Nigerian universities: an intolerable anachronism
After two months of closure, the University of Port Harcourt reopened on Sunday, the 19th of June, 2016. The school was closed down following a student protest against an unfair academic policy: the insistence of the school authorities that students still owing tuitions will not be allowed to take their end of semester exams. Most Nigerian families are impecunious; and many students lack the financial means to readily pay their schools fees when due. If a student has been allowed to register for the semester, and has devoted his time, energy and resources to the academic demands and rigors of the entire semester, it is then unconscionable to stop him from taking the examinations at the end of the semester. During the protest, the school authorities called in the police, and the Nigerian police, globally notorious for its trigger-happiness and extra-judicial killings, killed two students.
The students were to return to school on Sunday, the 19th of July 2016 and to take their exams on Monday, the 20th of July, 2016, that is, the next day. To reopen the school on Sunday and have the students taking their exams on Monday was most insensitive. Was it not obvious that students that were on a two month forced holiday, on return to school, will need a little time to prepare for their examinations? To demand that they take an exam, end of semester exam, less than twenty four of their arrival to school was grossly unfair, even wicked. And what of those students who, due to unforeseen hitches and glitches, failed to return on that Sunday?
One of the conditions for the students' resumption of classes was that they sign an undertaking, promising to be of good behavior in future. What is good behavior in this context – servility, submissiveness or conformity? Good behavior as dictated or defined by who – Nigerian university lecturers and professors – supposed polymaths that have mostly lost their sense of mission? Engrossed by the hedonism and wealth-consciousness of the Nigerian society, they became too distracted by the pursuit for quick money and immediate gratification. Discontent with the modest lifestyle of their scholarly and prestigious profession, they covet the opulence of the business tycoons and politicians. Devising ways of making quick money, they stooped from the transcendence of an honorable profession to wallow in pettiness like “sorting out”, selling of handouts and trading good grades for money and sex.
A major problem of the Nigerian society is that most Nigerians with any modicum of power tend to exercise it at the expense and exploitation of others. Frazzled by this general abuse of power in the country, the average Nigerian is timid and lives in fear. He quakes in trepidation of soldiers, policemen, lawyers, landlords, employers, etc. Ordinarily, the church would have been a marvelous source of encouragement and sense of worth for these terrified Nigerians. But lamentably, the men and women that preside over many of our churches are obsessed with money and power; they have also taken to fleecing and frightening the people. With their distortions of the teachings of the bible, they dispossess their members of their money and terrify them into total submission to the personal will of the pastors. They get the people to believe the staggering nonsense that to question a pastor (an anointed of God) will bring the wrath of God on you in this life and consign you to hell fire in the hereafter. So, the church, instead of being a fount of the Truth, and thus, a wellspring of liberation from fear and diffidence, reinforces the dread and dismay of the Nigerian masses.
For the good of Nigeria, our universities, the intellectual powerhouses of the country must be devoid of the fear, timidity and passivity that pervade the Nigerian society. They should be bastions of freedom of thought and expression. For the good of the country, our educational system, especially, at the university level must discourage passivity and conformity. It should encourage iconoclasm and dissent. After all, it takes nothing to conform; any dim-witted lickspittle can conform. On the other hand, it takes independent-mindedness, courage, self-confidence, conviction, and even, powerful ego – all the qualities we should desire from the best of our youths – to dissent. It is understandable that students' youthful indiscretion, exuberance and libertine will periodically clash with the lecturers' pedantry, fastidiousness and formalism. But then, the lecturers and university administrators should be exceedingly understanding and extremely accommodating of these elements of an inescapable stage of human development that are playing out in our youths.
Lamentably, Nigerian university authorities exercise their powers at the expense of the students; to browbeat them into passivity and conformity. Not too long ago, a number of students at the Obafemi Awolowo University were suspended for six semesters for insulting a professor. You are forced to wonder the kind of insult that could have necessitated such a penalty, and if the insulted professor is a king and the insulting student a slave. The punishment was disconcertingly reminiscent of Dark Age cruelty. Although the world is many centuries out of the Dark Ages, many Nigerians academics and university administrators, despite their supposed education and penchant for the trappings and amenities of modernity, remain welded to Dark Age proclivities.
As such, they can be vicious and mean-spirited. They are puffed up, arrogant and grasping for prestige. Ironically, knowledge does not puff up. Arrogance and megalomania are characteristic of the ignorant. Knowledge sobers and humbles because the knowledgeable are dwarfed by their knowledge of the extensive body of knowledge available to mankind and the individual's ability to grasp only an infinitesimal fraction of this ineffable body of knowledge. Those that we entrust with the education of our youth, which is, by extension, the future of our country should be the civilized and enlightened. Civilization and enlightenment founded, not in number of degrees, academic titles and other prestigious frills but, in the successfully “taming of the savageness of man”.
The suspension of a student for 6 semesters for insulting a professor, the closing down of a university for two months because of a student protest, or calling in of policemen to shoot at students is savagery (barbaric cruelty). It is an anachronism, totally, out of sync with the times. The Nigerian society, as a whole, should repudiate such barbaric, Dark Age, Stone Age punishments in our universities.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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