By Matthew Eze O.

The Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Most Rev. Godfrey Igwebuike Onah in the Fifty-Seventh Founders’ Day Lecture of the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) which took place on Thursday, 5 October 2017 noted that bad governance harms human dignity and that those who have pledged to promote the dignity of the human person should resist the temptation of being hired as mercenaries in the enemy’s army.

He made this known at the Princess Alexandria Auditorium UNN while delivering the founders’ day lecture on the theme: “To Restore the Dignity of Man” – Why and How? Tracing the historical origin and foundation of University, Bishop Onah amongst other things discussed elaborately about the guild of students (universitas scholarium) in Bologna and the guild of teachers and students (universitas magistrorum et scholarium) in Paris in the 12th century, from which the University took its name, were associations that sought to promote free collaboration between students, and between students and teachers, in the search for truth. “Contrary to what many think, universitas had nothing to do with a presumed universality of the knowledge that a University offers but rather with the association of people with common pursuits who wanted to protect their interests and safeguard themselves against external interference and distractions. Foremost on the minds of the members of the guilds was the unhindered pursuit of truth (veritas).”

He therefore lamented that it is a tragic irony in Nigeria where the guild of teachers and students sometimes positively hinder the pursuit of truth. He therefore emphasized that anytime that the university interrupts its normal programme in protest against the government; the university by that very act makes himself an ally of its oppressor. “Therefore, all strike action that interrupts the teaching of truth in the university hurts the university more than it hurts the government”. According to the Prelate, dictators and bad governments are the most enemies of the truth that university seeks and teaches and reminded all and sundry that modern universities owe their origins to the desire within the Church to cultivate in a group of people the search for truth as a profession; truth about God, about man and about the world.

Highlighting on the University education and the promotion of human dignity, Father Bishop said that education in general and university education in particular helps man actualize his full potentials as the image of God for it exposes him to the many dimensions of the truth – about God, about man and about the world. Such exposure according to him enhances human freedom and thus promotes human dignity. Quoting Bishop Michael Eneja, he informed the University Community that the greatest freedom you can give to a man is to educate him.

Concerning some of the roles a university should play he said “People often see the University as a place where young persons acquire more knowledge and better skills that will prepare them for specific tasks in the society of adults. And they are right”. He went further and concurred with the 19th-century English philosopher and man of letters, John Henry Newman that a University does much more than that. For him university training aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life. It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, a force in urging them.

In addition, Bishop Godfrey observed that human action and inaction are capable of lowering human dignity in oneself and in others. Given that freedom is the foremost expression of the imago Dei and the misuse of freedom or sin disfigures it, it then follows that the misuse of human freedom or sin lowers human dignity. Whereas evil actions against a person are capable of hurting or lowering his dignity, it is a person’s own evil actions that have more direct negative effect on his dignity. In other words, what a person does or fails to do is more detrimental to his dignity than what others do to him. When it comes to the promotion and enhancement of human dignity therefore, the role of the individual subject in collaboration with God is primary. Nevertheless, given the social dimension of the human being, other persons and institutions also play vital roles in promoting the dignity recognizing that dignity and by providing an enabling environment for the progressive actualization of the image of God in him, especially through education.

Truth according to the Chief Shepherd of Nsukka Diocese “is the link between the University and human dignity and to restore the dignity of man entails therefore leading man to know who he really is – the image of God – and helping him to make that image shine brightly for everyone to see. To know himself, man has to know his God and to know his God man has to know himself. As image of God, man needs to know who this God is, whose image he is. And if he knows himself well enough, he would be able to recognize the dimension in him which points back to God”. He added.

Present at the ceremony was the Vice Chancellor of University of Nigeria Nsukka, Prof. Benjamin Chukwuma Ozumba with the University team of professors and lecturers, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha, priests and religious, wife of late Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, Hon. (Mrs.) Uche Azikiwe, cross section of the UNN Alumni, traditional rulers, tutorial and non tutorial staff, students etc.


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