Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Pedagogy of Boko Haram


By Biko Agozino

When Boko Haram is reported as saying that Western education is sin or forbidden, they are not saying anything new for even European thinkers have made similar critiques from Socrates, through Marx to Derrida and Foucault, without always being greeted with the exhibitions of hysterical and murderous authoritarian populism of the sort exhibited by security forces in 2002 and again in 2011 when dozens of suspected followers and leaders of Boko Haram were reported to have suffered extra-judicial execution in Nigeria perhaps because they posed a military challenge to adherents of western education as if massacring those who appear better educated in the western sense would even the field in blissful ignorance.

To say that western education is suspect for an African is to agree with a whole school of thought exemplified by Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden, one of the Founding Fathers of Pan-Africanism who observed that: ‘We must not suppose that the Anglo Saxon methods are final…we must study our brethren in the interior, who know better than we do the laws of growth for the race.’ – Dr Edward Wilmot Blyden, The Aims and Methods of Liberal Education for Africans, inaugural address as President of Liberia College, January 5, 1881. Can even Boko Haram teach us anything valuable?

What Blyden was suggesting, especially in his book on Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, is that some of the teachings of Islam are more relevant to Africans than simple mimicry of white men. Although he focused on the absurdity of black Christians being taught to wish that they were blue-eyed and snow-white like a western-self image of God, we could use the example of the prohibition of alcohol consumption by Islam to promote public health in Africa. This should be taught more widely in Africa given that one of the reasons why violence is so endemic and public health so poor in Africa is that alcoholism is not recognized as the disease that it is. In such matters of addiction, education would be more effective in getting people to drink in moderation or to abstain than force or terrorism as America discovered when alcohol was prohibited, leading to the quick ending of prohibition.

In another sense, western education is indeed forbidden (Haram) to the masses of the people and can only be acquired often through personal struggles with significant sacrifices and it is often dished out miserly and grudgingly by the western elites to a select few. As ‘children of books’ or umu akwukwo (students), we knew this very well and so used to sing as we marched from the assembly ground to the ‘houses of books’ (classrooms): ‘Books are sweet-sweet but they are hard to learn (imuta, literally, give birth to), if you have patience, you will learn (muta, or give birth to) books, provided your mother and your father have money’.

This astonishing thirst for ‘western’ education by a people who were traditionally educated in the science, arts and crafts through hands-on Afrogogies (not pedagogies) for centuries was earlier noted among the descendants of enslaved Africans who helped to defeat the slave-holding sates in the American Civil War and demanded in return that public funds should be made available for the education of the poor rather than leave education in the hands of philanthropists and missionaries or price it out of the reach of the masses of the poor. Accordingly, W.E.B. Du Bois credits the founding of public education in the southern states of America to black initiative and called for at least 10% of black leaders to be given opportunities to gain higher learning rather than be satisfied with only training in the crafts or they would remain subordinate laborers in America. As he put it:

‘This, historically, has always been the danger of aristocracy. It was for a long time regarded as almost inevitable because of the scarcity of ability among men and because, naturally came to regard himself and his whims as the only end of civilization and culture. As long as the masses supported this doctrine, aristocracy and mass misery lived amiably together.’ - W.E.B. Du Bois, ‘The Talented Tenth: Memorial Address’ in BoulĂ© Journal 15 (October) 1948, 1-3.

The western colonial authorities were very mean with building enough ‘houses for books’ (uno akwukwo in Igbo or ufot nwed in Efik, probably ile akowe in Yoruba and gida boko in Hausa). For example, the British only established four secondary schools in Nigeria between 1909 (when Kings College Lagos was established) and 1929 when the three Government Colleges of Kano, Ibadan and Umuahia were established. They rightly suspected that the more schools they built, the greater chances that they would be training more gravediggers of colonialism. Accordingly, they screened the students and selected only those who had promise as Obedient Boys of the Empire (OBE) for further training in Europe or in colonial university colleges. Our people resisted by building their own schools through communal efforts and healthy rivalry between missionaries, towns, families and individuals saw many rise from relative obscurity to master western education as they rallied to Azikiwe’s clarion: ‘each one train one’ in higher education or flocked to Awolowo’s free lower education. In 1947 Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria, addressed the colonial Northern Nigeria Regional Assembly and prophetically stated that the region where he was born would regret opposing the modern education of their children on the mistaken assumption that modern education has a corrupting influence. According to Zik, it may be true that many educated children are disobedient but it remains the task of parents at home to make sure that their children are well brought up while the schools must contribute to their training in learning, critical thinking, and character.

If Boko Haram is today still protesting that Western education is Haram, it may not be unconnected with the fact that ‘The ‘educated Negroes’ have the attitude of contempt towards their own people because in their own as well as in their mixed schools Negroes are taught to admire the Hebrew, (the Arab, we may add), the Greek, the Latin and the Teuton and to despise the African’. – Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro, Washington, D.C., 1933. Rather than respond to this legitimate critique of western education in Africa with the sledge-hammer or sharpen the critique through terrorism, we need to engage the masses in a dialogue designed to transform our educational system away from irrelevancies and focus our educational energies on the urgent eradication of mass illiteracy among our people, with emphasis on functional literacy and with the cultivation of creative and critical thinking crucial for survival and prosperity in the knowledge-based economy of today.

It is not controversial at all to observe that western education has something that Nigerians would call a problematic K-leg: ‘Okigbo was assimilated into a western unconscious, as was every ‘privileged’ member of his generation who had the same opportunities of  an elitist English education. The allure of their intellectual pursuits led them all towards a deeper encounter with western cultural values. Through their distinctly English education, they grew apart from the rest of the community’. – Obi Nwakanma, Christopher Okigbo, 19340-1967: Thirsting for Sunlight, London, James Curry. Killing people like Okigbo is no solution to our national crisis as Nigeria must admit following the Igbo genocide that consumed 3.1 million of some of our most talented citizens. 

Such a genocidal state policy supported by members of the international community is partly to blame for the normalization of mass violence in Nigeria today (as Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe emphasized in Biafra Revisited and Chinua Achebe did in There Was A Country). The country should issue a public apology to the Igbo who have continued to be model citizens in spite of the atrocities visited against them. Nigeria should dedicate massive funding towards Igbo reparations and desist from killing and criminalizing Nigerians who wish to fly the Biafra flag or buy commemorative car plate numbers or re-enact civil war battles in honor of the dead and in the defense of history as is done in advanced democracies where such activities help to sustain a thriving tourist industry while educating the younger generation. A national day of mourning for the innocent dead should be celebrated annually (not just a one off by Anambra State) to help socialize the conscience of the citizens against genocidal impulses that continue to be rewarded by treating genocidists as national heroes who are awarded lucrative oil blocs and by denying reparations to the survivors of genocide.

The Boko Haram should stop thinking that fellow Nigerians, especially the industrious Igbo who sacrifice so much to provide essential services in the remotest parts of the country, are their enemies because the snake that is problematic in the house of the rat is also problematic in the house of the lizard. The problem in Nigeria is that of mass illiteracy all over the country although it is worse, much worse, in the northern parts of the country. Let us join hands and eliminate this national shame from our land by implementing an urgent program of compulsory education for all with the masses of the unemployed graduates mobilized and re-trained as teachers and with a target of achieving 100% literacy in four years!

The reported assertion of Boko Haram that western education is Har(a)m-ful to Africans is echoed by no less authority than Paulo Freire whose classic book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, has just been banned in the US state of Arizona for teaching that there are oppressors and oppressed people who must learn in different ways in order to thrive in a society structured in dominance. Alice Miller would add that the type of education that Freire rejected as the banking concept of education is also harmful to European children because pedagogy as ‘child-rearing’ has been historically an abusive practice that produced moral monsters like Hilter in Europe to the detriment of tens of millions who died fighting for or against Nazism. I have argued elsewhere that we should reject the term, pedagogy, and adopt the alternative, Afrogogy, when our focus is on the education of Africans.

African American students came to the conclusion in the 1960s that Eurocentric education is harmful but instead of bombing and killing their fellow citizens to make their point, they adopted the peaceful revolutionary strategy based on the ancient African philosophy of non-violence by demanding for the funding of programs in Black Studies or Africana Studies and African American Studies which have now enriched the higher education system in the US and internationally even though educational disparities still exist in the Americas.

We need a similar peaceful revolution in education at the basic and advanced levels to tackle the problem of the prohibition of education to our people while we strive to make the contents and methods of our education truly African and not necessarily western exclusively given that some of what we call western education, such as mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, philosophy, agriculture, medicine, to mention but a few, were African inventions that were stolen by the West a long time ago, according to Cheikh Anta Diop in Civilization or Barbarism.

Dr. Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Director of Africana Studies Program, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA

Sunday, January 8, 2012


By Biko Agozino

‘Education, and education and education through conscientisation! Our people need to be aware of the power they have as citizens; their inalienable rights as people; the fact that the power enjoyed by the rulers should actually flow from the people. They should stop glamourising and beatifying the bad rulers that make life and living impossible for them and their children. Honestly, there is too much power-worship in this country, a habit I see as part of the Baba ki e pe (Boss, may you live long) syndrome. Just look at it: in Nigeria, the political ruler (and virtually anyone in a position of authority) is treated and venerated, like on with royal and/or priestly/divine powers, appeased with abject genuflections and lavish prostrations. Their birthday ‘felicitations’ take up substantial spaces in the newspapers; their oriki (praisename) is loud, lurid, and ludicrously extravagant...So, in a way, it is Nigerian people that tell their rulers: rule us forever; rule us the way you choose; rule us the way that pleases your whims. Surely, this is one of the terribly negative parts of our traditional culture that is blatantly antithetical to the idea of democracy.  For, the pervasive vestiges of divine kingship which tend to colour our concept of political power actually dis-empowers  the people by erecting their rulers into some kind of sacred, unquestionable Kabiyesi alaye lorun (the unquestionable on who has dominion over heaven and earth). From this apparent verbal hyperbole emerges a state of mind, a political habit, and followership style that makes democracy impossible by belittling the people while inflating the essence of their rulers. All over the world, we know that tyranny never flourishes without the people’s abasement.’ – Niyi Osundare.

Thanks to Niyi Osundare for his usually perceptive finger on the pulse of the nation. What he has identified is a major trouble with Nigeria that even Chinua Achebe overlooked in his classic on the theme – the trouble of authoritarianism. Yet, it is not true that the follow-follow mentality found in monarchical traditions in Nigeria is representative of all Nigerian cultures. We still have Nigerians who proudly say that they know no king and would try to hold anyone in authority accountable. By some kind of coincidence, they happen to be the very ones who are being attacked and massacred in the highly monarchical northern part of the country.

Authoritarianism is the biggest weakness that President Jonathan suffers from. He seems to think that an authoritarian leader is what Nigeria needs because Nigerians love to play the boss from the office to the market, the place of worship, the traffic and to the home. They brutalize their own spouses, children, employees, congregants, neighbours and even strangers because that is how the government treats them. Any Nigerian who preaches peace and non-violence today would be dismissed as weak and stupid because force is the lingua franca of the nation.

The very first act of power play that President Jonathan demonstrated once he finally took over as acting president under Yaradua was to lock out ministers who were late to a federal executive council meeting. Although Nigerian cheered this bossy move, it smacked of a village headmaster flogging pupils for lateness without asking if the ministers had anything worthwhile to contribute to the meeting or if they had any excusable reason for being tardy.

The second executive order from Jonathan was to ground all ministers from going home on holiday during the festive season, until they had worked out a solution to the electricity problem in the country. Again Nigerians cheered this authoritarian populism. But Rilwanu Lukman ignored the order and travelled abroad for a scheduled OPEC meeting without being fired or reprimanded. Travel or no travel, the electricity problem remains unsolved. The third major exhibition of this bigmanism by Jonathan was when he banned the national football teams from international competitions for two years without consulting to be advised that such childish tantrums after embarrassing losses would not be tolerated by FIFA. He had to back down and he did.

Now President Jonathan is getting power drunk absolutely as the executive presidency corrupts him further. He has slapped an unjust taxation on Nigerians without the due process of having the wuluwulu subsidy debated and approved by the legislature but this time he under-estimated the defiance of the long suffering people of Nigeria when it comes to what Gani Fawehinmi called executive lawlessness. He simply announced the withdrawal of a non-existent subsidy and thereby hiked up the prices of services and commodities for impoverished Nigerians.

Luckily for Nigerians, organized labour is ready this time to do battle not just for wages but for the suffering masses. The response of an authoritarian person like Jonathan is equally predictable – he tried to order the workers around by getting an injunction from a kangaroo court to say that the protest slated to intensify on Monday, January 9 2012, is not authorized by the boss. The workers called his bluff and told him that this is not a trade dispute within the jurisdiction of an industrial court that has a tendency to always rule on behalf of the bosses. Bravo to the working people of Nigeria.

This militancy by the workers should serve as a warning to any would-be coup plotters that Nigerians will not stomach another cynical ‘Fellow Nigerians’ broadcast. Instead the protesters should start gathering signatures for the recall of President Jonathan and for the holding of a recall election for all unrepresentative politicians. All legislators and all governors who support this sadistic policy of fleecing the impoverished should also be recalled. Those ministers who threatened to resign if the boss changed his mind and backed away from the abysmal policy should get their wish once their Oga is recalled and defeated democratically.

If Jonathan wishes to meet the legitimate demand of the workers by unleashing a kill-and-go police force on the unarmed civilians, let him be aware that once he is forced from office, he will be tried for murder like Mubarak in Egypt. Besides, authority killing simply sends the wrong message to the citizens that killing one another was a legitimate way to express grievances.

Niyi Osundare is right in pointing out that the reason why authoritarianism is killing our people is because of ignorance and illiteracy. Part of the reason why Ghana has a more democratic culture than Nigeria is because of the National School Movement that Nkrumah established across the country when the colonial administration suspended teachers and students who supported nationalist struggles. The mass protest that is on-going against the wicked policies of the Jonathan administration should include educational programs for teaching basic literacy and political, economic, legal and human rights literacy to the masses even during the street protests.

Finally, the Nigerian Government should immediately take steps to end the terrorization of Nigerian citizens in any part of the country. This cannot be done without addressing what Chinua Achebe identified as the Igbo problem. We cannot go on pretending that the genocide committed against the Igbo would not affect the psyche of the people by cheapening human life. The federal government should therefore set aside at least ten trillion naira as reparations and with unreserved apologies to be given to the Igbo of Nigeria for the past and continuing pogroms that are visited upon them. There should also be a law, as in Germany, to make the denial of the Igbo genocide a crime.

The cosmopolitan Igbo who are the vanguard of nationalism in Nigeria today by the risks they take in venturing to the remotest parts of the country should reciprocate in kind once they receive reparations by sponsoring scholarships and football trophies for schools to compete for in their places of residence. Fleeing back to Igboland is never going to be a lasting solution because the next day, they would return to the places of slaughter in search of opportunities to provide thankless services to their fellow citizens if they do not start killing each other over crumbs in Igboland. Instead of allowing themselves to be isolated and marginalized in Igboland, they should continue to fan out across the whole of Africa with a strategy to invest in goodwill among the people wherever they settle in Africa. That will not prevent murderous envy and jealousy but it may contribute to the further democratization of the whole continent for the benefit of all especially if they are empowered with a well-deserved reparations fund by the government.