Wole Soyinka And The Nigerian Youth

I attended Okechi Precious Osuala and his lovely bride Cordelia Ogbu’s wedding in Abuja recently. The groom, a childhood friend and fellow student at the University of Uyo (Uniuyo) also invited some other friends from our university days. Such occasions usually provide a good opportunity to relive memories of the good old days and to catch up on each other. The wedding served as a reunion of sorts for many of us that attended.

During our days, the University of Uyo didn’t quite fit into your typical Nigerian ‘Ivy league’ university bill; that exclusive title was reserved for the University of Ifes, the UNNs and the University of Ibadans of Nigeria. Uniuyo was a fairly new university at the time we joined in the late 80s and was later taken over by the federal government of Nigeria in 1991 leading to the re-branding of its name from University of Cross River State (Unicross) to University of Uyo (Uniuyo) to the delight of thousands of students who felt that a University of Uyo degree certificate, rather than a University of Cross River state degree certificate will be more sellable in the job market.

What Uniuyo lacked in terms of physical structures, facilities and resources was equally compensated by the calibre of first class brains we had as lecturers. Perhaps this may be the reason why Uniuyo graduates believe that they could hold their own anywhere in the world. We also did not lack social activities during our days, if there was any university in Nigeria that believes and practices the credo of not only going through the university but also letting the university go through you, then it must be the University of Uyo. Little surprise then why visitors from Aba, Eket, Port – Harcourt and Calabar always invaded the university at weekends in search of fun.

At Okechi’s ‘bachelor eve’ party which was organised by the Chigbos (Annie and his twin brother Uche) who are close friends of the groom, it looked something like an alumni meeting, or rather an old boys and old girls meeting. It was nice seeing everybody again after all these years. In the course of the enjoyment, we began to reminisce about the Uniuyo we used to know long before cultists overran the university. We remembered Itu road and all the parties hosted usually with a bottle of Chevalier brandy by the campus famed ‘Uptown’ crowd or Itu Road boys. We remembered the Plaza and one of its famous shop operators – Jerry whose shop was the most patronised because of his nice guy personae and American wannabe accent rather than for his fry ups. We did not forget Mr Vees and Esma restaurants where we took our dates to impress them. We laughed over our former chancellor, the Ooni of Ife’s antics with his entourage during yearly convocation ceremonies. Nnamdi remembered how I was famously stood up by Ifeoma (not her real name) who chose instead to attend an Ooni party while I waited for her at my off-campus residence. As we laughed and teased each other, the story suddenly moved towards campus cults. It must have been Esther (not her real name) who had her hubby in tow that swung the gist to cult activities and the extent of involvement or non-involvement of the ‘old boys’ present in nocturnal activities during our Uniuyo days.

Back then, campus fraternities existed for sure but they hadn’t started committing the atrocities that later characterised such organisations after we left. Uniuyo students did not kill, maim or brutalise fellow students, the sanctity of the human life still meant a lot to most of the students. Stories of such atrocities only filtered into the campus from places like Oko polytechnic and ASUTECH.

The societies that existed at Uniuyo were mainly of a social nature such as Rotaract, Jaycees, and Kegites etc. The other ones such as Wole Soyinka’s National Association of Seadogs (NAS), Friends of Friends etc which adopted the name of fraternities refused to be classified as cults and had much more elaborate and vigorous recruitment regimes. Back then, any student that wanted to come up on the social stakes in the campus had to rely on his brains rather than brawns, the few students who were known openly to belong to the so-called cults (Black Axe, Vikings, Buccaneers, Black Berets etc) were treated as outcasts and considered weaklings. They were not feared but were instead demeaned. You got invited to parties on your own merit, and got dates from female students based on your social status rather than on your being a member of a secret cult i.e. how heavy your wallet was, how well you dressed, the sharpness of your ‘lingo’ etc.

Cultists were so detested at the time that the story of Jude (not his real name), a man-about-town who was generally considered to be a ‘happening’ guy in campus who had arranged with his ‘guys’ (he was rumoured to be a member of the Vikings) to pour a bucket of shit on Udeme for refusing his love advances became the story of the decade in the university. While the very act itself was distasteful, it however was not as deadly or dastardly as the later acts of the so-called campus cultists.

Incidentally, Jude was also at the bachelor’s eve with his lovely wife. Esther wanted him to tell us if indeed it was true that he poured shit on Udeme, or arranged to have it done on his behalf by his friends.

Jude who is now a company executive in Abuja laughed and wouldn’t bulge; he denied any wrongdoing probably because of the look of disbelief on his wife’s face. Eventually the couple left perhaps in a bid to avoid unearthing other can of worms. I still had this incident very much on my mind when a friend of mine forwarded a documentary to me depicting the gory sights that are now the order of the day in Nigerian universities. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka had fronted the documentary.

Since I posted the Wole Soyinka video, there have been several comments as to whether we should blame Wole Soyinka or not for pioneering campus fraternities in Nigerian universities. Majority of the commentators chose to blame the Nobel laureate for initiating what could be considered to be the fore runner of campus cults in Nigerian universities but I totally disagree. In blaming the professor, we might as well blame for example the Wright brothers for inventing the aeroplane since aeroplanes do go down/crash and take passengers along leading to death and pain. We may as well blame Henry Ford for the death of all the passengers that may have died behind the wheels of a Ford vehicle.

There needs to come a time when young adults should have to own up and take some responsibility for their actions. I fail to see the connection between the National Association of Seadogs founded by Professor Soyinka which presently concentrates in doing good deeds across the world, and the mayhem that cult members unleash on their fellow students in the campuses today.

Young people have a choice, but perhaps they are too lazy to be bothered to engage their minds with more creative and enterprising endeavours. I will never accept the argument of boredom on their parts as the reason for their opting to chase each other about with machetes and guns. In our days, we never had enough time to pursue all the many projects our young minds always came up with, when we are not completing term papers or assignments, then we are running campus publications, promoting campus pageants and musical shows trying to raise additional income to supplement the little we were getting from home.

Perhaps times have changed, but still this is not enough justification for young men and women to waste their youth pursuing deadly agendas. If today’s youth lack direction, then society should think about forging stronger mentor – mentee links between graduates who have been there, done that and seen it all, and those still in the university system.

The Wole Soyinka video is coming out at the right time and gives us all the opportunity to examine not only what has gone wrong with our youth, but also what has gone wrong with our society since it appears as if we are not providing engaging alternatives to the youth, or platforms through which they could constructively engage their young, active and restless minds.

Written by
Uche Nworah
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