Emotions ran wild at the 49th convocation of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), last Thursday when the university awarded ₦1000 and ₦1500 to its best graduating students in several categories.
Parents and visitors were disappointed and angry that the first-generation university could award such “ridiculous prizes” to its best brains at a public ceremony.
According to the graduation booklet, UNN also awarded ₦1000 to two students and asked them to share it.
Page 28 of the graduation booklet reads:
“Faculty of the Social Sciences; Prof Onigu Otite Prize for the best graduating student in the Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Value (₦1000), Onwuneme Victory A.
“Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation Prize to the best graduating student in Economics, Value (₦1000), Okafor John Chimezie; Chief Enoch Ifediora Oil Prize to the best graduating student in the Department of Geography, Value (₦1000) Ukata Nkemakonam; Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu memorial prize to the best final year student in the Faculty of Business Administration, Value (₦1500) Nwankwo Esther.”
Some university workers drew comparisons between UNN’s “show of shame” at its prize and award night and secular shows and awards such as Big Brother Naija (BBNaija), where the winner takes prizes worth millions of naira.
They added that even runners-up on BBNaija still smile home with magnificent prizes such as SUVs in a television programme devoid of academic rigour.
Recall that last year, the BBNaija winner went home with prizes worth ₦85 million.
Popular Nigerian-American journalist and host of the satirical show, “Dr. Damages Show, ” Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo, stated that UNN authorities should have avoided such ridiculous awards and cash prize ceremonies.
Okonkwo, who teaches AfroDiasporic Literature and Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York, United States, added that if he noticed that the best student in his Humanities Department was getting a $120 prize at a graduation event, he would be so embarrassed that he would personally add his own money.
“These top students got N1000 and N1 500 as cash rewards. That is about $2,” Okonkwo told Sahara Reporters.
“It was embarrassing. Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu Memorial Prize gave ₦1,500 ($2.5) to a First Class student of the Department of Accounting, and Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation gave N1000 ($2) to Nwankwo Nnenna, First Class honours in Accounting.
“Yes, some of these awards have corporate sponsors. How could UNN authorities allow this to happen? Are the corporate sponsors aware that their names are associated with such a fallacy of a reward?
“Superimpose that with the millions of naira that the winners of BBNaija take home? How does the faculty live with giving ₦1000 to best-performing students of their departments? What does that say about our attitude to education in Nigeria? If one of the foremost universities in Nigeria cannot find a way to substantially reward excellence, who else can?”
Okonkwo noted that he doubted if the university administration contacted the families and corporations that sponsored the awards.
He added, “Even if the families or corporations that endowed these prizes have no interest in upgrading the cash award money, the university should do the right thing, rather than embarrass themselves by giving their top students less than $4 for four years of excellent academic accomplishments.
“Unfortunately, university administrators in Nigeria are only interested in pursuing personal contracts and punishing students. They do not know that part of their responsibilities is raising funds for the university, negotiating partnerships, and working with alumni to support the institution.
“I am sure that so many great alumni of UNN would gladly give Nigeria’s minimum wage as a prize to top students in their department. But someone had to reach out to them.
“My 14-year-old son just graduated from middle school. For being the best student in technology, he got a prize that came with a cash of $150 — middle school, not high school.
“If university professors could not see the absurdity, why do we blame politicians who leave retirees on the same pension for 20 years when inflation has made it inadequate.
“The lion has truly died at UNN. My late father, Hon. J.C. Okonkwo, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in English (with honours) at the university, would be turning in his grave reading this.”