"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
September 17, 2013
Witness to Misrule
by Imo Eshiet

Purposeful, quality education is one of the many casualties in a state of misrule. Others include leadership, welfare, liberty and freedom — things that are often taken for granted in functional societies.

These things are sacrificed because the very idea of social contract is voided by those who wield power. Thus, citizens became trodden underfoot like grapes in a winepress. In the absence of controlling institutions, the state runs on the whims and caprices of thugs who have the muscle to run over and take the rest of society captive.

Thus social instability is the central narrative in a misgoverned state. Inevitably this plays out in all aspects of the economy. Since integrity is impugned, the moral universe (if there is any), swings without concern for order or the interest of the people.

Brazen theft, dereliction of duty, insecurity and depredation of lives and property thrive with abandon. Life for the ordinary folk or those who do not have access to state treasury and the instruments of coercion becomes a living ordeal.

In Nigeria, for instance, universities have been shut down for the past three months. As usual the state has refused to honor a mutually consented agreement reached between it and the teachers union since 2009.

In reaction, the professors chose to go on strike. This, of course, was been the pattern for the more than two decades I had the misfortune of teaching in that country. While both parties stoutly wait to weary out the other, labs, libraries and classrooms and students go to seed.

Like the clueless government, teachers themselves seem to run out of alternative course of action, so that by resorting to strikes for long periods of time, they unwittingly contribute to arresting the dawn of light and freedom.

A Western professor visiting me before I left my teaching position in Nigeria some five years ago was dazed by the sprawling decay he saw. First, to get to my office he had to wade through campus streets full of potholes and open gutters humming with mosquitoes in oozing stagnant water.

He was aggravated to see classes being taught under tree shades and in other shelters without walls. Amidst this eyesore, hawkers did brisk business selling unsafe drinking water in sachets to students profusely sweating and swooning in the pounding sun. The hawkers touted their ware as “pure water”!

Passing by some shacks that turned out to be offices and classrooms, he noticed that everywhere was littered with noisily sputtering electric generators belching black, acrid, and poisonous gases into the atmosphere and derelict classes and offices. His shock was exacerbated when he noticed that these clanging generators were not used for cooling the extremely humid offices and classes. Rather, they powered copiers in professors’ offices-turned makeshift business centers.

To his consternation he noticed that copyright laws were impudently ignored. Whole books were copied and sold as handouts by professors or their middlemen to students. Bookstores, he observed, were cobwebbed and empty. Only poorly printed school jerseys and an assortment of tawdry items adorned the dust choked shelves. From the squalid bookstores, he could tell that books were not on the priority list of the school curriculum board.

Sick with frustration, his tired and weary eyes bled with disgust and consternation. He noted the whole institution was so grime-laden he could have turned back at the gates if he did not commit to meeting me. I could see it took fortitude to get to me because when we met he was bespattered by mud and dirt splashed on him when gleaming cars hit the potholes on campus and splashed muck on him.

Although he had attempted to wipe it, I noticed that the visitor had puked on his shirt. I could tell he was visibly shaken. Of course I knew what caused his sickness. The hallway leading to my office was running with raw sewage.

A waste pipe had burst several months back and deposited its unsightly content on the hallway. Since the administration was hoping to plan to carry out renovations on the entire building, nothing was done to clean the mess. When months after college authorities got round to the planning stage of setting up a committee to recommend what should be done, a sea of gore had invaded the whole building.

Worse, since we don’t set much store by maintenance, when anyone bothers with it at all, repairs proceed at snail speed. Such inattention to servicing utilities perhaps explains why we are notorious for some of the worst fatalities in aviation history. It is also the reason for the chronic power outage in the nation.

Meanwhile, administrators, professors, students and visitors had to swim through the menace to get to wherever they were going. The stench was insufferable, but we got used to it. After all, our entire nation was teeming with corruption spreading through it like a body overrun by cancerous growth.

It happened that the building where this disaster took place was the largest on campus. It housed the arts division, the most populated in the university and also, the library. So the traffic was usually heavy. When the nauseating flow started as a trickle, people initially jumped over it.

But as students and staff continued to use the broken toilet, the waste which had pooled gained momentum and broke into a widespread and running obscenity. Frustrated, we had to leapfrog across the gnashing condition to get to our offices and classrooms.

When my visitor ran into this despicable sight, he felt totally disobliged. Giant green flies and roaches were buzzing everywhere. Vermin contested for space. Maggots that had thrived in the waste were so fat and lethargic they no longer could wiggle.

When eventually the determined visitor overcame his shock and did what everyone else had to do to pass through that affront, together we collapsed with shame. But somehow it felt good to have a witness see how authorities ride roughshod on its people as in my country.

That day my friend saw what I had been discussing with him as we exchanged mails. I guess seeing how we lived amidst human waste, he must have appreciated the truth in a Chinese proverb that says, “Walking on water is not the miracle but walking on earth.”

Wrestling with tyranny is not a dance for those with a broken back or impaired waist. Life is searing in an economy where a state thwarts the aspirations of its people with contempt. Though remote now from scenes of mass suffering, yet remembering it is just as traumatic.

As my heart reaches to those trapped in it, destitutes who dwell and feed on refuse bins in the midst of abundance, I feel sorely troubled that a people could so violated. Ours is a bogey democracy. Those who suggest anything contrary to the position of the maximum rulers are viewed as state enemies and hunted down. Any wonder its intellectuals flee in droves?

President Obama was prescient when he observed in a 2009 speech in Ghana that, “No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end.”

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About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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