Besieged at home and beleaguered abroad

Kenechukwu Obiezu

Kenechukwu Obiezu

As Russian President Vladimir Putin ill-advisedly ordered his troops into Ukraine on February 24,2022 to begin an invasion that has rattled the world drawing resounding consequences for Russia, Nigerian hearts leapt into Nigerian mouths. As missile after missile shelled one Ukrainian city after another reducing residential and public buildings to rubble, Nigerians felt surging anxiety.

The reason for the anxiety was manifold. As with every stupid and senseless war caused by the stupidity of state actors, the casualties have been coming thick and fast. With the death toll rising and droves of refugees washing over the borders into neighboring countries, by reason of common humanity, many Nigerians and of course many people all over the world have been able feel what those in Ukraine have been feeling.

The war has also seen many Nigerian students trapped in the country. Once it was clear that the war was escalating, Nigerians worried for the many Nigerian students in Ukraine. Feelers from Nigerian students there as the war raged indicated that many of the students took to bunkers to shelter as bombs and bullets flew and buildings fell.

The conversation soon moved to what could be done for the Nigerian students trapped there. Immediate evacuation by air was impossible as experts warned that the Ukrainian skies were no longer safe for flying.

Many Nigerians also queried why it seemed the country had been caught unawares by events in Ukraine given that the warning signs were around for a long time. Many asked why nothing was done to evacuate Nigerian students when Russia ominously began amassing its troops along the border with Ukraine. Many asked why no plan whatsoever was made to secure Nigerian students as war became inevitable.

The sigh of national relief has been palpable as Nigerian nationals have begun to be evacuated back to the country from Ukraine. On March 4,2022,the first batch comprising 415 persons  arrived from Romania in the morning while the second batch comprising  180 arrived from Poland later in the evening. Another 180 arrived in the third batch. Others were still expected to return to the country from Poland and Hungary.

Among the evacuees are many students who though understandably grateful that they escaped, have returned with truly horrific stories of racial discrimination, starvation, standing and trekking for hours just to get to safety. The invidious invasion of Ukraine by Russia is yet to come to an end, and until it does, it would remain premature to count casualties or to conclude that those unhurt have escaped. But therein lies the story coming from an European country practically reduced to rubble by the paranoid stupidity of a deluded dictator who refuses to believe that the days when the Soviet Union held people and their dreams in suffocating thralldom firmly belong in the mausoleums of the past and are not returning.

In what is unfolding in Ukraine which has forced Nigerian students there to abandon their studies to save their lives and limbs, the students who have returned to the country and those who now sit at home because of the strike action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities(ASUU) can divine the  bleak future prepared  for them by events beyond their control in a country where they only want better lives of which there are fewer better guarantors than quality education.

The reality of Nigerian students going to other countries, some far inferior to Nigeria in many ways, has always haunted Nigeria. Every year, thousands of Nigerian students seek admission into foreign universities and are accepted often at exponential costs. This grim reality would not have been so haunting if it was not for the fact that many of those who seek spots in foreign institutions do so not just because they are well-heeled or want to see the world from another point but because they are desperate to escape the slug that education has become in Nigeria.

Because many Nigerian private higher institutions where standards are slightly better charge forbidding tuition fees, many Nigerian students resort to Nigerian public universities where practically anything goes.

When soakaways do not give way in decrepit school hostels to send students plunging to their deaths, ASUU, protesting the sorry state of infrastructure and the pitiable remuneration of their members, down tools every now and then in a ritual that threatens the future of millions of Nigeria`s young people.

While all these go on, the government of the day largely looks away given that from the level of primary schools to the highest levels of education in Nigeria, what it pays to education is lip service at best. This the government can comfortably do and conveniently does because after all, many government officials have their children comfortably settled in Western institutions where tuition is simply extortionate. So, insecurity can continue to rage here, public schools can fall into disrepair and education can face all manner of odds in Nigeria for all they care.

However, with the way events in Ukraine have sent Nigerian students scampering home for safety, the handwriting is boldly scrawled on the wall that unless we can fix the leaky roofs of our own education, we cannot always be assured of dry space under the roofs of others.

The warning bells toll from a distant country toll with devastating clarity. But will the deaf we have in the halls of power heed them?

Kene Obiezu,

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