Success in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and in the follow-up internal test of an institution are usually enough to qualify a candidate for admission into a Nigerian university. Not anymore, particularly if the University of Lagos (UNILAG) is the candidate’s first choice. As Mrs Taiwo Oloyede, Principal Assistant Registrar, Communication Unit, of the university announced days ago during an interaction with the News Agency of Nigeria, newly-admitted students will undergo a “compulsory” drug test from now on. If they pass, good luck. They fail, goodbye to admission.
“This test is compulsory and will be administered on new students before they are allowed to go ahead with registration,” Oloyede said. “Admission of any newly-admitted students who test positive for drug use shall be withdrawn. Our students must be seen to be good products not only of the institution, but also of the larger society.”
It is easy to see what UNILAG is trying to do. Fantastic conception but faulty execution. Tertiary institutions are easy breeding grounds for drug addiction; stamp drug abuse out of campuses and the society would have been done a huge favour. However, by Oloyede’s words, this drug screening will be a post-admission hurdle: it’s not like the identified drug addicts would be denied admission from scartch; instead, they would first have secured the admission, and then they would lose it. True, this method bars the guilty candidates from entering UNILAG, but what happens to them from then on? No one should expect that they end up in a rehab, or in the church or mosque; to lose their admission this way means they sink even deeper into drugs. It’s a scenario that sees UNILAG solve one problem for itself but simultaneously create two more for the society.
Withdrawing the admission of drug-positive fresh students won’t help UNILAG realise its ambition of ensuring that its students are “good products of the larger society”. To think it would, in the first place, gives UNILAG out as guilty of a defect common to the academia: the thinking that ‘citadels of learning’ are a society on their own, different in class, standard and expectations from the ‘larger society’. This societal superiority that the academia likes to claim is, in the moment, far from reach; it is difficult, but not impossible, to achieve. To happen, the institutions must truly be able to operate on their own, entirely devoid of human-capital support at least from the larger society. It means, for instance, that a university’s Faculty of Engineering can produce cars, and its graduates can repair them; it means lecturers can get their cars repaired on campus rather than embarking on a trip to the roadside mechanic several kilometres in ‘town’. It means its Faculty of Agriculture can cultivate crops, harvest them, process them and get them consumed — all on the farm. Until then, students whose admissions are withdrawn end up returning to the same “larger society” that UNILAG is an integral and continuous part of. Long and short, UNILAG hasn’t done anything to aid the cause of this ‘larger society’.
The threat of drug abuse to societal wellbeing is real, but it is important to understand that most drug abusers are not hardened criminals. They are more like prisoners — emotional/psychological prisoners of addiction. What they need is love, not force; rehabilitation, not rejection. In any case, any drug abuser who is brilliant enough to pass the UTME as well as UNILAG’s post-UTME test should not be discarded as entirely useless. If UNILAG truly desires to help itself and the society in one fell swoop, there are a number things it could do.
One is to take advantage of its internal intellectual capacity in availing the students of help. Its Department of Psychology exists for a purpose, and if that doesn’t include making psychological help available to needy students, such as those hooked on drugs, then the department is in dire need of some rejigging.
Another is to admit such students on condition, something similar to the ‘promoted on trial/condition’ we’re more accustomed to seeing in primary and secondary schools. Students found to be hooked on drugs can be admitted on, say, two-year condition that they enroll at a rehab centre and produce periodic reports from the centre. Those whose reports prove progress with drug reliance retain their admission after two years, while those without remarkable progress forfeit it. A few students will still end up in the latter group, no doubt, but even they would recognize they were at least given a chance to fight for their educational survival. The real gain lies with those who would have won their battle against drug dependence in those two years.
But everyone deserves a chance to fight. To send drug abusers away from their dream university at the first time of asking is cruel and in consonance with the Nigerian mentality of judging a book by its cover. There are a few brilliant, morally-upright youth out there who missed their way at some point in their lives; if we can’t help them — or at least give them a chance to help themselves — then we must not crush them. What is guaranteed is that the success rate for rehabilitation of these admission seekers will be high, given that all of them are young and therefore still impressionable.
If we’re looking for drug addicts to kick out of certain sections of our society, focus should be on politics. Too many Nigerian politicians are hooked on drugs. Some of them we don’t know because they’ve mastered the art of covering their tracks; others we already know because no sane human utters the kind of words that come out of their mouths. I won’t mention these names but I won’t stop readers who choose to do so in the comment section. These are the real people we should be kicking out; but the students, what they really need is an arm around their neck.
Soyombo, former Editor of the TheCable and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), tweets @fisayosoyombo