Discourse in Nigeria suffers from the menace of street wisdom. Street wisdom refers to expressions and phrases commonly accepted without question because they seduce with their folk appeal. On questioning, such terms fall apart. They are now cliches or worn-out expressions.
Let us do away with them. I will mention a few of these issues that have become peeves. I hate that even our very informed revert to and repeat them. Come with me on this light-hearted take on serious problems.
The most common of these draws on the alleged wisdom of the ancients in our aphorisms. As a Lagos boy, the Yoruba saying oju l’oro wa intrigues. It translates literally to the truth is in our eyes. It means that physical interaction, eyeball-to-eyeball, is the best form of conversation. Many of our 350 ethnic groups have this saying in various forms.
“It is not a phone conversation. Let us meet to discuss in detail”. Dear reader, how often have you heard this statement? Please discard it in the age of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and even Skype. They allow the full functionality of sight and sound you experience in a physical meeting. It only lacks touch and smell.
Experience is that when eventually you hold these physical meetings, it turns out to be a Shakespearean parable “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. First, the substance of this oju l’oro wa takes all 30 minutes or less. However, getting to the meeting could take a trip by road or air, hours of commute, and so much stress.
Technology to the rescue
Technology has enabled man to bridge the distances and barriers that led to such aphorisms. There are savings in time and resources in its wake while yielding increased productivity. The only reason for oju l’oro wa in this age is physical bonding and not the heft and substance of the discourse or the associated examination of body language.
My maternal uncle, Dee John, laughs heartily but quizzically whenever I interrogate the saying, anaghi esi mgbagbu ghara ogu. It means that fear of death should not deter us from a fight! Really? I consider this call to courage misguided. It advocates nzogbu, nzogbu or struggle and power show for its sake.
Avoidance of death should be the reason to seek other options than war. Options include negotiation, détente, appeasement, bluff, and other tools in the armoury. Bravery without wisdom is folly.
Chinua Achebe captured it in Things Fall Apart, where Obierika, Okonkwo’s friend, spoke wisdom. “We often stand in the home of the coward to point to the ruins where a brave man used to live.”
People hailed the warrior for his bravery, but he is gone, and his family and clan lose.
The brave young men of the South-East listened to the wisdom of anaghi esi mgbagbu ghara ogu. The outcome has been denudation of their fatherland with economic suicide every Monday.
Then there are contemporary pieces of wisdom from the street. The most common concerns education quality or lack of it. Recently, a faux outrage about the supposed vast numbers of persons graduating with First Class Honours filled the media. The claim was so loud without any interrogation.
If you believe the story in most newspapers, there is a “rash of First-Class Honours” awarded by universities. Some go further to point at the private universities as the chief culprits. Private universities allegedly do so because they need to compensate students for the high fees!
There is no rash of First-Class Honours anywhere in Nigeria. We have the announcement effect and media adumbration of the seemingly high numbers. It arises from the increased number of institutions declaring their results. The output of First-Class graduates has remained at an average of under ten per cent of the graduating class. Cases where the numbers exceed this average are few. Every class result reflects a bell curve with the highest degree at the lower-left corner.
It was shocking to read a report in the “flagship” repeating this error. The reporter claimed there was “a growing army of First-Class graduates.” She could not bother with the rigour of analysis. Luckily and unintentionally, the reporter debunked the central plank of the story. She cited a source who broke down the results and showed that most universities recorded less than five per cent of the class with First Class Honours. Despite this, neither she nor her editor considered a change of direction. They chose to rehash the street wisdom.
My other beef concerns the statements of public officials in high offices. Often their words, even at significant events such as the convocation of universities, lack depth and rigour. A recent one struck me because I like the gentleman. This governor is an in-law to the Igbo nation.
The gentleman who has shown courage and wisdom in other matters claimed that the Nigerian university system produces graduates who lack practical application. I wondered if he realised that as he pointed, four fingers pointed right back at him as a product of the Nigerian university system. I also queried if he has been applying the prescription to the governance of the state that he superintends. What are the results of his practicality?
By the way, the states should create an enabling environment for applying theories. Has Mr Governor commissioned the state university with solving one of the challenges of his state? That is the way to generate practical knowledge. Let us discard the menace of street wisdom.
Street wisdom states boldly that the Nigerian university system produces low-quality graduates. However, the practical instances debunk this assertion. Nigerian graduates have found favour in important world markets, from medical doctors and nurses through IT specialists. They are in demand in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East, the UK, the USA, and continental Europe.
A Nigerian start-up produced such high-quality personnel that Mark Zuckerberg came visiting. It makes you wonder if those coming to pick up our personnel do not know that the Nigerian university system trained them? It is time to do away with the menace of street wisdom and replace it with deep thinking and more precise articulation.
Let us discard the menace of street wisdom