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FOR THE RECORDS: Full Text Of DELSU 16th Convocation Lecture By Prof. Nwajiuba

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Universities, Leadership, and Contemporary Challenges: Are Nigeria Universities Failing God and Man? 

By Chinedum Nwajiuba

Lecture at the 16th Convocation Ceremony of the Delta State University, Abraka, Delta State, Nigeria, on Friday, April 26, 2024

0.1. Appreciation

Mr. Vice-Chancellor, dear colleagues and friends, I am grateful to God for this opportunity, and for His multiple graces. This opportunity is an honour of significant magnitude and I shall be failing if I do not proceed by thanking you for this honour. Mr. Vice-Chancellor, thank you. Please convey my appreciation to the Visitor to the University, His Excellency Sheriff Francis Orohwedor Oborevwori, who, I trust, gave approval for my invitation. Similarly, I express the same sentiments of gratitude to the Governing Council and Senate of this university. I also thank colleagues and friends at the Delta State university.

0.2. Preamble

I congratulate you on your 16th convocation. It is a season of harvest, and therefore a season of joy for all your efforts at moulding a collection of young people who, over a number of years, were entrusted to you, in loco parentis. You could have made or marred them, but you chose the former, to be faithful to our calling.

Dear Colleagues, our calling is as serious as that. As we all know, the vocation (not occupation) of teaching, and raising a new generation, found worthy in character and learning, is one of deep trust, never adequately rewarded, hence the cliché that the teachers’ reward is in heaven. Our joy however, is the inestimable multiplier of parental investments in physical and non-physical terms, parents whose trusts we must never fail, and most importantly, our immeasurable reward from God, our creator, and the creator of all the hitherto freshmen, who you have had the privilege of transforming and certifying, and now releasing to all humanity, as graduands, and who we celebrate in this season. This God is He, to whom we shall all ultimately return to account, and of whom, we must not fail, consistent with the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30).

I join in congratulating the graduands who are convoking in this season. In doing this, I think of the common perspective of students in contemporary Nigeria universities of what they pass through, and I am led to Gabriel Okara’s, encounter of the natives and the colonialist in his poem, “You Laughed and Laughed and Laughed”:

“…And now it’s my turn to laugh; but my laughter is not ice-block laughter. For I know not cars, know not ice-blocks.

My laughter is the fire of the eye of the sky, the fire of the earth, the fire of the air, the fire of the seas and the rivers fishes animals trees and it thawed your inside, thawed your voice, thawed your ears, thawed your eyes and thawed your tongue.

So a meek wonder held your shadow and you whispered; “Why so?” And I answered: “Because my fathers and I are owned by the living warmth of the earth through our naked feet.”

Congratulations my dear graduands, you made it. I leave you with just one thing that is becoming so distant from the generation called GEN-Z. Even in the extracts of Gabriel Okara’s poem above, you find it – humility. I implore you to keep close the eight beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-10, especially the third one in verse 5: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.“

To the parents and guardians, I celebrate with you, this season of joy. I know how it feels, because I have been at this point at least four times. Your investments and sacrifices have not been in vain. Congratulations.

0.3. Caveat

In recent times, when I have this kind of lecture opportunity, I reflect on what purpose it will serve. I usually take a number of positions which will determine what manner of presentation is likely to achieve a defined purpose. As a result of this, I also try to warn everyone, that is to a priori issue a caveat.

The first of this would be to let you know that unless I must, in moments such as this, I avoid doing technical papers and speeches. I prefer “street-level”, problem-identifying, and action-leading presentations. By “Street-level”, I mean anyone genuinely interested will be able to identify with what I say. Our challenges as a country are enormous. The intellectual class must bother with that, and must equally bother with solutions, which policy makers and those charged with implementing decisions should take-up, but which very commonly in Nigeria they will not. But we must do our part. If not for now, then for posterity, so that sometime in the future, in case generations coming bother to ask: “So what did you do?” I may well say, as an academic with the responsibility for teaching, research, and community service, I indeed served my community.

The second would be that in reflecting on universities, leadership, and contemporary challenges, you may realise that there are multiple dimensions to the subject. My preference may not be yours, and so as is very common, the challenge of unmet expectations may arise. There is therefore the risk of my not meeting your expectations. I therefore ask for tolerance.

Tolerance is a virtue. From a poem I wrote with the title, “Tolerance, Harmony, … “, Wednesday January 8, 2020), we have:

You have your view, I have my view

You share your view, I hear your view, even when I reject your view

I share my view, you hear my view, even when you reject my view

That is tolerance.

The third would be to front load what the key message is. This is important in case we get lost in a maze of information. That key message is, keep aside the difficult environment we operate in, the types and quality of governments we have to deal with, regard them as an ocean of insanity. Then, agree with me that we can become an island of sanity surrounded by an ocean of insanity. Let us do all we can to regain our place of honour and respect for us. We can do this, because we are universities, and our place is the universe, and we are not to be limited by our local circumstances.

1. Introduction

Predictably, this lecture is not value-neutral. Looking at the title, with the rider question, “Are our universities failing God and man, it certainly will not be difficult to expect the value base for this presentation.

Perhaps, we need to recall the foundation of the contemporary Eurocentric idea of the university, which birthed the Nigeria university system. It is important to remember that at the foundation of the earliest universities, commencing with the University of Bologna, Spain, in 1088, was the religious. Universities were institutions commenced by Christian religious bodies.

Even if we were to extended our genesis of the university to the Madrassas, such as the oldest in Sub-Saharan Africa, located in Timbuktu in Mali, and similar culture areas, the roots will also lead to the religious. I reiterate however, that the Nigeria university, its idea and its culture, elements of which among others include academic freedom, derive from the Eurocentric model. Please note, academic freedom.

There are colleagues in the universities who may hold the view that the university should not be bothered with issues that are religious, outside the programme of religious studies. Incidentally, such a view does not repudiate the triple mandate of the university – teaching/learning, research, and community service, and does not reject our core calling as based on the delivery of character and knowledge. In effect we agree or may have a consensus, that without character, our claim to knowledge, may not be trustworthy. In the simplest form, we will not be trusting our research claims if we do not trust our character. If our research, our generation of knowledge, is untrustworthy, we will not have confidence in what we teach, and by extension, what we learn, since teaching and learning are two sides of a coin. If we hold no claim to character, we would not be honestly serving the community, and may indeed be a disservice to the community. The university would then only exist in name. It will be a nominal, and not a real university ─ a mockery, and a pretention. If that is the case, we will not only be failing God and man, we will also be failing ourselves, because it is unimaginable for academics to lie to themselves. Lying to oneself is an indicator of serious character flaws.

There are certainly worries about the state of our universities, and the challenges around them. We could hypothesize that elements of these are leadership-related. Could these concerns amount to failing God and Man? This has informed this convocation lecture, Universities, Leadership, and Contemporary Challenges: Are Nigeria Universities Failing God and Man?

2. The Idea of the convocation lecture

Our colleagues of the Faculty of Education, are familiar with the BLOOM’s Taxonomy (https://www.teachthought.com/learning/what-is-blooms-taxonomy-a-definition-for-teachers/). This is something some colleagues who may not be familiar with, may wish to learn, and may seek assistance from those in the Faculty of Education.

From it, we learn the importance of proceeding from the first levels of learning, and the “what is” basic definitions. We should therefore reflect on what the convocation lecture is, and not assume that over the years being conversant with convocation lectures, we do not need an understanding of that. Indeed, we should appreciate the idea of the convocation in a university.

However, the critical message in my earlier reference to Bloom’s taxonomy is that definitions are important! And so, what is the convocation lecture?

As a university has the Council, Senate, and Congregation, so it has the Convocation. The convocation ideally assembles the alumni and their teachers. In serious parts of the world, it is unimaginable to have a year pass without convocation. Note the word, serious.

Even when you have no students graduating, which in any case should not be, a serious university must convoke annually. The very idea of combined convocations commonly found in Nigeria, is an anathema. It should not be. I again, congratulate the Delta University on her 16th convocation, which is not a combination of multiple years.

In various Nigerian tertiary institutions, convocation ceremonies are graduand-centred, and are essentially to celebrate graduations and conferment of the relevant end Certificates, Diplomas, and Degrees, as may apply. The Convocation Lecture is an important aspect of Convocation Ceremonies as it is an opportunity of inviting an individual, you are convinced about, as Guest Lecturer, more often from outside that institution to address any issue of concern. It is an opportunity for town and gown interface, to consider issues in a dynamic world. Therefore, it could also be an opportunity to invite an individual that has attained some measure of success in life, to share his/her story, with the hope that the graduating students can learn a thing or two about what to expect in the ‘real world’, as the larger society is often called. One of the hallmarks of a truly educated person is the humility in acknowledging that no one knows it all. Good schools and educational institutions must create opportunities to listen and maybe learn from others, to avoid an incestuous culture, which end is often not positive.

Ideally, the graduating class should be present at the convocation lecture. I hope they are present here today.

3. Attempting a conceptualization of the title

Looking at our title, Universities, Leadership, and Contemporary Challenges: Are Nigeria Universities Failing God and Man?, at least three key concepts should be of interest. These are: the university, leadership and contemporary challenges. On these three, the following comments are germane.

3.1. The University

Though we use the term every day, we must go back to the basic definition of the university to keep us in check, and not to create complacency. While the university may evolve, we must not lose what the core meaning and essence of the university is.

We must remind ourselves that Nigeria did not conceive the idea of the university. It was learnt from those who started universities and have operated them for centuries even before we came to be, as a country. Do not be offended by these statements, because we often use borrowed words; and sometimes we use them in a manner that the original conceptualizers of the word may not recognize.

A university is an institution of higher (or tertiary) education and research, which awards academic degrees in several academic disciplines. University is derived from the Latin phrase universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means “community of teachers and scholars”. You will find this online by a search on Google.

All across the globe, universities number among the most recognized and most respected institutions. They are held in very high esteem. To be a university staff, and especially, a university professor, in any serious circle in the world, confers respect, and an expectation of a certain attainment in character and knowledge. In many parts of the world, the university and her staff are held in awe. It is a serious matter. Note again, respected and serious.

However, respect is earned. Respect is not gifted.

The Nigeria university system has evolved commendably. We should look at the flow from the Elliot Commission in June 1943 to report on higher education in British West Africa (https://research.projectandmaterials.com/2015/12/the-role-of-commissions-in-development.html), the Asquith commission, in August 1943. These two precede the establishment of the University College, Ibadan in 1948. They enunciated, among others, “the principles that guide the promotion of higher education, learning and research as well as the development of universities in the British Colonies”.

Then came the Ashby commission, on Higher Education in 1959 recommending the establishment of more universities in the country. Afterwards, emerged the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1960, and another three in 1962 (at Ife, Zaria, and Lagos), commonly described as the first generation.

On the raison d’etre for having universities in the colonies, the colonialists had their preferences, and indeed there were evidences that they were dragging their feet. Yet they did allow, and did support the emergence of these first five universities. Those first Universities were clearly acknowledged as good as any other on the globe. Those universities held what has become the triple mandate of the Nigerian university system, which are teaching (and learning), followed by research, and then community service.

From the side of the people of Nigeria at the time, the elites did request the emergence of universities. The Nigeria perspective and justification for wanting more universities at the time, is best seen in the view of Nnamdi Azikiwe, who had emerged a major thinker of that era.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had in 1959 said:

“I have been impressed by the recommendations made by the African Education Commission, which visited Nigeria in 1920 … particularly the following: “..That all concerned distinguish clearly the educational needs, namely, the education of the masses of the people, the training of teachers and leaders for the masses, and the preparation of professional men who must pass the conventional requirements of British universities…That the education of the masses and their teachers be determined by the following elements, namely, health, ability to develop the resources of the country, household arts, sound recreation, rudiments of knowledge, character development, and community responsibility. The native teachers should also have access to the great truths of physical and social science and the inspiration of history and literature…I make the above admission because, after 35 years, the observations and recommendations of the Commission are still timely. Indeed, I can say that this report forms a basis of the philosophy of education for Africa, not because Africans deserve a separate philosophy but, in the words of Dr Anson Phelps-Stokes, the purpose of the Commission was to help Africans ‘by encouraging an education adapted to their actual needs. . . .’

Source: Nnamdi Azikiwe (1955), “The University of Nigeria Speech”, (www.blackpast.org/global-african-history/1955-nnamdi-azikiwe-university-nigeria-speech).

Reflecting on these words by Nnamdi Azikiwe, I am inclined to believe that he was an advocate for a massification of education (a popular desire of the political leaders of the first republic), including university education. The word, mass, appears a number of times in the passage above. Take note of the expression, massification of university education.

From those early years following independence in 1960, the Nigeria university canvas has evolved significantly. From five universities in 1962, we have as at Monday 8th April, 2024 listed on the NUC Monday Bulletin, pages 20 – 22, date 265 universities, comprising 53 Federal, 63 State, and 149 private (NUC, 2024). These include conventional and specialized universities such those for agriculture, technology, health sciences, etc.

In the era of the initial five universities, and perhaps till the 1980s, studying in Nigeria was quite a respected thing in the eyes of both the knowledgeable as well as other persons, in and outside Nigeria. Students and staff came from all parts of the world. The university was a universal place. There was the universe in our universities.

According to a report by the Nigerian Tribune sometime in 2021, the ES of the NUC then, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed, incidentally at an occasion conveying approval for the establishment of three additional universities for Delta state, stated that there were 2.1 million students studying in Nigerian Universities (https://tribuneonlineng.com/2-1-million-students-studying-in-nigerian-universities%E2%80%95-nuc/). This is a huge difference from the situation in 1962, even if a small proportion of applicants each year are admitted.

Historically, the Nigeria university system has a lot she can show for her existence. While we commend the universities for this, we must also note the upsurge in Nigerian students studying outside Nigeria, in countries developed and less developed, and in all manner of universities. While we must never encourage a situation where all Nigerians study only within Nigeria, we must also wish that the presence of foreign students become obvious in Nigeria universities. The twin phenomenon of upsurge in Nigerian students (and even staff) in foreign universities, and apparent lack of reciprocity, and obvious lack of interest in our universities by foreign students and staff, could be interpreted to some extent as a vote of no confidence in Nigerian universities. It could be an indicator of perception that the university is failing the people; that is, the university is failing man. Would that be correct?

According to a report in The University World News (African Edition), citing a study by a consortium including the University of Sussex, England, and other think-tanks within and outside Nigeria, nine out of every 10 Nigerian students desire opportunities to study abroad. According to the report, the drivers of interest in foreign education are factors external to the universities, as well as others internal to the university system (Alagbe, 2022). The factors directly related to the universities include “… seemingly never-ending university strikes, a high youth unemployment rate (42.5%, according to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics),… and a persistent level of underinvestment in tertiary education compared with global standards.” The report further cited the Central Bank of Nigeria, stating that Nigerians spent about US$221 million on foreign education between December 2021 and February 2022.

Yet, not all such expenditure passed through official Central Bank processes and records. How does this compare to Federal Government of Nigeria allocation to Education? According to a report by Budgit, total allocation stood at N875.93bn (excluding TetFund). Of this amount, N174bn was earmarked for CAPEX, while N701bn was set aside for recurrent expenditure

(Source: https://budgit.org/post_publications/2022-proposed-education-budget/, Accessed 16 April, 2024).

When this Federal Government allocation is subjected to real expenditure, and state Government real expenditures are included, how does that compare to the evidenced expenditures by Nigeria students, denominated in USD? Is this further evidence of failing man?

We reiterate again, that diversity of staff and students is a key component of the idea of the universe in the university. They are important factors in local and global ranking of universities. It is not in doubt that all Nigeria universities are doing poorly on this. There are several factors within and outside the universities responsible for this. There are also leadership-related factors contributing to this. Otonko (2021), in his paper, ”University Education in Nigeria: History, Successes, Failures and the Way Forward,” states that, “even though the nation’s university education has achieved quite much, it is equally laden with weaknesses”.

3.2. Leadership

In the University system, leadership exists at every level. From the visitor to the university, the councils, the senate, management, down to the heads of faculties, departments, or units or whatever nomenclature a university has chosen, there is leadership. The students, the unions, etc. all have leaderships.

Leadership is a very commonly mentioned term in everyday conversation in Nigeria. This is a term which in all likelihood most educated Nigerians have discussed. A very common quote on leadership in Nigeria is that often taken from the Chinua Achebe’s work, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, where he stated that the trouble with Nigeria is squarely the failure of leadership (Achebe, 1983). The statement by Chinua Achebe is so familiar with Nigerians, that almost all commentary on leadership in Nigeria will almost cite it. It has been around for 41 years. It seems in all probability, not in a hurry to become obsolete. This, for me summarizes the tragedy of leadership, vertically and horizontally in Nigeria, with perhaps few exemptions.

With respect to our universities, from the topmost levels to the lowest levels of staffing and students, teaching and non-teaching staff, academic calendar, presence of lecturers and technologists promptly in class rooms, students attending lectures, quality of teaching, quality of grading in examinations, quality of researches, quality of Theses and Dissertations, etc. are some of what I invite you to reflect on. I chose not wash some dirty linens in the public, as I am not sure where this lecture will be read, and I become a reference to what many suspect. I will rather leave you with a common saying by our peoples, that we use our tongues to count our teeth.

3.3. Contemporary Challenges

The frame for this is to take the extant policy environment as given; a constant. There is a possibility frontier/constraint, defined by the familiar issues bedevilling the Nigeria state, including the rent-seeking preferences of most of the governing elite, the inherent limitations of the personnel involved with state matters and governance, including the peopling of those offices predominantly by persons mostly with underdeveloped minds and limited capabilities, declining patriotism and sense of shame, and the rise of mamonism and addiction to unearned money, the painful pauperization of university staff, practically pushing them downwards from the middle to the lower income classes (something that does not exist in any country on earth), which collectively have eroded hitherto cherished values. These constitute elements of the possibility constraint or frontier, within which we operate. Our national context is certainly different today from what it was in the 1960s, and even till the mid-1980s. Whether we are able to reach our possibility frontier is what we should bother about.

Taking a further look at contemporary challenges as in the title, we may see two possible trajectories to dealing with this. The first will be contemporary challenges in the Nigeria society, which the universities should provide leadership in addressing. The second will be the internal challenges in the university, which the university should provide leadership, or the leadership of the university should address. Either of these is plausible, but here we will choose the latter. That would be, contemporary challenges in the university awaiting leadership in addressing.

As stated earlier in the section on leadership, we will not want to deal with the familiar issues in everyday conversation in Nigeria, which may in fact be symptoms of a deeper problem. It is here that we will bring up the earlier reference to the idea of massification of university education.

3.3.1. On the massification of university education

One indicator of massification of university education in Nigeria is the acceleration in the rate of establishing universities. This acceleration seems particularly so since 2011. From 1948 till 2010 (62 years), Nigeria had 27 federal, 35 state, and 40 private universities.

From 2011 till date (14 years), Nigeria added 26 federal universities, totalling 53 federal universities, 28 state universities, totalling 63 state universities, and 109 private universities, totalling 149 private (NUC 2024). When these figures are related over time, we can safely conclude that there has been an acceleration in the rate of establishment of universities in Nigeria.

An argument for this includes that compared to countries with similar population like Indonesia, Nigeria still needs more universities. This argument is in my opinion based on a partial comparison of the conditions of the two countries. Other factors such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the financial capabilities of the two countries, the available manpower, wages for university staff, willingness of foreign nationals to work in each country as a source of qualified manpower, among others, if considered, may reveal a different picture.

The other argument is that there are many qualified prospective Nigerian students who are migrating out of the country for university education. As shown earlier, that is truly the case. However, when the factors propelling the migration of Nigeria students to other countries are taken in totality, such factors as insecurity, reputation and ranking, instability in university academic calendar, inadequate funding, and lack of adequate facilities, and others come into play. Addressing these may not recommend starting new universities; rather what should be done is addressing the fundamental problems that drive the emigration.

The other argument for encouraging the emergence of new universities is that too many candidates apply for admission going by JAMB records, compared to the number of available spaces, going by NUC carrying capacities for programmes in each university. Again, this is an inadequate basis for new universities. In my assessment, most of the JAMB UTME applicants do not constitute effective demand for available spaces. The high figure of applicants is just nominal. As economists will say with respect to effective demand, they do not a priori possess the ability to constitute effective demand. It is argued that most of the applicants do not possess the requisite capacities to be considered for admission in the first place.

Admissions into Nigerian universities were at inception competitive and based on the best applicants. It was never the case that anyone with less than 60% in the entrance examinations got admitted (that would be 240 out of 400 in today’s JAMB UTME). In the period around 1980, a score of 60% would rarely have a space in any programme at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. There must have been very few programmes where persons with less than 60% were admitted into.

If we were to keep the minimum admissible scores into any programme at 200 (50%), a huge proportion of those applying will be discountenanced. To allow universities the leverage of going as low as 140 out of 400 (35%) in JAMB UTME, is to allow them to admit students with scores that the same universities would not accept in their internal examinations, given that 35% is an F (failure) in the internal examinations of Nigerian universities. Similarly, 35% was also an F9 in O’Level School Certificate Examinations, a prerequisite for admission into the same universities.

What is a candidate who scored the equivalent of F9 doing in a university? That JAMB allows universities to make choices that low and, worse still, that there are universities, offered such freedom of choice who go lower than 50% as score for admission, is a tragedy.

Please note that I do not reject the emergence of new universities. This I clearly stated in my lecture to mark the first anniversary of the University of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (UAES), Umuagwo, Imo State, Friday 6 May, 2022, with the title, Many universities, Few Universities, and No Universities: Is Nigeria suffering from the endangering of the Idea and culture of the University? Comments that we have too many universities are neither here nor there. What is critical and should be of interest is what we have made of the universities and not the number. The regulatory and approving authorities do their bit in following the guidelines and the law. The issue is what we, academics, and leaders in the universities eventually do.

My opinion is that we, like most parts of the developed and developing word, will continue to have a dynamic university system that will always involve new universities emerging. These will have to be universities started with a consciousness of excellence from the beginning. Excellence in the university is not optional. This is a matter I explained in the Pre-Convocation Lecture of the Imo State University, Owerri, Imo State, Nigeria, on Friday, February 03, 2023, with the title, “Imo State University and Sustainability of Academic Excellence”.

Establishing new universities will always be the case. You may wonder why not suggest working on the already established universities? My answer will be that many of them are victims of how they were founded, and how they have been managed from their inceptive years. Remedying them may meet difficulties with the extant legal conditions of Nigeria, staff unionism, local politics, etc. Related to this is the state of our private universities, which requires special visitations and reassessment of each of them. Fresh laws, and guidelines, may be needed in this regard. The situation is very worrying in some of them.

What should follow the era of massification of university education should be an era of lifting the quality of our universities to what is obtainable in serious countries of the world. Quality assurance is the responsibility of the National Universities Commission (NUC). We shall come later to the role of the NUC in the Nigeria University System.

3.3.2. Perception of certification without implied knowledge and skills

Nigeria’s problems are clearly founded on several factors but one outstanding one is the decline of meritocracy. In a recent interview, Prof. Akin Osuntokun, former Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, spoke of what Nigeria has become: “That was where we went wrong and where things changed, when we downgraded merit, excellence and competence… Any country that abandons meritocracy won’t do well… This is where we went wrong as a country” (https://www.vanguardngr.com/2023/01/anyaokus-peace-move-to-end-nigerias-civil-war-by-prof-osuntokun/).

The scenario above is related to an obvious phenomenon of persons with certificates but who do not have the knowledge and skills implied. In many cases the certificates were indeed issued by the real issuing authority.

If for instance someone has certificates indicating he is a medical doctor, pharmacist, civil engineer, and indeed all other disciplines, but does not have the implied knowledge and skills, would that be a failing of God and man?

4. On the rider to the title of this lecture – Are the Universities failing God and man?

The letter from the university to me requested that I exercise some liberty in crafting the title of this lecture, but did not leave me without a guide and preferences. That letter expected the issue of leadership in and outside Nigeria, and the challenges our university face to be discussed. If you have been in that situation, you know that it may be safer that a specific title is given to you. What however I found commendable is that it was challenging. It deviated from one often mentioned weakness of some school systems and that is the culture of rote learning. The practice of dictating notes and lectures and at the end (during examinations) asking the students to repeat what they have been given as notes.

So, I thank the university for this privilege which eventually led to this topic. In all humility I have enjoyed reactions and comments from some people especially outside this university. I will like to share a few of these reactions.

The first is from a very respected former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, and he said, “they are failing God, Man and themselves.”

As I often do, convinced that no one knows it all, I reached out to some friends for their opinions. This time I did, and the responses were very interesting.

Considering that the universities aim to mould man, the contemporary challenges are addressed based on societal perspective. After all, it said, Vox Populi Vox Dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God.

The Nigerian academic came of age to handle himself and be entrusted with so sacred a trust as the administration of a university, where the minds that build the future are moulded. It would seem the vision/focus is completely lost on this new breed. I would expect to be pointed to where the decay started, the role of the universities resisting it or not, where we are, and where we need to be; and lastly how we can get there. The truth is that we are slowly getting to a lawless state where only a man’s conscience can set him right. Again, conscience can be fickle.

Our chosen title gives us the opportunity to address a global subject in the spirit of the universe in the university; then bring it home to Nigeria by questioning if we have failed God and man.

Criticism of universities is to be expected. Even in the more advanced countries of the world, university systems are criticized, and reviewed. A University system is dynamic, and is not static. It will always evolve. That is to be expected.

4.1. The University as failing God

In response to the title of this lecture, a commentator (we call him Prof. O), said, “Prof., I would say yes to the poser that Nigerian Universities are failing God and man… Universities fail man or society because the universities have not given any serious thought to their statutory obligations of educating the higher-level manpower to drive development in the country.” As stated earlier, a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, said, “they are failing God, Man and themselves.”

Are these representatives of the situation? Without any elaborate survey of key informants on this, I will vote with the side that will say yes. I will not add more, but to end this part by repeating, Vox Populi Vox Dei, the voice of the people is the voice of God. I also add that perception in a subject as universities is important.

 

4.2. The University as failing man

In many places in the world students and alumni are proud of their universities. Sometime you see them banter about their universities as superior to others. In Nigeria, you hear some comments like Great, Greatest, Unique, etc. Some of these are more common with the older universities in Nigeria. As some of us may know, this is not just in Nigeria. In the United Kingdom, you see some of these when the staff at Oxford and those at Cambridge refer to each other, and you hear such expression as, “those fellows down there”.

Colleagues and friends, universities are often institutions in which the students and staff are proud of their accomplishments and ratings. I believe we can agree that such expression should be healthy.

Yet a careful observation of contemporary Nigeria reveals that students scarcely manifest such tendencies. Many students do not seem sure about themselves, their universities, and their self-confidence.

Why does it seem that this has stopped? Why does it seem that this generation of students and even recent alumni are no longer proud or boastful of their alma mater?

When a student has passed through a university, that university is referred to as his/her alma mater, which means the nourishing mother. Alma mater is one of the most enduring symbols of the university. The phrase was first used to describe the University of Bologna, Italy, founded in 1088.

Every one of us knows what the implications of motherhood and mother as a nourisher is. A mother holds the ace in socializing a child. A mother does not go about to destroy the child. A mother may spank with one hand, but must pull the child back with the other hand.

Even God tells us that a woman’s tenderness does not cease towards the child she bears. It is that serious. A university must never destroy her students.

Destroying students includes granting results that are not earned, destruction of character, in effect claiming to have found a person worthy in character and learning when that is not the case.

 

5. Other related Issues

I use this opportunity to bring up two issues which I consider important. The first is the commendable role of the NUC, and the second is the Presidential initiative on 1st class – The Presidential Scholarship Scheme for Innovation and Development (PRESSID).

 

5.1. The Commendable role of the NUC

Dear colleagues and friends, what would be the state of the Nigeria university system without the quality assurance mechanism invested in the NUC by law? Is it not correct that for many State universities in Nigeria, it is mostly during accreditation exercises that the proprietors agree to provide funding for facilities and equipment, and sometimes recruitment of staff? Some States like Delta, with better financial position, and a consistent list of educated governors may not suffer this. Reality is that many States are not as lucky. Some States set up universities and the proprietors simply walk away as if that is the end to the matter. Some do not know that there are consumables such as chemicals for laboratories, which have to be regularly replenished. Dear colleagues and friends, many of you have participated as resource persons in NUC resource verification and accreditation exercises, and you know what I am saying.

The next will be to call your attention to a subtle shift towards deepening quality. For a long time, stakeholders have complained about the need for dynamism and regular improvement in the curriculum. We must appreciate the NUC for providing a platform for this to eventually happen, via the Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standards (CCMAS). The CCMAS provides 70% of courses and contents for all programmes. The rest of the 30%, each university will have to produce. This singular measure takes us away from the Asoebi culture. All universities must not offer the same. Please remain committed to this.

The third is the ranking of universities. In your letter inviting me, you gladly stated your current position in the Times Higher Education (THE) ranking. This is commendable, and please remain focused on this. Ranking is important. Being favourably ranked is commonly taken as indicator of quality and such reputation attracts quality students and will lead to quality products which, in turn, burnishes quality reputation, and will lead to more support, endowment, as well as quality alumni.

Publishing in Journals that are well respected with high Impact factor should be encouraged. Ranking is now globally accepted. We should not be absent where we should be present. Please pay attention to such globally recognized ranking platforms like the Times Higher Education (THE), etc.

 

5.2. The Presidential Initiative on First Class

Presidential initiatives on 1st class. What did it reveal and why stop?

The goal of the initiative was to send the top 100 first class graduates in Nigeria to the top 100 universities in the world as a means to develop a critical mass of well-educated Nigerians in every field who could contribute to national development in all those fields, including academia.

PRESSID started in 2014 or thereabout and raised the hopes of students who indeed wanted to do well. There were two sets already outside the country, when it was simply abandoned ─ the programmes and the students. The students were left in the lurch.

What Nigeria would have achieved by this abandonment, would in all probability be a generation of people who lost faith in Nigeria because they were abandoned halfway. Those universities would also not be sure what type of country those students came from. Perhaps, the Government should consider apologizing to those young people, and if possible, find out what eventually happened to them and, if necessary, refund whatever expenditures they subsequently had to bear.

There were no known shortcomings as far as I can tell, but by Nigerian standards, the presence of merit instead of federal character may have been a problem in certain quarters.

President Jonathan is quoted to have said to the committee that “If the top 100 hundred students come from the same family or clan, we will send them to these top 100 universities in the world without blinking”. It is also on record that no-one from his home state of Bayelsa made it in those firsts sets and he was not deterred.

This is something that should be revived.

 

Ending Comments

We do not have to see this lecture as one to be prescriptive. Yet we should agree that every choice has consequences. Just as the choices we have made in the past have created room for the doubting of what we have become, as against what we should become, so it is that we can take actions in different directions, and make choices along different pathways in order to have consequences that take us back to what we are designed to be.

May our tomorrow be better than our today. May our tomorrow be such that reverses any perception that our yesterday is better than our today.

 

Going Forward

Finally, I thank the Vice-Chancellor again for this opportunity. May you get successfully to the end of your five-year tenure. May you enjoy your post-tenure years, still being in the vocation of the academia. May you still be able to attend Senate of the Delta State University Abraka after your tenure, and take a front row seat, as some Universities I know in Nigeria have, with a front row for past Vice-Chancellors of their universities.

Dear Colleagues and friends, the vicissitudes of life, and the pressure of everyday survival may have led many colleagues astray. We must seek to return to the path of moral rectitude and to regain our lost respect, by the quality of work we do, and the character we exhibit. We must not eat every food we come across, just because we are hungry. We must seek a return of dignity, something as dignifying as the village headmaster of old.

Once again dear colleagues, and friends, I thank you for the opportunity and your patience. I issued a caveat earlier on. I have done the best I can and if your expectations are unmet, please again, I ask for your pardon.

In ending, dear Vice-Chancellor, colleagues and friends, I imagine some persons will be glad that there is no call for confessions, alter calls, nor deliverance.

God bless you.

God bless the Delta State University Abraka.

God bless Delta State.

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Thank you.

Chinedum Nwajiuba

 

Gratitude

In the course of writing this, I have enjoyed the views of some person, who have helped sharpen my thought. I am grateful to them. They include:

1. Prof. Chukwunonso Ejike (AEFUNAI)

2. Prof. PC Obute (UI)

3. Ulo Inyama (WU)

4. Chris Uwadoka (FRC).

 

References

Achebe Chinua (1983). The Trouble with Nigeria. Fourth Dimension Publishers, Enugu.

Alagbe J. (2022). The University World News (African Edition). (Available at: https://www.universityworldnews.com/post.php?story=20220530222611861).

Colonial Office: Colonial Higher Education Commission (1944) Asquith commission, 1943 – 1944. Colonial Office: Colonial Higher Education Commission (Asquith Commission, 1943-1944) | The National Archives. (Accessed 140424).

Colonial Office: Colonial Higher Education Commission (Asquith Commissio…
The National Archives

The official archive of the UK government. Our vision is to lead and transform information management, guarantee…

 

National Universities Commission (NUC) (2024). NUC Monday Bulletin, various issues.

Nwajiuba, C. U. (2022). Many Universities, Few Universities, and No Universities: Is Nigeria suffering from the endangering of the Idea and culture of the University? First anniversary lecture of the University of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (UAES), Umuagwo, Imo State.

Nwajiuba, C. U. (2023). Imo State University and Sustainability of Academic Excellence. Pre-Convocation Lecture of the Imo State University, Owerri, Imo State.

Otonko, J. (2012). University Education in Nigeria: History, Successes, Failures and the Way Forward”.

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