Why public universities are failing Nigeria
Hugh Latimer, was one of the leading lights of the English Reformation, which started as revolt against papacy but ended up revolutionizing all aspects of British life. Much of it was centred around Oxford and Cambridge where Latimer, at one time or another studied and taught. I thoroughly align myself with Latimer that a nation which fails to maintain its schools and universities will eventually evolve into a brutal society.
In Nigeria today, the current leaders – Presidents, Governors, Ministers, Commissioners, University Councils, Visitors, lecturers and even student leaders – are in the process of bequeathing to posterity institutions which are unworthy of being called universities for reasons too numerous to discuss in one column. Permit me therefore to address only two; both of which are linked as a matter of fact.
A few weeks ago, in my column about Lagos State University, LASU, I made reference to one of my nephews who started at LASU, moved quickly, with my support, to University of Ife, as it was then called, and graduated two years ahead of his colleagues at LASU on account of incessant shut down of the Lagos university. A day after it was published, Professor Ajibade Rokosu, former Chairman and now Trustee of WAKA CLUB 1945, the first indigenous club in Lagos, saw me at the Club and told me (what I already knew), that Akintunde Ogunmodede was the student, and he, Professor Rokosu, was instrumental to his admission at LASU.
He, of course, considered Akintunde’s transfer to Ife as labour lost, at the time. I was certain it was in my nephew’s interest. We both agree now that the best decision was made at the time. But, this column is not being written for self-congratulation. On the contrary, Professor Rokosu proceeded to shed light on why LASU as well as ALL Nigerian public universities are in danger of failing in their missions to the country. I hope one day to publish a full interview with Professor Rokosu later on. But for now permit me to summarise what I learnt. He gave as the major reason for the decline in our universities on the absence of “university culture”.
According to “Prof”, Nigerian public universities are not only in sad shape but will continue to decline as long as they lack the universally acknowledged university culture – which rests on three legs.
These, not necessarily in order of importance include: recognition of the Vice Chancellor as only the first among several equals and not a Lord and Master; all major decisions taken by established committees (finance, admission, promotion, conferment of degrees, grievance settlement, disciplinary etc) consisting of individuals (s)elected by their colleagues based on their expertise, leadership qualities and, above all, integrity; the members of the committees, in turn are expected, in the discharge of their duties, to be impartial and impersonal.
Thus, all decisions, as much as humanly possible, arise from generally accepted principles of governance of a university by the academic and non-academic staff, as well as students of the university. While not pretending to have covered the whole gamut of what constitutes the kernel of the university culture, it should be clear to discerning readers where and when the devil invaded “the Garden of Eden”.
It all started with the introduction of VISITORS. Visitors, including military and civilian presidents and governors have busted up the universally accepted university culture by making political appointees, not just VCs, who become untouchables to the disciplinary committees. Yet we all know, that “order is the first law in heaven”. With discipline all but gone, all those working in our universities labour in vain to build world standard institutions.
Chips Of The Old Blocks — Students
And just as this piece was being prepared, a call came in from Jos. The caller wanted to thank me for the series in the SUNDAY VANGUARD about my long experience with Buhari. He is a Southerner and Christian who had followed the events of 1984. The long conversation soon digressed to his observations about the Students Associations in Nigerian universities.
Specifically, the man was concerned about how candidates for positions in Students’ Unions are taking their bearings from their parents in the political arena in three ways – bribery, violence and embezzlement. For bribery, he cited the example of a candidate for the President of the Students Union, who brought a tanker of kerosene to distribute to fellow students.
This was followed with other bribes. Another came to the campus with a convoy of over forty vehicles loaded with people suspected to be thugs to intimidate opponents. Later, a retired non-academic staff of another informed me that none of the last three Presidents in his former university had escaped being indicted for embezzlement of Union funds.
QUESTION: How on earth can we build world class universities with these atrocities on campus? It is simply impossible to carve a master-piece from rotten wood – irrespective of how much effort we put into it.