I never knew I would be prompted by necessity to pen this. As a matter of fact, I loathe that I am writing this piece, but sometimes a writer is helpless in the face of the need to write. I am helplessly writing this, I can’t bear it anymore.
This piece may upset some people, but people’s nerves are meant to be unsettled, so if you feel indicted by what I’m about to say, bring the heat on.
“Own Goal”, in sports parlance, is when a player mistakenly scores against his own team in a match. This could be more painful than conceiving hundred goals from the opposition. In general Igbo parlance, it is, obiara egbum gbuoo onwe ya, that is, one who killed himself while trying to kill someone else. But I’m more in love with the Owerri variant of it: Ewu Nda ataala ji Nda, that is, Nda’s goat has eaten Nda’s precious yam. One can’t help but feel Nda’s pain from a mocking distance. Poor Nda.
I am Igbo, a core, unapologetic and patriotic Igbo, but I may have to be an Ezeulu now and damn the consequences. You remember Ezeulu? Chinua Achebe’s protagonist in Arrow of God, who testified against his people in a land dispute that was obviously not theirs. The slight difference between me and Ezeulu now is that there is no land in contention, only a little honesty on my people’s self deceit.
In Nigeria, it is true that every region or tribe has gotten their own fair share of Nigeria’s sociopolitical disequilibrium,. It is even truer that Ndi Igbo are repeatedly, the reaper of all it’s many odds, hence, the repeated cries of foul play from this region and justly so.
But then, there should be a limit to “finger pointing” at the Federal Governmente . We should not direct all our fingers to the FG, let us spare some fingers for ourselves. In this game of national survival, there are many junctures where we’ve scored and are scoring countless “own goals”, so pause for a while and have a rethink by counting your fingers.
This piece will, by His grace, come in many variants, but this part will focus on our universities in the Southeast and their poor states. I am not going to start recounting what role the FG should play in standardizing these universities, but what role the people inside should play to make do with the little they have. An Igbo adage is of the view that, onye ajuru aju anaghi aju onwe ya, one who is rejected does not reject himself. Alas! Southeast universities have rejected themselves?
Just yesterday, a good friend of mine complained bitterly of the ill remark she received from a fellow Igbo from Ebonyi state. According to her, this fellow condemned her alumni, Imo state university, as a university more outstanding in ngwori (social life) than academic business. She was disappointed when I took sides with the fellow. But my taking side with the fellow is not in the area of ngwori which I condemn many universities for not having. I love ngwori, for all works and no play makes JP a dull boy, but JP should not forget that all plays and no work could make him a mere toy.
The universities in the Southeast, especially state owned universities are merely chasing after rats fleeing from their burning institutions. Somewhere in the Southeast, I know a university with poor staff strength, hence one lecturer could take two or three courses in one level in the same semester, (own goal). Somewhere in the Southeast, I know a university that does not celebrate her outstanding staff and students, (own goal). I know a university that operates like Banana Republic, where all staff do as they like, unchecked, uncensored, unsanctioned, (own goal).
Let us start with this Igbo habit of not celebrating their own, an anomaly which the institutions that are meant to abolish are now its major ‘sustainers’. Take the case of IMSU for instance where a Linguistic guru like Professor P.A Anyanwu who has been in the academic frontiers for decades just did his inaugural lecture, probably because he is nearing retirement. Whereas, Anyanwu’s counterpart in the Western schools like Professor Ayo Banjo has already become a canonized deity and has since retired with more than five Feschrifts in his honour. Anyanwu and the likes of Otagburuagu of UNN, are immediate younger colleagues of Banjo, but the manner with which these gentlemen are disregarded can make Satan cry. Look at the likes of Professor Jasper Onuekwusi and J.O.J Nwachukwu Agbada, outstanding scholars in the area of Oral Performance in Africa and Children Fiction. Their institutions don’t even know their worth outside, but their U.I counterparts like Prof. Ademola Dasylva is almost a demigod with volumes and volumes of papers written in his honour. Look at Prof. Emeka Nwabueze of UNN, an outstanding thespian without whom the history of theatre development in Nigeria is incomplete, how many of us know this man, has the institution he represents ever organized a colloquium in his honour? But his U.I counterpart, Femi Osofisan, is a celebrated deity. The most painful is Professor Isidore Diala of IMSU, a man who taught me only for one semester and my music ambition suffered a serious setback because of my courting of the scholastic ambition. Isidore Diala, in 2015, won the Maiden NLNG Prize for Criticism, the highest literature Prize in Nigeria/Africa. I was rounding off my Bachelor’s Degree studies then. The night the prize was announced on National Television, I couldn’t sleep as a result of jubilation. The news was all over the media, people from afar were celebrating him, but upon getting to school the next day, a cemetery was noisier than IMSU, I went mute with disappointment, but more shock lay ahead, I asked a fellow why no one was celebrating Diala, or hasn’t anyone around the school premesis heard of the feather that has just been added to IMSU’s cap? But Chineke God! This fellow asked me what NLNG meant. But in the West, Diala’s counterparts like E.T Omobowale, Remi Raji, Nelson Fashina, Ayo Kehinde, Tejumola Olaniyan, etc, are scholars with whom their various institutions ‘make mouth’. I can go on and on but let me pause here before I start sounding like a broken record. I have just one question.
Is it the Federal Government of Nigeria that taught Igbo people how to slight their great? Don’t bother to answer because I will. The answer is a capital NO. NO NO. It is just that whereas the Yoruba celebrates everything that belongs to them including their language and culture, reason why they keep moving forward because etoo dike na nke omere eme, omekwaa ozo, ndi Igbo are not done with self hate, self denigration, self disrespect and internal disagreement, how then would they have time and resources to celebrate their own? Ihe ntakiri nkea nnoo ha metere eji agaghi anuru ha nti. Yes, that is the typical Igbo man, if he celebrates you, who will celebrate him? Mana ha chefuru na nwata kwochapu aka, ya esoro ndi okenye rie nri.
Recently, I was in U.I conference centre, where the who is who in Yoruba politics and Literature gathered to celebrate D.O Fagunwa, one of the earliest Yoruba novelists to write in the indigenous Yoruba language. Past and present governors of Ogun, Ondo and Oyo state where present and sat from beginning to end. Wole Soyinka, Africa’s greatest writer alive, flew in from UK, Femi Osofisan was present, Odia Ofeimun was present, he even berated the governors for maladministration, till now, he hasn’t gone to jail. Tade Ipadeola, NLNG poet laureate of 2013 was present, Tejumola Olaniyan flew in from Canada, Gbemisola Adeoti was there and numerous others I can’t mention because of space. But don’t forget that Pita Nwanna, the Igbo carpenter-author of the classic Igbo novel, OMENUKO remains unknown to many Igbo adults, youths and children. But Pita Nwanna is in the same pantheon as D.O Fagunwa. The feat he achieved in that book is enough to put him in Igbo Hall of Fame, if any, but hell no, owu nani ya ma Igbo ede? Ngwa, let us organize something for him now, even government and the universities they operate like their poultry will rip you off in the price of any of their facilities you wish to use. I can bet that no Igbo governor knows Pita Nwanna, neither has any read his book.
This cynicism and neglect is the reason why people like Chimamanda Adichie will never entertain the ‘own goal’ idea of finally settling down here, she will die unknown in her bedroom. Did we not wait for Ndiocha to celebrate her before we finally agreed that she’s a good author? Some hate her still, for daring to stand out. That’s why people like Esiaba Irobi, a poet and dramatist of maximum proportion died unnoticed in 2010, but the international world adores him. I even heard of him first, through the lone efforts of Prof. Isidore Diala in immortalizing him by writing a full length book on his oeuvre. He was finally awarded NLNG prize for Drama in the same year, posthumously. Ezenwa Ohaeto, an indomitable scholar of international standard, an enviable ‘pengician’, also an NLNG Laureate of 2005 had to die prematurely in the same 2005, before UNIZIK looked into his creative output and announced him a Professor at death. Shame! The most painful is Prof. Ben Obumselu, even as I write, many do not know he passed on a few months ago. Don’t be surprised if someone says he is a wrestler, because we don’t know pikim. But Ben Obumselu was among the founding fathers of criticism in African literature alongside MJC Echeruo, Francis Abiola Irele,etc. Abiola Irele passed on a few weeks ago, but his Yoruba kinsmen rolled out their mourning drums and filled our ears with dirges of his demise. Did Federal Government give them a grant to mourn? It was this that drove Okey Ndibe, a good novelist in every sense of the word, to bemoan the fate of the living Igbo great sons and daughters whose sterling achievements await their turns of neglect. (Own goal).
Did it not take Wale Okediran, a Yoruba novelist, to remind our forgetful selves that Flora Nwapa’s, EFURU is Fifty years and deserves to be celebrated? By the way, she’s the first Nigerian woman to write and publish a book, at the time it was just an all male affair. Where are these noisy feminists in Igbo land, do you even know her?
I’ll stop here for now. The second and third phases of this piece will come later, that is, if they don’t kill me for having the guts to speak truth to power.
NB: if you’re Igbo and you did not understand those Igbo sentences I wrote, it is for people like you that I’ve refused to provide the English version of many.
I am Ifesinachi Johnpaul Nwadike (08065189852)