Some few weeks ago a sad event was relayed in the mainstream media in Nigeria and the event involved a 16 year old female undergraduate at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, Osun state. In the unfortunate event the young lady is suspected to have committed suicide as a result of failing a year one course, Chemistry 101, one of the main courses that all year one students in the faculties of technology, clinical science, dentistry, sciences, basic medical sciences, pharmacy and some in the faculties of education, agriculture and environmental design and management are expected to take in the university. As someone that had his undergraduate education at the same university, the dread with which a lot of students took to this particular course during our undergraduate years was apparent to me. Although, I didn’t take the course while I was studying at the university I knew a lot of students that took the course and the apprehension and dreadfulness towards the course was obvious for any discerning mind to see.
The case of the unfortunate student generated some reactions on social media, even though according to reports the real cause of the student’s death is yet to be ascertained, hence, most reactions are based on the ‘mind-set’ that it was a case of suicide. A lot of reactions that I read on social media were questioning the victim’s resilience and age. To some that the victim was reported in the media to have been 16 years old at the time of the suicide meant she wasn’t emotionally ready for the rigours of university education, and some even blamed the victim’s parents for the unfortunate situation. However, I think it’s important to put things in proper perspective. To start with, as at now, the cause of the death has not been declared by the relevant authorities, hence, coming to a conclusion on the nature of the victim’s death and blaming the deceased and her family members for it is what I’ll call victim blaming.
Unfortunately, Nigeria isn’t a country that is endowed with empirical facts on most of its social issues, thus, it is hard to reference empirical facts to either corroborate or contradict the narratives of the problem emanating from the victim’s age and her family. But as an alumnus of the university at the centre of the unfortunate event; based on anecdotes and the general perception by most students about taking courses in the dreadful ‘white house’ – the physical structure that houses parts of the faculties of technology and science at the university where the course, Chemistry 101, is usually taught, I know that a lot of students dreaded the course during our undergraduate years.
One of the reasons people consult ‘experts’ or better put in this instance go to school for formal education is because they want to become better educated individuals and knowingly or unknowingly they accept the fact that they will end up learning things both known and unknown to them while in school, hence, the onus lies on the would-be-educator, the university in this instance, to make its teaching and learning an inclusive experience for every student that passes through it. This can be achieved by the institution accepting both in principle and in practice that students have diverse backgrounds and every little support offered to them will help them in having a successful educational experience. After all the motto of Obafemi Awolowo University is ‘For Learning and Culture’.
The issue at hand is that – how will the school authority make sure that they provide adequate support to cater for students’ educational and emotional needs going forward? A situation in which people engage in victim blaming wouldn’t change or improve the status quo, rather, it would re-enforce it, which most likely wouldn’t yield any positive outcome in future. To make sure that lessons are learnt, the sad event of the young lady should bring forth with it a period of sober reflections and pragmatic actions by all stakeholders affected by the event, and support should be given to the deceased’s family. No parent would send a 16 year old to a university with a premonition that that university education would be the cause of death of that 16 year old. As a young parent I know that there is the hope and aspiration that in the nearest future my children would access higher education and I think I can empathise with the parents or people that were close to the deceased.
Times are changing, so also are societies, and the earlier we as a society accept and face this reality, the better for everyone. Young people are facing pressure that one couldn’t imagine would exist a decade ago, so, it is important that we appreciate and deal with nostalgic feelings as nostalgia, while we face the realities of our time pragmatically. It is important that the federal ministry of education, National University Commission, ASUU, the governing council and senate of Obafemi Awolowo University, the Department for Student Affairs of the university and the Chemistry department that delivers the Chemistry 101 course improve on the quality of its teaching and learning in order to change the decades old negative narratives that surround the Chemistry 101 course. Most importantly the federal government through its relevant bodies should address issues that affect the everyday lived experience of students in institutions of learning, in this instance at the higher education level in the country.
As for anyone that might be experiencing any form of sadness or disengagement from life that could lead or has led to depression, please seek for professional help, tap into that traditional sense of communal living and stay close to family and friends. Please don’t take your life, life is too precious and there is more to life than whatever it is that you might be experiencing at the moment. And as for you that you see that person withdrawing from society and becoming non-engaging, please reach out to that person, show some genuine care and concern, perhaps that one word, sentence or experience shared with that person might save a life. I know in Nigeria most people survive by the day because of their faith in God and I believe this is one quality I would encourage.