Only last month, Western scientists successfully landed a robot on a comet. This feat was accomplished after 25 years of careful planning. The robot travelled 6.4 billion kilometers and took 10 years to reach the comet, which itself was moving at a speed of 56,000 km/hr (or 18km/s).
This is coming at a time when Nigerians are exporting religion and superstitions to the rest of the world; when our so called "men of God" assert that the cures for diseases are to be found in prayer houses rather than laboratories; when our universities have become the birthing places of pastors and imams; when we have become accustomed to pastors making extraordinary claims such as driving cars on empty tanks and resurrecting the dead; when the medieval belief in witchcraft and the practice of witch-hunting are ever so pervasive; when jihadists are engaged in a campaign of terror to spread sharia. I can go on and on.
A university is a place of enquiry and enlightenment but every year, impressionable young minds arrive on our university campuses hoping to be nurtured in the art and science of enquiry, the tool by which all progressive societies have advanced themselves; but instead, a great percentage of their university time is taken up by religious activities such as prayer meetings, night vigils, evangelism and so on, the result of which is that our universities have effectively become places for nurturing religious beliefs, superstitions and other fantastical ideas.
Every year, our universities graduate people who teach and/or think that prayers can cure diseases, move the economy forward, fix our bad roads, choose good leaders etc. Rather than spend money on laboratories and research, our governments, persuaded by the belief in the efficacy of prayers, choose to build mosques and churches, and sponsor pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem. The cure for malaria is in the laboratory, not mosques or churches. Some of our best minds abandon their original degrees and become peddlers of false hope, enriching themselves in the process.
If they lived up to their purpose, by now, one would expect our universities would have churned out generations of youth who are skeptics and critical thinkers. Sadly, that is not the case. Instead, we have science graduates who believe that cars can run on empty tanks (recall Pastor Adeboye and his famed journey from Ore to Lagos on an empty tank); that prayers routinely cure patients of diseases such as cancer, stroke, diabetes, Ebola, HIV/AIDS; that prayers can even resurrect the dead; that university examinations can be passed by anointing books, pencils, pens and other study materials with holy water, olive oil or handkerchiefs. These pastors (and imams) have corrupted our way of thinking.
Does anyone still doubt, then, that superstitions and religion are the reins that hold back the progress of Nigeria, and the rest of Africa? No society with such deeply entrenched beliefs can expect to find cures for HIV, Malaria, Ebola, or to land robots on comets. It is this type of societies that habitually rely on foreign aid. Such societies do not innovate - at best, they borrow or pay for technology.
I think that universities should be somewhere that people go, to not only acquire job skills but to also acquire the facility for critical and analytical thinking, and skepticism. By the time people have graduated from university, they should have shed off a considerable burden of ignorance and superstitions.
If we were to ever land robots on comets, then we must start with a change of mindset and attitudes. Superstitions will never get us anywhere productive. The current methods of instruction in our universities are no longer fit for purpose. Frankly, I have more faith in the social media as an instrument of change than in them. And make no mistakes, it will take a while until this damage is reversed because even university lecturers hold these preposterous beliefs and have no qualms in openly declaring them.
Elections are right round the corner but I have heard very little said on education. The recurrent strikes are an issue, but they are only superficial. The rot is much deeper. It is in our minds and attitudes!
The writer is Ijabla Raymond, a medical doctor writing in from the UK. Email: [email protected]