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Education Letters & Essays

To Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: For the Change, Fun and Firm Friends

By Macdonald Ukah

Author’s Note: The following was penned on Facebook in response to the author’s impulse to lend his voice to a critical conversation begun by the identfied character: Neydu Wordsmith Onuoha. It is lifted therefrom!!!

Consistent with his reputation, Neydu Wordsmith Onuoha has already done an incredible job of implicitly highlighting the value of edutaining ventures such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Nigeria, over other ventures that might be beneficiaries of profuse corporate sponsorship, and he’s done in it in a way that rescues a morally unimpeachable but oft-repeated point from losing its lustre. Therefore, I won’t do that.

I suppose, then, that the value in being a general knowledge enthusiast or geek transcends the mere prospect of getting onto a general knowledge-themed TV quiz game show and pocketing the (hopefully) mouth-watering, economic fortune-transforming ultimate prize.

In paying my own tribute to a show that put some ‘change’ in my pocket, I would enumerate some perspectives I have developed, through observation as well as introspection, about general knowledge as endeavour and activity. Absent platforms like WWTBAM, where potential jackpot earners represent a minuscule proportion of those whose designs are ambitiously set on the winnings, let alone the legions of the disinterested or insufficiently ambitious, the potential for generating one’s livelihood simply by being a ‘walking encyclopaedia’ may legitimately be called into question.

I suppose, then, that the value in being a general knowledge enthusiast or geek transcends the mere prospect of getting onto a general knowledge-themed TV quiz game show and pocketing the (hopefully) mouth-watering, economic fortune-transforming ultimate prize. It is about something less tangible but profound. I venture to regard it as the sheer ecstasy of engaging in the process of excavating knowledge (what might otherwise be called ‘information’) and the more ephemeral form of ecstasy that derives from knowing the answer to questions that all else present at a gathering and a majority of the engaged audience do not. I’ve been there. I know. Denial serves no purpose here.

Attendant to this, of course, is a moral risk: CONCEIT, PRIDE, VANITY, HAUGHTINESS!!! All at the least contextual synonyms but each stated for emphasis, more so than redundancy. Pursuant to this is the moral responsibility to tame these impulses for among the many spiritual costs they impose, there is one consequence that is becoming increasingly evident and applies to those who do not venture to tame. It is SELF-DELUSION. I will get to it in a minute.

One of the reasons why the aforementioned four vices (we are still coming to the fifth) may ensnare the careless geek is that he is seduced by the idea of belonging to an elite group of peculiarly capable knowledge producers and consumers. He may pride himself in the head-start he may have obtained from cradle days spent laying the seedbeds for the ability and, consequently, reputation he now possesses. But should he, in this day and age, continue to luxuriate in that alleged distinction, he may fail to notice his own slippage into self-delusion.

Why? How? Well, in this day and age where, thanks in large part to social media, information appears to chase us faster than we chase it, a vast army of users are being bombarded by content. Sure, this is no substitute for painstaking, serious scholarship; and a dilettante is no expert. Plus, the ubiquity of ‘fake news’ peddlers, conspiracy theory purveyors, fringe theorists and the like make cyberspace both an inexhaustible knowledge resource and a minefield riddled with nonsense. Superimpose partisan politics, with its tendency to make one passionately defend information sources that advance one’s views and disregard others, on this canvas and the convolution tightens.

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Macdonald Ukah on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, Post-appearance Interview, November 2012 (Source: Macdonald Ukah)

However, it is possible amidst the thicket for the interested to pursue and gain, with due diligence, meaningful, truthful accurate information on all subjects by deploying search engines. Or, more profoundly, to have them thrust at you even when you weren’t looking as may be the case on this platform or on Twitter. This writer is impressed by how often he learns vast new stuff from folks – friends and non-friends alike – that his adolescent mindset may have relegated to the status of his potential students and never teachers. According due recognition to how fast information is spreading and educating people on pretty much everything is the crucial first step to climbing out of the hole of self-delusion.

So, as WWTBAM possibly retires for good, perhaps the best gift, beyond the ego boost, cash gift and fleeting name-recognition, is the people with whom I’ve become acquainted thereby. Wordsmith is one of them. But WWTBAM is only one of three such platforms yours truly has stepped on. Indeed, it was the second of three. The others were not lone ventures, but team ventures, entailing representation of one’s alma mater (at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels). The first involved camping out somewhere in East Africa with 123 of Africa’s brightest millennials. That class (of 2010) and the class (of 2009), incidentally classes facilitated and financed by Airtel in its previous incarnation as Zain, furnished me with some of the finest friendships I have ever made with people I earnestly admire.

In that spirit and in the spirit of making connections on this platform happen, perhaps Wordsmith should become acquainted (assuming he already hasn’t) with Ubaekwena Nnaemeka Rufus Jr. (Zain Africa Challenge, class of 2009) who clinched N5million on WWTBAM, with Nnaemeka Maurice Nwachukwu (also of the class of 2009) who helped him get to N2million that day and with Nnaemeka’s buddies Tolu Oloruntoba and Tunji Olalere. Could I forget Julius Arop, Tolu Babs Babalobi, Cyrus Majebi, Elaine Omozusi Iraborr, Chukwuebuka Dibie, Odigwe Michael Mikado,Samuel Darken Rhal Ugochukwu, Precious Ugoeze Iroakazi, John Chukwuzitere, Chinedu Unamba, Nnamdi Ibeanu, Ife Chiemeka Hafiz, Haruna Ahmad Khalifa, my dearest non-biological mom, Uchenna Nzewi and a host of others – too many to name – I met through that platform? Certainly can’t.

It’s been fun! General knowledge contests make learning fun. May more corporate sponsors see the light…

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