Our universities are as much, reflections of our society. Rumours are churned out from very fertile and creative minds.
As Vice-chancellor I recognized the rumour mills as resources that should be channelled to some use, and so we started a creative writing competition. The idea was simple: Put these rumours into some organic manner and submit them as entries to the creative writing exercises.
Competent persons were invited to manage the process and in about three to four rounds, prizes were awarded for poetry, short stories, and drama. Nigerians are creative and it is not for nothing that we created a whole thriving industry in Movies and our Nollywood.
This has become a very important sector of the Nigerian economy, creating many jobs, directly and indirectly. And from nothing but just our creative minds, in which a whole lot comes from among others, our stories, gossip, and rumours.
Is this a comparative advantage? Not a bad idea for a country to build her development around resources we have in abundance and not what we learnt from the colonialists: development is supposedly driven by resources we are short on, while we consume other people’s food, wear other people’s clothes, use medicines imported from others, and transport by means built by others, etc., and then complain about unemployment, poverty, and insecurity. In the more serious parts of the world the intellectual elite, the universities, and the research institutions, liaise with the state and the private sector and drive the direction of society.
But our universities from the beginning were to train those who will be offered employment by others. It is called entrepreneurship. We have not been able to re-invent and adapt the idea and culture of the university to drive our society on the path that has become imperative. The Nigerian university system, especially her public universities are gradually becoming mired in emergent irrelevance.
Now, ask our academics to each suggest one entrepreneurship opportunity from his discipline that a young graduate can embark on, and not bother seeking someone to employ him or her. Maybe those in the Anatomy programme will embark on Mortuary Business, certainly a sector not doing badly in Nigeria. Kenyatta University in Nairobi Kenya provides excellent services in this area. Nigerian universities and even the private sector can learn from that.
What about the others. So, we teach entrepreneurship? What is taught? Ok. Teach how to make beads, bangles, cakes, etc. to all students. Those skills were obtained from the vocational schools of old.
Why not challenge us to think deeper and broader, and locate entrepreneurship in each of the disciplines? When someone graduates with a BSc in Microbiology, Biochemistry, Zoology, Botany, Philosophy, English, Igbo, etc., what are the possible uses of the education obtained for entrepreneurial opportunities implied? Maybe some should get an Umbrella and a Chair and sell phone recharge cards.
This is common in Nigeria today that you wonder if one needs four years in university to end-up selling recharge cards on street corners.
How can we develop start-ups relevant to what we have studied? What indeed is a country without thinking (really thinking and not imagining we are thinking) elite? Elite across board – Political, economic, intellectual, financial, religious, etc. elites? What indeed is a country without a thinking elite?
Suppose we made these simpler
What other options but strikes? We can borrow a leaf from the 1996 ASUU strike in the Abacha era. ASUU not only called off the strike but decided not to embark on a strike so long as the government then was in power.
In the days following Abacha, ASUU got better at what she had been striking about.
Yet on the 2022 ASUU strike
It seems the politicians have moved ahead. The focus is on the 2023 elections, and governance may be a distraction to some. When you wink at a blind man, what do you seek to achieve? You are in a world of your own. Some kind of monologue.
Suppose ASUU calls off the strike for the sake of our children, indeed, with a historical position for the records. For our children.
Suppose ASUU takes front page adverts in say, 4 to 6 nationally circulating Newspapers, presenting her salaries as of 2015 compared to today, converted to dollars, against the aspiration of a world-class comparable university system. Suppose ASUU puts this as front-page adverts.
Suppose ASUU puts a comparison with salaries at Afe Babalola University or even Niger Delta University in Nigeria. Suppose ASUU publishes research grants available to lecturers in Covenant University (a private university in Nigeria) and compares that with any Federal University. Suppose ASUU puts up a comparison with salaries in some African countries such as Ghana or Togo or…? Suppose ASUU presents the salaries of Drivers and Gatemen in NNPC, CBN, etc, compared to our professors.
The other side to this, is suppose ASUU looks at the date of commencement of Private Vs Public Universities each semester, lecturers, and students’ presence in classrooms from the beginning of a semester to the end of the semester, the quality of questions and quality of grading, the availability of results as students’ rights and not a favour done to students?
Suppose ASUU insists on her members getting on globally visible platforms with their research so that some basic statistics used in ranking researchers and universities become available to ranking bodies, and our universities become better ranked. Suppose as some suspect that many of the colleagues have not much to offer on such global platforms.
Suppose ASUU appeals to the conscience of the ruling class. Suppose ASUU leaves-off other issues beyond the welfare of her members for now. Suppose ASUU insists on other issues outside her members’ welfare and goes on to examine the use of whatever she has achieved in the past by the political class and leadership of the universities.
Suppose ASUU insists on each university respecting carrying capacities and our universities do not over admit students, and so deals with this matter of excess workloads? Suppose ASUU looks at data on the student population submitted for accreditation and relates that to statistics presented for claiming excess workloads.
Suppose ASUU moderates her position and supports additional charges by the universities on students and parents?
Would these lead to a better university system comparable to our neighbours in West Africa, Africa, and maybe the global south, before our often-mouthed aspiration to world-class? Suppose indeed?
Prof. Nwajiuba was Vice-Chancellor of the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike between February 2016-February 2021 firstname.lastname@example.org