the secret burden

This, dear reader, is the story of the secret burden that studying in Nigerian universities saddles you with. And no, I don’t mean the degree. This burden is particularly odious if you studied what they call a “professional course”, and the current situation bedeviling the Nigerian graduate job-seeker only serves to emphasize how heavy this burden is. But before I go into the specifics of what the burden is, since I have established, ab initio, what the burden is not, I will like to relate two incidents that actually happened with you. Then, perhaps we can be on the same page as regards the burden.

Incident one happened to a friend of mine, who is a microbiologist by training. This was soon after we had gained admission to universities to study the various courses (some may spell it as curses) we had been handed after the Post-UME, while we were basking in the euphoria of having matriculation numbers, and trying to decide if it was worth the stress and anxiety to start reading for JAMB again, (for those of us who got curses rather than courses).

As a general rule, students in the sciences took lectures together, in any of several big lecture theatres around the campus, and it was usually impossible to differentiate students into their various departments, since they all took the same courses. It was not at all unusual to find students from one department going to another faculty to receive lectures, particularly if the lecturer taking a course in a particular faculty had some semblance of swag, or a lecturing style that appealed to the students. So this my friend, during the holidays, decided to spend it in the village, where he would be sure of larger donations of foodstuff when going back to school, while his parents would still make sure his supply of money was not reduced. It was also a chance to show off and talk about the university life, and feel big and go all avuncular on his cousins who had not grabbed the magical golden stage called “Admission”.

So along the way, while taking a stroll one fine village day, and he saw a couple of familiar faces. Introductions were made, and it was revealed that they were both students of the faculty of Life Sciences, while one was from the college of Dentistry. So they strutted on, and presently found themselves in the premises of my friend’s family. So, the uncle of my friend, who just happened to be the oldest man in their family, was outside, taking some fresh air in the early evening, and upon seeing them, he greeted them, friends of his “son” and fellow students at the university. The difficult part was asking what they were studying.

The wanna-be optometrist stumbled through the explanation that his course was like “dibia” (medicine) but was only for the eye, while dentist-in training claimed to be the same thing, close to dibia, but only for teeth. Old man was not amused. Why go to all the pain and stress to study the one that was like dibia, when you could just study the dibia? The young men were at a loss on how to explain to Nna anyi ukwu.

The second incident happened to me recently. I was in one of the cities in the southwest, coming back from a very successful meeting, when I saw someone who looked familiar.  I greeted him, and remarked that his face was familiar. He said he knew me from somewhere as well, but that he could not remember. I asked if it was Uniben, and he agreed cheerfully, swapping faculty names and dates. He asked what I was doing in the city, and when I told him I came for a meeting, he replied that he just got a job in an eye hospital in the city. I congratulated him warmly, and the small talk slid back and forth till we were about to part ways. I told him my name, and he said his name was Dr Moses. My dismay had no bounds. Did he expect me to start calling him doctor like it was a first name?

A friend who studied law recently asked me to address him as barrister. I told him straight up I had no such intentions. For the simple reason that our friendship preceded his law degree.

Now let us get to that burden. It is the burden of titles, hollow as they sound, and the validation, however empty, that they confer on their bearers. In more advanced countries, lecturers who get up close and personal with their students, for purposes of project supervision or similar stuff, often ask the students to call them by first names. Here, people claim multiple titles as if it confers increased relevance. Sir Chief Dr, Most Snr Apostle Rev. Dr, and such “nonsensities” are fairly common as modes of address. Yet are we changing the world? Are we curing HIV? Are we ensuring a higher standard of living?

Abeg keep your useless titles, biko.

Tell me what you think.


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