BEING TEXT OF SPEECH BY PASTOR ‘TUNDE BAKARE ON THE OCCASION OF THE 1ST NATIONAL STUDENTS’ SUMMIT, COURTESY OF CAMPUS LIFE PROJECT IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIAN STUDENTS (NANS) & REACH OUT INTEGRATED ON SAT. OCTOBER 3, 2015 AT THE UNIVERSITY OF LAGOS (UNILAG).
THEME: Campus Life Decay: What Went Wrong?
I am happy to be among you today, especially following the recent celebration of Nigeria’s 55th year of independence. I am also happy to be back at my Alma mater the University of Lagos. While my happiness is understandably constrained by the decadent realities of the society in which we have found ourselves, I nevertheless thank the organizers of this event for their timely intervention and invitation.
Our theme for today’s lecture is “Campus Life Decay: What Went Wrong?”, which I will illustrate with a story titled “The Parable of the 8Ps”. Please lend me your ears as I take you on a journey.
Once upon a time there was a Personality. This personality embodied all that it meant to be African at the time. He was born in an era of subjugation by imperialist forces and christened in a sociocultural environment that branded his kind inferior by reason of the colour of their skin; he was bred in an international politico-economic context that thrived on denigrating him because of his continent of origin. Nevertheless, he was conscious of the uniqueness of his African spirit – a spirit defined by hope, community, virtue, discipline and moral rectitude; by an uncompromising sense of justice, zero tolerance for oppression, a radical opposition to the subjugation of the weak by the strong; and by respect for those values upon which peaceful and stable societies are founded. And so, this personality became the conscience of society and the flag-bearer for truth, justice, and the movement for the liberation of the African people.
This personality was groomed by a Parent entity who, at a time, had walked in the same shoes as the personality, had experienced life in the complex and evolving socio-economic context, had himself developed and stirred up revolutionary instincts, and fanned the flame of liberation with his tongue and ink. As a thinker, this parent entity generated thoughts that could strengthen the fabric of society and ideas that would guide humanity through the journey of civilization. Committed to passing on the baton as though in a relay race, this parent infused the personality with character and knowledge, with capacity to survive the complexities of the environment, with the mandate to leave the world better than he met it, and the charge to pass on the torch of civilization to the next generation.
This interaction between the parent and the personality commenced and was consummated in a unique Place – a place that shone as a great beacon light of hope to communities and nations, a place that modeled the aspirations of the African continent, a place that attracted the best and the brightest and facilitated their ascendance into the status of the intelligentsia, a place that welcomed diamonds in the rough, polished them and brought out their hidden lustre, thereby transforming them from rejects of society to leaders of nations, a place where the mind was mined, where ideas were milled, where lives were moulded and the destinies of nations were minted.
This unique place that facilitated the interaction between the personality and the parent entity was governed by a Principle – a principle that has found expression in various creeds, in diverse ideological orientations and in myriad cultural inclinations – a heavenly principle with earthly application. In the various institutions that housed the unique place I have just described, this principle was captured in flowery mottos. In the very first of such places established in our nation, it was couched as “recte sapere fons”, which means “for learning and sound judgement”. The same principle was phrased elsewhere in the words “for learning and culture”, in some other place as “knowledge and service”, in another as “to restore the dignity of man” and in yet another in Arabic inscriptions which reminded the reader that “the first duty of every university is the search for and the spread of knowledge and the establishment of the nation.” In one of such unique places which produced yours truly and on whose ground I stand today, the principle is captured in the deeply philosophical yet pragmatic phrase, “indeed and in truth.”
The meeting of this personality and the parent entity in this unique place coincided with a Period in the life of this personality – a period characterized by drive, adventure and passion, with little care for risks; a period of optimism and an insatiable quest for knowledge and evolution.
These were the first five Ps in the glory days. However, over the years, overtaken by the vicissitudes of the socio-political and economic environment, the “personality” has largely become a victim of circumstance and a shadow of itself. The “parent entity” is now associated with extortion, victimization, molestation and violation of the personality in this story. Over time, the “place” has evolved into a hub of cultism, a den of prostitution, an axis of violence and a centre of mediocrity; with the passage of time, the “principle” has been corrupted and has been replaced by ignorance and falsehood; and the “period” of life is now associated with purposelessness, laziness, directionless enthusiasm, the uncontrolled love of pleasure, the lack of vision and the absence of restraint.
I guess you may know by now who or what the first five Ps represent, but, in case you are still wondering, I will tell you: the personality is the Nigerian student, the place is the Nigerian campus, the parent entity represents the academic and non-academic staff, the period of life is youth, and the principle is the idea that knowledge of the truth sets free.
It is quite apt that today’s discourse is hinged on the “place”, that is, the campus, because the place is the melting pot of the personality, the parent entity, the principle and the period of life. The campus is an interaction of people, structures, cultures and behaviours in an atmosphere defined by the quest for, and the acquisition, accumulation, and dissemination of knowledge.
However, before I turn my attention to the “place”, I must add that this quest – the quest for knowledge which defines the campus environment – is what sustains the quality of youth such that youth becomes not just a period of life but a Pattern; a sentiment John F. Kennedy captured in the following words: “This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.” This quality of youth has often given rise to another “P” that is relevant to our discourse today – the culture of Protests. The connection between student-hood and the inclination to protest perhaps underscores the Power of an enlightened mind. These are the last three Ps – the “pattern” of life-long learning, the culture of “protest” and the “power” of an enlightened mind working together as progressive weapons in the arsenal of the inhabitants of the campus environment.
As I have told student gatherings in the past, an enlightened mind is more likely to demand its rights than a mind that is kept in the darkness of ignorance. In the words of Henry Peter Brougham ”Education makes people easy to lead but difficult to drive, easy to govern but impossible to enslave”. You have to have an enlightened mind to realize that the power you face is the power you perceive. In other words, the oppressor’s power is your perception of his power; the oppressor’s power is first conceived in your thoughts and the source of his power is in your mind. If you do not think that a man has power over you, he has none. It takes an unblocked mind to realize this and knowledge is the key that unblocks the mind. This is why in the words of Edward Everett ”Education is a better safeguard than a standing army”. The campus therefore, being a hotspot of knowledge, is a breeding ground for a radical breed that is opposed to an undesirable status quo and is ready to challenge it, no matter the risks involved.
Whereas Nigerians had long begun to earn degrees and higher diplomas from foreign schools before the advent of the Nigerian campus, the Nigerian campus had its origin in the Yaba College established in 1932. That campus however offered only vocational subjects, made provision for only male residents and was designed to churn out the workforce for the British government and private companies. However, the Yaba College was met with criticism, resistance and activism from the Nigerian intelligentsia – graduates of foreign higher institutions who had experienced better educational conditions in Europe and America. We must take note of this as we examine the current decay on the Nigerian campus because those who experienced campus life in its glory days or in more favourable climes may be more inclined to observe the depths to which the Nigerian campus has sunk and may be more equipped to engineer a process of rebirth. The activism of the Nigerian intelligentsia culminated in the creation of the University of Ibadan, the transference of the staff of the Yaba College to that university, and the consequent rebirth of the Yaba College as the Yaba College of Technology. The University of Ibadan in its glory days was a centre of attraction for African and even non-Africans students. Once, in America, I came across a highly sought-after medical specialist who was also the Chief Medical Director of a state-of-the-art hospital in America. He told me he was trained at the University of Ibadan. That quest for standards, which attracted the best in terms of faculty and students, also defined the academic component of campus life in the other universities referred to as first generation universities including the Obafemi Awolowo University, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ahmadu Bello University, my alma mater, the University of Lagos and the University of Benin. However, although various university rankings place a handful of Nigerian universities among the top 50 on the continent, there is no gainsaying the fact that Nigerian universities have been generally overtaken in quality by those in countries like South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and even Burkina Faso. One cannot but agree with President J.F. Kennedy that ”Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education”.
Besides academics, the standard of living has generally plummeted. When I was a student on this campus, we were allocated decent rooms with a maximum of 4 persons in a large, comfortable room with bathing and toilet facilities. We had access to affordable meals and laundry services. Most of all, the economic environment was predictable and one could make accurate projections on financial needs and then budget accordingly; but I understand that a typical Nigerian university now accommodates ten or more persons in a room and that students have to fix windows, doors, mattresses, electric fittings and so on, in order to make their rooms fairly habitable. I also understand that students now act as middlemen, obtaining hostel accommodation illegally in connivance with officials and leasing bed spaces and rooms at exorbitant prices. I understand that students of this university recently protested the deplorable state of hostel accommodation especially as regards their tattered and bed-bug infested mattresses. I also recall with sadness that Oluchi Anekwe, a very promising Accounting student of this school, recently died when a high-tension wire fell on her as she walked back to her campus residence. I recall with disgust the moral degradation on our campuses brought to the fore recently when a lecturer of this hallowed university reportedly raped a student, the teenage daughter of a supposed friend – and had the temerity to rest on the claim that it was consensual; a claim which, though I refrain from adjudging as the case is sub judice, brings to light the height of depravity and irresponsibility among some lecturers in higher institutions who reportedly condition the award of grades on sexual gratification from female students and pecuniary appeasement from male students.
What more shall I say about the reign of violence on our campuses as cult groups unleash terror against one another and against hapless fellow students? Or about the prostitution syndicates into which female students are reportedly recruited to gratify “aristos”- the stinkingly rich but stinking money-spinning political and economic rogues in our society?
What about the collapse of student unionism in Nigeria? How did an institution once revered for its positive contribution to nation building become weak and powerless? How did an institution which was once powerful enough to put an end to the Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact in 1961 become voiceless? How did an institution that became Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s major ally in the denouncement of the fabricated 1973 census results become a by-word? How did an institution that made an unforgettable mark in the 1978 Constituent Assembly become emasculated? How did an institution that rose as one entity to fight the neo-imperialism of the Structural Adjustment Programme to a standstill and to challenge the June 12 annulment become a divided house with factions being mere appendages and stooges of corrupt politicians?
I’ll give you a simple answer – the place has been infiltrated, the personality has been polluted, the parent entity has been perverted, the principle has been corrupted, the pattern of life has been deserted, the protest has lost its power and the period of life is being squandered.
The infiltration of the place, which became the foundation of the decay, should not take us by surprise because the campus is part of society and exists in relation to it, not in isolation from it. Like I once told students in Ogun State on the occasion of the International Students Day in 2014, the Nigerian campus exists in at least 4 dimensions in relation to the Nigerian society. Because that speech is very relevant to our discussion today, I will quote from it even though I advise that you visit www.tundebakare.com to access the full speech. Meanwhile, the four dimensions in which the campus exists in relation to society are as follows:
- The Campus Exists as a Subset of the Decadent Society
A subset is a part of a larger group of related entities. The campus is situated within the socio-economic decay in the nation and is part of the moral decay in the larger society – whether local, national or global. The moral depravity, the collapse of foundational values, the infrastructural decay, the cultism and violence and the acclimatization to mediocrity one finds on campuses today simply constitute a part of the grimy conditions of the larger society. The campus as a subset will inevitably be infiltrated by these decadent conditions unless the subset is immune from the other institutions within the society, which is the universal set. These institutions include family, religion, media, the economy and government. Because these institutions feed the campus, the decay on campus is traceable to these institutions. It is the result of fathers and mothers failing on duty; it is the result of religious leaders being consumed by the greed for gain and failing to play their roles as the watchmen of society; it is the result of the media saturating the airwaves with depraved content in music, movies, literature, dance and the other arts; it is the result of what I call a Babylonic economic system that thrives on the blood and souls of men, sacrificing family values on the altar of profit.
I will speak on the role of the government shortly but let me first state that societal vices are pronounced in the campus environment because of the congregation of youthful energy. It was Myles Munroe of blessed memory who once said that when the purpose of a thing is not known, abuse is inevitable. The failure to deploy youthful energies in productive and progressive ventures has, inevitably, led to the diversion of those energies to vices and the consequent pronouncement of decadence on the campus environment.
- The Campus Exists as a Consequence of Bad Governance
I believe that we are on the verge of good governance in Nigeria given the smooth transition of political power to a new government through what I call the PVC Revolution, that is, the Permanent Voters’ Card Revolution that ensured that the voice of the people was heard in the last elections. I worked behind the scenes to ensure that the voice of the people was respected. I have continued to work behind the scenes to facilitate the success of the current government as it earnestly seeks to change Nigeria. This does not mean I have changed my position on the correlation between the quality of governance and the state of the campus. The state of the Nigerian campus is largely a product of public policy, particularly policies on education and infrastructure. Years of neglect of these sectors by the military and the outgone political era contributed largely to the decay. I must state therefore that the desired change in the sectors will take time to manifest and that the rate and extent of change will largely depend on the quality of persons that will work with the current government especially in terms of character and competence. As we build our expectations, we must not forget the fact that government is much more than the federal executive arm and includes the legislature and the judiciary as well as government at the state and federal levels.
- The Campus Exists as a Microcosm of Poor Quality Governance
A microcosm is a community, place or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature terms the characteristic qualities of something much larger. While we often tend to complain about the quality of governance outside the campus, we must not forget the quality of governance within the campuses. An assessment of governance within the campus beams the searchlight on the Vice Chancellors and their Deputies, the Governing Councils, the Deans, the Heads of Departments and the lecturers. It also scrutinizes student union governments at all levels from the departmental level to the university level and, further than that, to the national level.
We need to talk about the corruption that exists in the governing councils of some Nigerian higher institutions and how some of these councils have become an extension of the rotten politics in the nation; we need to talk about the inefficiency of faculty and departmental administrations, how that in some universities, years after graduation, students’ certificates are not prepared and some results cannot be found after such students have spent time and resources going through the rigours of lectures and examinations for four years or more; we need to talk about the poor record keeping culture of some higher institutions as well as their faculties and departments; we need to talk about the poor customer service in some offices in some higher institutions of learning including those offering Customer Relations as a course; we need to talk about the victimization of students by lecturers because they believe they have the power of the Grade Point or GP; we need to talk about the molestation of female students by lecturers and the extortion of students in the name of handouts; we need to talk about these things because they are a microcosm of the bad governance in the larger society. You have no right whatsoever to complain about the ills of society if you breed these ills right under your nostrils.
We also need to talk about the poor self-governance among students. It is a shame that students would even need to protest over bed-bug infested mattresses. While I completely sympathize with students over the poor infrastructural condition of the university and the generally deplorable conditions of living, I would like to remind you that poor hygiene is the cause of bed-bug infestation. I would like to remind you that, over time, the dilapidation of facilities is caused by abuse; I would also like to remind you that it is lack of self-governance on full display when you sell yourself cheaply for grades or offer yourself for prostitution, thereby mortgaging your destiny for material reward that cannot satisfy; I would like to remind you that violence and cultism are merely cover-ups for deep-seated fear and personal insecurity and further evidence of the absolute lack of self-governance.
We need to talk about the catastrophic quality of governance in the student unions with due respect to the few exceptions; we need to talk about how the corruption, aggrandizement, violence, incompetence and cluelessness among Nigerian politicians have become the characteristics of politics and leadership among students on campuses. We need to talk about the shameful endorsement of Obasanjo’s third-term agenda in 2005 by the National Association of Nigerian Students then led by Kenneth Hembe. We also need to talk about how student union leaders in different universities would scramble to share largesse from Nigerian politicians rather than speak truth to power. Before you talk about the profligate spending of politicians in your state capital or Abuja, you need to talk about how student leaders budget millions of naira for phantom phone calls.
How about the religious institutions? When I was a student on this campus, there was one major fellowship – the Lagos Varsity Christian Union (LVCU); but now, there are as many fellowships on campus as there are churches on the streets and the fellowships are as powerless and helpless against the ills of the campus society as are the churches and mosques on the city streets.
So when you ask what went wrong, the answer is simple: The society has replicated itself on the campuses!
- The Campus Exists as an Extension of Poor Quality Governance
As I said last year during the occasion earlier referred to, I find nothing wrong in mentor-protégée relationships between established politicians and student leaders just as that kind of relationship is expected between leaders of student religious groups and religious leaders outside the campus as well as between student would-be-professionals and captains of industry or marketplace icons. As a student activist, I was a member of the youth wing of the Unity Party of Nigeria here in UNILAG called The Dyna Club alongside my friend Gbenga Daniel. I was also on the podium with Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the big wigs of his party the day UPN was launched in Lagos. As young people, we followed Awolowo because of the philosophy of governance he espoused and demonstrated. Had I not been schemed out of victory in the University of Lagos Students’ Union presidential elections, I might have been ULSU President in my day and I would have extended the sagacious leadership style of Awo, who was then my mentor, to the campus environment and its radius of influence within the polity. As a student would-be lawyer, I was a protégé of Chief Gani Fawehinmi and I slept in his chambers when I was a student in law school.
What I find disheartening, however, is the hijacking of student unionism by political godfathers with the aid of their student conspirators who go on to extend the bad governance records of their godfathers within student union circles and beyond, including rigging student union elections, deploying violence, and making themselves perpetual or never-graduating students in order to continue to feast on the perks of office much like their sit-tight political godfathers.
I believe therefore that the campus has become decadent because it is a subset, consequence, microcosm and an extension of a decadent society. It might be argued, though, that the reverse relationship is the case and that the larger society has been affected by the state of the campus, making it much like a chicken and egg situation. In this regard, reference might be made to the fact, for instance, that militancy in the Niger Delta was influenced by campus cultism, which itself had intellectual roots, drawing inspiration from fraternities and sororities in North American universities. However, this line of reasoning ignores the fact that those North American fraternities were inspired and even facilitated by occult influence in those societies in which such campuses were situated. Furthermore, the violent and voodoo based occultism that has characterized Nigerian campuses has been influenced by the interaction of the campus with a superstitious and voodoo inclined society. Therefore, invariably, the decadence on the campus is a reflection of the state of the society.
Nevertheless, this reverse perspective could be inspired by the fact that the campus does have the power to produce thought leaders who can shape society. We must bear this in mind as we seek solutions to the deplorable state of the Nigerian campus with the question: How then can the decay be reversed?
First, the other institutions, the stakeholder institutions which supply raw material to the campuses, including the family and the religious institutions (churches and mosques) the government, the media and the economic stakeholders, must make a fresh commitment to the rebirth of campus life in Nigeria.
Secondly, the campus must take advantage of the change that is in the air – the change created by the PVC Revolution. We have a new government that has demonstrated its readiness to create a new order and to build a Nigeria that works. I therefore admonish the campus community with the admonition of Apostle Paul in the 19th verse of the 6th chapter of Romans:
“…For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” (NKJV)
Just as you had once been a subset, a consequence, a microcosm, and an extension of the old societal order, you must now connect with the change in the air and become a subset, a consequence, a microcosm and the extension of the change that is here and is unfolding. As Nigeria begins to experience good governance, let the Nigerian campus also become an embodiment of good governance at every level.
Thirdly, even where society fails on the promise of change and is unable to model the change we need, the Nigerian campus must rise to the challenge and return to its role as the light of hope. It is not for nothing that the academic environment is referred to as the Ivory Tower. In light of this nomenclature, the campus must provide direction to the society rather than become engulfed by the darkness in its environment.
Furthermore, in relation to the vestiges of evil in the new order, the dignity and sanctity of the campus must be preserved. In this regard, gate keepers must arise to defend the campus gate. By the campus gate, I mean the seats of authority on the campus, and by gate keepers, I mean leaders. Leaders in every facet and at every level of the campus environment must rise to purge the environment and stop societal ills from penetrating the campuses. It is what I call the Goshen Principle, derived from the experience of the Israelites when Egypt was plagued. The Israelites, who were then resident in Goshen, were insulated from the plagues. The leaders must become change agents on the campus, first by modeling impeccable character, and then through the right policies and administrative competencies. A campus that is immune from the ills of society is possible.
I therefore charge those who among you are called to be salt and light in a dark and decadent world to rise and shine – to restore taste to your environment and to light up the world. Bring back the dignity of the Person of the student; bring back the respect and sense of responsibility of the Parent entity – the academic and non-academic staff of our institutions; bring back the glory of the Nigerian campus – the Place of learning and creative experiences; bring back the veracity of the Principle by re-enacting the fact that knowledge of truth will make men free; bring back the glory and strength of youth – that Period of life that propels the wheels of civilization; bring back the Pattern of life-long learning and bring back the Power of the Protest until justice rolls down like water and righteousness flows like a mighty stream on our campuses. And then, indeed and in truth, our campuses will become centres of moral excellence where lives are moulded and destinies are shaped; our higher institutions will become pinnacles of academic excellence extending the frontiers of knowledge and spearheading breakthrough innovations in the African and global knowledge space; our universities, polytechnics and Colleges of Education will become world class Ivory Towers feeding the policy round table with wisdom and judgment. That era is coming and that era is here.
Thank you, God bless you, God bless the University of Lagos, God bless the Nigerian Campus, and God bless Nigeria.
Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare
The Latter Rain Assembly, Lagos, Nigeria
The Convener, Save Nigeria Group.