Prof. Adam Ahmed Okene, a history lecturer at the Nigerian Defence Academy has just returned to Nigeria from Malaysia where he spent a year on sabbatical. In this interview with Ahuraka Yusuf Isa, he compares the education of both countries and gives an insight to how Nigeria can improve on hers.
YOU WERE RECENTLY IN A MALAYSIAN UNIVERSITY FOR YOUR SABBATICAL AS AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR. WHY DID YOU OPT FOR YOUR ACADEMIC LEAVE IN THAT COUNTRY?
There are several reasons for taking a year visiting appointment in Malaysia. It was to see the developmental trend in a vastly growing economy; collaborate with scholars of Asia in terms of teaching and research; to have a firsthand information in the educational sector of a prominent Southeast Asian country so as to serve as bases of comparism with Nigeria’s and to also have the opportunity to assess the performance of Nigerian students in Malaysian universities s well as to explore more academic opportunities and to familiarize with first class facilities which you know are the hallmark of most universities of Malaysia.
BASED ON YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE SYSTEMS OF EDUCATION IN NIGERIA AND MALAYSIA, HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THE TWO GENERALLY?
We had our education when it could be compared remarkably with others in the world. From primary school to Degree level, I was taught variously by both local and foreign teachers and scholars. In a community secondary school at Ihima – Okehi local government of Kogi State in the late 70s, I had Ghanaians and Indians as teachers. In the mid 80s at Beyero University, Kano, I had lecturers from UK & USA and one even supervised my B.A dissertation. So, there was quality and standard in teaching facilities, resource persons and campus environment. That is why products of those years fit into any structure of the academic world. You and I know that the opposite is the case in the current situation. Education has been so bastardised in Nigeria due to systematic but corrosive neglects and one sees non performance. Universities can’t even afford to employ international scholars because of lack of adequate/appropriate facilities, poor remuneration and unfriendly social environment. Scholars from even African countries like South Africa and Kenya will not want to take up teaching appointments in Nigeria due largely to poor pay. Corruption, illiteracy at official level and over politicization of our education system and universities in particular have combined to destroy Nigeria’s education platform, social system and expectedly, political economy in cyclical order. There is nothing to compare with Malaysian universities except that Nigeria has very dedicated academics that nevertheless lack adequate exposure due to poor internal infrastructures and students who suffer so much to get knowledge that are increasingly becoming obsolete.
WITH THE CULTURAL IMPLICATION IN THE NIGERIAN SETTING, DO YOU CONSIDER IT WORTHWHILE THAT NIGERIA SHOULD PLACE MORE PREMIUMS ON PRIVATE INITIATIVE AND PARTICIPATION IN EDUCATION?
There is no doubt that the so called PPI is desirable and should indeed be encouraged. This is still happening, especially at university level where I am used to. However, Nigerians are aware that government has continued to emphasise this in order to run away from their social responsibilities. But all over the world, education is the cardinal purview of the government because of its direct and frontal connection with all the other sectors. In fact, in all serious developing economies like Malaysia, Singapore, Brazil, Australia and Indonesia, government almost single handedly fund public universities and they are doing so successfully. Thus it is least surprising therefore that the best universities in these countries in terms of facilities, quality of scholars, global ranking, e.t.c are the public ones. I visited some of them and one thing that is common among all is the daily presence of government in them. You will see new structures, research fund, programme designs and collaboration. In Malaysia for example, lecturing is considered a high stake job because of the state demand and public expectations from university administrators and lecturers. The government gives so much for the universities and they have to justify the gesture.
IT WAS REPORTED SOME TIME AGO THAT THE SOUTH AFRICAN MINISTER OF EDUCATION HAD TO RESIGN WHEN THERE WAS A SLIGHT DROP IN THE PERFORMANCE OF SECONDARY SCHOOL CERTIFICATE EXAMINATION RESULT. WHY IS IT DIFFICULT TO HOLD THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION RESPONSIBLE FOR THE YEARLY POOR PERFORMANCE IN THE SSCE RESULT IN NIGERIA?
Not just SSCE but for other issues in the education sector that have continuously embarrassed the nation. I think the reasons are diverse. Appointments in Nigeria are politicized and lack of conscience among administrators and offenders are never punished. Administrators, not just in education but in all sectors are never challenged. They do not have target and in most cases, are not mentally developmental. Like all promotions, appointments do not come with KPI.
WITH THE ON-GOING ASUU STRIKE, DON’T YOU THINK FG HAS SUCCESSFULLY BEEN ABLE TO PORTRAY ASUU AS HAVING VERY BIG APPETITE FOR STRIKE THAN TEACHING?
I do not think so. Why do wealthy parent’s especially rich governmental officials take their wards to school abroad? Not necessarily because of ASUU strike but largely due to lack of facilities in our universities. While I agree that ASUU has to evolve other methods of confronting the official insensitivity and general decay in the universities, their agitations are quite genuine and patriotic. Look at remuneration. A senior lecturer’s monthly take home in Malaysia (i.e. a fresh PhD holder) is equivalent to a senior professor’s take home in Nigeria. You can see the difficulty in attracting foreign scholars (even if Nigerians) to Nigeria. At best you pay for their occasional visits to give public lectures and presentations.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES AND HOW CAN THE PROBLEMS BE SOLVED?
I’ll start answering this question by referring you to the recent call by Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that a state of emergency should be declared, I think in the education sector or appropriately in the university system because if you remember, the CBN governor was a guest speaker to Baze University, Abuja, during a public lecturer. Indeed, everything is wrong with Nigeria’s university system. From acute underfunding, lack of adequate and appropriate facilities, to over politicization of the structures. The problems are simply enormous. Underfunding means there is no sufficient money to finance the various activities of the university which includes researches, infrastructures like internal road network, electricity and water (both for laboratory analysis and other use). Lecture halls are not customized and are generally ill equipped and recreational centres are shallow. In the normal circumstances, halls should be customized in such a way that lecture halls are different from reading rooms. Each has its distinctive facilities. Because of lack of facilities, exposure and adequate motivations, most lecturers are backward and lack modern techniques in teaching, research and joint collaboration. Many Nigerian university lecturers are not IT compliant. They lack knowledge in the use of portal system, multimedia equipments; and learning centres (upload and download expertise). Academic publications in most Nigerian universities are still antiquated, pedestrian and utterly local. Our journals are not indexed in world class publishing and indexing organizations like Scopus, Google Scholar, Cabell, Ulrich, EBSCOhost, DOAJ, Index Copernicus, AMICUS, Canadiana, Australian Business Deans Council, ProQuest, PKP Open Archives Harvest, Universe Digital Library, Locks & Wanfang Data. As such, most of our scholars are not well informed about new research openings, outreaches and fellowships circulating in global academic world. Only few Nigerian scholars are involved in International scholarship beyond the shores of Nigeria like visiting appointment and editorial membership of reputable journals and joint research, etc. Most Nigerian scholars are bugged down with daily social survival which is worsened by unavailability or at best, inadequacy of socio scientific facilities like electricity, internet and reputable publishing outfits.
The situations are compounded by poor accreditation methods. Our accreditation system is not accompanied with sincere sanctions and rewards. In normal circumstances, through accreditation, universities are categorized with each level accompanied with cash and facility reward. University administrators know what happens to accreditation in tertiary institutions which is an outright cover up. Our universities are not prepared to face international challenges, thus the non ranking status of most of them. The problems are overwhelming and inexhaustible.
In solving these problems, funding must be improved; teacher’s remuneration should be measured at least with those of developing economies. Only then can we maintain the ones that are willing to stay around while also attracting international scholars. More so, facilities in the universities should be world standard; accreditation by the NUC should take into consideration world benchmarks. It should use the same parameters that are used for global ranking; universities should take into consideration critical needs of the Nigerian economy. Universities should be depoliticized and de-ethinicised, i.e. university should truly be universal. University administrators should be up and doing in seeking for private funding and grants, foreign aids and support, and academic collaboration with bigger universities of the world and above all, promotions/appointments should be accompanied with responsibilities and new challenges. KPI should take into consideration, research efforts in reputable international journals.
WHY IS IT THAT NDA LECTURERS AND NON-ACADEMIC STAFF HAVE NEVER GONE ON STRIKE SINCE IT WAS ESTABLISHED?
NDA is a military university and each staff (academic and non academic) took an undertaking not to go on strike. I think it is better that way for reasons of national security and responsibility.