The recent alert by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) about a possible increase in university tuition fees should not come as a surprise for anyone who knows the pathetic situations in Nigerian universities. It would be unfair and uncharitable to wash the dirty linens of one’s constituency in the public, but the public and sympathetic stakeholders should know certain things.
There is a strong need to suggest that a thorough and comprehensive commission of inquiry be instituted to dig out how Nigerian universities stand in every ramification. From thorough financial audit, to admissions, staffing, assessments, promotions and appointments of vice chancellors, universities, both federal and state-owned should be put on a searchlight. No politician or anyone who had held any political appointment should be included in the membership of such commission.
Introducing or increasing tuition fees in the universities would not be a solution to problems which beset the ivory towers. Similarly, the whole truth cannot be dug out if inappropriate and compromised persons feature in handling the task of repositioning Nigerian universities. It is a pity that many of those who would have stood tall in the task of repositioning Nigerian universities are either dead, no longer in service or outside the country. Many would not want to be involved in a “kangaroo” commission of inquiry.
Without mincing words, the military played a most despicable role in the current state of the universities.
Expectedly, the macho-culture of the military is the exact opposite of the ivory-tower culture, but it infiltrated into the universities during the long years of military intervention in Nigerian politics. Let someone not say that evidence should be brought in “chapters and verses” before what is being said here would be regarded as valid or true.
Appointment of vice chancellors by the Visitors is another issue which contributed to the decline of the ivory-tower culture. Shakespeare would tell us that “they are beggars who would count their worth,.” Therefore, a situation where university dons hawk and market their curriculum vitaes (CVs) can be described as “beggary,” why should a self-respecting devotee of the ivory-tower beg, kneel and kow-tow for a political position, when colleagues should elect and choose who would lead them, based on merit?
Unjust reward system in the public sector of the economy, coupled with poor salary structure, also contributed to the plagues of Nigerian universities. Until university lecturers embarked on aggressive protests when their take-home pay could not take them home, a professor’s salary was N7,500.00 per month. Yet, former students of the lecturers who worked with oil and other private companies could earn well over N75,000.00 in one month at that time.
Result of gross disparity in remuneration led to what became known as “sorting” in universities. Many of those who came into the universities to study on part-time did not come to acquire knowledge but to get certificates for advancement in work places. Therefore, there arose the phenomenon of scramble for degrees, including Ph.D. Many people were ready to buy certificates, for adornment purposes; including military personnel and politicians. So, lecturers discovered a gold mine! Therefore, out of 100 Ph.D certificates you find in Nigeria, 90 would be cosmetic or quota tags.
Quotarised and political or outright fraudulent promotions contributed to destroy the universities. One thing we cannot deny is that best brains are quite plenty in universities, both as students and lecturers. But when you see an inexperienced staff become a professor after 11 years of appointment, with four years of that period spent in political postings, his colleagues who do not have god-fathers would obviously feel short-changed; morale would diminish.
As a “house of intellect,” the university system has a major problem, namely: myopia or grossly limited perception. Not many people know that the intellect abridges and short-circuits the range of human perceptive capacity. The task of university education is to drill the human brain to operate on empirical platforms, or sensory perception. There is more to life than what the objective senses can comprehend.
Therefore, those who rely on intellectual, academic and sensory perception, coupled with high-sounding university certificates, remain quite myopic. We don’t pay high fees to acquire high experiences neither do we learn in schools only, but in life, by exerting ourselves and freeing our perceptions from academic restrictions.
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer, Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.