THE father of modern Zionism, Theodore Herzl, was wrong, when he wrote that “History is nothing but noise, noise of arms and noise of advancing ideas”. It is ideas – opposing ideas – that spark off wars. It is also ideas – government policies, military philosophies, Strategic Doctrines and tactical plans – that dictate the outcomes of wars. So, the noise of arms is just an appearance of the noise of advancing ideas. Therefore, history is nothing but noise, noise of advancing ideas.
It is advancing ideas, especially, clashing, conflicting and competing ideas that informed and shaped human history. As such, civilization started at the confluence of diverse ideas. At Cairo, for example, the din of ideas from interior Africa (through the Nile), North Africa, Southern Europe, Middle East and Asia (through the Mediterranean Sea) met. The complementing, contradicting and contending clamorous ideas at this concourse of wide-ranging thoughts, customs and beliefs spurred efflorescence; civilization sprouted. Unlike Sparta that relapsed into “agricultural seclusion and stagnation”, “Athens became a busy mart and port, a meeting place of many races of men of diverse cults and customs, whose contact and rivalry begot comparison, analysis and thought. Not surprisingly, Athens became a hotbed of intellectual thought, philosophy, culture and literature.
Like most countries that muffle the noise of advancing ideas, Nigeria is, in every sense of the word, in the boondocks. The Nigerian society is tyrannical and repressive. To protect the self-importance and follies of a privileged few, it suppresses dissent and freedom of expression. It consigned the generality of Nigerians to vegetate in fear and timidity: quaking in the fear of the police, soldier, landlord, pastor, etc, and cringing like slaves in their own country.
The purpose of a university education in Nigeria must be to free the students from the ignorance, timidity and trepidation that blight the lives of so many Nigerians. It should be to turn the quaking, obsequious man, cringing like a slave, into a proud and confident man, with the knowledge that his individual rights and legal immunity from abuse of governing officials are guaranteed by the constitution, and that all the institutions of government were designed and built purposely to serve him. That is, in addition to cramming text book knowledge, a university education must produce self-assured and independent-minded youths exorcized of diffidence, self-doubt and fear of the system.
These can only be achieved in an environment of free thought and free speech, which encourages alternative views, and tolerates free thinkers, mavericks and dissenters. To reprimand and/or suspension of a student, as in some church-owned universities, for not attending church services is the height of bigotry. It is in gross misinterpretation of the Bible by self-seeking pastors, and a throwback to medieval obscurantism. Medieval Christianity thickened and darkened the darkness of the Dark Ages, which enveloped Europe for many centuries. Underpinning the Christian philosophy of that gloomy epoch was the fallacy that only Christian teachings and knowledge about God and Jesus Christ, which prepared mankind for eternal life, were valid knowledge.
Thus, that the enormous body of knowledge accumulated in the pre-Christian era by the Orients, Greek and Romans were all pagan knowledge that should be fenestrated or destroyed. It was a dangerously retrogressive outlook that resulted in despicable and execrable acts of obscurantism, like the destruction, by Christian zealots, of the utmost, most versatile library, of the time, built by Alexander the Great in Alexandria, Egypt.
The object of a university education is not to turn men into Christians but to turn Christians into men. It is important to note that the first assignment God gave to man was not be a Christian, fast, pray and worship Him, but “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over (it)”. To effectively carry out this crucial divine instruction demands the improvement and development of the mind, which is what sets man above other animals.
Education develops the mind, and a developed mind must inescapably be informed and free. An informed mind knows that God is too magnificent and indescribable. He is bigger than all the religions of the world put together. It is therefore fantastic absurdity for any religion to claim a monopoly on the true knowledge of God. Religious devotion should be left to the individual’s persuasion and prejudice. He should choose his religion, not by coercion, but conviction. Different individuals have found superior validity and/or spiritual fulfillment in different religions of the world.
Disturbingly, Nigeria universities are gagging students and railroading them into conformity and orthodoxy. To curb indecent dressing, some universities are insisting that their students adhere to certain dress codes, and others have gone as far as demanding the wearing of uniforms by students. And in many universities, students are coerced into signing the “Indemnity Form”, which commits them to be of good conduct. What is good conduct, in this context, if not docility and kowtow? The “Indemnity Form” and wearing of uniforms are powerful tools of enforced servility and passivity. If such Procrustean enforcement of “good conduct” continues unchallenged, our universities will, with time, degenerate to monasteries ruled by the cold severity and ruthless regimentation of medieval Abbots, where divergent and dissenting views will be considered mortal sins, deserving of severe punishment.
For the good of this country, our universities must be the most vivacious, vociferous concourse of variegated advancing ideas. They should be bastions of intellectual ferment and free speech; accommodative of all spectrums of human thoughts and beliefs; and the abodes of iconoclasts, renegades, and even, dissolute; where students have the freedom to explore new lifestyles, notions and viewpoints. It is in such hubs of contact, comparison and contention of diverse ideas that ideas and systems of knowledge are challenged and enriched. It is the flowering and effervescence of enriched ideas that lift societies to the crest of social, moral and political development.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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