Governance: Once Upon an Undergraduate at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria.

I wrote this story about my undergraduate years at Obafemi Awolowo University earlier this week. In achieving good governance for a community or people, it’s important to understand the role of the person in nation-building.

I promise you there’s a reason I am taking pictures in the toilet in my department (The University of Pretoria, South Africa).

A few years back, I stayed in Angola Hall, Obafemi Awolowo University. Room K1 to be precise.

Our bunks were creaky, rickety iron frames that sometimes had more than four people hanging on each level for the night.

Mattresses would roll out onto the floor at night to house more students who had no campus accommodation.

Our kitchen was the corridor behind the room and this meant we dumped all the wastewater and washing unto the grass that had over the years now turned to slushy dark mud breeding worms and maggot and mosquitoes the size of a bullet.

The toilet and bath were just behind my room, giving us priority access but also we had to bask in the different caustic smell and sometimes the flooding or overflow of the toilets as the case may be. Taking a shower in them was herculean because the walls had slime thickened from years of reckless use. Mistakenly touching the wall meant restarting your whole bathing or shower, there was no bargaining that. Yuck!

Trust me, you don’t take selfies in those “rest” rooms we had.

The thoughts of the menace in which we had to wake and sleep were always a motivation for Aluta. Indeed, now I understand why the Student Union would come to push and shove us out of our rooms to join rallies.

Those who had reached their third, fourth and final years were mostly complacent to the state of the school facilities.

We who lived in Angola were mostly first-year students and felt it was someone else’s responsibility to fight the system that collected money from us and gave us decrepit service in return.

Many students would wind up at the health center just weeks after resumption because apparently we were living in the end times.

We grumpily joined in revolution chants, complained about the bad infrastructure and also grumpily paid our fees.

At least there were the good vibes, Amphitheater would fill up on Sundays with music and gospel. Concerts on Saturdays. You’d walk by love birds at the sport center, the boy playing on his guitar even if his voice didn’t match the tune.

OAU told us we were special. That living through such conditions meant we could beat any other situation in life.

It gave us glimpses of beauty in the ways we built communities, had our societies and worked so seamlessly within a horribly flawed system to create some of the most amazing ideas. We had inventors, leaders, trainers, politicians, activists, and so many other great character shapers burst out of these crooked spaces.

Yet, something inside us never quite decided who was responsible for elevating the circumstances of our environment such that it would enable us to achieve more.

I once started a project to sand-fill the grass sewers behind our rooms in Angola hall.

A lot of students were falling ill and the school was doing nothing about the dirt, and stink that surrounded us. So I asked other students to help me move stones and sand so we could fix the little we could. A lot of them argued that it wasn’t our job to fix that. They were right and I was also right for still going ahead with it.

For a while, no one joined me. I continued to fill the slimy grass area with dry sand and stone. Boys were playing soccer even as I worked. Finally, some decided to join in and we gradually gave some sort of hygiene to our living areas.

Remember, we paid our tuition, the school was responsible for a lot of these things. There were also allocations for federal schools and all of these were supposed to serve the purpose of creating the environment for scholars to thrive and focus on learning.

As humans evolve, we want to decide who is more responsible for our evolution. Between the state and the small person.

Yesterday I wrote about little impacts. Truth is, many of our Nigerian Neighbours have left the country because our little drops in the ocean are drowned in murky waters of failing institutions designed by draughtsmen camouflaging as architects of the state.

A drop that should become a ripple effect is quickly swallowed by empty secretariats run by cranky old women who gossip all day and have a bad attitude. The police hate you if you don’t have a bribe in hand, and no one is positioned to checkmate him. The local municipalities are run by stooges for the state governor and cannot successfully complete one borehole project for their communities.

These and many more leave the small person wondering if his small efforts towards nation-building would matter in the overall.

What if I start a small after-school lesson for street kids as a teacher. What if as a carpenter, I offer to build stalls for market women at a discount? What if as a realtor, I try to reduce the cost of agency for NYSC members? What if everyone had little plans. Tiny ways to add incentives for those legitimately struggling to develop the nation?

Would these things matter if our institutions are not fixed? Do we have a revolution and sacking of government offices first before the little drops would matter or should we give the little drops and see if they would shift the system substantially?

Would this circumvent the failure of the state and bring us closer to the Eldorado we desire?

What if we decided to be honest about change and not have to worry that agberos would steal the same from us? What if people actually gave back lost money instead of calling it a blessing from God? Wait, how about all the illicit contracts? Those people who sign them are humans like you and me? What if we refused to be signatories to falsehood and chose to let the due process become part of our creed?

Imagine what Nigeria would be like if everyone could just stay on the queue and not feel entitled based on age, status or pocket to shunt the queue? What if we understood that good service to one Nigerian is a sign to the world that we respect our identity as Nigerians?

I mean, look at airports, immigration, and licensing offices. You don’t actually need imposing buildings to treat applicants like humans and stop piling up those backlogs.

Imagine how easy it would be if all public institutions started to operate transparent payroll systems. Where graduates can work for hourly wages, reduce the cost of governance and distribute wealth?

Imagine if our refineries were not signed off to expats and privileged children? If everyone could actually get a chance to put their certificates to use in all of these defunct state apparatuses?

It is a build-up. The state and the small person are ever going to be put together side by side in our minds. We will always wonder, whether it is the government that has failed the small person or the small person that has made the state ungovernable?

What do you think? Who should get more attention? We need to have these talks. It’s now or never.

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