Don's Diary

July 12, 1996

Monday. Travel from Lagos to Ibadan. Have to wait until today because the highway is infested with armed robbers at night. Read a newspaper article explaining that the police are powerless, since they do not have a vehicle on that stretch of road. In this respect powerless, but in others powerful; thus they normally pull over small buses and cars and relieve the passengers of their loose change. All along the route are mile-long queues for petrol. Petrol shortage? In Nigeria? Not for the last time wonder what is the point of Shell.

Tuesday. Recover, tour campus, and meet lots of staff who struggle against staggering disadvantages, mostly the same ones as we suffer in Britain - and then some; notably the curbing of university finance by the Nigerian dictatorship.

Something of a diversion when a cobra approaches my host as I am trying to take his picture on his lawn. Long sticks are fetched, but the snake escapes. Day ends with a sudden extinguishing of lights at an art exhibition at the Alliance Francaise: a common occurrence which does not diminish a good occasion.

Wednesday. Give paper at the first conference run by the Nigerian Association of Professional Educators that I am scheduled to attend. In fact I enter the wrong room, where there is a sort of pray-in with fantastic gospel singing. My conference is tamer, but suffused with religion; I had not realised the Nigerians were so evangelical. The blood of Christ, the car stickers tell us, is all over us.

Thursday. The conference continues. At the risk of sounding colonialist I must record what a high standard of presentation there is. It is clear that educators are committed, well aware of the generic difficulties of the profession, and can recognise the labyrinthine communication processes used by "leaders" - which lead to a seemingly universal consensus on large classes, the futility of musical education, and the desirability of privatisation. The foot soldiers of education may come to ponder the effects of these goals, and by some means join to resist the agreed miserable outcomes.

Friday. Conference concludes, and my host takes us north to the point where the explorer Mungo Park "discovered" the Niger. Apart from a road bridge, and a railway bridge - the railway system is being run down by vested transport interests - not a lot has changed. Mungo Park drowned some way downstream in the rapids. Like so many 19th-century explorers, he seems to have failed to take the obvious precaution of asking the advice of the locals. So many of those heroes must have been unbelievably inept.

Saturday. The second conference starts: Adult Education Research for Development. Participants who have come from all over sub-Saharan Africa have to endure soaring temperatures because, as happens everyday, the power fails, cutting out air-conditioners, fans, phones I Having delivered my paper, I stand under a shower for a very long time. The day ends with no respite. Begin to understand why colonial officers in West Africa as late as the 1950s, only did tours of 18 months.

Monday. While the conference conducts domestic business, I go with my host to visit a community project two hours' drive away. One accolade, if that is the word, which must be awarded to Nigeria is that of the most dangerous driving I have ever seen. Tankers overturned, near-misses by the score, belching smoke. India is a kindergarten by comparison. The project is charged with those reserves of optimism and enthusiasm I have found everywhere in this country, and which, under the circumstances, seem so incredible.

Tuesday. Very useful discussion with the British Council about links between Nigeria and British departments of adult education. There is always something of a ritual fling at collaboration in such matters, but this time feel everyone means business. Very encouraging. Later, a man trying to set up an academic publishing organisation asks where he might get funding for equipment. I suggest he write a letter marked "Personal" to the managing director of Shell. Surely they can help without "interfering".

Wednesday. Conference over, visit sights and the local chief. Well-received, and the visit is especially interesting for people from other parts of Africa.

Thursday. Usual hair-raising drive to Lagos, nine-hour wait in sweltering conditions for flight. A combination of the bizarre and re-entry is provided by an interminable record of King's College choir singing carols. Muse on the flight. Glad, against all advice, personal and professional, that I went. Western support means an inestimable amount to those who try so hard to maintain academe and, I suppose, freedom. Think that Western academics have not the slightest idea what disadvantage, pressure, stress and the rest of it really means. Finally, I consider Shell. I conclude that they are a disgrace to the best Western values.

They cannot duck it, and I, in my small corner, will never buy from them again. Join me.

J. E. THOMAS Robert Peers professor of adult education, University of Nottingham.

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