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An inspirational note to students on the issue of students’ non-engagement in Universities
I am not a motivational speaker, nor claim to have been inducted into the motivational speaker’s hall of fame. However, my choice to write about this blog stems from some of the challenges being faced by students that I have observed in the last couple of months. This is an inspirational blog for students and not so much about the issues of laziness in studies and so on. The aim here is to try to guide students on how they can fight through some of the challenges they are going through and be better achievers. As an educator, I owe it a duty to myself to offer advice and guidance to my students wherever necessary – in the hope that they can benefit sufficiently from the experiences that university life brings them. Remember my first point, I am not a motivational speaker, and so the recommendations that I present here are not exhaustive but brief and straight to the point.
In this post-pandemic era, several academics have drawn attention to the general lack of engagement of students in their various universities, and some colleagues have written and spoken about this issue on different platforms and forums. Some academics and students, none I know, often conclude and sum up the problem as ‘mere laziness’. While I do not disagree entirely with them in some cases, I wish to reflect on some of my observations with students from different universities. In these dialogues, my aim was to know their views on the general lack of engagement with their studies and to pick their brains on why some students struggle to attend classes. Many issues have been raised, but I will attempt to sum them up into three categories.
Firstly, one of the key issues that some students have raised is the impact of the pandemic and the need to bring back remote learning. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 messed us all up, and I get it. It was a painful period of uncertainty and a period where academic achievements dropped almost to their lowest across many countries. Online collaborate, and other online classes made life really easy for many students to the point where students could turn up to their 9 am online class under their duvet just a few minutes before the start of the class. The obligation to complete workshop reading was minimal because students could easily fake a network connection glitch and sign out when called to answer a question. There was also no obligation (in some cases) to turn on your camera or mic – because the famous phrase ‘my mic isn’t working’ was not too far away. These examples may seem inconsequential, but they help us understand some foundational problems affecting students’ motivation to engage with their studies.
We should also not forget that the need to queue up for trains at 7 am, where you have people breathing down your neck during the expensive peak time or rush hour period to meet a 9 am lecture, was reduced to the lockdown rules. This life has led to what I call the ‘soft life’. The soft life of having things done at your own time, in your bed, and at your own pace. To a large extent, the ‘soft life’ of remote learning has made it really difficult for some students to readjust to real life and to fire up their motivations to engage with their studies. My recommendation is that students start fighting through this soft life because the real-life upon graduation is not particularly soft, and the labour market (as some of you may be aware) is particularly fierce in its competition.
The second issue here is the problem of finance and the current cost-of-living crisis. I will not go into specific details because we are all feeling the heat of the current austerity, but the result of the current cost of living crises, such as the rise in transportation fares, has been raised as one of the reasons why students do not turn up to classes. We all know that the austere situation of price hikes is being experienced by many of us today. As a result, we are witnessing several strike actions across the country. From teachers to train drivers and from hospital workers to bus drivers, hundreds of thousands of workers are calling for changes in their pay schemes, working conditions and so on. Students are also suffering from these crises too, and it becomes even more compounded for students with dependents.
We can all agree that studying under harsh financial conditions can increase anxiety and reduce motivation to engage in university. These, coupled with family commitments and health challenges, are a recipe for discouragement and demoralisation. In managing this problem in academic studies, one of the key recommendations is for students to identify the support services available to them in their various institutions. Get in touch with your lecturers and update them on your predicament. Don’t ‘ghost’ on your PATs; speak to your academic advisers and other services available to you as you deem fit. Keeping your problems to yourself will only intensify anxiety. After all, a problem well stated is a problem half solved.
Another overarching narrative in my dialogue with some students reflects the general feeling of not wanting to go to university because of a lack of belonging to the campus or the course/module. Some students have noted higher confidence levels in peer learning and that their inability to establish a strong relationship with friends on campus or in classrooms has made it difficult for them to engage. When it relates to in-class workshop exercises, minimal students attend class, thus restricting peer learning. I once heard, ‘why do I need to attend when it’s only going to be 3 of us in the class’. Again, very many examples have been raised in my dialogues, but what is important here is for students to recognise some of the benefits of this and to use it to their advantage instead of taking it as a reason not to engage. One example is that such situations can provide a more ‘personable atmosphere’ where you can clarify burning issues relating to the module. It can also help with attention, and it can help build confidence.
Gnerally, non-engagement with studies has some implications for later years. Gone were the days when the probability of getting a job was relatively high upon completing university degree. However, in recent times, the competition in the labour market has become so stiff that those with a 2.1 or 1st-class degree sometimes find it hard to secure a job – particularly where experience is limited. Making informed decisions, being autonomous in your education and taking responsibility for your education will assist in dealing with quite a lot of challenges in later years. Remember the saying, if life throws lemons at you, make lemonade out of it. So keep on striving.
Overall, anxiety, stress and demoralisation reduce work productivity and social functioning. We are in a period where we, as a society, need each other more than ever. People are struggling and going through different crises, and as a people, the least we can do is to be kind to individuals and alley their fears whenever possible and necessary. Kindness here becomes the goal.
I hope you find strength for those going through other issues, such as ill health and other challenges that are beyond their control! Happy Weekend!
Remembering the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa, 27 Years After
– Ken Saro Wiwa
‘We are going to demand our rights peacefully, non-violently and we shall win’
The level of destruction and environmental damage caused to the people of Ogoni land remains one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Nigeria. This month, we remember and reflect on the plight of the renowned Lt. Ken Saro Wiwa, Nigeria’s pioneer environmentalist who fought vehemently against the incessant destruction of the Ogoni Land in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The history of Nigeria is heavily ingrained in the struggle for oil, and the Ogoni Land, which is located in the Niger – Delta region of the country houses one of the most sought-after and precious deposits of crude oil in the world. Although, with a very small ethnic population compared to the larger ethnic groups, the Ogoni people consider themselves as the marginalised groups who has consistently benefitted nothing but havoc and environmental destruction at the hands of the then Nigerian Military government and the Royal Dutch Shell petroleum corporation. Indeed, it can be argued that the inability of both the Nigerian government and Shell to devise appropriate measures to ensure the preservation of Ogoniland as well as the protection of locals contributed to the environmental destruction that the region encountered.
Shell entered Ogoniland in the 1950s with the approval of the Nigeria Government to exploit and extract oil. As Shell’s operations were ongoing, the Ogoni people started witnessing changes in their environment, something that drew attention to the series of environmental pollutions going on in that region. Due to the Ogoni land’s mangrove nature, the Ogoni people relied heavily on fishing and farming for trade and survival. However, Shell’s entry turned their livelihoods into a nightmare when the region began to experience massive oil spillage. Causing an unprecedented level of health hazard, their farmlands began soaking in crude oil, tonnes of fish were dying off due to the oil spillage, their drinking water became contaminated with Benzene, locals were dying due to inhaling toxins – all of which led to a complete destruction of the environment.
A man trying to separate crude oil from water in Rivers state, Nigeria. Via: https://www.newsweek.com/how-nigerias-buhari-can-clean-ogonilands-oil-spills-476654
In an attempt to challenge this devastation, Ken Saro Wiwa began his campaign by establishing the movement popularly known as MOSOP (Movement for the survival of the Ogoni People). This group engaged in a series of mass demonstrations calling for the withdrawal of Shell’s operation, whilst challenging the incessant destruction of their precious land. Soon after, he developed the Ogoni bill of rights, a political document simply based on the principle of justice and morality, which demanded the protection of the Ogoni people against Shell’s operation on the Ogoni soil.
Ogoni Bill Of Rights – adapted from https://bebor.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Ogoni-Bill-of-Rights.pdf
This movement engaged in a series of demonstrations and activism, both on the streets and in the national dailies. From such a small location, their voice and activism rapidly spread like wildfire, grabbing the attention of neighbouring communities, then neighbouring states, and then the entire country – to the point that there were now being recognised by international communities. Although, the periods between 1990 and 1992 were particularly difficult for the Ogoni people and the MOSOP because this was when many of their activities became proscribed – even though they adopted a nonviolent mode of engagement. Under the Military Decree, anyone engaging in activities capable of promoting ethnic nationalism risks the death penalty, and the Military government of Nigeria did not hesitate their assurance in following suit.
Ken continued to encourage resistance but their ranks, it is recorded, slowly began to fall apart as some supporters began to denounce Ken’s ‘radical’ forms of activism. These internal disputes meant that factions within the group will now begin to go against their official principles while engaging in sabotage. An example of this was when Ken was accused of orchestrating the killing of some Ogoni leaders in 1994. Eventually, the Nigerian government concluded that the chiefs were all critics of Ken’s activism and that he only could have orchestrated their killing. This case, coupled with the accusation of causing civil unrest in the Niger – Delta region later led to his arrest by the Military Government. His unjust imprisonment provoked international outrage with members of the African Union, European Union, and other pressure groups beginning to condemn this act. Protests erupted in several locations, activists began to call for his release and foreign leaders even advised the Abacha government to reconsider his actions and release Saro Wiwa unconditionally, but all of these fell on deaf ears.
Despite the public outcry and stern warnings from world Presidents, the military dictatorship of the Sani Abacha regime authorised the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa alongside 8 other Ogoni activists. They were sentenced to death by hanging on the 10th of November 1995 – with his last words recorded as:
'Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues.'
Indeed, the struggle continues, and the spirits of these faithful departed live on. The story and execution of Ken Saro Wiwa remind us of the long history of pain that the Nigerian people have endured at the hands of their leaders. Apart from the fact that Ken Saro Wiwa stood for justice, Ken reminded us that the real victims of eco-crimes and state violence are often the last to realise their victimisation. He put the Ogoni people on the map for the world to see the damage and destruction that bad government policies can cause. He demonstrated to us in an exemplary fashion how we understand the illicit engagements at play, often stealth, between state representatives and cooperate establishments. And most importantly, he drew attention to the need for the protection of our environment and how we must defend it at all costs. 27 years after his death, it can be argued that the Niger – Delta region continues to feel the impact of the environmental damage, but his show of gallantry for the protection of our environment will continue to inspire many who continue to challenge and resist the various forms of ecological crimes in Africa – and elsewhere.
Vanguard 2018, ‘Inside Ogoni village where oil spill wipes off ’10 persons every week’, The Vanguard, December 23, 2018, https://www.vanguardngr.com/2018/12/inside-ogoni-village-where-oil-spill-wipes-off-10-persons-every-week/
Chaos in Colombo: things fall apart
Following the mutiny that we witnessed in Downing street after members of the Johnson’s cabinet successfully forced him to resign over accusations of incompetency and the culture of inappropriate conducts in his cabinet, the people of Sri Lanka have also succeeded in chasing out their President, G. Rajapaksa, out of office over his contributions to the collapse of the country’s economy. This blog is a brief commentary on some of the latest events in Sri Lanka.
Since assuming office in 2019, the government of Rajapaksa has always been indicted of excessive borrowing, mismanagement of the country’s economy, and applying for international loans that are often difficult to pay back. With the country’s debt currently standing at $51bn, some of these loans, is claimed to have been spent on unnecessary infrastructural developments as well as other ‘Chinese-backed projects’, (see also; the Financial Times, 2022). Jayamaha (2022; 236) indicated that ‘Sri Lanka had $7.6 billion in foreign currency reserves at the end of 2019. However, by March 2020, it had exhausted its reserves to just $1.93 billion.’ One of Rajapaksa’s campaign promises was to cut taxes, which he did upon assuming office. His critics faulted this move, claiming it was unnecessary at that particular time. His ban on fertilizers, in a bid for the country to go organic (even though later reversed), had its own effect on local farmers. Rice production for example, fell by 20% following the ban – a move that eventually forced the government to opt for rice importation which was in itself expensive (see also; Nordhaus & Shah 2022). Critics warned that his investments and projects have no substantial and direct impact on the lives of the common people, and that what is the essence of building roads when the common people cannot afford to buy a car to ride on those roads? The fact that people have to queue for petrol for 5 days and only having to work for 1 day or where families cannot afford to feed their children simply shows how the government of Rajapaksa seem to have mismanaged the economy of the country. Of course, the problem of insecurity and the pandemic cannot be left out as crucial factors that have also impacted tourism levels and the economy of the country.
Foreign reserves have depleted, the importation of food is becoming difficult to actualise, living expenses have risen to high levels, the country is struggling with its international loan repayments, the value of Rupees has depreciated, there is inflation in the land, including shortages of food supplies and scarcity of fuel. Those who are familiar with the Sri Lanka’s system will not be particularly surprised at the nationwide protests that have been taking place in different parts of the country since May, because the Rajapaksa’s regime was only sitting on a keg of gun powder, ready to explode.
In an unprecedented fashion on July 9, several footages and images began to emerge online showing how protesters had successfully overpowered the police and had broken into the residence of the President. Their goal was to occupy the presidential palace and chase the president out of his residence. In fact, there are video footages online allegedly showing the motorcade of the president fleeing from his residence as the wave of protest rocked the capital.
Upon gaining entry into the innermost chambers of the president’s dwelling, protesters started touring and taking selfies in euphoria, some of them had quickly jumped into the presidential shower, others helped themselves to some relaxation on the president’s bed after days of protests, some were engaged in a mock presidential meeting in the president’s cabinet office, some preferred to swim in the president’s private pool while others helped themselves to some booze.
Indeed, these extraordinary scenes should not be taken for granted for they again reaffirm WB Yeats classic idea of anarchy (in ‘the second coming’ poem), being the only option to be exercised when the centre can no longer hold.
Of course, some may ask that now that they have invaded the presidential villa, what next? In my view, the people of Sri Lanka seem to be on the right direction as President Rajapaska has eventually bowed to pressure and agreed to resign. The next phase now is for the country to carefully elect a new leader who will revive the sinking ship, amend the economic policies, foster an effective democratic political culture which (hopefully) should bring about a sustainable economic plan and growth reforms.
Importantly, this is a big lesson not just for the political class of Sri Lanka, but for other wasteful leaders who continue to destroy their economies with reckless and disastrous policies. It is a lesson of the falcon and the falconer – for when the falcon can no longer hear the falconer, scenes like these may continue to be reproduced in other locations of the world.
Indeed, things fell apart in Colombo, but it is hoped that the centre will hold again as the country prepare to elect its new leaders.
Here is wishing the people of Colombo, and the entire Sri Lankans all the best in their struggle.
Financial Times (2022) [Twitter] 20 July. Available at: https://mobile.twitter.com/FinancialTimes/status/1549554792766361603
Jayamaha, J. (2022) “The demise of Democracy in Sri Lanka: A study of the political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka (Based on the incident of the Rambukkana shooting)”, Sprin Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, 1(05), pp. 236–240. doi: 10.55559/sjahss.v1i05.22.
Nordhaus, T & Shah S, (2022) In Sri Lanka, Organic Farming Went Catastrophically Wrong, March 5, FP. Available at: https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/03/05/sri-lanka-organic-farming-crisis/
What’s happened to the Pandora papers?
Sometime last week, I was amid a group of friends when the argument about the Pandora papers suddenly came up. In brief, the key questions raised were how come no one is talking about the Pandora papers again? What has happened to the investigations, and how come the story has now been relegated to the back seat within the media space? Although, we didn’t have enough time to debate the issues, I promised that I would be sharing my thoughts on this blog. So, I hope they are reading.
We can all agree that for many years, the issues of financial delinquencies and malfeasants have remained one of the major problems facing many societies. We have seen situations where Kleptocratic rulers and their associates loot and siphon state resources, and then stack them up in secret havens. Some of these Kleptocrats prefer to collect luxury Italian wines and French arts with their ill-gotten wealth, while others prefer to purchase luxury properties and 5-star apartments in Dubai, London and elsewhere. We find military generals participating in financial black operations, and we hear about law makers manipulating the gaps in the same laws they have created. In fact, in some spheres, we find ‘business tycoons’ exploiting violence-torn regions to smuggle gold, while in other spheres, some appointed public officers refuse to declare their assets because of fear of the future. Two years ago, we read about the two socialist presidents of the southern Spanish region and how they were found guilty of misuse of public funds. Totaling about €680m, you can imagine the good that could have been achieved in that region. We should also not forget the case of Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, both of whom (we are told) amassed over $10 billion during their reign in the Philippines. As we can see below that from the offshore leak of 2013 to the Panama papers of 2016 and then the 2017 Paradise papers, data leaks have continued to skyrocket. This simply demonstrates the level to which politicians and other official state representatives are taking to invest in this booming industry.
These stories are nothing new, we have always read about them – but then they fade away quicker than we expect. It is important to note that while some countries are swift in conducting investigation when issues like these arise, very little is known about others. So, in this blog, I will simply be highlighting some of the reasons why I think news relating to these issues have a short life span.
To start with, the system of financial corruption is often controlled and executed by those holding on to power very firmly. The firepower of their legal defence team is usually unmatchable, and the way they utilise their wealth and connections often make it incredibly difficult to tackle. For example, when leaks like these appear, some journalists are usually mindful of making certain remarks about the situation for the avoidance of being sued for libel and defamation of character. Secondly, financial crimes are always complex to investigate, and prosecution often takes forever. The problem of plurality in jurisdiction is also important in this analysis as it sometimes slows down the processes of investigation and prosecution. In some countries, there is something called ‘the immunity clause’, where certain state representatives are protected from being arraigned while in office. This issue has continued to raise concerns about the position of truth, power, and political will of governments to fight corruption. Another issue to consider is the issue of confidentiality clause, or what many call corporate secrecy in offshore firms. These policies make it very difficult to know who owns what or who is purchasing what. So, for as long as these clauses remain, news relating to these issues may continue to fade out faster than we imagine. Perhaps Young (2012) was right in her analysis of illicit practices in banking & other offshore financial centres when she insisted that ‘offshore financial centers such as the Cayman Islands, often labelled secrecy jurisdictions, frustrate attempts to recover criminal wealth because they provide strong confidentiality in international finance to legitimate clients as well as to the crooks and criminals who wish to hide information – thereby attracting a large and varied client base with their own and varied reasons for wanting an offshore account’, (Young 2012, 136). This idea has also been raised by our leader, Nikos Passas who believe that effective transparency is an essential component of unscrambling the illicit partnerships in these structures.
While all these dirty behaviours have continued to damage our social systems, they yet again remind us how the network of greed remains at the core centre of human injustice. I found the animalist commandant of the pigs in the novel Animal Farm, by George Orwell to be quite relevant in this circumstance. The decree spells: all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. This idea rightly describes the hypocrisy that we find in modern democracies; where citizens are made to believe that everyone is equal before the law but when in fact the law, (and in many instances more privileges) are often tilted in favour of the elites.
I agree with the prescription given by President Obama who once said that strengthening democracy entails building strong institutions over strong men. This is true because the absence of strong institutions will only continue to pave way for powerful groups to explore the limits of democracy. This also means that there must be strong political will to sanction these powerful groups engaging in this ‘thievocracy’. I know that political will is often used too loosely these days, but what I am inferring here is genuine determination to prosecute powerful criminals with transparency. This also suggests the need for better stability and stronger coordination of law across jurisdictions. Transparency should not only be limited to governments in societies, but also in those havens. It is also important to note that tackling financial crimes of the powerful should not be the duty of the state alone, but of all. Simply, it should be a collective effort of all, and it must require a joint action. By joint action I mean that civil societies and other private sectors must come together to advocate for stronger sanctions. We must seek collective participation in social movements because such actions can bring about social change – particularly when the democratic processes are proving unable to tackle such issues. Research institutes and academics must do their best by engaging in research to understand the depth of these problems as well as proffering possible solutions. Illicit financial delinquencies, we know, thrive when societies trivialize the extent and depth of its problem. Therefore, the media must continue to do their best in identifying these problems, just as we have consistently seen with the works of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and a few others. So, in a nutshell and to answer my friends, part of the reasons why issues like this often fade away quicker than expected has to do with some of the issues that I have pointed out. It is hoped however that those engaged in this incessant accretion of wealth will be confronted rather than conferred with national honors by their friends.
BBC (2021) Pandora Papers: A simple guide to the Pandora Papers leak. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-58780561 (Accessed: 26 May 2022)
Young, M.A., 2012. Banking secrecy and offshore financial centres: money laundering and offshore banking, Routledge