Government not making good use of academic resources, says Adeyemi
Professor Adebayo Adeyemi is the immediate past vice chancellor, Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State. In this interview with UJUNWA ATUEYI, he said there is need for the Nigerian government to work with higher institutions of learning, empower them and tap from their wealth of knowledge. He stressed that failure to do so would keep the nation in developmental stagnation. He also stated that universities no doubt have major roles to play in overcoming COVID-19 challenges.
Why does it seem like the society does not understand the traditional and conventional roles of universities in tackling social challenges?
The mission statement of universities is teaching, research and service. In essence, a university teacher (lecturer) on employment is made to understand these duties as may be entrenched in the mission statement, objectives and vision of each institution. Teaching in its broader term includes theoretical and practical aspects of knowledge impartation, which culminate in examining, grading and presentation of results. Alongside these is guidance and counseling of students and sometimes with assistance in moulding the character of students.
Research is a highly significant aspect of a lecturer’s duties as his/her promotion is based on research outputs as reflected in the number and quality of publications as teaching and service attract lower ratings than publications. While a lecturer strives to meet the promotion criteria, he should not relegate to the background his teaching and service responsibilities.
Service entails participation in administrative duties within and outside the university system. Within the system, such services include membership of committees, administrative duties as head of department, dean, director and service at the upper echelon of university administration.
Equally of importance is service outside the university system in various positions ranging from political to non-political.
As mentioned above, it is the research output that commands between 60 per cent to 70 per cent of the promotion criteria, which underscores the importance that universities attach to research. That is the norm globally, Nigerian universities are no exception. The inference from this is that application of research outputs at solving national problems and or commercialisation of research findings varies from country to country and the nation’s research priorities.
But one of the challenges facing Nigeria is development of early warning systems in all facets of our existence to monitor and predict happenings in other parts of the world and likely effects on lives and the national economy. A case in point is COVID-19, which Nigeria was not prepared for until it hits America and Europe before finding its way to Nigeria despite the fact that Nigeria’s economy is now at the mercies of China, Nigeria’s major trading partner. It is within the university system that such an early warning system could successfully function and alert the powers that be. This is an aspect of service that universities can provide.
Universities are established to provide formal and informal education. Informal education falls within the realm of creating awareness through workshops, seminars, teachings in public places including market research, etc in various disciplines. From my experience, an average Nigerian is more convinced on any matter when university teams carry advocacy to his/her doorstep. Ample evidences abound from extension workers in the faculties of agriculture and health sciences on positive responses and sustainable changes from Nigerians in rural and urban settings.
It is my opinion that the ongoing attempts at creating awareness and ensuring positive responses to disasters and life-threatening issues could have produced better results if channeled through the universities.
As to formal education, the recent directive to go online, no doubt, would place the universities on a higher pedestal if and when fully implemented after normalcy would have returned. This to me, would enable universities to strengthen their Distant Learning Centres (DLC) which would make education available to all and sundry, “education without walls”. If all tertiary institutions are fully online when provided with the relevant infrastructure, it will, with time, reduce the level of illiteracy in Nigeria with positive consequences on our national life. There is no doubt a segment of the population with traumas and psychological challenges post COVID-19 will need to be rehabilitated by appropriate professionals within and outside the university.
Do you think Nigerian universities are capable of tackling COVID-19 challenges?
There are insinuations and misgivings that Nigerian universities and academia have failed the nation by not rising to the occasion through development of a vaccine or herbal treatment for COVID-19 as demonstrated by Madagascar. Before highlighting the uphill tasks that researchers face in Nigeria, I will address first that of development of vaccine and the herbal treatment.
From available knowledge, vaccine production takes time with the clinical trials costing millions of dollars and a failure rate of 94 per cent in some cases. Currently, the WHO is raising US$8 billion from 40 countries towards development of COVID-19 vaccine. I doubt if Nigeria is included among the donor countries.
If it is a failure on the part of Nigerian Scientists to produce a vaccine within three months of the scourge, who is to blame? It is on record the positive and commendable roles of Nigerian scientists in the fight against Ebola and Lassa fever. Currently, a Nigerian, Dr. Babafemi Taiwo, whose initial medical training was at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, is in the forefront of the research for COVID-19 drug, remdesivir, in the United States of America.
He, along with hundreds of Nigerians who graduated from Nigerian Universities in different fields are making waves in different parts of the world. They are testimonies of their initial foundation, which they built upon in a more conducive and enabling research environment. Production of a vaccine or any drug involves many stakeholders including the private sector, especially the pharmaceutical and related industries. Am not aware if the Nigerian Government has indicated any interest in the development of a vaccine, which stands to reason because of its cost and global perspectives.
On the controversies surrounding herbal treatment/ cure, the Nigerian Government is yet to make her stand known or is yet to make a categorical statement. No right thinking Nigerian will dispute the fact that herbal medicine, treatment or cure had been and is still a component of traditional health care in Nigeria. If in doubt, take a trip to villages or those selling the herbs in markets in big cities who are patronized by the various segments of the society.
Even in developed countries, China inclusive, herbal treatment has been on the increase in recent years based on research with appropriate regulations. There has been notable progress on medicinal plant research in several Nigerian Universities, not necessarily towards solving the problem of COVID-19. However, we can start from the known to the unknown as available knowledge and research outputs on viruses within the walls of our Universities and research institutes can be harnessed to develop home grown herbal treatment.
I watched a TV programme where a Nigerian Professor featured and convincingly educated the viewers on the progress he has made over the years on his research on medicinal plant research and alluded to the fact that with his experience and a national team of scientists, it is not impossible to develop a herbal cure for COVID-19 virus with time. Unfortunately, he was talking to deaf ears. My opinion is that even if you do not like the messenger, let us listen to his message. It reminds me of the title of the first convocation lecture of Bells University of Technology, Ota by Ambassador Andrew Young: “What’s Wrong With Nigeria.”
What solution would proffer in addressing these issues?
A lot has been written and published on poor funding of education, hostile research environment, absence of research policies and priorities of government and lack of patronage of inventions and patents by both the public and private sectors in Nigeria. All these have contributed to our universities, most especially in the last thirty to fourty years, concentrating mainly on teaching and service since high tech research demands heavy funding. In conclusion: “Unto whom much is given, much is expected”, “unto whom little is given, little should be expected” while “unto whom nothing is given, nothing should be expected”.
There is no doubt, life after COVID-19 will not be the same again which calls for early planning and, active target research funding and coordination. The changes will range from governance, economy, health care facilities and delivery, food and agriculture, education, environment, transportation, etc.
The relevance of the universities to the envisaged changes will be an understatement as in most countries developmental changes will be in-house through national institutions including research institutes.
Therefore, those in the academia must come down from their ‘ivory tower’ and must actively contribute towards socio-economic changes, post-COVID-19. Failure of government to empower and make the best use of our academic resources will result in Nigeria not being at pace with the expected advances globally, thus resulting in a gully not a gap between developed and a developing country like Nigeria.
What roles are Nigerian institutions supposed to play post COVID-19?
In considering the functional roles of Nigerian Universities in contributing towards post-COVID-19 recovery, one must be guided by the mission of universities as highlighted above, namely teaching, research and service. Within the Nigerian university system, there are notable economists and financial experts whose experience and exposure would be relevant in rebuilding the economic base of this country.
As per food security and other fields in the sciences, technology and engineering, am certain there are documents, studies, theses and patents covered with dusts in the shelves of most universities. These, if patronized and commercialized would have assisted in placing Nigeria on a higher pedestal leading to improved socio-economic conditions of Nigerians. While the Nigerian university system can claim, rightly though, to have been producing the best set of health care workers who practice across the globe, the health care delivery system in Nigeria is nothing to write home about and has been sub-standard.
This has been brought to fore with the present pandemic with a teaching hospital not having oxygen not to talk of a ventilator!! For Nigeria to witness any significant improvement in health care delivery, more functional hospitals, clinics and health centres must be available with more health care personnel (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technologists and other health workers) based on WHO standard. These health workers can only be produced in our universities to fill the current gap.
The present COVID-19 pandemic which caught the entire world unawares and unprepared has left so many unpleasant and sour tastes across the globe. Some of these include loss of lives, disruption of global and national economies, threats of food scarcity, fragile health care delivery systems especially in developing countries, undeveloped early warning systems, poor response to disaster, low awareness of life threatening issues, emotional problems and challenges that can escalate into some mental issues and many more yet to be identified issues.
These are some of the challenges that nations would face and have to be solved for normalcy to return to all facets of life. There is no doubt, universities have predominant roles to play in overcoming these challenges with their level of involvement, depending on the political class and the value placed on members of the ivory tower, which would depend on the individual country. There is no doubt, there are synergies between governments and the academia in developed countries unlike in developing countries which would explain underdevelopment of “less industrialised /third world countries,” like Nigeria.
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