Sometime in the summer of 2011, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ghana, Legon, wrote to ask if I would be willing to serve as external assessor for the dossier of one of his lecturers who was seeking promotion to senior lecturer. I enthusiastically agreed as I always do when such requests come from universities in Africa. Call it a little service I like to render to the continent. They sent me the dossier. I read it thoroughly and sent a detailed report back to the University authorities in Ghana. Job done, I moved on to other preoccupations and promptly forgot about the matter.
Last week, a package arrives by DHL from Ghana. These must be documents about the Armah Conference, I thought. I had been approached to give the keynote lecture at a conference that the University of Ghana was planning to convene in honour of famous novelist, Ayi Kwei Armah, last year. I guess logistics overwhelmed the organisers and they postponed the event indefinitely. The Legon Professor who had initially approached me on behalf of the conference planners had hinted that they would try to reconvene it for the summer of 2012. The DHL envelope could only be about the conference.
I was wrong. As soon as I opened the package, a letter of appreciation from the Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Ghana, popped out. It took a few seconds for me to remember the reason for the Dean’s gratitude: he was thanking me for participating in the promotion exercise as external assessor. I had completely forgotten about that little assignment back in 2011. There was a second envelope in the package. This one was from the bursary of the University of Ghana. It contained a cover letter, an acknowledgment form, and a cheque made out in my name for the sum of $200 (USD). The cover letter explained that the payment was for the job I did for the University of Ghana as external assessor in a promotion exercise in 2011. I was to fill the acknowledgment form (evidence of receipt of payment) and mail it back to the University bursary in Accra. The cheque was drawn on the US account of the University of Ghana.
I couldn’t believe what was going on. It wasn’t about the money. When I did that assessment back in 2011, I didn’t even know that it came with payment. I was just rendering some service to a university in Africa. Besides, payment is not really de rigueur for such services here in North America. You assess promotion dossiers or serve as external examiner in graduate exams and you get an email thanking you for your service. You add it to your CV under a rubric designed for such activities and move on. Having been in the North American system since I began my teaching career, the idea of payment for assessing a dossier could not have even crept into my consciousness.
I looked at the cheque again and my mind got busy, constructing the entire process that got that cheque from Ghana to my desk in Ottawa as a tragic indictment of another place, another land. The cheque from Ghana weighed heavily in my hand and on my heart. That piece of paper appeared to be mentioning dry bones in the presence of an old woman. I felt uneasy. I tried not to think of Nigeria. I failed. With considerable sadness, my mind drifted to Nigeria as it always does whenever I am confronted with evidence of systemic thoroughness and effectiveness in other African countries.
Somewhere in Ghana, a process kicked off as soon as I rendered a routine service to the University. A Head of Department wrote a memo to a Dean who minuted on it and sent it to the bursary. A payment requisition was made, signed by a number of people in the University’s bureaucracy, and a cheque drawn on a US bank was made out in my name. An official in bursary then took care of paperwork and sent the package to me in Ottawa! I didn’t know that I was owed that money. I wasn’t expecting it.
That the Ghanaian system worked is not even the issue. It is the honesty of that system that makes the inevitable comparison with the Nigerian system so painful. Try thinking for a second what would have happened to my cheque in the Nigerian system. That cheque would have gone to a ghost Professor the moment some smart people realised that I wasn’t even aware that the University had payment provisions for the particular service I rendered. Peradventure I was aware and requested payment, try to think of how many people I would have to “see” in order to move my file through the system; try to think of how many times I would be told that the bursar, the HOD, the Dean, or the VC “is not on seat today”; try to think of… no, let me spare you the sorrow of thinking any further about the Nigerian system.