By Anote Ajeluorou and Greg Austin Nwakunor
Although there’s an explosion of wealth in the country, Nigerians are yet to feel its real impact in their lives, as those managing it fritter it away on frivolous things. Also, Nigeria’s dream of becoming a great nation was aborted at independence when it was handed over to those who were unwilling for that historic event.
These were the submissions of elder statesman, poet and playwright, Prof. JP Clark in Port Harcourt two days ago at the weeklong events heralding that city’s hosting of UNESCO World Book Capital 2014 at Hotel Presidential. It was at the ‘Meet the Author’ event, with Clark on the hot seat to respond to issues of literary and national significance.
The first African to be appointed to a chair in English in a university again noted that the on-going National Conference might yield little or no result because most of the delegates in attendance understood very little or nothing of English, Nigeria’s official language communication and business. “Many of those at the National Conference don’t know the English language, our language of official business,” he stated.
Clark, who was already writing serious poetry as an undergraduate in the days leading up to independence, said rather grimly, “The departing British didn’t hand over to those Nigerians who really wanted independence. Nigerian wasn’t handed over to those who fought for independence like Herbert Macuallay, Nnamdi Azikiwe or Obafemi Awolowo. Only a hollow crown was given to Zik. If political power was handed over to those who left University College, Ibadan (UCI), I wonder what would have happened to Nigeria by now; things would have been different. These were mostly Government College graduates, who competed in games and understood the spirit of competition. Nigerians’ gaining power wouldn’t have been a ‘do or die’ affair.
“But those of us graduates from UCI were lured into the public service. The British handed over power in the darkness to the unwilling and we now see the result of that”.
Clark robustly defended the charge of theirs being a ‘wasted generation’, as was previously asserted by his friend, literary colleague and Nobel Laureate Prof. Wole Soyinka, saying that on the contrary, theirs wasn’t a wasted one because of what they have achieved in their different fields. He stated, “We were a distinguished class; we weren’t wasted; we achieved a lot. How could ours be a wasted generation when we produced the greatest literature (of this country and continent)? There’s a dysfunctionality in the polity. Soyinka said ours was a great waste of assets (because we didn’t direct our energy to the political field)”.
He condemned the kind politics being played in the country, saying it negates all commonsense and efforts at genuine development, adding,. “Today, politics is all about contesting elections even four years ahead. You win a seat today but instead of sitting down and providing service like giving better education to pupils and so on, the politicians spend their time thinking of the next election.
“In our time, we had scholarship provided for us by the state. I got scholarship to study at Government College, Ughelli and at UCI. We were provided free meals; our beds were made up for us. There’s an explosion of wealth these days, but we don’t spend it on things that matter. What we need is good use of the wealth. Our wealth is in the wrong hands and not being managed properly.”
He, therefore, sued for the participation of the entire citizenry in the democratic process so as to achieve a critical mass that would help entrench a process that would ensure the best people get into public office.