Excellency in Today’s Terms

If you are already a university student or a graduate, please also read The Set of 2020 article on this site.
Dateline 1965.
What were my 9-year-old ears hearing from the common Rediffusion of those days?

“Bata re a dun ko ko ka
Bi o ba ka’we re,
Bata re a dun ko ko ka.
Bi o ko ba ka’we re,
Bata re adun pelebe pelebe pelebe!”

This erstwhile popular song must be nuanced and given context for it to make sense. First, what was “Reddifusion”? In 1965, believe me, there were no smartphones. Akure had some electricity but even in homes, like mine, that had a little access, it was mainly for lighting. Some people had “Transistor Radios” but most of those used dry-cell batteries. Hotels and beer parlors often had loudspeakers playing songs in the streets. I learnt most of the popular songs of that time on the streets from kind Parlor owners that broadcast IK Dairo, Haruna Isola, Jim Reeves, Ogunde, Olaiya, Roy Chicago, etc., as you passed by their buildings on the way to my father’s shop!
The government of that time had this little box that talked all day and was wired into all subscribing households. It was like a wired radio set to a single frequency. The little box was called “Rediffusion” or Asoromagbesi in Yoruba. It was such a clever idea. For a little monthly fee, each household could be connected to government programs, hear the latest news, listen to some music and adverts. That was perhaps the first idea of Power-over Ethernet, popular today, as it did not require you to have electricity in your house.
At that time, the young school child was taught that education will allow him to climb the social ladder and become “important”, “successful”, etc. by studying very hard at school. Our ideal in 1965 was the middle-level civil servant that wore covered shoes. Most of our parents: farmers, traders, cleaners, etc., wore slippers. The above song therefore counsels you to study hard (Ka iwe re) so that you will wear covered shoes that make the sounds “ko ko ka”. If you failed in school, you will either be like your parents – wearing slippers or become a servant. That is why your footwear will sound “pelebe, pelebe pelebe”.
My mother, having no school education herself, was waiting for me to return home from school with my result at the term’s end. Unfortunately, she could not read the result herself. She would not listen to whatever I told her about my result. She waited for a civil servant tenant to pass by. Such people will be called “Akowe” in those days. My report card will be given to an Akowe and he would explain my grades subject by subject to mama. And mama had ready, a spanking rod or a bowl of delicious food – usually rice and stew. Which one I got, depended on the interpretation given to my report card by the Akowe.
Now that we have an idea of what that song said, let us study the philosophy that drove people of that era.

1. It was not your duty to build your society. Just read your books and take the place of a civil servant to maintain the colonial structure built by the British.
2. The social order is fixed, just find your place or seek to move higher.
3. Your ticket is your paper certificate.
4. Nothing else matters!

In the next 60 years, the philosophical underpinning of our society values created a Nigerian mindset that is perpetually seeking paper qualifications. In secondary school, our chemistry book taught us topics such as the Fractional Distillation of Crude Oil as well as the Blast Furnace manufacture of Iron from Ore. We were taught the Saponification process of soap making as well as fermentation process in alcohol manufacture. Even the sanitation of our environment to prevent mosquitoes from biting us to the direction of flood waters to safely drain our water are all known to us in secondary schools.
Why do adult Nigerians develop zero inquisitiveness to find how these can be used to create products and services so to make a better living around themselves? Can the answer not be found in the fact that your duty – your bounden duty was to repeat these processes to the teacher at the end of term and collect your grades for promotion to the next class? Was the goal not only to get the Civil Service job so that “Bata re a dun ko ko ka?” Was there any other incentive?
I had the opportunity to ask my children to repeat SS3 in Canada after finishing here in Nigeria. Ireti’s comments comparing Physics and Chemistry as taught to final year secondary school students in Nigeria and Canada opened my eyes! The people here learn more chemistry theory and principles with much more mathematics than the Canadian school leaver. But the purposes are different! The little the Canadian child learns is orchestrated to produce something! The plenty the Nigerian child learns is CPPF (Cram, Pour, Pass, and Forget).
In Abuja, I observed that several young women that had completed the NYSC opened hair dressing salons along the roadside behind my house. I sometimes used the rear entrance and observed that they threw hair remnants and used threads into the drain – creating a good habitat for mosquitoes to thrive. These mosquitoes bite them, and they fall sick. And most of them are post NYSC – some of whom taught Biology and ecology during their service years!
Conclusion: Excellence in today’s terms is not merely “Academic” in the CPPF format of your parents! Of course, you still need to pay attention and succeed. But it is not enough! It is a mistake to imagine that it is when you reach university that you will learn what is needed to survive in society! Primary and secondary education are far more important than university education! You need to start early to develop excellency in skills and seek how to be productive using knowledge as early as possible! There are enormous opportunities to be creative that you are missing right now. Find out about them and stop doing “Bata re a dun ko ko ka”!