Students in Nigeria - The New Elite

Given More Respect, Privileges Than American Undergraduates, They Find Competition Rougher

Revolution is the stuff of which headlines are made. Yet the most significant one in today's world--what Chester Bowles has aptly termed "the revolution of rising expectations"--is taking place virtually unnoticed by the American public.

A summer spent in Nigeria convinces me that it is time for a change in this American attitude, or lack of it. Nigeria is a good case of an underdeveloped country with rising expectations; with a population of 35 million, fairly plentiful natural resources, a rich cultural heritage, and prospects for independence two years hence, it is certain to become a leader in an increasingly influential Africa.

Nigeria's students, in turn, can expect to be highly influential in their country's affairs. The much-needed skills they acquire will enable them to occupy positions of power much more rapidly than can the average collegian in this country. They will soon be making decisions of no small consequence to America.

In fact, it may not be unrealistic to claim that the remainder of this century belongs to them and their fellow students in the underdeveloped nations of Asia and Africa. A description of Nigerian student life, therefore, offers a rough indication of what the U.S. may expect in a rapidly changing world.

Our party's first contact with Nigerian students came when we were shown around the campus of Nigeria's only full-scale university, the University College at Ibadan. UCI was opened in 1948 and has been expanding ever since; present enrollment is about 680 and will eventually rise to 2,000. Affiliated with the University of London, UCI requires its students to satisfy full minimum entrance requirements of the former. Academic standards, in other words, exceed those of most American universities.

The sheer beauty of the campus quickly strikes the visitor. Its buildings, placed in a spacious setting of grass-covered hills, are constructed in an impressive modernistic style. The comfortable living quarters, which have been patterned on the English model, have much in common with the Harvard houses. Each of five "halls"--one for women, four for men--has its own dining room, sports facilities, social activities, and student government, and inter-hall competition is keen on many fronts. As at Lowell House, the hall dining rooms feature high tables--small but significant reminders of a larger debt owed by both Harvard and UCI to the British university tradition.

David Abernethy '59 of Eliot House, spent last summer with thirteen other American students on a study project in Nigeria, British West Africa. The privately-sponsored project, entitled "Crossroads Africa," included work camps involving American and Africa students in four other West African countries: Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and the French Cameroons.

University College is experiencing an upsurge of interest in the dramatic arts, and its newly-built campus theatre has facilities far superior to those provided at Harvard. Recent productions include HMS Pinafore, Shaw's Gentle People, and Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute. The director, a young and, not unexpectedly, bearded Englishman, felt satisfied with the calibre of the performers, but voiced the eternal plaint of the director in every land: his major problem was simply to remain solvent.

Though academic pursuits occupy most of the students' waking hours, their life has its less serious moments. The student body recently protested against the administration's decision to erect fences around the campus so as to prevent the boys from sneaking off to nearby Ibadan at night. No sooner were the fences installed than indignant vigilantes tore them down; they were promptly expelled. They were later readmitted, however and at present the outcome of this great clash of wills is in doubt. At any rate the ouburst reaffirmed what to the male college student is surely a fundamental human right.

All in all, life at UCI is fairly similar to that at an American college, yet the campus still has a distinctively African orientation. It shows up in little ways: the beautiful mahogany and ebony furniture, the stylized Yoruba art work in the Protestant and Catholic chapels. And, more important, it is evident in students' concerns. The Beacon, a UCI journal, features a book review of J.C. Amamoo's The New Ghana and an editorial on the recent conference of the eight independent African states, concluding with a stern protest to the French government should it carry out its proposal to test atomic weapons in the Sahara.

The visit to the UCI campus was but our first contact with Nigerian students. Several boys from the college travelled with us for the first half of the summer; moreover, we had the opportunity to speak in over 20 secondary schools, answering questions from audiences numbering 300 students.

These encounters gave evidence of a great reservoir of good feeling towards America and Americans existing among the younger generation. What direct contacts they had made in missions, schools, and hospitals convinced them that Americans were more informal and easier to converse with than the British, possessing none of the latter's attitude of condescension towards African culture. What they had heard through rumor, newspaper, radio, and the movies convinced them that the U.S. was a place of fabulous wealth, great opportunity, leisure, and few conflicts.

Of the questions asked about the U. S., the most persistent dealt with American education: "What qualifications do you need for university?" "Is American education as good as British?" "How do you obtain a scholarship?" "What universities are best for engineering, medicine, economics, music?" Implicit in these questions was the more important personal query, "Will I be able to study in America?" For to study in the States is a young Nigerian's highest ambition. Whether it can ever be realized is another matter.

A second group of questions dealt with racial discrimination in the U. S., the one feature of life here which came in for continual criticism. "We have heard about this Little Rock city; could you please tell us why the Negroes are being treated badly?"

The students knew little about the facts of the racial situation; many thought, for example, that school segregation existed throughout the country. But there was an obvious emotional involvement in the Negroes' struggle for civil rights, illustrated by the repeated habit of terming them "our brothers." The Nigerians were pleased to note that, of our party of fourteen, five were colored.