Nigerian University education, deception and the art of make-believe aka SAKAMANJE By Olatunji Abanikanda

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Nigerian University education, deception and the art of make-believe aka SAKAMANJE By Olatunji Abanikanda

“Ode la n’sagba, Ile kan bi iboo” literally meaning “we portray an outward leadership, while the homefront is in total disarray”.

Let me start this narrative with some of the remarks of the Executive Secretary of NUC at one of the programs he attended;

Education at any level seeks to refine skills, intellect, vision, talents and the mind. “It is akin to fire which transforms gold, iron ore, bronze and other metals into products of infinite shapes and beauty.”

Tertiary education was expected to produce knowledgeable, creative, an innovative and a visionary class of citizens, a central point to Plato’s philosophy for the highest form of education to produce leaders who would guide society towards the attainment of its manifest destiny, including social cohesion, leadership and consensus building at the highest level.

– Prof. Abubakar Adamu Rasheed (NUC Executive Secretary)

I visited Tulane University, New Orleans recently and was astonished at all the banners put up at not more than 10 meters apart. While the central message was to charge their Students to be Audacious, because “Only the Audacious can make big things happen” the University posted all their previous and current regional, national and international achievements as verified by the various sources that did the ranking. The question now is, how many of our Universities could lay verifiable claims to what they are assessed with or they possess?

We got it wrong from the outset, and even the so called accreditation organized to act as a check and balance and quality assurance procedure on the Nigerian University System is a far cry from what it should be. This accreditation scheme actually encourage Universities to engage in so many make-believe, with intent to sway the assessment from their true state to that of an expected or desired state.

While growing up, the “lnspectors” sent to our various primary schools always make unannounced visits and assess our conditions vis a vis assessing our learning conditions, inspecting the Teachers’ notes, evaluating our classrooms, toilets and staff rooms. They end up writing their reports and submitting same to the appropriate supervisory agencies, which will in turn act on the recommendations, including but not limited to sanctions where appropriate and improving the learning condition. They were able to achieve much just because no one can predict when an Inspector could show up! Today I’m proud to be a product of that same public school system and wonder why the supervisory agencies now turn to advertising their coming when in actual fact they want to get the true situation of things. This singular act of pre-arranged assessment has emboldened smart executives to perfect the art of make-believe, the same way our women can completely transform their appearances with a good make-up artist! The truth of the matter is that nothing, absolutely nothing is what it seems! The kind of charade put up to impress the team ranges from fake human and material possession to predefined tutored “students” to interact with the team, which can simply be referred to as “Arrangee” or stealing my little baby’s phrase “Sakamanje”.

To further this game of deception, the meager resources available for the development of our educational system are usually been diverted to several unnecessary ventures just to make us prominent in social circles by deceptive assessment. Journalists, PR practitioners, NGO’s, Politicians and Alumni Associations are not exempted from all these charade just to impress the society. You will be amazed how much true recognition and money will accrue to the University with a small software, invention or standard operating procedures of daily tasks developed by their students, policy recommendations by their staff and patents and discoveries by their researchers, if a fraction of what is currently spent on unnecessary paparazzi are properly channeled! We don’t really need publicity aimed at swaying the public to our side if only we do the simple things we are set up to achieve.

Accreditation of programs in the Nigerian educational sector is the biggest scam bedeviling that sector and the greatest danger confronting the development of the system. Several millions are budgeted and expended for infrastructure and human and capital capacity development of our various institutions on an almost annual basis, but we have all been inundated with different reports bordering on fiscal recklessness, financial impropriety and outright diversion from various universities in the country. This is not to mention the extent of manipulation of administrative and academic records to meet the expectations of the accreditation teams or the blatant fraud of recycling of human and material resources among the various programs under review. It’s so bad that only one befitting office could be “owned” by 4 or 5 different people depending on which program is up for accreditation. In fact some Unit Heads always look forward to these periods since so much money would be allocated to them for “accreditation”, thereby empowering them to be Emperors in its disbursement by taking care of themselves and their stooges and further strangling their enemies (real or imagined) who refused to come and bow to them for a share of the “loot”. In any case that is NOT the thrust of this write up!

This make-believe is so bad now that even individuals within the Nigerian University system go to any length to project false impression about themselves. It is no longer news that some smart guys have taken advantage of this desperation, that we have moved from issues of predatory journals to predatory conferences and lately predatory awards and fellowships! Peer review is no longer appreciated and respected but rather acquisition of questionable and unverifiable awards has become the other of the day.

If you want to know why our graduates remains unemployed, just investigate how their performances were assessed while studying. The quest to graduate with First Class or Second Class (Upper) has moved from the students to their Lecturers and Universities. You will be amazed how many false or forced “First Class” graduates are produced these days, simply because some administrators are wont to infer that the number of such class of degrees assigned is a reflection of the ranking or rating of their tenure. The “false” category are those that did not deserve the scores they are assigned while the “forced” are those who collaterally benefitted from the largess of extra marks to reduce the number of failures. Those who frown at such “Sakamanje” are either removed from teaching or completely ostracized as outcasts simply because they don’t subscribe to the Arrangee results! It is highly embarrassing that even when such are brought to the notice of those in charge, nothing would be done about it. In some instances you will marvel at how one student will have up to 3 versions of results on the same set of subjects, just because the student must read the course of interest. Very soon, the engineers, doctors, pharmacists or even accountants our institutions produce may not be better that the artisans and fake in the professions.

One riddle that is yet to be solved is the fact that the Union/s will always keep our Universities locked under phony excuses of lack of infrastructure and inadequate funding, yet the same members when charged with responsibility of turning the fortune of our education around for the better, will not fare better than those they criticized. Another sad riddle is the fact that in recent times, members of the accreditation teams are actually drawn based on membership of these unions, where they are expected to drive home their points of the twin devil of inadequate funding and lack of infrastructure, but surprisingly almost all programs assessed by them are given accreditation. It is contradictory that people who fight for adequate funding and infrastructure will eventually rate those Universities as high as 85 – 90% in accreditation. So, for how long will these deceptions last?

The only pragmatic and sustainable approach to this deceptive cankerworm is for us to have a paradigm shift from the concept of how we are seen to what we truly are! Let the Nigerian University Commission continue with their accreditation programs but with major modifications to its modus operandi as it is presently run. To this end, I propose the following;

Making several unannounced incognito visits by different teams to the various Universities to truly assess what they have and lack. This will afford NUC the opportunity to have a true assessment of what each University own and loan! And also force the Universities to do the needful in regulating unnecessary drama associated with the Accreditation Jamboree. The NUC may approach the TETFund to finance its quality assurance programs and accreditation, if the reason they inform Universities ahead of time is paucity of funds. The current method is akin to the Police alerting suspected drug traffickers that they will be visiting their den on a specific date!

Assessment of staff strength should not just be by numbers or pyramidal structure but by viewing their credentials, qualifications, competencies vis a vis their respective schedule of duties, teaching load and deliverables. This will ensure that only those who are fit and qualified to handle courses are assigned such courses and discourage the current trend of make-shift lecturers. If indeed the opinion of the NUC Executive Secretary that “The students should be trained to imbibe those attributes which govern inter-personal and political action, consisting of social and legal principles underpinning good citizenship, obligations of political leaders, attitudes and behaviour expected of genuine nationals who would see Nigeria as their constituency rather than those ethnic, religious, sectional and self serving parochial considerations.” is to be achieved, then there MUST be concerted efforts that ONLY those who are fit to train these students are engaged to train them. Can someone who lacks, offer to another? Nemo dat quod non habet!

Universities should also abide by the dictates of their respective conditions of service in the engagement of staff and their appointments and promotion so that it doesn’t just end up as numbers. It is not the number of promotions or appointments made that will judge a University performance but rather the value added to that immediate system and the society.

Admission policy should be revisited and be stringent such that only those who needs to be in the University are truly offered spaces to be students! A review of all current mode of entry becomes imperative because the quest for funds should not drive our system to become a dump site of some sorts. Like I always advocate, University is NOT an all comers thing!

Review of our various programs to reflect the current trend and needs of the nation and modifying them as appropriate without loss of students or jobs is imperative at this point in our checkered academic history. I find it disturbing and at the same time laughable that, now our Universities have decided to be appending their logos and crests in form of “certificates” and “degrees” to strictly and purely informal apprenticeship such as block moulding, bricklaying, painting, welding, carpentry etc. Haba! Has our situation degenerated to that level? Who knows maybe soon, Nigerian Universities will start awarding degrees in Agberoism, Internet Fraud and Yahoo Yahoo too which are far more “financially rewarding” to both the students and their trainers, since the excuse now is lack of funds. I can bet none of the Ivy League universities in the world would engage in that! No top flight University would condescend to a level where it would lower entry requirements and open its gates for people who are hitherto unqualified to be in a University under different guises citing economic reasons. For as long as the Universities engage in remedial programs to short-change better qualified prospective candidates because of affordability of fees by non qualified individuals, shutting our doors against a 278 UME scores to read Medicine, Engineering or Law but opening our doors for those who could afford to pay for the non conventional routes to such courses, no one should be alarmed or surprised that scores would continue to be assigned to “students” rather than students earning same. Also, we should remember that Colleges of Education and Polytechnics are alternatives to those who cannot be accommodated in the University. No one should also complain about half baked graduates because these set of people wouldn’t have passed through the oven in the first instance. The end result would be more unnecessary deaths in the hands of Licensed Killers as Doctors and more building collapse in the hands of certificated Engineers. At the end of the day, we should ask ourselves if the so-called IGR from all these anomalies has ever achieved any tangible purpose, and evaluate it against the ills and disadvantages it comes with.

Would it not be more befitting for our Universities to challenge their students to come with a more economical materials for road construction, rehabilitation and other sundry palliatives for our bad roads? How many has thought of possibility of turning the biggest menace of plastics and weeds on our water ways into better durable product to fix our roads while at the same time rid our drains and waterways of those unwanted guests. Floating a program in Material Science to explore the reusability of some solid waste generated to complement other efforts in having a safer and cleaner environment will generate more fund and less trouble for such universities, since it will retain the patent and get more money from such.

Let us all know that Plato when he broadly classify just Society into three classes corresponding to The Guardians (who are philosophers, and govern the city), The Auxiliaries (who are Soldiers to defend it) and Producers comprising Farmers and Artisans, it was a well thought out philosophy and he expected The Guardians to have an elitist educational background to harness the auxiliaries and Producers. That is an ideal society where the dog wags its tail and not the sorry state we have found ourselves where the tail wags the dogs! Keep cheapening education by making it cash and carry by assigning your diploma and certificates to misfits, while at the same time complaining about the caliber of people ruling us. Let no one complain about NASS budget of N37b to renovate the Assembly complex, while the purported entire budget for education is N48b, you are all complicit by awarding your degrees to the Producers and Auxiliaries to the disadvantage of the Guardians. An apt aphorism in Yoruba describing this anomaly of making Artisans, Guardians is “Imado o ba se bi Elede, a ba ilu je, Eru o ba je Oba, iba ti ku eyan kan soso” literally translated to “if the Wharthog is reared same way as Pig, it would cause wanton destruction in the City, just as installing a slave as king over a town would make the town desolate!”.

In conclusion, can we say that our Universities are poised to achieve what was quoted at the beginning of this post? It’s a big NO! We all know that the intensity of the allegorical fire in the transformation of the listed metals are neither the same nor can be compromised if indeed we desire the real results and not just produce able bodied men and women equipped with a piece of paper as certificates but lacking in all the fundamental and rudimentary principles associated with global University education.

Let NUC quickly review and assess all the programs currently run in Nigerian Universities and spare us all the agonies of taking action after the fact! The various enrollment and the capacity of the various programs vis a vis the Universities carrying capacity in terms of human and infrastructural facilities. This will be proactive rather than wait till when it is beyond repair for them to wield the big stick with its attendant consequences.

Agba ti o ba kehun s’oro, o ma ke’tan sa’re!

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