Nigeria: Issues in Pantami's 'Professorship'

16 September 2021
editorial

The promotion of Isa Pantami to the rank of a professor is questionable

The process of attaining a professorial height is part of the tradition of academic discipline, requiring a specific record of research and publications, and a rigorous conformity to the prescribed rituals of independent evaluation and authentication. Counterfeiting and quackery should therefore have no place in a nation's university system especially when it comes to appointments and promotions. It is precisely the strict adherence to standards and procedures that make universities the universal gold standard for the measurement of knowledge among the nations of the world. And there is a sense in which a nation is as good as the quality and integrity of its universities.

In recent times, however, Nigerians are being treated to a new phenomenon of tertiary institutions literally trading in academic honours and positions. These range from honorary degrees to endowment related recognitions. Of course, it is legitimate for any university to name units and structures after generous donors as recognition for the linkage between town and gown. The real travesty is when core academic positions and promotions are reduced to objects of political tinkering and patronage. That amounts to a sacrilegious contamination of the very soul of the university system.

The most recent consequential instance of such travesty is the much orchestrated 'promotion' of Isa Pantami, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy to professor of Cyber Security by the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. Pantami has never taught or been on the faculty of this university. Even more scandalous is the revelation that there is no evidence that the university authorities observed extant due process before awarding Pantami's so-called promotion. It remains a matter of semantics whether an institution can technically 'promote' a person who was never on its staff to any position.

Ordinarily, the appointment of an external applicant for the position of professor ought to follow the evaluation of both internal and external assessors. This is usually accompanied by independent external reviews of the publications and credentials of the applicant by known academic authorities in their field of specialisation. The criteria considered for such appointment include years of teaching, research, publications of original books and articles in learned local and international journals. There is yet no indication that any or all these procedures were followed before Pantami became a 'Professor'. These lapses sadly point to a questionable violation of the university's extant procedures.

A university professorship is recognised as the highest point on the ladder of advancement for scholars. It is a recognition of distinguished accomplishment in research, teaching and overall contribution to a specific field of learning and knowledge. It is not a decorative title freely handed out as the equivalent of a chieftaincy title. Ordinarily therefore, our universities ought to be insulated from the penchant for periodic handout of all manner of disfigured cultural titles and awards.

Given Pantami's current position, this questionable appointment becomes a matter of public interest from the point of view of both the ethics of his high office and the integrity of the university in question as a publicly funded institution whose actions ought to be guided by the provisions of the law establishing it. In either direction, both Pantami's doubtful assumption of a position he may not have genuinely attained and a federal university's perfunctory handing out of an academic position to a serving minister who has never featured on its faculty list are matters which deserve to be investigated. Our high public officials have no business desperately hustling to obtain laurels they have not earned. Worse still, a federal institution funded from the public treasury has no business allowing its processes and procedures to be bastardised by self-seeking political agents.

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