Univeristies and excellence in default
We have seen the boundaries of our possibilities as circumscribed not only by our circumstance but also by losing the fight against Defender of Mediocrity… Venture beyond the boundaries and mediocres will get lost… Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu (University of Lagos convocation Lecturer, 17th January 2023).
Nothing is perfect on this planet earth but strategies are set to aim at perfection. Management by Exception or Blue Ocean Strategy or even venturing into the High High quardant side of Porter’s prescription – from Ansolf Matrix Template – are some of the high-fallutin words but breaking boundaries’ possibilities, aiming at perfection, in management, one hears in an MBA class, and it goes well with the University of Lagos 53rd Convocation ceremonies at the time a lady who had broken boundaries as the 13th Vice – Chancellor, and as previously the 13th Provost of College of Medicine, assumes the Management Headship of University of Lagos – Professor Folasade Tolulope Ogunsola; Fellow Academy of Science (FAS).
Academies in most great countries direct, covertly, the expected excellence or values intended to show case the unique selling point of a country among other countries, and to some extent what such academy represents make for what is known as best practice. Such is what National University Commission and the academies should be brainstorming on, for life, like the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ogunsola, adopted as a slogan, “Ready for the Future”.
Excellence, really, lies in how an institution remains ever relevant and sustainable for life.
Excellence is also being proactive and adopting “Blue Ocean” approach, ever lively and ever fresh and throwing out residues or unwanted debris that do not add to freshness and life, as the Atlantic Ocean does; unknowingly to many. And, even, when both good and bad get to the shores which is a “low low” quadrant level, human beings still need to do the needful to select the good it offers and clean the bad that could disturb lives if not removed, and consciously remove them, or ignorantly allow them to keep the shores dirty. These are not metaphors, they are realities for those who observe the behaivour of the ocean; especially the Atlantic among other Oceans.
It is also being ever ready for the future like one former vice chancellor, Prof. Alao, noted: time is better perceived as either past or future because the present is already verging into the past; and that is the essence of the research component of the University mission – research to imagine the future or create the future yourself; and it was glaringly proposed by those who ventured
One is not a mathematician but one sees all about Mathematics as giving clue to the future. You work it out. David Berlinskin (1995) coined it as the “Doctor of Discovery”. Calculus had already been in existence for more than two centuries in 1872. It proposed the iron screws by which the world’s scaffold is erected. Human being are meant to task their brains and dare limits for new horizons.
Like, they say, knowledge is cumulative and what the Africans are at lost with, as the boundaries were pushed far from them, , is how what is coined as superstitious, or myth of theirs, connect to these “Iron screws”. It is also where I reason with the Vice Chancellor who is an art lover like Angela Merkel of Germany, that arts and monuments are worth revisiting to learn how to launch into the future.
Merkel was greatly successful in Germany coming from a weak East Germany as she made it part of her Chancellorship life in visiting museums and arts exhibitions. As reported by John Kampfuner (2021), Merkel devours art; “she sometimes phones favourites museum directors to ask them if they wouldn’t mind staying open a little longer so that she can see a particular exhibition”. African artworks connect to “knowledges” and unknown to many people is that African Arts inspired modernity, so much so that and that the current phenomenon of returning stolen Artifacts is making mockery of Africans.
The emphasis here is that you cannot aim at being a good or an excellent scientists if you do not interact with the arts or what seem to be seen as myth when Africa is mentioned. Leopold Sedar Senghor, the former President of Senegal for about two decades, understands that very well as he sees Africa as not lacking in excellence in terms of material and human resources (African sages do not die).
He only bemoaned the lack of organizational skills, so as to chain these resources for excellent ends. He was a Christian married to a French lady and combined both African art, science and technology of his Serere people to keep Senegal, that is greatly Islamic, very stable till now.
Three Presidents have so far succeeded him and the institutions he put in place remained ever relevant. His far cousins are in Nigeria; people like Bagoro or Magoro, Jomah, Gumel, Badji, Dallah, El-Rufisque or Rufai, Ciroma, etc. In deed I remember very vividly how Ciroma, showing the intellect in him, was reported to have resigned as the pro-chancellor of ABU when the expected excellent candidate was rejected by the Board in favour of the seemingly mediocre candidate. The end outcome of the man is a subjudice case as at now.
Nigeria does not lack people who could make excellence pervade in Nigeria, and possibly make Nigeria an African excellence hub, as associate of G7, because in the rule-based world, dominated by capitalism, it is only what the G-7 sees as excellent that matters; that is, USA, UK, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Italy.
They also rule the great research granting organisations like UN, World Bank, WHO, WTO, and their private associates like Ford, Gates, Oxbridge, EU organs, Japan organs, etc.
Africa can only project its “niche-carving” future by proposing its own grant organisations, not like African Development Bank (AfDB) that was forced to water down its shareholding structure so as to accommodate the interest of G-7 and, hence, started projecting a relative future for Africa. All the G-7 members are shareholders of AfDB, and it is not helping Africa as Africa’s “niche carvable” future seems stifled.
For Universities, it lies on how diversified they are as no granting organisation could take the great risk of putting its money in a mono-culture University; that is a university that is governed or managed by a group that belong to just a given culture or even a university that proclaim itself a uni-vectorial knowledge centre like Medical University. Understanding who are the stakeholders of the University is the cornerstone of its raison d’être, and in a rule-based world economy, it can never be a myopic sub-set, it is the entire ecology that drives knowledge like the entire ecology that drives and stratifies humans’ need as well as the food chain ecology, where the base remain very crucial but not necessarily the utmost for the expected tomorrow that could give a semblance of manna from heaven.
It could sound like a dream, like Einstein saw in quantum mechanics; but it is attainable if the extant process gets to what is seen in calculus as “a gabble of European ghosts”, the integrals that must be – standing on the unshakeable that transcends here and now; and Senghor has it in one of his poems which could be summarised as Nelson Mandela puts it: our world is not divided by race, colour, gender or religion; our world is divided into wise people and fools. And fools divide themselves by race, colour, gender or religion.
Hence, excellence in Nigerian universities, nay African Universities, must not be set on default mode that remains on “let’s just manage it”. The wise must dominate and remain unshakeable in the midst of daunting mediocres.
Ariole, is Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos.