“He who forgets his duty falls off the tree of prestige.”
A lot has happened on campus this past week but perhaps the most notable is the incident that occurred in Queen Elizabeth II Hall. Reportedly, porters went all around the rooms to fish out the illegal occupants of the hostel (those also referred to as “squatters”) at midnight. As one would expect, it has led to debates over the role of porters in the university. This conversation has caught the ever-wandering eyes of this court. Is it praiseworthy or blameworthy? I beg to argue, without fear of self-contradiction, that the latter is the case.
First of all, one has to attempt to define the purpose of porters on campus. I do not speak of the statutory duties engraved on the leaves of documentation, but the practical actions that show their resolution towards us. The issue of their actual constitutional obligations has become more and more vague, reduced to the testimony of word of mouth and empty speculation. Gone are the days when all porters acted primarily in the interests of the students, helping with luggage and other forms of assistance. Now, we have in that stead, the case of porters using their position to frustrate the students. They seem more eager to slap heavy fines on erring students than to actually cater for their needs. Imagine a hypothetical-yet-realistic case where a particular student’s complaint over a faulty kitchenette is held with levity but when that same student is caught cooking in his room, he is forced to part with his hotplate. Do we now have porters who are for or against us?
Apart from this, we hear of cases where they go into clandestine dealings with some students to get them accommodation in halls, without passing through the legitimate process. While I cannot possibly produce any form of proof at this point or list out names for obvious reasons, this is a phenomenon that we all hear about around us; legal students being deprived of rooms for the sake of their colleagues with deeper pockets and more desperate hearts. It is an ugly situation, really. It should not be encouraged and I urge anyone with genuine evidence to come forward with this. That is the ethical and legal thing to do. We cannot afford to allow ourselves to be tossed around like supple words in the hands of an ambitious poet. The spirit of unionism starts from little but significant things such as this.
The most irritating aspect has to be the bias and favouritism; punishing a Uite for a certain offence and conveniently turning a blind eye when another does the same. Even if at a minimal level, this breeds the feeling of inferiority and superiority in the minds of such Uites. Some are made to feel more important, more likely to get away with misdeeds than others. My lords, is this the kind of attitude we are to praise? If so, perhaps the world has turned on its head and words like “praise” have taken on new meanings of their own.
Also, in the discharge of their duties, albeit with well-meaning intentions, they discomfort the students who they are supposed to support. As in the instance in Queens’ Hall, our beautiful ladies, while snoring the tune of a restless day, were attacked like thieves in the night. Their sleep was interrupted and they were subsequently locked in the following morning for questionable reasons.
While it would be foolish to state that all porters are corrupt, it is not a long shot to argue that a considerable percentage do not act with our best interests at heart. Their role has been that of the oppressor rather than the helper. The conduct of some porters paints them as the embodiment of opprobrium and distasteful demeanour. My lords, I hereby conclude that they are definitely, for the most part, blameworthy.
THEY DESERVE ALL THE PRAISE!
When the labourer is praised, his cutlass begins to cut more keenly ~ Nigerian proverb
Our grandfathers in their tremendous wisdom used to warn us about the chicken and its unworthy habit. The chicken, they said, eats corn, drinks water, swallows pebbles, yet she complains of having no teeth. If she had teeth, they’d add, would she go ahead and eat gold? My ever sagacious Lords, most UItes aren’t any different from this proverbial chicken. We get so much, enjoy a lot; still we are constant and unrepentant critics who rarely appreciate the good things that cross our path.
Every single day for four, five or six years (if not more); from admission to graduation, from matriculation to convocation, students of University of Ibadan live in perpetual risk of danger. We live in the reasonable fear of several hazards such as theft, burglary, rape and even murder. We walk the streets of UI not knowing whether we’re the next victim of electrocution from some stray live wire. Or whether asphyxiation awaits us whether by virtue of our overpopulated rooms or our occasionally chock-full lecture theatres wherein thrown pins may not even find their way down. And to assuage these risks, men and women of worth have sacrificed their time, a large chunk of their life, just to make sure that students on this campus have rest of mind to go about their business. These men and women are generally known by the name ‘porters’.
Milords, let me not bore you with unnecessary innuendo. I do not understand why porters are viewed with so much scorn almost everywhere they find themselves. They sacrifice their all for all; still they get little in return. Porters, in every hall, are the actors and soldiers in the epicentre of the storm. For 24 hours, or close, they keep watch over the students with nothing except perhaps a puny baton to keep them safe. For the sake of students, they succumb to a state of quasi-imprisonment, having their cherished freedom of movement stifled. And for our sake too, they have nothing save BCOS and NTA to watch all day from a dull old-generation idiot-box. Yet the same students, for whose sake they sacrifice the comfort of their beds and family-time, see them as worthless.
Lexically, a porter’s work entails mere assistance with the carriage of luggage. But it is as clear as tropical sunshine that our porters carry a whole lot more than that. They assist in hall registration, they make sure damaged facilities are swiftly repaired; they ensure water is pumped and made available at all times, they prevent the nuisance caused by squatting and illegal occupation of reading rooms, they act as law enforcement agents who diligently attempt the impossible task of bridling ever-impatient UI students. And the list goes on without end Milords.
Many porters I know are both skilled and vibrant. In fact, there is one in Mellanby hall who can tell a room’s number just through a distant back view. Hurl water from your balcony and you’d hear – ‘A56, well done o’. This same person, only after meeting me once or twice in my room, would remind me of the number whenever he saw me afterwards. Other porters in other jurisdictions also have their peculiar superpowers borne out of commitment to duty.
As a matter of fact, to further corroborate my point on the praiseworthiness of porters, we all are witnesses to what transpired in Queen Elizabeth II Hall. There we saw the virtue of self-sacrifice at its zenith. Most time, we find porters inevitably sleeping exactly by midnight or thereabout. However recently (for the sake of our Queens), they kept vigil till around 2:00/3:00am just to make sure no unscrupulous elements with intent to wreak havoc are lurking around.
Do not think that I have come to romanticise our dear porters beyond proportion. For I agree that they are not perfect. But then, I take solace in the Yoruba saying that ‘ko si bi a se maa rin ki ori ma mi’ i.e. there is no way we’d walk and our head will not waver. Also we must take into account these words of Theodore Roosevelt – the only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything. And so, though we may worry about occasional amplified blunders, about delay in rescue missions, and perhaps little megalomaniac manifestations every now and then; we must realise that mistakes are bad, but they are still better than inaction. Here, I shall rest!
CONCLUSION: This column is about you, it presents the two sides of a case courtesy of two writers from different schools of thought. “Audi alteram partem” means hear the other side before passing your judgment. Take the gavel, make your decision and slam because you are the judge in this courtroom.
THE ROLE OF PORTERS IN THE UNIVERSITY: PRAISEWORTHY OR BLAMEWORTHY?
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