Nigeria’s higher institutions and their shortcomings

(By Tosin Makinde)

In Nigeria’s higher institutions, reading for self-development and intellectual upliftment is like a waste of time. The most important thing our lecturers and administrators ingrain in our minds is —read to pass. What do we think the result would be after graduation? How do we put into use what we have not been taught or even if taught, in school since we did not read for self-development, and by extension, not for future benefits, but for temporary gain?

ONE area of disputes among employers of labour and even successful entrepreneurs who have been able to combine academic prowess with intellectual sagacity is the quality and calibre of graduates being produced by Nigeria‘s institutions of higher learning. For many, it is appropriate for them to doubt the quality of these graduates who are unfortunately victims of the rot in the nation’s academic sphere – a sphere filled with self-centered administrators, lackadaisical lecturers, and confused students.
Based on the present scenario, can we say those who doubt the capability and efficiency of graduates from our higher institutions, whether they are products of universities, polytechnics or colleges of education, are wrong?

I have the privilege of attending a polytechnic and a university. This helped to facilitate for me the cultivation of a close relationship with students, lecturers and administrators in order to understand the internal workings of the system in higher institutions. I must confess the system is not encouraging. In the higher institutions, you get to see students who find it difficult to read for one hour except it is a week before examination. They spend all their time in pursuit of pleasure. Ironically, they pass very well especially finding uncritical endorsement by lecturers that promote cramming otherwise known as ‘craminology.’ It is the act of reading to pass examinations only, and not reading for self-development and upliftment. To those lecturers if you are not one of those who read for self-development, you are on your own. You get to see students for whom writing a two-page essay is an arduous task.

You see final-year students who, instead of painstakingly going to the field and doing their research for their final year project, would rather go to a library, pick up copies of a completed research project by past graduates and copy them verbatim. They then turn them in as their own. Of course, the lecturers who are supposed to judiciously supervise these works turn a blind eye as result of their own lackadaisical attitude and for gratification, ranging from a bottle of wine, recharge cards, clothes, shoes to body gratitude. With these and other forms of unofficial incentives, the lecturers would gladly give such students an ‘A’ grade.

In Nigeria’s higher institutions, reading for self-development and intellectual upliftment is like a waste of time. The most important thing our lecturers and administrators ingrain in our minds is —read to pass. What do we think the result would be after graduation? How do we put into use what we have not been taught or even if taught, in school since we did not read for self-development, and by extension, not for future benefits, but for temporary gain?

Many of the students do not know how to use the Internet to do research and get more information on their course of study. I did that in my polytechnic and university days and many of my colleagues were wont to sneeringly call me names such as the ‘internet man.’ This often baffled me into wondering whether, as student seeking information for broader knowledge, it was wrong to use the Internet to expand what I was being taught. From the lecturers one would rightly expect refuge and encouragement, but they contemptuously question the source of your new information on a course they thought themselves authorities because it was the course they had taught for years. They were a species of lecturers who knew next to nothing about the computer world. Sadly, these lecturers were meant to entrench in our hearts the values of selflessness and intellectual pursuit that would turn us into nation builders and promoters of social ethics that any nation would be proud of. Instead, they were content with promoting and churning out graduates that didn’t even know what their roles and contribution to the development of the society were. What an average Nigerian graduate usually thinks of after leaving the school is how to get a job, have a family and be successful in his career. Hardly do they think of how they can use what they have learnt in school for the development of their society. They are oblivious of the fact that, largely, the negative development of a society will be tantamount to all round adverse development extending to individuals.

Many lecturers who, themselves are either pursuing their PhD or doing one business or another, would tell you they are busy and that they have little time for you. They won’t come to class regularly; some come a week before exams. What such lecturers do is to load the students with textual materials to read for their examinations. No one can finish these materials in one week. How do you expect the students to understand that course?

Some lecturers would tell students to their faces that they couldn’t have an ‘A’ in their course. Surprisingly, they carry out their threats, thus destroying student grades with Cs and Ds and Es. In our institutions, you find lecturers who do not have a good knowledge of what they are teaching. They are clearly lecturers who do not update themselves in this world of information technology which is within reach of everyone. I have had cause to raise issues with lecturers in my polytechnic and university days over what I discovered was misinformation by them. Take for example, in the university, Joseph Ki-zerbo, one of the greatest African philosophers of the 1950s and 1960s, was from Burkina Faso but my lecturer, Head of Department (HOD) for that matter, said he was from Tanzania. My lecturer closed every opportunity to bring this to his attention. My fellow students were quick to pull my ears admonishingly that if I wanted to pass my exams I should just let him be. The same lecturer would come to class and exhibit his ignorance of biblical history. Another lecturer, now a PhD holder, did not understand what Pacific Peace means, things which are there for the checking in the Internet.

Some of the lecturers do not know how to use the computer for their work, in this day and age. They take pleasure in asking students to come and type their PhD thesis or journals for them. Who will not jump at such an offer if you want to pass and pass very well? Of course, we all have heard of adulterous acts perpetuated by lecturers. What is degrading is that even when the ladies yield to sexual harassment they are not given anything beyond Es and Ds, what we call ‘let my people go’ grades, just what would not make them carry over a course.

It is also in the university you get to see lecturers that confuse students about what they want from them to pass their course. Some lecturers would tell students to write short sentences and some would prefer long well-written ones. A lecturer would say, “if I ask what is…? I expect you to just list and if I say ‘list’ just itemise.” You wonder when the question ‘what is so and so and list so and so’ could give the same answer.

Supervising long essays of final year students is a pathetic case. Some of the lecturers who are supervisors would not read the work of their students. When they do, they treat the work shabbily. Condemning the work, they either ask the students to re-do it or choose another topic after holding on to the work for a long time, thus delaying such students. I had witnessed where a lecturer within one hour read the long essays of all his 15 students at a go! How on earth was he going to see the mistakes and errors in 15 long essays with a minimum of 40 pages within one hour? It is pathetic. Not only do our lecturers need a refresher course on their role as sources of inspiration and encouragement to students, they also need to get themselves updated. Seriously, come to think of it, you come away with the impression that many of them have degraded themselves such that they are no better than Mr. Sham, the NSCDC man (the ‘my oga at the top fame’).

For administrators of our Ivory Towers – politics, ineptitude, incompetence, lack of foresight, corruption and favoritism are what define their nature. Despite repeated outcry to them to keep the sanctity of the university, it has only gone worse. We all know of the regular industrial disputes resulting in strikes which our higher institutions must pass through every session. The consequence is that many universities are just into a new session.
Many of the departments and units in these institutions are filled with people who do not have anything called post-secondary school education. Working as non-academic staff they specialise in treating students shabbily out of, presumably, jealousy and fear that the students of today could be their bosses of tomorrow, better educated, more qualified with wider opportunities beckoning at them.

One of the biggest headaches of higher institutions in this country that the government has taken for granted is the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) members. NASU members as less academically qualified as they may be can hold a school to ransom, and they did so on many occasions during my university and polytechnic days. The story is the same in other institutions which I followed.

They are the secretaries that would refuse to paste results; they are the ones that would give you your admission forms; they are the ones who would compute your CGPA; they are the ones that would give you your ID card whether it is your picture that is there or not. In one way or another they could determine the fate of your studentship in more ways than one, hence, they prove it to any students that comes their way that they are powerful. And powerful they really are. For example, students are asked to fetch water to clean the toilet at the academic affairs unit before they can be allowed to do their final admission clearance. Similarly, they are sometimes required to fetch water to clean the toilet at a university health centre before they are allowed to do their medical clearance.

If the shortcomings are allowed to continue this way what then is the future of our great nation? Revolutions are known to have started from universities and colleges in time past, with students unrelentingly pushing for change in the society.
The students of those times read, not for academic purposes only, but to improve their intellectual and mental ability, to develop and equip themselves for the improvement, and more for the greater good of their country. That should be the story in our higher institution for us to move away from this era of ‘There was a Country’ to ‘There is a Country’.

• Makinde is a development worker and project coordinator of Real Impact for Development Initiatives (RIDI).

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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