By: Wole Oladapo
I believe that the value the protesting students of University of Ibadan have come to place on themselves is abysmally low. That is why they do not see anything wrong in declaring aluta over their right to use hotplate on campus. No, it should not have been hotplate. Even in our respective homes with prepaid electricity metre, many of us no longer rely on hotplate for cooking. It is just an economically unreasonable thing to do. The problems around food and feeding on that campus should not have been reduced to the use of hotplate. I am going to explore two dimensions to these problems. However, I will address why it is not worth it to make hotplate the icon of the struggle.
Let us assume the students are granted the right to cook using hotplate, where is the power supply? When last did the university enjoy a consistent 12 hour a day power supply for a week? The students should not have forgotten so quickly that the university generator may not supply power until 11pm. And nobody assures the students the supply will be daily. The truth is, even if the demand is granted, most of the hotplates will still rust unused for want of power. The students will still have to buy kerosene at an exploitative price of 200 Naira per bottle on the university campus. This is one of the reasons I fault the great sacrifice the students are making in demanding for a right that is not right in the first place.
My first concern is that the students overlook the fact that not all students cook on campus. That makes them ignore the problems constituted by the cafeteria on campus which offer unhealthy meals at an extremely exploitative rate, and many students depend on those cafeteria. It is obvious that quality control regime has been suspended in the food sector of the university. If not, how does one explain a situation where fried rice is green in one cafeteria and is yellow in another? How does one explain pink jollof rice? What about the university decree that only UI Water and UI Bread should be sold on the university campus? Why do not the students demand a reversal of such kind of rule? Are not they afraid that if the university cannot produce bread and water that can favourably compete with those produced on the street by people who may not even have the luxury of formal education, it [the university] may not be trusted to produce graduates who can withstand the competition of our 21st century jobless economy? And if the university cannot ensure quality in its own bread and water, how does it demand quality from the operators of the cafeteria on campus? So, why should hotplate be the icon of the struggle? I think the students deserve a better struggle.
As a graduate of University of Ibadan, I experienced firsthand the anguish of cooking beans by instalments because of power outage. Then our attention was perpetually divided between study and survival. I believe that combining the burden of food with that of study is a major factor contributing to student failure in higher institutions. So I ask: will the students be asking for too much if they demand that the university should take over from mindless capitalists the cafeteria on campus and provide food for all students at a highly subsidised rate? We expect, for example, a student of Faculty of Education with two teaching subjects and at least ten courses per semester to combine cooking with study and still perform well. It does not happen by magic. I believe it is inhuman to expect students who attend lectures from 7am to 7pm to retire into kitchenettes after the day’s work. No, cooking on campus does not make students husband and wife materials as some would argue. It simply increases their burdens unnecessarily. That is my second concern.
Sadly, we are in an age where neither higher institutions of learning nor the government is ready to take responsibility to the fallen standard of education. Neither is willing to take the lead in solving the problems also. Those who should be held responsible for the rot in the education sector unconscionably describe graduates as unemployable. May we remind them that hardly can students divide attention between study and food-what to eat and how to cook it-and at the same time make the most out of education. Such students would have little time left for serious thinking after battling hotplates, kerosene stoves, and waiting for electricity that may never come. Since students have been left to design their own future, should not we then free them some time for critical and creative thinking?
I believe the demand for restoration of quality and highly subsidized food for students of higher institutions of learning across the country is a worthy cause. I also believe students of University of Ibadan can lead this cause from Ibadan to Abuja until it becomes a debate in the National Assembly. I believe that National Association of Nigerian Students can hold all institutions and the government to ransom until this is done. I strongly believe this is a worthy cause and it is still all about food. If Nigeria is not broke enough to shed the burden of overfeeding her rich politicians and government appointees who have almost run the country aground,she should not be too broke to feed the students on whose shoulders the burdens of the future rest.
Wole Oladapo is a communication expert. He writes from Ibadan