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Barbarians in the citadels of knowledge – By Tochukwu Ezukanma

By Tochukwu Ezukanma / Lagos, Nigeria / Feb. 25, 2017 – Long ago, a smallish female student in my class was very angry at the professor. She argued that the professor should not have marked her wrong because the question he asked was an opinion question, and that in her answer she stated her opinion. And by marking her wrong he was insinuating that only his own opinion can be right. The professor replied that any opinion can be right, as long as the student lets him know what informed his/her opinion. The problem with her answer, which necessitated his marking it wrong, was that she just wrote down her opinion without stating the basis for it.  


Understandably, the professor was not incensed. After all, he was employed to serve the students. The purpose of the whole university establishment, including the entire academic faculties and administrative personnel, is to serve the students. And those you are employed to serve reserve the right to question and criticize you. Secondly, the university should be a citadel of intellectual freedom and free speech, where students can express themselves, even in disagreement with the lecturers/professors and school authorities. In addition, university education should encourage personal probing and debate, and not learning by rote and sheepish acceptance of the “infallible” knowledge of lecturers/professors.


It was not in Nigeria that the student vented her gripe against the professor. In the upside down world of Nigeria, the university environment is intimidating. Students are expected to be submissive, ingratiating and kowtowing, to the lecturers/professors and school authorities. The Nigerian society is disgustingly snobbish, repulsively arrogant and nauseatingly class-conscious.
And the Nigerian university milieu panders to the snobbery, arrogance and class-consciousness of the lecturers/professors and university administrators. Consequently, in a Nigerian university, the professor, in the characteristic Nigerian empty “madamism” and “bigmanism” would have felt insulted by what he would have considered the student’s effrontery to question his grading. And he would have angrily berated the student for being (what he would have seen as) offensively self-assertive, and reminded her of his many degrees, academic titles, vast and extensive, and (consequently), “flawless” knowledge.


Despite the dearth of great minds in the Nigerian society, it is reasonable to expect that the academia should be teeming with enlightened temperaments and great minds. But, lamentably, just as in the Nigerian society, there is a lack of great minds in the academia. To great minds, the essence of life is moral worth and fame. To mediocre minds, the primary aims of life are material gain and pleasure. Does this not explain the grasping avarice and hedonism of our society, which is mostly devoid of great minds?  Trapped in the avarice and pleasure-seeking of the Nigerian society, many Nigerian lecturers/professors, abandoned the sublimity of their honorable and prestigious profession for the pettiness of quick money and self-gratification. They “sort out”, sell handouts and trade good grades for money and sex.   




A final year law student submitted his senior project to a lecturer and also paid in some money into his bank account. More disturbing to me than the bribe the student paid his lecturer was his attitude towards it. To him, there was nothing wrong with bribing his lecturer. In my chagrin that corruption is not only prevalent but generally accepted in Nigerian universities, I asked the student, what then was the lecturer to grade – the senior project or the money deposited into his account? Both, he replied. It is not anecdotal that female students offer sex to their lecturers/professors for good grades. And sometimes, even studious female students not given to trading sex for good grades succumb to sexual pressures from lecturers. There have been instances of lecturers/professors openly telling female students that, “unless I have sex with you, you cannot pass my course”. In any sane society, such a sexual threat will get a lecturer fired from his job, and possibly, arrested and prosecuted for sexual harassment. But in the vast scene of confusion that is our beloved country, anything goes: lawlessness, abuse of power and barbarism hold sway, even in our universities.


Normally, the university environment is a natural abode of freethinkers, dissenters and iconoclasts, and consequently, a bastion of intellectual ferment. Lamentably, university education in Nigeria encourages conformity and concurrence at the detriment of free-thought, dissent and iconoclasm. As such, students are severely punished for independent-mindedness, nonconformity and dissent. Recently, an outspoken student of the University of Lagos, Adeyeye Olorunfemi, was suspended for 4 semesters for criticizing the university vice chancellor. To suspend a student for 4 semesters for his criticism of the vice chancellor was disconcertingly reminiscent of medieval intolerance. It was obscurantism in its most shameless form for it smacked squarely in the face of free speech and every essential of 21st Century modernity. Unlike in other countries of the world, for example, South African, where recently, months of university students protest resulted not in one death, in Nigeria, university vice chancellors routinely call in the police to shoot and kill students on peaceful protests.


Peter Viereck once wrote that, “Barbarism is blindness, blindness to the standards of conduct, which civilization, over eon (so many years) imposed on human nature”. The standards of conduct Western civilization imposed on human nature derived from three heritages: liberty and individual worth from the Greek; legalism and equality of all men before the law from the Romans; and Christianity, and its doctrine of universal love, fairness and equality of all men before God, from the Jews. Any human behavior unrestrained by these ideals is barbarism. The demand of pecuniary and sexual bribes from students, sexual harassment of female students, suspension of a student for criticizing the vice-chancellor and calling in of the police to shoot and kill students on peace demonstrations are behaviors uninhibited by the ideals of civilization; they are acts of barbarianism.


And anyone culpable of barbarism is a barbarian. Therefore, many lecturers/professors, school administrators and vice-chancellors in Nigerian universities are essentially barbarians, barbarians entrenched in our citadels of knowledge.




 Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.



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Posted by on Feb 25 2017. Filed under Articles, Columnists, NNP Columnists, Tochukwu Ezukanma. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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