Needless NOUN Law Graduate Controversy

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“There are so many knowledgeable people who don’t speak good English, and there are so many dullards who speak eloquently. Besides, it is neither our mother tongue nor is it our first language, and not everyone has a good foundation to understand the rules of grammar”.  

BY ZAINAB SULEIMAN OKINO

Ordinarily, doctrinal issues of religion concerning confession and testimony are private spiritual affairs of parties involved, but when a publicly funded educational institution is dragged into such a matter, it becomes germane to interrogate the issue.

Penultimate week, the social media went wild over an incident that occurred at Dunamis Church with far-reaching implications for the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN). A graduate of the university, Vera Anyim had come into the open church auditorium to testify about her sojourn and graduation from NOUN, despite all odds, and especially being the first to have a university degree in her family.

Unfortunately, a combination of issues of grammar, stage fright and mistakes almost rubbed off on her 15 minutes of fame negatively. Her grammatical expression and reference to her course of study as BSC instead of LLB spoiled the broth for the serving police officer, whose day was equally shattered, and her ego bruised because of the event that followed. The senior pastor of the Church, Pastor Paul Enenche in whose presence (and thousands of congregants) the testimony took place upbraided her for her lack of articulation and for peddling a false narrative in the name of testimony.

The social media buzz about the manner of the pastor’s reprimand extended to as far as verifying her claims which turned out to vilify her. On his part, the pastor realised he acted in error, and made it up to her (Anyim) through an apology from the church and a warm embrace with her and his wife. Vera’s commitment to the church and loyalty to “her father in the lord”, Pastor Enenche shone through that reconciliation gesture.

Despite their best efforts at resolution, the dust raised about the issue has refused to dissipate as many netizens as possible on the social media are still not assuaged. Not after the public chastisement, not after the huge embarrassment and not after the validation of the lady’s certificate. For them men of God are expected to exercise discretion in dealing with the vulnerable, and in comparison, with some well-heeled members of the church and the pastor, Ms Anyim is.

Humiliating a woman in such a momentum is not encouraging. The issue also concerns the social class of the woman. I doubt if she would get that opprobrium from Pastor Enenche if she were of a higher social class. She would have been presented as a model worthy of emulation. Indeed, that is what Ms Vera is.

However, this pales into insignificance when compared with the criticisms around NOUN, the school she graduated from. Remember Pastor Enenche criticised her grammar and the type of degree she bagged, while others blamed the institution over their half-baked graduates, Vera Anyim inclusive. However, it should be seen as more about Ms Anyim than about the capacity or effectiveness of teachings at NOUN. In other words, her case should not define NOUN.

Although I commend her determination in going back to school as a working mother and wife with enormous responsibilities—and I think we should all encourage such people—, I cannot help but notice her lapses. Further investigations indicate that she struggled through school and spent about 10 years before she could graduate, not in flying colours anyway. But does it really matter?

There are many people who struggle through school but become successful in other endeavours after their university education. School is not about passing exams with flying colours; going to school is about exposure and opening your mind to a world of possibilities. The confidence she exuded at the testimony session, before her bubble burst, is a direct consequence of a university education.

We do not know her pedigree. Perhaps, she was shy and timid before going to school but was afterwards able to face the Dunamis crowd to speak out. We put too much emphasis on spoken English in Nigeria. Here is a colonial language imposed on us by Britain. Yes, it is a means of communication in Nigeria, and it is our official language, but we shouldn’t equate English with knowledge, intelligence, or brilliance. There are so many knowledgeable people who don’t speak good English, and there are so many dullards who speak eloquently. Besides, it is neither our mother tongue nor is it our first language, and not everyone has a good foundation to understand the rules of grammar.

Additionally, Vera Anyim’s case did not (and should not) detract from NOUN’s performance and efficiency, which over the years has filled a vacuum in many people’s educational journey and career progression. NOUN still provides high quality educational standard and skills development devoid of issues like sexual assaults and other encumbrances associated with conventional universities mainly because of minimal physical interaction. Many NOUN graduates have been outstanding in their various endeavours too.

However, it must be stated that having come this far, it was careless of NOUN to allow an error on their website, which initially rendered law as BSC, yet Ms Anyim should know better, after all the certificate issued to her reads LLB. Again, NOUN has a strong ICT with the full complement of a directorate. How then could such error remain on their website before the Ms Anyim fiasco?

Notwithstanding this dent, NOUN has remained one of the most progressive public universities in the country. According to the dean of the Faculty of Law, Dr. Ernest Ugbeje NOUN’s students’ performance at Law School has vindicated their law programme, as their students have been doing well. “The fear of the regulatory body is that we run a part time programme; and that our students would not do well. From all indications, that misconception appears to have been settled. It is never a part time programme. We had physical contact with our students, and we facilitate them… we have students that are professors; we have students that are PhD holders.

“And when they went to the Nigerian Law School, the lecturers were amazed at their performance. They did well… and earned many awards by the end of the programme”, the dean said at one of NOUN’s events. The university has over 500,000 thousand students, 78 study centres and 750 courses. NOUN provides equal opportunities to both disabled and prison inmates and as many as 3000 of such class of people enrolled in their programmes while some have graduated. Arguably, no university in Nigeria can boast of NOUN’s reach. Certainly, we can’t throw away the baby with the bath water.

…Zainab Suleiman Okino chairs Blueprint Editorial Board. She is a syndicated columnist and can be reached via zainabokino@gmail.com

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