Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Who Is An Intellectual In Nigeria?

By Simon Abah
As an undergraduate of the University of Ibadan, years ago, I looked forward to many occasions on campus. Some were matriculation and convocation ceremonies. Another was the faculty-lecture-summit involving notable outside stakeholders such as the ones I witnessed, involving Femi Falana, Frank Kokori and others. These  summits were academically enriching and fulfilling – despite my early-in-the-day- exposure to academic giants such as Professors A. Faniran, O. O. Areola, J. O. Ayoade, C. O Ikporukpo, A. S. Gbadegesin and others that space won’t permit me to mention.

On the day of matriculation and or convocation ceremonies, we dressed smartly and hung around outside the convocation and/or matriculation arena. Afterwards, we went about exchanging forced banters especially to the celebrants we didn’t know personally. You need not know the celebrants to be feted. We were on a mission to be feted. All you needed do was to say, “congratulations” to celebrants, family members and parents, acting like you know them, beaming with angelic smiles. This gave you straight passage to enjoy a culinary trip. How we needed it! Conserving scarce resource was a student’s fare. At least we were certain that we weren’t going to dine on those days at D’Morris restaurant within campus and saved nickels which we needed to sustain ourselves afterwards.

The University of Port Harcourt held its convocation ceremony on Friday, March 24, 2017 for undergraduate and graduate students. It reminded me of Ibadan days, only this time, I needn’t have to go to the panoply of celebratory arcade to be feted by unknown persons. I came at the behest of the family of a graduate and was sure of my chow. 
Although choices await school leavers especially as finding a job in Nigeria is largely dependent on the contact persons one knows nowadays. There are a few jobs for few people. A graduate nearby, out of excitement in fulfilling a life ambition, spasmodically shouted to his parents, “Dad, I am now an intellectual.” I had to stare. Intellectual? Who is an intellectual in Nigeria?

I am not in the mood right now as I pen this, to suffer a little research to check the meaning of “intellectual,” but I know that in many places outside Africa, ‘intellectual’ is used to describe freelance writers, authors and university lecturers. It is a term there for great thinkers and moulders of the minds of people; people who are responsible for ideological education and orientation. To be addressed as an intellectual, it follows that your speculative resume is high, not dull. In Nigeria, it would appear that a degree in hand makes us “intellectuals” by default.

Remembering Tai Solarin in Inside Africa by John Gunther: “Once when most of his helpers were ill, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, (famous scholar, musician, philosopher, and doctor who ran a hospital in Lambarene, Gabon, Central Africa), had to drag some heavy beams under cover before the outburst of tropical rain. This was tedious physical labour for a man of 75 years old. The doctor noticed a Negro: in white suit sitting near a patient whom he had come to visit. Dr. Schweitzer called out, “Hello, friend! Won’t you lend a hand?” 
The negro replied, “I don’t drag wood about. I am an intellectual.” Scheitzer commented, “how lucky you are. I tried to be an intellectual too, but didn’t succeed.” 

Where does this leave young Nigerian intellectuals just came out of school? Would they believe in the common good or be clannish? In our country, there is a supremacy battle amongst professionals many of whom pass besmirching remarks about other professionals. Because we are all intellectuals in Nigeria, it might be better, therefore, to task our intellect to proffer solutions to Nigeria’s problems. Maybe we could hold a think clinic and fashion a way to make multinational companies in Nigeria invest their profits in Nigeria instead of sending them to their home-country. We may also look at ways to make the rich pay taxes which they have found ways to avoid. Many build homes on properties worth close to a billion naira, excluding cost of home, with as many as 20 cars but yet avoid taxes. How about investing monies in infrastructural development and not for consumption as is now the order of the day. 

It is beneath our intellect to weed the grasses in our homes, to use hammers, pliers, pincers to fix little things at home. Our intellectuals are taught that it is beneath their dignity to do certain kinds of jobs: to paint their homes and wash their cars. Never! Do they vote or join in a protest movement to press for social justice? They are too scared of losing their spot at work to the unemployed. While countries elsewhere are built by scientists, artisans, plumbers etc, ours is built by an army of English speakers.

*Abah writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State

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