(By Femi Oni)
“It is no gainsaying that the contemporary Nigerian environment, therefore, is thus ill-equipped to prepare our children qualitatively to achieve the goal of education, the search for an understanding of the meaning and the purpose of life, and discovering the right way to live. Already we have begun to witness the effect of this situation, which include lowering of values and morals, and students’ involvement in violent and wicked acts besides meaningless intellectual orientation and ideas. These attitudes are perhaps best captured in the ideals and contents of today’s music, as well as the role models that now exist for the young.“
Education is the process by which any society through schools, colleges, universities and other institutions deliberately transmits its heritage, that is, its accumulated knowledge, values and skills from one generation to another. In pre-colonial times, education, although imparted through informal means, was rich and teachers were very dedicated. The feet of the elders formed the classrooms and pupils were initiated into life and living principally through proverbs and wise sayings.
Education during the pre-colonial period up to the 1970’s could be said to be organised. Unfortunately, the 1980’s till the present have witnessed the desecration of education and teaching, with teachers no longer motivated to take seriously their duty as custodians of a sacred mandate to bring awareness and knowledge to the future managers of men and resources.
In primary and post-primary schools especially, the standard has fallen so low that parents opt for private schools, where they pay exorbitant fees for the children. Our education institutions have become shadow of themselves. Decrepit infrastructures, ill-motivated teachers, inadequate funding and especially, moral disorientation are some of the factors that have taken the shine away from our schools. These problems affecting our education sector are serious when we take into consideration the fact that government regulations guiding the sector are mechanical guidelines, entirely lacking in a sound philosophical footing. All the policy orientations affecting and regulating schooling are not properly organised or efficient in packaging the desired quality of education. In the private primary and post-primary schools especially, the caliber of proprietors is not closely monitored in order to gauge their capability to go into an educational enterprise. It seems the only consideration has been the owner’s financial power, which thus allows even the illiterate and inexperienced bourgeoisie to play key roles in the management of our educational establishments.
Furthermore, in this age when the family, the basic and first social contact for the child’s socialisation and training, has also been dislocated as both husband and wife enter into full-time occupations to make ends meet. The society now depends almost solely on school as the social agent to prepare the child mentally, morally and socially to become a responsible citizen. Unfortunately, very few of our present schools are positioned content-wise and instructor-wise to meet this demand.
It is no gainsaying that the contemporary Nigerian environment, therefore, is thus ill-equipped to prepare our children qualitatively to achieve the goal of education, the search for an understanding of the meaning and the purpose of life, and discovering the right way to live. Already we have begun to witness the effect of this situation, which include lowering of values and morals, and students’ involvement in violent and wicked acts besides meaningless intellectual orientation and ideas. These attitudes are perhaps best captured in the ideals and contents of today’s music, as well as the role models that now exist for the young.
Whereas in the 70’s and 80’s, sentimental and emotional music that celebrated love, harmony and peace were what rent the air. They were meaningful, spiritually uplifting and morally strengthening. Modern popular music frequently contains lyrics like: I am crazy, take banana till u go yo, take moet, badoo! Are you a learner? azonto. Of particular interest is take banana till u go yo. I tried but all to no avail to decipher the philosophy in that song. Sincerely, I cannot imagine the likes of King Sunny Ade, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey or even the legendary Fela Anikulapo-Kuti going to studio and singing take banana till u go yo for 10 minutes.
Without mincing words, this moral decadence is not only noticeable in our modern songs but also in Nollywood. Most of the films churned out these days are nothing compared to films of yore. It is indubitable that most modern films lack in-depth philosophical message and moral admonition. The only difference is that most of the present day films are produced using sophisticated 3D camera, high-tech audio equipment and attention-grabbing costumes. Notwithstanding these state-of-the-art technologies, most of our indigenous films are lacking in content and poorly subtitled. Although, there are still some good films out there. I remember that films like Thunderbolt, Saworoide developed my interest in the study of African Philosophy (ifa corpus). I once asked myself how a young guy in his early 20’s can boast of spending millions of naira in doing a tattoo when other youths are finding it difficult to eat. Sincerely, this totally negates the Nigerian spirit of being our brothers’ keepers! Funny enough, some of these nouveau riche youth would buy two cartons of noodles, one packet of Saint Louis sugar and one carton of canned drinks for orphanage as part of his corporate social responsibility. Haba!
Also our school curriculum are lacking in content. Go to our private elementary schools and one will begin to see that most of what they are taught does not conform to our indigenous moral values. The study of our indigenous languages is gradually being phased out from the school curriculum. I was at a private school some years back and I saw an inscription Do not speak in Yoruba on the school wall. Haba! What is the nexus between a child’s level of intelligent quotient and his indigenous language? I cry whenever I hear the way people pronounce Alausa and Magodo! It is pronounced A-la-u-sa and not Ala-usa. Where are those back in the days nursery rhymes were laced with both moral and philosophical messages?
I remember those moral stories that we used to read in Alawiye by J.F. Odunjo! I remember those Yoruba rhymes like: ka mu ragba ta ragba, iwa, iwa la’ nwa, iwa. Eni w’aye ti o n’iwa, aye l’asan l’owa. Adifa fun iwa ni’jo ti nsawo r’ode Oyo. Iwa gbo riru ebo, o ru, iwa gbo titu etutu, o tu. Iwa wa ruu ye, o ruu la. Ka mu ragba ta ragba, iwa, iwa la’ nwa, iwa. Ka mu ragba ta ragba, iwa, iwa la’, nwa, iwa. This can be translated thus (Turn it up, turn it down, all that matters is good character. Twist it as you may, the essence does not change. One without a good character lives a worthless life. This was the oracular principle on which the people operated. They disciplined themselves, did all that was necessary. At the end they were happy and successful. Turn it up, turn it down, and twist it as you may. The essence does not change. The most valuable thing in life is good character).
Yoruba moral precepts are well captured in its folklore particularly Àló (Yoruba folk tales). Many of the Yoruba folk tales (i.e. Àló) are meant to convey moral precepts, to teach societal norms and etiquettes, to comment on life and living, and to portray the structure of society. Of particular relevance for the present discussion is the Àló Ìjàpá. These are animal stories, in which ijapa (the tortoise) believed in folklore to be the most cunning of all animals, is always the focal, often the tragic character. Most of the stories depict possible and actual situations that mirror the society’s experiences of reality and offer occasions for critical reflection on such experiences. It is also of paramount importance to note that the Odù Ifa is a corpus of sacred texts designed essentially to answer questions of human life through the process of divination. But as Awise Wande Abimbola has pointed out in his seminar works on the Odù, they contain a wealth of knowledge and teachings in the realm of various fields including art, literature, medicine, history, religion and ethics.
To be continued
• Oni is a postgraduate student of Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos. 08065848504 or email@example.com