Literature in Schools Poisoned the “Nigeria Mind”
It is easy to deride Nigeria and Nigerians because there are ample bases for it and it’s often convenient; “Nigeria is a Nation of Thieves” as Colin Powell once said or “Nigeria is a Nation of 419ers.” Or “Nigeria is the most Corrupt Nation in the World” etc. Such derision about Nigeria is about deception and corruption. Unsurprisingly, these vices some say is a surreptitious promotion of corruption. That is, in the national primary education institution of the 1970s onwards. They attribute such the “New Oxford English Course Reader” (NOECR); the only literature, poison, available to Nigerian primary school kids in the curriculum.
The NOECR is an English language textbook. It ran a two story series. The first series is about “John and Ayi”, siblings who go on a trip with their parents round Nigeria visiting key locations. The moral is to educate the primary school pupils in the rich diversity of Nigerian people and places. It is useless for the purpose! Less than 1% of Nigerian children get to enjoy the thrills of tourism.
Furthermore, a Yoruba professor in the Geography of Nigeria will tell you Bini man or Ibibio man is Igbo; an Igbo Professor in the Anthropology of Nigeria will tell you a man from Tiv or Birom is Hausa; and a Hausa professor of the Town and Regional planning of Nigeria will tell you Warri is in India or Eket is in China. If professors on these subjects cannot understand ethnic and regional differences, how could primary kids? Yet, tribe is not the focus of the article but a unified ethical and consistent foundation in training the youth using the nation’s adopted lingua franca, the English language.
The second series is about an Oriental scoundrel, Ali. He is crouching, cunning, thieving, heartless, furtive and deceptive (cf Orientalism by Edward Said). Furthermore, Alii’s portrayal is found in stories in the NOECR like “Tea without Sugar” and “Ali and the Angel” etc. The stories narrate the workings of a skilful con artist and a villain who wins by his tricks. Children find this second series far more interesting than the first.
By instinctive morality, Ali was not a role model kids could speak about with their parents or adults. Nor could they identify with him among peers; they internalise him at the core of their discursive mind. The passive minds of children sublimate Ali’s antics and, from there, he wreaks havoc today. This was a powerful but poisonous influence on the minds of children in school in the name of education. It should not go unnoticed.
How did the NOECR get into the Nigerian primary school curriculum? Why was it not protested by Nigeria’s innumerable educationists? Is Africa devoid of heroes, real or imaginary, that kids could learn about? What kind of role model is Ali as a subliminal deposit in the psyche of Nigerians now in their 30s, 40s and 50s?
Having been raised in the UK, in primary school, our teacher read my first class a host of fairy tales. At seven, I went off to boarding school. I arrived halfway through the term and the story “The Secret of Skeleton Island” by Robert Arthur was being read to my class. In the next three terms, a most gifted but brutal teacher read us “Treasure Island” by R L Stevenson, an adventure story of British dominion and pride; “The Hobbit” by TRR Tolkien, a story of outstanding imagination and imagery; and “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe, which has endued me with admiration for the human spirit in or outside adversity. The teacher read not only to us, he would explain the context, history and meanings of these stories. It was a sound and non-materialistic education. I was nine then.
A nine-year-old Nigerian kid already knows his father has to build a house / buy a jeep to gain respect. Her mother should not reveal information that would benefit other people. And that when he grows up, he would never ‘trek’ (walk or use public road transport) but own cars. Or that she is going to marry a wealthy man when she grows up because she does not want to suffer. When these things are not possible, Ali rears his head in their head; and an amoral universalism seems to intuitive acceptance by most, like some collective unconscious. Thus, Nigerian kids grow up too fast to materialism and their expectation can be moderate to obscene; greed and corruption are inevitable.
The members of the society in which these kids live are graduates (or victims) of “Ali-poisoned psyche.” Yet we expect discipline, fairness, trust, conduct from citizen as morality or civic responsibility. This may sound like unfair blame on primary education through a simple book. But as Proverbs 22:6 declares, “Train a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not turn away from it. “ One does not have to be a Christian or Jew to agree.
The “Ali psyche” transmission and its impacts are undeniable. This is not to deny any other influences that makes Nigeria what it is for the worse.
The solution to this most tragic mis-education may be simple on paper but difficult in practice. De-conditioning Nigerian adults to not think like Ali is almost unthinkable. However, for the future, children should be children again, at least through an ethical and consistent early formal education. Moreover, the story books should contain characters that create, enhance and uphold a Better Society. No more crooks, no more glorifications of crookedness for the children.