In his 1983 book, The Trouble With Nigeria, Professor Chinua Achebe aptly remarked thus:
“Our inaction or cynical action are a serious betrayal of our education, of our historic mission and of succeeding generations who will have no future unless we save it now for them. To be educated is, after all, to develop the questioning habit…”
It is this questioning habit amongst students of the University of Lagos that constrained me to pen this essay. Education, especially at the university level, is not the ability to accept everything that is pushed down one’s throat. It is rather the ability to develop a critical mindset enabling one to question and disagree with certain things. Being educated creates a striking synonym with the principle of gatekeeping in mass communication – accepting and discarding information presented for publication.
On Monday, the 6th day of March, 2017, I joined in solidarity the “Save UNILAG” protest. The protest was aimed at reinstating the eleven students of that university who were unjustly rusticated for advocating for the general welfare of students at the institution. Beyond the reinstatement of the victimised students, we had aimed to achieve a number of other issues in order to create an environment free and conducive enough for learning in an ideal world. Some of these issues include:
1. An immediate end to all anti-students policies at the institution.
2. The restoration of UNILAG’s students’ union, dissolved in April of 2016 after the union had peacefully protested against the deplorable living conditions at the university.
3. The immediate improvement of students’ welfare on campus.
4. The immediate reversal of all outrageous accommodation fees, including the fee for a fictitious laboratory.
5. To stop the brewing conspiracy aimed at victimising the 40 PhD students who wrote in protest against the hike in accommodation fee, etc.
Prior to the protest, some of our comrades had visited the university campus to sensitise the students ahead of March 6th – the day of the protest. The sensitisation included the distribution of leaflets and other relevant materials. But rather than joining a peaceful protest staged to liberate them from the shackles of oppression and tyranny, oppressed students of the University of Lagos streamed out in their numbers only to look from a distance with arms folded across their chests. But their problems were quite weightier than mere looking. A good number of them were riled, with the risible claim that we had come to disturb them.
For the past one month or thereabouts, we have been on the street telling our oppressors in clear terms that “our mumu don do”. But in what appeared to be a striking contrast, the gullible students of the University of Lagos told us unequivocally that: “our own mumu never do”, leaving the protesters with no alternative but to re-christened the institution “MUMULAG”. It occurred to me at a later time that these gullible students needed a group of well-trained psychologists to subject them under the Augean task of returning their mindsets to normalcy, for it seemed quite obvious that their oppressors had not only robbed them of their fundamental rights as guaranteed by the law, they also disarmed them of their psyche. It is a terrible state to be in, and one must commiserate with these students. I hereby commiserate with them.
A disturbing problem prevalent amongst the current group of students at the University of Lagos is that they often live under the self-delusion that they are a special breed of Nigerian students, studying at the world’s most prestigious institution and as such consider themselves too important to engage in any revolt against anti-students policies on their campus. They are so irritated by protests that they see it as a thing meant for charlatans only.
The result is that their oppressors have capitalised on the deceptive mindset of their victims, and have introduced a myriad of anti-democratic policies to prevent these victims from speaking up when oppressed. The so-called indemnity forms hurriedly accepted and signed by these “special students” is one of such policies.
At this time, reference must be made to Chinua’s remark, which had been used at the start of this essay:
“…To be educated is, after all, to develop the questioning habit.”
From the foregoing, we are left to wonder whether or not a student who hurriedly embraces and signs an indemnity form aimed at silencing him and to robbing him of his fundamental human rights can be said to have developed a questioning habit. We are further left to wonder whether or not a student at the university level who cannot protest in the face of a full-blown oppression can indeed be said to have developed a questioning habit.
It is my sustained argument that if at degree level a student remains ignorant of his inherent rights as a human being, then he CANNOT claim to be more enlightened than the illiterates.
Elias Ozikpu is an activist and author.