In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, a Professor of Agricultural Engineering, and former Vice Chancellor, OAU, Ile-Ife, Michael Faborode said Nigeria must be alive to its roles to its citizens, and utilise its universities as the knowledge factories of ideas and innovations for development to take place. He also affirmed the need for the citizens to understand that education is the bedrock of development and commit to it genuinely without pretensions. Excerpts
What is your view about the poor budgetry allocation for the education sector as compared with N369.6bn of 2016 considering the outstanding debt from the 2009 ASUU/FG Agreement and that of ASUP, and how are our universities fulfilling their mandate?
I don't think Nigeria is very serious yet about its education. Poor funding of education traverses the continent of Africa, except for one or two countries who have shown sufficient understanding of the catalytic role that education can play in development. We seem to underestimate the role of education in development. On the one hand, we say all sorts of things either in the public domain or in written documents/publications that education is very important to national development but when it comes to putting funding at the right place, they don't do it.
They want to be comparing our education to those countries that are investing consciously and heavily in education. In spite of where America is today, being so developed, we see the amount of money they are putting into education. When we say education, the basic role of education, in tertiary institutions is to teach, produce the requisite manpower for the economy and those who will actually drive the development to change the country. Those people need to be empowered and that is through teaching and having the necessary skills. Second purpose of higher education is research. The output of their research, the outcomes are the things that will impact on the society and that output of research, you cannot quantify a priory.
You can invest N10 million in research and get billions in the immediate or even in coming years. It will be shortsighted for anyone to say when you invest in education, you want immediate returns. The third function is community service. If you don't do research, there is no way you can actually produce functional and industry-relevant graduates and there is no way they can contribute to development. Among the functions of higher education therefore, research is key and affects the other two functions of teaching and community impact.
Our education has to be very relevant to our national development; solving challenges of health, hunger, poverty, environmental degradation, will enable universities, academia, to make salutary contribution to development. That is the area where we are questioning the relevance of Nigerian universities. How much is our knowledge contributing to solving national and global problems. A country has to be alive to its roles to her citizens, and it can utilize her universities as the knowledge factories of ideas and innovations for her development.
Those who have been the operators of our system are totally unpatriotic, selfish and not committed. They are not committed to using education in the way it will be the bed rock of our development. Our education, particularly higher education, needs the right type of support, so that the institutions can produce the right output (graduates, innovations... .) that will progress the nation and grow the economy, that will banish unemployment.. For Nigeria to develop, we just have to change our attitude rather than looking condescendingly on education. If we do not accord the right pride of place to education, knowledge and innovation, we will not get beyond where we are now, and genuine commitment to adequate funding is key.
How has your association been ensuring that Nigerian universities get equipped with the capability to address some of the current challenges on the way to achieving the Vision 2020 goal?
We have been trying our best within the confines of what we can do in the society. It's one thing to use your talent to give advice, it is something else for the person being advised to take it. If you keep on advising and people keep on making mistakes, you will be frustrated. We continue to put our advise into public domain but too often these people ignore us and they seem to arrogate to themselves the knowledge that they know all. So they ignore proper advise and go by their own selfish desires. That is what guides their understanding and reaction to things.
Selfish primitive accumulation tendencies that anchor corruption. We have had several conferences, fora, policy dialogue and we try to engage directly and bring the issues to the fore. We engage directly with those in authority and try to tell them what to do. But too often, they do what is in their minds. So, Vision 2020 goals remain a pipe dream. The national science and technology policy of 2012 says we need to produce scientists and engineers to drive national development, it projects that we must produce 2000 PhDs every year to have the requisite number to meet the goals we set for ourselves, yet there is no synergy between that Ministry and the Ministry of Education where the universities to produce that number are. On our part we shall continue to educate our members to focus on the mandate of universities, and we continue to engage with the real sectors till we shall be able to secure the change that we want and deserve.
What should be the way forward in that instance?
As far as we are concerned, our advocacy will continue. We shall keep on educating the public as far as the output of our knowledge is concerned and we will continue to utilise the little that we get to better the society. The truth unfortunately, is that the mind of the general public has been conditioned to believing that noting else can come from education, except just churning out graduates who are not getting jobs. The larger role of driving overall economic development is not appreciate by society such that governments are put on their toes and are caused to be restless until they do the needful. The society remains docile and undemanding from those governing us.
Hence they keep on taking all of us for a ride. Government is not held accountable at all levels. The people must arise and demand good governance from the powers that be. Wasteful, uncaring and unaccountable governance must stop. Smaller countries like Ghana, and even Benin Republic are beginning to get it right. This giant called Nigeria must wake up and change for good. We are going to be in it for a long time until we are able to change the way we look at and react to things. Our hope lies in understanding that education is the bedrock of our development and commit to this credo genuinely without pretensions.
To what extent will academic research from universities support commercial industry?
That is one of the major cruxes of the matter is this country, the fact that there is a wide gap and serious disconnect between the civil society, the industry and their mindset about Nigerian education system. On the one hand the few multinational companies that have big stakes, don't believe in our local research. They do their own research in their own countries, they hold more allegiance to their countries of origin and the country has not embraced strong policy that will compel them to ensure that they develop the local industry.
In the past we had the Nigerian indigenisation decree that tried to compel us and foreign investors to develop the local industry and employ Nigerians, instead of expatriates. Also recently we have the local content policy especially in the oil sector. These policies are only half-heartedly implemented. Nigerians collude with foreigners to undermine the policies and hence the country. So we need to be able to implement policies to the letter to the advantage of the country.
The patriotism level of an average Nigerian is indeed very disappointing. We do not think of the country first but ourselves and what we are going to gain. This is what is deterring people from wanting to invest. It is sickening. It is not like that in other countries; patriotism is the first responsibility that every citizen owes a country. It's a cycle, you have to give and allow the country to give back to you. We must start from somewhere. It is a major problem.
There has been a mis-directed attention of stakeholders to issues of quality education in the country, what is your view on this?
The public is right to be concerned about the quality of the education given in our higher institutions and education generally, and must continue to demand transparent and accountable delivery of the right education and the assurance of quality. For us in the university system, we have the NUC as the regulatory body. However, our goal is to entrench internal quality assurance in all our universities such that they are self conscious of the need to put internal structures and systems in place to ensure quality in all their functions and relations, and flaunt their niches. This is much better than waiting for an agency to "horse-whip" them into compliance with rules and codes. The guiding principle is that students and parents and other stakeholders (or investors in the education enterprise, including alumni, development partners, etc) get value for their money and toil.
A section of society sees the teaching profession as not being able to attract the best brains, do you share in this view?
That is the present position unfortunately. It was not like that in the past. If you look back at the early days of education in Nigeria in the universities of Ibadan, ABU, etc, people of high caliber will want to go and teach in those universities and they have this inexplicable commitment to knowledge and development and they don't care what happens in the society, just their simple life. They are not after riches or wealth or primitive accumulation, they try to give their best, till when the community started to ingress into the system, and derogate knowledge especially during the military era. The fall of Nigerian education system started really in the 60s and early 70s when the military were in power.
They had disdain for knowledge, so they did all they could do to suppress the Nigerian academia. When General Yakubu Gowon then ordered lecturers to pack out of their university houses during a strike action, the end of the beginning for academic dawned. In those days, a number of lectures and academics had nowhere to go, with no property. After that sordid episode, lecturers started to own houses outside the campus. That was the beginning of the collapse of the system and that was also the collapse of education in the country. When you relegate your academia and lecturers, education can no longer valued.
I am a son of a teacher and my father in those days was highly respected and he gave his best to the society, but now, no teacher wants his child to resemble him and even if he wants is child in the profession, the child will turn down the offer. That is why the teaching profession has been relegated. Teachers should be looked up to as role models. If you make the teacher to be a pauper, then you cannot have good education. You need to invest more in training teachers so that you can have the required knowledge that will make them to be respected and revered. If we don't dignify teaching and teachers in the society and we keep on worshipping money and money bags, we would not be able to reform the decadence in our education system.
Facilities in our public institutions are overstretched, yet the government is building more institution, do you think this move will address the problems in the sector?
What is happening in the sector is not what you will just wake up one day and decide to build more universities, what we need is a combined or holistic participatory analysis of the system so that we can know what exactly the issues are and how we prioritize them, how do we go step by step and get it right, a form of strategic thinking, strategic planning. We have done this at the level of the Association, AVCNU, and had a summit, and the outcome of our work in the summit is now being printed.
We shall further engage in dialogue to secure understanding of the issues and the solutions suggested. It is comprehensive, detailed and the outcome of much painstaking work. We talked about the challenges confronting the Nigerian education system and identified the step by step actions that we can take. It is now left for the governments, federal and states, and private individuals who own private universities, to take up the document and see to its implementation.