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By Olusola Adeyoose
I have lately been running into familiar faces on campus. Old school mates are back for postgraduate degrees in their numbers. You probe here and there and you quickly discover that the pursuit of an academic career is rarely the motivation for these ventures. It is usually pure survival instincts.
The university has become the only safe haven for the Nigerian youth. All over the land, the tale is the same. You graduate with smiles, hoping your degree will be a window to opportunities. But you’re disappointed down the line.
You roam the streets of Lagos. You comb Abuja. You comb Ibadan. But the stories are the same; ‘sorry Sir, there is no vacancy here’, ‘Alright ma’am we will get back to you’, but they really never get back. A year after you no longer wear polished shoes, savings from NYSC are now gone and your shoes are worn-out from the long walks.
I have seen the dreams of young people wither as soon as they are formed: ‘My children will not have to go through this when I graduate’, ‘when I start working I will take care of Mama’ but that moment just never comes.
Typically, the agony of the average Nigerian is in triple folds. For many months he is without pay in 30 to 35 years of civil service. At retirement the pangs of hunger become more real as he is denied his pension, the children he struggled to train - who ordinarily should now take care of their aged parents, barely survive, because they are denied jobs. And so the vicious cycle continues.
Poverty is perpetuated for generations and not even education manages to break it. How many of our youths still dream their childhood dreams? This is because there are no visionary leaders. This is because we are ruled by selfish elements. Our government is rich, yet the masses are poor. We have water, yet we cannot drink. We have food, yet we cannot eat. The gluttonous 1% will not allow us.
I read Professor Adesanmi’s ‘Away from Madam’, and I was moved to tears. But such is the fate of our youth. Many of our youths now pursue postgraduate degrees, after M.Sc. they do PhD. This is so they won’t be idle by the roadside, and watch as the years go by.
Those whose support bases are not strong enough simply take up menial jobs. And we have many of them in the country today. Some are motorcyclists, some are cleaners, some are errand boys and some are security men in banks and other corporate bodies. That’s at least better than stealing, as there’s the dignity of an honest job.
There were PhD holders who applied to be truck drivers for Dangote. Not for their passion for driving. It was in a bid to make ends meet. In Nigeria, there’s hardly reward for industry. It is the fraudulent and corrupt politicians that thrive.
While I was at the tap some weeks ago, I chatted with a server in one of the cafeterias in my hall. She spoke intelligently and I inquired about her level of education. I could feel her pain as she told me her story. She has National Diploma (ND) from Federal Polytechnic Offa.
She wishes to further her education and complete the Higher National Diploma (HND), but there is no money and there are of course no affordable student loans. So she sells in the cafeteria with the hope of saving for her education. They resume by 7 in the morning and on good days they close by 8 at night, all for a paltry sum. In how many years will she be able to save enough for her education? That’s a promising talent wasting away.
Another encounter I recently had was with a woman I printed some questionnaires with. She graduated from the University of Ibadan but she started the photocopy business because there was no job. Her husband would initially have none of it but she was able to convince him it is better than sitting at home all day. Profit is minimal, so she still hopes for a better job. Such is the story of many Nigerians across the country.
Even the postgraduate degrees we run are not well done. What we have are doctoral fellows with no attendance at conferences. What we have are postdoctoral fellows with no attendance at workshops. They simply can’t afford the bills and there are no travel grants; there are no indigenous scholarships to cater for them.
Yet I hear Nnamdi cry of Biafra. A Biafra built on the oil in the Niger Delta. I hear Ayo shout about Oduduwa republic. I hear Adamu threaten war against the Igbo.
And I wonder if Governor Abiola Ajimobi - whose celebration of ‘koseleri’ (it’s the first of its kind) has been more of a celebration of his feat as the first governor to serve two terms in Oyo State, than a celebration of achievement, is from the North.
I wonder if the governors, the senators, and other political leaders representing each state are not indigenous to them. I wonder if poverty - which the National Bureau of Statistics reports to be with 67% of Nigerians, has an ethnic group, or whether it belongs to a certain religion. Yet we allow the political elite polarise us across these lines.
Power truly resides with the people. But that’s if they will take it. If the masses could resist a coup in Turkey, then we can certainly demand responsible leadership from our leaders. But we need to first identify who the enemy is.
The enemy is not the Hausa/Fulani, the Igbo, or the Yoruba. The enemy is neither Muslim nor Christian; our greedy political leaders are the enemies. They are usually of our ethnic stock and they don’t wish us well. They seek our common destruction and they enrich themselves at our detriment.
Nigeria has the resources to ensure no child will die from malaria. We have the resources to ensure no child will die from diarrhoea. We have the resources to reduce maternal mortality. We have the resources to give the populace good education. We have the resources to provide good jobs for our youth. We have the resources to pay our work force. We have the resources to ensure workers retire from civil service in dignity. But our greedy leaders will not let things work.
We need to fight back, we need to resist them, we need to shame them. I do not advocate violence, as violence erodes peace. But we need to start holding them accountable; we need to start speaking truth to power.
Let them know they can’t underperform in office and come home to meet peace. Let them know they can’t steal in office, and still enjoy your support and patronage. Let them know you will ask questions. Don’t sell your voice, don’t sell your votes for brown envelopes that will only last the night.
There won’t be equitable distribution of resources, if we keep romancing selfish individuals who think only of themselves in our circles. There won’t be equitable distribution of resources, if we keep inviting these politicians to our events and if we keep decorating them with awards, in exchange for brown envelopes.
There won’t be equitable distribution of resources if students cannot hold vice chancellors of their universities - the closest public official they will probably ever get close to, accountable because they think only of themselves, and they are all too eager to graduate. As if there is a place to graduate to. Everyone thinks his case will be different. Those in front thought the same.
Ultimately, it is up to us. Whether inequality will be bridged wherever it is sighted or whether the old order will persist. It is ultimately up to us.
Adeyoose schools at the University of Ibadan, he can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.