OPINION | EKENE: Who is Afraid of the Genius?

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By Hon. Josef Omorotionmwan

What do you do when change resists you and begins to fight back? Absolutely nothing! You must permit change to take its very slow cause. Slowly, but certainly, things will begin to change; except perhaps that by the time change finally arrives, the rest of the world shall have left you behind. You are on your own.

In our part of the world, time was when to be eligible for elementary school enrolment, you must stretch you hand over your head to touch the opposite ear. There was no birth registry at the time. Under such circumstance, some with stunted growth had to wait till way above age 15 to enter primary school.

Until quite recently, university education for the Nigerian was purely a process of adult education. Some of those who struggled through the process of home tuition were already grandparents by the time they finally entered university.

It was not any easier for those who travelled abroad in search of the Card-board. They struggled through the European factories; and by the time they arrived at the Americas, they were largely a bunch of illegal aliens; and matured adults returning to education.

Meanwhile, by the mid-1970s, Americans were priding themselves that their children were already earning the PhD at the age of 20! And they had just begun. Essentially, aspects of high giftedness have been with them for that long.

By default, our adult education exponents are largely today at the helm of affairs in Nigeria – administering our educational and governmental policies and they are the ones making our laws and implementing the medieval ones. It becomes easily understandable why they cannot comprehend the fact that in some first World countries, 30-year olds are already Presidents. They cannot comprehend that this technological world has already produced the likes of Balamural Ambati, Ruth Lawrence and Norbert Wiener who are endowed with such high intellect that they have earned their PhD at the age of 17years! Neither can they comprehend that the Americans already have Michael Kearney who got enrolled at Spring Hill College at the age of 8 years and in 1994, he came out with a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology at the age of 10 years!

The idea of high giftedness remains alien to our leaders, even where clearly that is the way the world is going today. They are still fixated at the level of antiquated ideas; and the world is leaving us behind. Again, a man cannot give what he does not have; and where we have chosen to remain stagnated, the world cannot keep waiting for us. We also have a choice to keep blowing hot and cold; and in the process, we can also keep destroying our talents while others are developing theirs.

The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, is the new social killer in town. For some time now, JAMB has, via the instrumentality of its Unified Tertiary Examinations, UTME, been constructively throwing up highly gifted children and quickly cutting short their educational dreams by dubiously declaring them under-aged. We shall restrict ourselves to the just-released results for the current year.

Franklin Ekene has scored 347 marks – the highest in the entire country. This near-perfect score qualifies him for admission into any university of his choice in Nigeria. Ekene chose the University of Lagos.

Contrary to expectation, the same JAMB that is celebrating Ekene for his brilliant performance has turned round to say that he cannot be admitted into a university because he is under-aged. Ekene is 15 years old but the authorities say he cannot be admitted until he attains the age of 16. At the height of its naivety, JAME claims that Ekene is too young to withstand the rigour of an academic exercise at the university level. We see this as totally preposterous; and the warped thinking of outdated leaders. Clearly, this is a 21st century method of asking Ekene to stretch his right hand over his head to roll over his left ear before he can go to a university in Nigeria. Meanwhile, the less-intelligent and sometimes younger children of the same Nigerian leaders are studying in foreign universities.

This is where we question the seriousness of our law-makers when they recently passed the dubious NOT-TOO-YOUNG-TO-RUN legislation, which substantially reviewed downwards, the age for various elective offices in the land. How do you feed such a measure if you must rely on students who must attain age 20 before gaining admission to the university? As they say in the Benin colloquial, “Omwan noye egbe omaen tie ABC, erimwin oghi natie klass 2” meaning that anyone who enters primary one at oldage can only get to primary 2 in heaven”.

Funny enough, Ekene, like other students, filled out a form at the time he applied to sit for the UTME. He did not lie on his age. As a way of collecting the money, which was apparently the sole interest of JAMB, they waited for him to sit for the examination before disqualifying him on account of his age.

From this, another ugly fact is rearing up its head: Evidently, many students are in this category. It is only Ekene’s brilliant performance that has now blown the lid off JAMB’s cover. In other cases, those who failed would say nothing; and those who passed marginally would be screened off at the Post-UTME. We are now beginning to see the various components of the humongous profits declared by JAMB annually – all to the detriment of the poor students.

In other climes, the anti-graft establishments would step into this type of situation where there are Federal Government Agencies that rip-off the citizenry. JAMB is just obtaining money from poor students under false pretenses – in utter defiance of the provisions of Section 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code and we are clapping for them! JAMB will soon tell us that it is not alone – the rot is wide-spread. And we are clapping for all of them!

Nigeria is engaged in a game of self-delusion. Even where the place of the highly-gifted child has been copiously acknowledged, when it comes to doing the needful for him, as exposed in the case of Ekene, we see obvious attempts to bend the rules. The question them arises, who is afraid of the genius?

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Nobody knows exactly where geniuses derive their superior knowledge but certain facts are also clear about the human species: first, we are told that everyone in life carries a book in him. We therefore conjecture that geniuses are able to read the book in them. Secondly, we admit that to be a genius takes a lot of hard-work. Geniuses are hard-working people. Essentially, they could be introversive, always doing their own things their own way. The few moments they are with you, they could be inquisitive and even ask you question that might challenge your adult mind. They are characterized by a high degree of perfectionism.

The more advanced nations have learnt to catch them young and develop them to positive ends. Geniuses belong to a rare breed. Society can either use them or lose them. They are like the bile of an animal – if you handle the bile carefully, you will enjoy your meat but where you handle it carelessly, it will ruin the meat for you.

Similarly, a society that identifies the genius early and develops him to a positive end will enjoy him for development purposes. When you ignore him, he will one day stray on his own, into the waiting hands of the Islamic fundamentalists, so-called, who will use him to manufacture bombs and other instruments of mass destruction against you.

This partly explains why the advanced countries have learnt to harness then and give them everything they want. These countries work closely with their scientists who have since found that genius and madness are close – only a thin line separates them (vide THE LONDON TELEGRAPH of September 30, 2009).

If the US Government spends billions of Dollars to train say one million people and out of this lot, they discover one genius, they will be satisfied that they have make their money. It is this one genius that will make the difference between where they are and where they want to be. This is how much importance a serious nation attaches to the issue of geniuses. Yet, we are busy destroying every opportunity to discover ours!

Geniuses are few and far apart. So, when you find them, you should hold them well. Australia has a programme that deliberately seeks to discover one highly gifted student every year. Properly directed, JAMB would be able to do this for us. Instead, our eyes are glued to JAMB’s Trading Profit and Loss Account. 

 Again, rather than seeking to destroy the Ekenes of this country, one would expect that JAMB, in conjunction with the relevant education authorities, knowing that we lack strong institutions to accommodate the likes of the Ekenes, should be working out some co-operation arrangement with other foreign countries to accept one of these highly gifted students annually for proper development. Certainly, the US, Britain, Canada, etc., will be happy to oblige us in this direction. It is immaterial that some of them might be unwilling to return home after such development. After all, a Nigerian is still a Nigerian wherever he finds himself.

We remember Jibril Muhammad Aminu – Professor of Cardiology at the University of Maiduguri; Senator (Adamawa Central); and former Minister of Education in Nigeria. This was one man who saw tomorrow. As Minister of Education, he brought about the establishment of the Federal government Academy for Gifted Children, Suleija, Niger State. The Academy was modeled after similar Institutions in Britain and the US.

Prof Aminu’s idea was to catch them young – pick up the best from every state of the federation, offer them the best and watch them blossom into excellence. That Academy is now a shadow of its past. Still more instructive is the fact that Prof Aminu’s kinsmen have killed it! Over time, most of the States in the North could not produce students to feed the school. When it was becoming a Southern affair – a federal institution located in the Core North but with virtually only Southern Students, killing the Institution became a more attractive offer. Whereas Prof Aminu’s dream was that the Academy should grow into a university within the complex, because of lather day development, the entire plan could not grow beyond the secondary school level; and it died in embryo. We hear that a good part of the vast area of land meant for that Institution has come handy in the hands of herdsmen for cattle grazing! Who is still looking for a wasted generation? Seek no more. Nigeria we hate (oops, hail) thee.

Where do we go from here? Ekene’s issue cannot be swept under the carpet. Apparently, it is already late in the day to ask the Federal Government to experiment on Ekene as a Special Project for this year by sending him to a Centre of Excellence in any foreign country. We are carefully guided here by the principle of taking what you have if you cannot get what you want. We, therefore, urge, as a matter of priority, that Ekene should be admitted into the University of Lagos without any let or hindrance whatsoever. Enough of this stumbling block on our progress!

The Federal government must quickly revisit the issue of the Suleija Academy. As a matter of utmost priority, the papers must be dusted up with a view to re-awakening the noble dream of the founding fathers. Our technology-driven age demands that we have a real Centre of Excellence – from the secondary school level to the university.

 This Essay is dedicated to the following:

*Prof (Senator) Jibril Muhammad Aminu – one man who had a knack for excellence; and a man who had a vision and a mission for the true development of our education;

*My daughter, Edoghogho (now Mrs. Ofili), who went through the Federal Government Academy for Gifted Children and who engendered my deep interest in the affairs of specially Gifted Children; and 

*The Subject of today, Franklin Ekene, who is destined for history.

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