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The infamy of Nigeria’s tertiary education: A fall from high heavens

By Isaac Ebube
24 June 2016   |   3:12 am
Lucifer, pride of God, most beautiful of all creations; was cast from heaven, a fallen angel, cursed to forever roam the earth, never to rise again. Is Nigeria’s tertiary education, once a beacon for Africa, ever going to rise again?
University of Ibadan

University of Ibadan

Lucifer, pride of God, most beautiful of all creations; was cast from heaven, a fallen angel, cursed to forever roam the earth, never to rise again. Is Nigeria’s tertiary education, once a beacon for Africa, ever going to rise again?

From the advent of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions with University College Ibadan (now University of Ibadan) in 1948 till the late 80’s is a period I like to call “glory days” of tertiary institutions. It was a period characterised by unprecedented growth and development of students in mind and intellect; a period of unearthing rough diamonds and hewing them into dazzling gemstones.

Hardworking and result-oriented persons of different backgrounds met in varsities to gain and exchange ideas, and more importantly, contribute their quota to the advancement of our country in the spirit of independence and patriotism.

From this generation intellectuals and great minds were produced. The likes of Chinua Achebe, one of Africa’s greatest authors, Prof. Alele Williams, Nigeria’s first female vice chancellor, Tam David-West, the academic; J.P Clark, poet and playwright; Prof. Patrick Utomi, political economy and management expert; Prof. Charles Soludo, economics and finance guru; J.F. Ade Ajayi renowned African historian; Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka; et al had their roots in Nigerian universities.

As an international paradigm, feeding, accommodation and even tuition of most students were taken care of by the government. The Nigerian degree was immensely respected worldwide with students ahead of their counterparts in various aspects.

School libraries were an inestimable pride to the nation and professors were internationally renowned in their corresponding fields. To see foreign instructors and students was neither out of place nor unusual. Tertiary institutions were truly a citadel for character development, exposure and enhancement of ideals. Segun Okeowo and Tunde Bakare to mention but a few were established youth activists right from their days in the university. Heads of state, presidents, and other national icons ensured that university students – the trustees of our posterity, were their priority. The future looked bright.

Alas, one couldn’t be farther from the truth and a statement more incongruent. The tertiary institutions unfortunately are a far cry from the “glory days.” It has virtually been taken over by touts, ready-made election thugs, amoral individuals and depraved lecturers looking for a share of the so-called “national cake.”

The government has played a major part. Most universities are grossly dilapidated and unequipped, a shadow of themselves living on past glory. Accommodation, water, electricity, transport, and other basic amenities are gradually becoming non-existent. The infamous strikes have become more frequent, even lasting longer than academic sessions, and generating more idle minds. The school has become a centre for classroom teaching where theory and hypothesis reign supreme while practicals, inter-student interactions, political and social awareness, and all round personal development have been relegated to the background.

Students are also to blame. The sorry state of moral decadence and debasement in schools today can be largely attributed to them. The growing rate of prostitution by females and cultism by males is not only worrisome but dangerous. There is a certain nonchalance towards education, learning and hard work with the “life-of-no-stress” syndrome currently on a high. Tertiary institutions are fast becoming a rendezvous for persons either forced to school or schooling to fulfill all righteousness. Where has the zeal and passion for education gone?

School authorities and lecturers must not be left out too. A lot of trust and expectation has been vested in them by parents, guardians, students and the nation at large yet it is safe to say that this has been betrayed. Cases of sexual harassment are so rampant that it is no longer news. Corruption has taken over institutions with “sorting” and “settling” the new order of the day. Lecturers have extensive veto powers and have declared themselves “Alpha and Omega.” The days of burning the midnight candle are slowly fizzling out to be replaced by buying favors and scores with either “cash or kind.”

Considering this abysmal fall, one wonders how we got here. A school of thought attributes the steady decline and gradual collapse of Nigerian tertiary institution to wide-spread poverty and unemployment. I stand with them. I am a firm believer that it is poverty or the fear of it that has led to a high rate of corruption and mismanagement in tertiary institutions.

Prostitution, thuggery and even corruption all stem from poverty or the need to consolidate a status. It shouldn’t be surprising to note that an alarming percentage of people engaged in these social vices and licentious act, teachers and student alike are on quest to escape the grips of poverty and survive in the face of a harsh economy.

Also unemployment, a great cankerworm in Nigeria today has played its own part. An increase in unemployment has gradually led to a decrease in worth and value of the Nigerian degree (job wise) which in turn has led to indifference and passivity in its (the degree’s) pursuit. It is not unheard of to see a graduate selling corn at the road side or a masters’ degree holder still carrying his/her curriculum vitae in brown envelopes under the scorching sun. Logically, some students could lose interest in education and the rigors involved as the outside world doesn’t seem welcoming.

“The future promise of any nation” according John F. Kennedy “can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth. If I am allowed to add, I daresay that “the present prospects of youths” depend largely on education (in character and intellect) and of course enlightenment. From the statement above and its derivative one begins to wonder what the future has in store for us considering the bleak state of our tertiary institutions. The premonition of an ominous future is not far-fetched.

Yet all hope is not lost. This present predicament should not be seen as a reason to trade blames or cause for brooding but as a wake-up call to the government, school authorities, students, parents and all other shareholders involved. All hands must be on deck to salvage the situation.

The government must earmark more money for our beloved institutions, create favorable policies for growth and development, and be dedicated to providing a conducive environment for future leaders.

School authorities must clampdown on corruption, flagrant abuse of power and irregularities and/or aberrant actions in their domain. They must rebrand these institutions.

Finally, students must emulate intellectuals, radicals and icons of old. They must put their heads down and put their minds in check, so, when they open their mouths, they make us proud.
• Ebube is a student of Imo State University, Owerri.