Coincidentally during a casual visit to a very senior friend on Tuesday 26th February, I met an unexpected audience of about 6 senior citizens watching the announcement of the presidential election results. Upon my introduction by my host, they all in unison asked why the academia especially the Vice Chancellors are seemingly more excited in working as INEC ad hoc employees than as employees and heads of our universities. To this I had no answer but tactfully appealed to them to find out from some of their friends who are vice chancellors. But truly, the sudden emergence and disappearance of the academia during and after the elections without any meaningful intellectual contribution is very sad, lamentable and clearly reflects signs of a failing society. No research or opinions before the election and none after! Who has really bewitched Nigeria?
A friend, an Associate Professor of Law who worked as one of the collation officers confirmed that the main interest of many academics in the election work is purely because of the money they will make not only from INEC but also from the numerous political parties. These are academics! Intellectuals! Even as the pre and post-election problems, challenges, accusation and counter-accusations continue, the academia is most surprisingly and lamentably very silent. Are they also in a kind of intellectual recession?
Given the increasing number of universities in Nigeria, the reverse should be the case, the academia should be in the forefront of generating ideas and solutions on how to address all the election and wider socio-economic and political problems we have. The sustainable growth of most successful economies to a large extent depends on the tripod framework and relationship of the government, the academia and the private sector. The middle position of the academia is not accidental! It is strategic and normally protected and supported meticulously. Reason being that the academia performs a kind of fiduciary duty to the society. Through robust conceptual, theoretical and empirical research, they generate the ideas and policies used by both the government and the private sector. They are a kind of power house of ideas and innovation, a guardian, protector and trustee for a better society. Remember they are called the citadel of learning. It is a place where all kinds of skills and human capital are trained and developed. An environment where visionary leaders are identified, properly trained, moulded and announced to wider society for effective utilisation to achieve our common good.
It is sad and painful that the only time we properly hear of our academia is during the announcement of an impending or imminent industrial action or their unending negotiation with the Federal Government. I was even informed that another strike is likely as the INEC contract has ended. Rumour has it that the strike was called off initially to enable participation in the election bonanza as the Federal and some state governments are yet to fulfil their promises. The economy is in crisis, security in crisis, agriculture and food production in crisis, unemployment unbelievably high and in crisis, election and governance in crisis! Everything in crisis in our dear country and nation!
As citadels of learning and research, Nigeria wants and need to hear the views and positions of the academia on so many issues and challenges confronting us as a nation. When I say that we want to hear from them, I don’t mean the very few individuals that infrequently contribute to our myriad of challenges and problems. I am referring to well researched position papers from groups of academics. For instance, on the recent 2019 elections, we need to hear from our vice chancellors and professors on the accusations and counter-accusations of rigging, vote buying, card reader problems, conclusive presidential election and inconclusive governorship elections and many more.
Is it not possible for the committee of vice chancellors based on their direct participation and experience with the elections to commission and author a report on reforms needed and then threaten and ensure non-participation of vice chancellors in subsequent elections if their report is not fully implemented. If they are not interested in preparing another report, they can insist that previous reports such as Uwais or Nnamani Reports are fully implemented to guarantee their further participation. We cannot continue to claim to be intellectuals when in brazen atrocities and irregularities, we maintain a debauched unconsciousness and sometimes even collude and affirm immorality with our revered credibility and moral fortitude. A professor is the highest rank in a university. It is awarded to a person who internally and externally affirms to a faith or pledge an allegiance to the good of the society through what he professes, avows and practices.
As PMB has been declared the winner, we desperately need to see and read the views and suggestions of the Department of Economics, University of Lagos or a paper jointly authored by about 10 professors of Economics and Finance on how best to salvage the economy. For instance, is the ERGP good enough and should we restructure or not. It is the same expectation that we have for Department of Economics/Finance of most of our universities especially the key regional ones such as- Nsukka, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Jos, ABU Zaria and Maiduguri. The issues and problems we desperately want to hear from our academia are many but they are disappointingly very silent. With robust and healthy debate and suggestions, I am convinced that our key national problems will be better addressed. It is how it is done in other developed and developing economies. Why should our own be different?
One observation from my interaction with many academics is that most now see their jobs purely from instrumental perspective. The only thing that matters now is what they can get using their job. There is a clear absence of that intrinsic interest of being a teacher. This is dangerous and sad! With such mind set, I am at a loss at the direction of our dear country and economy. It is a challenge that requires the most urgent attention and collective action. The committee of vice chancellors need to quickly re-appraise their leadership responsibilities and expected contributions of the academia to the society. They need to provide the needed leadership and direction by agreeing among themselves on how to share among the universities the research on our numerous national and regional social problems and private sector challenges. Promotion should not be based on publishing in international journals alone but also on practical and impactful contributions. In the absence of such leadership and collaboration, our social problems and challenges will only escalate to nobody’s benefit! In agreement with our national anthem, may the labour of our heroes past not be in vain and may the God of creation, guide our leaders right!
Dr. Ngwu is a Senior Lecturer in Strategy, Finance and Risk Management, Lagos Business School and a Member, Expert Network, World Economic Forum. E-mail- [email protected],