Not all Nigerian students amass degrees to stay in Europe

THE crucial role headlines play in influencing the perception of a news story, eitherbreaking news on television or an opinion editorial for a newspaper was best put by Zizi Papachirissi, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota: “Headlines award significance, communicate gravitas, and are crucial to how news become a story, but most importantly, they inform and misinform. In the long term, they play a part in how stories are retold and recorded, thus eventually turning them into memories and histories.”  “Nigerian students amass degrees to stay in Europe” was the headline of an article published two weeks ago by the BBC on its website. The problem with this headline lies in the carefree manner it makes a conclusive statement about a situation that is otherwise broad, complex and subject to multiple perspectives.  Written by a Nigerian correspondent for the BBC, the article shares the experiences of some students studying in European countries like Belgium and Estonia, who in a bid to secure permanent residency in these countries, study multiple postgraduate degrees, mainly because of their inability to secure jobs in their current country of residence, and a sheer determination to not return to Nigeria because of the numerous problems plaguing the country.

While the problem described in the BBC article is real with a sizable number of the Nigerian students currently in most European countries studying multiple degrees perfunctorily just to get a green card, this cannot be said to be the general case for all Nigerian students in the European Diaspora. The article published by the BBC fails to acknowledge the efforts of other Nigerian scholars studying in some European countries like the UK, most especially in schools like Oxford, Cambridge, LSE and other top European institutions whose real desire is to acquire the necessary knowledge that will enable them to effect real change in their native communities.  Many of the Nigerian students in the UK also do not come from “super wealthy, elite families” as stated in the BBC article.  In most cases, Nigerian students in the UK work long hours as care workers during school breaks and term time in order to pay for the bulk of their school fees. This is due to the fact that universities in the UK require most of their prospective students to pay half of their fees before a confirmation of acceptance can be granted. ”It has certainly not been easy” admits Ibukunoluwa Bello, a Master degree student currently studying forensic accounting in the University of South Wales. He adds: “Between rent, school fees and living costs, there remains little to cater for your personal needs. Balancing school work and a part-time job is incredibly difficult as you fail in most cases to get the best from both sides…”.

Back in Nigeria, Ibukunoluwa, who is a professional member of ICAN had been a banker for Access bank and a revenue collection manager for De TasteeFried Chicken in Lagos. Despite being a chartered accountant, Ibukunoluwa is currently planning to write more exams for certificates like ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner). On why he decided to apply for an accounting Master degree in the UK, he said “I was particularly interested in forensic accounting because I discovered especially from experience that most people know or realize that fraud is being committed in most transactions but nobody is interested in finding out the pattern or perpetrators in order to stop it.  As you probably know, this situation is particularly endemic in our public sector.” He asserts, citing the recent example of an announcement made by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives; that over 1000 ministries, departments, and agencies have failed to submit their audited reports to the office of the Auditor General of the Federation for decades.

“That was why I took it upon myself to study forensic accounting. We need to be able to create systems in order to prevent, reduce and predict these acts, but of course everyone worries if any of these plans would eventually come to fruition because of the political situation in Nigeria…,” he concludes wearily.

“I never understood that politics could be used as a force for good until I left Nigeria…” remarks Osamagbe Isevbigie, a second-year engineering student, also at the University of South Wales. He continues: “…when you listen to lectures organized by top schools like Harvard on African development and the major economic problems impeding the growth of the continent, you find out most of the guests on these lectures are Nigerian business leaders who make a lot of sense. We have the knowledge to solve most of our problems and people are ready, but most of these experts avoid Nigerian politics because of the violence involved….”. Osamagbe, who is currently doing four internships with UK organizations like Bright Network, Omni House etc. with the hope of getting a deferred admission into Harvard Business School in order to study how to facilitate effective economic partnerships between the private sector and the public sector; also works long hours during term break and the twenty hours during term time so as to pay for the remaining part of his school fees. There is also the cost of basic amenities in a country that is notorious for its heavy tax system. “It is not easy,” he laments, “sometimes it feels like the odds are stacked against you…”

Freddie Anyaegbunam, also a Nigerian scholar currently studying Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, hopes “to create change on a deeper level” through fiction and storytelling. He has had previous degrees in history and politics from the University of Exeter, a law degree from the University of Warwick, as well as a Masterdegree in International Conflict from the University of Kent.   “I’ve always been interested in conflict resolution…,” he says when asked about his several degrees, “Everything I’ve done has been to chase that. Growing up in 90s Nigeria, I remember being quiet because people tell you that your parents could be arrested. I remember wailing after the June 12 elections were annulled because I was scared that there would be a war in the country…,” he continues.

On his research at Cambridge, he acknowledged that “my research is meant for those in academia or in policy.” But “fiction…,” he argues “…is how you can reach the ordinary person…”

Freddie who wrote a short film; The Encounter, which has been described on IMDB as a historical fiction drama that explores the Nigerian civil war through a fictional encounter between the leader of Biafra, General OdumegwuOjukwu and Major Emmanuel EmmanuelIfeajuna, has joined the league of prominent Nigerian writers who have produced works on the Nigerian civil war. Notable among these writers is ChimamandaNgoziAdichie, whose educational background includes Master degree in both Creative Writing and African Studies. Her second Master degree in African Studies might have informed most of the politically-charged arguments about African history which were prominent in her second novel; Half of a Yellow Sun, to show that the pursuit of multiple degrees could be for intellectual development and does not have to be for the purpose of perpetuating stay in Europe.

Incidentally, one of the many conclusions of a research carried out by UK Communications regulator; OFCOM in 2020 was that “65 perfcentof UK’s population get their news from the internet. In addition, the BBC remains the most used news source in the UK, while 23 percent of the UK’s population accessed their news on a regular basis via the BBC news website/app. In the case of those in the latter category, a misleading headline about Nigerian students might just be enough to inform their opinion and further stokeflames of prejudice by people who do not know better and in most cases, are too impatient to explore the different sides of a story. And this would justify this need to clarify that there are perhaps indeed many (more) Nigerians pursuing degrees in Europe who are genuinely concerned about how to equip themselves for further productive engagement on their return to Nigeria even as there are Nigerian students shopping for any degree to pursue in order to perpetuate their stay in Europeas portrayed in the earlier BBC article.

  • Ajidagba is currently at the final stages of a Master degree in Computer Science at the University of South Wales, Wales, UK.

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