As Nigeria celebrates its 59th independence anniversary, university dons, educators and other stakeholders are of the view that the country must produce leaders that are committed to confronting the country’s political, economic and socio-cultural challenges which have made it impossible for it to realise its full potential. Funmi Ogundare reports
The story of Nigeria has been described as that of growth without development. At 59, the country has grown in age, but has little or nothing to show for its age. Sadly for the education sector, the level, quality and standard have continued to witness a geometric drop and this unfortunate trend has made Nigeria, the leading country of origin of students from Africa migrating to other parts of the world in search of quality education.
The fall in standard has been attributed to various factors such as poor funding, low university admission capacity, bad governance, academic fraud, corruption and indiscipline, politicisation of education by government, high incidence of out-of-school children, which has risen from 10 million to 13.5 million, among others.
At the end of his first tenure in May 2019, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu said his administration failed to reduce Nigeria’s out-of-school children despite his pledge to do so.
He described this as a shame on him, while apologising to Nigerians over his inability to fulfil his promise to reduce the number of out-of-school children by half before the end of his tenure.
According to him, “the status of Nigeria having the highest number of out-of-school children globally is a big mark of shame to me as a person and to the entire nation.”
He said the concerns of the current administration have been two-fold: “to find an empirical means of getting the actual figures and best ways of reducing the number to the barest minimum, adding that Nigeria has one of the highest number of out-of-school children in Sub-Saharan Africa and perhaps in the world and ranked only second to Pakistan.
However, Adamu said the Buhari administration has injected about N1.3 trillion into the education sector in the last administration.
“The UBEC interventions in states have recorded a total of N350 billion, while TETFund and needs assessment interventions have recorded N857 billion with the main ministry and other agencies recording N86 billion totalling N1.3 trillion in the last four years.
“This is aside from the N25 billion just approved for public universities. These figures have nothing to do with personnel and overhead costs in the education sector, which are also well over a trillion naira,” he said.
He explained that the N25 billion was recently released to public universities to pay earned academic allowances of lecturers.
However, university dons and educators, who have been monitoring the sector, think that the country is a major league disappointment and lags many years behind its contemporaries like India, Malaysia and Singapore for transformational leadership.
In his submission, the President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Biodun Ogunyemi told THISDAY that in spite of its flag independence in 1960, Nigeria is yet to experience true freedom.
“The former colonial powers still influence major political and economic decisions in terms of policy directions. The Nigerian ruling class has not demonstrated capacity for independent problem-solving and national development. Most Nigerian politicians are anything but statemen and statewomen. They place self-interest above national interest. They think of the next elections in place of next generation. They see politics as investment from which they must make maximum return on investment and not a call to service of the nation and humanity.”
He expressed concern that members of the Nigerian ruling class manipulate ethnic and religious sentiments to their advantage by promoting a political culture, which makes it difficult for younger Nigerians to see good role models that the country critically needs for patriotism, nation building and national development.
“The ruling class has failed to cut the umbilical cord tying Nigeria to the western imperialist powers. For as long as the country’s model of economic development is dictated by the Bretton Woods institutions like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, so long shall Nigerians remain enslaved by agents of Africa’s former colonisers, whose interest is principally how to cart away the enormous resources of the country through debt traps and anti-people policies.
“These agents of the Washington consensus and neo-liberalism discourage government from funding life-enhancing programmes like public education, healthcare, housing and transportation. Nigeria is endowed with enormous human and natural resources. Other countries in the whole world look at Nigeria with envy and expect the transformation of the African continent to begin with the country. However, this will not happen until Nigeria produces leaders who are committed to confronting her political, economic and socio-cultural challenges which have made it impossible for the country to realise her full potential as a great country.”
The Chairman, Linkage Committee, Achievers University, Owo, Ondo State, Professor Ibiyinka Solarin described Nigeria as a disappointment to itself, the long suffering citizenry, the African world and all those who wish the country well.
He stressed the need for citizens to keep hope alive, saying, “the worst sin to commit is the sin of despair.”
He called for the revamping of the curricula in tertiary institutions, practicum in all fields, adding that the government must also allow private universities to access TETFund so as to ensure massive research.
“Look at what Redeemers University did on Ebola. It is inexcusable that private universities cannot access TETFund. Universities exist to proffer answers to societal problems. There should be seamless synergy between government, industry and academic as a national policy. There has to be ‘GAIN’; that is Government, Academics and Industry.”
A former Rector, Lagos State Polytechnic, Chief Olawumi Gasper regretted that at 59 years of independence, “our universities have failed us”, saying that many universities have not and are not fulfilling their mandates of teaching, research and community development.
“At the pedestrian level of teaching, you wonder which universities and specifically which lecturers marked those scripts that certified most of these graduates as fit and proper to be awarded the degrees they hold.
“Universities are primarily supposed to be centres which thrive on the passion in knowledge gaining and transfer and societal development.”
He told THISDAY that there is need for stakeholders to convene a town hall session that will be designed to resolve to build universities with the right and eminently qualified staff who have passion for education, excellence and breakthroughs.
“We must make our universities truly universal, and of highest standards to enable them solve societal problems; come up with innovations and push out meaningful research findings that will address the huge challenges of youth unemployment.
“Major issue of incessant strikes must be put behind us in order to get better and effective results for products of our institutions. There must be reorientation to provide insight or a way forward for the government, staff unions and students.”
Gasper, who is the President of Universal Learn Direct Academia (ULDA), opined that government’s grants and interventions must address specific matters of the country’s economic and social challenges and be prepared to fund those ideas or actions relevant to societal needs.