They want public education privatised as they bought over all our national assets – our patrimony. And Nigerians, majority of them, poor and cannot afford private secondary and tertiary education, are standing with hands akimbo without protests, complaints or resistance. I wish them luck. And when ASUU tries to get the government to do the needful, Nigerians will only be interested in their children graduating on record time. They are not interested in the quality of education their children are graduating with. That explains why we have many unemployable graduates.
The mode of appointing Vice Chancellors and heads of tertiary institutions in Nigeria is also contributing to the crises and lowering of academic standards. A Vice Chancellor is the first among equals. No Vice Chancellor is superior to other Professors in the university system. More so, when all of them are appointed on our usual warped political structure – state where the university is located, catchment area, religious considerations and political connections. Vice Chancellors and Presidents of the Ivy League Institutions, Ivy League Plus, Coimbra and Russel universities/institutions are appointed based on solid foundations – academic feats, administrative prowess, ability to attract external funding to the school, capacity to grow the institution and position it for global recognition, visibility and respect; ability to solve societal problems or impact on the environment, etc. Is it therefore surprising that all internationally visible institutions have huge endowment funds and rated highly? In the area of impacting the environment, you cannot mention Silicon Valley (in California, USA), a home to many of the world’s largest and richest high-tech corporations and thousands of start-up companies, without mentioning the role of Stanford University, its industrial park (now Stanford Research Park), affiliates and graduates. Most global technological centres trace their foundation and visibility to nearby universities. Space will not allow me to mention some of them here. Do we have any university in Nigeria that has pioneered any industrial hub or serious, visible business environment?
Most Vice Chancellors have external godfathers. As such, they constitute themselves into demigods or tyrants. We now hear about VC’s boys (not even VC’s men), loyalty and all worth not. Nobody is interested in one’s contributions to the university via serious research efforts or dedication to duty. What counts most is your loyalty and subservience. Sycophancy is at the highest level. Appointments to strategic posts, promotions and other favours are steadily being based on loyalty. There is no level playing ground for contestants of elective positions. Academics and non-teaching staff are now struggling hard to belong to the camp of VC’s boys.
Top government officials are paying lip service to our own system because they have abundant resources (through unethical and corrupt practices) to train their children in the best schools anywhere in the world. The docility of Nigerians, their unrivalled endurance for man-made economic hardships and our warped value system are all elements that seem to perpetuate this culpable un-seriousness of successive governments to our school system in Nigeria.
It should give Nigerian leaders – politicians and policy makers great concerns that in a recent report of 2020-2021 world ranking of universities (by the Centre for World University Rankings), no Nigerian university made the first 1000 list! Only two miserably made the second 1000. They are University of Ibadan (UI) at 1163 position and University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) at 1882 position. Other countries in Africa like South Africa, Egypt and Ghana did better than Nigeria. This is pathetic and shameful!
In the second edition of my book – The Evils of Campus Life: The Problems of Education in Nigeria (2009). I made some radical, straight forward and sincere suggestions on how to stop (with immediate effect) politicians’, and top public servants’ insincerity and un-seriousness with education in Nigeria. My suggestion in this direction is very simple, and if implemented religiously (with severe penalties or punishments, for defaulters) will surely lead to the solution of all the problems in our school system. My suggestion is still relevant today. In fact, it is only radical solution to all education crises in the country.
The National Assembly should be caused to pass a law, or there should be a presidential directive, making it compulsory for children of politicians and top government officials to attend public schools – nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary. Those to be covered by this law or directive include: Local government chairmen, state and federal commissioners, special Advisers/Assistants, Chairmen of boards, MDs/CEOs of parastatals, ministers, governors, registrars, Vice Chancellors, Provosts, Rectors, members of state and national assemblies, secretaries to state and federal governments, Vice president, the president himself, etc; Assistant directors, directors, – Deputy registrars, permanent secretaries and their equivalents in all government establishments (MDAs), Colonels and their equivalents in Police, Immigration, Custom Service, Prisons Service, Navy, Air Force, NDLEA, Civil Defense, etc; Other categories of politicians or public servants that the law or directive deems necessary to be included.
A close monitoring system should be put in place to fish out defaulters. I would like to head such monitoring committee or agency. Enough of this lip service to education. Let me state unequivocally that no development initiative or plan like the defunct Vision 20:2020 or the Seven-Point Agenda, and the likes, can be attained without sound education. Let nobody be deceived. What you sow is what you reap. Japan, America, France, Germany, Ghana, Botswana, to mention just a few; have qualitative education sector and they are reaping economic and technological advancement.
On the other hand, Nigeria is reaping poor governance, corruption, youth restiveness and militancy, kidnapping for ransom, abject poverty, high crime rates, poor infrastructures and general underdevelopment. A politician or public official is free to relinquish his or her position, if the law or directive is unacceptable to him or her or face severe fines or punishments if found wanting. The media, as part of its corporate social responsibility, is in a position to expose defaulters, no matter how highly placed. If this is done, the approach and attitude of governments, policy makers and elite toward education will change overnight. Bet me.
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the federal governmentrecently gave the directive that schools should commence online learning. See the hypocrisy … can Nigerians see what ASUU has been shouting about for decades now? Where are the funding and facilities for the online learning? Where is the ICT infrastructure? Can you eat your cake and have it back? Why all these self-deceits? Like I said earlier, you reap what you sow. Successive governments in Nigeria have neglected the educational sector for too long. Can the COVID-19 pandemic be a wake-up call for us to do things right? I am only thinking aloud …
Prof. B. Chima Onuoha
(Onuoha, a professor of Management and a former ASUU leader, writes from University of Port Harcourt)