Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Reimagining literature for a developing society… writers, critics, politicians’ view

By Anote Ajeluorou
 
While many thinkers are yet to agree on one single role that can be assigned to literature, many believe, however, that literature in a developing society like Nigeria cannot afford the luxury of being romantic or art for art’s sake. Indeed, literature should be accorded greater role in sharpening sensibilities to failings in society and thereby providing roadmaps to resolving those failures. And quite early, Nigerian writers recognised this role and began to play it well.
  In the same vein, many still argue that the role has been played in a one-sided manner and that the body of literature produced in the 1960s and in recent years has not provided the needed road map to foster development.
  Also, there is evidence to the effect that the literature has shown a tendency towards the negative rather than the positive; that it has been more condemnatory and castigatory than constructive; and that it has merely highlighted the sundry ills in society ostensibly perpetuated by politicians rather than providing the way forward. That indeed, the literature produced in a society like Nigeria has not charted a new vision, the sort of utopia that the people aspire to and; that it has more or less remained stagnant in merely highlighting what the people already know.
  Those who hold this view further argue that literature ought to construct alternative vision for those saddled with engineering the direction the society should follow. They say that the condemnatory literature so far produced would continue to cause schism between writers and politicians rather than make them co-builders of a desirable nation-state.
 
LITERARY critic and don, Dr. Sunny Awhefeada of Delta State University, Abraka, used J.P. Clark’s earliest masterpiece, Ozidi as case in point, where a grim quest for revenge obliterated every possibility of forging a new, better society in Orua society, where it is set. Clark had the failure of Nigeria’s first Republic in mind as Awhefeada writes in Songs of Gold: Fresh Perspectives on Clark, “The Play Ozidi yields itself as an allegorical dramatisation of the Nigerian condition in the first six years of independence…”
  But Awhefeada goes further to assert that “Clark accurately mirrors the Nigerian condition of the 1960s in Ozidi as many of his contemporaries did in their works… Nevertheless, a recurring motif in the works of that epoch has been the tragic surrender or hopelessness exhibited by all the writers in the face of the misfortune assailing the polity. It is true that there were tell-tale signs of a nation bound for the precipice, but could not the writers have imagined or charted different routes leading from the programmed chaos of the nation’s socio-political reality?
   “Wole Soyinka in A Dance of the Forest and Kongi’s Harvest, Chinua Achebe’sA Man of the People, Clark’s Song of a Goat and The Raft, all exhibited a sense of tragic helplessness in configuring the Nigerian experience of the 1960s”.
  Awhefeada concludes by submitting that “In a nation that has been so fractured by misrule, every field of human endeavour, especially literature, should be seen as helping to facilitate change progressively. The tragic stasis demonstrated by the cited works read like an endorsement of a cycle of destructive violence… Literature’s protean quality enables it to invent alternative socio-political praxis that can humanise an enthralled polity. Literature can provide a soothing view of the world, a therapeutic conditioning necessary for the balancing of dystopia with utopia”.
  Awhefeada’s submission is much in tune with Prof. Charles Nnolim’s position of advancing a literature of utopia away from the negative one that is so common amongst writers.
 
PERHAPS, one of the few writers that have boldly depart from the norms is Dr. Eghosa Imasuen in his first work, To Saint Patrick. It is a work that is inventive in its grand vision of a Nigeria where social infrastructure are working, from supersonic railways, well-paved roads, and everything that makes life meaningful working as they should in what he calls ‘alternate history’ narrative.
  However, Imasuen has since returned to the literature of the tragic vision or harsh reality that characterises the polity in his latest work, Fine Boys. He did not sustain the optimistic note in his first work, obviously arising from the continuing grim conditions that still prevail. But even at that, To Saint Patrick is a refreshing view, a pointer to what could come out of the grimness that is so pervasive.
  Lending his voice to the alternative vision literature is capable of engendering in society was American civil rights activist and former Democratic Party presidential candidate, Rev. Jesse Jackson. He made his submission while a guest at Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF) in Port Harcourt last year, when he said, while taking a hard look at the desperate conditions in the Niger Delta, “Literature makes us imagine... imagine if the streets of the Niger Delta are paved, and there is no hunger, and the hospitals are working for the benefits of the poor…
  “The idea of human rights has been unleashed on the world. You can’t suppress it like a balloon in water. We measure human rights by one yardstick. The oppressor ultimately loses. We must develop the hearts, minds and soul of the people by continuing to develop the arts. We’re part of an on-going revolution”.
  Prof. Akachi Ezeigbo, of the University of Lagos, had stated that literature ultimately “brings peace, and it makes things happen; creativity is important as it collapses boundaries and reaches out to everyone everywhere”. Ghana-based critic and writer, Prof. Molara Ogundipe also argued that literature helps in adding value to memory in sifting through time and taking what is best in past societies and grafting them into the modern.
  She continued, “Literature is very important; we have to value our memory, as part of Africa society in perpetuating continuity. If we cultivate literacy, we can negotiate how we can make it to the modern world and take the best practices of our culture that humanises us. I’m interested in inter-generational handing over of values. Various generations need to talk to each other to learn their anxieties, problems.
  “I believe in Africanism. The Africa Diaspora has preserved a lot of things for us. We’re actually connecting. We try to keep literature to keep culture; literature carries cultures and it preserves values… We in Africa have to find our ways back to who we really are”.
  In capping the power in storytelling, Imasuen had said, “The power of storytelling has in it the power to share our common humanity, how to judge dispassionately, that you’re not alone, and never to lose your voice. Letting my voice to be heard has been the greatest thing I’ve ever done”.

I felt exposed after my first novel, says Atta


By Anote Ajeluorou
Sefi Atta’s first novel, Everything Good Will Come, came with a startlingly conversational and reportorial style that fed its readers doses of daily events in Nigeria that foreground her narrative. It was her own way of keeping abreast of events back in Nigeria from her base in Mississippi, United States. There is no doubting that the style worked as it did not only endeared her to readers, she has several awards to show for the work.
  However, the lifestyle of the protagonist tended to have given Atta away in certain respects, as most readers felt she and her protagonist are one and the same. Like her protagonist, Ata schooled in England and had her early haunts in Ikoyi neighbourhood. This was a price she was to pay for writing a successful novel. But unassuming and even shy Atta felt somewhat outraged at being one and the same with her protagonist.
  Her use of the first person narrative and many readers’ inability to separate the fictive character from the author, Atta found herself at the receiving end of conversations amongst some of her peers. And she said she felt exposed at being so regarded. Her strong, sexiest stance also did not help matters as her protagonist shows.
  “When I wrote Everything Good Will Come, I felt exposed,” Atta said at a reading she held as part of The Life House’s Christmas event last Friday in Victoria Island, Lagos. “People thought I was the main character. It was annoying. So, for my next book, I felt I had to step out of myself.”
  The yet-to-be titled new novel, although set in Lagos and New York, has begins with the life of a woman at mid-life, who is just starting out life anew. In this new work, Atta has kept faith her old style of dredging up bits and pieces of Lagos (and hopefully, Abuja) life to foreground her narrative. It is her way of keeping up with activities and events back home here in Nigeria even while she lives abroad with her family.
  As Atta said, “I write about Nigeria when I’m out of Nigeria. I’m living abroad because I love it; my husband works over there and my daughter is schooling there. But I’ve always been connected to home. I’ve never stayed away from home for a long time. It’s the who I am”.
  Perhaps, it is Atta’s penchant for staying in touch with home and visiting often that separates from the other band of writers pander to the stereotypical whims of publishers abroad that have a nose for negative stories from Africa. Atta is not flattered by such writing, which she takes a personal exception. Her path in insisting on the correct mode of writing about country and continent has pitched her against publishers who often insist on offensive nuances Atta finds irritating.
  She told her audience, “My path has not been easy as a writer, especially in finding a publisher in the U.S. If you’re doing something the right way (that portrays Nigeria, Africa the way they are), you’ll have a hard time, you will have a hard time as an African writer. I often find myself asking difficult questions that others just ignore… I’ve had difficulties but I’m grateful for what I have become. Editor, publishers want us to talk about dictatorship, terrors and bad governance in Africa…”
  Atta’s sexism and her attempts to right whatever wrong men have inflicted on women (in the raging war going on between men and women) is unmistakable in her writing from Everything Good Will Come, Swallow and News from Home (Lawless and Other Stories). However, she would not be drawn into the penis-bashing portraiture of men argument in her works, as it seems all too evident in contemporary society, saying, “I don’t feel the need to defend myself on this issue”. Nevertheless, Atta said she was cutting a different posture in her yet-to-be published work from which she read an excerpt.
  In her yet-to-be published work over which she and her publisher are still agonizing over a suitable title, Atta returns to England, where she schooled. For Atta, England holds a certain fascination; it is the reason she said, I wanted to write about England, my experiences in boarding school. That is why it’s easy for me to about England. I wanted to write about U.S.”
  However, Atta stated that her preoccupation in the coming season would be to revise what she had written. 

The grassroots contest welcomes writers back from strike

Literary Star Search, which has been described by newly appointed spokesman and Abuja-based journalist, PR practitioner and publisher of Housing Circuit magazine, Seun Jegede, as truly grassroots contest, has congratulated all Nigerians, especially writers on the solidarity expressed for the survival of the Nigeria people and the strengthening of democracy in the country during the strike protest over subsidy removal. Jegede noted in a statement that with the protest over subsidy Nigerians would seem to have cast overboard the negative tag of docility in their inability to confront those who rule over them to ask hard questions how public affairs are run in the country.
  He commended the Nigerian people for standing up to their rulers and insisting on their inalienable rights to hold government accountable. Jegede then urged Nigerian writers to seize the gauntlet by writing masterpiece short stories for the literary contest that appropriately capture the peculiar Nigerian ethos in charting a way forward for the country away from under-development to the country of their dream where writers can practice their literary craft and be amply rewarded as a way of overcoming the challenges or hardships a deregulated economy may foist on them. He further called on writers to take the opportunity of Literary Star Search contest to realise the fruits of their creative labour.
  As a way of boosting writers’ image as community leaders, Jegede disclosed that Literary Star Search’s parent company, Creative Alliance, was shopping hard for corporate sponsors and partners to make the contest truly grassroots. He stated that apart from awarding N1 million grand prize money for the best short story, the winner will be assisted with a further N.5 million to develop a community project, preferably stocking a public school library in his or her alma mater so as to help indigent students have access to reading materials.
  Jegede also restated the goals of Literary Star Search contest to include nurturing, promoting and rewarding to raise the profile of Nigerian writers and also providing avenues for them to express themselves creatively. The first and second runners-up to the grand prize winner will go home with N300,000 and N200,000 respectively while the best 25 short stories will be published in a collection to called Stories Nigeriana. Writers that make it into this collection will be promoted in reading tours. Jegede, therefore, advised writers to direct their enquiries on how to be part of Literary Star Searchcontest to visit: www.creativeallianceng.com and www.literarystarsearch.blogspot.com.

The Virus Of Illiteracy Is Killing This Country Slowly, Silently, Says Osundare


Last Sunday, Prof. Niyi Osundare tackled the monster of fuel subsidy and how impoverished Nigerians would be by the time the IMF-induced policy would have run its course. Osundare passionately appealed to President Goodluck Jonathan to remember his famous ‘shoeless boy from Otueke’ campaign days and why subsidy removal is an ill wind likely to rouse Nigerians from their perennial docility to confront those who have ruled them to ruin. In this concluding part of the interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU, Osundare takes on the familiar malaise in the educational sector, and how only through education can the citizenry be made to overthrow the yoke of insensitivity amongst Nigeria’s class of rulers. He regards the current ASUU strike as part of the distrust that exists between government and the governed. Excerpts:
So, how do we address this malaise of docility?
  Education, and education and education through conscientisation! Our people need to be aware of the power they have as citizens; their inalienable rights as people; the fact that the power enjoyed by the rulers should actually flow from the people. They should stop glamourising and beatifying the bad rulers that make life and living impossible for them and their children. Honestly, there is too much power-worship in this country, a habit I see as part of the Baba ki e pe (Boss, may you live long) syndrome. Just look at it: in Nigeria, the political ruler (and virtually anyone in a position of authority) is treated and venerated, like on with royal and/or priestly/divine powers, appeased with abject genuflections and lavish prostrations. Their birthday ‘felicitations’ take up substantial spaces in the newspapers; their oriki (praisename) is loud, lurid, and ludicrously extravagant.
  So, in a way, it is Nigerian people that tell their rulers: rule us forever; rule us the way you choose; rule us the way that pleases your whims. Surely, this is one of the terribly negative parts of our traditional culture that is blatantly antithetical to the idea of democracy.  For, the pervasive vestiges of divine kingship which tend to colour our concept of political power actually dis-empowers  the people by erecting their rulers into some kind of sacred, unquestionable Kabiyesi alaye lorun (the unquestionable on who has dominion over heaven and earth). From this apparent verbal hyperbole emerges a state of mind, a political habit, and followership style that makes democracy impossible by belittling the people while inflating the essence of their rulers. All over the world, we know that tyranny never flourishes without the people’s abasement.  
  Urgently needed: a regimen of political enlightenment! The kind of education we have at the moment is cheap and pedestrian; it is education for enslavement. How many universities did we have when this country made most of the progress that we rely on today? Four! Compare what we have now to what we had in the 1970s and 1980s. I was an under-graduate in 1969-72, and I knew what this country was at that time; the quality of education, the quality of graduates at that time and the caliber of teachers that produced them. Nigeria was more literate at that time, and more purposeful, and more honest.
  Today, it’s about 120 universities, and still counting. There are so many universities now that some well-run high schools are much better, more genuine, less crude than these latter-day pretenders to higher education. Yes, indeed, the days of the Ivory Tower seem to have receded into memory; what we have in Nigeria today is nothing better than Straw Towers. Just consider the galling politicization of the location of many of these “universities”. Along the pot-holed, blood-sucking Lagos-Ibadan express road, “new universities” are now contesting for space and notoriety with evangelical temples. (I counted four of these roadside “universities” on my last trip two weeks ago, and there is every possibility that the number may have increased since then!).
  And what do we say about the Federal Government’s recent additions to the flood: nine universities, two of which were donated for siting at the birthplace and/or local government area of the President of the Federal Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and some functionary in the Federal Ministry of Education?
  So, we end up with a saddening paradox:  more universities, less education. It’s as simple as that. Look at some of the universities, too, particularly the private universities, the religious ones. Many of them are so fundamentalist I wonder the kind of graduates they are turning out: you must not wear earrings, no make up, no cell phones, no talking at certain times of the day (And these are no monasteries!).
  In some universities, teachers are made to sign attendance registers; stand and bow when the proprietor passes/enters. Painfully at work here is the loss some of the desiderata of free enquiry and intellectual assertiveness, the triumph of robotization over purposive education.
  A university is not made that way; that is not the idea of a university; high school, yes! It is in high school that you are supposed to go through some of these regimentations because you are still young and still cannot make up your mind and so on. The moment you get into the university, you are supposed to have acquired a certain level of independence, a certain level of liberation of mind and of thought and action.  As I said in my valedictory lecture a couple of years ago, a university is a place where you are supposed to experiment, stumble, fall, pick up yourself again and walk, ask questions, do the right thing most of the time; at times do the wrong thing and see what it means to do the wrong and the difference between wrong and right. We all learn through the seek-and-find, the experimental way.
  Today, in many of the new universities, that kind of policy doesn’t exist. All decisions are taken for the students; they are like robots, but they end up with a first class degree all the same. I don’t know how many first class degrees the private universities produce every year. There is a serious inflation of grade and class of degree. Not much of quality control. And many rational people are asking: how many of these high-flying degrees are genuine, and how many are obligatory rewards for the exorbitant fees paid at these universities? Besides – and this is very important – there is no proof yet that graduates from these expensive private universities are better than their counterparts from  public universities.
  These universities are being run as commercial enterprises, not real universities, or if they are universities, they are universities with the universe in them missing. This is why we have more universities and less education.

(cuts in) The public universities are not even faring better, even when the minister of education is usually taken from amongst them. Why is it so?
  Public universities are freer, although some people see this freedom as libertine. Such people are saying we should measure the length of the ladies’ skirts; we should make every holy effort to banish provocative cleavages; we should gauge the lushness of lipsticks, and so on. We really have no business doing all that. Let students do whatever they like so long as it is legitimate and within the law. If students dress in an attractive way, if you don’t like that, take away your eyes. Why must you say you have to… No, no, no; we cannot put students through Talibanic torture and hope that they will come out as broad-minded, free-thinking, and independent adults and citizens. Many private universities are doing that; public universities are also concerned. They put too much premium on appearances. Of course, appearance is important, but we must make sure we go beyond the conspicuously external in our consideration of the important things of life. It is  worth noting  that most of the so-called ‘stakeholders’ in the educational sector who worry so much about external appearances take little or no interest in the not-so-conspicuous aspects of our students’ education.
  How many parents, for instance, have raised issues regarding the institutional facilities that produce their wards’ education: the laboratories, classrooms, the library, bookstores, etc? How many show interest in the books they read, the curricula which undergird their education, the ideology which inflects their thinking? We have to reconsider our narrow and hypocritical definition of ‘discipline’ and realize that our students do not live in a societal vacuum. They are listening, for instance, when the story is being told about public functionaries who play foul with the public purse. They know practical thugs and illiterates who have become millionaires through political jobbery and blatant corruption. Incidentally, many of these thieves are impeccably turned out in the garments bought with money stolen from the Nigerian people.
  So, public universities are fairer as far as the liberal attitude to university education is concerned, but in terms facilities they are worse. Our laboratories still remain underequipped, our libraries still remain outdated; our book stores are still without books; our classrooms are still over-crowded, and teaching is not being done the way it should be done. Morale is low amongst university teachers and I think many of us have to be more conscientious in the way we practise the profession. When you are given a student to teach and/or supervise, do it well. Read the thesis chapters with thoroughness and dispatch. Don’t just put them in your drawer, and two weeks to the deadline, throw them at the student and say ‘go and type’. Don’t use your big status as “Professor Sir” or “Professor Madam” to intimidate junior colleagues and students. Don’t hide behind that big status to evade your professional duties. The Kabiyesi syndrome we identified with politicians earlier on in this interview is also very much present in our institutions of higher learning. There must be a reasonable democratic atmosphere before adequate teaching and free inquiry can take place.
  Some of the documents that pass as PhD theses, MA dissertations, BA long essays in Nigerian Universities are simply atrocious. Real, genuine education is disappearing. To bring it back, we need students who are willing to learn and teachers that are prepared to teach. There is an urgent need to restore performance evaluation and quality control in our universities. The time for the introduction of compulsory Student Evaluation of teachers is NOW. 

What do you make of the current strike in the universities?
  The current ASUU strike follows a familiar pattern.   First ASSU complains, ‘we cannot teach because the conditions of service are bad’, ‘we cannot teach because we don’t have the tools to work with; we are poorly paid and so on’. Government pretends not to listen. Then a short warning strike; government still pretends not to know. One week passes, government pretends not to hear. Then one month or even longer. Then the real strike,  and parents start complaining: ‘ah! my children are idle at home; they are eating all the food, and they go out at night. Please, let them go back to school’. Traditional rulers will also join the plea, and then government will reluctantly set up a committee to look into issue and the government committee and the ASUU committee will meet and it will take a long time and then a decision will be taken. Eventually, after a long period of deliberation, both parties reach a conclusion and sign an agreement. Back-slapping and hurrays! ASUU will go back to work, expecting government to honour the agreement. But government will not fully do so, thus setting in motion another round of crisis. It takes a keen sense of honour to sign an agreement and abide by it. But that virtue is in short supply with Nigerian public functionaries..Hence this recurring cycle of strike, school closure, and reopening.
  Now to the point you made earlier on about the present minister of education being from the university herself. Well, you use a monkey to catch other monkeys. Yes, it is not the first time it has happened. We have always had more problems with professors as ministers for education in this country. Remember Prof. Ben Nwabueze and his ‘Parity’ bogey – a hot, nasty issue that rammed a wedge between the administrative staff of universities and the academic staff, a devious divide-and-rule subterfuge with a strong Babangida streak? Our university system never knew a moment of peace during Nwabueze’s tenure. Of course, you remember the tenure of Prof Jubril Aminu as education minister, and the unending round of crises in the education sector. And M.T. Liman and the six-month strike of 1996, when both General Abacha and his education minister pretended for weeks that they did not know that Nigerian university system had been done down by a protracted strike.
  I think the only exception to this vicious rule is Professor Aliyu Babs Fafunwa, the avuncular education expert with a lot of insight and sagacious diplomacy. He served as a useful buffer between the federal government and the Jega-led ASUU, and there was progress in the negotiations the negotiations under his watch.
  Let the Nigerian people take more interest in the quality of education their children are receiving. Convocation time is not just time for the wearing of the mortarboard and the gown and the eating of jollof rice and chicken. Let parents go to the laboratories, the book stores, the libraries and the classrooms and the halls of residence and other places on campus which aided the acquisition of their wards’ education. Let the parents interact with the teachers and understand their problems. This is important. The interest of parents must go beyond the glittering diplomas dished out to their ward on convocation day. They must ask why our graduates are becoming less and less competitive nationally, and why internationally the Nigerian certificate has lost its value. It is not enough to beat your chest and proclaim: I am parent of a graduate; the crucial question now is: what kind of graduate?
And, as a country, we need to consider the connection between educational failure and the failure of the nation. The virus of Illiteracy is killing this country slowly, silently. Nigeria is moving from a pursuit of know-how to the doldrums of know-not. This is certainly not the best way to become  “One of the World’s Twenty Greatest Economies in Year 2020”. If what we are experiencing in the educational sector now is not a profound crisis, then I don’t know what else is.

With Subsidy Removal, Jonathan Is About To Unleash Socio-economic Mayhem On The Nigerian People, Says Osundare


As the argument rages whether to remove fuel subsidy or not, a prominent public intellectual, Prof. Niyi Osundare, has lent his voice to the debate and has called on President Goodluck Jonathan not to further compound the hardship Nigerians currently undergo. In a recent interview with ANOTE AJELUOROU in Ibadan, the award-winning poet, essayist and scholar took on many issues that stand at the cross-road of Nigeria’s quest for development. Excerpts:

You said you finally came to the realisation that for a country to progress economically, there is need to ‘Seek ye the political kingdom first, and then all things shall be added unto you!’ How close is Nigeria’s political kingdom under President Goodluck Jonathan’s watch?
  Grasp ye the political kingdom and all other things shall be added unto thee! Nigeria has not got it right politically. This is why all other things appear to have been falling out of sync in the eight months of Dr. Jonathan’s full presidency. Do we need anyone to tell us our country is in a state of depressive stupor, thrashing around like a half-beheaded snake. President Jonathan needs to ‘man up’ (to borrow an American phrase); he needs to convince us that he knows what time of day it is. He doesn’t look like a LEADER yet: a decisive, deliberate, insightful figure whose wisdom goes beyond mere political savvy and the nervous quest for self-preservation.
  In the past many months, the President has behaved very much like somebody who is being pushed in all kinds of directions, and who doesn’t know how to make up his mind. When people in this country look at him, he doesn’t look like the kind of leader who is in charge: confident and resourceful; one who radiates the kind of dynamism which a country like this needs so badly so urgently.
  Meek-looking, yes. Soft-looking, yes. Pious-looking, yes (he once knelt head-bowed before a famous Pentecostal cleric, and regaled the nation with a front-page picture of this posture in several Nigerian newspapers!) But this President sorely needs more insight to his thinking, more energy to his action, more bones to his flesh. He needs to think beyond sorry clich├ęs and hackneyed humdrums. He needs to convince us that he has the kind of ideas needed by a desperate country like Nigeria. Nigeria wants to see a President that can think on his feet. A president who has the vital ideas, and can surround himself with those who also have them, who can proffer them selflessly, while being sure that their words will count. Sad to say, but in so many respects, right now, the people of Nigeria seem to be far ahead of their President. He needs to catch up.  

He has confessed to not being a Goliath or an army general…
  You don’t have to be a general to have some strength in you! Goliath was an evil kind of power; a life-negating leviathan. He was too strong, too domineering, and that was why the God of the Old Testament made him face his waterloo through a pebble from the sling shot of a mere stripling. Jonathan is not a Goliath; nobody wants him to be a Goliath. Nigeria has had too many Goliaths in power and very few Davids. We’re not saying he should tower above us. No. We’re saying he should be man enough to also do the job he is elected to do: To think and act boldly.
  People who know him say he is a good man. I have no right to doubt them, but I would like President Jonathan to be a good man and also an efficient leader, a leader who inspires.
  He’s not an army general; we know. We have seen too many army generals in this country to be comfortable with having more of them. Our prayer is that this country will never again be ruled by army generals! Soldiers are trained to kill and destroy; they become a disastrous aberration when they are brought to construct, to reconstruct, and manage a country.. The ‘Goliath-General’ metaphor is not a terribly well-chosen one, really.
  Yeah, Dr. Jonathan, you may not be a Goliath or a general; we don’t want you to be any of those. We want you to be a president; a president who stands up and the people know he’s there for them; who thinks about our problems all the time, and also wakes up solving them. A president, who surrounds himself not with mediocres and political jobbers, but with men and women of ideas; and there are many of them in this country that can really contribute to the solution of our many problems.
  President Jonathan’s cabinet is too mediocre, and there are people there that Nigerians know that are corrupt, manifestly corrupt. I remember a minister in one of Nigeria’s most lucrative ministries whose reappointment was strongly petitioned a couple of months ago, but the President went ahead all the same with the reappointment. In Nigeria corruption and other forms of abuse of office still remain the main qualification for high office.  Eight months after, this country has not made any progress. I think we have even retrogressed considerably. If in doubt, consider the on-going downward slide of the national currency
  Consider Boko Haram. The biggest problem we have in this country is security. What is he going to do with Boko Haram? Does he apply the military solution? At times, he talks tough. Other times, he talks soft, and says oh yes, there is going to be reconciliation. Does our President really understand the dynamics of Boko Haram? Who are those beating the drums for the water dragons that are dancing on the water surface? Who are the Boko Haram? Faceless people, most of the time although they say they have caught their leaders. When the security agencies boast that they   have Boko Haram right now in our palm, the group surprises them by bombing a neighbouring town the next day? So Boko Haram remains an understudied, underestimated group conveniently dismissed as ‘terrorists’. Have we tried to understand what Boko Haram really is?
  Boko Haram is not a totally religious movement, from my understanding of it. There are social sides to Boko Haram, social underpinnings which we have to understand. This looks very much like the movement of the under-privileged, of the dispossessed, the alienated. It looks to me like the movement of people who have nothing to lose in society. I think it was Malcolm X, the African-American leader that said that ‘a society that creates people who have nothing to lose is digging its own grave’. There is a lot of work Dr. Jonathan should be doing that he is not doing at the moment. This country is in a very perilous state.  When I arrived in last week, I think for a day or two, no bank in Ibadan was open owing to an armed robbery scare. When I complained to my friend in another state, he said ‘for five days our own banks have been closed; robbers just jump in, operate any time of the day, anywhere; they don’t care a hoot!’  Nigeria is a jungle, a thick medieval jungle, lawless and predictably precarious.
  Dr Jonathan hasn’t done much, and that is why the country is like this. Nobody sleeps in this country with both eyes closed, not even the governors with their panoply of security detail, because I have read in the papers of some gubernatorial motorcades being ambushed by armed robbers. Perhaps the men of the underword are trying to tell our governors that our rulers don’t have a monopoly of impunity! This is a dangerous country today, extremely dangerous. We have to tell the truth to ourselves. Money is coming in; the oil in the Niger Delta is still pumping, but there is no honest management, no proper husbandry, no organisation, no transparency, no accountability.  That’s why we are where we are today.
  So our politics is that awry. What do we say about our economy? Nigeria doesn’t produce anything. I say this all the time, and I think it’s obvious to everybody. Anytime I’m on the road or standing by the roadside, and I see cars and other vehicles passing, I keep telling myself, ‘oh yes, that one is made in Sweden; that one is made in Germany; that one is made in Japan, that one is made in the U.K. Now, there is Kia, Hyundai  from Korea; Tata from India. And I say to myself, how can a country afford to live like this? All the things we consume are made somewhere else. What are we doing with all these universities, with all the intellectuals we have around? How can a country create wealth when it cannot manufacture, when it cannot produce? Even the oil we depend so vitally on is not being refined by Nigeria, and Nigeria doesn’t know how many barrels of oil are really leaving her shores on a daily basis.. Nigeria has no control over her own affairs even in year 2011, with all these universities, for goodness sake.
    How can a country feel so satisfied with producing nothing and consuming everything?
  Coming back to Dr. Jonathan, how can he lead the country to confront our pathological dependency? To be able to do this, he himself will need to stop being a pliable  blaze-trailer; we need a trail-blazer! He will need to show us he is capable of generating fresh ideas and following them through That is the kind of leader Nigeria needs at the moment.

Surprisingly, Jonathan is the first truly educated Nigerian to occupy that seat, with a doctorate degree, and an academic. Why is it so difficult for him to navigate himself through whatever obstacles that are on his way?
  The university does not necessarily an educated person make ( pardon my archaic inversion!). A truly educated person is one who thinks beyond the walls of any institution. He’s one who has that amplitude of mind and vision, whose knowledge is broad, who is able to relate the past with the present, and therefore, anticipate the future.
  Yes, a truly educated person is one with a refined sensibility, a humanist, a person who is capable of going from mere fellow-feeling to compassion; who is able to say, ‘oh my God, when my people are hungry, I, too, am hungry’. So, the word ‘educated’ is loaded. Our problem in Nigeria, and Africa really, is that we have so many ill-literates. A panoply of diplomas may not total up to insight and resourcefulness Truly educated people wouldn’t rule us the way our rulers are ruling us today. Remember I haven’t said ‘leaders’. A truly educated person is the one that can become a leader. The half educated, merely literate people we have at the moment can only stop at the threshold of amateurish rulership
  Jonathan has a PhD after his name, and I think this country is telling him to justify that title. It doesn’t matter if it’s from Zoology or Microbiology or Astra-physics or Religious Studies. No; there is a discipline that goes with the acquisition of these degrees, a certain development of the mind; a certain toughness of thinking, and a roaming capacity for making decisions and following them through. These are the things we expect from a leader. So, it’s not a matter of how many degrees.
  A truly educated person is also a conscientious person, a person who will think twice before stealing public funds. The illiterate ones will think about the millions they have and how to increase their loot. They hardly ever think about the future; that future is buried in their stomachs. This is the category of rulers we have in this country today, and that is why our situation is as it is. Does it matter whether they went to university or not?

In the budget Jonathan recently presented, security took the lion share. Do you think that is what it will take to curb the security monster?
  I don’t always like to comment on Nigeria’s budgets. As a writer, I eschew cliches and hackneyed expressions. Every budget that has been read in this country has come with some hackneyed sobriquet or another. “Budget of Hope”; “Budget of Reconciliation”; “Budget of Consolidation”; budget of this, budget of that. Hasn’t President Jonathan’s own been tagged  “Budget of Transformation”? Insufferable mantras and irritating  nonsense so galling  in its utter disingenuousness. And, by the way, what is the percentage of implementation of these budgets? In what ways have they improved the lives of ordinary Nigerians? 
  Every year, the Nigerian government votes huge sums for transportation, education, health, agriculture, security, etc. Take a look at our death-trap roads, decrepit educational system, procrustean agricultural facilities, death-inflicting healthcare, and ask where have all the budgeted monies been going?   
  Our rulers steal us dead; it’s as simple as that. So I don’t waste my thought on their budget.
  Security; yes, the lion’s share mapped out for it. But then I ask again, whose security? How much of this is going to the fight against Boko Haram? Maybe a lot. But as I hinted earlier,  Boko Haram is not something you can fight with money; no. This is why I say that our rulers should think; they need to think. Boko Haram is  so grassroots  that even when you see the enemy, you don’t recognise him. It’s more than anything we can fight with money. Bank robbers, highway robbers all over the place; are you going to distribute the money to them or are you going to arm the police?
  How many police men and women do we have in this country? Nobody has done the ratio of policeman to criminal in this country. I don’t know but I think it’s very high. I pity our policemen in. Sun and rain, they are there, with many of them really looking scruffy and hungry. This is not how to treat people that you expect to protect you; no. The security of a country is its people. Let people have enough to eat, decent housing; let them have good education for their children; let there be hospitals when they are ill. Let life be more meaningful to them; it’s not likely that they will go out at night to rob their neighbours.
  I knew this country when it was a country, when people went to bed with their doors unlocked. Nigeria didn’t have so many desperate people. The way Nigeria is today, nobody can maintain adequate security in it. You don’t know what your next door neighbour is up to. Parents task themselves to send their children to school; the children suffer in order to gain an education. They finish and there are no jobs. Our streets are bursting with hordes of able-bodied but jobless youth, desperate and down and out, a terrible waste to a society that needs all hands to be on deck. This is a country that creates desperate citizens, and that is why Nigerian citizens look very much like the enemy of their rulers, because their enemies are their rulers. Those who rule us don’t care; they don’t do anything to show us that they care. If they care, they won’t be stealing the funds meant for development the way they do.

Some describe the impoverished citizenry as being too docile. Is there the possibility of the Arab Spring Uprising in a country like Nigeria? Can Nigerians confront their leaders the way the Arab people did recently?
  Good question. In the past five years or so, I have been reconsidering my long-held opinion about the relation between leadership and followership. Time there was when I laid all the blame on leadership. Now I’m beginning to say that the followership should also take their fate in their own hands. This is what I see most of the time, for example, in the plays of Femi Osofisan, one of our top writers. Play after play after play; the leaders are there doing things. But the address is to the people. Why must you continue to be ridden like a donkey? Why can’t you, too, get up in the saddle?
  Nigerians are too docile, too forgiving of bad leadership. Why are they this way? A number of reasons. The first one is religion. The kind of religion we have in Nigeria is  one that puts you to sleep, and after that, puts you to death. It’s not the kind of religion that’s after social justice; it’s not the kind of religion that is after the welfare of the people and the independence of their existence. Particularly guilty in this regard are the Prosperity Gospellers of the Pentecostal variety who hawk faith on the air and convert religion into superstition. If you have no job, we are told, it must be because of your sin. Your poverty (or pauperization) is a result of   the offence you have committed against God.
  Blissfully indemnified are the rogue-rulers whose greed has corrupted and ruined our social estate; those whose policies or lack of them have made job creation impossible by sabotaging our productive capacity? So, if you have no job, blame your sins; if you wallow in poverty, you only have yourself to blame. In the thinking and preaching of many of these latter-day evangelists, every scoundrel in power in Nigeria is “God-chosen”  and must be treated as such.
  Religion in this country is a dangerous opium; really dangerous opium. And that is why our rulers are encouraging the building of churches and mosques all over the place. When in December last year the newspapers carried the picture of a kneeling President Jonathan with a ministering Pastor towering above him in prayerful supremacy, we were presented with an image so symbolic of the relationship between the state and religion in Nigeria. No picture could have been more emblematic!
  Religion has killed rational thinking in this country. I say this all the time, our country is still in a pre-scientific era. That is why things are like this. We don’t think logically; that is why any ruler, any fool would seize the reins and rule us, because we would always find an excuse for being ruled or being led by the nose.
  Not long ago a pastor said he was between two cities and he discovered that the fuel in his car had run out. He actually checked and saw the fuel in the car was completely gone. But because of his act of faith and on the strength of his prayers, he  was able to do  two hundred miles on an empty tank! When he declared this testimony, people clapped and shouted “ Hallelujah!” I never heard anybody say how can? Nigerians don’t ask questions; that is why the imams and the pastors lead them by the nose, and the politicians also complete their humiliation and disempowerment. And between the clerics and the political functionaries, there is a very close liaison.
  It’s a kind of power structure; one controls the political, social realm, the other controls the spiritual, metaphysical realm and they are together. Many Nigerians are not rational,  interrogative people. In fact, in this country today, if you are the interrogative type you are easily labelled, branded, and condemned. People even wonder: why are you always asking questions?’ When the blessed Tai Solarin was alive, he agonised and agonised over this issue. The way he was misunderstood, the way he was misinterpreted and his anger at the way many of our people were going - that we should be up in the streets.
  Another problem: well, our people are docile and the reason why they take all kinds of cheating is that many of them envisage themselves in the position of power someday, too. If I am X and the oppressor is Y, and the oppressor is oppressing me, stealing all the money, and making life difficult for me and my children, I am not likely to attack him. I’ll pray to God to let my own “miracle” happen so that someday, he will go and I will be in his place. No; I am praying for him to go but for the structure to remain.
  This is the social psychology of Nigerian politics. So many people don’t see it as wrong. When they see it as wrong, it’s because it is putting them at a disadvantage; they are not really concerned with the social order or the commonweal. That’s a very important issue.

What do you make of the current strike in the universities?
  The current ASUU strike follows a familiar pattern.   First ASSU complains, ‘we cannot teach because the conditions of service are bad’, ‘we cannot teach because we don’t have the tools to work with; we are poorly paid and so on’. Government pretends not to listen. Then a short warning strike; government still pretends not to know. One week, government pretends not to hear.  Then the real strike and parents start complaining: ‘ah! my children are idle at home; they are eating all the food, and they go out at night. Please, let them go back to school’ . Traditional rulers will also join the plea, and then government will reluctantly set up a committee to look into issue and the government committee and the ASSU committee will meet and it will take a long time and then a decision will be taken. Eventually, after a long period of deliberation, both parties reach a conclusion and sign an agreement. ASUU will go back to work, expecting government to honour the agreement. But government will not fully do so, thus setting in motion another round of crisis. It takes a keen sense of honour to sign an agreement and abide by it. But that virtue is in short supply with Nigerian public functionaries..Hence this recurring cycle of strike-school closure, and reopening….

  THE point you made the other time about the present minister of education being from the university herself. Well, you use a monkey to catch other monkeys. Yes, it is not the first time it has happened. We have always had more problems with professors as ministers for education. Remember Prof. Ben Nwabueze and his ‘Parity’ bogey – a hot, nasty issue that rammed a wedge between the administrative staff of universities and the academic staff, a devious divide-and-rule subterfuge with a strong Babangida streak? Our university system never knew a moment of peace during Nwabueze’s tenure. Of course, you remember the tenure of Prof Jubril Aminu as education minister, and the unending round of crises in the education sector
  I think the only exception to this vicious rule is Professor Aliyu Babs Fafunwa, the avuncular education expert with a lot of insight and sagacious diplomacy. He served as a useful buffer between the federal government and the Jega-led ASUU, and there was progress in the negotiations.
  Let the Nigerian people take more interest in the quality of education their children are receiving. Convocation time is not just time for the wearing of the mortarboard and the gown and the eating of jollof rice and chicken. Let parents go to the laboratories, the book stores, the libraries and the classrooms and the halls of residence and other places on campus which aided the acquisition of their wards’ education. Let the parents interact with the teachers and understand their problems. This is important. The interest of parents must  go beyond the glittering diplomas dished out to their ward on convocation day. The must ask why our graduates are becoming less and less competitive nationally, and why internationally the Nigerian certificate has lost its value.
And, as a country, we need to consider the connection between educational failure and the failure of the nation. The virus of Illiteracy is killing this country slowly, silently. Nigeria is moving from a pursuit of know-how to the doldrums of know-not

Now government is talking about subsidy removal and we have the Minister of Finance, Okonjo Nweala, who is the coordinating minister for the economy in her second coming to that position. She is coming with IMF and World Bank background, bodies that have skewed orientation towards Africa. What do you make of this mix?
  You see how heavily I am breathing before venturing into my answer to your question?    It’s a very big topic, indeed. The subsidy issue is going to decide the fate of this country in year 2012, whether we are still going to have a country called Nigeria or whether there will be none at all. That we are talking about subsidy or no subsidy now takes me back to the point I made earlier on. We don’t have rulers who think and feel; we don’t have rulers who have the interest of the people of this country at heart. But we’ve been through all this before. Who can forget in a hurry the way the then President Babangida got the country debating whether we wanted the IMF or not, how the country roundly rejected the IMF’s ‘conditionalities’, but Babangida and his group smuggled them in through a subterfuge called Sap (Structural Adjustment Policy). This was when the drastic devaluation of the Naira began, and with it the devaluation of the Nigerian life. Nigeria is still reeling in the fever of that economic-fiscal fiasco.
  IMF is at it again. Its new president, France’s Christine Laggart, has just visited Nigeria and has given a pass mark to the Jonathan administration. With Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, the IMF’s Trojan horse at the helm in the finance ministry, that international task master and global finance police has a jolly good friend in a powerful place indeed. There is no country in the world that has swallowed the IMF pill without spinning into retching bouts and, at times, rigor mortis. For, as I said in one of the poems in Songs of the Season,
The IMF
Is a doctor
Who heals the patient
By killing him first

 Yes, those clinical undertakers of vulnerable economies are at it again, and the very life of every Nigerian is on the line  
  Let us look at the ‘subsidy’ conundrum. Is there a subsidy really? Then who, what, is being subsidized? We all need to go back to Prof. Tam David West’s recent interview on this issue. If there is anybody who understands the oil and gas industry and how it works, it’s David West, Nigeria’s former Petroleum minister. Because Nigeria cannot run efficient refineries, and therefore it has to import the refined products, the government is now asking the Nigerian people to pay for its inefficiency and criminal mismanagement and corruption. The questions we should be asking are: who are the people responsible for the non-functioning of our refineries? Who are the beneficiaries from this dysfunction? Who are the lucky owners of oil blocks and instant   billionaires from oil quotas?
  If our rulers were people with a sense of shame, they wouldn’t be talking about subsidy at all. They should cover their faces in shame and apologize to the Nigerian people; for if anything, it is the Nigerian people that need some form of hardship allowance from their incorrigibly incompetent government.
  And our President and his officials have been going from church to church (have they called at the mosques yet?), asking for God’s blessing for the kind of socio-economic mayhem they are about to unleash on the Nigerian people through the removal of the so-called subsidy; asking the pastors to pray to God to make Nigerians compliant to and accepting of their impoverished situation, begging Almighty God to soften the minds of Nigerians. But no one entered a plea for God to smash the incubus of corruption and mismanagement that has brought   this country to its knees. Our President never asked God to grant him the courage and candour to make a public declaration of  his assets as required by the constitution of the country he rules........ 
  Nigeria is a country tottering on the precipice. Our rulers are doing everything to tip it into the abyss. As a student of history, I know that revolutions do not just happen. They are caused almost invariably by rulers that are blind, deaf, insensitive, and megalomaniacal. It is this insidious cocktail that produces the ‘Distance of Power’, that affliction that has always engaged my attention whenever I ponder the use and misuse of power. And I ask: president Jonathan, are you close enough to hear the heartbeats of those you rule? Can you hear the wailing in the land? Can you see the hunger in the streets? Can you see the protuberant stomachs of kwashiorkor-ravaged children? Can you see the hordes and hordes of our children who roam the streets because their parents are too poor to send them to school? Can you hear the unending screams from those face-to-face shacks where spouses tear each other into pieces over the non-availability of house-keeping money? Can you hear the interminable rat-a-tat of the sophisticated guns of armed robbers as they bloody our days and terrify our nights? President Jonathan, can you hear? Can you see? Can you feel? Your predecessors flogged us with whips; will you advance their various acts of cruelty by whipping us with scorpions?
  President Jonathan, do you still remember that young, ambitious boy from Otuoke who never had shoes until well into his teenage years? Well, now he is a King in the Marble Palace with a wardrobe large as a house. Look through the tinted windows of power. You will see millions of children whose shoeless feet embarrass our land. You will behold thousands that have no feet to call their own.
  Some people say your government is under pressure to remove the ‘subsidy’ because Nigeria is broke. Ask: who broke the country? Can you confront corruption head-on? It is the giant monster responsible for all the holes through which the vital juice of Nigeria is leaking. The Nigerian people are not responsible for the heedless squandermania and arrant improvidence that got us into this mess. Don’t heave the burden on the backs of those already bent and bruised by the consequences of the foul actions of the powerful and well connected.
  President Jonathan, our country would not be broke if our rulers stole less and served more, if our governments were not so bloated with redundancies, if we did not squander most of our resources on the maintenance of a parasitic political class of which you are an affluent member…
  Mr President, please do not toy with the fate of this country. A still restive Niger Delta is simmering in the south; Boko Haram bombs make a mockery of your government’s security system in the north Most of our people are poor (no, impoverished) and desperate and angry. They are like the savannah grass in the harmattan. Do not throw a flaming match into their fold.
  Remember: the country over which you preside (just like the election that brought you into office)  is fragile and frighteningly flawed. Tell the IMF and its Trojan Horse in your cabinet that you are not ready for the suicide which they are so heedlessly asking you to commit. Tell them you are not ready to commit Nigeriacide. A word, they say, is enough for the wise. For the wise, that is.