President Muhammadu Buhari has been called upon to sustain the good work it has started towards retrieving Nigeria’s university system from sinking further into the abyss by taking urgent measures to pass into law the Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed Blueprint for the rapid revitalisation of university education in Nigeria.
Vice Chancellor of the Admiralty University in Nigeria, Asaba, Prof. Paul Omaji made the call at a lecture he presented at the 2022 Distinguished Annual Public service Lecture of the University of Ibadan Alumni Association (UIAA), Asaba chapter.
The lecture entitled ‘Revitalizing University Education – The Leadership Question”, Prof. Omaji lamenting the loss of vitalit in Nigeria’s university education system that has brought the system to its sorry pass in the last 30 years, put the blame squarely on the failure of political leadership and institutional leadership.
He said: “In the last 30 years, it is the failure of the political leadership that has plunged university education in Nigeria into several challenges, including the funding crisis; inadequacies in access as well as facilities for teaching, learning and research; and deficiencies in research and post graduate training.
“In the mid-1985s, governments in Nigeria took International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans and implemented its structural adjustment programmes. They did so in a manner that seriously devalued and defunded higher education. Although the strategy was upturned in the early 1990s, the misadventure had gone far enough to foster the destruction of the then outstanding educational systems in
Nigeria. “The unfettered political interference, under the guise of necessary structural adjustments, resulted in, among other things, some Professors being made political Vice Chancellors and their professorial positions were politically influenced. The ensuing suppression of university autonomy, the silencing of intellectual voices and the unpredictable salary environment, gave rise to a mass exodus of many brilliant lecturers from the Nigerian university system. Some left to join the rat race in the business world and others left Nigeria.”
He continued: “The IMF influence also encouraged the Nigerian government and members of the ruling class to make Nigeria a dumping ground for imported products in the name of economic liberalisation, away from the then prevailing indigenisation policy. Coupled with the Nigerian government then preferring to patronise foreign firms, even in simple projects, allegedly in return for 10% kickback, local industries lost the market to support employment of university graduates and Universities lost the opportunities to hone in on locally developed technologies or tap into technology transfer by foreign firms manufacturing in Nigeria.
“The failure of the political leadership at the federal level, which has contributed to the loss of vitality in university education, also manifested in unstable ministerial appointments for education. From 1960 to 2022, a period of 62 years, there have been 46 ministers (26 – senior and 20 – junior). The senior ministers served on average for two years, four months. Between 2001 and 2010, a period of 9 years, it was even a quicker turnover. There were 8 senior ministers, serving on average for one year, one month. This has severely inhibited continuity in implementation of university improvement (revitalisation) plans.
“Since each [minister]wanted to be remembered for improvement plans literally named after him or her, the education space became littered with a staccato of such plans which were hardly scratched by way of implementation (NUC, 2019, p10).”
Also linking the abysmal situation of Nigerian university to “institutional leadership problem, Prof Omaji took his audience through the Prof. John Henry Newman, a 19th century Oxford University academic’s picture of the university, among other things, as the place in which the intellect may safely range and speculate, where inquiry is pushed forward, discoveries verified and perfected, rashness rendered innocuous and error exposed by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge, he said:
“Regrettably, the failure of the institutional leadership of universities 10 to enact this core corporate objective, has compounded the challenges bedeviling university education. In particular, such failure gives rise to deficits in teacher quality and quantity, lack of entrepreneurship, depressed quality of graduates, as well as academic corruption and other social vices”.
Talking further about academic corruption and other social vices, Omaji contended that part of the lamentations over the dwindling fortunes of university education is that, whereas the institutional leadership in the universities of the 1960s, 70s and 80s enforced godly values and modelled uprightness in offices and classrooms, such leadership in the last 30 years has abdicated this responsibility. By so doing, they have allowed the ills of admission racketeering, cultism, sexual harassment, ‘sex-for-marks’ and exam malpractices or purchase of degrees/certificates in cash or in kind without mastering what it takes to be worthy of the degree/certificates, to thrive. “That leadership failure has betrayed their institutions and exerted additional toll on the running down of the university education,” the Vice Chancellor said.
He observed that in the last decade of the last 30 years that the Buhari administration seemed to have changed this narrative, when he made a commitment to reverse the decline in 2016, when the Minister of Education, mallam Adamu Adamu directed the new Executive Secretary, Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed to work within the Ministerial Strategic Plan 2016-2019 to begin the process of developing a Blueprint for rapid revitalization of university education in Nigeria.
According to Omaji, Prof. Rasheed in turn, tasked the NUC Strategy Advisory Committee (STRADVCOM) to develop the Blueprint, pointing out that the ensuing document presented a five-year revitalisation plan (2019-2023), even as It determined and ranked 12 challenges facing the university system at this time.
Umoji said: “Further, it distilled 10 strategic goals – including increased access, curriculum relevant for the production of high-level human resources, upgrade of facilities for teaching, learning and research, increase in globally competitive productivity by scholars, reduction of academic corruption, and enactment of a sustainable funding model for universities. The cost of implementing these goals was put at N823 billion, shared as 75% from proprietors; 20% from IGR; and 5% from other sources, including alumni, endowment and donors.
“Okebukola (2019) likened this Blueprint, which is part of what he christened – the Rasheed Revolution in the Nigerian university system – to the Marshall Plan of 1947 that was enacted to rebuild the economies and spirit of Western Europe which were battered during the World War II. He said the Blueprint had been receiving global endorsement and support, such as the French Development Agency (AFD) and the World Bank offering miscellaneous support for the implementation of the ten strategic goals of the Blueprint.”
While admitting that truly, a critical look at the Blueprint showed that it is a well thought-out revitalization plan which, if fully implemented, can reasonably create the stable conditions for university education to thrive again in Nigeria. “However, the budget allocation to education by the Buhari administration since 2016 seems to be telling a different story,” Prof. Omaji said, adding that “The allocation has varied from year to year between 5.6% and 7.9%, averaging about 6.5%, which is far below the UNESCO benchmark of 15%-26%.
“Further, it is not clear from the Blueprint whether the N620 billion share of the N823 billion cost of implementation that accrues to the Federal Government is part of, or additional to, the annual budget allocation that is already far low – not to talk of the actual releases which are lower still.”
For Omaji, the way out is for President Muhammadu Buhari to show political will, saying: “To demonstrate that the Buhari administration has acted bona fide in relation to this unique revitalisation plan, it should ensure that the Blueprint is passed into law. That was one action the US President Harry Truman took, i.e. getting the recovery plan signed into law, which made it possible for the Marshall Plan to be very successful.”
As an admonition, Omaji said: “No matter how robust and genuine the interventions by the political leadership might be, university education could still continue to flounder in distressing challenges if the institutional leadership within the Universities fails to tow the path of virtuousness.”