The Geode

By Josephine Otuagomah. Josephine, 19, is a student at the University of Benin in Benin City. She lives in Ondo State, Nigeria

If there was one thing I could change to improve education in Nigeria, it would be the prioritization of courses/fields of study taken in the tertiary institutions. By this I mean, if given the chance, I would change the idea of setting a particular course above the others by attaching so much importance to one and neglecting the others.

I am a fisheries student of the Faculty of Agriculture currently in my third year in the university and my field of study happens to be one of the many discriminated courses. Some other fields that face this same pathetic fate include the Faculty of Education such as English Language, ”Yoruba”, History, Physical and Health Education to mention but a few. I was formerly ashamed of telling people my course due to the attached stigma. This is as a result of the belief that the Faculty of Agriculture is the dump site for the dull, unserious and non-ambitious minds. It has really degenerated to the extent that my course mates would rather polish their courses than admit they study fisheries. These nice names adopted include aquaculture, ichthyology, marine biology and oceanography which of course are just nothing but mere branches of fisheries.

Anyway, they are not to be blamed as every normal human with blood running in his/her veins would take up this ”escape route” than face total discrimination. I could still vividly remember the first question that plagued my mind when I saw my admission letter. Here, in Nigeria, the most celebrated courses are medicine, engineering, law and accounting, and this was the reason for the question that plagued my innocent mind. This question was ”what would I be called when I graduate?”, because I know when one studies medicine, one will be called a medical doctor, one who studies law would be called a lawyer but as a fisheries student, I wondered what I would be called. A fisheriest, a fisherfolk or probably a fisherman?

Every course is supposed to be treated as an important aspect of the educational system in society. For instance, if the body is to represent a country and the parts of the body are to represent these various courses, the eyes would not say they are the most important because they allow the body to see and, as such, detach themselves from the body. This is the same rule that is to be applied to various courses of a given university in a particular country. Sometimes, when I see the look on people’s faces, friends and families alike, when I tell them I study fisheries, it makes me cringe. In my first year in the university, I had many experiences which I still cannot get myself to forget. My friend and I always walked together then. She is in the department of human anatomy and she introduced me to another course mate of hers (a young man) and what he said was as good as dropping a bag of cement on my fragile spine. He said,’ ‘why waste five years in the University learning how to sell fish when you could easily walk into the market and sell or probably, take a six-months seminar instead of wasting your father’s money and time?”. I smiled but it was a facade because within me, I knew instantly that my intestines had been meddled with.

In addition, this is just the tip of an iceberg. I never knew much awaited my arrival in my room in the hostel where I happened to be the first agricultural student (fisheries) to grace the room. Like I knew the usual thing, the question that welcomed my feet was ”what department are you in?” ‘‘Fisheries” I said, and next response was ”welcome to the room dear fisherwoman!”. I really felt bad and wished there wasn’t a cut-off mark to meet to be in school of medicine. My hope started shooting up that I might not actually be in the dumbest department afterall, when that session’s results were released and my faculty passed so well as my faculty and other life sciences took the same exam being first year students, including the ‘‘celebs”: the faculty of medicine but majority of them failed.

It was then I realized I wasn’t thrown to fisheries because I was dull, but because I was meant to be there to change people’s orientation about the course.

Many people run away from these courses because of the discrimination, and they stick to the prioritized courses because of the fame, prestige and respect bestowed on them by the society.

In the course of avoiding this man-made discrimination, they have missed the path of their main calling.

Instead of changing their orientation, they transfer these same misplaced ideas to the young ones, totally creating socio-educational imbalance in the country. I could still remember a statement uttered by one of my faculty mates which I held so dear to my heart, she said ‘ a time would come when the only disease Nigerians would suffer from would be malnutrition”. This really touched me because I knew she said it for fun but I took it as a fact. Reflecting on the issue, I realized that Nigeria depends so much on petroleum which will surely go into extinction sooner or later due to its over-exploitation. This is the reason why more should be invested into the agricultural sector which was formerly the major source of income in the country. The advantage of this my course cannot be over-emphasized as it ranges over a wide area. As a fisheries student, I can choose to establish a fish farm, be a consultant or be a lecturer and make money honorably, yet Nigerians would not consider this and they keep saying’ no job, no job, unemployment is everywhere”, which of course is a fallacy.

Moreover, I finally accepted my fate as a fisheries student and I stand so tall with my hand across my chest when I tell people I’m a proud fisheries student because I got inspired from an excursion I attended. This excursion was to Songhai Farms in Porto Novo, Republic of Benin, where I watched a documentary on the founder, Reverend Father Godfrey Nzamujo, who said, ‘‘You can always start small even if it’s with just a thatched house, just start”. This really inspired me as I came to discover that many graduates of Nigeria’s most celebrated courses still roam the street in search for jobs as they cannot start due to the cost of equipment needed and the government’s industries are occupied, even the few private companies are only managing but as a fisheries student I can start with any amount. With this, I can orientate my junior colleagues to adapt well and ignore the discrimination issues.

Also, for the fact that I am an agricultural student, am being practically painted as a farmer tilling the soil day and night with no profit to show for it, living from hand to mouth in a thatched house which of course is totally untrue and narrowing it down to my department, I am almost seen as a fisherfolk without a bright future. I know this as a human; and as much as I try to hide this, I can’t deny the fact that they really get to me sometimes. Many have fallen by the roadside accepting they are the unsuccessful ones and it really pains me to see many dreams get ruptured, no thanks to the discrimination and deprioritization bestowed on us by the country, like a collar to be worn around our necks, a placard to be raised above our heads. If given a chance, I would really love to change this discrimination of courses not because I want to have a sense of belonging but because of posterity.

I chose geode as a topic because it is the simplest way to describe fisheries as a course – ugly on the outside but very beautiful and useful on the inside. This I would love everyone to know as my own little way of changing education in Nigeria if given the chance: a change of orientation.

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