By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
Good News From A.B.U. Zaria
In the Western concept, doing right is not considered news. However, in Nigeria where the right is seldom done, witnessing something done the right way is delighting because it is new. In our Trivials series, I will make such experiences news to imbue us with the hope that all is not lost and to encourage those who did the right thing to sustain it and do more.
The Faculty of Medicine and the authorities of Ahmadu Bello University this year limited admission into medicine to only 127 students, including 15 direct entry students, instead of the hundreds that were annually admitted previously. The outsider may wonder what is praiseworthy here. However, to stakeholders - students, parents, lecturers and the university administration - this was an exemplary achievement, if the reader knows where we came from.
Previously, the university has tried to trim the number but failed due to Nigerian factor. In 2006 for example, its 100 level students for the course, including repeats, were more than 400. Lecturers at the faculty and elsewhere in the university have their children applying, just as do university administrators, ministers, governors and other big men and women across Nigeria. The pressure on the administration and the faculty was too much. Since the faculty is statutorily allowed to graduate only about 100 doctors annually, it had to find wayss of cutting the high figure of students from several hundreds at 100 level to the reasonably manageable figure beforemthrynreach 600 level.
The only way to do it was to devise various inconsistent ways of having many withdrawals and repeats annually. They rolled many heads, admittedly, regardless of who the students' parents or state of origin were. Lectuers can be extremely strict when they decide to. The children of ministers, vice chancellors, lecturers and commoners alike all suffered from the trauma of being withdrawn from the faculty after spending one, two, three or four years in the dreamland of doctorhood. The day results are released is usually a very dark day for hundreds of families across the country. Each would empathize with its withdrawn child that would often go into hiding, crying all week, as if the whole world has turned away from him or her.
Yes. The world has turned away from them at least at that moment. They did not know, nor wanted to be, anywhere except that dreamland. And suddenly, it is gone, after it has occupied their imaginations for years. They can only see a sea of total darkness ahead, without any sun or flowers to brighten and colour their days. They would wish they have died and became lost in the past. Now they have to return to where the started years before, sit for JAMB again and apply for another course, once more knocking at the door of the university as if they were never there before.
I have grieved along with these students for decades now and had a cause to last year arrive at the conclusion that in all Nigerian universities, Medicine, with this culture, is the worst faculty I have ever seen. I have seen just so many talents that would have read other professional courses and excel in them wasted in pursuit of medicine. They live with that pain all through their lives. Why won't they admit just close to the number they need, making sure that they pick only the best? I prayed for this to come for many years. I thought it will never arrive. Alas, it was by the corner, in Zaria at least.
Two years ago, one of the families took the faculty and the university authorities to court, accusing them of deliberately failing students in order to cut the number of graduants from the faculty. The faculty denied it and produced the examination scripts of the failed students. "See, he failed", it argued. Of course, what could the judge understand there except the red ink? Deep inside them, as men of conscience, however, the lecturers knew they got the verdict on their side, but they did not win the case. Something must be done. And, alhamdulillah, they were bold to do it.
This year they admitted only 127, meaning even with the backlog of students waiting to be axed by the red ink of the lecutures, the end is within sight. In three years to come, our children's tears would be saved as very few will be exposed to the trauma of withdrawal. This is the first good news. That somewhere in Nigeria, there was a problem and the authorities resolved to solve it. Bravo.
The second good news is the process of how the slim figure was arrived at. The faculty met and decided that only few would be admitted. It agreed, like in previous years that the admission would be based on competition among students from each admission quota. A percentage was given for distinction, one admission slot to each state of the federation - being the only truly national university, and an additional one to each state from the catchment area of the university, i.e, the 19 northern states, coming from students who completed the remedial program of the university, SBRS, Funtua, with relevant JAMB points. The lecturers tamed their passion and avoided favouring their own children or those of their colleagues from other faculties, who alone can produce the desired number of qualified candidates. Ba sani, ba sabo. They completed their job perfectly and handed over the list to admissions office at the "senate block" of the university.
At the "senate block", the noble job of the faculty was almost killed by the previous culture of adding names from who is who in the university and Nigeria. The list ballooned once again. Back to square one. The lecturers protested vehemently and threatened brimstone and fire. A meeting between the administration and the faculty representatives was convened at the Senate block. It took hours without the lecturers bulging. In the end, the administration also appreciated the pain through which the faculty has been going for decades. It agreed. The initial submission of the faculty was maintained. This is another good news. Very good news in Nigeria. Here were Nigerians in position of authority taming their passions and doing the right thing. They would have filled the slots through various corrupt practices, to money, to girl friends, to traditional rulers, to ministers and senators, and go Scot-free. But they responded to their conscience appropriately. Bravo, bravo bravo. More of this habit please and Nigeria would be a better place. We do not need more dollars in gifts, Mr. President, but only the resolve to do the right thing.
Three problems remain now. One is how parents and teachers would counse their children appropriately regarding the choice of courses and universities when they fill JAMB forms. In all our universities over 3/4 of science students apply for medicine while courses like agriculture, education and the basic sciences remain largely unapplied for. In the end, only few candidates are admitted and the rest remain unadmitted that year. This is a waste which we parents and teachers at secondary school level must stop. The lecturers at my alma mater have done their own. Let us do ours such that the hearts of our children would once more shine with hope and excellence.
Two, a gaskiya, graduating only 100 doctors per year is too small for the largest university in Africa, south of the Sahara, especially with its elaborate infrastructure at Samaru and Shika. The effort to turn the faculty into a college where it will be permitted by the Nigerian Medical Council to produce 200 doctors annually should be speeded up. The same thing must be said of the conventional universities in Jos, Maiduguri, Kano, Sokoto and Ilorin. Permission should also be given to universities of technology throughout the country to establish faculties of Medicine, as we fought hard to get it at ATBU, Bauchi. Hatching that idea and initiating the process was one my achievements as Adviser to the Governor on Education between 2003 - 2007. Mashaallah. Let these diseases and high infant, maternal and, now, paternal, mortality rates vanish from our midst, please.
The third problem is the other faculties. I would like to throw a challenge to the present Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello Uinversity. Let one of my readers please take a copy of this Trivial to him. I knew Professor Abdullahi Mustapha since 1975 when we met at the Muslim Students' Society (MSS) national annual meeting at St. Jones College, Jos. (Then Nigeria was peaceful. Muslims could hold national meetings in Christian schools. May such good days return to our land!) He came along with Ibrahim Suleiman and Usman Bugaje, then all of them graduates, to lecture us on the theme Islam and Contemporary World Ideologies. He, like many of the early MSS members, has maintained his commitment to the egalitarian principles they propagated while they were students and to which we who followed them immediately also opened our impressionable minds.
As Shata would say, tunda ka girma ka zama malam, now that he is the Vice Chancellor of that great university, can he please fight with all his energy to ensure that, as the administration did for medicine, admission into all other all courses in the univeristy is equally based on merit? With his egalitarian background and ascetic disposition. This is another opportunity to practice those principles at the university level. And I believe Abdullahi Mustapha will do it.
The next Trivial may also be a good news, regarding CPC and Buhari which we discused in Discourse 311: Fraud, Moneybags and CPC last week. I learnt that the General has also done the right thing. I am happy. But let me finish establishing my facts first. I will be right back.
4 December, 2010