It is approximately a month away but you don’t feel it as much as you can see it. Heading into the university from the endlessly occupied Agbowo Express, you spot, standing several feet above you, a mass of black plastic. It extends from end-to-end on a billboard, veiling what is certainly signage on the institution up ahead. Inside the campus now, the streetlamps seem to have acquired a fresh hue. Sky blue. Not fluorescent or ash-coloured metal. The university is turning 75 and it is high time we all knew it.
2023, But Time Seems To Move Slower Here
Let’s begin with infrastructure. It’s been a while since the technology fee was introduced, assuring students of fairly seamless connectivity and access to data.
About four years on, it is still routine. Same complaints with the necessary infrastructure seemingly anywhere but beyond the level they were at all those years ago. In Halls of Residence, equipment resembling those used for setting up WiFi networks appear to be barely more than decorative fixtures.
The student populace is still unclear about the extent to which their tech fee payments have helped in fueling access to the internet on campus. While there has certainly been access to university data subsidization programmes in the past, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, those efforts have been few, far between and wanting in terms of the requisite scale for campus-wide connectivity.
There is also the persistent matter of the school’s digital platforms. Most interestingly, during the Students’ Union elections in the previous session, glitches in the use of the platform prevented voting from running seamlessly. Once also, the website was taken out of action by bad actors.
The vulnerability of these important channels by which students and external audiences alike interact with the university demonstrates a need for an overhaul of our online architecture. Added to these are persistent problems with the result management system, prompting the issuance of new access links everytime there is a fault with the old one. While there is really little by way of standards to compete against in the Nigerian public university space, it is still of utmost importance that elements such as digital infrastructure which create impressions about the first and best university in observers’ minds receive pride of place.
Away from these, however, there is an atmosphere of censorship in the university. A very recent case in point is the Students’ Union congress held on the 14th of October, 2023. There, only a few hundred students – a couple of hundreds shy of the constitutional number required to form a quorum and an astoundingly tiny percentage of the overall student population – showed up. On its own, that points more to a general apathy towards unionism among the studentship but considered alongside the reluctance of students to openly voice their thoughts on social media or register valid complaints, one begins to wonder whether it is not another indication of a potential problem.
Granted that it is necessary for students to realize the importance of constructive unionism, one whose first instinct is not a tour of rampage, the question of the necessity of hardline measures to control expression via other means still stands. It is popular knowledge among the studentship these days that there is little to no reward for outspokenness.
If anything, you should be more bothered about graduating quietly than treading a course of reformism. But even that is not the problem still. The real problem here is the existence of adequate channels of engagement with the authorities.
There is no disagreement as to the value of the Students’ Union in this regard also. However, where the overwhelming climate is one of fear and derisive scepticism, even that value seems to hold no water in students’ eyes. It is simple. If the bulk of the information you receive is that you are likely to be sanctioned for expression, it does not matter that you could have plied the bureaucratic route of engaging with the union instead. What matters is that you believe that union leaders themselves are not necessarily excluded from these same sanctions and might, due to their awareness of that fact, be less bothered about carrying your cross.
It is a narrative problem, one that suffers a scarcity of recognition and, quite naturally, solutions to engage it. If the Times Higher Education ranking is anything to go by, it is clear to all that the premier university consistently reigns premier in the hierarchy of Nigerian institutions, but maybe less satisfactorily so to students who feel unheard. But that is just one take.
A supplementary one to this trajectory of thought would be relatively underground commentary on severe approaches to markers of the current age. By that, we mean expressions through art and fashion. Now, this is a dicey topic, given the potential that the instantaneous defenses would be the difference between Nigeria and the West.
But there are extremes and we surely must recognize that. While certain norms may qualify as unacceptable to our conservative tendencies, others, such as haircuts or specific modes of dressing are really just a lengthy stretch to include in that number. World views are evolving rapidly, particularly as formerly excluded streams of opinions are beginning to emerge.
Young people, women, minority ethnic groups, all now converge with differentiated voices describing new ideas of their own paths. Again, perhaps an iron fist would not work in engaging these.
Recognizing the dynamics of a changing world and adapting to create platforms for young people to actualize within it might be a much more appealing strategy. Within the strict confines of the university, the argument is quite thin. But when considered in light of the outside world and the influences permeating through the networks created by technology and international travel, resistance is a vain effort. To the extent that these measures are effectively temporary and quite frankly, only bound to yield performative results, transforming into that training ground that nurtures students ahead of their emergence into the mainstream leapfrogs the university by a great distance.
Learning To Change…
One thing impresses strongly on the minds of UItes when they think of the costs of their education and that is the quality of facilities. These are ancient complaints. From unequal access to electricity, inadequate water supply, overall appeal of hostel accommodations down to the equipment for science and engineering-oriented courses, there is none that university has not heard before. And equally none that it has not provided a response to. Since it is then established that the problem here is not the abandonment of maintenance routines or efforts to upscale, it is logical to scrutinize the sustainability of solutions themselves.
One way to look at this is through the lenses of funding and the mechanisms used to secure it. Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention to the news lately would understand that the entire idea of the Students’ Loan Act and the consequent move to increase education costs stem from the inability of the government to continue funding education. Even when it was not so bothered to create new policies, public institutions had to make do with barebones allowances to stay in operation. Thus, it makes absolute sense that in the absence of its primary financier backer, the university explores other means to thrive. The most recent approach it tried was the proposed increment in fees. That did not stay around for very long, though there are subtler yet noticeable upticks in expenses here and there.
And while the legitimacy of these increases is still hotly debated in both the university and others, a novel piece of information would be activities of the UI at 75 committee. The bulk of the details remain unclear but it would appear that students should expect a raft of innovative measures aimed at bolstering the university’s financial muscle. The committee itself comprises stakeholders across student and management spectrums, the idea being a reflection of diverse views on advancing the academic environment. Available snippets of information include sustainable, long-term designs on the maintenance of critical learning facilities. Others would also be the organization of events intended to strenghten students’ competence.
However, until clarity is obtained through a proper release at the upcoming official inauguration of the 75th-year celebrations, analysis of these measures is constrained.
Still, if the theme was indeed fashioned to hold any promise at all, then, perhaps, to a certain level, we can carry hopes that we are changing to learn.