In spite of very challenging times for everybody across Nigeria, undergraduates at Veritas University, Abuja are raising the stakes in expressivity by staging a week long debate from which a winner is scheduled to emerge later this week. The campus exploded into a debating fiesta today in spite of unusual calm around and about the area, a fiesta from which one could go home with a rating of the average Nigerian undergraduate. The comforting news is that it is still encouraging if one took the students who spoke today. Not only were they conversant with the key concepts in the topic of their debate, they also knew when and what empirical evidence to deploy and they drew from comparative experiences.
Although some of them might have benefitted from coaching preparatory to the competition, there were many who simply demonstrated the capacity to arrest and hold the audience through skilful re-arrangement of the protocol, provocative claims and non-verbal tactics. The hand clapping and scream of approval for such heroes were usually loud enough to bring down the hall. It is all part of the great game after which the university might never be the same again as the bar would have been set much, much higher for such skills as articulation, argumentation, clarity and logical reasoning. Or thinking on one’s feet.
The topic of the debate is “Corruption: The Bane of Nigeria’s Development?” Many of the speakers were very aware of what the World Bank or Transparency International, (TI), for example, says is corruption before they indicate their point of departure depending on which side of the topic they are.
High ranking officials of the university were not at today’s session but it has the formal approval of the university authority which has approved 1 – 5 pm as lecture free hours for the duration of the great event on the serene campus set on a hill. Several Heads of Department were seen in the Basement 1 Hall, the venue of the great debate, to listen and to score their students or think of where there might be gaps in their packaging.
There is currently an undeclared debate in the country and across the world why educational standards are believed to be falling. In Nigeria, some people say the teachers are either not groomed themselves or insufficiently motivated. Others argue that the creative destructiveness of neoliberalism has simply become the anti-thesis of learning globally. Yet, others insist the problem is that students enter the universities too young and operate under tremendous social pressure – having to cook their meals, contend with whatsapp messages, Facebook, etc. Finally, there are those who say the scrapping of Schools of Basic Studies/Preliminary Studies, (SBS/SPS) is where the problem lies. The School of Basic Studies is argued to act as a transition point and shock absorber for students such that by the time they enter the undergraduate programme proper, they can operate as such in terms of taking notes, making notes, utilising the library, coming to grips with concepts, handling the literature and flowing easily with the academic protocols. So far, there is no consensus and what Veritas is doing might just be one way to look at the problem. Only time will tell!