By Daniel Ojomo
CORRUPTION and injustice are capable of crippling any institution or even an entire society at large. In the face of these cancerous phenomena, it invariably falls on the populace of any of such affected institutions to act as agents against this force by speaking and rising against perceived forms of corruption and injustice. These are the concerns of the play Neither Ivory Nor Tower, written by Elo Ibagere, staged on September 30, 2021 at Theatre Art Complex Site 3, Delta State University, Abraka. It was directed by Chukwuma Anyanwu with the assistance of Aghogho Imiti.
It tells a powerful story of corruption, injustice, uprising and relentless struggle of integrity against injustice. Set in the fictional Ekumeku University, the play opens with the inaugural lecture of Professor Dandy Povus, who through his lecture, takes us on a journey of the history of the university and the events that lead to his promotion to professorship and the appointment of Professor Mamuvi as Vice-Chancellor of the University. As seen through recounts from his lecture, when the time to appoint a new Vice-Chancellor came, Professor Mamuvi, who represents honesty, diligence and the desire for academic excellence, is overlooked in favour of the less qualified and corrupt Professor Fedode Fente.
However, the voice of the margin, through the doggedness of the leftist Dandy Povus and other radical student unionists, Professor Mamuvi’s mandate is reclaimed and normalcy restored to Ekumeku University. Not much is known of the politicking that goes on in academia. The play, however, gives us a glimpse and exposes us to the corrupt practice that (sometimes) define the selection process of University Vice-Chancellors. It draws our attention to the unethical procedure that characterises these appointment processes, where is merit and integrity are traded for personal benefits. Mamuvi’s vision to turn the university into “one of the best in the country which is attractive to students all over the world”, and with a mission to actualize his vision “by ensuring that the university is well equipped in all departments while at the same time improving the welfare of staff by creating a conducive atmosphere that would enable them to give their best to the system” is assessed to be of less significance to that of Professor Fente, whose vision “is to make this university the most quiet, where academic activity can take place without the dislocation of the academic calendar through strikes whether by students or staff.” But the question posed by this is, of what value is a hitch-free academic calendar that produces graduates that are misfits for the labour market?
Should the school system focus on running smooth calendar at the expense of producing thoroughbred students? This is an important question as the manpower needed for economic, cultural, political and social development depends on the quality of graduates churned out of the academic system. Neither Ivory Nor Tower also reminds us that in the face of injustice and oppression, change comes only when the oppressed choose to speak up for themselves.
This is also true for the larger society like Nigeria, where impunity and injustice are rife and continue to undermine the larger populace who have remained docile, with the only exception in recent memory being the #EndSARS protests by Nigeria youth that provided a glimpse of what mass unity of action can bring about. Edosa’s speech in her conversation with Efe aptly characterises this idea:Edosa: I’m seeing a situation in which this university will become a glorified secondary school with students being treated like primary school pupils.
The VC may soon ban even social clubs and establish a fully regimented system.Efe: We are finished. What can we do in this circumstance?Edosa: I think we should stop bemoaning our parlous situation. We should begin to seek ways of solving our problems. Povus’ unwavering devotion to the fight for justice and against corruption in alliance with some members of the student union eventually leads to the removal of Professor Fente as the Vice-Chancellor and the appointment of Professor Mamuvi as the acting Vice-Chancellor of the University. Clearly, freedom and justice don’t fall on a platter from outer space; they are fought for by people who believe in a fair society.