SYMBOLISM, PARLIAMENT AND AFRICA’S UNIVERSITIES

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Monday comment1

By Okello Oculi writes that Africa must be run for excellence

The Christmas season in Nigeria found state-owned universities closed. University teachers are on work-stoppage fuelled by anger over disputes with keepers of keys to government vaults. Like previous confrontations, they are voices crying in the wilderness. This may partly be due to public awareness of ASUU’S teaching hours being sold illegally to private universities; and their children attending private universities at home and abroad: including other African countries.

The timing of the strike to coincide with the heat of election campaigns seems not to have drawn voices of politicians to local, state and federal executive and legislative posts.  As symbols of informed voices of the public who voted for them, silence by legislators is startling and provokes some reflection.

For a start, Nigeria’s national and state legislators have been given budgets to scrutinise. A key theme in budgets is the   volume of investments expected to be injected into the economy; with much focus on attracting ‘’Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)’’. On this matter, a valuable lesson can be drawn from Lee Kuan Yew’s recollection about their strategy for making Singapore a ‘’beautiful bride’’ – to recall Nnamdi Azikiwe as a presidential candidate – to international capital.

Yew’s political team anchored their strategy on producing very high quality graduates from their educational institutions.  Brilliant, highly disciplined and patriotic graduates would appeal to multinational corporations as most valuable and productive workers. Yew celebrates the success of this strategy combined with exploiting the geographical location of their tiny state within short distances from vast markets in India, China, Japan and Indonesia.

This is surely a development strategy which politicians, Nigerian business executives, the Nigerian Labour Congress and parents should converge around.  Its advocacy should be a ‘’point of contact’’ between academics and the other three sectors – including the media.

 Tunisia’s founding leader, Mohammed Bourghiba, provided a useful lesson in mobilising politicians and scholars into a confluence with his country’s religious leaders by presenting nation-building and development as a ‘’Jihad’’ which demanded education for men and women; and an end to the obligation of fasting so that energies of Tunisians would be optimally used throughout the year.

Nigeria’s business leaders need to be nudged to go beyond noting severe declines in the quality of graduates produced by Nigeria’s educational institutions. As parents, many contributed to a pandemic of purchasing examination questions; hiring persons to sit examinations for their children; using electronic devices to broadcast correct answers to children sitting examinations, etc. Failed parenting led to deporting wards to Singapore, Malaysia, Ghana, and Kenya if they failed at home.

The Nigerian Labour Congress has been muscular in calling out workers on strike in demands for wages, yet silent on ensuring high quality working culture in educational institutions to guarantee excellence in the quality of workers as products: from primary schools to universities and colleges. The explosion of ‘’Sexually Transmitted Degree (STDs)’’ must compel a combative convergence between NLC, ASUU and professional associations.

As an example, President Julius Nyerere once proposed that due to lack of spaces in higher education sectors, primary schools should train skills for inventors and food processors in the agricultural sector. ASUU, the NLC and business leaders should push similar radical policy dialogue.   

The Singapore example could very well have been also noted in Japan and China. Their debt to Buddhist religious injunction, are worth close study.  The Chinese Communist Party imbibed discipline as a matter of military survival and victory during 20 years of conducting guerrilla warfare. Nigeria’s universities have ignored Japanese and Chinese Studies as vital fields of study from which to mine possible lessons for their own mission. As an example, Japan’s innovative linkage of local anthropological insights with the management rules of giant corporations including Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Nissan, etc.

British and American politicians, military leaders, diplomats and business leaders committed to conquering and holding empires have a long legacy of studying foreign countries. Scholars like Darwin (who collected diverse biological species by hitching a ride on a commercial ship travelling to distant unknown ecologies), led to modern day ‘’Area Studies’’. Accordingly, in early December 2018, a satellite carried a German- manufactured instrument which was sunk deep into Mars to collect data about its interior. Some of the companies which are looting minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo most certainly bought a stake in that Mars expedition.

China, Japan, and India are complex Asian countries with civilizations which were NOT disrupted by the way European invaders wrecked civilizations in Africa. Their ancient civilizations have been strong pillars and navigational tools for building ‘Modernity with Asian Characteristics’.  Africa’s scholars, politicians, trade union leaders, public intellectuals, diplomats and business adventurers must jointly with Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Indian enterprises support studies of their civilizations and economies in African universities and research centres.

Nigerian politicians, academics and trade unionists must take note that in 2018 China has seven million inventors.  In Japan, Britain, France, Germany and the United States it is the aristocracy which led academic and leadership excellence. In China and Russia the leadership of their Communist Parties put excellence as tools of war to beat back hostile capitalist powers. ‘AFRICA 2019’ must also run for excellence.

 Elites adorning symbolisms of being alumni of famous foreign universities – after merely stopping at a ‘Bus Stop’ on a campus – weakens ASUU’s   allies for excellence.