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11.04.2009 Feature Article

‘Is Nigerian Education A Diabolus Ex Machina ?’

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This sequel to our earlier story is decidedly not a sequel; it only seeks to introduce the devil (Diabolus Ex Machina) into our story, to make the plot more complicated. Well, it is also a sequel, telling by the sequence of events. The Diabolus Ex Machina (The devil out of the machine) negates the Deus Ex Machina. We will not waste time on definitions on this occasion. Instead, we will right away visit the editorial of the Nigerian newspaper that informed this discussion. The paper contended that the Nigerian educational system has collapsed because of the involvement of the military in the governance of the oil rich poor county. The soldiers, the Daily Independent says, emphasise on “the rule of force over of the rule of intellect”, so perhaps, they would not promote scholarship the way a civilian government would. That is a real devil of an excuse. It seems Nigerians know our glory and are prepared to buy into it, but they don't know our story. Ghana, the educational haven that has suddenly become their Deux Ex Machina, only recovered from the effects of the rule of force a few decades ago. From 1966 to 1992 when JJ. Rawllings transmogrified himself from a military dictator into a civilian president through popular elections, the West African country had gone through series of coups. At a point, when the plot of our story became really chaotic, President Rawllings threatened to introduce his own creation of the Diabolus Ex Machina, the CDR cadres, to seize university lecture theatres and teach students anything they knew. The story was so bad that lecturers were threatened with ejection from their bungalows. The university lecturers, apparently, had embarked on a strike action that saw them staying at home with their wives for about a year, instead of researching to teach.

In all these, we made sure that intellect ruled over force. The Military is a devil in the plot of every democratic culture, but they don't always succeed in rewriting our entire story. They only change the characters, infesting them with superhuman powers to look like the heroes of ancient tragedies. Even when they bulldoze their way through the constitution, thumb-printing their version with blood, instead of the pen, as we had it, the essentials of the story do not change. Where the will of the people is stronger, systems and institutions only take the brunt of the uncivil, but they do not collapse, as the Nigerians want us to believe. At least, ours survived and lived on. Very bold initiatives have been implemented in the sector. Today, school children in Ghana have the luxury of eating free good meals everyday in school. There is greater emphasis on technical training under the junior secondary school system. And teachers are not badly remunerated compared to yesteryears. Libya has had a military ruler since 1969, but they have a fairly good system of education. At least, they are not sending their children to neighbouring Tunisia for education. Ola Rotimi may have to posthumously write something to blame the gods.

Maybe, Nigerians need to appreciate the urgency of the situation better than they are doing. When it becomes necessary for a country to make a Canaan out of their neighbour, especially for educational purposes, then theirs is a very tragic case of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is just like asking your neighbour to impregnate your wife and claiming the children as yours. But they will do well not to make the butterfly look like a bird, because it is not. Soon, the people of Ghana would feel the pressure. Already, there are complaints from some Ghanaian parents who cannot find places for their children in our public universities. The suspicion is that rich Nigerian Alhajis and Chiefs have paid dollars to take their places. So, we would soon have a situation where graduation ceremonies would be held for Emeka Okechuku and Bidemi Oduanyinbo, with their Senator fathers and headgear-wearing mothers thronging Ghanaian universities to hold extravagant parties for their children. That will mean that a bright Kwame Amponsah did not graduate. It will be a real case of the Diabolus Ex Machina in the plot of our story.

The Nigerian never ceases to amaze me. While the average Ghanaian can tell the number of universities we have in our country, even with the sudden growth of many private ones, the Nigerian often has to hazard the wildest guess of his life to give a rough estimate. I asked two Nigerian friends to name a figure. “Ah, ah, Oga Ben, that one be difficult oh. Even in my state Edo, Edo alone oh, we have five universities. You know how many states we have now.” The other put the figure around 200 but wasn't sure. He promised that he would telephone to ask his father in Nigeria, who incidentally is the vice chancellor of a university. That his father is a vice chancellor pretty much sits well with the plot of the Nigerian story. This is a country where middle-aged women dress in expensive obodoyibo materials, pour bucketfuls of Armani perfumes on their toned bodies, paint their faces with red powder and walk to the roadside for an okada. My friend revels in positive braggadocio, the aggressive kind that is only possible in an oil rich country. “Nigeria no be Ghana. We have a lot of universities oh, you can't count them” he bragged, as if Americans have no idea how many universities they have. He had dined with Archbishop Idahosa before travelling to Canada to work as a support worker in a care home, bathing and feeding disabled septuagenarians. Of course, his uncle is a governor in Nigeria. The Edo guy had put the figure around 180. “Oga, don't quote me oh”, he was quick to add. Quantity is a good thing, especially in the provision of okada, but when it comes to education, quality should be the watchword.

How good is the Ghanaian system, anyway? There are too many faults to tire in repetition, but there are some good stories to tell. If you saw the number of students walking towards the N Block at University of Ghana for a lecture in political science, you would think there was a Christian evangelical crusade where participants had been drawn from all over the country. And to think that the multitude were going to be taught by one lecturer made it worthy to think of the lecture as a crusade, where Jesus would be present to work a miracle. It was impossible to talk of a student-lecture ratio. Maybe it was strategic that many of the lecturers were Christians: They could trust the Holy Spirit to help them mark hundreds of scripts every semester. But they managed to do their best, even if it meant employing old theories to explain modern phenomena. If I have ended up writing crap, it is not because I had bad teachers or studied under a collapsed system in a West African university. Perhaps, I would have been a twit anyhow even if I had studied in the world's best learning institution, where the marbles on the floor smell of scholarship. My lessons on Advanced Criticism were as brilliant as those on Analysis and Interpretation. Those on Pragmatics may not have succeeded in making me a pragmatic person, because ACCA does not exactly make accountants good at managing their family savings. How the individual individuates himself is what matters, not so much the Oxford sticker that he would proudly stick on the wind screen of his car.

This leads us to the controversial issue we raised in our earlier story. When we wrote that the University of Ghana is a better university than Oxford, folks thought we had indulged in hyperboles, to urge readers to think of the story as a literary exercise on figures of speech. But we made the claim with the all-consuming conviction of an adulterous civil servant pleading for pay increase. And here, we wish we could employ an onomatopoeic device to re-state the claim. Is the University of Ghana a better university than Oxford? Who in their right minds will make such a comparison? Perhaps it would be easier to believe that Jesus is not the Son of God or that the Holocaust did not happen. And who in their right minds will not make such a comparison? Well, let's see where we will place the Diabolus Ex Machina in this case. Have I been to Oxford University? Yes. Well, not as you would expect; I was only there as a visitor. But I was there, in fact many times, together with a friend who later turned out to be a veritable Diabolus Ex Machina in the plot of the story of my own life. My first impression was a very good impression: Imposing architecture, clean surroundings, gorgeous and perfectly cut grasses, great university staff. It was just like my first day on Legon campus. “Learning here will be great, the lady with me said.” “Oh yes, it should, after all this is Oxford, our president's Alma Malta”, I submitted. “It must cost a fortune to study here, she moved. Well, even if you have the money, they would not admit you. Looks like they want only First Class students, she added.” We enjoyed the scenery and drove back to Milton Keynes.

Well, first impressions are like a virgin's sexual fantasy: Looks fantastic until there is an experience, then she realises the monotony of the whole presentation. Oxford is an expensive but affordable place of learning. And that is no metaphor at all. It turns out that Oxford University would sometimes welcome applicants who have been rejected by third world universities. While a colleague in Ghana had failed to secure admission onto Legon's MPA programme at the School of Administration, he had been given an unconditional offer at Oxford, where unlike Legon, he didn't have to interview for a place. He had graduated with a very weak second class lower division. He enrolled on a course at the Great University and attended lecturers. He was only kicked out when he couldn't pay the tuition fees. He dumped his Oxford Wanabee frustration on City Banking College, where only a little effort is needed to get an MBA from Leicester University. I am yet to find out what it takes to enter the Kennedy School of Government, except that I know you don't have to be a descendant of the Kennedy Dynasty, but I would presume that it would not take anything different from what the Centre for International Studies at Legon (LECIA) would require. GRE? Any fool can pass that thing. Those who study to write the GRE in Ghana do just as well as the career students in America who take a third try before they pass. In any case, human resource professionals have not put out a statement that graduates from Oxbridge and Harvard make the best managers. It is the same with Achimota and Toase Secondary School graduates. The Achimotans are good until they get to university, where Toase takes over.

Even so, we can understand why the people of Nigeria want to experience the first rate Ghanaian education. Some say there is too much occultism on Nigerian university campuses, so rich parents who care about their children see Ghana as a safe place for responsible life. While in Ghana, the Nigerian kids will do well to learn good oil management. When they are done, we wish them safe 'dworney' back to Abuja Oh!

Benjamin Tawiah is a journalist. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Email: [email protected], [email protected]

Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin
Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin, © 2009

The author has 235 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: KwesiTawiahBenjamin

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