REJUVENATING NIGERIA’S UNIVERSITIES

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Okello Oculi argues the need for the universities to be adequately supported

A British businessman has a smug smile as he stood in my office at the Department of Political Science of Ahmadu Bello University and predicted that he would be the last book-seller to come calling. My haughty talk about giving preference to books on ‘’Political Economy’’ would, he predicted, turn to moans after Nigerian universities would soon be unable to afford books and journals published abroad.

He obviously knew something hidden from us. I recalled a view expressed, in the last quarter of 1977, by a former Researcher-in-Residence at the American Consulate in Kaduna that Nigeria’s oil boom would soon collapse. The global powers opposed to economic diplomacy by African members of the Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) were obviously planning to strike in ways he would not reveal.

An event which received little commentaries by the media and university trade unions was a vigorous alliance between the Nigerian Police and Britain’s main book publishers (Longmans, MacMillan, Oxford University Press and Heinemann), in hunting down and smashing a booming publishing piracy. It was these ‘’pirates’’ that supplied books into the informal market on university campuses.

They distributed books by Professors Claude Ake, Okwodiba Nnoli, Walter Rodney, Franz Fanon, Eskor Toyo, Samir Amin, Aminata Fall, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and other writers who believed in promoting intellectual sovereignty in Nigeria and Africa.

As political economists they shared with Karl Marx that special respect for capitalism as a promoter of human and material productivity. While feudalists and isolated peasant producers emphasise consumption for subsistence, capitalists invest for increased productivity. They desired African economies becoming increasingly productive; sharing new wealth, and promoting the development of human resources.

The disappearance of these books at prices which students and academic staff could afford drastically impoverished reading materials for courses. It is clear that British publishers were forerunners for a new call by the World Bank that African governments should ignore university education and give priority to primary and secondary schools.

The impact of ‘’Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP)’’ adopted by the Babangida Administration in 1986 was not accompanied by measures to protect the quality of academic staff, teaching and research. Presumably their link to economic productivity – including invention of military weapons, including biological weapons – was not on the radar of military elites at the time.

University administrators on their part failed to benefit from experiences of Japan and India in which vigorous efforts were put into translating into local languages classical and authoritative books and articles published in Euro-American countries. The Indians re-published these texts in the cheapest papers available. Because the text was sold at very low costs, it was easy to buy new copies if they fell apart during use by students and faculty. Internet has changed that situation.

Germany revolted against the use of Latin as the language for university research and lecturing by using their vernacular – the German language. The United States followed this revolt by adopting the use of English language as their vernacular. Japan and India followed to affirm their sovereign nationhood. It was also easier to make their workers literate tools for industrial production. They also found that their people were more inventive in Mathematics and various scientific subjects if they learnt them in their mother tongues.

In Nigeria an ‘’internationalist’’ attitude gives primacy to their graduates getting jobs in Euro-American economies, including washing plates in hotels and floors in hospitals to earn tuition fees for higher education and better jobs. Such tenacious individuals often left Nigeria because of hostile environmental factors such as university administrators stealing research funds they won from international agencies; being prevented to travel for international conferences even when their travel is provided by external sources. As an example, an academic conducting research on Aflotoxin – a fungus which grows on cereals and causes cancer of the liver if ingested by human beings – was withdrawn from conducting research in a Humboldt Foundation laboratory in Germany.

Those attending the 2017 edition of an annual meeting of the Ahmadu Bello University alumni were treated to an exciting report on a group of students from the Faculty of Science who had invented tools for combating lead poisoning among children in Zamfara State. This is a worthy follow-up to cases of creativity by students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) who exported simulations of summit conferences of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the Universities of Jos and Bayero. It was known as ‘’Mock OAU Summits’’. The peak of its visibility was its telecast on the Network Service of NTA in 1988.

The ‘’Amina Forum’’ by female students of ‘’African Strategic Studies’’ mounted annual exhibitions, including a children’s book exhibition with books they borrowed from publishers based in Zaria. It drew novel attention to an intellection and economic sector that remains invisible to the campus public. The ‘’African Oceanographic Society’’ drew attention to an invisible trillion-dollar trade sector dominated by multinational shipping companies; a ship-building industrial sector, and naval resources. The ‘’African Diaspora Society’’ domesticated the study of a significant part of the 1976 FESTAC.

Scientific creativity and inventions by academic staff and students have been stunted by bureaucrats. Branches of multinational corporations support their own home research units and universities. The current trade rivalry between China and the United States affirms the value of this strategy. African Academia must shout out: ‘’Aluta Continua !!’’.