I just spoke with an instrucor in the English Skills Center, about the Nigerian students that I’m working with. I had pieced together an idea of why they were here but didn’t feel like I had a complete understanding. She told me that they are here via a Nigerian government sponsored program to get a university education. The background on the students goes something like this…
They are from the Niger Delta region of the country, which is where the oil reserves are located. The land in the area has been exploited to harness these oil depositories. However, the refineries and processing plants are not in the region.
This translates into few jobs or money staying in the area from where the oil is extracted. A by product of the drilling and development is that their farmlands were destroyed. Therefore, the people in the area took up arms and became aggitators or terrorists to gain some control over the area in which they lived. They did things like kidnapping foreign nationals and hold them for ransom. They also fought the Nigerian governmental forces and it is estimated that over 2,000 people were killed in this time. They approached companies who were drilling and charged them a security fee for protection. So, what the Nigerian government proposed was a three month amnesty to these gorilla fighters. The government promised development funds to the region and one of the pieces to this development pie was university education. The fighters had to turn in their weapons and register for this program. The number of fighters who signed up for this program is somewhere between 22 and 30 thousand. The first group of students who came through didn’t seem to be people who were directly involved with the fighting. As one could easily imagine gorilla fighters would be skeptical of the government saying, “Turn in your arms and we won’t prosecute you.”
So, the first group of students who came through this program seemed to be people who may have been better connected in the region or on the margins of the fighting. These students were better prepared academically for univeristy work. Now, the second group of students is at NMMU and it is evident that they were more involved in the fighting. I picked up on this by the things that were said in the classroom…be careful when you ask someone of this group who their political hero is! When this topic came up in orientation, one student answered with a story about a general who had been slapped and proceeded to murder a whole village of people. Not the answer the teacher was expecting after spending the whole morning discussing Nelson Mandela.
With this background information in mind, I find it even more interesting that all of the students I have worked with so far are majoring in policy studies. One student wants to be an ambassador, while another student is studying policy implementation (my undergrad degree). It is interesting to think about the transition from an armed struggle to a political one. Even more interesting to me because this is not an abstract idea but rather a real practice I am witnessing in a very small portion.