“Everyman sent out from a university should be a man of his nation as well as a man of his time.”—Professor Woodrow Wilson.
In Nigeria, it never rains but pours. Nationals have perhaps become inured to the travesty of having sordid events replace one another in manners that suggest fiery competitiveness. Media houses must be smiling to the bank. I’m sure they’ve found it impossible keeping up with the deluge of happenings in the country. Ordinarily, the thoughts of the nation becoming a vast newsroom should not elicit worry. In a feel of capitalistic adventurism backed by the reality of the people to relish in the misfortunes of others, media entrepreneurs proclaim good news as no news, causing both the digital and print media to go on weeks, nay months-long outings without breaking a single story that could elicit smile on the face of the nation.
If herdsmen aren’t butchering some hundreds in the middle-belt, kidnappers would be on rampage in the east; if thieves aren’t on a murderous frenzy in the north-central, tax-sponsored thugs would be on the loose harassing abiding denizens below the Niger. For keen observers, the tragedy lies in the rush to cement Nigeria as the foremost theatre of the absurd. It’s a gloomy reality, one exacerbated by the twin cultures of indiscipline and impunity that appear to have made our country home. It’s a sorry existence for the children of the Lugardian experiment!
While the people were still trying to grapple with the motivation of President Buhari to seek re-election having presided over a nation that has turned into a vast morgue, the cloud of shame hovered across the ancient town of Ife. The news spread like wildfire, causing the social media to rage in fire and fury over the record of a conversation between a female student and university professor who could be heard trading marks for five rounds of sex!
Conscious of the prevailing atmosphere in our universities, this development would not have made the Ife university bat an eyelid save the anger that comes with the new media for it is not obviously the first, but the most recent. In the end, historians would reckon with the social media as the most revolutionary produce of technology. The tragedy of Ife resonates amongst everyone who have had the (mis)fortune of passing through the Nigerian school system. The reality is that universities being the peak of structured learning makes a case for our discourse, for the victimization and debauchery that manifest via sexual predation begins from the very first day a student (mostly female) enrols in a school.
Just a couple of months ago, a little girl indicted a teacher of a private school to the consternation of the whole world, supplying copious details of how he inserts his ‘wee-wee’ inside her ‘wee-wee’. If this could be happening in the elementary level of education with little or no consequence, should it be of surprise that universities parade teachers who are emboldened to prey on the innocence of students who could be said to be of age?
What has happened at Ife is an indication of the failure of the university to have formal, professional structures for students to air their grievances and frustrations. Had such been in place, the student in question would probably not have bothered to go the extra length of recording the conversation she had with the randy lecturer, an act that has subjected her own school to national and international opprobrium. The University of Ife should learn from this. There is an urgent need to strengthen the Quality Assurance and Counselling units in our universities. It has become a routine in serious societies for mutual assessments in classrooms. While teachers assess students, the latter do the same in terms of quality of teaching and professional conduct. It is the height of dishonesty for our universities to borrow university autonomy, funding, and other self-serving arrangements from foreign lands while frowning on practices that strengthen the worth and dignity of their existence. Strategies must be put in place for students to asses those that teach them. Students must not be forced to suffer in silence. In the end, we may inadvertently be saving not only students but members of staff from threats that may come from colleagues and students alike.
The university is supposed to be a model for the society. Unfortunately, years of exponential decay have made for an encroachment of societal malice into our citadels. Once our schools became closed societies, delving injuriously into narrow strictures of morality and embracing a hypocritical brand of imported religiosity, the stage was set for the erosion of the core values that buoy universities across the world into realms of ideas and freedom. This is why each time a ban is placed on students’ unionism, men of vision shake their heads in wonderment of what remains of the intellect of players in the academic world. The students’ union is supposed to be a formidable platform for articulating students’ grievances and needs. But with universities foolishly falling over one another to kill unionism, is there any wonder that students have found solace in self-help?
The Ife tragedy is one reason why the world views the academic certificates that come from this shore with caution, with some waving it aside as products of transactional offering. It is for this reason that an example should be made of the professor on the other side of the line should he be found guilty. The reputation our schools have garnered over the years as glorified cathouses lies at the centre of the Nigerian affliction. Already, Nigeria is in the doldrums. Efforts must be made to remove her from the sorry ditch she occupies. OAU should take the lead in purging our schools from transactional teachers. The Ife Varsity should take up this challenge of making away with characters in perpetual need of bread and breast.
The Nigerian state should not see this development as being internal to OAU alone. There should be an urgent need by the ministry of education to professionalize teaching by ensuring that no one holds a chalk in both public and private schools without a license to teach. One advantage of this is that in the event of a breach as could be the case with the OAU professor, the license could be withdrawn, making it completely impossible for the offender to find employment in any school irrespective of level or ownership.
The Ife tape puts our universities in a jungle-like predator-prey space. It stands as a sorry replica of Nigeria and her penchant to slide merit beneath salacious acts. The reality of our institutions of higher learning that makes it almost impossible to have a graduate being unable to relate with a case of sexual harassment or financial inducement speaks to the level of rot that has been made to fester in our knowledge industries. The consequences are overwhelming. In times past, politicians shiver at the mention of university teachers and religious leaders. But with the notoriety of both institutions to covet the devil for pots of porridge, receiving four fingers for every one they point at the national thieves, the nation is left to descend further into the abyss.
The Ife tape is a product of bold thinking. It is a wakeup call to young Nigerians who are victims of academic victimization, political oppression and economic exploitation to adorn boldness in confronting the evil yokes put ahead of them. The young student is deserving of our collective support. She needs to come out boldly to assert her place in her fatherland. The singular fact that government pays university teachers from our collective purse makes the act of sex-for-marks or money-for-marks a case of professional debauchery and misconduct.
OAU had better not treat this issue as a pig shit on a white blouse that must be allowed time to dry before scraping off. At the heart of this malice is the arrogance that comes with teacher-student relationship on campus. The posture of academics to see students as inferior makes a case for the oppressive culture that has become commonplace in our schools. Recently, a lecturer was reported to have assaulted a students’ union president at the University of Ilorin. How about the English lecturer at the University of Lagos who held a cane in class, asking students who were late to kneel?
It is not unusual to hear lecturers tell students how inconsequential their opinions are when it concern their colleagues. Students must realise the strength they have as a collective entity. They must make lecturers enforce their calling as loco parentis on campus. Teachers must realise once and for all that once students leave their homes for school, they have, by virtue of their positions assumed the roles of their parents.
Universities are unique for housing the most men of intellect in one place. It is supposed to be an abode of people who bring the problems in the society for experimentations and reflections in the hope to proffer solutions. As it stands, our universities have joined the list of problems we need solutions to.
And when the solution becomes the problem, may heaven help us all.
Modiu can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org