University as catalyst for national development in post-COVID-19 era

National development is the capacity of a country to raise the standard of living of its citizens. It can be achieved by providing individuals with basic livelihood requirements
People lie in hospital beds outside the Caritas Medical Centre in Hong Kong on February 16, 2022, as the city faces its worst Covid-19 coronavirus wave to date. (Photo by Peter PARKS / AFP)

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National development is the capacity of a country to raise the standard of living of its citizens. It can be achieved by providing individuals with basic livelihood requirements and providing employment.

Development is a process that creates growth, brings progress and positive change. The development that does not create growth brings retrogression and negative change with the accompanying disorder is nothing but underdevelopment.
Development, therefore, is a healthy sign of orderly improvement, progress, and positive advancement development. The two aspects of development are: economic growth leading to an increase in people’s income; social progress includes literacy, health, and the provision of public services.
What are the components of national development? The components of national development include, among others, development of rural areas, increasing agricultural outputs, enlargement of economic knowledge, orderly and controlled growth in urban areas, eradication of poverty, control of endemic, re-emerging or emerging diseases. These components are interrelated and interdependent. I will focus on two of the components – development of the rural areas, which if efficiently handled, has a positive effect on the others, including food, limiting rural-urban migration, and improving uncontrolled urban growth. The second component is the control of endemic, re-emerging, and emerging diseases to ensure a healthy population.
Why should we develop our rural areas? Nigeria has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, around 2.5 per cent. Currently, Nigeria ranks as the seventh most populous country in the world, with a 2021 population of 211.4 million.

By 2050, Nigeria’s population is estimated to rise to over a 391million, becoming the third most populous country in the world, behind India and China. 

According to the World Bank, 48 per cent of the current 211.4 million Nigerians live in rural areas. However, this was not the situation some twenty to thirty years past, when the rural population was between 65 per cent and 70 per cent.
The rapid and massive rural-urban migration in the last twenty to thirty years has had a significant adverse effect on national development. This has resulted in rapid urbanisation and growth of urban slums with attendant adverse demographic, economic, environmental, and health implications. Of course, this has also led to rapid depletion of the populations and workforce in the rural areas, which play significant roles in the agricultural and food production for the nation.
The development of our rural areas will, therefore, be an important and a major contribution to the national economy, this can be achieved by providing socio-economic amenities that can transform the rural areas, making them attractive for rural dwellers, and reducing the rate of rural-urban migration. Such amenities include schools, hospitals, recreational facilities, a good road network, electricity, and pipe-borne water. Since independence, different Nigerian governments have launched numerous rural development programmes. These programmes include i) National Accelerated Food Production Programme (NAFPP), ii). River-Basin Development Authority (RBDA), iii). Operation Feed The Nation (OFN), iv). The Green Revolution (GR), v). Directorate for Food, Road And Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), vi). Better Life For Rural Dwellers, vii). National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), viii). Family Support Programme (FSP), ix). Universal Basic Education (UBE), x). Expanded Programme on Immunisation, xi). The Nomadic Education Programme, xii). Low-cost Housing Estate Schemes, etc. The programmes were designed to better the lives of rural dwellers, stimulate and enhance economic growth, as well as get the rural sector to contribute meaningfully to the national economic and social development.
The efforts have been largely unsuccessful as, despite these efforts, rural Nigeria remains the bedrock of underdevelopment and the verdant pasture for poverty. The rural areas remain havens of the poor and low standard of living, lacking basic amenities and the dwelling place for about 70 per cent of the people in Nigeria living below the poverty line. Factors contributing to the failure of these development programmes include the exclusion of relevant professionals and stakeholders in policy formulation, planning and implementation, non-integration and non-alignment of conflicting programmes and projects, policy inconsistencies, poor quality and insufficiency of technical manpower support, inadequate monitoring and evaluation, and the pervasive and debilitating corruption and embezzlement of programme funds.
One of the greatest contributors to underdevelopment is the neglect of the health of the population. A buoyant economy is generated and sustained by a healthy working population. Developmental economists see investments in health as non-revenue yielding, with little or no returns on investments. However, persistent and uncontrolled malaria infection in a population, outbreaks of diseases like yellow fever and cholera adversely affect the economy; COVID-19 has shown us what a pandemic can do to the global economy. The COVID-19 viral pandemic is an unprecedented global phenomenon that is also a highly personal experience with wide-ranging effects.
The pandemic has disrupted lives across all countries and communities and negatively affected global economic growth in 2020 beyond anything experienced in nearly a century. Estimates indicate the virus reduced global economic growth in 2020 to an annualised rate of around -3.2 per cent, while global trade is estimated to have fallen by 5.3 per cent in 2020. 

With the end of COVID-19 not yet in sight, the total global economic effects continue to mount. In particular, the prolonged nature of the health crisis is affecting the global economy beyond traditional measures with potentially long-lasting and far-reaching repercussions.

The determinants of the development of any country are the per capita income, the average literacy level, the health status of its people, and all the above. Therefore, a country that does not pay attention to the health of its population is heading for economic doom and underdevelopment. A healthy population is a major and key factor in the development of a country. When the population of a country is healthy it has many contributions to the betterment and development of the country. A healthy population is a prerequisite for creating national development and sustaining a prosperous nation with the capacity to compete globally. Citizens of a nation with a healthy population have access to, and use of facilities created by the economic status of the country.
Let us now talk a little about the university. What exactly is a university? The university is seen as an institution of higher learning which provides facilities for teaching and research. The university is authorised to grant academic degrees at both the undergraduate level and the postgraduate level. In awarding degrees, the university must be dedicated to the learning and personal development of their members, especially students. The university has an obligation to equip her graduates for viable employment. The university must be the source of expertise and professional competence. The university must be home for investigators and creators of new concepts and the application of new knowledge.
The university must be the guardian of reason, inquiry, and philosophical openness, offering rational and timely criticism in areas of public policy, social and economic life. The purpose of the university must go beyond awarding degrees and conducting research. The university must be the catalyst for the socio-economic advancement and improved health of the society, and for the health and economic security of the nation.
At this point, let us take a critical review of where we are as a nation. Is Nigeria a developed nation or an underdeveloped nation? We all know we are not a developed nation, and we will vehemently resist being classed as an underdeveloped nation. We prefer to be inoffensively called a developing nation. The truth is that no nation, whether developed or underdeveloped, is static. We are all developing, none is static. You are either forward marching into the progress of a better life, or sliding backwards, retrogressing, but not static.
To be continued tomorrow
Professor of virology, Tomori, delivered this convocation lecture at the University of Medical Sciences, (UNIMED), Odosida Campus, Ondo City, recently


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