Covenant University: The Mobile Phone Question

In a ThisDay newspaper report on September 26, 2007, Tim Akano wrote about Covenant University’s giant learning strides under the topic, “Nigeria: Covenant Varsity Produces Int’l Programmers & IT Experts.” The report celebrated “undergraduates of the university [who] qualified as International Sun Java Certified Programmers…” Please read the full report here. One shouldn’t be surprised at this when you look at the school’s mission as clearly articulated on its website: “To create knowledge and restore the dignity of the black man via a Human Development Total Man Concept driven curriculum employing innovative, leading edge teaching and learning methods, research and professional services that promote integrated, life–applicable, life-transforming education, relevant to the context of Science, Technology and Human Capacity Building.

Add these words of the school’s Chancellor, Dr. David Oyedepo, and you will understand why I was excited to speak to the school’s students on April 3 (see blog post here): “We are committed to producing a new generation of leaders who will positively impact their nations, the African continent and the world at large.” One more, the vision of the College of Science and Technology: “To produce a new generation of competent, skilled and innovative professionals who are able to pioneer excellence that translates into the good life for all Africans.” The Chancellor is not new to Nigerians, and the feat he accomplished with what has been severally described as the auditorium with the largest space in the world. As a professional architect and a man who has never been bound by the status quo, one is not surprised at the story that he insisted that the structure could be erected even though some people said it was impossible at the time.

The amazing things I know about the school and the Chancellor would explain my surprise the first time some students of the school told me that mobile phones were not allowed on campus. I put it off as a joke until I returned to the school earlier this week and spoke about how mobile phones had changed the world. “All of you in this hall now have mobile phones, which we never had while I was a student,” I said, adding that “… please make use of the opportunities you have to improve your lives.” The pin-drop silence that followed prompted me to ask if the joke was true. Their response shocked me, and I wonder why it has remained that way since the ban. The next day, three students of the school were at my place to discuss an innovative solution they came up with. I asked them about the ban and I want to believe that the reason they offered is another joke: “Mobile phones were banned in the school because of an encounter with a disobedient student whose phone went off during a meeting with the Chancellor, after many warnings.”

Disobedient students should be punished but should a whole school be taken back in time? I’ll apologize for that statement if someone tells me how else to explain being kept away from mobile phones that can help one reach family and friends — and even future business partners — in 2008! And we are talking about university-age students here. Come on! So, we can add Covenant University to the list of places where mobile phones can’t be used — alongside hospitals, banks (except GTBank), gas stations, airplanes, etc. This only reminds me again of how I was kept away from using a computer in my third year in secondary school. But that was even secondary school, this is a university — where you should connect young people with opportunities and not deny them in the name of control. I’m writing this as an angry young man whose daily job is to seek out innovative young Nigerians and support them in our collective bid to transform Nigeria into one of the world’s most desirable nations.

I have had many reasons to communicate with students in various schools across Nigeria, but each time I need to discuss with students of Covenant University, they always have to get permission to come and meet me in Lagos. I think that amounts to reversing time, in an age where mobile phones help with better communication. I will also take it that the stories of a campus-wide ban on personal laptops and controlled access (because someone was caught checking porn sites) are two April jokes! Students, parents, lecturers and everyone at Covenant University will need to do a lot to convince the world that the school’s vision is true, and that the words of the Chancellor are consistent with the school’s actions by lifting this ban now. I honestly think that one major question mark hanging over the vision of Covenant University is, “When will students be released from the bondage that has become evident because they can not use mobile phones in school?

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‘Gbenga Sesan is an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow, Nigeria’s first Information Technology Youth Ambassador and a member of the United Nations Committee of eLeaders on ICTs and Youth.

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