In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the former Vice-Chancellor of Delta State University, Abraka, Professor Uvie Igun explained why vice-chancellors and the various committees in charge of monitoring research reports should be on their feet for better output that would enhance learning. He called on government to create more centres of excellence which if well equipped, will enable staff and students to do proper research
You have held and still holding key positions in the academia at different times, how would you describe your experience and challenges you have faced so far?
There are so many things that have gone wrong in the tertiary institutions and many people who are charged in ensuring quality are those sabotaging the efforts of those who mean well for the sector. My experience is that wherever I went to, I try to ensure that I keep to standard by ensuring quality assurance from staff and students. While I was the vice chancellor of Delta State University (DELSU), I was kidnapped by students cultists who were aided and abetted by people who were corrupt in all ramifications.
I was taken to a bush in Ekpoma and blindfolded to be shot, they beat me up and dragged me just because I stood firm against corrupt practices at the institution at that time. I told them that things cannot continue the way they were. They even set fire on my house. That was my battle as VC and anywhere I go, but I made sure that standards were maintained. There are too many people that want to compromise the system and even sabotage what you are trying to do. I was also able to fight examination malpractice to a standstill and even terminated the appointment of people who were selling marks. I and my team fought the battle to a point that we ensured development in the university. Unfortunately after I left, it was back to square one.
The minister of state for education once said that the Nigerian university system has failed in producing quality graduates that should be employed in industries, what is your view on this and what should be the way forward?
We are not producing the correct graduate programme and even the curriculum is not being taught properly regarding what students ought to know. We need to upgrade the whole curriculum to meet the needs of the country in terms of development that we are preparing students for. It is not just about giving people certificates when they don’t know anything; they have no skills. It is about how we are going to develop this nation. It is the duty of those who are responsible to ensure that our education system is not compromised. That is why I like what is happening at Edwin Clark University, Afe Babalola University and Covenant University, where there is zero tolerance for nonsense. How many universities can stand firm like that? Not many and that is why these universities are doing well because they are able to keep to certain standards.
Unfortunately some of these private universities also get involved in sale of marks for students and you will see a situation where lecturers will also write projects for them. Many of them don’t go for lectures and at the end of the day; they come out with first class without knowing anything. Their parents paid so that they could be trained but are they training them? Nobody is looking at that. I need to also advise members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to put their house in order, discipline should start from them so that they can also discipline the students and criticise politicians, but they are busy criticising politicians and are doing even worse things. They are given assignments to train students, but they are not doing that, rather they are selling marks. Some students who are hardworking usually feel discouraged about this. These are areas I keep fighting against.
There seems to be poor research efforts and output among academics, what is the problem and how do you think this can be resolved?
I can tell you that there are serious academics who are doing serious research and there are also quite a number who are not producing quality research. For those who are doing quality research, you can see that they are producing quality material judging by the international environment. There are also too many that take the short cut. I have seen a professor who was given money by the Ford Foundation to carry out research, rather than go to the field, he came back with cooked up data. Those of us who are involved in research in this country see a lot of things.What can such a professor teach? There is need for vice-chancellors, sub-committees and the various committees that are in charge to be on their feet and ensure that they monitor the reports of research. I have been involved in every level of research in this country so I know what it takes.
In what ways can Nigerian students be encouraged to undergo PhD programmes locally, rather than being attracted to go abroad or waste internally?
The truth is that the facilities are deficient particularly in the areas of sciences. We don’t have enough facilities. You can’t know research until you take part in it, but where are the facilities? At a point, we told the federal government that since the facilities are so limited, they should create centres of excellence with well-equipped laboratories such that would make all universities and researchers to do research rather than go abroad. They should create more centres and equip them with enough facilities for serious research. Those people that want to do research can go there, collect data, analyse it and come up with a good report. We made that suggestion a long time ago. How many universities can do proper research in this country? For those who are studying laboratory technology for instance, need to do more of practice. Those who graduate, what do they know? It is because the facilities are simply not there. In other to encourage them, government should create more centres of excellence where all the facilities are provided for by them. They should be well equipped so that the staff and students can do proper research. Application of data is very important; to me that is the only solution.
As a Professor of Medical Sociology, what is your view about the issue of medical brain drain in the country considering the fact that the minister of labour once said the country has enough doctors?
The ratio of doctor to patient in the country is very poor. The facilities that are there are very bad. If you have gone to any public hospital in the country, you will not like what is going on there. There is need for public universities to take over to become the salvation of tertiary education by putting in place quality. There are a number of universities in the country that are standing firm and putting in the best. In the public sector, there is so much corruption, the same thing with medicine.
Is it not possible for Nigeria to have a national hospital where if all the facilities are put in place, rather than travel abroad, people can visit such a place for treatment? We have people who can do the work, but the money which they are supposed to use to put these facilities in place have gone into private pockets. So how do we want to have quality? If I have my way, I will prefer that people get treated here rather than travel abroad for it. What is there in India that Nigerian doctors who are well trained cannot do with the right equipment? If you give Nigerians the right atmosphere and training, they will do well in the country, but unfortunately, we are playing politics to compromise standard. If you go to University of Benin Teaching Hospital for instance, you will regret going there.
What in your view is the future of public universities in Nigeria?
Not more than 30 per cent of public universities in the country are doing what they ought to do. If we are talking about the future of public universities in this country, unless there is a drastic revolution that will focus on both the leadership, staff and the students to clean up the mess in the sector, we should not be producing half-baked graduates. Even the private sector is supposed to come to the rescue. Afe Babalola University for instance is doing its best. I stand to say that the VCs, lecturers and students are all collaborating in the destruction of our education in Nigeria which is very sad for our future. Few institutions are doing their best and ensuring standards. There are also a few ones who sell marks, but if we are able to clean up the mess in the system, the better for us.