22 August 1999

Africa: Soyinka Wants Nigerian Universities Closed

Lagos (PANA) — Nigerian Nobel literature laureate, Wole Soyinka has called for the closure of Nigerian universities for between one and two years to enable the authorities to address the many problems facing tertiary institutions in the country.

The Cultist culture among students is one of the major problems and Soyinka at a public lecture in Abeokuta, near Lagos, accused some vice-chancellors of sponsoring and encouraging it. "Some vice-chancellors recruit members of these cults to serve as their body guards. They use them against radical academic staff union of Universities members," the renowned playwright added. He said university authorities should ask themselves "if they have fulfilled their responsibilities in curbing the destructive aspect of these so-called fraternities or the cults on our campuses."

According to Soyinka, the solution to the problem did not lie with just expelling erring students. "I propose that it is time to think of closing down the universities for a year or two. I insist that the period (of reflection and restitution) would not be a waste," he added. He said universities in the country "have been dying piece- meal," adding that during the proposed closure, researches and conferences could still go on until the social problems were solved. Soyinka, who is on record as one of the pioneers of student societies on Nigerian campuses, has often explained that such groups were formed to uplift mankind and learning in his time, and not the violent-related phenomenon, which they now represent.

In response to the worrisome cult crises on the campuses, the government of President Olosegun Obasanjo has given university managers until September to rid their schools of the problem or tender their resignations. But some academic experts say the problem required drastic remedial measures having eaten so deep into the fabrics of the system.

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