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Before NASS creates 80 varsities, polys and COEs – Part 2

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[FILE PHOTO] ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi

Let me confess from the outset that the fantastic title of this article is not original to me. It belongs to a concerned foreigner, Keith Richards who in an article on a similar subject in 2006 drew our attention to the implications of meretricious proliferation of universities without concomitant quality.I would like to provoke some thoughts and even debate this week on the present and future of this country that is at some crossroads at the moment.

Too many big trees have fallen on trees and we should naturally begin to remove the topmost first through suggestions to our elected representatives in the 36 state capitals and Abuja, the nation’s capital. I mean that we are all well aware of the most torturous, the already globalized Boko Haram insurgency in the North East even as the “technically defeated” religious sect is still a nightmare. We know enough now to know that the mystery (Fulani) herdsmen that are causing mayhem all over the country too have ‘technically defeated’ the ancient evangelistic ministry of the social crusaders south of the Niger. But the political support that they (herdsmen) are suspected to be getting from some ‘unknown soldiers’ (some say authorities) in Abuja and some far countries may have some unintended consequences sooner than later.

Some deep throats are saying that the central government has provided in the national budget a 55, 000 hectares worth of lands nationwide for cattle grazing. This is a serious discussion point. The backsliding militants as the new bogeymen in the Niger Delta too have provided yet another cause for concern for public intellectuals to think about. The depleting foreign reserve and hyper-inflation stories are enough nightmares that can engage writer’s attention now. To the Karl Maier’s, “this house has fallen”, under the weight of corruption incorporated everywhere you go in Nigeria. Energy crisis too has become a Sword of Damocles dangling over our heads. There are more topical issues about the “giant in the sun” that has been fantastically challenged on all fronts.
But I would like to visit the roots of most of the challenges and so, I have to sensitize all the state actors from all the 774 local governments, 36 states and Abuja to lend me their ears: I would like us to interrogate Professor Wole Soyinka’s ‘thesis’ about the expediency of closing down all the Nigerian universities for a year or two with a view to restructuring them into “Ivory Towers”, citadels of learning and centres of innovation that they should be. This is not a seminal paper on the role of the university in a developing country. Nor is it a research topic on the role of public intellectuals in development. Rather, it is a thought-provoking discussion point on why all our representatives in government should halt the “hollow rituals” called licensing of new private universities and the federal government’s own obsession with political project called federal universities in all the states of the federation.

I am persuaded that elders of the land, notably those that had enjoyed ‘the good old days’ in this same country when universities were universities to support a motion that governments at all levels should stop all priority projects and declare emergency on education with a view to funding them ruthlessly. I mean there had been good time here when even Americans were applying to read English at the University of Ibadan. In 2008, I met an African American, in Miami Florida who claimed to be a classmate of now Professor G.G Darah at the University of Ibadan where she did her PhD in English/Literature. The woman gave me a note to give to her radical classmate, Gordini Dara. She too is a President of a University in Florida.

What is more horrible than a situation whereby most Nigerian universities have become mere factories for producing unemployable graduates at all levels? All the major highways have become attractions for private universities, most of which are just for ways of laundering money for some crooks who can no longer hide such slush and stolen funds abroad. But sadly, most of the lecturers of the universities cannot allow their children to be admitted into the universities where they teach. I know many of them, who would still have to struggle through thick and thin to send their wards abroad where real learning takes place. I had this conversation with a visiting lecturer this week in the course of seeking some consensus for this rigmarole on quality in education. The lecturer, a Nigerian who teaches Dramatic Art in the United States, said the university he has been assisting in a Middle Belt state in Nigeria just organized its convocation. But the Dean of the Theatre/Performing Art said to me.

“The situation in the university has been so terrible that I as a person would not employ any of the graduates we just produced. There is no learning atmosphere, there are no facilities; there are no qualified lecturers to train students for the industries… It is the same way the elites in Nigeria hate the Nigerian hospitals to the extent that they go abroad for treatment. We all know no learning takes place here…we just get by, and pretend all is well…”
The professor who was produced here before he joined the brain- drain bandwagon noted that the federal universities, in all sincerity, still have some semblance of learning, though quite inadequate for today’s universities driven by social technologies. He warned that something should be done about the mushroom state and private universities. He told me that most of them should not be called universities. “In most cases, the teachers in these state and private universities are as insufferably ignorant as their students”, he noted.

Indeed the university education palaver being discussed is just a paradigm to push the discussion points on the parlous state of education at all levels in Nigeria. The primary schools and the secondary schools, especially the public schools have long been neglected.

But some of the private secondary schools can produce good candidates for the universities that need some restructuring. And that is why most enlightened parents would like to even steal from public funds the authorities have failed to use to develop the schools and teacher education systems to dispatch their children abroad. All told, this is why it is a sad commentary on our political life that the political parties that should ordinarily convert all this development issues into manifestoes are nowhere to be found at this time. Both the governing and the opposition parties are so barren and ill-equipped for public service. But then I am buoyed every week by the passion of the Chairman of Editorial Board of The Guardian Professor Wale Omole, a former vice chancellor, who keeps harping every week on the fact that the people should stop looking up to the hills occupied by the government people that can’t help, after all.

It is conventional here to blame the presidency for all the ills of the society but it is not logical to blame the federal government alone for all the tragic turn of events in education. This politics and policies of education should be local, after all. It was not the federal government that established the Great University of Ife, (now ObafemiAwolowo University). It was not the federal government that also established the University of Nigeria Nsukka, in the beginning. So was the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

They (UNIFE, UNN & ABU) were founded by regional governments. They were only taken over by the federal government that has violated them. In this connection, nothing prevents a state government from equipping a world-class university whose standard can trigger competition in the sector. I once asked a former Governor of Lagos State, BabatundeRajiFashola at an interaction with journalists if he would be able to do his doctorate degree in Lagos State University. In the same vein, the current Governor, AkinwumiAmbode has been challenged to do something about the quality of Lagos State University.

The city university can be transformed into a mega university to develop excellent manpower for the mega city with mega challenges. Curiously, no one can read in the newspapers the contributions of the Nigerian intellectuals to development of public policies and legislations for the improvement of our society. Nigeria is not competitive anywhere because at the level of research and development (R&D) funding: it is nowhere to be found. University is the centre of innovation and development. The most valuable resource of our country should not be oil and gas but the people, especially in this age when intellectual capital is a valuable resource as in Singapore, a nation of barely five million people.

The high level of mediocrity that is threatening to sink the public and private sectors is so because of the poor state of research centres called the universities in Nigeria. What is the joy of a state governor who keeps pretending to be funding two to three universities when none of them is recognized anywhere as a centre of excellence? Why would the federal government be establishing universities that they cannot fund in all the states of the federation? Why do the elders who enjoyed good education in this country and outside keep quiet when our political leaders are destroying education with all their strength?

Inside Stuff Grammar School:

Enormity Vs Enormousness.

It has been discovered that people in this part of the English-speaking world confuse these two words. It is not good English to use “enormity” when you mean “magnitude” or “bigness”. Use “enormity” only in the sense of “monstrous wickedness”. Do not say or write, for instance:

I have told my boss about the enormity of the draft I have to deliver.

The correct word in this context is: I have told my boss about the “enormousness” of the draft. You can talk about the “enormity of a crime”.

*It is incredible,this article (though in three parts) first appeared on this page (Inside Stuff) on June 4, 2016 (https://guardian.ng/opinion/why-we-need-better-universities-not-more-2/

It was the article that gave me the 2017 ‘DAME Award for Informed Commentary’. We will continue the conversation on ‘why we need better universities, not more’ next week.


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