The Young and Disenchanted

“This world done changed since I’ve been conscious” – Thoughts on Nigeria and academia

Posted on: 23 January, 2010

I have made my season of migration back to the heart of darkness. NYC is as cold as I left it – a sharp arse contrast to the balmy Harmattan heat of Lagos and Dakar. It hasn’t all been gloom and doom though – I’ve hung out with friends, touched Mos Def (yes I saw him – and it was amazing) and had that deliciously decadent molten chocolate brownie with ice cream from the diner across the street from me. However, it’s my last semester as a college student aka Knuckle Down Time. I have a thesis to write, a job to find and classes to ace so I can graduate with a decent GPA. This means that I will be spending the majority of my days locked down in the library – kind of depressing, but as I love pretty much everything I’m reading and writing, I’m actually very content about the whole life situation.

Except for this job business. Part of the issue is that I enjoy making life complicated for myself. When I first got to college, I thought I could be an econ major, enjoy the perks of investment banking upon graduation (aka wild money) and retire filthy rich at the age of 32 to pursue a life as a nomad photographer. Alas, I discovered that my brain was suited better to analysing literature than manipulating formulae, so I traded my calculator for a stack of novels (at last count, close to 200 of them) and chose to study English and Political Science. This made the past 2 years in particular incredibly fulfilling, but now the honeymoon period has worn off and reality has hit. I have to find a job – a good job – and generally try to figure out what the hell I want to do with my life. For a while now I’ve been fantasising about becoming an English professor… I could absolutely dedicate my life to the study of post-colonial African literature, get tenure someplace fabulous and school the yung’uns on Achebe and Senghor. Yes, it will take a long time to get there (and I will be pitifully destitute while getting there), but deep down I know that an intellectual/academic/creative path is for me. I need to be surrounded by mountains of books and papers, to have arguments over the smallest nuances of a sentence and most importantly, to continue to learn. This all sounds so incredibly perfect, and yet I am full of doubts.

You see, this little break for freedom I want to make hasn’t exactly come with precedent as far as my upbringing goes. My parents are both professionals, as are my older two sisters (although one is also trying to be a professor). While growing up I was given free rein to indulge my intellectual curiosity (something my father probably deeply regrets now), but it seems that as far as Nigerians go, I’m an exception in terms of the things that interest me. Most of us are taught to focus on what will provide the money to take care of your family: be a lawyer, be an engineer, work for an oil company. The glory days of Soyinka and Azikiwe are long gone – the leading Nigerian intellectuals are predominantly elderly men and in a country where civil society and intellectual debate have been decimated and restricted for so many years, it doesn’t surprise me. Being a professor at a Nigerian university doesn’t pay (literally) – working for a bank does. Why then, would anyone want to study African literature over Accounting? Ah – because they were unlucky enough to stumble across a comparative literature class their sophomore year, read A Season of Migration to the North and were unable to resist the germ of a deadly disease that assailed them a thousand years ago. I’m trying to make a life out of what most Nigerians would call a hobby. This means that if I really do want to go down this path, I may have to do so outside my home country.

However, this isn’t so simple. Although I love learning about other cultures, the problems that haunt Nigeria are tugging at me, forcing me to look closer at this place I call home and decipher just how much I know about it… which is actually pathetically little. I need to learn more about the complexities of Muslim-Christian relationships in the Middle Belt, where horrifically violent riots have been taking place, about the variations in rural and urban life in the North and South, about which societal structures survived colonialism and which ones are a product of it. But Nigeria hasn’t become a sexy topic for academia yet – as far as African countries go, Sudan is probably what’s hottest in the corridors of intellect, or countries like Senegal that have a rich legacy of scholarship. I’m not saying that there aren’t brilliant Nigerian scholars, but it saddens me that the vibrant academic communities that thrived at Nsukka and Ibadan (my parents’ alma maters) 40 years ago have falling victim to the systematic rot that plagues everything else in Nigeria.

But somewhere in the hot mess that is Nigeria, I sense opportunity. I see potential teachers and students on every street corner in Surulere. It’s not that we don’t have the resources to do better – to expand our horizons not only in terms of development, but also to rebuild our public forums, improve education and encourage political debate at the grassroots. It’s just that we don’t have leaders who have the inclination, bravery and balls to step up and actually improve the country. And that must change. We’re sometimes called the “sleeping giant” – maybe it’s time for us to wake the fuck up. And maybe, just maybe, with other people who feel the same, I could be the alarm clock… as long as I can get some decent moolah out of it (just keeping it 100). I think that would make for a pretty awesome life.

Now back to Mamdani and this chocolate muffin.

P.S. Not that it has a lot to do with this post, but I love this Erykah Badu jawn.

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5 Responses to "“This world done changed since I’ve been conscious” – Thoughts on Nigeria and academia"

Hey mate, you have written a true piece, and I want to tell you that I do feel your pain coming from the Naija situation. You must also know that whether you get a professorship or not, you just like everyone of us will have your part to play in waking up this giant. I pray a time would come where our nation would be rid of mediocre pawns in the form of leaders; this would give birth to day of intellects. I hope on D-day, you would answer your nation’s clarion call with whatever skills you may have amassed.

Take care and may GOD continue to grow in you the zeal to assist in making our nation a better place.

Greatly inspiring. The sound of a voice finding its place in the universe. Your aspirations, yearnings, concerns and fears are universal to all young minds seeking fulfillment.

I am impressed that you are fully conscious of some of life’s deepest questions. This is first step towards greatness. My advice is that you pay attention to your feelings each time you gaze into the future. Feelings do not lie; Logic does.

Talking about money, who says you cannot be massively affluent if you sing the song you were born to sing. Time will tell.

I found this post randomly looking up a lyric to Eryka Badu’s A.D. 2000. It was a lovely read-you definitely have a professorial knack if you want to cultivate it.

You actually reminded me of own situation-I started undergraduate as a physics majors, left school for a bit, came back as a biology major and now I’m taking time off school again. A part of me wishes I had gone down the humanities paths (some of my favorite classes have been on Shakespeare and late 19th century early 20th century Russian literature) but I have a clear path to graduation if I just keep with biology whereas switching now would be a mess.

And its not like ANY of those majors are big money makers. I have NO clue what I’m doing after college. Be thankful that you have a clue.

One piece of advice that helped me was when I met a guy who was a lawyer for an environmental company. At school he ended up studying history and ecology. Then after school, he didn’t know what to do, so he went to law school. At the time none of this made much practical sense at the time, but now he’s a gainfully employed, happy, and successful professional. How did this happen? Because his job hadn’t even been conceived when he was going to college.

I’m sure you’ve heard this all before, but maybe you haven’t heard it quite this way. Basically, the advice runs like this-follow your bliss, live in the world, but don’t fool yourself that you have any true control over your future-the world is changing fast! Who knows? Maybe a post-colonial literature buff with a training in political science will be direly needed soon? Maybe you’ll end up going to some post-grad program when you get tired of roughing it? Maybe you’ll get a full ride to do african literature studies? Basically, there’s no way to tell.

Thing about practicality is good and useful but, in my humble opinion, when it comes to making those final important decisions, its almost always best to follow your heart.

Good luck and godspeed

Max

P.S. Feel free to critique my grammar-it needs work. I’ve probably spent too much time scribbling away in lab notebooks and not enough time really writing.

thank you so much for your lovely comment! i read it when i was feeling a little down, and it really cheered me up and made me feel better about my intended life plans.

i agree with you that it’s best to follow your heart, and i plan to do so even if doubts/nay-sayers suggest i do otherwise.

thanks again, and best of luck to you too!!

p.s. your grammar is absolutely fine 🙂

heh-suppose i’m used to writing for undergraduate professors who kind of grammar nazis. i’m also used to apologizing.

which is a worse habit? i don’t know.

i’m glad i could brighten your day-it was the least i could do as your entry brightened mine.

max

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