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Is There Future For Classical Studies As A Discipline In Nigeria?

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Funding Public Education In Nigeria: Towards An Alternative Financing Model

By Tunji Olaopa

Just some few weeks ago, the management of the University of Ibadan announced the sad news of the death of Mr. Nigel Derek Henry, the longest serving member of the Classics Department, and indeed of the entire Faculty of the Humanities. Mr. Henry spent over four decades, tutoring students in the fine art of classical studies. Classics is concerned with the critical investigation of the cultural and civilizational antiquity of the Greek culture and its massive influence on the development of the West. Students are not only taken through the linguistic complexities and sublime beauty of Greek and Latin, they are also taught to come to terms with the literary, historical and the philosophical essence of what Greece bestowed on the world.

Mr. Henry came to Ibadan Classics Department in 1976, and since then had established himself not only as a fine classicist, but also contributed immensely in ingraining classics as a study of cultural and historical achievements in those who have had the good fortune to have passed through that department.
Now, Mr. Henry is gone. The good thing is that he taught all those who now constitute the backbone of the department. This constitutes a very strong act of intellectual and institutional continuity that keeps sustaining the department as a legitimate and veritable essence of humanistic learning. Yet, one needs to wonder more about the death of Mr. Henry. His death raises significant questions that go beyond his person as a brilliant classicist. His death points attention to the very stature and future of the discipline he dedicated his entire life teaching. Let us consider a most fundamental—and disturbing—fact: Classics is only studied at the University of Ibadan, and in no other university in Nigeria. And only at the University of Legon, Ghana, and probably in no other university again in Africa. What inferences can we derive from this fact?

There are many. The first is that the intellectual relevance of classical studies is vastly shrinking in the 21st century. I suspect that the department might have been struggling to attract students who might also have struggled over time to grasp the significance of the study of ancient Greece and all its cultural achievements. This struggle for relevance is not confronted by classics alone. It is a struggle that the humanities have been facing since the dawn of the twentieth century. With the rise of capitalism and the neo-capitalist hegemonic sway, the way we view the world has been fundamentally transformed. Whatever is relevant must have its relevance calculatable in cash values. Indeed, capitalism has redrawn the intellectual map of the academy, as well as its relationship with the frameworks by which we define our existence. There are now courses and disciplines in existence whose very status would cause no small wonder. To the extent that capitalism is increasingly motivated by an exploratory and exploitative logic that is interested in an unceasing understanding of the universe, to that extent science and technology become fundamental ally to the capitalist worldview. And it is also to that extent that the humanities must keep struggling to become relevant.

But then, in fighting back, the African humanities have had to invert the significance of relevance as a defining element of their existence and worth. The ideological battle that capitalism deploys does not in any way bode well for the continent. In the first place, Africa has an unenviable status in the world capitalist framework that makes it the dumping ground for all the effluvia of capitalism. And second, the African humanities cannot afford to play by the neo-capitalist ideological logic. Thus, rather than attempting to fight the battle of relevance on the same field denoted by capitalism, the African humanities need to clear a space for relevance within the valuational imperatives of the African continent. What makes any discipline relevant, therefore, is its capacity to contribute to the continent search for self-worth and solidarity in a world increasingly defined by the Eurocentric epistemological hegemony. This redefinition speaks more to classics than to any other humanistic discipline.

What, for an African, is the worth of an educational curriculum grounded in the cultural and civilizational trajectory and achievements of a non-African cultural entity? An undiscerning reader will take umbrage at this question before understanding what it is meant to demonstrate. Global history speaks to a lot of historical insights that undercut particularly Europe’s claim to so many things, especially the right to define what is universal and global. But most importantly, global history insists on the nature of our world as multilateral. The idea of multilateralism does not only speak to the collective impulse that created the world as we know it, and that gave it its distinctively interdependent character. It also speaks to the fact that the collective achievement of a people in one vantage point in the world has some unique implications for other people occupying a different vantage point in the same world. This simply means that the cultural struggles and material achievements of a non-African place can have solid lessons to teach an African cultural context. This is essentially what gives an ethical and multicultural approbation to the idea of globalization and its interdependent dynamic. Could that not be one of the reasons that made Mr. Henry left the comfort of his homeland to come to teach classics in a postcolonial African university? Is that not the same impulse that brought Susan Wenger down to Yorubaland? Is that not also the reason for the various diasporas?

But this is not the entire story that recommends classics to us as a veritable humanistic discipline. There is definitely more that classics can be. Or else, its days are numbered within a context that must define its own ideological path in a world under threat. We really should not be afraid to hold any discipline’s feet to the imperatives of an Afrocentric curriculum and pedagogy. A very good example that speaks to the Department of Classics at the University of Ibadan is Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s success in getting the syllabus of the English Department of the University of Nairobi Africanized. Indeed, the syllabus of the English was founded on a supposed “historic continuity of a single culture throughout the emergence of the modern west.” In this regard, as Ngugi rightly noted, Africa becomes an extension of the West. And he asked: “If there is need for a ‘study of the historic continuity of a single culture’, why can’t this be African?” And we can also ask: Since what underlies the classics curriculum at the University of Ibadan is the trajectory of a single culture from ancient Greece to modern Europe, why can’t that curriculum be Africanized to make Africa central to the study of Greece and its cultural and civilizational achievements and dynamics? Africanizing the knowledge imparted by classics is simple—it requires viewing the Greek culture and civilization in relation to Africa. In what sense, that is, does classical studies enable us to come to terms with Africa’s place in the world? If classics cannot achieve such a curricular transformation, how then should we conceive of its ideological place in an African university? Can such a discipline afford classical knowledge for knowledge sake?

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As it presently is, the curriculum of the Classics Department at the University of Ibadan does not make any gesture towards Africa in any sense. Even though the discipline, unlike African history, African literature and African philosophy, has not been motivated by historical, ideological and intellectual crises to define its own parameters vis-à-vis its global reincarnations, say, at the University of Cambridge, the study of classics in a postcolonial African university like the University of Ibadan cannot keep carrying on as if classical studies at an African university ought not to have consequences for how we think about Africa. The knowledge imparted about the glories of ancient Greece must be Africanized, even if in a comparative fashion, to point at the centrality of African knowledge for Africans. There is no small measure of contradiction in an African lecturer teaching Greek culture, language and philosophy to African students in a postcolonial African university charged with the responsibility of contributing to the development of Africa. Mr. Henry would not be attended by the same contradiction, even though his ideological affiliation might not be Eurocentric. African philosophy, African history, African literature have fought and won the battle over the relevance of their curricula.

The time is ripe for classics at the University of Ibadan to be drawn into an Africanized, and indeed a transdisciplinary matrix within which these other disciplines are already enmeshed. I doubt whether classics has any intellectual representation in African or cultural studies. The discursive conversation on the status, centrality and development of Africa requires all disciplinary voices. Classics cannot afford to remain like a disciplinary fish out of African academic waters. We all know what happens to any fish that stays out of water for far too long.

Prof. Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Directing Staff, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos. tolaopa2003@gmail.com

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Opinion

Professor Ayo Olukotun, My Eyuze

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Readers’ Showers Of Encouragement
Prof Tony Afejuku

 

By Tony Afejuku

My bosom friend, Professor Ayo Olukotun, a man and personage for whom I placed considerable respect, who died recently, was committed to mother earth last Friday. The ever-delightful Professor Kayode Soremekun, the immediate past Vice Chancellor of Federal University Oye-Ekiti pointed my attention to this in his tribute to Professor Ayo Olukotun symbolically captured in The Punch newspaper of Friday, 27 January, 2023. After reading his tribute on the very day Ayo Olukotun normally appeared on the back page of The Punch as a five-star columnist, I nodded my head in painful pain. Kayode Soremekun’s tribute essentially captured aspects of our friend’s public life, and I gave some long thought to our departed humanist of humanists’ hurried committal to the brown earth of Ibadan which was not near his homestead, geographically speaking, in Egbe Yoruba of Kogi State. Was an injustice done to him in his prompt burial in Ibadan of cultural and poetic seven hills?  Perhaps circumstances of his demise compelled his remains to be committed to mother earth in Ibadan of JP Clark’s “broken china in the sun.” (How my memory is failing me as a result of my emotional state!) The one who was supposed to get back to me for accurate information on and about the event did not when I was putting my words together. Another common friend and my friend’s course-mate at Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife, Ile-Ife), did not divulge this information in his similarly public picture of my friend in his The Guardian’s roaring tribute of Tuesday, 31 January, 2023. I am of course referring to Barrister Alade Rotimi-John who was one of the early bringers of our gone hero’s demise to my poor attention. The other person was Suyi Ayodele, Tribune’s Tuesday ace columnist.

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Before Soremekun’s and Rotimi-John’s well-crafted tributes found me, Professor Olu Obafemi’s great elegiac poem of immortal diamond had galloped and gasped to me. The poem by our National Laureate, a Nigerian National Order of Merit winner, clearly made its mark on my mind. The privately circulated poem to a select audience was one in which Professor Olu Obafemi tried successfully to crowd Olukotun’s career with conquest in Olukotun’s years and years of eventful events. I never knew that Obafemi knew Olukotun until I read his afore-said poem entitled “Ayo, Omo Olukotun, Odabo!”

Professor Olukotun’s “Yagba homestead” and ancestry and scholastic biography right from “Titcombe College, Egbe in Kogi State” up to the “forest of Knowledge” in Ile-Ife and beyond as “hero of the Globe” were/are movingly and movingly rendered in the poem. But why was the dazzling adventurer “Okun, Son of Jege” committed to the red soil of Ibadan when his eyes finally and eternally closed? I tried in vain to reach Professor Obafemi, another worthy friend, and  my friend’s close kinsman, for an answer. All I got was prophetically rendered in the poem as follows: ”It is doubtful that this adventurer into/the forest of knowledge/Shall return to these shores again.” Another common friend, Professor Ademola Da Sylva, who knew Ayo in their Ife days, was similarly moved by Obafemi’s elegy.

    Professor Ayo Olukotun was no Professor Ayo Olukotun to me. He was simply to me – until he breathed his last breath Eyuze as I was to him Tone Baba. We first met in 1977 in Zaria now in Kaduna State. We were lecturing colleagues (Graduate Assistants – later Assistant Lecturers) at Ahmadu University. He was my tightest pal. Our other tight friend was the sociologist/criminologist Basil Owomero (a fellow Graduate Assistant) from Ozoro town in Isoko-land in Delta State. Basil died a pretty long time ago after earning a doctorate in Criminology. Of the three of us I am the only living one now. As I am reflecting on this confusion of thought, emotion, and vision of our then years a void stares at me pitilessly. The vastness of the then years of youthful youthfulness up to when we left Zaria at different times blurs and time becomes hollow. I am in the moment of writing remembering only one or two or three things of the happy and unhappy events we shared. 

    I remember that Eyuze Baba brought Adebayo Williams and me together. Adebayo Williams is now a Professor of Literature and a novelist and columnist of no mean repute. He and Eyuze were together as under-graduates in those years of tempestuous student unionism of patriotic patriotism when Eyuze made hay and held sway in Ife as President of the Students’ Union. But it is not this I am recalling and remembering. I am recalling and remembering… I am recalling and remembering Bayo Williams’ visits in his ever-faithful Passat to Eyuze (and then eventually to us) from Kaduna (where he was teaching at Federal Government College and at the same time working on his Master’s degree in Ife as we were doing in Zaria) when we dreamed dreams of Nigeria and our tempestuous love affair with your country my country our country. We dreamed the dreams of writing and of how to help this country to constitute ethical or moral or whatever science and knowledge of growth to shape it and humankind. Each of us endeavoured to adopt the method which would make him the peerless master of positive criticism of our country. Then we really had and held lofty dreams of enlightened patriots as young as we were with the whole world before us. Until he died Eyuze did not betray the dream and did not deviate from its anatomy.  Our man was a stammerer and stutterer in private conversations but in his public speeches and lectures he was a brilliant and very brilliant orator and analyst of acute dialectical proportions who always was an orator’s orator. He always reminded me of the late famous socialist novelist Professor Festus Iyayi of the University of Benin (who famously led the Academic Staff Union of Universities in the military era that in hindsight is hundred percent better than this civilian democratic regime of rotten rottenness). And in Professor Olukotun’s shining and shiny writings you would not notice any stammering and stuttering. Let me refrain from citing numerous examples. Eyuze was simply and more than simply audaciously brilliant and courageously courageous. He stood on a very high moral ground which his elegant writings are evidence of.

    What else am I remembering? When I was leaving Zaria finally, with my all-what-not, Eyuze accompanied me to the Mid-West. This attests to the measure of our tight friendship. We spent three days together in Sapele and Warri before we travelled back together in order for me to tidy up my disengagement from Ahmadu Bello University. I can write a treatise on the pure geometry of our healthy relationship. But it is immaterial now. Yet let me say this. In later years, in much later years, after we were fully committed to marital duties – with the vagaries of our politics and economy not helping matters – the cruel wind and breeze of boisterous Nigeria roped, wrestled, beat bare our friendship but we never ignored the generosity of our closeness through ample calls. In one of those calls I related the gloriously memorable one night I spent with him in the Lagos Daily Times estate/quarters he was staying in then as an editorial staff  member of that once famous global newspaper before he was a faculty member of University of Lagos. He enjoyed it all then. I can imagine how he and our elderly GG Darah, who is also now a Professor, cordially and graciously – and very warmly, welcomed me to the editorial office when I visited Kakawa! Or is memory failing me again? No, no, no.

    Is there anything further I want to recall about Eyuze? Of course, there are many more things to say about my kind and joyfully-minded Eyuze. But I must hold my breath here. In despair, of course. And my despair is not the vigorous pleasure of despairing. Our gone revolutionary humanist was every revolutionary’s humanist. He should not have left us now. But his time was surely up. I say this as a revolutionary mystic and peace activist – if you permit me to say so.

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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Opinion

Witch Persecution And Dream Experiences In Nigeria

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Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State
Dr Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

The Advocacy for Alleged Witches welcomes the arrest of a young man, Joseph Friday, who allegedly murdered his father for witchcraft in Akwa Ibom. The development represents some of the best ways the police could help end impunity and beat back the tide of witch-hunting in the country. The suspect told the police that the father used to appear to him in a dream. He said that the father would hypnotize him before depositing a spell in his body. Mr. Friday said, “My Father used a charm on me; he appeared in my dream and hypnotized me. Whenever he appeared, something like a tortoise entered my body, and I would start to behave abnormally”.

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Akwa Ibom is one of the states in Nigeria where witch persecution is pervasive, and abuses linked to witchcraft beliefs are widespread. As in this case, many cases of witchcraft accusations are linked to dreams, mystical interpretations of dreams. It will take more than arresting suspects and perpetrators to end these savage acts.

In Akwa Ibom, people are taught to take their dream experiences seriously. They believe or are made to believe, that those who appear in dreams are witches or agents of the occult. People are taught that dream experiences are revealing; they disclose potential harm and harmers. So people believe that their dreams point to what would happen to them or their families. So, whenever a person sees someone threatening or attacking them in a dream, they confront, attack, or kill the person when they wake up. Some people have noted cases where they have seen people pursuing them with a machete, or pressing their chest in the dream. And they felt horrified upon waking up. People who see others in a dream prefer to expose and kill them before they wreak further havoc. People take the dream experiences as real-life experiences. Incidentally, this mistaken idea of dreams is real and dangerous. And as this case has illustrated, the mystical idea of dreams leads to horrific abuses.

To end witch persecution, Nigerians need to change their attitudes towards dreams. Nigerians should understand that dreams are natural, not supernatural phenomena. Dreams are a stream of images and sensations that well up in the mind whenever a person is asleep. They have nothing to do with witchcraft or magic as popularly believed. People dream because their brains are not dead. Dreams are rooted in thoughts and imaginations that the mind entertained while awake. It is grossly mistaken to attack or kill someone based on another person’s dream experiences.

Dr. Igwe is an executive director of the
Advocacy for Alleged Witches.

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Opinion

Where Did All The Money Go?

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Mike Hunder

By Mike Hunder

For eight straight years, the Buhari administration had been turning up the “no money” rhetoric.  Added to the puzzle, at a time when oil-producing countries were reaping sustained windfalls from high oil prices, at above $100 per barrel on average in 2022, following the Russia-Ukraine war, the NNPC made zero remittance to the federation account for most of the year. 

Now, a series of striking revelations have contradicted the administration’s “no money” claim, at a dramatic speed.  

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First, the Auditor General, in a 2022 letter to the Senate revealed that “a total of 17,877,705 barrels of crude oil valued at $1,020,969,281.12 (over one billion, twenty million dollars), were exported between 2016 and 2020, without proper records. This perhaps explains the non-remittance of funds by the NNPC into the federation account that characterized the administration. 

Second, things got so bad that, the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, locked horns with NNPC over shortchanging the government on several occasions. In one instance, in June 2018, there was a standoff between the National Economic Council and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), when the then Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, pointedly accused the NNPC of short-changing the government.  She declared NNPC’s account to the federal accounts allocation committee (FAAC), “unacceptable” and asked that they render the full account of the “missing billions”!

What happened there after?  The “deep state” clipped her wings, with allegations that she forged her NYSC certificate. Three months later, she resigned, and life went on.

Another revelation came to fore on the floor of the Senate in December 2022. That about 100 federal MDAs failed to account for the sum of #1.9 trillion naira from 2017 to 2021, despite several invitations. More shocking, most of the agencies involved, report to the presidency. This included the State House, Presidential Fleet, Ministry  of Finance, the armed forces, Police, Accountant General office,  NEMA, Ministry of Defence,  Special Assistant to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and many others.

The fourth was a bigger problem than many first thought. The CBN embarked on unfettered “printing of money” for the Buhari administration since 2015, in repeated disregards of the laws. Under the CBN Act, “ways and means” facility (a code for printing money for government), should not exceed 5% of the previous year’s revenue of the government and must be paid within the financial cycle. Then again, Section 38 provides that, “ways and means”… must be refunded before the collection of another one.” Yet, the Buhari administration kept collecting “ways and means” from the CBN, without making a refund, in a zeal not seen before, hitting #23.7 trillion by December 2022.

When the Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki, first spilled the beans about CBN’s printing of money for the federal government back in April 2021, the government denied it. Now, realizing that the “ways and means” account, cannot possibly be kept way from the public beyond May 2023, the president has sent a request to the Senate to give it a second life. Asking for a legislation to restructure it, and pass the repayment to future generations over a period of 40 years! Added to the puzzle, the request contained no records of how, when and what the #23.7 trillion was spent on.

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Until recently, the administration claimed that Nigeria does not have a debt problem, but a revenue problem. Then, it embarked on constant external borrowings, increasing external debts by 300% between June 2015 ($10 billion) and June 2022 ($40 billion), without a corresponding increase in foreign currency earnings.  Now, Patience Oniha, the director general of the Debt Management Office, when appearing before the House of Representatives to defend the 2023 budget, revealed that Nigeria does have an external debt problem. To the extent that Moody’s and Fitch downgraded Nigeria to a Category ‘B’ economy in 2021, the international market has closed its doors of borrowing against Nigeria, making it difficult for the country to borrow.

On top of this, fell the huge national debt stock, at seventy-seven trillion Naira.

Thus, an ugly spiral has developed: huge sums of money that are unaccounted for, constant external borrowings without a corresponding increase in foreign earnings – and a gigantic national debt of seventy-seven trillion Naira, completes the circle!

In the current climate, what is puzzling to people is, where did all this money go? Many who have defended the administration on financial prudence, now say they cannot go beyond this caricature. Then again, post-May 2023, things will probably get worse, before they get better. So, now comes the hangover! 

*Mike Hunder, an economist and business-training consultant based in Lagos, is a former General Manager at Union Bank Plc and Oceanic International Bank, respectively. He can be reached at: hundermike@mikehunder.com

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