By Edidiong Udobia
Greatest “rice and cow” Nigerian students – Great!
Somehow, politics has become a General Studies (GST) in our tertiary institutions. Should we cry? Nope. Like the biblical David, we should rather tear our apparels into pieces and swing into wild jubilation. Our hearts should be filled with boundless joy. The children have decided to painstakingly learn and gain practical experience in a trade most of their fathers joined accidentally. What was hitherto, an extra-curricular activity, has become a basic requirement in our schools’ curriculum. Today, students are more concerned with meeting the required CGP in school politics than graduating from school regardless of the grade. Sadly, me and my kind, who were not privileged to attend schools where politics is allowed, are complete misfits in this part of the world. Between “them” and “us”, are many years of experience that “we” will probably not catch-up. “We” just cannot understand the desperation for political relevance among students in public tertiary institutions and young school leavers – you know why? I’ll tell you.
Legend has it that once, a mother took her child to the farm. While in the farm, the child watched the mother as she was tilling the farm at random and did know why the mother was doing that. So the child decided to ask. “Mom, why are you digging the ground?”. The mother looked at the child and said, “Child, when you grow up, you will know”. Like that little child, until “we grow up”, me and my kind, will not know why young people have replaced academics with politics and subsequently choose the later as a career choice. But in order to have a surviving chance, “we” have chosen to live by the law of competitive advantage – “we” choose to stay at the cutting edge of our profession while leaving politics for professional politicians (as they call themselves). So, understand how uneasy it is for me to address this subject matter.
“The Lost Tribe” is a 2010 American horror film about five friends who were on a business trip to Asia but, somehow got lost on their way and found themselves on an island. One after the other, they were either killed or taken by the unseen assailants in the jungle until there was only one of them left to battle for life. Reality check shows that there is a section of students within the students’ community in Akwa Ibom, who are literally a lost tribe. Like other students within the community, these lost folks were once on the right path – they probably also went through the usual rigorous pre-admission process like meeting the required grades in WAEC, NECO or whatever examination they rounded off their secondary school education with; the struggle to meet JAMB cut-off mark, passing the post UTME screening and others. They went through all that just to get a chance to have a shot at higher education. Back then, then all they thought about was education, education, education.
Education. That’s usually the initial force that drives everyone to school, but once, people successfully pass the school gate and are certified to learn within the four walls of the classroom, their priorities begin to change. They no longer only want the school to pass through them, they must pass on, pass away, pass by, pass over, pass up before they eventually pass through the school. They want to have a feel of everything in and about the school – the good, the bad and the ugly. This is when students become different things like “Capons”, political activists/leaders, aluta crusaders, “runs girls”, freedom fighters, gangsters and others. This is when students are more desperate to belong to associations and groups more than the class. This is the canker in our tertiary institutions.
The Akwa Ibom students’ community has been embroiled in series of crisis. It’s either the students are fighting over an election of a certain Association like NANS or they are fighting over the sharing of rice, cow and money. The fight for academic success has been completely abandoned by this set of students who are overwhelmed by the crave for frivolities. While they pride themselves as frontline student activists, they are back-ganging intellectually. Their activism is mainly to gain popularity in school, to rob shoulders with the who’s who in government, to get the lion share of the rice, cow, money and every largess from the government to the students. Now, they are making the mother of all demands; the governor must meet the students. It’s their right. They supported and worked for the governor during election. In their words; “The students are not feeling the impact of Governor Udom’s government”.
On Saturday, October 1, 2016, Governor Udom Emmanuel appointed Miss Otobong Akpan popularly called Aquilla as Special Assistant on Students Matters. Apparently, that was the governor making efforts to give the students a sense of belonging and in furtherance of his inclusive governance. First and foremost, the office of SA is not a government Ministry, Department or Agency but an ad-hoc office. It’s more of a liaison office; to serve as a medium between the students and the government. Primarily, Aquilla’s job is to communicate the concerns of the students to the governor and report back to the students. She also has the duty of galvanizing the students to key into relevant government programmes and policies. Aquilla cannot drag the governor to a townhall meeting with the students or coerce the governor to do anything for the students. The governor cannot pay bursary to students through the office of the SA because there is a government Ministry saddled with that responsibility. But out of sheer ignorance, the lost tribe are on a warpath with Aquilla.
Since her appointment, Aquilla has initiated laudable programmes aimed at promoting academic excellence among students, capacity development and consolidating on the efforts of the government in education. For instance, the student welfare intervention scheme which helped in augmenting tuition fees for over a hundred students across the campuses. She has ensured the provision of Laptops with Brail software for blinds students; campaign against cultism and forceful initiation.
On November 17, 2016, she launched the Students Social Services Volunteer Scheme, which the wife of the governor, Her Excellency, Mrs. Martha Udom Emmanuel performed the official flag-off. The event is aimed at mobilizing students for community development and social reorientation. So far, over 50 students have signed up for the scheme. Under the scheme, some intervention programmes have been carried out already, such as the environmental intervention through tree planting. The initiative commenced in January 2017 after a storm ripped off roofs at Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua, Ikot Ekpene. Of course, the first tree planting exercise was in the school. In order to ensure that the Volunteer Scheme is a continuous success, regular training and retraining programmes are held for the volunteers and coordinators. Still under the scheme, earlier this month, Aquilla led other volunteers on a clean the campus tour. Also, interventions in the area of rehabilitation of facilities and provision of basic amenities in schools are ongoing, such as the construction of toilet facility at School of Nursing and Health Technology.
“So far, we have assisted students leaders in capacity building. We came up with a website called “Education Watch” and we have trained interested campus journalists and engaged them in media platforms. Of course I have visited students in medical facilities and emergency and otherwise. I called government attention for financial assistance for victims of kerosene explosion. And even the youth corps member from Etinan that died, Ukpeme Monday. Our first class material. The younger brother got a scholarship and the mother medical care through my office”, Aquilla said.
Sadly, while Aquilla is leading a silent revolution in schools, the lost tribe are either on the streets jumping from one politician/political event to the other or on the social media agitating for “Governor Udom’s rice and cow”. They lament that Aquilla is not carrying the students along, but they are the only ones always missing at seminars and the ongoing volunteer works. They are screaming “Aquilla must go” everywhere but have failed to give valid reasons to back their demand. Between Aquilla and the lost tribe, the public can clearly separate the wheat from the chaff. However, it must be said without mincing words that these attacks on Aquilla have political inclinations. One school of thought holds that somewhere, there is a “man” whose ego is deeply hurt by Aquilla’s guts. Considering the times we’re living in, this school of thought cannot be ruled out. If it’s true, then whoever is motivating these students should be aware of the fact that the students are liable to go haywire.
Finally, what may appear as a mere brawl between Aquilla and few students, has the potential of escalating. It is therefore pertinent for all the relevant stakeholders to find a lasting solution to this recurring crisis among students. Government must make concerted efforts to reform the education sector. For a start, guidance and counseling must be revived in schools. Also, it is crystal clear that most students still need serious parental guidance. To this end, school authorities must establish direct communication links with parents to make necessary recommendations. Partnership could be more effective. Government officials on their part, must cut down on their polical patronage to students. The invasion of politics in schools has contributed immensely to the current abnormally. With every passing day, these students are further straying, and if nothing is done to bring them back on track, then this society is sure sitting on a keg of gun powder. They will either “aluta” themselves to doom or eventually become a serious menace to the society. Either way, it’s not good. The lost tribe can be found and brought back home.