|Urhobo Historical Society|
Chairman of Council
Lions & Lionesses
Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen
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.
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
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
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
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
I owe all this to a track that only UNN offered in the early days
of the evolution of tertiary education in
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.
THE FALLEN HOUSE OF
Let us now burrow into our subject proper beginning at the macro
level with the fallen house of
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:
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
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
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
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
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
MILITARY RULE AND PREBENDALISM
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
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
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.
CORRUPTION AND WHERE WE ARE
I do not exaggerate when I say that I am convinced corruption and
AIDS are the biggest scourges afflicting
Ronald Hope Sr., and Bornwell Chikulo in a volume they edited titled
‘Corruption and Development in
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
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.
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
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
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF THE PATRIMONIAL STATE
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
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.
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
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
“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
“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.
FREEDOM AND 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
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
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
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 UNIVERSITY AND THE COMMON GOOD
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
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
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 . 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
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
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
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
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
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
Last September I was fortunate to participate in a conference on
economic development and Globalization, in
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
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.
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
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
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
Thank you for your kind attention.