Daily Trust (Abuja)

1 December 2012

Nigeria: Mr. President's Latest Joke (I)

opinion

In every house or community, there's always one slacker who doesn't bring quite as much to the table as everybody else; and in a nation full of slackers such as Nigeria, there are no bigger slackers than our professors in the academia. They don't contribute anything to the nation: they do no research, they think they're too important to teach and they're the most spineless fools you can find - which is why they don't bother to speak truth to power.

It was reported last week that Mr. President had announced he would mandate a committee to look into why Nigerian universities are not among the top 100 in the world. However, the committee like the others before it is not needed. The president could easily have asked the NUC or the minister of education to answer that question. Or he could have asked himself since he was a university teacher before he joined politics. Or he could have asked the authors of the rankings such as the Times Higher Education to give him the 13 indicators used for the ranking. However, it's not even necessary to consult all these people when only a five minutes' voyage to the webpage of such rankings would reveal the criteria that were used for the rankings and so reveal why Nigerian universities are not on the lists.

However, if Mr. President finds it difficult to undertake any of the aforementioned steps - since all simple solutions are fashioned into intractable atomic physics conundrum in Nigeria, he should hire me, not the committee, I would take half of the money, do "serious" research and turn in the report in the fastest possible time, say, two months.

But the fact that Mr. President finds it necessary for the committee to do such work is itself one of the reasons why we're not on the list; it's an indictment of our universities; it's a statement on the vapid minds our universities produce and how useless our universities and their products have become. Seriously! This guy holds a PhD!

However, it appears our universities don't really understand what a PhD is. Or what a PhD researcher does. That's why when they send out their lecturers abroad for postgraduate degrees, they prevent them from doing inter-disciplinary research - forgetting that the world has left Nigeria behind.

This problem of interdisciplinary research is what we shall concern ourselves with today. But first, what is the essence of a PhD? A doctor of philosophy is a training in research. It's a certification that an individual has the capability to start a career in research work. And we do research in order to find answers to problems. Therefore if you earn a doctor of philosophy, you're exported to be a problem solver (since philosophy is a problem solving enterprise), a soldier in thinking and a critical consumer of knowledge; but most importantly, you can do research i.e. you CAN solve problems.

Yet, you can't find a place that's most problem infested in Nigeria like our academia. To boot, the researchers in those institutions are incapable of solving the problems.

Our universities are underfunded. That's a problem, solve it. Our universities are troubled by cultists. That's a problem, solve it. Our graduates lack practical and soft skills. That's a problem, solve it. Students do not see their final results on time, that's a problem, solve it. University of Ilorin has solved this one, but masses of problems remain in our universities that are left unsolved for decades.

However, if someone comes from outside the academia to solve a problem, many professors would come out to give theories why that solution is not possible. This it-can't -be -done mindset explains why our university system has not done anything to solve anything.

Look at our presidents produced from academia. Are they qualitatively superior to those outside the system? What about the ministers? Many would argue that they're even worse. My state recently offered the nation a professor to head the ministry of agriculture; but he was a big disappointment to those of us who know him. He didn't bring one reasonable enduring solution to the sector throughout his stay.

One of the reasons why our universities have this attitude is because of their close- minded approach to interdisciplinary research.

I attended an inaugural lecture just before writing this column where the professor said that his motivation to do research in medical imaging came about when a friend challenged him to use his knowledge of imaging to analyze cancer. Now he's a world renowned expert in the field of breast cancer imaging. He's created machines and he's created techniques to help doctors mitigate the malady of cancer sufferers -all in a field that if it were in Nigeria, he would have nothing to do with.

To be continued.

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