The destiny of a nation is in its education. I know this statement sounds clichéd, but it is always right. Some undergraduate and postgraduate research projects gathering dust on the shelves of supervisors and the libraries in various Nigeria univerisities are good enough to change the fortune of our country. Some of them contain indigenous solutions, useful data, inventions and creative thoughts for a trillion-dollar, homegrown economy. The sad thing is, even supervisors of these projects are sometimes unaware of the potentials in the research because they are overworked. They have too many students to supervise, little attention is paid to details for each of them, and some, have to teach at different private universities to make ends meet. The ones with international clout are too busy to teach. For the most part, once you become a full Professor, your duty seems to reduce. You tend to delegate more of your responsibility to junior faculties. You tend to be more into administrative work than actually teaching, researching and supervising. You get the proverbial leg room in the university system. Everybody respects a professor; it takes a lot to be one. With a few exception, it seems to be a point at which a lot of our scholars become less involved research-wise. It looks like the time to sit back and enjoy the fruit of your labor instead of getting back on the grind. And to be sincere, being an academic in Nigeria is hard labor with little to no reward.
In spite of Incessant ASUU strike, the successive Nigerian government (military and civilian alike) has made sure that education sector is the least-funded because they could hardly see the value of research as it affects society. In a country where people don’t understand the value of studying in the humanities, education and every other branch of knowledge, except medicine, engineering and maybe law; you can be sure it is not a knowledge society. As an undergrad and a graduate student in one of the best and most reputable University on the continent, University of Ibadan, I could tell that the indoctrination is not to connect the town with the gown in your work, the goal is to graduate with a certificate needed for securing a job. Even some students who manage to carry out groundbreaking research may not even know how important their work may be to solving and curing diseases, revolutionalizing how we run things in different sectors of the economy—Agricultural, financial and even the downstream sectors. Imagine a Botany student studying a particular plant with potentials to cure HIV/AIDS or heal cancer. Imagine a philosopher whose research is on how we might develop a system of thought for seeking African solution to African problems. Imagine a literary scholar facilitating a project on therapeutic literature for patients with a terminal illness. Imagine a Peace and Conflict research on how to tackle the growth of terrorist organizations. Imagine Urban and Regional planning/GIS research on turning riverine communities into canal cities. I’m sure that there are researches done already on these things I mentioned. The problem is a lot of people will not even consider them essential to merit government or private sector attention. Just imagine the range of possibilities that a university offers!
When people complain that the standard of education has fallen, I almost always want to refute that claim. It has not fallen, it has only lost its focus and relevance to the modern world. The questions to ask are many. What kind of education are we receiving? What is the social philosophy that drives our educational institutions? What is the point of producing engineers only to invite Chinese construction companies to build our roads, railway lines, monuments, and buildings? What is the plan for providing local content? What is the point of having many tertiary institutions that are understaffed, overworked, sometimes, poorly trained and underpaid and yet we expect productivity? What is the point of going to school at all, if it has no direct connection with developing a knowledge society in tune with the 21st century? What is the investment the government is making in producing and motivating teachers across the board? How many are the tech-driven public and institutional libraries with well-funded, well-stocked up-to-date materials to advance frontiers of knowledge? Beside foreign funding like McArthur foundation for select universities, what kind of local investment do we have for these libraries? What kind of local knowledge do we shelve in them? We are not short of incredibly smart scholars who are working within these constraints to produce valuable research, the question is, has there been any government with deliberate intent to seek out such projects and how they might help to build the society?
No serious nation on earth can develop with the help of another country. We are responsible for what we become. Nigeria has the human and material resources as well as the capacity to be among the greatest nations in the world if we begin to get our acts together. Our education has to shed the colonial garb and pretense of modernity it has. It has to be reinvented to speak to our reality and designed to find a Nigerian solution to Nigerian problem. American education is, first and foremost, for America. British education system is from Britain. German education system is for Germany. Chinese educational institutions are for China. But they are all producing knowledge that continues to impact the world. When you drive a Mercedes Benz, you should think about German engineers and their school system. When you drive a Toyota, it is thanks to Japanese education system. We don’t have to attain the levels these countries have, overnight. But we have to start working our way out of the 17th century. Any technological gadget we own are produced elsewhere, how about we create something of our own for the rest of the world? I have watched how foreign leaders will come to Nigeria to tell us we have great potentials and possibilities to rub shoulders with developed economies. The crème de la crème of society are always in attendance. They would applaud and congratulate themselves for this recognition. But that’s where it ends—potential. Education tailored towards unleashing the potential is the bedrock for a meaningful development. It has to start from the elementary, secondary, technical, polytechnics, universities and into the informal modes of indigenous knowledge that are uniquely Nigerian.