BY DOMINIC KIDZU
The University of Calabar has been smelling for many years with a breathtaking pungence that is axphixiating, which has caused thousands of intellectual fatalities. The excrescences of its decadence can perhaps only be compared to the social miasma that was the subject of Ayi Kwei Armah’s scatological novel, The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born. The fabric of the institution has been ravaged by the god of easy money, for easy grades, and easy degrees. Degrees that are ultimately worthless in the job market and the hall of intellectual competition because the holders bear no resemblance to the degrees they hold beyond the first and surname on the paper it was printed.
Most of the students take selfies all day long on Iphones, drink and smoke during the day and attend clubs and drinking bazaars in the night. While the lecturers and the course representatives are engaged in mathematical computation of the inflow of cash for grades in the most brazen affront to academic pursuit that I have yet heard of. There are undergraduate students from the institution that simply cannot read and write anything related to their course of study but who are freeloaded into the next class upon the payment of a secret fee. Many faculties had become notorious cesspools of bribery and corruption where one could walk in with a load of cash, travel for the next four years and return for the convocation. And it has been as bad as that!
The lecturers are nolonger ashamed of it. What is there to be ashamed of in a system that helps one to build a good house, buy a good car and produce good living for the family. Afterall, everyone is doing it, they moralise, civil servants and the politicians too. And so they continue to smile all the way to the banks with their conscience wrapped in black nylon bags containing rumpled Naira notes while their products end up forever holding the can. And the University of Calabar is not alone. But the University of Calabar is the subject of my enterprise because it is my alma mata and is located in my state.
Although the Irish epigramatist, Oscar Wilde, posited about the year 1885, that “education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time, that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught ” quality and comprehensive instruction and just measurement by the teachers inculcates the right discipline in the upbringing of our young ones, as Alexander Pope seems to have countered that ” a little learning is a dangerous thing, drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring. There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain.” There should be no compromises in the production of a university graduate because he represents both the university and himself and it is by the degree that the standard of his capacity is set, and most of his life’s fortunes will depend on the knowledge and expertise he displays in his field of study throughout his life’s work. No father, mother or teacher can be proud of what is happening to our educational system today. I am certainly not proud of it. So who will bell the cat and put a stamp of respectability to the University of Calabar and the thousands of graduates it churns out from its factory line year in year out?
The new Vice Chancellor of the university is trying to do just that and there has been a tumultuous pushback from all those who have been harvesting mushroom from the rot and decadence of the recent past. There is a civil war raging on in the university between the forces of corruption and those of purification. Once people get used to getting away with murder, they will begin to believe that killing people is a legitimate enterprise, that ‘sorting’ is the normal order of education and graduating without opening a textbook is as okay as the sun rising from the East and setting in the West.
There has been a huge loss of illicit revenue to all manner of staff in the University of Calabar, money that flowed freely into their kitty from students who are hardworking and those who are not, because Professor Florence Obi has resolved to stamp out corruption and return the university to its glory days, just as it was when I graduated from its ELS department in 1988 with pride and belief in the system that processed us. As youth corpers we easily defeated loud and proud graduates of older universities in the debates that were held at the Orientation Camp. That was our Unical! When comes such another?
And before you call me a Boki man, like Professor Florence Obi, which I am proudly one, let me remind you that when the contest for the university’s vice-chancellorship was afoot, I pitched camp with Professor Ayara with whom I had worked in Liyel Imoke’s administration, and wrote an excellent article extolling his virtues and suitability for the job, against all expectations that I should be supporting my townswoman. That article was titled PROF NDEM AYARA NDIYO: THE MAN WHO THE CAP FITS and was widely published on June 23, 2020. (It is still available on Google). I have neither congratulated nor visited Professor Obi since her victory over my friend. I write what I believe to be true and right, at all times, never minding whose ox is gored or where one comes from or doesn’t come from.
The rumpus at the university today has much less to do with the marginal increase in school fees than the loss of revenue to lecturers through deliberate policy initiatives that have helped students to return to the classrooms to read at night and made the examination processes impregnable and inviolate. No change however positive was ever accepted easily, that is why children cry and cringe from the syringe even when they know that it will make them well again. That is why we continue to rebel against the removal of fuel subsidy that we are aware will free up huge funds for economic development.
The Computer Based Test for GSS students, for instance, means that at least 10,000 students are nolonger available for ‘sorting’ every semester.
The work of the Quality Assurance staff who sign every page of the custom – printed answer booklets and cross all empty spaces with red biro pens on it as soon as the student submits the answer sheets means that such students can no longer return to the lecturers to rewrite the examination in their offices and negotiate cash for grades.
The online course registration and result processing system has now ensured that examination results are posted and viewed by the students immediately, thereby eliminating the time lag between finishing the programme of study and ‘doing clearance’ for one or two years with sums ranging from 200,000 to 300,000 according to the size of the greed of the examination officer.
My private investigations reveal that ncreased school fees by the University administration is as follows:
Year 1: From 35/37k to 69k
Year 2. From 34/35k to 47k
Year 4. From 30/35k to 56k
Is this really why people want to commit suicide? And why commentators are urging the students to embark on a riot and burn down the institution? EndSARS protests decapitated the hostels in the university right down to pulling away the conduit wiring from the walls, ceiling fans and switches leading the authorities to impose a surcharge of N4,500, which has raised hostel fees from N16,500 to N21,000. Is this why students want to commit suicide and lecturers are holding midnight meetings with students to burn down the university?
I have a serious concern regarding the 3,000 workers who were said to have been employed at the sunset on Professor Zana Akpagu’s tenure and I think the administration should take a second look at the matter and try to resolve their plight. Many no doubt procured their appointment letters from the business centres opposite Small Gate while others paid sums of money ranging from N300,000 to N500,000 to buy the jobs. It is time for the authorities to review its stance on the issue by sifting the grain from the chaff.
The University of Calabar belongs to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and represents the oil wells that Cross River State no longer have. It is therefore our bastion of strength and legitimate heritage. No group of people or interests, however powerful, should threaten its good health and standing, no matter what personal loss the recent changes have wrought on their personal economy. We all have a stake in the institution and cannot sit by and watch its forceful demise from the hands of those who are resistant to positive change. This is the time for all interest groups in Unical to hold hands and deliver the dream of the founding fathers. Let greatness be the mark, let accusations not be the game. As somebody wrote of Sir Francis Bacon that “…there were men in his own time and there will be men in all times, who are better pleased to count spots in the sun than to rejoice in its glorious brightness” There is a dire need for all to set a standard of brotherhood, of friendship and of cooperation in the University of Calabar.
•Dominic Kidzu is the Special Adviser on Information to the Governor of Cross River State.