In The pussycat of Nekede, Columnist Ogbuagu Anikwe laments a missed opportunity for fame and fortune by a polytechnic student.

Two weeks ago, a fair lady took to TikTok to post a controversial video of herself. She made a shocking revelation about how she successfully passed through school. The school she mentioned was the Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Imo State. Emerging from what she claimed to be a successful defense of her diploma project, she gave the credit for her academic success to God and her private part. She did not use “private part” but resorted to an unrefined word, to create a shock effect.

For the benefit of the morality police, there are two quick things to say about this action. First, we need to be reminded about an Igbo saying that the truth is sometimes heard from lunatics. Second, we tend to downgrade or completely abdicate everything that God has given to us to live and thrive. Thus, exam success is no longer a product of academic diligence but a result of direct spiritual interventions.

Now to substantive matters.

We all read (or heard) the vivacious TikTok lady who crowed about how she successfully navigated school. There are at least three issues in the lady’s action and our reaction that call for closer attention. All three issues are patented in Nigeria. The lady in question appears impulsive. Our reactions seem irrational. Characteristically, the school appears hypocritical in its pursuit of a clean brand image. Consequently, the lady’s action and our reactions may not pass the tests of thoughtfulness, rationality, and empathy.

Take our individual reactions, represented by the media trial that has now cast her as a demon. She may well be a demon, but who knows this for a fact? Does anyone know her well enough to pronounce her as one? Our interest should have been on her statement which many consider ambiguous, capable of diverse interpretations. Rather, we appear to have jumped to a different interpretation. Everyone believes she was referencing either voluntarily or forced sex-for-marks in her school. But surely is this all there is to her statement? There’s a lot more if only we open our minds to consider other possibilities.

Today, many youths gather at construction sites, searching for hard tasks to earn money for tuition and general upkeep. A good number of female students engage in physically and emotionally demanding activities to support themselves in school. Therefore, the lady could have found her private part an easier channel through which to support herself through school. I hear that they call the practice “hookup” and that this practice is widespread in our tertiary institutions. Additionally, there are rich and affluent persons among us who keep schoolgirls as sidechicks. They pay for their services by sponsoring their education. Any of these two categories can legitimately claim that they passed through school with the help of their private parts.

We can question the morality of both preoccupations, and we should. But the victims, as I prefer to see them, need more of our pity. They do not deserve the self-righteous condemnations we have hitherto witnessed. Many girls would not resort to immoral behaviour if society offered them worthwhile alternatives. Doubtless, a good number may be into it for the opportunity to keep up with the joneses. Or to flex, as they put it these days. But this is not the issue. What is important is that if this were the context in which this pussycat of Nekede referenced the tool she used to survive school, it changes the complexion of everything she said. This would make our reaction to her story a bit hasty.

Sadly, if our reaction to the lady’s testimony is bad, the reaction of her school appears worse. The Federal Polytechnic Nekede did not consider that its press statement was both sanctimonious and self-indicting. In one breath, the school took the position that the girl was immoral and disrespectful of God. Has the school been appointed earthly judge of what God demands of a vulnerable individual in dire straits?

The school also proceeded from an assumption that she is a demon, while ignoring the greater danger. If this were a sex-for-marks situation, lecturers in the school could be the real demons. A careful reading of the press release also indicts the school. All elaborate safety nets it claims to have installed to protect students speak to the fact that the school had prior knowledge of the rot in the institution. In the end, the school ended up giving the impression that it was more interested in protecting its reputation than on the brand image that one of its products has exposed to the world through TikTok.

The most baffling reaction is, however, reserved for the lady herself, after opening her mouth wide. Lady Sharon started a fight she has no stomach to finish as soon as her school launched into offensive mode. Her video gave the impression of a vivacious, happy go lucky girl, unafraid and ready to challenge the world. But she became a pussycat, not because of the profanity she uttered, but because she let this opportunity pass. She missed the opportunity to extend 15 minutes of fame into a business that would have made her for life. There are two claims to fame for anyone that will become a celebrity – achievement and notoriety. She had an opportunity to make money by branding herself as either of the two.

Lady Sharon could have become the face of the crusade against sex-for-marks in Nigerian tertiary education. She will surely receive her certificate – world pressure will ensure that. Thereafter, she can launch into a career that takes her on speaking tours nationally, and yes, even globally. To accomplish this, she would need the support of a bespoke publicist and relevant NGOs to thrive. Her reputation will remain intact because she will be the victim that everybody sees. Her advocacy will create more impact than the hotlines and preachments from the pastor Rector of the school. For one, Nekede lecturers who subject students to this indignity will be named and shamed. The pussycat of Nekede could have had the time of her life.

If, on the other hand, she decided to play the notoriety card, a little outstide support will come in handy. This can be from brand companies and skillful publicists will also do the magic. And she would have become a millionaire in no time at all. Nollywood actors and social media influencers use their star power and a little notoriety to earn top Naira.

This was why, when I saw the videoclip, I was intrigued but not offended. Rather, I felt a combination of curiosity, pity and indignation.  The curiosity I felt was not understanding the context of her testimony, as already explained. As a parent, I felt pity that she had to go through such trauma to graduate from school. Most parents will feel the same way, so it is not an issue that she said it. I suspect that most people were offended that she used a vulgar word to describe a female private organ.

Then there is the vexed issue of a wonderful, self-appointed lawyer that has entered the picture. This lawyer is encouraging her to walk back everything she said in the video. Unfortunately, with every denial, she is flushing an opportunity down the drain. She will not be able to add value to an ongoing difficult social conversation. Or equally use her beloved social media to launch herself into an early payday. Instead, she is being set up as a lamb to be slaughtered by vengeful school administrators.

It is possible that the lady was merely out to catch cruise, chase clout, and trend with her video. She however turned out to be a pussycat rather than a tigress. Pussycat is a classic definition of what her lawyer wants her to be – a weak, compliant, and amenable feline creature.

Ogbuagu Anikwe: The Pussycat of Nekede

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