By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Although Senator Dino Melaye is certainly not in the good graces of Aso Rock, the president’s handlers must be thanking Melaye for the week-long media circus he instigated, which gave the president some reprieve.
I am already sick and tired of being sick and tired (apologies to late African-American civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer) of the Dino Melaye ABU graduation controversy. But let me say this one last thing before I filter out Dino Melaye from my discursive radar.
The most gracious thing that can be said about ABU VC Ibrahim Garba's testimony before the Senate Ethics Committee is that it raises more questions than answers. If Melaye indeed graduated from ABU with a Third Class BA degree in Geography in 2000, why was his name missing from the graduation list for that year? Was his name omitted because of clerical oversight? I am aware of several legitimate graduates whose names didn’t make it to the final graduation list. Was that the case for Melaye? Was the VC misled by his staff? Or did he knowingly lie under oath, which would be perjury? We need answers to these queries to get closure on the issue.
Nonetheless, people who are obsessing over the apparent discrepancy between Melaye's description of his NYSC cohort as "ABU 1999 set" and his putative year of graduation in 2000 fail to realize that because of unceasing ASUU strikes in the 1990s, there was (and still is) a jarring asymmetry between the official numeric labels assigned to academic cohorts and actual years of graduation.
For instance, the numeric label assigned to my graduating cohort at BUK was “1995/1996.” (The graduating cohort ahead of us graduated in 1995, and their official numeric label was “1994/1995.”) Were it not for an ASUU strike, we should have graduated in 1996, but our final session dragged on till early 1997. So, while my official BUK transcript reads "1995/1996" session, my degree certificate has a 1997 date. Technically, members of my cohort belong to the “BUK 1996 set," even though our actual year of graduation is 1997.
I see parallels between my experience and Melaye’s—if he indeed graduated from ABU. Melaye was admitted, I think, in the 1993/1994 session, so the numeric label for his graduating cohort would be 1998/1999--if you account for the lost year at ABU. Plus, NYSC discharge certificates always bear the numeric label of one’s graduating cohort. Although I did my NYSC in 1997, the call-up number in my discharge certificate has “1996” in it. It didn’t mean I “served” before I graduated.
So people who use the chronological asymmetry between the year indicated in Melaye’s NYSC call-up number (1999) and his putative year of graduation (2000) as a basis to impeach the credibility of his claims haven’t paid any attention to the turbulence in the Nigerian university system in the 1990s and the early 2000s. Nobody who graduated from a Nigerian public university from the mid to late 1990s is different from Melaye.
School pride and vainglory
I met Dino Melaye first in, I think, 1999 when I worked with the Weekly Trust Newspaper, then headquartered in Kaduna. He came with a bunch of other students from ABU to our newsroom and asked to be interviewed over something I don’t recall now. He immediately struck me as an insufferably attention-seeking boor. My recollection is that we refused to assign anybody to interview him.
I can’t speak to whether or not he actually graduated from ABU, but I’ve been struck by the frenetic social media chatter that his troubles with the media have inspired. It both conduced to the denigration of ABU by non-ABU graduates and to the activation of defensive institutional pride and self-congratulation by ABU alumni.
Here is my take. I have no problem with ABU’s smug, hyperbolic, and self-congratulatory bumper-sticker slogan that says "An ABU graduate is ahead of you naturally," which got played up a lot in the aftermath of the Melaye debacle. For me, it’s cheeky, good-natured humor. Of course, anyone with even the slightest pretense to education knows that people’s cognitive worth is never measured by the name of the institution they attended. And, as many people have pointed out, there is frankly no difference whatsoever in the quality of education offered by all Nigerian universities.
I have read people talk of the bygone “glories” ABU and other first-generation Nigerian universities. That’s simply not true. There were just as many smart people then as there are now—just like there were as many dumb people then as there are now. It is unreflective chronocentric narcissism that causes people to denigrate the present and valorize a putative glorious past. Have you interacted with 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s Nigerian university graduates? If you haven’t, they are our ministers, senators, lecturers, etc. They are as many gifted people among them as there are obtuse people among them—just like now.
I have interacted with graduates from all generations of Nigerian universities and found no difference in the quality of their minds as a consequence of their age, years of graduation, years of establishment of their schools, etc. Your year of graduation, the school you graduated from, your ethnicity, your region, etc. have little or no influence on your intellectual worth.
Dino Melaye would still be the buffoonish, air-headed thug that he is irrespective of the university he attended—and what year he graduated.