Given its continental leadership responsibility, Nigeria urgently requires an indigenous development blueprint driven by an enlightened human capital to re-energize its near-comatose, under-funded and understaffed university system for national growth, Akin Oyebode, Professor of Jurisprudence and International Law, University of Lagos, has advocated.
“Nigeria is today at a crossroads. After numerous false starts and inability to actualize the much-touted potentials of our great country, it seems we are once again set on a journey to nowhere, bereft of well-thought out fundamentals of Nigeria’s political economy,” the don said in the second convocation lecture of central Nigeria’s Kogi State University.
In the 13-page lecture, entitled “The Vision 20-2020 and Nigerian Universities,” Oyebode, a former Vice-Chancellor of University of Ado-Ekiti in Nigeria’s South-western state of Ekiti, traced the historical background to the national Vision, whose authors wish to see Nigeria as one of the leading 20 economies in the world by the magic date.
According to the law professor, Nigeria’s Vision 20-2020, an off-shoot of the forecast by American finance house Goldman Sachs, published in December 2005, is not only externally-engineered but overly ambitious.
While affirming that “it might not matter whether or not an idea was local or imported so long as it was workable,” he however warned that given its abundant human capital, Nigeria could not be relying on “borrowed clutches” on the crucial development journey in the 21st century, and especially in view of its leadership role in Africa.
Based on the study conducted by Goldman Sachs, by 2025, the 20 largest economies in the world would most likely include Nigeria and the so-called BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China.
“Taking a cue from this,” Oyebode said, “our whiz-kids at the Central Bank ( Nigeria) then decided, without any research or empirical study whatsoever, to shorten the prescribed time frame by 5 years and thus came up with their own Vision 20-2020 built around their specifically-designed delivery vehicle, the Financial System Strategy (FSS) 2020.”
The law professor, meanwhile, noted that Central Bank Governor Charles Soludo had been “compelled to admit the tall order of the Vision – requiring not less than 13% annual growth rate of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product from the present 6 or 7 percent, aside from an annual capital investment of some US$40 billion.”
Given the growing sense of self-doubt being expressed even by the apostles of the Vision, coupled with widespread public skepticism and disillusionment borne out of many failed government promises in the past, Oyebode urges a scaling down of expectations and the “re-thinking of the Vision 20-2020,” to see it “more as a tool of socio-economic transformation than the mantra that it had since become.”
On the crucial link between human capital development and achievement of national goals, he explained that “more often than not, the nuisance value of a country within the international community” depended on the quality of its workforce.
“A country with a highly educated population… would attract greater direct foreign investment than one with a majority of its people illiterate, ignorant and superstitious.”
Oyebode further argued that “the educational profile of a people has a lot to do with the quality of their lives,” adding: “Even in free enterprise economies, the state does not completely remove its hands from the education of the citizenry.”
Making a very strong case for education as a constitutional right of citizens, the law professor observed that ignorance constituted “a veritable component of the human misery index and any country that wishes to navigate out of underdevelopment would have to take the education of its citizens very seriously.”
Describing education or lack of it as the “key to most of (Nigeria’s) problems, be they armed robbery, electoral malpractices, corruption or prostitution,” Oyebode warned: “for as long as the country continues to harbour a large army of rural poor and urban disinherited, for that long would the country know no peace.”
In his words: “Without liberally educated citizenry, it is practically difficult, if not impossible, to realize our national goals. This is especially so in relation to the Vision 20-2020.”
Underscoring the irreplaceable role and contributions of universities to national development objectives, such as the Vision 20-2020, the former Vice-Chancellor said Nigerian Universities had come a long way from a singular University College, established in Ibadan, South-west of the country in 1948, to the more than 90 universities now in the country.
But “saddled with the task of producing successive generations of the nation’s elite, they (universities) have been denied favoured treatment with regard to allocation of resources,” Oyebode said, likening the situation to “dispatching troops to the war front without military material – the universities have generally been called upon to make bricks without straws.’
The consequence of dwindling resources, he said, “has been a fall in standard.”
Lacking the wherewithal for quality assurance, “Nigerian universities have unsurprisingly been uncompetitive when compared with their counterparts in Africa and the rest of the world.”
The situation has been compounded by brain drain, which has seen a horde of Nigeria’s leading academics ministering to universities in Europe, North America, the Arabian Gulf and Southern Africa, while the universities at home endure a shortfall of some 15,000 lecturers.
While admitting that Nigerian universities “are in pretty bad shape,” and that the exponential increase in number might not have matched the quality, Oyebode however took exception to the suggestion that “71% of the university graduates were bad cherries (who) won’t be picked up by any employer of labour because they are not fit for anything even if they were the only ones that put themselves forward for employment test.”
According to him, “while the quality of pedagogy in some of our universities might be suspect, it needs be stated that the technical skill of most Nigerian lecturers has never be in doubt, or else, they would not have been so much sought after elsewhere.”
In any case, he argued that the manifest inadequacies, including the fact that basic research in the universities was not at optimal level, spoke volumes for the poor funding which the supposed citadels of learning have had to endure under successive governments in the populous oil-rich country.
The former Vice-Chancellor said Nigerian universities “seem to have only been grudgingly tolerated by the powers-that-be except, perhaps, at convocation ceremonies when they expect to be awarded honorary degrees for their largely questionable contributions to the society at which occasions, the awards are usually celebrated with fanfare and aplomb.”
On the way forward, Oyebode said: “If Nigeria intends to make progress in socio-economic and political transformation, the universalities should be given pride of place in the drawing of national priorities.”
In his opinion, university autonomy “is a pre-requisite for rolling back the frontiers of ignorance for the benefit of the entire society.”
Furthermore, Nigerian universities, he said, deserve something similar to “the Marshall Plan (massive financial investment) in order to reposition them among the world’s leading universities.”
The law professor is convinced that given the tools, Nigerian universities “can deliver the goods.”
“Nigeria must tap the high-level intellect bottled up in the universities in order to generate worthwhile scenarios and feasibility studies on plans to transcend mass poverty and underdevelopment,” Oyobode admonished, stressing that the universities have the capacity to smoothen the disconnection and disillusionment often felt by the people and some stakeholders in relation to government policies and programmes.
He said the country should aim “for a place within the 25-30 bracket by the year 2030 instead of an illusory or doomed 20-2020,” warning: “even at that, realization of the goal would well-nigh be impossible without a well-conceived blueprint based on our experience as a neo-colonial, peripheral dependency.”
“Nigeria has to re-invent itself and reconsider its position and status vis-à-vis other members of the international community. There is an urgent need to restore confidence in ourselves and our experts.
“A project as big as contemplating where Nigeria desires to be in the next 20 years or so is no task to entrust to foreigners, whose brains are no better then ours. All we have to do is to retool and empower our universities and thereby cut our costs in seeing solutions to the multifarious existential problems afflicting the nation,” Oyebode added.