DAY LIONESS AKUNYILI ROARED AT HER ALMA MATER
She mounted the stage amid tumultuous ovation from an anxious audience that had arrived many hours before the scheduled time. As she went through the rituals of protocols which she said was very peculiar to Nigeria, the professor of pharmacy exuded Nigerianess and radiated patriotism dressed simply in Nigerian textile material as has been her style.
Seated beside her, was her dear hubby, Dr. Akunyili who symbolized an antonym of the age honored aphorism that; 'behind every successful man, there is a woman'. Dr. Akunyili was then seen as a man behind a successful woman.
Prof. Akunyili held her audience spell bound speaking like an oracle, caring mother, grand mother, patriot, epitome of womanhood, a passionate and ardent believer in the greatness of Nigeria and its good people.
In the tradition of the University of Nigeria, its female students and products are called lionesses and their male counterparts lions. Akunyili is an alumnus and was at her alma mater as guest lecturer.
The event was the University of Nigeria 30th Convocation Lecture. Prof. Akunyili was speaking on the topic: Rebranding Nigerian Universities, a topic which is akin to her pet project; Rebranding Nigeria. The minister, who was a 1973 set in UNN, went down memory lane recalling the past glories of universities and lamented that they are now cocoons of their former selves. She contrasted what was in those days and what is now and stressed the need to reverse the present unacceptable scenario hence, the urgent need to rebrand our university system. Akunyili rendered her topic in twelve sub-divisions and a conclusion.
In this write-up, we shall dwell on two - Rebranding Nigerian Universities and Internal Corruption In Higher Institutions. Professor Akunyili did not hide her contempt for the decay in virtually all core values that Nigerians once cherished and held very sacred in this country. 'There is impunity and decay in virtually all core values that we once held very sacred in this country. The Nigerian educational system in general and the universities are no exceptions', lamented the minister. Recalling with nostalgia how many parents and students in the olden days preferred Nigerian university education to foreign ones in spite attractive foreign and Nigerian government scholarship schemes attached to them, Ankunyili said her love for the country did not start now. According to her, she shunned the invitation of her uncle who lives in Canada to come over to the country for her university education.
'I remember how spacious and comfortable our classrooms were, how manageable the number of students in each class was, how I had a microscope to myself in a laboratory: a weighing balance, a kymograph and many other facilities that we either had individually or shared in groups of just two or three' recalled Professor Akunyili.
'I remember how easy it was to go to the medical center to see a doctor and get medication in less than two hours. I remember how we dressed neatly and smartly giving us that look of a typical 'under grads' the name we used to proudly call ourselves. I remember how we respected our lecturers most of whom earned our respect. We look up to them as demi-gods'.
Akunyili did not spare anybody in the university system including universities in her corruption charge. According go her, 'All our educational institutions have the problem of internal corruption to contend with. The corruption comes in the form of compulsory levies, sale of hand-outs, poor project conception and execution, 'sorting' - (payment of money by students to obtain marks'.
Addressing the dress habit of undergraduate students, Akunyili recalled how they dressed decently, neatly and smartly in those days which gave them the look of typical undergrads, the name which they had adopted for themselves. She also recalled how cultured they were and how they took their studies seriously because it was the only way then to secure admission, graduation and passport to prestigious career and a brighter future.
'When you walk into Nigerian universities today, you will be embarrassed by the dressing of the students. Our young guys wear tattered jeans and call it style. Our young female students are either over-dressed or indecently dressed, looking like call girls going for disco parties. This situation does not help the mind set of randy lecturers. Little wonder sexual harassment is becoming one of the sad stories in our universities today.
Akunyili did not only expose the decadence in our tertiary institutions. She prescribed remedy for re-branding. 'To reverse the unacceptable scenario, we need to re-brand our university system. This is why the government of Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, is devoting time, energy and resources to improve our educational system. To address the hydra-headed national malaise, Akunyili said we have to look at the indices that made a good university in the ideal university community and the intangible elements of scholarship and administration. Such a system must be well positioned to contribute actively to national development.
The minister congratulated students referring to them as representatives of 'the tomorrow' of our collective dreams and a generation on whose shoulders rest hope, pride, and future of our great country Nigeria. She then urged them to imbibe the following virtues: obedience and discipline to constituted authority, dedication and service to humanity, hard work and prayer, time management and endeavors, avoidance of membership of cult group, transparency and honesty, humility and patience, avoidance of smoking and excessive use of drugs.