opinionBy Florian Haenes
A visiting student at University of Abuja last year recounts how his lofty dream of meeting high academic standards were shattered. Instead, he engaged with frustrated students, tired of being unheard.
It was a moment of relief when I finally met him. A short, elderly man in his white agbada, wearing a hearing aid that makes him easily identifiable. For more than a month I tried to meet Prof. James Adelabu, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja (Uni-Abuja).
He had to approve my request to be a visiting student in the Department of Political Science of the University of Abuja. Little did I know he would come to represent a symbol of the rotten system that was once supposed to be an academic institution.
When I made my choice to come to Uni-Abuja I thought the university would meet high academic standards and did not expect it to suffer financial straits as the capital city's university. This was an illusion. In Abuja, Nigerians and international actors gather to distribute the national cake. In this land of exclusive lifestyle, Uni-Abuja was a fake university with fake lecturers teaching fake students.
People in the university all know someone, a minister, a senator or a businessman. They all have the connections. Some students have never written exams by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and some lecturers have never published an article in an academic journal.
Students who have the money but not the mental capacity, courage and diligence to study in Cambridge, Oxford or Harvard, buy a first degree, second degree or PhD in Uni-Abuja. During examinations, the sizes of classes doubles in population. 'Big boys' and 'big girls' who didn't consider it necessary to attend one lecture briefly come to write their exams and disappear again.
The financial gains of the "production company for certificates" are collected by the people who are currently ruling the "enterprise". A friend who has been in the university for five years said that the first semester usually takes longer than the second one. She alleged that the university administration was selling admission until a few days before the examination period for N500.000.
It is not only allegations of bribery that fly around, even sexual harassment. An active committee against sexual harassment, like in other universities, does not exist in Uni-Abuja. I remember a conversation I had with a female student. She had just learnt about her disastrous result in one course. She told me she felt she had performed very well in the exams and was shocked that she failed. Then she started crying. Later I discovered the lecturer in question was popular for having "many girlfriends" on campus.
These are few cases out of many I had heard of. Money or sexual service is exchanged for admission, a certificate or a good mark in an exam. It is the academic quality and the student's dignity and right that suffers under this system.
A student union, which could be a tool to enforce student's rights is denied, viewed and stigmatized as a tool for cultists. The students, doubtlessly the constitutive part of any university, are silenced and kept like livestock of a cattle farm.
While there I heard many say they want the vice-chancellor sacked. I predict that if he is sacked, nothing will change. During the recent strike of the Abuja chapter of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) a lecturer simply told the class that the reason for the protest was that "VC chops everything alone". A strike with the imperative "We also want to chop" doesn't sound as though the rotten system of Uni-Abuja is questioned by the majority of the lecturers.
I sympathise with the people who want to oppose the rotten system of Uni-Abuja. I have met students and few lecturers, who came to the university with high hopes but found themselves trapped in the system. Many of them are now rising up against a school administration that is powerfully entangled with the big politics. When I visited the universities of Ibadan and Jos briefly, I witnessed how humble and dedicated academics defend the institutions against attempts to transform them into a national cake.
And even though I have officially left the university, the opposing students in Uni-Abuja have my support and they should have the support of all Nigerians.
Florian Haenes is pursuing a first degree in Political Science at the Free University of Berlin.