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Reflections on Darkness

LAST week, we had a major snow storm here in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. The build-up to the storm was marked by the usual run of weather warnings, updates, and announcements by the city of Ottawa and other relevant meteorological departments of the Federal government. On campus, at Carleton University, we were apprehensive in my office. Would the University close shop on account of the dire warnings? Carleton University is notoriously averse to closures.

I had a mid-term examination for my 200-Level African literature course scheduled for that evening. Fifty oyinbo students. By noon, emails started trickling in from the students. Queries. Would the exam go ahead? A few hours later, a terse campus-wide memo from the University’s authories answered the question: the University would close for 24 hours due to the impending winter storm. I had to cancel the scheduled exam.

What has intrigued me a weekafter the closure is how the system has reacted to and processed a 24-hour closure by a University. The closure was not due to underdevelopment or any of the myriad reasons for which Universities would close in Nigeria. It was a precaution mandated by the inaugury of nature. It could not be helped. Yet, the system felt a fundamental shock and a sense of injury that a University, just one University, had to close shop for 24 hours. The system reacted and has continued to react like every and anything must be done to repair the injury of a one-day breach.

That collective sense of loss, of urgency, of consciousness of a breach requiring full mitigation has weighed on my mind as I reflected on the fact that Nigeria has just experienced nearly 100 days of a national shutdown of her entire University system consequent upon the recent ASUU strike. It is safe to say that while the strike lasted, it never quite made it into the category of what one might call a national preoccupation. For nearly one hundred days, it remained the stuff of the occasional mid-page to backpage commentary in the media, with photos of the diminutive Chris Ngige strutting gingerly into negotiation rooms like a peacock.

News of the end of the strike also lasted only a few hours on the shelf of Nigeria’s extremely busy news cycle before we shrugged and collectively moved on to other things. One hundred days of the closure of a country’s entire University system – Polytechnics and Colleges of Education were also either closed in the period or half-open – and not a single person in the chain of responsibility lost his job! One hundred days of the closure of a country’s entire higher education system and there was not a single resignation in the chain of responsibility! One hundred days of the closure of a country’s entire higher education system and there was not one presidential broadcast to the nation!

In essence, the system here reacted with more sense of responsibility to the closure of just one University for 24 hours (because of adverse weather) than the entire Nigerian system reacted to one hundred days of a complete shutdown of the country’s University system due to systemic rot. More than the lack of a fundamental system shock in Nigeria, what is even more galling is the lack of psychic shock among the people. In the last one week, I have received a steady stream of emails from many of my students and their anxious parents. There has been a 24-hour breach in the system, and everybody wants to know how we intend to make up.

Reading many of the emails that have come my way, I have come away with a fundamental lesson. Responsibility and restitution are the two elements which separate civilization from darkness. Civilization abhors the absence of responsibility and restitution. Weather occasioned a 24-hour closure so the system could not blame human agency, hence the sense of breach and anxiety. However, the system still insisted on restitution – hence the pressure on everyone in the knowledge process to make up for whatever was lost.

Nigeria is in darkness, far away from civilization, because the country runs a primitive, prelogical body politic devoid of responsibility and restitution. A one-day national University closure here would bring down the federal government and everybody in the chain of responsibility in Canada’s higher education. The Prime Minister would have to resign or lose an election. And he would have to offer explanations to the country. In Nigeria, I am not sure that Buhari was aware that Universities were closed on his watch for one hundred ways. The Minister of Education and the folks at NUC are still in office. There is not national conversation going on anywhere about the consequences of the closure for students. As far as I know, nobody is asking University authorities in the country how they propose to make up for anything.

No responsibility. No restitution. Nothing. Nigeria marches on in Stone Age darkness, calling on God to bring forth light. Everybody forgets the maxim: God will work with you, not for you.

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