BY NIRAN ADEDOKUN
A professor of Comparative Literature and Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, Rasheed Na’Allah, gave us food for thought this last Saturday. In an address that barely lasted 15 minutes, the ebullient teacher of oral African literature brought back fond memories of my early days at the University of Ilorin when he introduced my class to the fundamentals of oral literature about three decades ago. Apart from the inevitable passage of days, which has visited Na’Allah as it has all of us, the Ilorin-born academic has remained his old expressive, plain-spoken self. And his short intervention, details of which I plan to share presently, should make all Nigerians think twice about what they can contribute to make the country better.
The occasion was the reunion dinner of the Lagos Chapter of the University of Ilorin Alumni Association. Na’Allah, (himself an alumnus, who has brought so much pride to the university having been appointed Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja after a his two-term tenure as pioneer VC of the Kwara State University, Malate), was invited by the Debo Atunwa-led executive of the association as guest speaker.
As expected, there were other dignitaries including Chairman, Governing Council of the university, Abdullah Jibril Oyekan (MFR), as well as the vice-chancellor, Prof Sulyman Age Abdul Kareem. Of utmost significance at the event was the brief presence of the Registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, Prof Ishaq Oloyede, another great product of the university, who also has the record of being the first alumnus to become the vice chancellor of the university proudly described as “better by far” by its products. Oloyede, before he headed out to Akoka where he was scheduled to speak at the University of Lagos, also admonished members of the alumni on how much they could contribute to the development of the nation. A point which the guest speaker drove home with his short intervention.
In opening, Na’Allah posited that things were abnormal in Nigeria. He explained that the course of nature was for things to improve progressively and that this was indeed the case globally. He cited the ease that technological innovations had brought into various areas of the lives of people across the globe and said without equivocation that Nigeria was the only place where people still spoke and romanticised about a better “yesterday!”
He gave an analogy: “When I was going to secondary school in Yauri, Sokoto State, we would take this big lorry from Ilorin. We would travel at night. The roads were of course better than they are today, and we were safe. But try that today.” He needed not say another word for his audience to draw the inference that he was addressing the increasingly worrisome level of insecurity in the country as well as the dilapidation of critical infrastructure. Nigeria remains one of the countries grappling with drudgery in spite of the comfort, speed and accuracy that digitalisation has brought on the world!
So, what is wrong with us?
Na’Allah found an explanation in one of the songs of Jaigbade Alao, a Dadakuada musical artiste, on whose repertoire the academic is an expert. In this song, the artiste talked about three important things that shaped the evolution of the world.
Here it goes: Nkan meta bo wale aiye, nkan meta tele
Igbatiaiye o nilarimo, nkan meta pada seyin
Owonbowa le aiye, iyi tele,
Igbatiaiye o nilarimo, iyi pada seyin
Oba nbowa le aiye, asepele echo won tele
Igbatiaiye o nilari, ase pada o sikuoba
Ogun n bow a le aiye, ka sa, ko je tele
Igba to aiye o nilarimo, ka sa, ko je pada, o wakuogun
E ri bi atunbotanaiyetiri
A wawi ta la iwi, won niaiyenyi
Aiye o yi bi sibi Kankan
Ibiojotinyo lo tin yo, ibiorunti n wo lo ti n wo
Ile aiye o yibosibikankan, awoneniainu e lo npawa da
The artiste suggests that at the beginning of the world, money, royalty and herbs arrived on earth accompanied by prestige, authority and efficacy respectively. As the world began to lose its value however, prestige fled from the presence of money, just as royalty was stripped of authority and herbs lost its efficacy!
He then invites his listeners to consider how the departure of prestige from money, authority from kingship and efficacy from medicine has depreciated the world and detracted from its overall essence. He contradicts the widespread insinuation that the world had changed saying that nothing had happened to the world as the sun still rises and sets the way it always has. Rather, Alao posits that it is the people of the world who have lost their value and become less humane.
Na’Allah then posed questions about the value of money in Nigeria and where the naira stands alongside the legal tenders in other countries. He spoke about the diminished grace and authority that attend traditional and contemporary leadership in the country and how they have affected the development of the country. He spoke about the standard of education and how rather than use knowledge for the advancement of society, many people have weaponised knowledge and turned it against other citizens. He pointed out that knowledge is of itself without consequence unless it is put to the beneficial use of humanity. Drawing an example from Satan who was truly knowledgeable but cast out of heaven for his abuse of values, the university administrator advised that the application of knowledge must be governed by ethics.
He wondered how much importance Nigerians now attached to integrity and character. How many students care about the opinions of their parents before taking decisions when parents now aid the ability of their children to circumvent the laws. He spoke about the efficacy of medicine and the lack of respect for the sanctity of lives and reached the conclusion that the society is bankrupt!
Na’Allah refused to agree with people who said Nigeria had not grown. He said; “Nigeria has grown, what was our population then, what is our population now? How many universities did we have before, how many do we have now? So, Nigeria has grown, the question however is, how has all of this growth amounted to real development for our country? Nigerians are intelligent but what is the value of our intelligence, how have we applied this to improve our society?”
He then invited members of the University of Ilorin Alumni Association to dare to be different henceforth. While identifying the selfishness that prevails at levels of leadership in the country, he opined that leaders did not just develop those dispositions when they became leaders and that every Nigerian citizen had something to contribute to making it a place of pride for everyone who called it a country.
Although Na’Allah spoke to a select group of people united by their tutelage at the University of Ilorin, even if across generations, his short address that Saturday evening is a preachment that everyone who desires a better country should consider. This is to the effect that unless we revisit the value of integrity and virtues like contentment, consideration for others and respect for the sanctity of life, we stand no chance of redeeming our country.