Students in Nigerian universities have stories to tell, but hardly anyone to tell them to. For our weekly series, Aluta and Chill, we are putting the spotlight on these students and their various campus experiences.
This week’ subject is Anthony Azekwoh, who is a 400 level student of Covenant University. He talks about his run-ins with the school management, including a summon to appear before the Student Disciplinary Committee because of an article he wrote about the school’s abusive policies.
Tell me about how you knew it was Covenant University for you?
My dad pushed for it, and that was it. I’d heard about the school, and I wasn’t really keen on studying there. My dad also decided that chemical engineering would be a good fit for me, so here we are.
What did you make of the school when you first got there?
I found out that the reality was much worse than the stories I heard. The rules are crazy, but they’re even the least of the problems. I was horrified by how little the management cared about the effects of the school culture on the students. It didn’t take long before I understood my place here: I have no power or control. It was a tough pill to swallow. Stories of abuse and things that make students feel less like humans are prevalent here.
Was there an experience that reinforced this belief?
A lot of them. The first one I remember happened not long after I got here. I was raised in a catholic home, so I took my rosary with me to school. During service one day, a woman came to me and told me to take it off because “jewellery is not allowed at Covenant”. I told her it wasn’t jewellery and that I used it for prayers. The woman was adamant and insisted that I should take it off. She could have stopped there, but she went on and said something like why couldn’t my religion build a school so I could wear whatever I want. I was shocked and I knew from then that my time here was going to be long and interesting.
How did this encounter affect your perception of the school?
It was an eye-opener. It’s one thing to hear these things, it’s one thing to see it, and it’s another thing to come face-to-face with it. It’s funny how people here love to wield whatever power they have and make as many people as they can miserable. This university has always found new ways to surprise me. There was even a time when I was assaulted.
What do you mean?
An actual assault by members of staff. This happened in 2018. A white bus patrols the school during different hours of the day to ensure everyone is following the rules. I was taking a walk that evening and this bus pulled up right beside me. The doors opened to reveal three strange people — two men and one woman. They didn’t have the staff ID on, so naturally, I was wary of them. They asked for my iPad and demanded to know what I was listening to. I told them that it was not a problem, but I was going to remove my earphones so we could all hear what was playing. I was trying to do that when one of the men charged at me, grabbed me, and hit my head against the bus. The other man joined and both of them literally threw me into the bus. They took me to this building called CDS where the Dean of Student Affair was. I tried to explain what happened and how they handled it, but nobody listened to what I had to say. They basically dismissed me, asking to see any injury or mark as proof that I was indeed assaulted. By the end of the day, I filled out an offence form for “gross insubordination”.
I was hurt. It was such a let-down. I wrote a report of what happened and sent it to the Dean of Student Affairs at the time but nothing came out of it. Nobody took it up. It died like that.
I’m sorry about that.
This reminds me that I was also suspended in 2017 for four weeks. This happened right before exams. Till today, it’s still sort of a blur because I didn’t face a disciplinary committee. I found out when I didn’t find my name on the attendance list, so I couldn’t write my exams. The offence was that I missed an easter event. I didn’t write my exams that semester.
Didn’t you feel like you had to do something?
Not at first. My pent-up frustrations about everything reached a threshold and spurred me to write and publish an article online sometime last year. It came from a place of resentment — one that had been building up from the first moment I stepped inside the school premises.
What was the article about?
My thoughts about how stifling the school is. The blatant disregard of fundamental human rights. The abusive structure of the school and whatnot. The article sort of went viral and the school got wind of it.
Of course, they weren’t going to let it go. The next thing I knew was that I had a case before the Student Disciplinary Committee.
Can you walk me through how it happened?
I was in my room when someone came to fetch me. I found myself inside the white bus and the CDS building again. I didn’t ask them what was wrong this time because I knew it had to be because of the article. I was right; they read the article out to me and asked me to confirm if I wrote it. I was given an offence form to fill after, even though my offence wasn’t clear. After they released me, they sent a note to my Hall Officer, informing him that I was going to face the SDC the following day. According to them, I gave a “false identity of Covenant University to the media.”
Wow. So they came to get you the following day?
Yes, they did. I was fucking scared. You know it’s really deep when you get to that level. I might want out of this place, but that wouldn’t be the way to go. I tried as much as I could to stay calm. Finally, it was my turn. They read the article out loud to me again. Someone on the panel spoke and was like “What did we do to you?” I was skeptical about saying anything at first, but they looked like they genuinely wanted to know, so I told them everything; about the assault, about the suspension, about their policies and everything wrong with them, about how the school is sniffing life out of the students. For some reason, they all sat there and listened to me till I was done. That was surprising. I mean, the conversation even felt natural at some point.
They, however, asked me a question that lingered in my heart even after I left the room. They asked me if I was forced to study at the school. I lied and told them that I wasn’t forced to come to the school.
Why did you lie about that?
I thought I had too much to lose. I was tired of fighting my dad because of Covenant, and there was no way there wouldn’t be some conflict if I’d gotten expelled. So yes, I was scared about what might happen and lying about that seemed to be the safest answer. I wasn’t sure what would happen if I told them the truth.
I knew my fate on the last day of the semester. I wasn’t suspended or expelled, but they did give me a letter of caution.
Why do you think they let you go?
First, the article wasn’t targeted at anyone from the management; it was just me telling them all the things I didn’t like about the way things were done. It was a tad critical, but it was not offensive or insulting. Technically, while the content of the article was somewhat controversial, it was within the boundary of my freedom of speech. Secondly, the article went a little viral, and they knew if they suspended me, I was going to do a follow-up and there was no way to know what would happen. I feel like they thought the best way to get around it was to scare me a bit, give me a letter of caution and let the whole thing blow over.
I see. Did you get some satisfaction from writing the article?
No, not really. Nothing changed. The abuse didn’t stop. A lot of time, I wonder what I’m doing in a place that is bent on violating every part of me. They may have let me go, but I am still trapped here.
Don’t you think you should have waited till after graduation before writing the article?
A lot of people asked the same question too. That was the safest thing to do, but sometimes, you have to think bigger than yourself. Besides, it wouldn’t be of much use to or make much sense anymore. It wouldn’t be my reality anymore.
This reminds me of Amasa Firdaus who was denied her call to the bar because she stood her ground and refused to remove her hijab. She wasn’t called to the bar until seven months later because she made a wave. The management probably thinks you made a wave with the article. Don’t you feel like a target is now on your back?
I don’t know, but I really hope not. As far as I’m concerned, everything is all done and over with. In fact, I wrote another article, narrating the whole SDC incident and finding closure – whatever that is.
Does that mean you’re done fighting?
Yes, man. I’m done fighting these people. The life I have ahead of me is bigger than people fighting me over my tie or an ID card. This was the inspiration behind the second article; I’m done being dragged back. I’m letting it out and I’m letting it go. They won.
As I said, it’s bigger than me. It’s about all the students that have been broken by this university and their policies. Maybe it’s not my fight. Everyone is suffering and smiling, but maybe that’s how it’s meant to be.
How has your entire Covenant experience affected you?
Heh, it’s affected me more deeply than I’m willing to admit. I was walking in my friend’s estate one time and a random white bus pulled up in the distance. In a split second, I’d already entered flight mode. That kind of thing.
My body and mind have internalised every bit of the weird things that go on at Covenant. I’m scared of a lot of things I shouldn’t be scared of. I’m wary of people and relationships. It’s a vicious cycle for me. I know there will be a lot of unpacking to do when I eventually graduate from this school. You can’t go through five years in this abusive structure and come out unscathed. There will be a lot of feelings and emotions to resolve, and I cannot wait to start doing that.
How do you hope to live out the remainder of your days at the university?
My mum says, “Even if the mug is cracked, it can still hold water” I’m just trying to lay low and work on myself. When you point out issues with a system, you also have to be careful and find out if you’re doing something wrong as well. At the moment, I’m giving all attention to my art and writing, and moving quietly. I don’t want the stress anymore. Everything sucks, but I need to be able to move on and I might as well start now.
Can’t get enough Aluta and Chill? Check back every Thursday at noon for a new episode. Find other stories in the series here.
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