22 December 2012

Nigeria: Dream Squashers, Devils in Academia

The three previous columns have opened the floodgates of bitter stories from our academia. It seems everybody has a story to tell. I've decided to share two of the most poignant ones here. If you have similar stories, please email them to me. In the meantime, here are Abbey and Super K'waro:

When we started IJMB in CAS Kano, we met someone whom we later nick named Super K'waro due to his exceptional brilliance. Super K'waro was excellent in all science subjects (especially mathematics); this made our lecturers feared saying in the class anything of which they were not sure. He always unsettled them with probing questions. And his English was so impeccable even at that stage, despite been from a rural area - a village in Jahun LGA of Jigawa State.

He was older than all of us in the class. One day he showed me his secondary school results and it was about 12 Distinctions! I asked him what kind of result was this that has more than nine subjects. I had never seen Grade II certificate until then. At the end of IJMB, Super K'waro, as expected, had one of the best results, and was determined to proceed to ABU Zaria and to chemical engineering or electrical electronics. He suffered seriously in the process.

Everywhere he went he was knocked back, they said he was a Grade II product (only fit for teaching career). At the end, he came back to Kano after losing three sessions (years) making attempts at fulfilling his dream and failing in all those attempts purely because he was carrying an excellent Grade II result, not WAEC. In BUK his travail changed a bit. He was given admission, but to read mathematic education and to start from level 1 instead of level 2 befitting the qualification of his IJMB result. During his time in BUK, he was so good that in every test or exams he would score the highest among his peers, in the math related subjects.

Many times, his scores were hundred percent in math exams. The department of mathematic in BUK found out that the person with the best result in his set in level 1 was not majoring in mathematics but in education, so they called him and promised that they would fight for him to be allowed to study a B.Sc. math instead of B.Ed. math. That did not happen, because, some wicked people still capitalized on his Grade II result to scuttle that attempt. Super K'waro would have effortlessly graduated with a First Class in Bsc math, but he managed to get 2-1 with sweats because he could not produce similar excellent results in the numerous mandatory education courses he took. Anytime I see Super K'waro, I see a classical picture of how players in the academia in Nigeria gang up to scuttle a beautiful dream. There are many Super K'waros who are victims of this system.

But why do we kill the dreams of brilliant chaps? Can't we learn something from the US university system? Another friend, Dr. Mustapha M. Mustapha, wrote the GRE as a pre-requisite to get admission for Dr.PH in one of the universities in the USA. He had already saved his hard earned millions to pay for the tuition fees and other expenses. When the university saw his exceptional GRE scores, it offered him full scholarship to read Doctor of Public Health. Dr. Mustapha is distinction personified. I have seen all his results which he scanned and sent to a friend. What's instructive was that the university didn't see him before seeing the potential in him; they wanted to develop that and be proud to share in his success. But it was the same Mustapha who Jigawa State Gov't denied the chance of being a BUK lecturer; which the university announced as part of his package for winning all the available awards in Faculty of Medicine in his year of graduation. Why is it different in Nigeria? I am beginning to see wisdom in the famous Nobel laureate James Watson's controversial assertion!

Dr. Ibrahim Musa, Kano

I also want share a story. When we were in CAS Kano there was a friend of ours we called Abbey. The guy was a 'super kwaro' very brilliant and with aim of becoming an accountant. The guy is Yoruba from Ibadan; he passed out with one of the best results in CAS: 15 points (economics, management, government).

BUK denied him admission because of the stupid catchment area policy; all efforts by some of us to help were futile. He tried University of Maiduguri, but there were also some brick walls and was denied admission.

I didn't hear from him until when I was in 400 level in BUK. Being one of his best friends in CAS, Someone directed his father to me at Idris Garba Hall. Abbey pretended to be in BUK and his dad kept sending money to him every month. He did not visit his parents for almost four years. His father was shocked beyond words when I told him the truth.

Abbey eventually got my number many years after we graduated. He said he was still in Maiduguri managing his mechanic shop at Hausari. With the crises in Maiduguri I doubt if he is still there. I cried for Abbey, wallahi I knew that guy had potential but his dream was killed because of our failure as a nation.

We were always doing group discussions together; he trained us very well and encouraged us to read widely. When CAS went on strike for seven months out of the 10 months' programme, I wanted to quit and to try my luck the following year owing to the limited time and the number of study areas to be covered. Abbey visited my late father with his friend Abdul (an Igbira guy) to convince my dad to use his influence to force me to continue with my studies. Eventually I passed with 12 points; the rest is now history. Other friends may still remember him, the guy loved rogo da kuli.

Mohammad Alhassan, Abuja

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