wall are still pulling, whether they are forming new parties to reinvent old disasters or they are consolidating old parties to continue the partying. Who will make them sit back and reflect on the damage they have done and for the sake of the people they have visited such pain and punishment rethink this craving of their egos. Must the vampire culture of Nigerian politics, military or civilian, suck more innocent blood?  I know there are too many bored, rich retired soldiers, fraudsters and kingmaker wannabes, but must the price we have to pay for their boredom be so high? Can we convert them and infuse the Nehemiah complex rather than the Messiah complex into them. 

The University can redeem itself by regenerating the Nehemiah complex. As Nehemiah began by crying to God in acceptance of the culpability of Israel which had forsaken the Lord’s commands, the University needs first to admit that it too is of a fallen nature and that its mere culpability should be not in using the instruments of its tormentors to fight back and continue the spread of the malignant tumor afflicting Nigerian society but by creatively using intellect to guide the people’s inevitable efforts to reclaim their power. There are far too many in the academic community who are on a vendetta path with those they consider oppressors in the way they see students. Could this not be misplaced? Fewer and fewer of the children of the sources of their anger are in our universities. They are ‘safe’ abroad. Think how much good can come from the professor seeing the student as a vehicle for rebuilding the fallen house.

The Universities need to recommit to rebuilding civil society if the walls of the Fallen House of Nigeria are to be rebuilt. But they cannot do it through a few rabid iconoclasts who lose both the respect of the elite and earn the suspicion of the masses as to whether or not they are ever capable of seeing good in what someone else does.

The Universities will to do well to educate the young minds regarding violence that protocol, and language of governance, does, in creating distance between those who govern and the governed. This created distance which negatively impacts on policy implementation comes from a subtle base that many do not become sensitive to until they are raised to the fore of society’s agenda. Why must citizens be chased off the road by sirens escorting an elected official?  The language of the master which constantly flows down from elected officials and the big man culture of our country in which every effort seems to be invested to crush the dignity of every other human being for a big man to recognize he is with it  facilitates this disconnect between those who lead and those they lead. Universities need to shape the consciousness of the next generation to recognize the equal dignity of all men. Western progress has come significantly for the elevation of the value of human life and man in society.

I am also conscious that if those who lead see clear evidence of the ‘rewards’ of a selfish, corrupt ruling elite, they may be persuaded that serving selflessly, sacrificing for the good of all, may ultimately be the best selfish way to proceed; for I can show many who when they left offices like Gubernatorial chairs thought they had made ‘good money’ and were taken care of for life. Many are back on the brink of poverty. Had they invested enough time in selfless service, most of the things that drained their savings like generators, bad roads etc, would have been no issues to contend with. Empirical data presented as regular part of the knowledge enterprise can make the difference in re-orienting us towards a culture of service and a focus on the verdict of history. Just as we honor Nehemiah each time we read scripture of his sacrifice, so will history honor today’s men who commit to rebuilding the fallen walls of Nigeria. The sensitization of the people can stimulate a few Nehemiah’s. Should they return to Judah we can hope to rebuild the Fallen House of Nigeria.


I began with a few caveats. But they did not include the fact that we all operate from behind certain prisms. The prism, from which I have seen the world since my undergraduate days here, even if it was not so popular then, was market economy free enterprise system and liberal democratic tradition as best tools for pursuing the common good. I do not deny the validity of other approaches but the paradigm I have functioned under has led me to certain prescription for solving these problems we have identified as holding Nigeria back. Before I turn to issues of private sector led economic growth which for me is the place of promise I would like to summarize the foregoing within the context of traditions of inquiry about economic performance.

Last September I was fortunate to participate in a conference on economic development and Globalization, in Rome. It was part of a series celebrating the end of the second Christian millennium. This part of the jubilee of Professors dedicated to economic development naturally looked at moral aspects of the challenge of development in addition to the technical issues. I was therefore lucky to be asked to present a paper on technical aspects of Africa’s economic development and ethical challenges involved. Preparing that paper did much to reinforce my views that culture matters and that issues of patrimonialism and corruption were very important in understanding underperformance in Africa. That assignment, more importantly, helped me to review the traditions of explanation for Africa’s economic underperformance.

Of the many contending paradigms, if we may so characterize them, the dominant ones are the Policy versus Destiny debate. The policy tradition, to apply a shorthand that might not fully capture nuances, blames the policy choices that have been made by African leaders for the dawning of Afropesimism and the continents economic underperformance. The destiny or Geography counterpoint suggests that Africa is poor because geography and historical factors so destine it.    The latter school is more closely associated with Jeffery Sachs who has had the ears of President Obasanjo, hence the roll back malaria summit because the debilitative effect of Malaria is one of the major reasons for low productivity in Africa, according to that tradition.

What we have shown in the foregoing is that it is more policy than destiny but policy alone is inadequate. We are convinced that along with policy choices, institutions, education, entrepreneurship and culture count for much. Subsumed under culture is leadership which can use politics to transform culture and, in the words of Daniel Patrick Moyniham, save it from itself. Singapore remains my clearest example of where this happened. The failure of the Nigerian promise in the current dispensation is a failure of leadership. Obasanjo is not Lee Kuan Yew. But the failure is also that of the university which can help mould culture, provide relevant learning, stimulate entrepreneurship and set the policy agenda. These five growth drivers, as I call them, provide the foundation stones that the Nehemiahs who have to rebuild the fallen house of Nigeria have to put in place.

The net effect of working up the growth drivers is the preparation for private sector led growth. The implementation of specific policies that result in an environment for private sector led growth remains at the heart of the trouble with a Nigeria faced with high levels of unemployment and uncertainty which triggers high transaction costs. This is why it is of value to recap on them as we close with some prescriptions for action plans.

Privatization, deregulation when it means what I know it to mean, within the competition doctrine, and not necessarily more money for a monopoly marketer; increasing the quality of human capital and transparency in decision making, comes on strong in my repertoire of prescriptions. I do not hesitate to put them forward again today.

I do so because I am convinced these approaches to public choice will lead us to a more competitive economy in this globalized world we inhabit. If we can compete, wealth will be created and the rampage of poverty will be contained. My reasoning is that the eclipse of poverty will allow people a realization of their dignity in a way that will make for more sensible engagement on the social and political fronts, thus reducing some of the tensions that have become symptomatic of living in Nigeria. I am also convinced of the imperative of public service reform. Without improved management systems in the civil service, better training and capacity building and a good merit driven system in which techniques like value for money audit are utilized, the hope for quick recovery may be far fetched.

Building up the production ethic, entrepreneurship skills and values as against the economic rent orientation, and habits that reduce uncertainty, are part of the response people expect of an academic community that has taken on the Nehemiah complex.

There is also the desperate need to build an institutional support base to stimulate entrepreneurship. The future depends very much on wealth creating entrepreneurs who are passionate about their goals. We are the way we are because rent seekers have displaced entrepreneurs. Liberation is about restoring the venture spirit.

The universities can also help in the rebuilding of this fallen house if they are responsive to globalization, its limitations, the disadvantages and the tremendous opportunities it is providing us to leapfrog stages of development. If with all the opportunities that software development has provided countries like India through  gateways like Bangalore our universities cannot play the roles the Stanfords have played for IT then we should not talk of rapid growth which we need desperately because of the deep poverty of the land. That role is unlikely if microprocessing is yet to make it into the curriculum of our engineering schools.

Yes, this house has fallen. But the house of Nigeria can be rebuilt by Nehemiahs who will renew and revitalize the leadership elite. The Universities have a crucial role to play in that regard. I hope you live up to your promise.

Thank you for your kind attention.


Pat Utomi