Some decades ago, there was a book titled Diploma Disease in which the author decried and expressed sad concern about human obsession with the acquisition of “paper qualification”. After the “sex-for-mark” scandal in which a professor in a Nigerian university was humiliated and penalized, there is currently a new appellation of “Professors of Otularyngology”. Medical practitioners who specialize in Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) field are known as Otolaryngologists, but mischievous females university students corrupted the spelling thus the appellation of “professors o f Otularyngology”.
The mischief arising from a deliberate mis-spelling of ENT medical specialty is indeed a mockery of the Nigerian academic community. Obviously, university students are in a position to assess and know the quality and peculiarities of various lecturers who teach them. But they are not involved in the process of assessment of lecturers for promotion, which should have produced a salutary effect on the attitude of lecturers towards students. Rather, what counts in the elevation of academic staff of universities to the highest rank miss out what should have been most vital.
There is an academic policy of “publish-or-perish,” whereby promotion is based on the number of papers or articles published in learned journals by lecturers as criteria for promotion. Human beings, in their cleverness, usually look out for the lines of least resistance as a means of showing off their prowess. A predatory propensity would always prey on weak species rather than take on a Titan in a combat of valour.
When it comes to economic survival strategies humans exhibit their best abilities and wit in the rat race to excel. When colonial administration in Nigeria’s education system introduced a policy of payment of grants based on performance or results of students, teachers and heads of schools helped their students to have excellent performance. Such excellent results meant more money for such schools as grants, but that also produced the phenomenon of examination malpractice.
In the case of public universities in Nigeria, the policy of retirement of professors at the age of 70, and with their full salary as pension, produced some sad results. First of all, there is a rat race to become a professor by means of fast wit. There is also the out-witting of official records with respect to the change of date of birth which would be followed by the use of hair-dye. Since publishing of papers in learned journals is the magic wand to professorship, what goes on in this respect demonstrates most clearly the Nigerian spirit of survival by wit. From plagiarism to other forms of academic malfeasanece, lecturers are known to pay more attention to promotions than they do to the up-building and well-being of the students they teach.
The few old-fashioned and professional-minded ones who do not join in the professional rat race are fading away from the universities. The pity is that the nations’ reward system encourages the on-going rat race and “carry-go” culture. The harms which “paper qualification” syndrome and the unethical means of getting to the top have done to this country must not be allowed to continue. There is a serious slur in the nation’s image.
For an academic department with a total student population of less than 90 to have 27 professors would mean that there is a professorial glut. The phenomenon of glut occurs when there is a superfluity of supply or production of a commodity such that the value or relevance of such commodity becomes undermined. This sorry state in Nigerian universities is demonstrated by the kind of gossips and sad comments which students make about some of their lecturers. When a student can say: “professor my ass”, then it is time to ask why this is so. A mockery!
The School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London, with thousands of students from all over the globe, had about 13 professors a few years ago, apart from visiting ones. But here in Nigeria, professorship has become a reflection of the nation’s political system where anything can be cooked up and doctored, with a resultant distortion of value and credibility.
Dr. Amirize is a retired lecturer at the Rivers State University, PH.