For quite some time, I have grown used to the truth that many — if not all of the things we learn in Nigerian universities are histories of the real things, mere laughable vestiges of the form. And while this is almost laughable, it calls for some degree of attention. The Nigerian educational system is a huge burning boulder spinning rapidly into quick sand. There is an inherent problem with our education in Nigeria, Africa perhaps. Who is to blame for this? The national government? Well, what can we say? The school’s government responsible for crafting syllabus? The lecturers? The students at all levels in the school? An answer cannot readily be found or given. The decay in education is a systemic problem, in my opinion. It is a blame that must be shared amongst all the levels in this system. While the students should be given some atom of blame, in my opinion, they rank least in the hierarchical rung of blame. This is because there is really nothing they can do but digest what they are being fed. In the end, nothing much can be done to push the leaderships of the departments to take such definitive move for change. We can only, as it were, mourn the status of the university students, for they are simply, like Shakespeare describes, “flies in the hands of wanton boys.”
There is something very wrong in our tertiary educational system in Nigeria as a whole. And by this, I do not refer to the unpopular Nigerian-university-trained mechanical engineer who studied K.A Stroud for five years and could not fix a simple light bulb. Neither am I referring to the throng of Chemistry majors who cannot prescribe a drug for malaria. Nor do I speak of the graduates of Geography who cannot tell the north from West or south from East. No, I refer here to the students of my great English department in Nigerian universities. I graduated from the English department of the University of Lagos, and I would always be proud of that. But still, I have a grouse with them. My grouse lies in their near inability to adapt to the times we are in. Permit me, but I restrict my scope to students studying English in the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Nigeria.
Ask the average final year student of English, UNILAG to mention their favourite Nigerian novel, and I bet you that 85% of them would mention Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The ones that study outside the box a little bit could call up Arrow of God. And when you come to final year academic theses, you would be bored to death as our finalists keep churning old ideas, analysing the same old texts. This is because for the four years spent in the department, 90% of the texts they read are from Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Femi Osofisan, Ousmane Sembene, Buchi Emecheta, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, and the other classical ancestors. These impressionable students and future scholars are built into an intellectual literary system that forces them to binge on James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, August Wilson, T. S. Eliot, J.M Hopkins, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, Olaudah Equaino, E. M. Forster, Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, etc, etc. No disrespect to the legends, but times have changed!
Our university literary system needs to be changed, so that students begin to study recent texts, and by recent, I mean texts of whatever form from the year 2000 downwards. We cannot keep studying texts published in the 60s and 70s and 80s! We must begin to grow with the times. Not only should we start to study new texts, we should cultivate the habit of patronizing local literary content, too. While we read works from other continents of the world, it is time, wouldn’t we agree, that we began to study more relevant texts from home. There are a massive crop of them these days; young talents making a headway in black African and Diasporic literature.
Today’s ideas found in most published texts that are relevant for serious studies, are drifting away from the old issues to new. African writers today tackle pertinent issues that take a leap from those of the 80s upwards. Many works have begun to examine the feelings of ennui, hopelessness and homelessness Nigerians and Africans face in other lands of the world. This is one of the new directions in African literature and Nigerian literature in particular. It is very necessary we address them. Particular cases of note are works such as On Black Sisters’ Street by Chika Unigwe which goes through the lives of four African female prostitutes as they survive in Belgium; Travellers by Helon Habila which tackles immigration and the feeling of otherness Africans in the Diaspora usually experience; Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go which holds the torch on Selasi’s Afropolitanist doctrines; We need new names by NoViolet Bulawayo; I do not come to you by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani; and Black ass by Igoni Barrett. Other young African writers of note are Elnathan John, Helon Habila, Ukamaka Olisakwe, Onyinkan Braithwaithe, Teju Cole, Chigozie Obioma, and Olukorede Yishau.
Times have changed, and with it, literature. What does being fixated on Negritude, PanAfricanism and postcolonalism and the other dead -isms do for us as young vibrant youths leading the new literary space? Even neocolonialism isn’t so newsy anymore. Times have changed. The world is changing. New authors are springing forth with new, radical ideas.
Only few students of English today have come across Adichie’s “We Should all be Feminist” essay or Teju Cole’s “Eight Letters to a Young Writer.” How many students of English in the University of Lagos have been exposed to the ideologies of Chika Unigwe, TJ Benson, Iquo DianaAbasi, Toni Kan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nnedi Okoroafor, or Yemisi Aribisala? How many students of English in Nigeria are aware of Taiye Selasi’s treatise on Afropolitanism? Moreso, what steps are the lecturers of the English department in most schools in Nigeria taking to read about these young, vibrant new artists springing out today? The reason the English department seems to be drawing backward as an education system in the university is because, honestly, many of these lecturers are tired. Only few lecturers want to take up a new book to read and learn and teach! Rather, the rest prefer sticking to the old syllabus because that is what they are comfortable with. And so their students eat of very big lies. The world is changing. The school, in the words of a friend, does not educate anymore; it now indoctrinates. And that is a sad reality indeed.
We must bring ourselves to knowing that there is coming up slowly a new genre of literature known as Lagos Literature. There would probably soon be another branch of study called Epidemic Literature in the coming years, too. Many more literatures are emerging. This leads me to ask: why can a student of English not write their BA or MA dissertations on the literature of music, analysing a new album of songs? Maybe Davido’s or Fireboy’s. Why? Why can’t students of English be given the free hand to do a study of the various literatures of Lagos or Kaduna or Owerri without being burdened by the use of extinct theories?
It amazed me even when I was in the university that lecturers still taught Transformational Generative Grammar, Systemic Function Theory and all rather old linguistic theories that even the proponents themselves had dumped over time since their creation! Most scholars and academics are scared to tread unknown waters by studying and teaching new theories and knowledge to their students. Minimalist Theory, a fairly new linguistic theory has less than ten scholars in Africa specializing in it as a research thesis. As at two years ago in the English department of the University of Lagos, there was only one capable hand, and I was lucky to be among the three students that offered that final year course.
It would be a grave injustice to students of English in Nigerian varsities to not be introduced to the new trends in art and literature. The creative industry is a pivotal one in any society. Nowadays, a good number of our proud exports as a nation have been writers, creative educators, film makers, dramatists and journalists. We therefore must create an environment in our creative departments where creativity does not just thrive, but soar shoulder to shoulder with the art of our scholarly colleagues in the diaspora. We cannot but confess that time has caught up with us a long time ago, but there is still ample space to make up for the lost moments. I must add at this point that one course conspicuously absent in the syllabus of the English department of the University of Lagos is Film Studies. I propose that the introduction of the course into the active syllabus of the department would be a breath of fresh air for many of the students who are out to dive into new areas of study and analysis. Truthfully, many are tired of scouring through countless pages and pages of boring novels and plays! History would definitely remind us of today if we do not begin to invest time and resources in revamping the syllabi of our creative departments to suit the realities of the times.