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GC Posted On: Mar 16, 2019

On the 4th May, 2017,, an image of 14 black men from Cambridge University went viral on the internet. This picture was shared and reported by many news agencies including the BBC.

The photo was taken and posted by Cambridge Afro-Caribbean society (ACS) to create awareness that there is space for black men (and women) in Cambridge. It was done to replicate a similar photo of young male students of Yale University posted by Akintunde Ahmad and his friends.

This photo has re-awakens the conversation on the underrepresentation of black students in top universities. It’s shocking to note that out of 1287 students only 38 or about 1% identified as blacks. Black in this sense constitutes over 1 billion people in Africa, the black British, the black American and afro Caribbean population. Indeed, there is enormous work to be done.

However, of interest to note is that 12 of these black boys are either first or second generation Nigerians. This is a country with a global tag of negativities from fantastically corrupt, to drug peddlers, internet fraudster alias yahoo boys, etc.

The battered image of Nigeria makes it look as if nothing good can come out of that nation. But, if you take a look at every sphere of life, you will definitely see a successful Nigeria. Of recent is Anthony Oluwafemi Joshua, the current unified world heavyweight boxing champion.

You can only understand the enormity of this soiled image when you travel or work outside Nigeria. You constantly have to prove that you are not dubious, corrupt, arrogant or untrustworthy. The energy you should use in developing yourself and your environment is expended fighting this stigma. Indeed any Nigeria succeeding outside Nigeria deserves special accolades. So these 12 boys who posed for this photo deserve accolades.

You may be wondering why I think going to Cambridge is a big deal. Let me remind you that to get into Cambridge you require at least A*A*A in A level exams. This is a feat achieved by just 140 black students in the UK in 2015. As an international student, the average tuition fee for undergraduate degrees in Cambridge is about £23000.

This is equivalent of about N10 million and most degrees are 3 or 4 years. If you happen to be a home student, which is the case for second or third generation Nigerians, the fee is about £10000 which is equivalent to N5 million. Meanwhile, most of the parents of these boys are not politicians but ordinary people in different spheres of life.

Furthermore, I need not bug you with the prestige of Cambridge University. The facts are clear. This is a university that has existed for over 800 years and has remained one of the top 5 universities in the world since inception.

Also, a significant proportion of the key players in global space and conversation are alumni of Cambridge. My experience as a postgraduate student here is one I will not trade for anything. In my opinion, Cambridge is not just a British university but a global heritage.

Another interesting question from this photo is: Where are other Africans if 12 of 14 boys are either first or second generation Nigerians? A continent of 54 countries and a random sampling of 14 boys has 12 with Nigerian origin begs for an answer. If the key players in global conversation are trained in Cambridge and other top universities, then we have to be part of that space if we want to participate in the conversations.

Africa and the rest of the black communities cannot be spectators and expect to score goals or control the rules of the game. So to the parents, who are sweating to get their children into Cambridge and other top universities, I say kudos! I hope other African parents can emulate Nigerians in getting their children into these spaces. It is not an accident that many Cantabs end up doing many great things in the society. So key in and be part of this space.

For those who think that most Nigerians are dubious and corrupt because of the activities of a few bad eggs, you may continue to tag us while we excel at things that matter. I will also add that if your parents can’t afford to send you to Cambridge, do not be discouraged.

There is space for you. There are lots of scholarships and students loans that can get you to Cambridge and other top universities. Consult the university websites for information. I promise that all you need is to believe and give it a shot; I guarantee that your experience will be rewarding.

I deeply appreciate the Cambridge Afro-Caribbean society led by Ore Ogunbiyi (Nigerian) for this wonderful initiative. This sort of conversation is what we should never sleep on until we achieve better representation of black and minority ethnic groups in top universities.

I hope this campaign achieves the aim of raising awareness and encouraging more BME students to apply and get into Cambridge and other top universities. I am also grateful to the support the university has given to the campaign and their efforts in widening participation of BME at the university.

According to businessinsider, a university spokesman said “We maintain high academic standards but we are also committed to widening participation. ‘Widening participation further will require Government, schools, universities, charities, parents and students to work closely together. We will continue to work hard with all parties to raise aspirations and attainment to improve access to higher education.”

Apart from the undergraduate, the post-graduate also have the African society of Cambridge students (ASCU), Cambridge University Nigerian society (CUNS) etc. ASCU will be having their annual conference –Africa together, on the 9th June 2017.

This is a platform where Africa problems are discussed and solutions proffered by Africans. To my Ghanaian counterparts, while we are at our Jollof war, I will encourage you to work hard and come and support my good friend Amatey Doku in occupying the Cambridge space. As rightly put by Dami Adebayo “Young black men don’t grow up thinking they’ll make it here. They should”.

Finally, while we excel in these great universities, I hope we will join hands in correcting our battered image and making Nigeria and Africa work. Nigeria is the heartbeat of Africa. Africa will be the force to reckon with when Nigeria works. Let us join hand in making project Nigeria a reality.

Dr Chinedu Ugwu
Dr Ugwu is a PhD candidate in veterinary science, University of Cambridge, UK.

The students pictured in the main image are (top row, from left to right): William Gore, Bez Adeosun, Peter Adefioye, Judah Aiyenuro, Joseph Adikwu, Dennis Mubaiwa, Dami Adebayo, Ife Adepegba, Donte Nembhard, Baba Bob-Soile, and Daniel Oluboyede. Pictured on the bottom row of the photo are Michael Samuelson-Beulah, Folajimi Babasola, and Ade Omisore.


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