From the Historian’s DeskReview of Orngu Africa Orngu. Being a Student in Nigeria: An Undergraduate Experienceand Review. Lagos: Bahiti & Dalila Publishers, 2015. 290 pages. Reviewed by Charles H. Eypper, M.A.Historian, The American Church in Berlin (Germany)
The work under review here, Being a Student in Nigeria: An Undergraduate Experience and Review (2015), is a ground-breaking exposé of the educational system in Nigeria and specifically the situation in Nigeria’s universities. It is written by Orngu Africa Orngu, a former Nigerian university student and first son of our American Church’s Orngu Africa Orngu. Africa’s son’s first-hand experience of Nigerian university life gives the volume an air of vibrancy and authenticity that other works dealing with the inadequacies of Nigerian universities lack. This important work would have greatly benefited from a much more thoroughgoing editing than it received. This and the double-printing of pages 257-260 should not however detract from the real value of the work and its call for urgent and overdue reform of all aspects of the university system needed to bring higher education in Nigeria up to international standards.
Dr. Terhemen Aboiyar, Chairman of the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science and Deputy Dean of Student Affairs at the Federal University of Agriculture in Makurdi, Nigeria (where Africa’s son got his Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Technology) has contributed a forward highly recommending the book to everyone interested in what it takes to successfully complete a university education in Nigeria. The book discusses in detail six vital issues, each receiving a chapter: 1) Students and the Nigerian University System, 2) Student Unionism and Activism in Nigeria, 3) Campus Politics, 4) Student Financing (Scholarships, Grants, and Loans), 5) Student and Social Vices, and 6) Students and National Development. The text of the major chapters (one, five, and six) is accompanied by color photographs. Tables are used to support the text in several chapters. There is a comprehensive list of up-to-date references (to 2014) at the back and an index.
In chapter one we read that since the first five of Nigeria’s universities were established (1960-1972), there has been a literal explosion of university-building, and the country can now boast 129 federal, state, and private institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately not all have the same standard, and all have problems of one sort or another. In general all the problems revolve around 1) the enormous number of students attending and 2) money.
Hostel (dormitory) accommodation is woefully inadequate, a room designed for four students being occupied by over twenty. Lecture halls are overcrowded, with many students sitting on window sills or on the floor. Laboratories originally fully-stocked with equipment and chemicals now suffer from shortages of everything, turning them into only theoretical centers, since practical work is no longer possible. This chronic overcrowding has several causes, many of them social, cultural, or just criminal. Some professors get rich securing admission for children of wealthy families; university officials sometimes offer admission to young women in return for sexual favors; those at the top of the military, financial, religious, or political power structures have admission spaces reserved for candidates of their choice. All this, combined with fraudulent admissions tests, results in many who are not qualified gaining admittance. Admission has become a big business. Despite an increase in federal funding, a special tax on the larger companies earmarked specifically for higher education, and constant increases in tuition, university infrastructure still remains inadequate. This has resulted in a dismal series of student and faculty strikes which occurred almost annually between 1970 and 2013.
Chapter two introduces student government, called “Student Union,” consisting of an executive, a legislature (or, parliament), and a judiciary. This offers university students a forum for leadership training in practical politics. Out of this ultimately grew the National Association of Nigerian Students, an idealistic activist organization that takes stands against “the wrongs in the society and agitates for transparency and good governance.” Being a student activist, however, has its downside, as one risks missing a lot of his or her academic program. One must be a good student academically and have good time-management and planning skills. The author was able to keep up and served as secretary of the Dalhatu Tafida Hall Executive Council at the Federal University of Agriculture in Makurdi and in 2010/2011 represented his Hall as Parliamentarian on the Student Supreme Council. After the devastating civil war, the then military government in 1973 organized the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), which organized students, who after graduation would owe the country one year of national social service as a way to help rebuild and integrate the regions of Nigeria.
This leads into chapter three, which covers the whole range of “campus politics.” Candidates sometimes accuse opponents for a position of malfeasance in order to disqualify them during the security check process. Bribery of those counting the ballots does occur. Candidates are from or supported by cultural, tribal, college, or faculty associations, social and religious groups, major student activists called “stakeholders,” and “cults,” which are often simply gangs. The stakeholders sometimes exchange their support for female candidates in return for sexual favors. “Cults” are not above intimidation in support of the candidate of their choice. The fear of unemployment after graduation causes many elected student leaders to embezzle student funds, even those meant for scholarships, to tide them over after they graduate and do their year of national youth service. The author makes a call for increased government efforts to provide employment for graduates. He also makes a plea for government loans to those graduates with entrepreneurial skills to start up their own businesses.
Chapter four introduces ways students can fund their university education. Before 1990 undergraduates at Federal universities paid no tuition, but as prices rose student funding did not keep up and is today woefully inadequate: “some state governments do not offer their students sufficient financial support to purchase a single textbook,” while federal funding is “so highly politicized that most Nigerian universities have no beneficiaries at all!” In addition the grade-point average is set so high for these federal funds that many students simply cannot qualify. On the other hand, private universities require students to pay for tuition, room and board, and incidentals like books, all of which puts “an enormous burden on parents.” Africa calls for an urgent governmental review of policy “to alleviate the suffering . . . and ensure that our youth have a quality education to help in national development.” He recognizes, as some state and local officials are coming to realize, that “an active and educated population is the foundation for national development.”
In chapter five several social vices are discussed which impact very negatively on students’ attempts to get a university education. These include: membership in “cults,” which encourages gangsterism and other illegal activities; campus prostitution, as female students are farmed out to businessmen and politicians by campus pimps, often male undergraduates; and alcoholism, hard drug use, and chain smoking. All of these vices are seen to point to the moral decay in Nigerian society. Over 115 students and teachers were murdered by “cult” members between 1993 and 2003; even walking around campuses is not safe after dark, especially for female students because of the danger of rape. The author makes a good case for “peaceful and lawful” penal legislation with “capital sanctions” against cultists to make “cultism” unattractive. And he calls for universities to encourage sports to keep students busy and out of trouble.
Poverty is most frequently the cause of campus prostitution, and the author castigates university authorities for not having measures in place to “stop this ugly trend,” and he pleads for wealthy and prominent citizens to stop enticing female undergraduates and for religious, social, and political bodies to take action through sermons, seminars, retreats, talks, and workshops to advertize the negative effects (HIV-AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and extremely poor academic standing) of this scourge, in an effort to eliminate it. But he recognizes that good moral values begin in the home, and calls on parents to instill in their children the norms of proper behavior, in speech, deportment, and dressing.
The real value of Africa’s son’s work lies not only in the shocking exposure of the heartbreaking shortcomings in the Nigerian university system and its infrastructure, but also in its call in chapter six for urgent and overdue reform of all aspects of the university system, whether infrastructure improvements, instructors’ salaries, student accommodation, or funding of needy students—all of which are required to bring higher education in Nigeria up to international standards. The value of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is emphasized. The author worked with this organization as a student during the 2011 voter registration and election exercise, in which he was an Assistant Registration Officer II. NYSC members bore the brunt of tribal misunderstandings of the vital role they were playing in keeping voter registration and the elections open, free, and fair for the first time in living memory. Some were mistreated; several women members were raped; and there were nine murders. Nonetheless, the author feels, the fact that students from one state or region are sent to do social service for a year in a different part of the country, can only help ultimately to overcome the tribal, linguistic, and cultural barriers within the country and pull the heterogeneous populations that comprise Nigeria together into a truly integrated federal state. With this the reviewer completely agrees.
The Author: Orgnu Africa Orgnu
(c): Orgnu Africa Orgnu