[Interview]–What makes him a rare brand is not the fact that he became professor of Linguistics and African Languages at the age of 37, but because it is excruciatingly difficult to phantom how someone can balance brilliance and humility in such equal measures. For the past seventeen years as a professor, his massive contributions to scholarship is only matched by his fierce advocacy for qualitative education in Nigerian schools.
He is a strong critic, who finds it unusually easy to speak truth to power. He is surprisingly a doer too and his reputation at the Distance Learning Centre, University of Ibadan where he served as Director was impeccable amongst many other places he had served. As a member of the prestigious Nigerian Academy of Letters, Fellow of the Institute Development Administration of Nigeria, Fellow of Alexander Von Humboldt-Stiftung, University of Hamburg, Germany, Professor Francis Oisaghaede Egbokhare has received accolades within and outside the country. The world renown consultant for Open Distance Learning is a man to listen to anytime.
In this exclusive interview with Oredola Ibrahim of THEPAGE, the professor dissects the education phenomenon in Nigeria, the issue of university funding, leadership integrity in academic institutions, responsible citizenship, preservation of indigenous knowledge and other similar issues. Below is the first part in the three-part series interview.
There seems to be a general consensus currently that education as we have it in Nigeria is a shadow of what it could have been. There are worries that the education has not been living up to its responsibility in giving the nation great human products needed for its national development. Some are of the opinion that this is as a result of poor funding and lack of visionary leadership in the political sector, while others think it is some sort of attitudinal corruption and mediocre culture that has crept into the administration of Nigerian institutions. What do you think sir?
Well, I think there is a little bit of truth about both of them. You have to look at the system from its colonial roots and the fact that the system was never set up for the Nigerian economy, it was set up to service the colonial economy to produce elites of a particular kind who will become white men in black skin. The school system was basically set up as a socialising instrument of turning people into masters within the cosmogony and the world view of the white men. Eventually, if you look at it that way, you see that when people went into the university environment for instance, what happen is that they were taken through a cultural transformation, a kind of civilising transformation that sets them up at the end of the day into people with multiple personalities, living with contradictions between a culture they are familiar with and an undigested new culture that they are told is a norm that they should live with. So, you have people who were bundles of contradictions and working to service an orientation, a system that was far detached from the predominant traditional system and traditional economy that they grew up from. And the structure of the institutions that were set up were not generated and developed from the familiar environment of the people. So, it was like inserting the western world, the western ideology in our environment and trying to create a western person within that environment, so you have people who were deformed in their worldview and orientation. There was no way such individuals could have served the system adequately. Let’s be frank with ourselves, by the time you took somebody through the university in a boarding system, what kind of knowledge does he acquire? He is totally out of touch from his own identity, his worldview is totally and mentally developed from an abstract notion of what life means for the white man without imbibing the culture of the white man. Such individuals were not able to get in touch with the local people and which is basically what the University should do, produce individuals who are able to transform their societies, who are able to get in touch with themselves, who are able to develop critical thinking. This created the first set of white men who ruled Nigeria with a neo-colonialist mindset and of course we saw what happened after independence in the first republic where we had people who could not negotiate their own existence and converged in terms of the priorities of their own people.
Then, we had the post-independence idealists who generated a lot of heat with the Students’ Union movements, again, because of the nature of the environment, the University in terms of being conceptualised as a facility extracted from the community, we have British styled institutions that are fenced round, with segregated housing and facilities. You have all these huge religious symbols that are placed in prime properties within these institutions. You have course designs and programmes that have no bearing with the informal kind of cultural economy that defined the people. They were basically there to swell the supply of manpower for an external economy. Let me tell you, 70% of our economy is informal, which of the programmes that we run today in the country is going to service the reality of an informal economy, that is going to use the template of the cultural labour production system, like the guild system. Which programme is designed in such a way as to reform these systems, as to understand these systems, as to apply them as fundamental African approaches to business. Which of the engineering programmes or architectural programmes are designed in such a way as to take for instance from the traditional architecture for the design of cities and so on. And that is why when you now create leaders, you are creating leaders who will come and think that the whole idea of modernisation in a city involves the creation of dual carriage ways, where market traders are displaced from their market stores by the roadside, where you destroy shanty stores and then you create new kinds of high-rise or glorified markets which the same individuals cannot afford to pay for. It is an orientation and it starts with the training. But in a proper education system where people are culturally inserted, they will take traditional content of city planning, modernise it and weave it into the design of new cities. And you will come in there and you will know that this is a Yoruba city because of the architecture, because of the design of the buildings. You will come in and you will see this is an Ibo city. You come in and you will see that this is an Hausa city. You come in and see that this is an Islamic architecture because people have grown up and weave the culture into their engineering and architecture.
Basically, what I am saying is, here, we are not educating people, what we are doing is brainwashing students in a foreign culture. The irrelevance of our training first of all is the fact that we have huge unemployment. People think that the employment will come from training people to be entrepreneurs but the evidence that we have an entrepreneurial African cultural system, you can see already from the fact that if you go through Ibadan from one end to the other, you will see market stalls everywhere, that somebody in fact joked that he has seen one of the largest markets in the world. There is already an entrepreneurial energy from the guild system, from the hardworking people who are hawking and selling by the roadside. So, entrepreneurship has never been the problem of an African. So, what we have lacked is our ability to transform this energy into a modern way and to design our cities in such a way to accommodate this energy. But what we are doing now is we are teaching our people a foreign entrepreneurship concept that cannot apply to our traditional economy and that does not apply to our environment. What is happening now is that we now produce students who we have to export just like raw materials, like raw cocoa and raw cassava. We produce raw intellectual products because they cannot fit into this economy and they have to be exported. This is what is accounting for the migration. You see them doing wonderful abroad because they are inserted in an environment where those intellectual modes are operational but they are disconnected from their own and that is why the aspiration of any educated Nigerian will be to get out of the country because he can’t fit in. When people come into the educational system, they come with a lot of ideas and ambitions but by the time they go through the system, they are totally destroyed and displaced. So, our universities are displacement facilities. The point is, we have to decontextualise, decolonise the educational system from the beginning.
So, when people say that the system is poorly funded, on the face value, one is inclined to agree, when you look at it in terms of the quantum of funds that are released to the system vis a vis the needs of the people. But there are two things you have to look at. That it will never be possible for any government or for any institutions to ever fully fund the Nigerian Education. Do you know why? Because the industrial intellectual production base that supports education exists elsewhere. It is just like your military. If you have to set up your military based on the importation of foreign equipment, your military will never be well funded. The industrial base for educational products is not there. From the little things like pen, chalkboards to the computers and so on, are based on importation. And if you are forcing and you have such an unstable currency, it would always mean that there will be no time when you will ever have enough fund, with the kind of unstable inflationary environment that we have that we will be able to fund our economy and in turn fund our educational sector. Because the education currency is denominated in Dollar not in Naira. The educational resources and equipment are not produced locally, so we will always have to import. And we will never have enough given the weak nature of our currency. Countries that are able to fund their education adequately, go and look at their currencies. There is always a tie between education itself and the local economy. You cannot disentangle them and believe that one can exist outside of the other, it is not going to happen. And it also has to do with remuneration.
Then the second thing is that, has anybody ever been able to determine exactly what it will cost to train an individual in a Nigerian university for a particular programme. There is no document anywhere that will say that this is the amount an institution exactly needs. I don’t think any University in Nigeria knows exactly how much it needs. So, how come we are always talking about funding problems when we don’t even know how much we need. If we now come up with a figure, we should scrutinize the parameters. One of the things I can tell you is that there is a massive amount of duplication in the cost listing and programme listing within the institutions such that close to about forty percent (40%) of the cost loads are duplication and so, who is going to pay the cost of inefficiency within the system? So, a lot of the cost we are talking about are the cost of inefficiency. We also talk about the cost of maintaining lifestyle. You see the way chief executives live, the amount that they spend, for instance, on entertainment, the amount that they spend, for instance, on purchase of cars, and everything to maintain a lifestyle, travelling and so on and so forth, if you put everything together, compare and you will discover that it holds a thousand percent over the cost that is spent on research and teaching. So, is that part of the funding, underfunding we are talking about? Then, look at the staff complement, many universities over employ, they follow no rules in employment. There is no projection, no way in following the government’s prescription in terms of employment. The non-academic to academic ratio is so high. Sometimes you have a university with over 4,000 staff and you ask yourself, what are they producing? Is that part of the cost of underfunding? What I am saying basically is that if you remove the cost of inefficiency and the fact that universities are not being managed properly, you may find out that the total quantum of money that goes into the university system may not be too far short of what the universities actually require. And this applies to polytechnics and colleges of education. So, the issue may not always be funding and what we need to determine is what should be funded and what should not be funded, once we determined that we will know whether the institutions are underfunded and to what extent.
On attitudinal corruption. Yes, the integrity quotient of Nigerian institution and even Nigeria itself is very low. Concerning the attitude to work, the people in the intellectual environment are not very different from the civil service. Part of the problem is attitude but attitude can be managed. I think leadership incompetence, more than attitude, has informed part of the travails that we are facing. There is a problem of the shrinking of the intellectual space because of the issue of leadership incompetence. The way leadership emerged in a lot of these institutions can never ever lead to the kind of tertiary institution systems that we require. If you think that you will employ a bricklayer to fly a plane, the plane is going to crash, is that not so? And if we say, for instance, that because a person has been a cabin crew for 20 years and so the person is qualified to be a pilot, in stormy weather, the cabin crew will realise that it takes more than being a cabin crew to function effectively in that capacity. This symbolises the kind of leadership that we have been having within the University system. Basically, political leadership. We don’t have expert knowledge and we don’t have people who have the capacity to lead in many of the institutions. I am not trying to say that this is a generalised thing, but this is part of the problems we are talking about.
Watch out for the next part.
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