As I carried out these conversations with myself, my mind wondered back to Olorunyomi whom the old and young call Dapzy. I played back how he patiently explained to the mostly young audience at the Dialogue the difference between a journalist and the purveyor of fake news and realised that with people like him working tirelessly, our country has a future.
I had long conversations with myself last week on the future of my country, to which I have pledged my loyalty, to be faithful, honest and defend with all my strength. Four events triggered this. I attended a lecture “Nigeria In a Changing World” organised by the Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA)
It was a profound one delivered by Professor Victor Adetula of the Afrika Institute, Uppsala, Sweden. His lecturer in the old University of Ife, Professor Amadu Sesay was in the audience. Naturally, Sesay was quite proud that his former student delivered such a brilliant lecture, but was very sad that the calibre and aspirations of students in our tertiary institutions today, and the universities themselves, make it doubtful that intellectuals like Adetula can be replicated. It was an audience packed full of intellectuals and none seemed to disagree. So what can be the future of a country that has destroyed, or is destroying its knowledge base?
The second event was the public presentation of a book Leadership, Development and Change by Otive Igbuzor, a pan-Africanist who Dr. Timiebi Agary-Koripamo, the chairlady of the occasion described as “an intellectual with a doctorate under his belt, a progressive politician, prolific author, social activist, born teacher and motivational speaker (who) feeds people with rich spiritual and balanced intellectual diet.” An observation was raised, that these days, most of the books written are not from the universities. So the issue of a decayed tertiary system once again raised its head. My mind wandered back to the decades, when the book publisher, Steve Shaba decided he would make a living in book publishing. I had wondered whether it was a good decision. Eventually, he established Kraft Books. Now, I am not sure any young Nigerian would take that sort of decision in a country where many, including academics, have virtually stopped reading. Who will buy the books to be published?
Then I was at the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) Stakeholders’ Dialogue on “Press Freedom and Whistle Blowers Protection in Nigeria”, supported by Netherland’s Free Press Unlimited.
Part of the discussion centred on digital freedom and the fact that anybody who can afford a N100 data bundle can make postings and claim to be a journalist. There were a number of young media communicators and the Centre’s executive director, Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi explained that ethics is the most fundamental qualification of a journalist. He said the fact that armed robbers carry guns and are organised into gangs which can be disciplined, does not make them soldiers; what makes soldiering a profession, is the ethics.
On the sidelines of the Dialogue, Olorunyomi, another participant, Lanre Arogundade and I had conversations about the type of university system that saw us studying numerous books outside our primary fields of study. A culture that turned us into rounded Nigerians but which has almost disappeared. Olorunyomi had mentored me in the University of Ife (Now Obafem Awolowo University). I had also learnt writing skills under him. In turn, I had mentored younger undergraduates like Arogundade, who became the national president of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and was once kidnapped by security forces in a vain attempt to intimidate students.
For us, it is tragic that unlike our undergraduate days, schools are no longer producing the mass of patriotic youth dedicated to building a progressive country. While our generation is aging, we are not being readily replaced. In fact, Olorunyomi is going to be sixty in two days; Wednesday November 8, I will follow in the next few years and Arogundade is not too far behind me.
I reflected on our elders who have governed the country to this stage. This brings me to the fourth event. It was the speech by my childhood hero and former head of state, General Yakubu Jack Gowon. The amiable 83-year old elder statesman advised Nigerians to forget about restructuring the country because it is an impossible task. His reasons include his claim that with over 500 ethnic groups, no nationality in the country will make a concession to other groups. He also argued that there are many definitions of restructuring and doubted the buoyancy of states were they to be brought under regions as proposed by some.
I thought his arguments are the precise reasons why Nigerians should dialogue, with restructuring on the table. Nigeria had four regions in 1967 when General Gowon abolished them and restructured the country into a dozen states. I am sure this was in the interest of the country, and as he explained, it brought some justice to the minority nationalities. So why would he at a time restructure the country, and fifty years later declare it is impossible to reorganise it when clearly, it is in the overriding interest of the country to do so?
If the General were my father, I would have suggested he takes a deserved rest from such comments, especially when they conflict with manifest collective national interest. In any case, as a super prayer warrior leading the Nigeria Prays Movement, he should know that there is nothing that is impossible; there is nothing prayers cannot make possible.
I told myself that if we cannot rely on those we look up to for good advice, the universities are decaying, the State House Clinic that has annual budgetary allocations, has no syringes, drugs or a functional x-ray machine, and poverty ravages the land, what collective future do we have as a people?
Some of these issues made me wonder whether our country’s future has not been completely compromised; whether we would in the next few decades be able to crawl out of underdevelopment and set firmly on the path of development. As I carried out these conversations with myself, my mind wondered back to Olorunyomi whom the old and young call Dapzy. I played back how he patiently explained to the mostly young audience at the Dialogue the difference between a journalist and the purveyor of fake news and realised that with people like him working tirelessly, our country has a future. I cast my lot with him.
Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.