Our ‘don’t you know who I am?’ mentality in Nigeria is one that is engrained in our culture but one that we need to work on changing. While many people claim to be too well –bred to actually say these words, their actions usually denote the superiority that comes with wealth and/or education. This perhaps explains why many people will do anything to acquire wealth. Education is now beginning to be a yardstick for measuring superiority and a degree from a foreign university is one of the easiest ways to step on to this supposed ladder of advantage.
It is a good thing that Nigerians value education as they do. It is a matter of pride for some of us living abroad when Nigerians are ranked as the most educated Africans in the UK. It is also heart –warming to see so many young Nigerians studying and excelling in universities in the UK and justifying the eye-watering sums that their education has cost their families. But what about the ones that come to the UK just so that they and their families can say ‘don’t you know who I am? I’ve got masters from Manchester Met University!’
The rate at which people are coming into the UK to study with very little money is beginning to be a source of concern to many. My friend’s cousin, Solape, came to the UK to study for her masters. Solape was brought up by her very humble family in Lagos. She was fortunate to be a very clever and hardworking girl. She got a first degree in Business Administration from University of Lagos and later got a good job at one of the (still existing) banks in Lagos. In an attempt to be like some of her friends, she got admitted to a university in the UK for her masters and managed to get a visa to travel into the UK. Let’s not talk about the huge send-off party that was thrown for her. It was like a wedding party. Some of her friends actually wore aso-ebi. Solape made such an eloquent speech at her party that you would have thought she was heading off to the moon on Nigeria’s first space mission.
She might well have been, though, because Solape only paid £3000 of her £12,000 tuition fees to her university in UK before she left Nigeria. Her plan was to arrive at Heathrow, phone her cousin (my friend), live with her while she was at university and do extra work to make up the rest of her school fees. If only she knew that that was not a plan for success but one of disappointment and disgrace.
Solape arrived at Heathrow and called her cousin. Now, most sensible people know that the UK is made up of many regions and not all people live in London. (You can guess where this is going, can’t you?) Solape’s cousin lived in Derby in East Midlands, about three hours from London by car. The distance is like Lagos to Ogbomosho, on a good day with good roads and no crashed tankers causing traffic. Anyway, her cousin told her where she lived and how to get there by train, but Solape was appalled. She had secured admission to Southbank University in London! How was she going to commute to uni from Derby every day?
Solape made her way to Derby, only to find that her cousin lived in a cramped two bed council flat with her two children after a very recent split from her husband who was, as rumour had it, currently living with a dread-locked Jamaican woman twice his age. I suppose Solape was shocked to find her cousin in such reduced circumstances, because I know my friend still went to Nigeria with her husband the year before in a cloud of affluence and comfortable marital bliss.
Anyway, my friend was on maternity leave after giving birth to her second child and was living off her Statutory Maternity Allowance. Needless to say, she didn’t have any extras to spare for Solape, who had hoped that she would get some financial help from her cousin.
After many phone calls and called- in favours, my friend was able to secure accommodation for Solape in London while she studied her masters. All this happened last September and in time I forgot about Solape. It was only recently that I heard from my friend that Solape was pregnant and dropped out of university in January because she could not pay her fees.
She could not find part –time work in London due to the economic downturn. What she did find was a ‘nice’ man who happened to be her landlady’s brother. She now lives with him, expecting a baby out of wedlock, with no job. Her student visa expires at the end of this year and her man is an illegal immigrant. She can’t go back to her job in Nigeria because she was given study leave on condition that she returned with the said Masters in Business Administration. Perhaps the worst part is that the man is also out of paid employment and gets by on ‘deals! (in the UK that is a by-word for illegal or criminal activities).
While Solape’s sorry situation is not the norm, it is happening more often than many would like to admit. There is nothing wrong with trying to better one’s prospects. The advantages that come with a foreign qualification include better job prospects, promotions at work and career advancement. These make the endeavour worthwhile if one can afford it. However, if a person’s main motivation for a foreign degree is to be able to show –off to others that they’ve studied aboard and feel (in some distorted way) that they are superior to everyone else, then they need to think again.
It shouldn’t be about where you studied but about what you know. A foreign degree doesn’t mean you are cleverer that others. It just means you were able to afford the fees. If you can’t afford the fees, then be content with your qualifications from Nigerian institutions. It is better than leaving certainty for a wild goose chase abroad with little hope of achieving anything. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush!
Writer – Abi Adeboyejo
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