“When a University undergraduate enters into a street, everybody notices it,” my matriarchal Grandfather had said in Yoruba, as part of a structured ploy to persuade me to further my education to the University.
It had come to the notice of almost everyone in my family, as I made no effort to conceal it that much more than being unprepared, I was not interested in a university education. I was always bathed with fears at the thought of the university, since I always believed it was a place secluded only for the extremely privileged few. I was content with my High School Certificate; but my father differed in plans and expectations. He graded me high amongst others and hoped I was to be the second University graduate in the family, all to which I dissented. He therefore implored everyone to ‘talk to me’. One of such expository persuasion was that of my grandfather of the university undergraduates…IN THOSE DAYS.
They were respected as being above the community and constituting the intelligentsia of whatever environment they belonged. They unilaterally appeared in similar outfits like jackets, monkey or otherwise, with or without the waistcoats and of course, what many refer to as the bellbottom.
The presence of one undergraduate in our community commanded much respect that he regarded and carried himself about with much dignity and princely aura. He jetted out constructive arguments about issues that either concerned him or not; an object of friendly controversies.
He confidently spoke at public glare about challenging world events and intricate facts that had hitherto been myths in the community. He would theorize, in familiar tongue, about the causes of diseases, earthquakes, rain, war and the likes, even though, as I was later to know, those were never part of the scope of his academic discipline.
Once, I had particularly heard him argue with an elder, who was acknowledged the most knowledgeable, that ‘the world is constantly rotating’. The elder had refuted this on the ground that if the world rotates, man would tip over and fall off the face of the earth. He made various other assertions that gave a huge blow to the ignorance of the community.
An important part of the good impressions I had of a scholar was got when grandfather had persuaded me to go with him to one of the community meetings held monthly. In attendance were landlords and –ladies, Chiefs and the Baale, elderly men and women, and the youth, adequately represented by one of the University undergraduates, Okiki – a prominent member of the KOGA Club. The KOGA Club was in actuality a sect of young, brilliant and vibrant minds constituting members who were proactive towards Nation Building and in essence against the widespread corruption in the land. They spoke and worked assiduously and collectively in and outside the community and in various university campuses to uphold the tenets of KOGA and remain steadfast in the defense of civil rights.
Okiki had so much clout with me and others that I was in doubt if it was the university that had imbued him with it. He had approached me earlier than the meeting had commenced and caused in me a roar of interest although it was with a shrug, when he told me he saw in me a Medical Practitioner fresh from the university.
The meeting had commenced and he disappointed no one in responding to the question posed at him. He stood up and the airs rose with him, as if to suspend him freely. That is how much graceful he appeared, with everyone agreeing with him before he even spoke. When he eventually spoke, his voice accentuated eloquence and articulation of words and points. One thing I noticed, he always got applauded at the end of his speeches. At such times, everyone would turn to me and encourage me in different manners that I was going to be better than Okiki. In my community at Oke-Sopin, it was the order that the younger ones were prayed for to surpass the elders in all endeavours. But it was all…IN THOSE DAYS.
Now as a university undergraduate, I record immeasurable changes in diverse backgrounds, both in community and university lives. ‘Is change constant?’ Yes! But many times, it is unfavourable. Such times as now, when the university undergraduate is much worse than he used to be…IN THOSE DAYS. He is fast becoming a passing shadow, a reflection of lost glory, a mere sparkle in the stanch dark, a whim to sublime off in no time.
The average university undergraduate in present times, with the exception of a mindful few, is more of a thorn-in-the-flesh of families and friends, causing, through misdemeanours, undeserved disgrace to brotherhood. Leisure is to him much more than relaxation, sports and holiday but rape and mischief; business more than investments and trade but fraud and theft; academic excellence more than study and brainstorming but threats, cheats and bribe; respect and influence more than integrity but money and sprees.
How on earth did we get here? Who brought us here? Or did we lead ourselves hither? Has the elected or imposed governments faired any better than the massive followers in this retrograde change? Or worse?
When the undergraduate who never paid a dime for his education in his time, as sponsored by the sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo, grows to mandate students in this era to pay heavily if they so value their education, who is to blame?
When the seemingly concerned lecturers who had enjoyed the dividend of free education in terms of sufficient infrastructures and qualitative education shut their eyes to the decay and pretend not to see the dilapidation of structures and morals long built by the toil of few men; and the undergraduates are wont never to speak up as a form of respect and for the fear of victimization, who is to blame?
When ‘students are cultists and cultists are not students’ as against what obtained…IN THOSE DAYS, when ‘cultists were students and students were not cultists’, and the teachers who should be lecturers and guardians, prefer to shut themselves up in offices, from the wrath of ‘cheated’ students, who is to blame?
It was all…IN THOSE DAYS, that when an undergraduate enters into a street, everybody rallies round him; the elders would throng him for the ever-involving intellectual debates and news about the latest discoveries, while the children would flock about him to listen to fables from ‘I don’t know where’.
In my days now, an average university undergraduate is rather too restless for such endeavours. He would jaunt about everywhere seeking treasures he never hid and harvests he never planted. Treasures and harvests he hopes to employ in cornering innocent ladies, who present themselves as preys.
Shall Awolowo rise from the tomb if it were possible, either physically or ghostly, to observe this ruin that has come forth from the hands of those he profusely sweated to train under the free education programme, he would shake his head out of sympathy for the victims of the collapsed system and disappointment for the free heads that enslave a brainy few and sets free the empty skulls.
“It’s sad…it’s sad…” I said to my grandfather recently, “…how things have gone so badly. What things I see and confront these days are not what constituted the bright future I was constantly told ‘back then’…IN THOSE DAYS. What Went Wrong?” Grandfather merely sighed, but I continued with an apology to a few worthy undergraduates, “Even though change is the only constant phenomenon, particularly here when there is a transition between…IN THOSE DAYS AND…IN PRESENT TIMES when an ‘average’ university undergraduate enters into a street, everyone is alarmed.”
However, for the sake of consolation of Papa and I, and the Present Times’ undergraduate, I whispered to Grandfather with an air of finality, “But according to your statement in setting out…IN THOSE DAYS, one can still say of the present, ‘When a university undergraduate enters into a stree
t, everybody notices it.'”