Has UNN Truly Lost Its Glory?
University graduates around the world are usually known to speak highly of their Alma Mater anytime they reminisce of their days as undergraduates.
At occasions where friends and colleagues get to chat about their school days in retrospect, each one gets to brag and gloat about their prestigious institutions, and on a lighter note may throw verbal jabs at one another in a bid to express the superiority of their Alma Mater over the other’s.
There also exist strong espirit de corp emotions among friends and colleagues who graduated from the same University, establishing this sense of camaraderie and family. So, what comes to your mind when you think about your Alma Mater?
We can say that tertiary education in Nigeria is about a century old, beginning with the establishment of Yaba College of Technology in 1938. But 1948 birthed the University College Ibadan, which was a branch of the University of London at the time and did not have the autonomy to award its own degrees.
This was because the colonialists had set it up to serve only their interests and did not really have major plans to establish more universities in the country not minding the growing need for them. This is evident in the fact that the University College Ibadan between 1948 and 1955 was only able to produce a mere two hundred graduates.
How could Nigeria have raised the adequate man-power to run the administrative and economic machinery of an emerging country like Nigeria when granted independence?
It is on record what the likes of the Rt Hon. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and his compatriots in the old Eastern region of Nigeria did about this challenge, through the establishment of an indigenous and autonomous university in Nigeria.
There was a desperate need at the time to nurture from our own land Nigeria, home grown elites who would not be influenced by the dictates of the colonialists.
This is the story of the University of Nigeria which was sited at Nsukka, in 1955. This University was founded on pristine ideals and excellent philosophy. Many of its present students and staff are not acquainted with the historical information on my Alma mater, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. This poses a lot of problems for the University as there are bound to be lack of consciousness and unpatriotic behavior in the way things are done there.
Apart from the founders’ ceremonies celebrated every first week of October, there seems to be absolutely nothing in place that should evoke that feeling of awe and reverence in respect to the history and ideals of that University.
No monuments, no landmarks. The very few ones in sight have been sorely damaged by unpleasant human activities than it could have been by weather factors. There seems to be a nonchalant attitude pervading the air when it comes to preserving and keeping alive the heritages of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
In 2013 when I visited the University for a Function, I was thrilled to see a magnificent monument constructed just in front of the George Marion Johnson building which houses the Faculty of General Studies. At the same time I was sad to discover that the massive signpost which displayed the name “George Marion Johnson Building” had been removed.
*The picture of the monument in 2013
Dr. George Marion Johnson, who I believe many in that university are presently ignorant of, was an American civil rights jurist who arrived Nsukka on the eve of the opening ceremony of the University in 1960, to become its acting principal. He later became the pioneer vice chancellor when the University law was amended in 1961. Now you can see why it is highly outrageous to have the signpost bearing his name removed from that building. How will the students ever know who he was? It is a crying shame!
The monument in question has four Lions, two males and two females, prowling about in a circle on the top of a massive platform which is about seven feet in height. In the center of the lions, stood a tall sculpture, depicting a male and female student, together holding up a flaming torch. This amazing piece of art work will command your body hairs to stand when you come close to it.
You will be dwarfed by its imposing nature. I was very excited when I saw it and once again believed that the University was beginning to rekindle the fire of patriotism and historical consciousness. Any conscious graduate of the University would not need an expert to explain the symbolism in that monument. To have even installed it right in front of the General Studies building fluidly expresses the philosophy and spirit on which the University was founded.
General Studies transforms and broadens the mind of the University scholar. It is on record that the University of Nigeria, Nsukka through the educational philosophy of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, pioneered that concept of education in Nigeria to offer the scholar a broad based education.
Being that the Nigerian academic community was still overwhelmed by the narrow nature of the British system of tertiary education, the General Studies when introduced was considered, not only a waste of time but a curse to higher education.
“Why should a law student waste his time taking a course in biology?” they asked. “How dare an aspiring medical doctor begin to meddle with matters of anthropology or history?” These questions were posed by leading academics of that era. The University of Nigeria, Nsukka went ahead with the course not minding the opposition it faced.
The authorities stuck to it and ensured that every student took the classes, compulsorily. Few years later, that same course that was despised by the elites and academics of the time became a policy in our higher educational system. Why? Because no one dared to ridicule the University of Nigeria again after its products topped the list of candidates in the administrative examinations set up by the federal government. Those exams were to determine qualified personnel for the young Nigerian civil service in the early sixties.
That monument is christened: “Radiance of the Liberal Spirit”. I don’t know why, but I strongly believed that it truly connotes the idea and vision behind the General Studies concept. And here I was enthralled, standing beside this marvelous piece of artwork and wishing that the university administration would install more of such symbolic monuments in its surroundings.
When we also consider that the University of Nigeria, Nsukka pioneered the General studies course, it then deserves that such monument be placed there and preserved. But my heart failed me when I returned to the university in February 2018 for yet another function.
I had wanted to quickly rush to the location of the monument to see if I could take a picture or ‘selfie’ before the function commenced. What I saw nearly gave me a heart attack. The once glorious masterpiece had been desecrated and dishonored. It had become a shadow of itself. The massive base which supports the 4 lions was totally covered with all kinds of poster bills.
Even the plaques on them that bore the names of the donor and Sculptor were covered too. I stood there and observed how no one cared or showed any form of concern to it. Worse was that the administrative staff members of that faculty were moving in and out of the complex not caring a hoot what went on there.
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How could they not have seen it? The monument is on an open space at the center of the car park right in front of the George Marion Johnson building. It is the most imposing structure around it. So how did they miss to notice the damage?
*The Picture of The Monument in 2018
I learned that the monument was even donated to the school by a popular Igbo statesman and politician, who coughed out a lot of money to have it built. It was a freewill donation. It is in my opinion ungrateful of the university and a dishonor to the donor; it would discourage those who may want to show similar act of generosity in the future.
I tried to pull out some posters myself and discovered that the damage was really enormous and had created a seemingly permanent dent which would require good money to return it to its original state.
I also noticed while driving into the school from the Old main gate that the “U” alphabet which spells the “University” of Nigeria, Nsukka had fallen off. Upon that fact that the university gate itself is in a mangled state, it is an additional shame to see that the staff and students use that entrance regularly without caring about the missing “U”!
The university authority should see to it that these mighty anomalies are corrected and the memories respectfully preserved. They constitute the things that keep Nigeria qualified as “big for nothing”!
This article is entirely the opinion of the writer. It does not reflect the views of Bounce News Nigeria