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How the war in Sudan is being fought in our neighborhoods

I visited Alhaji Umar Alkali recently in Minna and found him busy arranging documents in neat piles. His two daughters dashed in and out of the…

I visited Alhaji Umar Alkali recently in Minna and found him busy arranging documents in neat piles. His two daughters dashed in and out of the house with more papers, all related to their studies and international travel.

“We’re trying to see which of our universities my daughters, who came back from Sudan, are going to continue their studies in,” Alh Umar said. I sensed frustration and uncertainty, but he informed me that many parents are going through the same thing. They even have an online forum where they unite their voices to negotiate with the National Universities Commission (NUC) and other organizations. Alhaji handed me the phone, and I discussed with one of the leaders of the forum.

As many of us know, a war recently broke out in Sudan, once again shattering the relative peace in the country. However, what many do not know is that the war has followed some Nigerians home. These compatriots are mostly students who were studying in Sudan. Similar to the situation in Sudan, our version of the war is being fought in the streets and neighbourhoods. Unlike in Sudan, our version replaces blood and bodies with emotional trauma and uncertainty suffered by both the students and their parents.

The main problem is how these students will integrate or continue their studies in Nigeria. While other countries (e.g., Uganda and Tanzania) have welcomed their students back into their universities and made special accommodations, Nigerian institutions have turned the whole situation into a struggle, with civilians against civilians, students and parents on one side, and government and academic institutions on the other.

The whole thing has narrowed the parents’ options to a few choices. I’ll discuss three of them here and how Nigeria has responded.

Option one:

Before the war broke out, some students had only one year left to graduate. Some of them were already sitting for the final exams and had only three papers left. For students in this category, it was suggested that universities in Sudan partner with Nigerian universities so that the students could continue their studies online. The parents told me that this arrangement was initiated with Uthman Dan Fodio University Sokoto, but Nigerian authorities balked at it. Reacting to that, one of the frustrated mothers said:

“The hypocrisy of the Nigerian educational system and especially of the Ministry of Education and its agencies will never cease to amaze me. The same Ministry directed all chief executives of tertiary institutions to introduce online courses during the Covid-19 crisis, as it was implemented by other nations across the globe. Heads of tertiary institutions were even approved by the same ministry and councils to attend international conferences on the Massive Online Course (MOOCS), etc., in the US and other places for them to introduce the same in their institutions. Yet, someone will tell you that agencies of the Ministry of Education do not recognize the online course now. Can someone tell me what the National Open University uses in their training? We are just a confused country with much dishonesty in the way we run the affairs of government. If the online course was accepted during Covid-19 and is currently in use by the National Open University, why then should the Ministry or its agencies reject students who are completing their programs online? Some of the returnees have already written three-quarters of their exams with only 2 or 3 papers left to write, yet someone is so wicked to say they cannot round up with an online course. We are intellectually lazy and are always in a hurry to generalize on every situation. Other African countries are accepting returnee students on lateral conversion; we are insisting on demoting them here in Nigeria. The FME should focus on addressing the hydra-headed problem of out-of-school children, declining standards in the educational system, persistent perennial strikes and closure of schools, etc., rather than punishing students for no fault of theirs.”

Another parent said:

“Sudan’s case is quite different from Ukraine; Sudan students are only having the theoretical aspect of learning online, practicals and exams will be conducted physically at designated centers. I am happy to know that some like-minded people have taken up this matter as it should be.”

Option two:

This is the route the Ugandan government took. Ugandans assimilated the returning students into the local universities to continue where they stopped in Sudan. However, Nigerian universities have stipulated some very difficult conditions. For example, one of Alh Umar’s daughters has only a year to finish her medicine. But Gombe State University wanted her to start from year three. This is a huge demotion that will cost the student time and the parents money. I thought they were going to look at her transcript to see how many of her courses transfer to the local program instead of just calling a level from where to begin.

Option three:

This is the Zanzibar option. One of the universities in Sudan has moved its staff and equipment to Zanzibar in Tanzania so that the students can study in the peace and tranquility of the Island.

This is a very attractive opportunity for Nigerian parents. But there is one problem: not all universities in Sudan have this arrangement. So if you’re from another university desiring to transfer, you have to pay another tuition fee. This is to say nothing of the high exchange rate.

However, the same thing can be done here. Let at least one of the universities in Sudan move its operations here so that all our children who couldn’t complete their studies could do so here. It would also solve the problem of whether courses will transfer or not, since they operate the same curriculum.

But a parent told me that as per NUC guidelines, they can’t just move and start their business here. “They’ve to start from scratch,” he said. “Indeed, there’s already a Sudanese university being built in Kano.”

Yet, among the parents, some believe that their children should consider this as destiny and simply obey what the Nigerian institutions have stipulated. To them, no special accommodations are necessary. “If anything,” a parent said, “we should go to MDCN, MOE, or any institution to appeal instead of to protest. If we’re going there to protest, please count me out,” she said.

This alternative position is also valid. Should institutions bend rules for individuals? Of course, no self-respecting entity should do that. But are we going to qualify what the other parents are calling for as a bending of the rules? In other words, is it unethical to find a humane way to accommodate victims of war? Of course, the answer is no.

I think NUC, MDCN, and the Federal Ministry of Education should look at all the arguments, as well as the international regulations and procedures and their own policies, and publicly announce a way forward.

In conclusion, the plight of Nigerian students affected by the war in Sudan demands urgent attention and compassion from all stakeholders involved. The struggles these students and their parents face in continuing their education back home are deeply concerning. It is evident that different options are available, such as partnering with Nigerian universities for online studies, assimilation into local institutions, or exploring innovative solutions like establishing satellite campuses.

Amidst the challenges and varying viewpoints, one thing remains clear: these students deserve support, understanding, and a humane approach to their situation. Rather than bureaucratic barriers and rigid policies, a thoughtful consideration of individual circumstances is essential. It is crucial for the National Universities Commission (NUC), Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), and the Federal Ministry of Education to engage in transparent discussions, carefully weighing the impact of their decisions on the affected students’ futures.

Moreover, Nigerian universities should consider working collaboratively with their Sudanese counterparts and explore the possibility of hosting displaced students to continue their studies seamlessly. By fostering a spirit of cooperation and compassion, we can show the world that Nigeria is a nation that stands by its citizens in times of need.

The experiences of other African countries, like Uganda and Tanzania, should serve as guiding examples, demonstrating how a welcoming and accommodating approach can benefit everyone involved.

Lastly, as a nation, we must collectively reject any notion that treats war victims, especially students, with callous indifference. Instead, let us strive to be a society that values empathy, understanding, and inclusivity. By doing so, we can demonstrate that education is not just a privilege but a fundamental right, even in times of crisis.

In moving forward, let’s unite to find a balanced resolution that upholds the principles of education, fairness, and humanity. The challenges posed by the war should serve as an opportunity for Nigeria to display its resilience, compassion, and willingness to stand by its citizens in their time of need. Together, we can overcome these obstacles and create a future where every student has the chance to fulfill their potential and contribute positively to society.

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