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Atoke’s Monday Morning Banter: The University Path to Nirvana



Growing up is a scam. Forget what they told you – the realities of adulthood will make you pine endlessly for the days when the most tedious thing on your To-Do list was to identify the different types of rocks around the earth’s surface. One minute you’re wondering what colour of socks best matches your school bag, and the next minute you’re wondering whether you should do the ICAN (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria) exams to top up the Accounting degree you’re working hard to acquire.

For a substantial part of your life as a Nigerian, you’re raised to aspire to the hallowed halls of a University. At every level of society, there’s the pressure to ‘do well’ enough to attend University. In the 60s & 70s, it was a thing of intense family pride to say that one of yours was good enough to get into University. It is the unspoken precursor to having a chance of a good life. But how did we get here? How did we get to this place in our heads where we convinced ourselves that going to University (or ‘college; for you Americans) is largely essential to our path to success.

Unconscious conditioning: We saw how the learned folks looked, and saw it was good. Indigenous traders and farmers didn’t get the fancy name ‘professionals’. Engineers looked good. Doctors sounded smart. Lawyers spoke big English words. How does one become any of those? Well… University!

Poverty: 20 years ago, the only hope one had of getting out the poverty spin cycle, was by getting a higher education. Today, there is a little hope that if a degree in Pol. Science isn’t working for you, you can always send a YouTube link of your music track to Don Jazzy on Twitter. It was very difficult to break through the glass ceiling. At least with a University degree, there was a slight chance. It is for this reason that people fought, bribed and struggled to pass the Joint Admissions & Matriculations Board exams.

But what sort of education did we get in Nigerian Federal Universities? During my first year at UniLag, every class was a nightmare. We had to take course modules with other departments in the Arts & Humanities and I did not LEARN A THING! Here’s why: over populated classrooms, sweaty students, ineffective public address systems. I went through that first year struggling to sign attendance, and buy the right hand outs/books from lecturers. For a long time I didn’t know that signing attendance at one particular class was the way to pass the course. I’d get to the block, see it overcrowded and just turn around. I believed that I could study my way to an A. By the third run of the course, I had been advised accordingly. Things got better by the time we started doing pure Law courses, but it wasn’t without attendant administrative issues: broken seats, hot classrooms, bad ventilation. I remember one time when I complained about the Air Conditioner in our class not working, my friend in Arts block exclaimed: “You guys have AC in Law?” Apparently, I wasn’t appreciating what I had.

Through all of this, we still put these citadels of learning on a pedestal. We graduate and find that 8 years in Pharmacy school can at best earn you the same kind of lifestyle as that of someone who studied in half the time. Then, the scales drop and you realize “University wasn’t really the path to the promised land.”Atoke Cheerios
Personally, I don’t believe that the essence of your education is given at the University. {Remember I asked the question about the degree of education here}

Expecting the University to have a monumental impact on your education – in the absence of a good primary and secondary school – is akin to expecting a beautiful building to stand without foundation. I do believe that there are life changing experiences to be gained from the time at the University. Look, the MoHits team found Wande Coal while he was at University. Shaydee was discovered in University too. You might not be getting a lot of academic enhancements, but you may be well equipped to handle life outside.

Not everybody will become a success as a result of academic pursuits; and we need to stop shaming people into believing they’re less than they are (or have potential to be) because they didn’t go to University. Identifying your natural inclinations and talents very early in life will go a long way in helping you find happiness. Why go study Yoruba Education without an interest in it? That’s 4 years of your life, not to mention the costs incurred. Why go acquire an LLM in Oil & Gas Law because it sounds fancy? Or because “Oil & Gas is reigning”?
Our society needs a marked shift from the ideology that degrees maketh a man. We need to turn around from the mind set that so easily marginalizes us and limits us from reaching the height of our potential.

Basic education is good, and fundamental. It helps nurture and develop a person’s instincts; but I don’t think University is the hallowed heavens we have consistently touted it to be.

As I type this, I am silently chiding myself: I have two degrees and I’m shooting for a third. How hypocritical do I sound right this minute?

I don’t think I have all the answers; but I do believe that everybody has something in them that makes them special, with the potential for greatness. I mean…EVERYBODY!

Nurse. Web designer. Carpenter. Zoologist. Driver. Hair stylist. Agric teacher. Business Analyst. Gym Instructor. Spanish Translator.

Have a splendid week ahead. Be nice and considerate. The change we’re looking for won’t descend from heaven. It starts with us.

Peace, Love & Carrot Batons!

Photo Credit:  Dreamstime | Konstantin Sutyagin 

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.


  1. larz

    April 13, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Social conditioning into believing more is better.

    I have always said that until you find yourself/ decide what interests you, no need to go to university. University education is an investment in your future, invest wisely. You wont invest your money without doing your due diligence, why do that with university. Before I invest money in my child’s university education, they must have gone through an internship in the field they want to go into and determine if they actually want a career in that field. They must prove to me that their passion for it is enough to wake up early in the morning and do that thing without getting paid for a period of time. Then they can do apply for that degree. I am happy for them to take a year off travelling instead or working before making that decision. Yes it will make them oldest in their class but somewhat wiser.

  2. Queen of Everything

    April 13, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    yes, university shaming needs to stop! university education is not cheap, (here in the UK it now costs 9 grand a year for tuition only (let’s not even mention international students’ fees)
    you graduate and you don’t work in the area of study.

    it feels like natural progression in some areas, after A-levels you go straight to uni, not really knowing the full implications of the 3 year course and debt you’re signing up for.

    what i found during university was that the older “mature students” in my class took it more seriously.
    they had obviously made an informed decision about what they want to study, know what they want to get out of it and they participated in class more actively (much to the chagrin of the younger students because more questions meant keeping us there longer). but we all paid the same fee
    now that there are other options e.g. apprenticeships, i think this should be encouraged, university is not for everybody. learn a trade, some people are good with their hands and want to work outdoors or in other setting, most “traditional” courses prepare you for life within the confines of four walls.
    sorry for the rant, i just feel annoyed by unnecessary pressure. e.h. my mum is pressuring my younger brother to go to university when the boy can barely decide what he wants for lunch!

  3. Abby

    April 13, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Finally!! something Jehovah’s Witnesses have been saying for years and have equally being ‘maligned’ for is being acknowledged by all: That higher education isnt all that.
    Acquiring basic handiwork skills would equally get you through life..
    Nice article Atoke

  4. NwaMbano

    April 13, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    Atoke my sister, dont go there this Monday mooring o. This matter is better left for Matayas.
    It is when you arrive at the NYSC camp you will know the tragedy of what is called higher education in Nigeria. More than half of the graduates bearing and wielding results and letters of acceptance are certifcate-miss-road to put it mildly.

    At the orientation camp, the interaction was at best elementary and shallow. Male Adults were more interested in the distractions of the mami market, looking for women to sexually appropriate, and famzing with officials to get primary assignment placement favour. While i was a very social person too, participated in the hedonisms and made lots of friends, i still felt like a square peg most of the time.

    At the end of the 3 weeks soiree in camp, majority ran away from the primary assignment of teaching most of them were assigned. A particular ‘camp big girl’ told me bluntly after her attempts at influencing a juicy and oily posting failed to yield the desired result, that she cannot teach the Economics she read in Uni at the community secondary school we were both posted to. She later traveled and never returned until i saw her again at passing out parade.

    The Nigerian university system turns the best into the worst and the worst into the enviable. The experience was so traumatic for me till today i still ask myself ruefully why i was punished with a university admission letter into that university and in that country. I dont even want to go into the sub human level of the day to day, semester to semester, on campus to off campus ordeal of acquiring the so called knowledge in my Uni. We just thank God

    And i agree with the submission that university is not by force and not for everybody. If you dont have aptitude for the academic, the vocational should be a dignifying alternative. Nigerian with the legendary attitude of looking down on people has forced many into university studying subjects that daily looks like magic to them. The country has become an over certificated country with holders unable to defend or maximize it. Something needs to be seriously done.

  5. Diddy

    April 13, 2015 at 1:03 pm

    The society and the environment at large especially in naija plays a very strong factor,education now is a competition,and a very solid one for that matter,so when u dont get the basic just as u mention primary and secondary cos i believe that attending a very good primary/secondary school is really the foundation towards your goals and aspiration,university is just an addition,there are many successful university drop out who have contributed immensely to their different place of country and they were able to succeed cos they had dreams and followed it.Not all graduates can command a good spoken or written english,and being a graduate is not a guaranty that u will be successful,no parents of this age will will want to encourage their child of certain profession,they all want them to be doctors,lawyers,bankers,even teaching is being frowned at by some parents knowing fully well is one of the best if not the best noble profession we can think of,education in naija is a way to break thru from poverty crime or whatever menace that it can cause to u and the society,and even when we get that education we still come back to that same problem we have and that is corruption,if u r in a position to embezzle u do it wisely without being caught is so funny.i thought being educated is know what is right and wrong but here is a different definition.Nice article atoke.

  6. Grace

    April 13, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    “Basic education is good, and fundamental. It helps nurture and develop a person’s instincts; but I don’t think University is the hallowed heavens we have consistently touted it to be.”I like this.

  7. D

    April 13, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    So just 2 days ago I had a similar conversation with my sister about how not having a college degree is not the end of the world and does not mean you cannot be successful but the truth is it gives you an edge. We can focus on the likes of Zuckerberg and co that are college drop outs but still very successful today but if we are being honest they are the minority. The truth is we never hear about the majority. That’s not to say that a college degree is guarantee at being successful in life but if we are being honest it does give you an edge. I recently had to change jobs within the same company because my growth was being stunted because I don’t have a doctorate although experience had given me the know how and I had more than proved myself, the current policy in the area I was in made it clear, a doctorate will take you to the peak anything less will not do. I loved my job but have no desire to get a PhD, so I had to take what some might consider a demotion not financially but with regards to status in the work place but that’s what I have to do to be able to grow, I.e change gears and work the system. What that translates to is that I am working 4 times harder than someone that has a PhD and it will probably take twice as long to get me to my goal. So yes Education does not guarantee living a successful life but let’s be honest it gives you an edge. But no PhD for me. The one I do don reach as far as I am concerned.

  8. Sabifok

    April 13, 2015 at 2:24 pm

    Nice piece Atoke and a very important topic, but one that may be lost on the party and bullshit or marriage/romance crowd.

    A friend of mine once remarked about how he felt the day he received his admission letter to University. He said he felt so proud and excited at the amount of knowledge he was going to receive as he liked to learn. As he walked through the University gates on his first day, with his chest out, he looked at the University motto carved into a plaque at the entrance and smiled “To restore the dignity of man”

    He said that the comedown he experienced a few months after matriculation was incredible. From rude lecturers who loved to ridicule, to modules which were made out of an outdated syllabus, to the how students in University are treated like secondary school students. He also found that Law was nothing like it is in the movies. You cannot just yell “I put it to you…” Neither can you make persuasive arguments without the backing of legal precedents or the law. Learning the law is complex and requires dedication.

    The fear of how much the knowledge one gets from University prepares one for a life outside University, is real. You do not learn interview technique in a university, or how to network and interact in a highly politicized office environment, or how to thrive in a cut-throat business world. No one place can teach you that, granted but you would expect to have learned far more after spending at least 4 odd years in a university

  9. chee

    April 13, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    “Growing up is a scam” Atoke, I so believe this cos d harsh realities of adulthood/ wifehood/motherhood sometimes makes me feel like lying down and humming “so wake me up when it’s all over…”. God will help me!

  10. Tosin

    April 13, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    today is the most fun day i’ve ever had. growing up has been all i hoped.

  11. x-factor

    April 13, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Time for some introspection, thank you Atoke for this…..

  12. nammy

    April 13, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Don’t grow up, it’s a trap!

  13. TA

    April 13, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    Part of the blame is on the way we treat artisans. Some people treat plumbers, mechanics, electricians, carpenters etc as beneath them. I know several persons who made it big from these seeming ‘poor people jobs’. I wish our Polytechnics will be serious and equip their labs with modern tools so that the little girl who wants to be a carpenter can spend only 2 years in a polytechnic learn all she can about woodwork and become an expert in her field. But no, my people will focus on only Accounting,Law, Medicine ,Engineering as if they are the only way earn a decent living.

  14. I Ren

    April 13, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    Hmmm. Atoke, don‘t bash my dear Nigeria, se o gbo?
    With my Voltron duty executed, lemme now tell you my ‘mind‘.
    I was properly sheltered in education until, perhaps, I got to secondary school. Boarding horrors, I thought, until I heard tales from friends about their schools. University – hm. The first was a federal uni, and I had similar experiences to you. Only horror I escaped was living in the school-owned hostels. Jesu seun.
    Come time to redo uni, and it was a private uni I faced. I had to retake GCSEs. Hian. It was in that time I realised Nigerians are Nigeria‘s problems, o. There is no special group of guilty folk somewhere. The children (much younger than me, na, seasoned undergraduate that I was) were cheating like they had no grey (abi white?) matter in their heads, and thus had no hope of passing on their own. They managed this because the invigilators conveniently looked and even strolled away during the exams. The ‘offering‘ the kids put together before each paper was the magic. I was scandalised. Until the inviligators shortened the time alloted for our math exam because there was a football match on that day. It felt like a dream.
    Babe, the matter be as e get. This is why I love to teach. Stop the rot while they are young, else they will grow to have the sort of values that result in shamelessly allowing the sub-human conditions our young people face in schools. Amen.

  15. Dr. N

    April 13, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    The way professionals go on strike tells u of their shock at discovering that we were sold a scam. Case in point: Doctors. They work so hard n sacrifice so much in sch believing that there is a utopia out there. When reality hits they r powerless to do much. I cringe in embarrassment each time another strike is announced. Shebi they said if we study hard we would never starve? I look forward to making my voice heard on ways to expand earning avenues even for professionals so that we can reduce our dependence on d govt. That is not to say their grievances r not justified tho.

  16. missnk

    April 13, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    This is so me. My father wanted me to study engineering because he did and worked for a reputable oil company. I got a B in AS-level physics, short 2 marks of an A and wasn’t offered a place in the university I was applying to. Daddy dearest decided that pharmacy was the next best option and I’m graduating in a few months with the barest interest in it. I did just enough to pass and I’m on for a 2:1 now. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life (I’m more business oriented) but definitely not pharmacy. My basic Alevels tuition plus my 4 years of pharmacy comes up to £88K w/o books, field trips etc. Now if I had done a short business course and been given even a quarter of that amount to start a business, that would have helped alot. sigh

    • Anon

      August 11, 2015 at 5:30 pm

      Have you looked at the business side of pharmacy? SInce you have theoretical knowledge in that area, why not apply for internships or study the business side of that industry, the production of drugs/selling drugs and more (pharmacy) it could be an online platform or whatever. Just apply some extra creative thinking in your situation….

  17. babygiwa

    April 13, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    Atoke dear, thought provoking article as always. Personally, I believe one should go to a university to ‘brush yourself up’ and after that you can go and do whatever you want to do. However, it is important to do what you like and can do for free even if that thing does not entail going to a university.
    Peace, cakes and moi moi

  18. Momoey

    April 13, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    I really enjoyed this piece. This is the premise of our 6-3-3-4 and we seem to have lost it. Solid 6 years in primary 3 years in junior secondary, 3 years in senior secondary or school for vocational studies and 4 in the university, where applicable.

    Ideally, at the end of junior secondary, one should have a solid foundation and be able to veer into other interests. Why spend 5 years in the university and year in law school to end up being a tailor or an interior designer. If the person started with the vocation right after junior secondary school, he/she would have become a veteran after 7 years (d time it would take the get a university degree – barring ASUU strike).

    On the other hand I don’t blame people overhyping university education in Nigeria because our educational system is warped. Even university graduates are more or less semi-literate. How much more those that attended public secondary schools.

    Nigerian government should get its acts together, focus on solid primary, secondary and vocational education anyone that wants university education should be made to pay top dollar for it. There could also be student loans to help people. If you are paying so much you will need to be sure you really want the university education before writing jamb.

  19. UniqueMB

    April 22, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Atokes darln this is so ME. Now to d matter,I was forced by my parents to study Medicine and in my 200L medicine was cancelled in my uni and out of the all d courses we were offered my peeps thought biochemistry was the best for me so fiam,I studied(crammed)Bch for 4 years and on graduation day I loooked at myself and smh alas I have learnt NOTHING. So I sat myself down and redirected myself after my youth service. Without a university degree today am a tush farmer and an ICT geek making alot of money most of itthrough self-service and skill acquisition.

  20. ify lan

    April 26, 2015 at 7:25 am

    Well said atoke

  21. newbie

    April 29, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    Interesting topic. All the more interesting because although I will call out African society and in particular Nigerian society for being culprits in this ‘a university degree is all you need’ business, it also exists in the western world.

    The driving factors are similar. Apart from the ‘status symbol thing which is more peculiar to us i.e. my son is a Doctor, my daughter is an Engineer, etc. all other factors are becoming universal. The job market determines what entrants need to access it. If 50 years ago all you needed was a decent Standard 6 School Leaving certificate to bag a decent job, well everyone went out and got one and over the years, the requirements kind of shifted to having a decent School Cert from high school. Again as more people got aspirational (fastforward to the 70s and 80s), a University degree became the defacto entry point to the job market. Here in the UK the same complaints exist to an extent, especially as the government has to subsidize higher education to some extent. They keep trying to ‘discourage’ youngsters from all flocking to Uni, and pointing out (sometimes doubtful) alternatives. The reality is that those jobs that people used to very easily pick up with an A level or O level have become so competitive, a university degree though not necessary to do the job, gives you an edge. Now in Nigeria I hear Masters’ degrees are all the rage.

    The differentiating factor would be that in the western world, labour is truly diversified. If academics are not your thing, there are several blue collar jobs that will pay you shedloads more than your mates stuck behind a desk. Think tradesmen – plumbers, electricians, plasterers, decorators, auto mechanics, etc. In Nigeria, we neither pay these people well nor value them as members of society. We feel they ‘ended up’ in such professions cos they’re thick or lazy or didn’t have anyone to pay their Uni fees. We don’t even have proper bodies that regulate their trade (I stand to be corrected). Apprenticeships are informal and unorganized. Until we truly diversify the economy and the labour market, people will generally flock to what will pay via the path of least resistance and that is what…..? White collar jobs. And as long as candidate supply far outweighs demand, employers will do the natural thing and whitle down the pool the easiest way they know how. So now we know why a University degree is still sadly, all that.

  22. Temii

    April 30, 2015 at 11:47 am

    I love you Atoke, this article is just right!

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