(From Archives) Kingdom of Pharisees and Sadducees: Covenant University, the Shame of Nigeria I

“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you…. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”- Audre Lorde

After being in Covenant for three years now, there’s this familiar shock I have whenever I see our school being praised in the media. I pause and think to myself, Is this the same Covenant I’m in? Is there a disc 2 I don’t know about? I believe that there are issues in our community, there are problems that need conversations if solutions are too far ahead, and by writing this, I am not bringing shame to my school or my country; I am bringing the shameful things to light and here, unlike the dark, they can at least be understood. I am not your god, everything I say in this essay is what I believe to be right and true, you are free to be angry, offended and even disagree, it is your right.

I think that a university, at its greatest, is a receptacle for ideas. This is a place where fresh minds come together to learn and grow and as a result, find new ways to better their community. For the student and society: a university is a place of change. A seminary is a place for theological investigation, where students are coming to learn more about the scripture and prepare themselves for a life in Christian ministry. I believe that Covenant tries to be a university and a seminary and utterly fails at both. I don’t think that any silly ranking holds weight in this conversation when students are being abused and have their basic rights denied; who has ranking helped abeg? Was Nigeria not ranked amongst the countries with the greatest potential in the world?

See, the nature of salvation is such that no matter how much you try, you can’t force it on another. I believe that a person decides whether or not they want to be saved and that decision can be made by only them. Not by their parents, not by their guardians, not by their school for gods’ sake; them and only them. That said, to think that forcing students and lecturers to go to chapel will boost spirituality is an idea that is silly at best and dangerous at worst. The chapel stops becoming a place of holy reverence and instead becomes a kind of prison where all the doors are locked and attendance is taken with biometrics while beady eyed men and women watch out to see the students who are sleeping and not standing up, while the lecturers quickly place their thumbs on the machines then turn to beat a retreat.

I believe that you insult your god when you force his own children to worship him. I believe that you insult your god by using worship of him to hurt and disenfranchise his children. I believe that you insult your god by disrespecting his place of worship.

To then use this chapel attendance as a basis to disrupt the academic activities of the students — what they’re actually paying school fees for — is an act beyond evil.

I believe that young people around my age who have issues with drugs have legitimate problems and suspending or expelling them to go back to their parents is a half assed solution to a problem that can last a lifetime, and then end it. Nobody does drugs for the fun of it, I don’t believe that any human in history has ever said, “Yo, my life is bloody amazing, everything is going right for me and by the way, can you pass the cocaine?” To be addicted at so young is an issue that should be confronted with attention and care, not with a suspension letter and shame, these students can be rehabilitated. They are not hopeless cases.

The rules of Covenant are much more than they are, they hurt everyone involved, especially the students. They empower exploiters all through the school system and allow students to be abused, physically, emotionally and sexually. With these rules, extortion and bribe become second language from security guards to lecturers. I’ve been assaulted twice now, and I can say boldly that the system does not care, they’d rather focus on whether or not we’re wearing ties and our hair is kept at an acceptable arbitrary length. But there are others who have lost much more than I have in Covenant, people who may never regain what was taken from them in this place. This is not a place of reform or spirituality, it is a kingdom of Pharisees and Sadducees where the world is upside down.

Covenant routinely disrespects its students in any way it can, placing limits where there should be none, rules where they are not needed. When students were suspending for not adhering to the dress code, their faces were shown to all of us during the chapel service so we could gawk and awe, an example was made of them but when our previous registrar was stepped down due to sexual abuse accusations, I don’t remember his picture being put up, I don’t remember there even being an announcement. When students die, they cover it up, barring the room and shifting the roommates, there are no moments of silence given, no respect to the dead.

Bad things happen in Covenant, and they don’t want you to know.

But faced against this blatant abuse of fundamental human rights, people respond with, “Well, just go to another school. I mean, is Covenant the only school that is there? If you go there you have to follow the rules.” My response coincides with Owei Lakemfa’s: I believe that it is the responsibility of any man or woman blessed enough to have resources to build a university to make a conducive and safe environment for students to learn not a prison camp that conditions students for mediocrity and abuse.

Then the people retort with, “But CU students are making waves all round, what they are doing is working.” I have two responses to this. I believe strongly that any person that was able to make it through Covenant did so despite Covenant and not because of it. This is a place that retards growth and knowledge and can never be the birthplace of anything great. The second is this: even if Covenant was producing Nobel Laureates every year, how would that make what it did to students right? What exactly would that change?

When we were younger, our mother told us that nothing in this world was free, I’ll advance this: everything has a price. Speaking as I have will have a price, the same way that being silent would have. There will never be a safe time to speak, there will always be something to lose and as the time goes on, what you can lose only gets larger. Education, I feel is one of the only guaranteed ways to get us out of where we are now. But I don’t see how any place can even dare to boast that it breeds a new generation of leaders when all it does is revitalise the spirit of old ones in young students.

A friend once told me that Covenant was an ideal that was allowed to live and I agree. The idea of Covenant should have been left well alone in a dark room and never have been brought into inception. Regardless, schools — if they can be called that — like Covenant, Babcock, Landmark, Madonna and their ilk serve a very important purpose: they are clear lessons telling us exactly what happens when religious organisations are free to run amok and do whatever they want. Maybe in the future, when the conversation somehow arrives at the topic of making a new university with a religious backbone, our descendants will frown and shake their heads, pointing in disgust at the past that narrowly escaped them, and maybe they’ll remember what we are now learning: silence comes first, and then, hell.

Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.