Friday, 20 January 2012

Living On Borrowed Robes

By Joachim I.Ezeji

It often amazes me why some people have a high tendency for fake appearances. Some people have the penchant for titles and awards that they can simply do any thing under the sun to advance these tendencies. The following stories may explain these issues better.

I still remember my undergraduate days like yesterday; and that was nine years ago. I remember most especially the events that preceded my election in 1995 as the President of the Rotaract club of the University of Calabar and thereafter. Most lucid in my memory was how consensus was easily galvanized and opposition crumbled to give me maximum support and solidarity vital for a successful service year - the 1996/97.

Just like yesterday, I also remember my effort to get elected into the governing board of the World Water Council (WWC),an event that preceded the fourth world water forum in Mexico in March 2006.I had arrived Mexico very early in March with high hopes of securing a seat in the revered board. This hope was relatively anchored on my being the sole sub-Saharan African present in the Mexico general meeting at that point in time.

I also remember how in 2003 I received a letter of an offer of an honorary doctorate award from an Obinze Owerri based missionary representative of an American University. I had then shared the news with some of my friends, many of them gave a nod that I should go ahead and receive the award, but a few vehemently insisted I reject it because as a young man I could still academically ‘muscle up’ a PhD through due process. They saw the honorary award as being unwarranted and diversionary. To them the motive of the awarding institution was lucre driven. I did finally heed to the minority view and ignored the award in addition to the monetary requirement. Hitherto the senders of that letter have not relented. I have year after year received same letter from same institution and others.

At Calabar, especially on top of the trappings that move in tandem with such a high student office of being Rotaract Club President in a largely cosmopolitan tertiary institution, I came to realize how ephemeral positions could become in life. I also realized what it means to drop names and live on borrowed robes.

I might not have lived on borrowed robes but many of my acquaintances did. Then, many of us took pleasure in renting accommodation in highbrow areas of the ancient Calabar town. Many of us were busy looking and appearing our best on expensive designer outfits. Though these were innocent actions as no mischief were intended, but life after school eased the scales from our eyes. At school we were basically on the payroll of our parents and therefore came up with all sorts of antics to enable us maintain those exotic lifestyles. Some of us were also into many other trades in order to make more money and live like 'kings'. Yes we did live like 'kings' in school. Those of us who really lived well above their social standing became the first casualties especially when job hunts remained unsuccessful years after graduation.

At Mexico, all nationalities were represented. The World Water Council (WWC) board I craved to gain a board seat on, also had two other Nigerian aspirants. Then other Nigerians could not arrive Mexico on time, and as such were absent all through the WWC council meetings and elections. However, and despite their absence, one of them made it into the board. Reason for this victory was simple; the council’s leadership had insisted that people could still be voted even in absentia because they took cognizance of visa and flight difficulties being experienced by delegates from Africa. Elections into the council came via colleges and there were seven of such. Two of those were the NGO College and the other the Utility/enterprises College. Each college had a maximally allotted number of seats. While the NGO College had 5 seats to be contested for by a whopping 35 delegates; the utility/enterprises college had 10 seats allotted it with a mere 9 delegates vying for them. The only winning Nigerian was on that college while the loser two came from the NGO group.
Having concluded our outing in Mexico, all delegates had to return home. What happened? The only Nigerian who got elected into the board came home to assume a larger than life posture in Nigeria. He wrote to the Federal Government telling them that he is the WWC Governor for Africa.

Even as the Obinze outfit continues to thrive, nobody has really bothered to find out if a genuine relationship actually exists between the school and the USA outfit. The Obinze Award thrives because many of our people, both the educated and the illiterate are now gullible, and could do anything to show off even on an unmerited accolade.

Nigerian Universities are also caught in this trap. Innovative and creative fundraising are now on exile. Raising money through the cheapest route is now the order of the day as honorary doctorate degrees are freely awarded to the highest bidder. The same also obtains from our royal or traditional institutions and even some organizations with a social mission.

Awards and honors are made with trappings of lucre as the major underpinning. What do we have today, all sorts of characters masquerading as Drs, High-Chiefs, Dames, Sir, Lady and Chiefs etc. To me it was a great relief when the then Hon. Minister of Education Mrs.Oby Ezekwesiri inaugurated a committee to review all such honors made by Nigerian universities over the past few years. I did not know how successful the committee ended its work. But that courageous effort could not mark the end of such bizarre awards. The National University Commission (NUC) should go a step further and nip the excesses of many missionary PhD awarding institutions in Nigeria with false claims to external affiliations.

I make these emphases because of the debasement it inflicts on our educational system and the Nigerian polity. Could you imagine that recently a wife of a local council chairman was awarded a PhD by a village based missionary outfit. This lady now wears garland all over the city. She paid money, big money to secure this questionable award, and NOT because she deserved it. A case of both receiver and giver being questionable. The woman and her husband had both lived in the USA and could not qualify beyond the basic nursing certificates. During their term as council chairman (and the wife as Wife of the chairman) they ran the worst tenure in the life of the council. Their tenure had a legacy of elevating looting and incompetence to the apogee. Nothing, I mean absolutely nothing humanitarian can be linked to their tenure, yet an award of high esteem has been given to the wife.
As leaders of tomorrow, university students and their organizations must also check their quest for money. It is this quest that keeps pushing them around public officers to decorate crooks and rogues who today dominate Nigerian politics as politicians with awards they least deserve in return for money. The result is the perpetuation of mis-governance and its other consequences. But how long will this last. How exactly do we check this festering malady and debasement of values?

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