UI: The irony of fashionable rooftops and awful interiors
‘‘Our lives begin to end the day we keep silent about things that matter ~ Martin Luther King Jr.’’
Last year, they came. They came with a truckload of tiles and bags of cement, causing the residents of Mellanby Hall to start asking questions: What are all these tiles for? Has the school finally yielded to our pleas of renovating the decrepit vestiges of colonialism we oddly call ‘halls of residence’? Has the juggernaut of common sense finally bulldozed the hurdles of neglect to give way to a highway of prosperity? Mellanbites, indeed, thought a beacon of hope had come but nay, it was only a truckload of cosmetic products. Products purposed for the surgery of an organ which suffered no discomfort and which caused none. Their hopes were dashed when they learnt that the tiles were meant for the roof atop the cafeteria and nowhere else. Today, the cafeteria top is smiling at the sky while the teeth, joints and other vital organs ached for relief.
Yesterday, they came again. Yes, we saw them. They brought an even greater truckload of tiles and cement in the glare of the morning sun. They took their time to download the cargo from the truck and they carefully placed them close to the entrance of the hall. But this time around, we were not to be fooled. The Hall Chairman and his associates already maintained a vantage point, observing the development and brooding over what step to take. What is it they want now? Are they going to tile the fences this time around when other pressing matters need expeditious action? Or have the halls been leased out as warehouses to a cement company?
It should be mentioned that Kenneth Mellanby Hall was not alone as Sultan Bello Hall (and God knows where else) was, as observed, to get her share of the shipment later in the day. As a matter of fact, Lord Tedder Hall appears to be the setting for the feasibility study as the surgery had already been performed on it long ago. Besides as the hall of fame, should it not take after famous celebrities who set the pace in plastic surgeries and other corollaries of inferiority complex?
Reports gotten from workers in the aforementioned two halls and the University Student Lodgings Bureau (USLB) indicate that those at the highest echelon of the university organogram are they who conceived, nurtured and begot the entire project. They did not consult – at least not those at the grassroots. They did not intimate or forewarn. They simply said ‘be’ and it was without feeling the pulse of the foot soldiers whose job it is to implement their commands. At the USLB and elsewhere, they are fondly called the “ogas at the top”. In a nutshell, the contract is nothing but the resultant child of oligarchic sodomy and elitist masturbation.
The Kenyans do say that a rope has two ends. Seneca likewise once remarked, ‘He who comes to a conclusion when the other side is unheard may have been just in his conclusion, but yet has not been just in his conduct’. It is a matter of ethics, and anything to the contrary is tantamount to shooting oneself in the leg ab initio. Thus, what arguments has the school advanced so that the university community can accept this unsolicited dowry?
It has been argued that the aim of the project is to forestall the further dilapidation of buildings through the prevention of the penetration of rainfall. This is perhaps in line with these words of Confucius, ‘A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door’. Currently, it can be noticed that some old structures within the halls are already developing stretch marks and are undergoing unbridled ecdysias. Consequently, they say all they want is for these buildings not to crumble under our feet. This line of reasoning is what the workers at the site in Mellanby also articulated. They in fact sprinkled water on the imported tiles to demonstrate its water-repellent quality. No doubt, it is a really remarkable cause – except for a couple of reasons.
Here’s the catch. First and foremost, the happenstance is another arguable case of putting the cart before the horse. At the present time, two toilet facilities in Sultan Bello hall are under lock due to their utter state of disrepair. Another one is in fact soon to join them in retirement. The same story goes for other halls as well. In point of fact, I know of persons who trek a long distance to answer nature’s call just so they could steer clear of the waterloo in our flooded but waterless conveniences. But then the vast majority have resigned to fate, daily taking sips of death into their posterior cavity and hoping their antibodies are up to the task.
Asides the toilets, other aspects of the school’s basic amenities equally suffer untold and untellable abandonment. Innumerable sockets in the halls of residence have gone AWOL with several rooms having none that is functional. For some other rooms, it is the doors which have gone in search of the Chibok girls. And again in other places, the problem is with the light bulbs which confidently and constantly rebel against the positive commands of Maintenance. Different strokes for different folks. But of course, that is just a small portion of the large chunk of problems facing us. To go on listing would be to spend unnecessary time stating the obvious.
Moreover, as men at the USLB rightly pointed out, the project is just a way of massaging the tumour and not assuaging the pain of the patient. This is because the tiles are likely not to last long due to endless swipes from the sun and heavy downpours from clouds. They would likely expand, crack and eventually succumb to the contingents of H2o. And so, the tiling of those surfaces may not be a permanent solution or a solution at all. The school should seek after long-lasting solutions especially through the building of new halls of residence which have been promised since 2012 (and possibly before that year), and not just give a broomstick to a drowning man.
Our brothers from the Ashanti tribe now and again say, ‘If you are too smart to pay the doctor you had better be too smart to get ill’. In the same vein, if the school is too smart to build new hostels, then I guess it had better find a better way of preventing the collapse of the ones still available. Workers at the USLB have even been reported to say they are only waiting for the completion of the project and for someone to call them to work on faulty water tanks on the roofs. They sure would not want to risk their lives manoeuvring their way through the slippery tiles.
The trip to the USLB unveiled the insect at the bottom of the leaf and brought to light the real incubus troubling us all (the student population, i.e.). The workers met there disclosed the fact that for as many as 12 halls of residence; there are only three carpenters, three electricians and three plumbers employed by the university – an apparent imbalance! No wonder students have to wait ceaselessly before simple faults in appliances can be fixed. No wonder engaging in self-help and hiring an expert are way wiser options than relying on the management. The men, who appreciate the plight of students, said they had been expressing their grievances for a long time with no solution in sight. Rather, the university has only planned towards employing more hands for the security unit.
Other workers met in other parts of the school equally expressed their displeasure at how they never get consulted or informed when important decisions are being made. They are always sidelined to the side lines and defenestrated to the margin. Even their immediate bosses have been administratively castrated. The delivery of the tiles and bags of cement was just as big a surprise to them as it was to the students. It seems theirs is to follow orders from the others, even if they are not in order.
The workers met were all eager to help with information. They expressed hope that perhaps if the pen is pushed on the white pasture of paper, changes can be effected. One worker even charged that the matter be tabled at the gathering of union leaders as the school is more likely to lend listening ears to the collective voice of students who are the nucleus of the citadel, in contrast to that of workers.
Professor Wole Soyinka once said, ‘The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism’. Thus the greatest measure of freedom is equally the presence of criticism. But its presence would serve no use without sincere acceptance and implementation where necessary. In consequence, this is a call to the university management to rethink its position and adjust its ways.
Firstly, the opinion of all stakeholders, experts and beneficiaries is of paramount importance if any decision-making process is to be toughened against backfiring. Authoritarianism and intellectualism are at antipodal ends with nothing in common. It explains why the gown has always been the fiercest foe of the jackboots and vice versa. And this is why till today; it still has not recovered from the strategic blows and over-politicisation by the junta. It is then befuddling that modes of operation characteristic only of the military are now being re-enacted by the academics.
We find the Vice-Chancellor prioritising staff above students when we all know the staff exist for the students. We find him neglecting the student union leadership for several weeks after assumption of office despite attempts to get his attention, until moments of crisis. We find the utter disregard for students and workers in the membership of crucial bodies on campus whose establishment is geared towards the welfare of the de facto ‘outcasts’. We find all these irregularities amongst others, and we find also that they must end if we must start.
Additionally, the school should also learn to set its priorities straight. To secure the prosperity of the present people and posterity, it is only sensible that priorities must never be confused with necessities, and necessities never with frivolities. We must ask ourselves – is tiling of roofs the solution to our problems?
Finally, it is submitted that the stumbling block pestering the University Student Lodgings Bureau must be addressed without further delay. A popular maxim states that lex non cogit impossibilia (the law does not demand the impossible). It is simply impossible for three carpenters, three electricians and three plumbers to adequately cater for the needs of 12 halls of residence. The department urgently needs reinforcement. And until they get that, students will continue to grope in darkness though Maintenance giveth light. They will continue to live in fear and sleep with one eye open, the other partly closed. They will continue to travel long distance just to cook, charge their devices and iron their clothes. And they will continue to miss lectures and meander in intellectual mediocrity… Dictum sapienti sat est – enough has been said for the wise.
• Adebajo is a student of the University of Ibadan.