By Azuka Onwuka
Twenty one years after graduation, I decided to travel to the Nsukka campus of the University of Nigeria, to collect my certificate. It was a trip I had postponed for a long time because my statement of result always sufficed. But with my recent trip home, I decided to get a couple of things done to maximise the trip.
The last time I was at the UNN was in 2004. I knew that the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, which would take one to Ninth Mile Corner in Enugu State, was in a terrible state. But the old Enugu-Onitsha Road (simply called Old Road) had been revamped and was the saving grace between Anambra and Enugu.
The trip from Nnewi to Awka was smooth. The roads in Anambra were well paved with good drainage channels. On the road to Awka, one could see well constructed roads in Anambra towns and villages veering off from the left and right sides of the road.
Soon we got to Awka and got on the old Enugu-Onitsha Road. As stated earlier, it was very smooth: it was recently completely reconstructed. But no sooner had we stepped into Ugwuoba in Enugu State than we saw some young boys directing us to move over to the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway because a fallen truck had blocked the road.
Once on the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, the nightmare started. The road was like a place ravaged by war. Rather than potholes, what it had were craters and gullies decorated by mud and pools of water. A pregnant woman could easily have a miscarriage on that road. It reminded me of the Ore section of the Sagamu-Benin Expressway around 2006 and 2007 when travellers were spending nights there. But unlike the Sagamu-Benin Expressway which degenerated under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Umaru Yar’Adua, and was finally revamped by President Goodluck Jonathan, the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway got bad during Obasanjo’s tenure, worsened during Yar’Adua’s tenure, became terrible during Jonathan’s tenure and is now an eyesore. Will President Muhammadu Buhari tenure revamp it?
Eventually we got to Ninth Mile Corner and veered off the so-called expressway into the Makurdi Road. This Federal Government road was smooth in the early 1990s when I was a student of the UNN. But it was a dangerous road that claimed the lives of many of our students and lecturers because of its single carriage-way status with bends as well as lorries moving goods between North and South. The last time I plied the road in 2004, it had started getting bad. This time around, it was full of potholes, and cars had to continuously swerve to avoid them.
Finally, we got to Opi Junction, and turned left towards Nsukka. I was hoping that being a state government road, it would be smooth, given the stories I had heard about the feats of the erstwhile governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sullivan Chime. But the road from Opi Junction to the heart of Nsukka – the most important road in Nsukka – was in a sad state. I wondered why no attention was paid to Nsukka roads by Chime. In addition to Nsukka being the second largest town in Enugu, it also houses the first indigenous university in Nigeria: the University of Nigeria. That university is also the alma mater of Chime. So there are many reasons why Nsukka should have got serious attention from government. It then occurred to me that right from the boundary between Anambra and Enugu until I came into Nsukka, I did not see any well constructed road veering off the main road into the towns and villages like is common in Anambra State.
Once inside the university, I became happy. The motto of the university – “To Restore the Dignity of Man” – greeted me, and I thanked the university silently for the values it inculcated in me. The giant statue of the lion that is the symbol of UNN stood roaring ceaselessly in a beautiful park just after the main gate. I noticed that the university was more beautiful than it was when I was a student there or the last time I visited. The hostels, faculty buildings and administration blocks were all renovated and repainted. New buildings had been erected. Buildings abandoned for years like the massive library and hostel beside the Franco Halls had been completed.
While a student, I noticed that even though the university was founded by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first President, no building was named after him then. He saw to it that the halls of residence were named after Mary Slessor, Tafawa Balewa, Kwame Nkrumah, Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Aja Nwachukwu, Michael Okpara, Eyo Ita, Isa Kaita, Eni Njoku, etc. But none was named after him. He even requested that the university should not be named after him upon his death. The only place named after him were his private 20 two-storey buildings beside the university that the university was using as hostels. They were called Zik’s Flats Hostels. I lived there as a student. I visited them after my mission on campus and saw that they were no longer being used by the university. It was good therefore to see that the new library was named after Azikiwe. His bust was also mounted on the roundabout facing Mary Slessor Hall.
I also noticed that Princess Alexandra Auditorium, which was bombed during the Nigerian Civil War, had been renovated. The bomb had pulled off the entire roof of the building and it was left like that for decades as a relic of the war. There were two viewpoints regarding that building. One held that the building should be left like that, so that students and visitors to the university would have something to see as a relic of the Nigerian-Biafran war. The other opinion held that renovating the auditorium would help to heal the wounds of the war. Princess Alexandra represented Queen Elizabeth at Nigeria’s Independence on October 1, 1960 and proceeded to Nsukka to formally open the University of Nigeria on October 7.
But I was disappointed at the process of collecting of certificates from the UNN. I came with all my receipts for tuition, hostel accommodation, faculty fees, departmental fees, library card. But I was made to go from office to office for clearance. By 3 pm the finance officer of Faculty of Arts had left. I felt frustrated. It was my wife’s birthday, while the next day was my birthday. Because of the fear of the bad roads, I chose to sleep over at the CEC Guest House inside the university. I used that one hour to go to the bank to pay the N1, 000 for the certificate and N300 for alumni association. The next morning, I was back at the faculty finance office by 8am but she was not there. By 10 am, I sought her number and called her. She eventually surfaced at 10. 40am and gave me the note that I took to the Students Affairs. From there I went to the Audit and was directed to the cash office to collect my receipts for the bank payments I made the previous day. Then I returned to the Audit where a passport photograph was taken from me and I was asked to photocopy the documents, including my statement of result. I was fortunate that my set was not required to get a clearance from Security.
The Nsukka campus of the University of Nigeria is like a small town, occupying 2,150 acres of land. Offices and departments are located far away from each other, some more than one kilometre apart. The university had also banned commercial motorcycles. Only green-and-white painted taxis and buses are allowed within the university, and they are not allowed to ply some routes. So imagine walking a kilometre under the hot sun from one office to another and back again.
With my final clearance paper, I went to Careers. A couple of minutes later, the lady came back with my certificate and asked me to sign a register bearing the handwritten names of all my classmates. I was thrilled to see the certificate. It was signed and dated April 9, 1994 and had been kept there since then waiting for me. Out of about 60 people in my class, less than 20 had collected their certificates.
I took a taxi and went round the university to see the hostels and sites that were far away from the heart of the university. I was happy with what I saw of the University. I left feeling happy about my alma mater but wishing that it had computerised its processes so that such a simple thing as collecting of certificates would not be stressful.