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Dele Sobowale: Jonathan’s Ph.D Versus Buhari’s “Semi-illiteracy” (1)



“An excellent plumber is infinitely more admirable than an incompetent philosopher [PHD holder]. A society which scorns excellence in plumbing, because it is humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy, because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.” John Gardener, US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

I was living and studying, in the USA, in the late 1960s when Gardener rendered this piece of good advice to graduating students at Harvard University. His aim was to warn the students not to think that their degrees made them superior to others who might not have university education but who were contributing greatly to society.

I also worked at Polaroid Corporation, founded by Dr(Honorary) Edwin Land, the university drop-out who started the revolution in photography by inventing the first instant camera – which all professors of Physics said could not be done. Dr Land eventually employed nothing less than 345 Ph.D holders in various departments of Polaroid Corporation. Some of those who came in with B.Sc received doctorate degrees based on experience and research they conducted at Polaroid.

This is important because Professor Wale Oladipo, National Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party had been wasting everybody’s time comparing Jonathan, a Ph.D holder with Buhari – who he described as a semi-illiterate. Oladipo, naturally, failed to define semi-illiteracy in his bid to score cheap political points. That is standard practice for Nigerian professors once they enter the murky waters of politics – they invariably fail the minimum test of scholarship which calls for the definition of terms used in their presentations.

But, let me now take Oladipo up on his own terms by acknowledging that Jonathan holds a doctorate in Zoology. To begin with few, if any applicants for admission to university apply for Botany or Zoology. Their first preferences are often Medicine or Pharmacy. It is when their cut-off marks fall below the requirements for those two highly exalted professions that they are offered Zoology or Botany as a condition for admission to university. It would be interesting to know if Jonathan, ab initio, opted for Zoology or was shunted into that course.

More to the point, my questions are: what had he done with it? In what way had the Nigerian society benefited from his work as a Zoologist? How many papers had he got published in reputable academic journals of Zoology? In what ways had he advanced knowledge in Zoology? Those are the minimum requirements for excellence in academic work and not just the mere possession of a degree – which is a personal thing. There are millions of people all over the world with doctorate degrees who do nothing with them; they are just contented to hold the certificates. Meanwhile, there are technicians who have invented millions of useful equipment, household items, medical and diagnostic materials without the benefit of doctorate degrees. Professor Oladipo will surely agree with me, if he is not too far gone for redemption, that a Bill Gates or Edwin Land, both without Ph.Ds, had benefited the world far more than a million Jonathans and Oladipos who have nothing comparative to their credit but their certificates.


“Continuity” Jonathan’s adverts lining Abuja Airport.

Nigerians had the worst Christmas since I was born. There was no money. Even Federal Government staff were not paid. There was even black out for several hours on the 25th. Lean pickings at dinning tables and thread-bare clothes rounded up the dreary occasion.

Still PDP wants continuity. Among other horrors and atrocities implied in that request, consider these — continuity of bleak Yuletides; continuity of excuses for not generating more than 4000MW of electricity in 16 years; continuity of frequent ASUU strikes; continuity of mass failure in WASC and, now, Law School; continuity of Ministers purchasing bullet-proof cars and spending billions chartering jets; continuity of Ministry of Interior and other services collecting money from young job applicants and killing some of them and nobody got punished for it; continuity of pensioners dying on queues; continuity of missing Chibok Girls and kidnapped women; continuity of 400,000 barrels of crude stolen everyday in the Niger Delta; continuity of an unelected woman going about disrupting the lives of people everywhere she goes; continuity of NNPC not accounting fully for revenue generated; continuity of depleting External Reserves; continuity of depleted Excess Crude Oil….Need I continue?

In short CONTINUITY at your own peril. You will have a choice in February – to decide if that is what you want.

“A man [or group] cannot be too careful in its choice of enemies.”
Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900

I spent the whole of last year persuading people in my community that Power Distributors were slow in providing metres because they didn’t have the funds. I pleaded they be given more time. After that stupid N500m donation, I will lead the attack on DISCOS from now on.


I received more Yuletide greetings than I could possibly acknowledge one by one. As usual, I thank everyone – those who agreed, and especially, those who disagreed with me, even Aribisala, on anything written last year. Have a pleasant 2015. Those who disagree and live, live to disagree another day. We shall all live. Amen.


For more on the writer, Dele Sobowale visit: or Visit: or follow on Twitter @DrDeleSobowale.


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