Upon getting into the University of Ibadan, a couple of things become apparent almost immediately. One, everyone, at every single point in time, regardless of their course of study, is reading. Two, contrary to what the perception of outsiders is, UItes will always seek a means of having fun. Three, if a way to combine both academics and entertainment exists, people will always be seated to be entertained and of course, learn. Nowhere else is this intersection of intellectual exercise and entertainment more actualised than Jaw War, the Inter-Faculty and Inter-Hall Debate Competition.
Billed as “the largest Public Speaking event in Sub-Saharan Africa”, Jaw War is the Premier University’s premier event, drawing audiences from all over the institution and beyond. In the last two editions, it has even grown to include an Inter-Varsity Contest, and is ardently followed by non-UItes who are enamored by UI’s style of public-speaking. Needless to say, in its own right, Jaw War is ‘as UI’ as anything else. And if publicity for Jaw War 2024, the UI at 75 Edition, is anything to go by, this year’s will be yet another grand instalment of the debate series. But what does this mean for the participants and the outcomes of certain draws? And judging by the more recent editions, how much of the tradition of Jaw War has to be retained? This, we shall explore below.
Who Stands Out?
The rivalry among constituencies, specifically halls, might appear extreme to outsiders, looking in, but to anyone who has passed through the university, it’s just sport. Although, for the Sultan Bello Hall and Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome Kuti Hall, it might be more. Both halls met at the final last year, with the Ayo-Salako brothers proving too strong for the eventual Most Outstanding Speaker, Michael Barnabas, who broke the record for the most five minute speeches (5) in a single Jaw War outing, and now Faculty of Law Literary and Debating Society President, Chineke Ugochukwu.
This year, Bello will be looking to avenge their loss as they take on Kuti once again in the preliminaries. Their Armoury includes stalwart, Fabarebo Victor, Chineke Ugochukwu, former Renewable Natural Resources L&D President, Martins Ajewole, and his replacement, Oladipupo Idris, and new boys, Emmanuel Adeola, Asiwaju Habeeb, and Okikiola Mojoyinola, who was 2nd place at last year’s Rookie Oratory Contest, and has appeared on quite a few other stages since then. On the other hand, Kuti appears to be the weaker side, with the departures of Ayo-Salako Faithful and Okusanya Goodness, the Overall Best Speakers in the 2021 and 2022 editions, respectively. But if there’s anything their recent performances have shown, it’s that they do not need ‘established’ names to win competitions. At the 2023 Bello Bilaterals, for instance, the duo of Abidoye Joshua, and Morakinyo Temidayo, floored their opponents from Bello, in what was easily the best performance of the night. Perhaps, history will favour Kuti once again, like it did at the 2016 Jaw War Final, but based on the current depth of speakers, we foretell a Bello swoop.
The next match-up is between Kenneth Mellanby Hall and Queen Idia Hall. In the last two editions, both halls have had to endure first round exits, with Idia enduring a rather painful one in 2021 after losing out by a very slim margin to Queens Hall. Currently, the Idia Hall L&D appears to be on a rebuild, led by President, Boluwatife Aboderin, a third-year Communication and Language Arts Student, and Vice President, Oluwaseun Omitola, who snagged three titles in 2021 (Winner, Lord Tedder Hall King of The Podium Improptu Contest, Barrister Adebowale Inter-Hall Oratory Competition, and Queen Idia Hall In-House Debate). They also boast of Jesse Oluwakunmi, former TLDS President, Williams Neyen, and the fiery Eguaoje Joy, although it is unknown if the latter two will be speaking this year. Mellanby also appears to be on a rebuild of their own, having produced the runner-up at the UI SU Freshers Oratory Contest and, second runner-up at the ASIDO Oratory Contest (Nwokolo Courage), held last year. They are led by third-year Medical student, David Akinjare, and another medical student, Adeyemo Peter. If the performances of both halls at the last Jaw War are anything to go by, then a Mellanby victory looks to be the more likely outcome, speaker-dearth notwithstanding.
Certain things are constant in life: death, taxes, and Queen Elizabeth II Hall facing off against Nnamdi Azikwe Hall. At Jaw War 2023, Zik stunned the world by getting into the semi-finals, but then lost dismally to Bello afterwards — consequence of an in-house leadership crisis. However, in the preliminaries they had dispatched the Queens on both legs, with the first leg being particularly hard to watch as Queens’ first speaker stuttered considerably. This year, nothing suggests that there would be any change to the outcome. Zik’s induction exercise held sometime in October, featured more than ten new speakers, and with the quartet of new hands, led by President and multiple-award winning speaker, Bodunde Ebenezer, Vice President, Tijani Abdulkabeer, Speech Coach, Oluborode Daniel, and General Secretary, Olanrewaju Oyedijo, and members like the TLDS General Secretary, Ogonna Okere, and Winner, Best Orator, Sir Ifeanyi Atueyi Inter-Varsity Debate and Essay Contest, Somtochukwu Obirija, they appear to be darkhorses in this year’s contest, and could pull off a repeat of last year’s run. Queens on the other hand only boast of a few known faces like TLDS Vice President, Owadayo Olabisi, President of the Hall’s Literary and Debating Society, Anita Babatunde, and President, Basic Medical Sciences L&D, Abigail.
The match-up between Alexander Brown Hall and Lord Tedder Hall is another interesting one for a few reasons. For those who remember, they had previously faced off at the final of Jaw War 2021, with Tedder emerging champions, and Clinical Sciences also losing that same evening. As such, this could well be a ‘vengeance’ call of sorts for the men and women from ọgba. But to do that, they would need greater firepower than what was showcased at last year’s outing, where they lost both preliminary legs to Kuti. Recent activity within the society suggests that there’s a new crop of speakers, as they produced the best speakers at both the qualifying round (Folashade Olajuwon) and the final (Precious Idiaye) of the ASIDO Oratory Contest. Outings at Word War and King Of The Podium — both organised by Tedder’s L&D — also suggest that Tedder are still a force to be reckoned with despite seeing two of their prominent speakers exit. The trio of President, and three-time Jaw War winner, Olayide Bolaji, Captain of the UI British Parliamentary Debating Society, Habeeb Abdul, and serial winner (Tech Bilaterals, King Of The Podium, Law L&D), Idowu Ademola Focus, pose a formidable threat to any hall. It would be interesting to see how both halls line-up for the preliminaries. This is a tough one to call but we think Tedder has the edge.
Finally, there’s the Great Independence Hall versus Obafemi Awolowo Hall. On paper, this is all but clear in Awo’s favour as far as recent performances are concerned. Awo has gotten to the semi-finals of the last two editions of Jaw War, producing the Best Female Speaker in both years (Aisha Yusuf, 2021; Obisesan Nafisat, 2023) and the Best Rookie Speaker in 2023 in the person of Lilian Osunwa. There has also been a noticeable transition in the quality of speeches from emotion-driven angles to more logic-based arguments. With a squad that includes the aforementioned three, President and Winner, Best Public Speaker, All Nigerian University’s Debate Competition, Ajadi Mary, Runner-Up at the ASIDO Oratory Contest, Sapphire Mclaniyi, and rookies who dominated at the Bello Bilaterals, Awo is quite easily the hall to beat at this year’s Jaw War. This is not to say that The Only Living Hall is no good as they also boast of solid outings at recent events, having emerged winners at the Lord Tedder Hall King Of The Podium (Ochi Maduabuchi), Queen Idia Hall Inter-Hall Oratory Contest (Elechi Ifeanyichukwu) and third-runner up at the ASIDO Oratory Contest (Ogunleye Moboluwarin). They are led by Eriomala John, a third-year medical student, and Vice Presidents, Adebayo Abdulrahman — 3rd place Best Debater at the All Nigerian University’s Debate Competition — and Orekeyi Justice. They will also be missing a number of speakers who have graduated. Perhaps, Indy will pull off a surprise this year, win against the Awoites and break their semi-final hex. We’ll see.
What Stands Out
For what it’s worth, Jaw War has not lived up to potential in its more recent editions. To begin with, Jaw War is meant to be more of an intellectual exercise — ‘edutainment’, if you will — rather than a setting for inflicting jabs and insults in the guise of banter, but the latter has been the norm. Despite repeated warnings by the TLDS and Judges, speakers from both halls and faculties still hurl hurtful ad hominems, attacking everything from toilets to cafeterias to personal appearances. Even at last year’s final, speakers hurled cleverly written jabs at each other. The problem here is four-fold: One, judges themselves do not seem to be interested in docking points for such statements and on more than one occasion have scored such speeches highly. Two, fans also seem to be uninterested in clean, insult-free speeches. Local Press Organisations are complicit in this, in that they circulate punchlines which are in poor taste and ignore the points argued and other witty lines. Three, speakers having observed little changes in status quo, are instead encouraged to double down on such lines, as evidenced by speeches at recent events like the Bello Bilaterals and Tech Bilaterals. And finally, outsiders soon assume this to be the nature of UI public-speaking, and follow suit whenever they have to compete here.
Furthermore, there’s the major problem of Jaw War year-in, year-out: sound. It’s quite frustrating to hurry down to NFLT on a hot afternoon so you can get a prime seat for a program that’s meant to start by 3 PM, only for said program to begin by 5 PM with sound that barely registers. Last year, despite promises from the TLDS at the Jaw War Press Conference, the situation didn’t change and it wasn’t until the Semi-Final at the Social Science Lecture Theatre, that sound finally got resolved. Speaking of which, the fact that NFLT remains the venue for this year’s Jaw War is a cause for concern. Year after year has shown that the acoustics in that venue aren’t the best and also, it is usually poorly aerated.
The final hindrance to Jaw War fulfilling its potential is the judging. On more than one occasion, speakers have come out to publicly complain about discrepancies in the scoring process. These poor judgements skew the results of debates and demotivate speakers from putting in better or even equal effort. It’s understandable that judging even at its most objective, would carry some level of subjectivity. However, in some cases objectivity appears to be of so little importance that it’s ridiculous. Also, there’s the blatant display of bias certain judges seem to exhibit. It’s why, for instance, on three scoresheets, two would be within the same range, while the third would be far removed, prompting questions on what metrics the third judge used. If public-speaking in UI is to evolve, all of this – and more – have to be modified, or at least changed completely.
If We Are to Stand Out
Thankfully, the situation is not remotely bleak, as far as these flaws are concerned. There’s still a lot of room for growth. And what better beginning than Jaw War 2024?
For starters, the TLDS Senate (which consists of TLDS executives and Presidents of each of the Hall and Faculty L&Ds) has a duty to ensure that speeches presented are at best, totally devoid of insults or attacks on persons, and at worst, minimised. It’s already a few days to Jaw War and not much might be adjustable for preliminary speeches, however, in subsequent stages, constituencies must hold themselves accountable and ensure that quality isn’t sacrificed on the altar of ‘persuasion’. The TLDS Senate must be commended for reverting the marks for ‘Persuasiveness’ to 10 and re-introducing ‘Logic’ on the scoresheet. This will help to reduce focus on crowd-reaction, without sacrificing the flair and entertainment that we have come to associate with our beloved Jaw War.
On sound and the choice of venues, conversations with past TLDS executives have revealed that this is primarily a function of the budget. As a non-profit body, the TLDS’ income is limited to dues from constituencies, and has to make up this deficit by sourcing for sponsorships, partnerships, and donations. Fundraising, being what it is, in today’s Nigeria, isn’t the easiest of duties and this then reflects in the quality of sound that the society can afford. Already, the Society has made a call for sponsors and partners, so if you or anyone you know has a suggestion, you can reach out to them.
With regard to the venue, there’s a need to consider other lecture theatres or halls within the school, as long as these can be afforded. This is the University’s largest event. People shouldn’t have to leave the Hall after every round of debates just so they can breathe better.
Finally, if the Judges Conference held on the 12th of Jnauary, was anything to go by, there should be changes in the nature of scoring at this year’s Jaw War. However, in the event that isn’t the case, senators must not be deterred from bearing their grievances and insisting on having judges who will maintain the spirit of fairness and balance. Timely arrivals also have to be the norm for both the judges and the speakers.
As we prepare to ‘Stand Up, Speak Up, and Shut Up’, our focus should not only be on winning and supporting our own, but also contributing in whatever capacity we can to ensuring the success of this most vital of forums. In other words, let us try to make Jaw War 2024 stand out. Ut optimum dioecesibus vincere!