Be Not Amazed By Joshua Omenga

Many of us will not hesitate from criticising government officials as being excessively corrupt – any man who has lived under a corrupt government and refrains from describing it as such has an enduring heart beyond the natural. Such a one is a superman, and I hasten to recognise his superiority over people like us who cannot help voicing out our disgust against what we find repugnant.Yet how much we magnify other people’s faults when not discerning even the shadow of our own! The straws in our eyes do not matter to us as much as the specks in other people’s eyes – so desperate are we to help them out of their apparent transgression that we do not remember that we are deeper-immersed in our errors than they are.
Many are the ways in which citizens of a country are involved in corruption, great in magnitude and well-nigh unpardonable. We rarely realise this fact because we are all involved: one does not readily gather the magnitude of the water under which one is drowning. So I will not talk of the general evil, lest I be found to be a hypocrite.
The blatant truth that many lecturers are corrupt may appal most lecturers and even the students who are victims of their corruption. Yet who, having passed through a semester in a university, would question the truthfulness of that statement? Yes, they are corrupt in that they extort money from students and gracefully pretend to be doing them good. Please do not hasten to conclude that I mean the extortion in the administrative cadre – I do not mean that because if it exists (in UNILAG) I have no idea, and it would be better for a better head than mine to tell the world of it.
The extortion which is obvious but barely condemned by even the victimised students is the exorbitant prices placed on books. One may argue, quite reasonably, that books, considering what they may contain, are priceless and that one price is as justifiable as another. But if we are not to do away with our commonsense altogether, we would also know that some prices are unreasonable and tantamount, even, to forcible stealing. I may not be expressing the sentiment of the larger audience who value their money less than the books they are mandated to buy, but those who know the pain of every dime will be pained to pay them on something that may turn out not to be up to the value of their money.
The method of extortion, innocent as it may appear, is even more horrifying than the ones employed by most government officials: those ones at least work their crimes in secrecy, telling us, if nothing else, that they are aware of the evils of their actions. What do we find in our campuses? We find lecturers saying point-blank that the buying (or not buying) of certain books makes the difference between passing and failing the course concerned – and on their faces there is to be observed no trace of blush!
What, in the theoretical and practical sense, is the essence of recommending books to students? Not that they might read and complement whatever the lecturers have taught them in class? Were it not for imperfection, who, by the way, needs notes, let alone textbooks, after listening to the ‘comprehensive lectures’ of the lecturers – which they never fail to remind the students?
Let me quickly point out, lest I be misunderstood, that the importance of books transcends beyond helping the students pass their examinations: books, more than all else, aim at teaching, at inculcating knowledge into the students – passing examinations is but a way of proving that they have learnt. It is not presumptuous to say that nowadays, the aim of books prescribed is merely to help students in passing their exams, not in learning; he who can pass his exams by reading his books has exhausted the value of his books. Maybe this will help us understand why there are as many tips of passing exams as can be compressed in the books, and rarely anything on understanding the course being taught. And verily, today’s students are aware of this, and are always on the lookout for tips on passing their exams – knowledge may cry for as long as it can in the street, it is none of their business to hearken to its call.
Yet, were the present trend of urging the students to pass and not to understand the right one, would it be too liberal to praise the talented students who could pass without reading the recommended books?
Alas, how ill-written are the books recommended nowadays! It is a dismaying thing that lecturers with extensive knowledge often set out to write books on the spur of the moment. In a hurry to submit their manuscripts to their equally eager publishers, they take no care to edit and arrange their books in a praiseworthy way. How much glory they thus detract from themselves very few of them ever bother to think about, for the glory of a writer lies in how fine he has written, and not in how fast (unless, of course, that his aim is to impress the Guiness Records Board). What good it will do them, as well as their readers, if, instead of rushing to the publishers with their enlarged jotters for publication, they take their time to examine their works! These writers think only of the present, never of the future – and understandably so, since bad books never survive beyond their initial editions, unless they are to be kept in the museum or gallery as reminders to the posterity of which books should not be read and (to the authors) how books should not be written.
Yes, posterity deserves better books than are being produced now; but with the lazy generation of today who would happier put their mouths to their mother’s tits than bite at strong meat for their own development, who knows if a breed will ever come up again who will appreciate good writers more than paltry authors that are rife in our Institutions today? Ah for the generation that will be the inheritor of today’s negligence . . .
Students should be examined based on their understanding of a course, not on what books they have bought for it. It is a dismal thing that nowadays, students are not even encouraged to read those books, only to buy them and ‘attach their receipts’ to their registration forms! I deplore this as sad and pernicious amplification of corruption in our educational system which should be urgently addressed, for the good of all involved.
I do not deny, nor ever intended denying, that some of these books are products of extensive researches and are in fact well-qualified in their own specialisation. Yet, were this to be the case with every book and booklet recommended, would it still not be good, in the spirit of democracy, to allow the students to browse the bookshops and choose which ones to buy? I do not think that the students are so ignorant as not to know the benefit of buying the best books – if the recommended ones are the best as the claim goes. By the way, what does recommendation mean? Ignorant as I am, I know that one thing it does not mean is compulsory purchase; and if the lecturers were truly recommending, on what basis would there not be room for the students to choose whether to buy or not?
What a load of contradictions these lecturers utter when they urge the students to make use of the library and in the same breathe mandate them to buy the books they recommend! The impression they give in forcing the students to buy certain books is that they have recommended them the best; and if they are right in that regard, then it were doing the students a positive evil by urging them to the library where, no doubt, they will be corrupted. Thankfully, the truth in this contradiction is apparent to all, and needs not be hammered upon . . .
We all, in the goodness of our heart, raise our voices against government for not subsidising education; but how many of us have ever paused to consider the apparent fact that the tutorial fees paid in a session is nowhere near the amount of money extorted within the campuses in the name of recommended books? If a man were to build a library, would he not at least have the liberty to chose what books to use in populating his shelves? I implore every man to look to the justice in mandating students to buy books they are sometimes better without.
Let me also acknowledge that only a fool would question the right of a writer to be commensurately rewarded for his toil. But it is a proven fact that if a book is well written, it will be amply bought even when under ban, for man is a very curious creature, eager to lay hands on that which is denied him. The fame that would thus come to the author would far outweigh the transient pleasure of standing on the dais and watching his students waving his wretched book at him in demonstration of their obedience.


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