By Dare Babarinsa
The assassination last Friday of General Qassem Soleimani, 62, the Iranian military commander, has introduced another dimension to modern warfare. On the day of his death, Soleimani was surrounded by his faithful military guards who were well armed and they were prepared to confront any aggressor that might threaten their principal, a man of power and influence. But then, when death came from the sky, they were helpless. They may not have been aware of the American military drones that suddenly happened on their convoy from the sky and blasted Soleimani and all members of his entourage. Their death was fiery and immediate. Then the drones returned to base.
The base may be an American Aircraft carrier on the Mediterranean Sea or any military base in the Middle-East. Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, IRGC, has commanded the unit since 1998. He was regarded as the most powerful military figure in Iran, overseeing the Shiites state involvements in many theaters’ of politics and conflicts including Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. He was feared by his opponents and fiercely loved by his supporters. During his burial processions, at least 50 mourners died in the stampede to get a better glimpse of their hero.
The assassination of Soleimani, ordered by American President Donald Trump, is another indication that science is changing the meaning of war. Instead of sending soldiers and manned aircraft, America has deployed unmanned drones to take off an alleged foe with deadly precision. What we need to ask is what is the fate of Nigeria in a world dominated by science and scientific enquiries?
One of the most disturbing things at this period is the depressing indifference of most members of the Nigerian ruling elite to intellectual products. To balance this hostility is the neurotic love of the Nigerian youth to the pleasurable aspect of the internet and social media. During the early days of Africans interaction with the West, the gin, brandy and whisky were valued items of exchange for African slaves. Human lives were given in exchange for a bottle of gin or brandy.
Sometimes, human life was not worth more than a mirror.
Today, the Western world has given the African youth the tantalizing item called the mobile phone. Almost all Nigerian youths are constantly glued to it. They sleep with it. They wake up with it. Some of them can never switch off their mobile phones even in the place of worship when they pretend to go into ecstasy before God. The mobile phone and its other varieties has become the new bottle of gin, brandy or schnapps.
Few months ago, I asked a young lawyer whether he has ever heard of the name Kayode Esho.
“The name is familiar,” she said, not too sure whether he was a footballer or juju musician. She did not have any clue about one of the greatest legal minds ever to honour the bench of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. There is a general epidemic of ignorance among the youths of Nigeria who knows next to nothing about their own country and its challenges, its power and its weaknesses. These are the same youths who are living in the same milieu of those youths who are using drones to fight modern wars. I hope the young students of the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, would be exposed to this snippets of the next war and beyond.
Only this Monday April 6, Nigerians gathered at the University College Hospital, UCH, Ibadan, to celebrate the life and legacies of Professor Kayode Osuntokun, Nigeria’s most famous neurologist. Osuntokun, who died in 1995 at 60, was the first person in the world to win the Charles Drew Award for medicine. If he had lived longer, it would not be far off the mark that he would have won the Nobel Prize for medicine. His prodigious work on African medicine in the field of neurology commanded universal respect. When he died the Independent of London wrote an editorial to celebrate him, lamenting the passage of a giant who “when he came to the England, he came to learn. In the end, we were the one learning from him.”
When Osuntokun was a young doctor at the UCH, Ibadan was the centre of Africa’s intellectual response to the world. Ibadan was the city of the likes Akin Mabogunje, Ladipo Akinkugbe, Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Ojetunji Aboyade, Wole Soyinka, Jacob Ade-Ajayi and many other giants. At a time, the UCH was rated number nine among all the teaching hospitals in the Commonwealth. It commanded a higher reputation than many hospitals in Canada, Australia and India. I don’t know its rating today on the world stage, though it remains one of the very best on the African continent.
One is apprehensive however that in the next frontier of the world, the frontier of knowledge, Africa appears to be the least ready. What is responsible for this is the state of primary and secondary education in Africa and especially Nigeria. We can take the cue from Nigeria where the average Primary or Secondary school leaver appears unprepared to do any serious job except the menial ones.
To build outstanding scholars and world class scientists, policy makers need to revisit our primary and secondary school programmes. One of the things that was done during the era of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the old west was to concentrate a lot of resources on primary education. At the end of the day, primary school leavers were so good that they could be hired as teachers in the lower classes. By the time a child finishes secondary education, he was considered good enough to tackle any job.
Today, how many Nigerian university graduates could be considered the equals of the likes of Chief Anthony Enahoro, who became a journalist shortly after leaving Kings College and became editor of the Southern Nigerian Defender at 21? Within a few years, he became one of our country’s most brilliant parliamentarians and as Minister of Information, participated in bringing the first television station to Africa, the Western Nigeria Television Service, WNTV. Today what has happened to the meaning of secondary school leaving certificate?
We need to examine the training and re-training of teachers and the curriculum that produces graduates without learning. Secondly, it is simply not right to have a secondary school at this age which has no library. It is criminal to have a secondary school library that does not enjoy daily supply of newspapers and magazines. This was not the situation in our days when Nigeria was regarded as a poorer country when the Head of State of Nigeria and the governors were riding in prim Peugeot cars. Today, each of our governors want to ride in the most expensive cars.
Nigeria is a rich country made up of poor people. We cannot harvest the wealth of our country if we don’t invest heavily in the pursuit of knowledge. We may not be able to produce drones that could tackle today Boko Haram terrorists, but at least let us prepare our children for the world of the future when national power and national pride would be measured in the quantum of knowledge.