Nigerian Students-some background

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.


7 responses to “Nigerian Students-some background

  • Carol

    Please consider re-writing this for submission to the Tutors Column in the Writing Lab Newsletter. I would be happy to help you re-focus it for publication.

  • Alan Benson

    Elizabeth, I agree that it could be an interesting Tutors Column. (And, as the person responsible for the TCs, I know what I’m talking about. 🙂 ). I think a column about working with writers dealing with the continuing effects of war could be a really interesting addition to the scholarly conversation.

  • Feeling Invested | Star Thrower

    […] students from Nigeria who are here through the government sponsored program I mentioned in this previous post. While I was a consultant at SCSU’s Write Place I had several clients I saw on a regular basis […]

  • Lizzie

    I’m posting this reply I recieved via email and they said I could share it here. I thought her thoughts and deeper history on the subject add a lot of insight:

    Elizabeth is indeed correct in her allusion to the conflict in the Delta region though it is uncertain whether a full understanding of the source of the conflict would result in use of the terms “agitators or terrorists” to describe the people who took up arms in that region. A Nigerian professor at St. Cloud who knows the background of these students did write this to me:

    Delta is an oil state, where the citizens are trying without government help to stop foreign oil companies from messing up their farmland and rivers. Their sources of income—farmland and rivers—are being destroyed with oil pollution by British Petroleum BP, something these oil companies would not do in any industrial nation.  These people are mostly farmers and fishermen whose sources of livelihood are being polluted by foreign oil companies with impunity. I do not blame the people fighting to protect what feeds them and their families. If they resort to guerrilla approach, it is because BP in partnership with high-level Nigerian government officials is not listening to them. However, these fishermen and farmers who are confronting the oil companies in attempts to protect their farmland and water from pollution are not those who come here as international students to further their education.

    To add to this background, my husband who used to visit his relatives in that area of the country describes with nostalgia the lush green fields and flowing rivers teeming with fish so prolific that one could scoop them up at will with a basket, not wait with bait for one to bite. Now, he says it breaks his heart to visit the place so withered are the trees and dried up the rivers. And he agrees wholeheartedly with the Nigerian colleague above that this type of pollution would not be tolerated anywhere in the western world.

    I felt it important to respond to Elizabeth’s blog because while some knowledge of a student’s background invariably helps teachers and advisers tailor their support for the student, too little or too much can tip the balance in ways that become detrimental to students. For example, while we do not condone the actions of the so-called “hero” and do not at this point understand the background of the student who raises this general up as a hero, it is neither helpful in terms of relationship building nor productive in terms of classroom pedagogy to say, “be careful when you ask someone of this group who their political hero is…” Engendering fear will not produce the trust that is the bedrock of a successful teacher/tutor-student relationship. Finally, since these experiences are not the experiences of all Nigerian students, and it would be wrong to suggest as much, I would wish that Elizabeth would revise the title when revising the piece for publication.

  • Trouble for My Students | Star Thrower

    […] that they had missed. Then I was briefed on their current situation. Like I stated in my earlier post about these students, they are here through a Nigerian sponsored program. This means that the Nigerian government pays […]

  • Meeting students where they are | Star Thrower

    […] met with my regularly scheduled appointments.  Each time I meet with these students I come away with questions on how to better serve them and how they are functioning at the […]

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