As it has become imminent that students will soon return to Nigerian campuses, I recall one Sunday morning, some time ago, I was in a bus going to Yaba. Inside was a woman taking her daughter to the bus park. They were heading to the east, where she was taking her daughter to the university for the first time.
The daughter looked about 16 or 17. Her face; light skinned, and round. Her hair was twisted in brown extensions. I could tell she had applied white talc powder on her face.
Her mum was reciting advice to her: “Remember to attend mass every day, keep good friends, be in your hostel by 6 pm.”
From what I gathered from their conversation, she was going to the east because her father wanted her to learn Igbo and know ‘her people.’ She just nodded as her mum went on with the dos and don’ts. I got down at the next stop, but I knew the woman would talk until they got to the park.
Of all the advice my family and older friends heaped on me before I went to the university, the one that stood out most was the one from my older cousin. I was told to buy tight jean shorts and always keep them close to me before I sleep. I was so confused, why I asked? My cousin calmly told me it was because of rape. She said it like we were talking about vanilla ice cream.
“Always keep two or three shorts close by before you sleep. If your hostel is getting robbed as people are running or panicking, wear the really tight shorts, it deters them from raping you because it takes so much time to remove them. It might not help o, but it could buy you some time.”
I remember wanting to laugh when she finished her sermon on how to avoid being raped (from staying indoors after 7 pm, to avoiding parties, sleeping only in my room, the shorts, etc). I told her “there’s police, police will come na.” She looked hard at me then laughed at my foolishness.
The first year in school I had reason to run for shorts in the middle of the night. I finally understood why I should be home before 7 pm, or get male friends to walk me to my hostel. I was once robbed, a cold gun pressed to my ribs, when I went out around 8 pm to get recharge cards.
My worst university experience happened in 300 level – cult boys entered our exam hall (a hall that had about five men invigilating an exam) and attacked someone, spilling his blood everywhere.
They ordered us all to keep quiet. It was like a crazy mannequin challenge, we all stood still, watching our classmate’s blood splash on our exam sheets. The boys had been gone for like 15 minutes before school security – half blind and arthritic old men – ran in with sticks.
At the end of my 4 + x years (where x is decided by ASUU), my ears had been filled with stories of every terrible thing that can happen in a Nigerian university. Some happened right on my campus while others were stories from people from other schools who visited – from state universities in the south east. There were stories about Ekosodin in UNIBEN, to Ekpoma, DELSU (Abraka), UNIPORT, etc.
I found myself thinking of that girl today, of the many ways a Nigerian university campus will replace the roundness of her face with edges. She will see what Nigeria really is, away from the protection of her parents. Of how lecturers and awon boys are demi gods. Of how to say no to advances in the most pleasant way even if you want to scream, of how to be crafty and smart.
She will learn that reading your books is for your own benefit and that if you don’t buy some textbooks, or contribute to some birthday presents F will be your portion.
We survived, I hope she does.