By Ugochukwu Iwuji
Countries that underscored the centrality of education in time are what we now referred to as ‘developed’. We practically run to them for virtually every need including health and leisure. Most of these countries incidentally were at par with Nigeria in the 1970s and the world was looking up to Nigeria to truly be the giant of and model for Africa. The countries which found treasure in education stopped at nothing to invest in it. They did not wait for UNESCO to give them a minimum threshold or template for educational investment. They were deliberate and determined in developing their educational system through and through. In Nigeria, leaders have unfortunately been bothered by everything else but the parlous state of education. They have rather resorted to mapping out humongous funds for schemes that have no long-term effect on either the economy or prosperity of the nation, their mind being focused on epicurean gains of the projects rather than their eternal values.
Since the education sector has perennially been relegated to the background, there has been a persistent decline in the development paradigm of the country. The first world countries have never hidden their secret or the source of their glowing success. However Nigeria and her kind have deliberately chosen to look the other way when they are told that education remains the bedrock of the technological advancement of the Western countries. Investing in educational research and infrastructure is no rocket science, ordinarily. But so long as the leadership of Nigeria keeps getting its priority wrong, educational advancement will continue to elude the nation.
Nigeria’s higher education system is synonymous with industrial action. This essentially comes as a result of the resistance mounted by such unions as the irrepressible Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP) and the Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU). Most times the government has capitulated on most of its unfavourable policies on account of the resistance put up by these unions. Sometimes, the government had stood aloof and completely indifferent to the union’s demands as was the case recently with ASUU. Only recently, the national President of ASUU, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke had reportedly rued calling off the strike, blaming Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila for allegedly playing on the union’s intelligence.
Obviously, the government has not done well in playing its primary role of investing heavily and strategically on education. Certainly, the government has not realized the nexus between education and development. It is pitiable that a fresh PhD holder is employed to teach in a Nigerian university with a take-home that is less than N150,000. This pay package stands in complete antithesis to the deliberate investment, effort and hard work ploughed in going through the educational radar. Unarguably, it makes the educational sector utterly unattractive. If the best minds and brains do not find comfort in the education sector, who then would? The time is indeed ripe for an emergency to be declared in the sector of education. Government in this case must do well to place academics on a good pay package.
Granted, the Nigerian government through the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has invested funds in the education sector. It bears saying that the creation of this Fund has been the major flicker of light in educational investment in the country. The investment however still remains a far cry in both quantitative and qualitative terms. Funds mapped out for research hardly go round just as the administration of funds meant for infrastructure is sometimes mired in corruption, going by the number of substandard TETFund projects in some Nigerian institutions.
Beyond the huge expectations of government interventions, however, Nigerian academics may need to show signs of being the conscience of the nation – a moral compass. The sharp practices perpetrated by academics in the universities, polytechnics and colleges are constantly derailing the system as much as government’s lip-service to the sector. Lecturers have themselves become walking symbols of indiscipline and corruption. They literally prey on students both financially and sexually. Most students now go to school with money for school fees and buying of grades. Some lecturers sell their grades for as high as N20,000. Some shamelessly coerce their students to pay the money or accept the option of failure. There is a deliberate focus on gratification rather than the tripartite functions of teaching, research and community development. The worst-hit are the female students who part with both money and their God-given bodies. It is even more pathetic that some lecturers stoop so low as to publish poorly-researched pamphlets and sell same for as high as N5,000 to students who must either purchase them or resign to the fate of failure. In some institutions, there is no price cap for textbooks; there is even no regulation of any kind on the quality of books, their paginations and font sizes. Lecturers in these institutions practically rip off on the students while changing cars and buying estates. This is utterly reprehensible!
If lecturers have made themselves emperors in their institutions, what moral audacity do the unions have to challenge the government? If the academia reeks of the same moral stench as the government, a well-known bastion of corruption, what then is left for the future of the education sector? This is time for the unions to begin to do some housekeeping within. One cannot chase a rat when one’s home is on fire? The academia has been desecrated and needs some cleansing. Even the recruitment process of academics is fraught with irregularities. All sectors of the higher education sector need a total overhauling. At the non-teaching level, it is a common practice for staff who are processing students’ files to turn to them for gratification to expedite action on their documents. It has also been reported that staff at some institutions’ Exams and Records have devised means of altering results of students who have paid them heavily for the purpose. There is then the general high-handedness of members of staff with the sole intent of subjugating students to their whims.
Amid the simmering corruption in the academia, some institutions have nonetheless distinguished themselves in setting the pace. They are however too few, regrettably. In this class belongs the Federal Polytechnic Nekede where its Rector, Engr. Dr. Michael Arimanwa has been single-minded in deploying global best practices and cutting-edge methods in winnowing unacceptable practices. The Rector for instance has ensured that lecturers do not shortchange the students hence he has made the buying of textbooks from lecturers optional in addition to releasing a set of guidelines regulating book publishing and sales in the institution.
Accordingly, no book, despite its size and volume sells for more than N2500 while some others may sell between N800 and N2000. Even so, the font size of the books does not go beyond 12 points. In fact, there are a book committee and an anti-plagiarism software committee that ensure that works published for students’ consumption follow prescribed rules.
Rector Arimanwa has also set up a task force who has made some hot lines available to students to report cases of exploitation of any kind for necessary disciplinary action.
In addition, the Rector has charged women organisations such as the Federal Polytechnic Nekede Owerri Women’s Association (FEPNOWA) and Women in Technical Education and Development (WITED) to join in the fight against financial or sexual exploitation. To this end, cases of extortion and exploitation have been reduced to the barest minimum or eliminated in the polytechnic.
To stave off incidences of non-teaching staff exploiting students at the point of registration or processing of files, the Rector has completely digitized operations in the institution as students do their registrations and documentations digitally. Thus, a student can stay at home and do all his registrations with the aid of an android phone. With this, there will be little or no queues which give room for exploitation. Information also has it that the polytechnic is on the verge of going paperless as staff appraisal and promotion documents are submitted and processed digitally. Internal elections among staff and student unions are also conducted electronically, giving room for qualified electorate to vote from anywhere in the world. This is a noble example that typically illustrates the capacity of technology in solving human problems.
There is doubt that some lazy students may be disposed to “sorting” their lecturers, the onus however lies on these academics to resist them in order to make them serious. Students must be made to know that there is no short cut to academic success, and only lecturers can enforce this call. The education sector can be salvaged with ease if the academia can stop viewing itself as a business centre but the ivory tower that despite all odds must establish and dispense epistemological boundaries.
• Dr. Iwuji is an academic and public affairs analyst