Thu, 02 Apr 2009 Feature Article

How Did University of Ghana Become Nigeria’s Deus Ex Machina?

How Did University of Ghana Become Nigeria’s Deus Ex Machina?

The Deus Ex Machina (god from the machine) is not a particularly desirable thing in the development of any plot. Even in ancient Greek tragedies, where its most notorious user, Euripides, was alleged to have employed the device in nearly half of his plays, it was not seen as the most effective way to resolve the conflict in any dramatic action. Aristotle and Nietzsche criticized Euripides's rampant engagement of a plot device that seemed to arise from outside the action. When Shakespeare made use of the device in Hamlet, Pericles and The Winters Tale, some of the critics in the renaissance era viewed it as a rough way to tie the pieces together. The Deus Ex Machina is a device that playwrights employ to bail out a desperate situation when all possible means have been exhausted. It is the last resort. For instance, if any playwright decided to write a play about the drama surrounding the use of an office by Ex-president Kufour, the Deus Ex Machina could be used to invoke the spirit of Dr K.A Busia, instructing a tomato farmer to build the former president a beautiful office. That settles the issue. Case closed. If this is the picture the editorial of the Independent, a Nigerian daily newspaper, sought to portray in its April Fool edition, then the oil rich country is in a desperate situation indeed. Yet the editorial, which bemoaned the practice where Nigerian parents are sending their children to schools in Ghana, was emphatic: “Rather than the parents looking out for or examining where they missed the mark, they seek a quick fix or a deux ex machina by abandoning their country to look for solutions in other lands.”

In the publication, the paper sought to examine the effects of the trend and question why ECOWAS ally Ghana, has become the solution to the problem. The Ibadan and Abeokuta neighbours are determined not to short-change their wards, so they are willing to pay any amount in foreign currency, in excess of $6000 to give them quality education. The Lagos based daily opens the report with a very explosive statement: The Nigerian educational system has collapsed. It blames the situation on “…successive military adventures into political offices, and the legendary emphasis on the rule of force over the rule of intellect…” It also criticises otherwise knowledgeable professionals who prefer to make financially rewarding careers in banking, politics and in the oil sectors instead of helping develop talent and build scholarship in Nigeria's educational institutions. The result is that weaker minds who would not get jobs in other sectors of the economy are those who settle for the classroom. And because a filter will always leave an imprint on that which it filters, the quality of the poor teachers tells on the products that come out from these institutions. With the education centre not holding, things are really falling apart, as their Achebe would say. The situation is as intriguing as the Trial of Brother Jero or even more ironic than Femi Osofisan's Midnight Hotel. In the end, Nigerians have conceded that The Gods Are Not To Blame; instead the Nigerian system of education is due the blame. So, a Deus Ex Machina is needed to fill the void, this time not from Greece, but from the Republic of Ghana in West Africa.

When I wrote years ago that University of Ghana is a better university than Oxford and Cambridge, folks thought I was employing my own version of the Deus Ex Machina, to paint true a monstrous lie that would not be believed by Tartuffe, or even Iago. However, those same people had no difficulty believing that it was possible for Coriolanus to single-handedly conquer the city of Corioli or even that the tragedy of Hamlet was not possible without the Prince of Denmark. Yet, the commentaries were bitter. And perhaps, it was because Ghanaians often lament their falling standards of education, preferring the universities in the west to ours, without making assurance double sure. The truth, as I pointed out in that article, is that our universities, especially the University of Ghana, prepares students better than the sausage education that is the fetish of the popular universities in England and America. My argument was that most of the universities in the west are interested in developing their infrastructure and maintaining their quality on the profits made from exorbitant fees paid by international students. They don't care very much about the quality of learning and tuition. I also commented in a recent feature on education that some authorities in the English educational establishment were expressing great concern that the commercialisation of education, a venture targeted at milking the international student, was affecting the quality of the respected English education.

For the umpteenth time, I am putting it on record that my first degree in English, which was presented to me by Prof Ivan Addai-Mensah, prepared me better than the Master of Laws I wasted my brains on in England. And may my head grow like onions in the ground if I ever fail to acknowledge Prof Martin Owusu of The Story Ananse Told fame and Aloysious Denkabe of the University of Ghana's English Department, whenever I am able to compose a sentence. Of course, Michael Agyemang (Agyengo) of St James Seminary, Sunyani, had earlier sowed the seed when we sat at the banks of the River Wye, recollecting spontaneous emotions in tranquility, as if Tintern Abbey was no Wordsworth's business. I am unashamed to say that I didn't have to write an exam to get my LLM. Three assignments and two group presentations were enough to get me the qualification. The dissertation is always a joke. Folks travel to their home countries to fetch somebody's work and present it after making sure they have changed the names in the acknowledgement. Those who do two related degrees present the same dissertation to two universities. You will not get past the reception of the School of Communication Studies of the University of Ghana with such rapacious intellectual armed robbery.

I have on occasion without number lambasted the MBA degrees awarded by private universities in the UK, particularly the City Banking College, which as the gods will have it, gave affordable diplomas to many African immigrants, especially Ghanaians. Instead, I highly recommend Stephen Adei's GIMPA as a fantastic place of learning. Now, it seems what to Ghanaians sounded like a parliamentary debate to Agya Koo, rings in the ears of Nigerian as news of the resurrection of the Christ to Mary Magdalene. They believe in our educational system and are coming for it with full Anago force. Soon they will replace our Kenkey and Shito with their Eba and Edikanko, and dress us in Eshiago, instead of Kente. That will also be when our English nosedived into something phonetically sinful and syntactically laughable. After all, Nyame will be better known as Chineke. The good thing, however, is that our women will benefit from expensive shopping, but the most greedy of our Akosuas will have the shopping snatched from their hands by their Ngozis and Nkechis after the Wedlock of The Gods had been completed.

Before that happens, let's ask: What exactly is the reason why Nigerians are trooping into Ghana lately? Well, that question need not be asked because many of Nigeria's good schools and universities are staffed by Ghanaian teachers and lecturers. If they can have our teachers, why can't we have their students? Besides, the Alhajis and the Chiefs are willing to pay dollars to enrich our educational institutions. The paper also laments “Nigerian entrepreneurs have found a safe and stable haven in Ghana. Since the factors of production, especially power, are stable, he can have a safe conjecture on how his business would thrive and so can plan accordingly. In the same vein, petty traders, who have to buy and sell seasonal goods, especially during Easter and Christmas times, have had to go to Ghana to buy them at wholesale to retail in Nigeria since most of the manufacturing companies that had closed shops in Nigeria now find a home in Ghana.”

Like the people of every country, Nigerians are peculiar. They are incredibly entrepreneurial, especially their Ibos. They seem to have a native nosiness for quality and natural curiosity for plenty, especially in the area of money. And they will do anything for it, including selling the Deus Ex Machina itself to the Greece, and pretending that Tafawa Belewa was indeed the inventor of that device. Don't wait for explanation, because they could well dress a self-made chief with the original robes of Euripides, to come and convince you how he wrote Medea or indeed Sophocles's Oedipus. They are very creative people. They are about 140 million, and even the dullest among them appears businesslike and venturesome. They have many of the continents most important scholars. Their Wole Soyinka ever won a Nobel Prize in Literature. Achebe's works have a place in our hearts. They have good universities and many rich people. Some of their pastors own private jets. Mercedes Benz cars are very common. They have good taste. You would ask: Why is a country full of talent making a mess of her education? Is it not interesting that they have had to rely on the 22Million population of Ghana to fill important holes in their educational institutions? Don't they have quality human resource?

Well, perhaps, the best way to answer this question is to look at the background of their modern politicians. Maybe with the exception of their current president, none of their other presidents ever had a university degree. Well, so we were told. Their last election was a complete sham, something international observers could not immediately summon the vocabulary to describe. Ours was a generational success, the continent's pride. Or could it be that Ghanaians are 'slow but sure' gems who would have done much better for themselves if they had the numbers the Nigerians are dealing with? Both countries are poor in spite of their abundant natural resources. One is blessed with abundant oil and should be a middle income country by now; the other has cocoa and Gold, and found oil in bigger quantities only recently. The relative peace and comfort in Ghana, and indeed the prospects of the new found oil, seem to be the attraction for the Nigerians.

What do all these mean to us? They pose a challenge. We need to stop lamenting the fallen standards of education in Ghana, and concentrate on effective capacity building in our universities. If the standards were that bad, folks from Ikeja and Port Harcourt will not cross borders to tap our scholarship. We need to introduce a rather broad range of academic programmes that will answer to the needs of globalisation. And yes, the University of Ghana should by now have a good student newspaper. As for the Nigerians, they are always welcome to borrow from us, but they would do well to develop a good plot for their story, because the Deus Ex machina is not a very effective device.

Benjamin Tawiah is a journalist; he lives in Ottawa.

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