Things fall apart “patapata”

Perhaps like others who also might have read it, I was so galled by Dr Okey Ndibe’s recent article published in an online media platform that I felt depressed. The curiosity started from the apocalyptic title, “Scholars as criminals”, because scholarship and criminality do not just collocate.

After reading the horrific piece, I was suffused with a combination of nausea, anger and a sense of self-righteousness, which I will explain. The gory details even tormented me in my sleep such that I thought I should purge myself of the “colorless green ideas (that) sleep furiously” in my head, as the famous meaningless locution given by Prof. Noam Chomsky suddenly became poignantly meaningful.

For those who missed the article, it is about the experience of a certain “Miss I”, a student of a private Nigerian university. The young lady was persuaded to join a campus cult group by a friend and she experienced hell. Apart from physical laceration, blood rites and mental trauma she went through at the point of initiation, she discovered to her chagrin that she had automatically signed herself to become a sex slave to the highly libidinous male-dominated cult group, whose sexual fantasies include horrid sessions of gang rape on their female members.

As if that was not horrible enough, she also had to surrender her money, her ATM card and PIN, to her tormentors such that if she needed money, her own money, she would have to apply for “approval” from the cult leaders. Realizing her error of judgment, she wanted to quit earlier but the consequences of jumping ship, which included “blood-curdling scarifications, rapes – and even physical annihilation” as Dr Odibe put it, had been made known to her earlier and she was scared silly.

The lady, a daughter of a cook whose benevolent employer decided to compensate through child’s education sponsorship, ultimately summoned courage by telling her sponsor that she would not want to return to the University. If she could not get a transfer to another university, life without university education was a better option.  The story heard from the sponsor made the columnist to develop his thesis on our appalling “moral crisis”, a situation where “higher institutions in Nigeria, private as well as public, are plagued by cults that are nothing short of criminal enterprises”.

The first feeling was that of multiple-barreled nausea. How would a girl from a poor background be seduced by a vacuous promise of power and influence on campus to subject herself to such a nerve-wracking experience? How old are our private universities, many of which are established by religious groups, that they have so soon become a breeding ground for such horrendous cult activities? If such universities, established to address the well advertised malaise of the public ones, exhibit such features as cultism and other anti-social behavior early in the day, is it not a proof that things have fallen apart patapata in our society?

Then, how would Dr Ndibe generalize (generalization is the most common logical fallacy) that a single case, as horrible as it is, represents all Nigerian higher institutions? Yet, how would he not generalize since it is conventional wisdom that, “if one finger brings oil, it soils the others”, as the late Chinua Achebe reminded us in his “Things Fall Apart” and “No Longer at Ease”?

The nausea metastasized to anger as I imagined such an experience happening to my family member or relative and the imagination almost drove me crazy. Someone insinuated that the problem is a result of our leaders’ I-don’t-care attitude because their children study abroad, an argument that cannot be completely dismissed. What sort of Vice Chancellors, Rectors and Provosts preside over such institutions where such things happen and why have they not been resigning if they cannot guarantee the safety and security of the students entrusted to their care?

Are they not angry with cultists that prowl their campuses and are they not angry at gut-wrenching things they do? As Aristotle said, “Anyone can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” I expect people with conscience to be angry with criminals.

Someone surmised that the cultists of the years past in the 70’s and 80’s have taken over the management of our higher institutions and they are helpless in addressing the situation because dogs don’t eat dogs. The argument is driven further that the cultists have the powerful protection of the top echelons of some higher institutions of learning who continue to treat the cultists’ infractions and obnoxious activities with kid gloves.

Now to the feeling of self-righteousness, which is admittedly provocative, especially if one does not think deeply, I feel satisfied that the University of Ilorin does not belong to that generalization. This is because the University seemed to have engaged in soul-searching, purged itself and decided to do things differently even if some stakeholders are not happy with it. I am convinced that such a horrible story cannot happen in the University of Ilorin the same way I told an interviewer the other day that a rape case that was attributed to a public university could not happen in the University. Why? It is because the consequence is well known to all, whoever who the culprit is: you are flushed out; you face the law.

However, this was not the case in the years past. I can recall as a young lecturer in 2001 how my Friday classes were often disrupted as soon as the “Shooting Stars”, as they were euphemistically called, came around in the same University. The students would scamper out of the class on the mini campus then as cultists engaged in shooting sprees.

I remember vividly an instance when some heavily armed cultists dragged an injured victim of theirs on the road ten meters from where I was delivering a lecture on campus and one of them aimed his gun at my class. I was transfixed with horror in front of the students. They all spoke to their legs, tripping on one another and I only stepped out when the class was empty and realized I was the only one around.

The peace, stability and progress the University enjoys today derive from the exceptional courage of the then Vice Chancellor, Prof. Shuaibu Oba AbdulRaheem, the legacy of which his successors, from Prof. S. O. O. Amali to the current Vice-Chancellor, Prof. AbdulGaniy Ambali, have significantly built on.

As the immediate past Vice Chancellor of the University and current Secretary-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Prof. Is-haq O. Oloyede, used to tell us, what we all need is to clean our corners and maintain discipline wherever we are because our major problem in Nigeria is indiscipline. If only the leaders of our various institutions would have the courage to be self-disciplined and maintain discipline in their areas of influence, as the case is at UNILORIN for example, the gory story brilliantly told by Dr Ndibe would not have arisen.

Dr Adedimeji is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Ilorin, Ilorin.