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A date in the history of a man of history by Noel Ihebuzor

A Tribute for Professor Michael Omolewa on his 80th birthday!

The lives of great men and women are simple and complex at the same time. Simple, because the acts that distinguish such people are easy to point out – kindness, courage, originality, initiative, creativity, energy, commitment etc.
Yet such lives are also complex because what we often see as simple acts are nothing but the summation and result of a series of intentional choices and acts pursued with steadfastness and grit. So it is with the life of professor Michael Omolewa, a life marked by major achievements and distinctions, which when looked at from the present appears simple, but which when subjected to closer examination reveal intense complexities, diversity and richness.

Professor Omolewa is for me the classic example of a humanist scholar turned adult educator and who then went on to enrich his adopted field by bringing the lens of the historical method to bear on his analysis of adult education in Nigeria and beyond. His adoption of adult education as his primary area of research was not fortuitous but was apparently spurred on by a social and egalitarian impulse to use adult education as a tool to open the doors of opportunity, civic participation, engagement and enhanced personal actualisation to millions of Nigerians who had hitherto been excluded by the denial of rights to education. (Incidentally, the early beginnings of adult education in the UK owed its origins to similar noble egalitarian impulses.)
Once on board this adult education train, Mike then devoted his energy to making important contributions to its theory and practice by building on the solid foundations that had been laid by earlier workers such as professors Tomori and Majasan. In his research endeavours, an evidence based historiography was the hallmark of his scholarship, a scholarship that was made all the more endearing by the way it reconciled the need for relevance with the pursuit of depth and breadth in its many outputs.

But Mike Omolewa is not just the outstanding scholar. He is a man of many parts, a man armed and equipped with so many shades of socio-cultural and language registers that he can “code-switch” on a needs basis to converse and engage productively with artisans and architects, with engineers and motor mechanics as well as with agberos and princes in response to evolving situations. In achieving this coup in social engagement and relational excellence, Mike is helped by his self effacing humility and by a huge reservoir of emotional intelligence. He is also a man of great wit and irrepressible humor. In Mike’s company, there is never a dull moment. And moments with him are also enlivened by the spice and charm that the strategic infusion of healthy strains of mischief (remnants from his younger days, I suppose) brings to most encounters with him. I remember working with him in Ghana on the West Coast Literacy project in the early nineties and how he was able to inject the right level of humour at the right moments to keep spirits high and to thus ensure that our mission achieved its set objectives. Ditto when I worked with him on the Real Life Materials Literacy project in the nineties. The same infectious humor coupled with an unquenchable optimism and drive for results were critical elements of the leadership that Mike provided on that project.

Mike is also the consumate diplomat – witness the role he played as leader of the Nigerian delegation at UNESCO and from there to his unforgettable role as chair of UNESCO’s executive board, a role in which he excelled beyond compare.

As he celebrates his 80th birthday today, I wish him well. I wish him many more days of mirth, of health and wellness – and wellness in all its dimensions – religious, spiritual, social, intellectual, economic and physical.

May the humor that distinguishes you perdure and may you find joy in all you do. And may you continue to sparkle and may you stay forever young bathed in the radiance of our creator.

Noel Ihebuzor
(Onye Nkuzi) 01/04/2021

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Chinua Achebe, great story teller by Noel Ihebuzor

Chinua Achebe’s skills as a writer, story teller, anthropologist, sociologist and psychologist come across very strongly and beautifully in this short excerpt from Things Falls Apart.

Read it and reflect on the many aspects of life in general and Igbo life that he touches on as you do

“He walked back to his obi to await Ojiugo’s return. And when she returned he beat her very heavily. In his anger he had forgotten that it was the Week of Peace. His first two wives ran out in great alarm pleading with him that it was the sacred week.
But Okonkwo was not the man to stop beating somebody half-way through, not even for fear of a goddess.
Okonkwo’s neighbours heard his wife crying and sent their voices over the compound walls to ask what was the matter. Some of them came over to see for themselves. It was unheard of to beat somebody during the sacred week.
Before it was dusk Ezeani, who was the priest of the earth goddess, Ani, called on Okonkwo in his obi. Okonkwo brought out kola nut and placed it before the priest,
“Take away your kola nut. I shall not eat in the house of a man who has no respect for our gods and ancestors.” Okonkwo tried to explain to him what his wife had done, but Ezeani seemed to pay no attention. He held a short staff in his hand which he brought down on the floor to emphasize his points.
“Listen to me,” he said when Okonkwo had spoken. “You are not a stranger in Umuofia. You know as well as I do that our forefathers ordained that before we plant any crops in the earth we should observe a week in which a man does not say a harsh word to his neighbour. We live in peace with our fellows to honour our great goddess of the earth without whose blessing our crops will not grow. You have committed a great evil.” He brought down his staff heavily on the floor. “Your wife was at fault, but even if you came into your obi and found her lover on top of her, you would still have committed a great evil to beat her.” His staff came down again. “The evil you have done can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish.” His tone now changed from anger to command. “You will bring to the shrine of Ani tomorrow one she-goat, one hen, a length of cloth and a hundred cowries.” He rose and left the hut. (Culled from Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, Chapter 4).

The passage documents gender based violence and the patriarchy that underlies it. (Recall mention of Okonkwo’s first two wives).
It also brings out Okonkwo’s flawed character, a flaw that culminates in his eventual demise. (Okonkwo is deaf to all appeals to rein in his wife beating rage once he unleashes it. Obduracy is a vice. Okonkwo’s hubris destroys him in the end. Notice that the assault on Ojiugo is also premeditated and thus has all the elements of what in law is described as “mens rea”. It is also made worse by the fact that the beating took place during a period when all forms of violence were not allowed in the community. This strategy of “peace corridors and periods” is one that played a vital role in fostering forgiveness, peace building and eventually social cohesion in precolonial Igbo society. And Achebe does well to remind of this
The passage also brings out the communalism that is a major feature of precolonial Igbo society. Neighbors are worried and tried to intervene to get Okonkwo to call off his fist rage but Okonkwo ignored them.

The passage also allows us a peek into Igbo religious world view and of the different gods that populate it. We learn of “ani” (ala in Owerre) the earth goddess, who overseas farming and productivity. But beyond this, this peek introduces to the vital element of connectivity that links events and people and how one person’s transgression can endanger the entire community and clan. In an interconnected universe, negative vibes in one realm can produce far reaching ripples in some other domains. Wife bashing could pose a serious threat to food security.
And the priest of Ani, armed with his ofo, shows that when one has offended the gods, one’s kolanut, an offering and token of peace can be rejected. But the gods are also not implacable! With the right level of restitution, wrongs can be righted and written off and balance restored. Finally, the universe of the gods in Igbo world view accommodates both sexes in its pantheon! Here, the Igbos are clearly ahead of some of the current dominant religions of the world.

Great piece of writing. Great economy of words, right level of narrative tension and all of these are combined to deliver an engaging and revealing tale.

Noel Ihebuzor
Onye Nkuzi

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Trainee See, Trainee Do?

ELT Stew

After only a cursory glance online at initial teacher training courses, one recurring selling point immediately stands out: “Learn by doing!”  As one website succinctly put it,

[Because] CELTA training is based on experiential learning, or “learning by doing”, teaching practice (TP) is at the heart of the course.[1]

And who am I to argue?  As a CELTA trainer myself, I have witnessed firsthand the value of teaching practice and reflection.  Lately however, I have been pondering the experiential learning of the trainees, not when they are actually teaching, but when they are receiving input sessions from the trainers.

So ingrained in ELT is the value of experiential learning that, as trainers, we are constantly demonstrating activities, employing ELT classroom management strategies, and in general getting our trainees to ‘be the students’.  And I get this.  ELT trainers are first and foremost EFL teachers, so it is only…

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“On institutions – an addendum” by Noel Ihebuzor

The successful inauguration ceremonies yesterday in the USA after weeks of turbulence and mayhem prompts these quick reflections on the importance of institutions in governance, alternation and social stability. They extend my earlier musings on institutions and are essentially intended to make the case for all and sundry to abandon short term expediency driven thinking and support citizen efforts and coalitions focused on institution building and strengthening. Sustainable development depends on strong institutions. SDG 16 clearly makes this case.
Institutions are as strong as the degree of immersion of its operators in their key norms and tenets, the socialization of these operators and the larger society into accepting the utility of such norms, the interlocks and interpenetration of their supporting networks and the quality of the enculturation of a critical mass of society of its key ethos and beliefs. The absence of all these explains the sad and repeated and repeating cases of institutional failures in Nigeria. The presence of these explains why Trump could not get the army to violate its oath. Poorly locked down norms and weak norm enculturation among a critical mass of stakeholders also can explain the vagaries, abuses and somersaults in some countries with huge GDPs but febrile and feeble institutions.