All is quiet at the University of Igbere in Abia State, Nigeria. And tragically, it need not be.
Though shelves are stocked, classrooms are fully furnished and residential lawns are regularly mowed, as if students will come flooding down the halls and pour in to the campus to play their part in the nation’s next generation at any moment, the grounds at Igbere in southeast Nigeria lie eerily dormant.
I had the opportunity to walk through the facilities in late May, tour the contemporary health clinic, the vast auditorium and the would-be e-library offering internet access and a steady flow of electricity powered by multiple on-site generators to Abians and non Abian residents alike.
As I stood under the bold ‘UNI’ logo at the center of the compound, three thoughts overwhelmed me:
Can it be that this bastion of educational opportunity is being denied to young Nigerian citizens simply due to the political grievances of the past?
Worse yet, is this indicative of a larger problem – a question of Nigeria’s political maturity, some 52 years after gaining political independence from Britain and despite an education sector today in desperate need of opportunity and reform?
Lastly, what will it take for us to think forward, to look beyond strife and the political pendulum hindering the country, if not the entire continent’s trajectory, and to bring about development that draws admiration from the international community?
Indeed the University of Igbere’s benefactor, former Governor of Abia State Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, could have followed in the traditions of self-promotion pervasive among Nigerian politicians and named the University after himself. He could equally have launched a publicity blitz three years ago when ground first broke to develop the sprawling main campus of the university. The temptation to publicly telegraph the positive message that he was creating a legacy not for himself but for his nation and his immediate community must have presented itself in a powerful way.
But he didn’t. He shunned self-aggrandizement, the preferred opium of African politicians. Despite my visits to his country home over the course of the last few years, mere kilometers from the campus, the existence or status of the University was never raised, nor why its commencement date has been set for an indeterminate date in the future because the certificate of occupancy which is a prerequisite for obtaining a license to operate a private university in Nigeria was reportedly vetoed by the current State administration.
Perhaps he, too, believes, as I believe, that Nigeria will ultimately make a simple demand of itself—pull itself up from its proverbial bootstraps and foster a climate of political accountability; that teachers will be remunerated on time, that schools will have adequate infrastructure, that jobs with wages that will afford a decent living for workers will be created, that security of life and property will be secured, that quality education should not be wrongfully denied. Finally, that with competency itself on the line, that no one man or woman will again stand in the way or doubt the merit of innovative solutions, even if they are offered from a private corporate entity or single philanthropist and valued political thought leader.
And then the University of Igbere’s doors will open.
Until then, Nigeria’s future will continue to look elsewhere. There are over 7,000 Nigerian students studying in over 730 regionally accredited colleges and universities across the United States. Closer to home, neighboring Ghana as an example receives and welcomes Nigerian families and aspiring students on a regular basis as the domestic system suffers year on year from deteriorating quality and lackluster state and federal investment to keep pace with the country’s rapidly increasing school-age population.
Our nation today is home to a large number of out-of-school children and young adults with a complete lack or limited literacy and numeracy skills; one is forced to ponder how then that they will be expected to join a thriving, competitive workforce in a world that has been shrunk and deeply connected by technology without the fundamental expertise needed to provide for themselves and their families.
It is therefore commendable to note Dr. Kalu’s continued faith in the University’s “inevitable” commencement and his reluctance to point blame at those who ostentatiously denied their citizens a next-generation education and they themselves the opportunity to promote the State as one changing the face of education and matching with confidence into the future.
Internal squabbles and conflict paralyzing government ability to function is nothing new to politics and among politicians. However, if gone unchecked, tomorrow it will result in national paralysis and the tragic death of hope itself. Severe poverty and a lack of opportunity will continue to beget disillusionment, fostering the greatest casualty of all – hope for lasting change.
Yet today, there is still such hope. For today we have individuals that are willing to think beyond the borders and boundaries of stalemate and envision a new Nigerian century. For, as Dr Kalu eloquently stated when pressed on the University of Igbere’s future, “even road blocks have their expiry date”.