Sonala Olumhense: University of Ibadan’s shameful secret.

University of Ibadan alumnus Ibukun Babarinde did the institution and Nigeria a remarkable favour last week.  Shocked at what he found of Mellanby Hall’s toilet facilities, he pulled out a camera and took several scandalous pictures that were later published online.

 

First, let me disclose that I am also a UI product, and a Mellanbite. As a youngster, it was my biggest dream to go to Nigeria’s finest tertiary institution.  My happiest day as a teenager was probably the day I laid my hands on my admission letter.

 

I recall a university that prided itself on its excellent academic tradition, but it was also a clean, well-maintained and safe campus.  When I say, safe, I mean that you could walk and work anywhere on the campus at any time of the day or night.

 

I also mean that its facilities were exquisitely maintained.  I do not recall toilet facilities, in any hall, library or faculty that you hesitated to walk into.

 

It would appear that Babarinde, who left the university in 2008, just six years ago, had the same general experience. His pictures show Mellanby Hall’s toilet facilities in a disgusting, embarrassing and dangerous state.

 

They show toilets so dirty it is difficult to believe that they belong to a public institution.  I have seen cleaner toilets in Lagos markets. How can a student learn in such an environment?

 

In an essay I called “Nourished By The Trees,” I recalled a completely different experience.   “Ibadan proved to be all that I had dreamed. I met famous people, joined fascinating clubs, drank of the wells of ideas on offer everywhere you turned, explored the huge central library, and walked long pathways that had been walked by many a remarkable intellectual. Sometimes, I did not want to go to bed: if you do not fall asleep, you do not wake up to find that an epochal life had been a dream.

 

“In the midst of all the excitement of the campus, it would take two years—two-thirds of my undergraduate programme—for the truth to sink in: the university was not really a place, and I was not there for a particular course of study. The university was a life, a culture, an atmosphere, an orientation, an awakening, a discovery. The university was an instrument, much like a pencil-sharpener, fashioned to develop blunt instruments into sharp tools.”

 

My favorite patch of real estate on campus was the Botanical Garden, which I introduced as a huge area of about 100 acres of tree samples from all over the world for botanical research.

 

“Each of the trees was dutifully identified, and a short legend told you the basics you needed to know about the plant. The size of those trees and the maintenance of the Garden told you that many people, for many years, had worked hard to see that generations of students and researchers benefited from their dream.

 

Along one side of the Garden ran a small, quiet brook, separated from the Garden by a small footpath…Sometimes, as you walked this path, you could hear small animals scurrying away as you approached. Birds sang in full-throated orchestras, each melody magnified and broadcast widely by the deep quiet. The Garden of Eden had to be somewhere nearby…

 

“It was in that final year in Ibadan and in that expertly-maintained Garden that I realized that excellence does not consist of anyone trying to do everything well. It is an individual ensuring that what he owes is faultless. If the commitment of that one person is to the larger society, indeed to posterity or time, or to doing the right thing for no other justification beyond its being right, the day arrives when there is somebody inspired by that effort. Thirty-one years ago, I was one such man wandering around in the shadows of someone’s commitment, thinking mine was the earth…”

 

Even after my graduation in 1978, I visited that garden for spiritual replenishment every chance I had.  My last trip in the 1990s was complete disaster, as part of the property was being savagely destroyed for a construction project.

 

I left in a hurry, but that experience somehow prepared me for Babarinde’s devastating pictures which speak darkly of a disaster that is certainly not limited to one hall.

 

In “One Night In Legon, Ghana,” a 2005 essay for ‘The Campus Life,’ a publication of UI’s Advancement Centre, I recalled a 1976 visit of the Debating Club to the University of Legon.

 

I was a participant in the first of the two-day annual debating contest that year, and I commented on how similar both institutions were as we arrived at Legon’s Main Auditorium.

 

“As you know, Ghana and Nigeria, raised in the well-tested colonial cauldron of Britain, are similar in many respects,” I wrote.  “I did not think that either of the universities in Ibadan or Legon saw themselves as being different from, or inferior to Oxford University. That evening, as the judges took the stage and the six speakers were being introduced, you could see just how similar they both were.  We might as well have been in front of the standard Trenchard Hall crowd.”

 

One look at Babarinde’s pictures and I am ashamed I once put UI and Oxford in the same sentence.   I know that times are hard, and that Nigerian universities are battling for the finances necessary to become competitive.  Still, there is no excuse for the University of Ibadan, or a university—any university, anywhere—to have a single toilet facility of that nature.  It is completely antithetical to the concept of a university and a university environment.

 

For three years, Professor Isaac Adewole, UI’s Vice-Chancellor, has spoken about repositioning the institution as Nigeria’s premier university, following the adoption of his proposals by the Council and the Senate.

 

The question is what those standards really are, and whether his plan is to drag the institution into the toilet.  Is it really possible for you to advance high standards when you are so dirty?

 

The same question is present in most public and private establishments in Nigeria, where, despite heavy posturing, only Oga’s facilities are cleaned regularly.

 

I once worked for a newspaper where there was only one toilet for all of the staff, and I still have nightmares when I recall having to use it.  Oga had his own toilet, and it sparkled.  I worked for another newspaper where it became a priority to have excellent toilet facilities, and we worked hard to ensure them, but it was a different story when I visited several years later.  Oga had his own toilet; it sparkled.

 

I have visited Nigeria’s presidential palace once in my life.  I was shown to a visitor’s toilet which had been exquisitely finished in marble, but the place was awful because it lacked maintenance.

 

The moral of this story is that in Nigeria, Oga’s mission is often to make Oga happy so that he can go out and make speeches.

At UI, are Professor Adewole’s standards really superior to those shameful toilets at Mellanby?

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