By Tunde Akanni PhD
To say that the post-secondary education tier has most tortuously struggled to endure the recent years in Nigeria may amount to an understatement. There’s perhaps no stronger evidence of this than the choice of the theme of the convocation lecture of Modibbo Adama University, Yola delivered Friday, May 12, 2023.
Understandably and gratuitously too, the lecture was titled “Nigerian University System and the Public Good”. It was delivered by a renowned public intellectual and polyglot, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim.
The lecturer identified as current major challenges of the university the problem of poor financing crippling universities’ ambition of recruiting and even retaining the services of quality staff, engaging in relevant research as well as providing a conducive atmosphere for learning and research, especially with incessant strikes as well as the deepening corrupt practices of the administrators.
This is not to talk of unfathomable sabotage such as relating to the recent strike of the Academic Staff of Universities, ASUU. As I write, there is a backlog of salaries owed members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, who had gone on strike for almost one year owing to sheer insensitivity of the relevant but nebulous authorities.
However, the multi-dimensional governance challenges of the higher education, not only universities, remain with us, not even dressed with any cosmetic application. Not a few other sectors are similarly beleaguered but the Buhari team clearly seem overwhelmed with President Buhari himself confessing his eagerness to return to his Daura home. But the King isn’t the state!
The in-coming government cannot afford to pretend that it does not envisage a huge work in the higher or tertiary education sector. The orchestrated government of competence promised by the president-elect, Bola Tinubu, as opposed to the politically favoured government of national unity, must therefore pay attention to the prescriptions of dedicated researchers, if it genuinely seeks to dispense services of competence.
Way back in 2020, the higher education czar with inimitable record of service delivery, both as a vice-chancellor and currently as the registrar of the Joint Admissions and Matricualtion Board, JAMB, Prof Is-haq Oloyede, volunteered what appear to be indispensable nuggets. They are all ignored till date.
In line with the global best practices, he had noted that the higher education landscape in Nigeria “requires a total overhaul so that it can effectively achieve the purpose of partaking in the development of the nation”. He specifically argues that the coordinating department for Higher Education at the Federal Ministry of Education falls far short of the current needs for emphasis on research. Like several other countries with proper reckoning for higher education therefore, a Federal Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation should be established to replace the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology which used to be a department in Education Ministry.
Incidentally, another scholar, interestingly of engineering inclination, Prof Idris Bugaje recently noted that it is rather pathetic that the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology has not been able to record any serious accomplishment since its inception. Indeed, the tragedy is that the rather idle parastatals under the ministry have been cesspool of corruption with cases of improper promotions and certificate forgeries.
Bugaje who is the incumbent boss of the National Board of Technical Education, NBTE, particularly wonders why Nigeria will deliberately insist on underutilizing its research institutes by not, like Oloyede also notes, deliberately linking them with universities where established researchers are ever readily available to give relevant directions. Elsewhere Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, Prof Tunde Lawal Salako, states that it may probably work better if Nigeria has a clear policy of directing universities too to co-opt and collaborate with research institutes. He regrets that a few times that NIMR, under him, has reached out to some universities has not been successful. According to him, not only does this retard intellectual and general progress and development, it also denies researchers based at research institutes the opportunity of becoming professors which is the dream of every researcher.
Nigeria’s deliberate choice of confusion over the years with regards to tertiary education actually beats logic. You find the government here setting up a number of research institutes yet refusing to connect them with universities whose primary responsibilities should be research administration and governance. Prior to the current statutory responsibilities of the Federal Ministry of Education, the same ministry was referred to as the Federal Ministry of Education Science and Technology only for the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to be excised yet with no clear mandate in relation to the Higher Education sector.
Higher Education experts including the renowned historian, Ade Ajayi had campaigned rigorously for synergy between Higher Education and Research, and therefore, Federal Ministry of Higher Education and even as the campaign progressed, Federal Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research, Technology and Innovation. Far from this laudable and patriotic moves, the Federal ministry of Science and Technology was created and mandated to coordinate major research institutes, which ironically resort to ad hoc support of university based researchers.
Describing the resultant situation as “…cacophony of tertiary education in Nigeria” Oloyede notes that that there is an awareness among experts in the field of higher education that science and technology are hardly separable and in like manner, higher learning cannot be distinctly compartmentalized into science and humanities. According to him, the interdependence of different knowledge areas manifests significantly in such disciplines as science education, social sciences, architecture, classics and jurisprudence.
To avoid unwarranted schism or dichotomy in the higher education sector especially at the level of the university, Oloyede posits that the nation’s university system would be the better for it if the universities being established by the security agencies, (except three which are highly specialised) are mainstreamed possibly by renaming them and making them run under the umbrella of the relevant ministry like the rest of their counterparts owned by the same government.
On the whole, for clarity of roles and responsibilities and perhaps in the spirit of nomenclatural and allied reforms granted the former Ministry of Communication Technology (adding up Digital Economy and the former Ministry of Aviation (which has added up Aerospace), the education sector deserves no less. To avoid any likely complication, the JAMB boss further recommends that as a first step, the Federal Ministry of Education can be made to have two separate but coordinated arms, in similitude with Finance, Budget and National Planning, with “one Minister of Education and a Minister of State for Education for each of the:
a) Reformed Higher Education, Research and Innovation(current Federal Ministry of Science and Technology); and
b) Educational Services, Basic and Secondary Education”
Indeed, in line with the spirit of democracy and what some may prefer to label surrender value, Oloyede’s concern is so strong that he feels that, if only for reason of sustainability, “the state governors, the National Council on Education and representatives of of each of the political parties as well as labour and major professional associations should be active participants of a national extraordinary assembly on the much desired reactivation of education in Nigeria.
The ball, as they say, is now in the court of the imminent self-proclaimed government of national competence.
Tunde Akanni, PhD, associate professor of journalism at the Lagos State University is also multi-sectoral development expert of repute. Follow him on Twitter @AkintundeAkanni.