“The people who need the Universities are there in Agbowo.” – Professor Francis Egbokhare

Reading Time: 19 minutes

[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 fathom 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 second part in the three-part series interview. Click here to read the first part.

Similarly, it is believed that there is too much distance between the town and the gown, and while employers of labour in terms of the private sector require a particular brand of human resources, our universities are churning out an entirely different brand. And this has led many employers of labour to conclude that the Nigerian graduates are unemployable. Is this a problem with the town, or the gown? Recently, one of the executive heads of a multinational company in Nigeria accused the University officials of not being humble enough to approach the companies to know what exactly is the kind of graduate they are expecting? So, we want you to compare the gown town relationship as we have it now to what it used to be and what has gone wrong?

There is no town in the sense of an organised private sector.

There is no town in the sense of an organised private sector, ask yourself how many of them are there in the organized private sector, they just talk anyhow without data. Both the universities are talking without data, the organised private sectors are talking without data. How many organised businesses are there in the Nigeria private sector? Government is the major employer of organized labour but the largest sector in Nigeria is the informal sector that employs over 70% of the Nigerian labour. That is the town we should be talking about not the so-called organizations that are collapsing. How many people do they employ in a year?

And when you say they are unemployable, you will give me the statistics. The question I need to ask you is how many of them? We have to look at employment situations very critically. Now, employment primarily is driven by nepotism, if you now go to seek for people who should be employed on the basis of parapo who know man, will they be employable? Are you going to tell me that of the thousands of graduates who made first class and 2nd class upper and so on and so forth that you cannot establish parameters for sifting through? I don’t think these organised private sectors employ up to one percent of these graduates every year. And the other problem basically is the accumulation of unemployment, if a thousand people of unemployed graduates are employed for five jobs that are available because we have been piling up these unemployed graduates from year to year the question I will ask you is what do you expect? Desperate people no longer respond to applications or call for applications based on their competences but they respond to all and every available jobs. That is not an indication for the stance that people are unemployable it means that because people no longer have a choice on the kind of job to apply to and that is why they do hit and miss. So you will see someone who does not really like a job or who knows he is not competent but he just wants to try his luck because he is frustrated.

When I graduated people had choices you know where you have your area of strength and where you have your areas of weaknesses. So, we have to analyse these issues very carefully. Now, even the so-called private sectors that are complaining like this, the question is what exactly are the competencies that they say they require because all over the world people re-train those who they employ. The same Nigerians we are rejecting and saying they are unemployable, some of them are going outside the countries and are doing well, why? For some reasons some of these so-called private sectors organizations had set up schools and they are interfering in the activities of training, why don’t they take those monies that they are using to set up trainings at schools to form such training programme in the universities system in the country? Some of them charge fees. So basically, we have to balance everything together. Their contemporaries in other nations fund a lot of training programs in universities, they set up institutes and faculties within the university environment.

Though, I’m not saying that everybody who passes out of the university system is competent in the area of training but I’m saying that for our local economy we have enough competent hands for the places that are available. And in fact, we are producing for jobs that we do not need and that the jobs that we need basically are there in Agbowo, the people who need the Universities are there in Agbowo. They are the cocoa farmers in the bush, they are the health and maternity centers, these are the people who need the universities. We are talking about training nuclear scientists and I’m telling you, you are training for America, you are training for England you are not training for Nigeria. So, every country must first of all analyse realistically the kind of capacities and skills that it needs when it has determined what it needs it will design its educational system to produce at the level of skills that it needs not at some abstract level because it will lead to frustration. What I’m saying is if you train the students here very well you will use them to elevate the practice outside in the informal sector. You will use them to summarise the informal sector and bring them at par with the formal sector and then you will create a huge employment base because they themselves will be able to employ people while they are doing that, and that is the way. But you have ignored the informal sector, it is totally cut off and you are developing the data and parameters and ignore that sector meanwhile that is the main sector and that is the point I’m making that yes it’s true to some extent that there is a competency gap but the volume of need in that private sector does not generate the kind of crisis mentality that we are talking about.

What has changed with the practice of companies coming into the universities to recruit to-be graduates?

First of all, how many companies do we really have now? I need somebody to tell me how many companies we really have in Nigeria that actually need graduates to employ. When they raise all these alarms, I want figures I want numbers. Are they not the companies that are closing down? When they employ do they employ people on the basis of their competence or on basis of parapo and nepotism, so those are some of the issues.

In one of your works, The Basis Of Responsible Citizenship, you made mention of fraternal relationship as a basis for responsible citizenship which forms the bonding force of identities, what role do you think Education plays in ensuring a healthy fraternal relationship and how can we utilise it in solving some of the socio-economic crisis we currently face as a nation, in terms of terrorism, recession, secession, tribal hostilities, get rich quick syndrome and the likes.

There are so much inequities in the system

You are talking about culture at the very basic level, primary, secondary schools level for instance some of these issues would have been engraved into the socialization parameters in the curriculum, in the practices, in the experiences that students are exposed to. The national ideology will be weaved into the curriculum. I travel around the country and drive by road sometimes when I see a lot of schools I ask myself how many of the students knows the Idanre hills for instance and the hills around Akoko area? How many students and schools have gone into those hills and those bushes to understand exactly what is in there to study the environment? How many UI students have gone into the nooks and crannies of Ibadan as part of their studies to see exactly what makes Ibadan Ibadan. We are basically creating people who are detached and extracted from their cultural experiences and their environment, and we are expecting that in order to promote town and gown relationship that these individuals will now go back and find something useful in those environment, no it cannot happen.

It is when the educational process and the socialization process in the very beginning of the formative stage give them the sense of national consciousness and ideology in the sense of fraternal relationship and oneness with other Nigerians that we can end up coming with products who are truly Nigerians and who have requisite values. But what are we doing now, we are dividing the country and even through the educational process, we are segregating Nigeria. There are so much inequities in the system that a poor individual who is from the rural area, and attended a public school is not likely to be found in a public federal university in Nigeria because at those level, the competition that is necessary for the quality of education has totally segregated such people. So, go and do your survey all over the country and you will find out it is the same people who are the elites, who are already provided for, who are being subsidized by government are in those universities. The poor are ending up in part time at Distance Learning programs and are meant to pay fees which is now use also to subsidize those who are already bring subsidized by government. This is the kind of the system.

In the next two years we are going to have leaders who are so myopic

Now we are creating private religious universities, Muslim are now going to Muslims universities, Christians are going to Christians universities and that’s not just it, they break it down further and you will see Ansar-ud-deen will go to theirs, Shiites will create one and go to theirs, same goes for many denominations in Christians and so on and so forth. And there is a pipeline right from the nursery level where you are framed on the basics of a particular sects not just religion now. First of all, you have a bigger pipeline for religion then you have another pipeline for sect that is the sectarian pipeline, and so you have segregated all the way to the university system, so what kind of nation are you going to produce? Are you going to produce a nation of people who are converging, who see and experience a common solidarity? Common spaces have been eliminated! So, what we are doing is that we are causing trouble and what is going to happen is that in the next two years we are going to have leaders who are so myopic, who are so constrained in their views, who had no sense of Nigerianess, because right from the nursery level they have been taken through a pipeline that makes them feel the world is their world alone and that’s what we are generating. Forget about the curriculum you put in place, you put them through these schools a Muslim girl who goes through a Muslim nursery school goes through a Muslim secondary school goes through a Muslim university never interact with Christian married to a Muslim what do you think she is going to end up with? So, public universities were supposed to build bridges and build equity. University education was supposed to be a platform for equalization, for opportunity for the poor to become somebody, to break barriers of poverty. They are doing none of these anymore but they are becoming tools and instruments of segregation and we want to build nations out of these kind of thing, it is not going to happen.

On the CRS/IRS policy crisis and the opinion to remove both from our educational system since Nigeria is a secular nation

The truth is that Islam and Christianity are part of our realities now. We cannot only look at the negative sides of it we have to look at their positive sides too. That government in Nigeria have basically abdicated its responsibility and these religious institutions are performing roles of doing what the government should do normally, providing social services, providing spiritual services. So if you now say for instance you will undermine them I think it’s going to be catastrophic because people will basically have no business, nobody actually to care for them. So, I will not go to that extreme. What I would say basically is that we should find the way of annexing these positive energies and building bridges between these two major dominant forces in the Nigerian spiritual framework.

The only thing I can see basically is that we have allowed too much of the extremists’ elements to dominate and take hold. I think most Nigerians are afraid to offend God and because of that they have become slaves and captives for the few good individuals who are basically using religion as a political platform. Without those political platforms those people will be nobody they don’t have enough power of idea to contest the Nigerian space, so religion for them is basically the vehicle to the head because most people are afraid of going to hell they are captives of their fate because even God himself doesn’t mind being questioned and I don’t think God is insecure enough that he needs anybody to defend him. So, what I believe is that we need proper education from the beginning and I think we teach these children to think critically. Critical thinking is missing and our institutions are becoming more like religious organizations, universities are becoming like churches and mosques, mosques are becoming even more intellectual. You see more of the rate of contestation between mosques and churches than even in universities.

So, if that is happening I think you can see where the contradiction really lies. So, I think government should stay away from the business of regulating religion. They should stay away from the business of investing in and financing religion and they should stop appointing to positions, people who have invested in religion. One of the sad things that happen in Nigeria is that the Government sees an extremist and appoints him to a position, believe me, if the government stop patronizing such individuals and stop encouraging people to think that religion can become a platform for them to national service, I think a lot of these will die down. For instance, if I become the president of this country, anybody who calls himself by the appellation of Pastor or Alhaji will never be in my Government. I am not going to patronize any religious ceremonies, I will not be found there, I will not go there. When I attend religious activities, I will be there personally and privately, not as head of state. When you start to glorify religions, there is no way you can satisfy both religions at the same time. I can come as a Christian and start to worship in the mosque even if I desire to do so. And as a Muslim, you have your limits. Basically, we must ensure that religion in this country remains private.

It is trite to repeat that we are in an era of globalisation fueled by the invasion of social media which in turn is tearing down almost all of the social fabrics that once held our societies together, and we also see, that there is some sort of tension and conflict between the professors and university administrators who were busy holding on to the old fabrics and constantly have to engage with the new digital natives who are more concerned with immediate satisfaction and transparency. This conflict is evident in what happens between many university managements and their students all over the country. There is also the question of applying technology in education and the fact that many Nigerian universities are finding it hard to adopt global technological practices when it comes to Education. For instance, the University of Ibadan probably has the highest number of Smart boards compared to any Nigerian universities. Unfortunately, those Smart Boards are still in the nylon they came with, untouched after seven years! Is it that university officials are finding it difficult to catch up with the world?

What we have are gadgets but not technology

I think it is more than that. You see, there are two aspects of technology, the technology made up of gadgets and the culture of technology itself. What we have are gadgets but not technology – the culture of technology is not there. There is a whole behavioral set that goes with technology. There is also a supporting attitude which has to do with maintenance culture. The infrastructure for instance on which the technology will ride is not there. First of all, there is a mistake for institutions like UI to invest in gadgets like smartboards without electricity. In fact, they should have solved the access to power first of all, find a way to make them function before they invested in all that. I think it is a waste and it is one of the tragedies of our environment.

Then, there is the whole issue of orientation that comes with the digital space. There is a business of anonymity for instance. There is also the attitude that demands for right of responsibility and so on and so forth. And I think what we have is a little bit more complex than just the digital issue. It has to do with the fact that there is a cultural template that runs in the university system now. And because of that cultural template, people don’t see students as people with some level of rights and parity but they see them as children. This results into a command and control orientation. When students speak, people are offended because they think they have some commanding rights over them.

The attitude of administration within the university system has to be less rigid and less contentious than we have now. I believe students all over the nation are not well included into the business of university leadership. We need to get them more involved in leadership roles and through their involvement they will learn a little bit more of leadership. And I also think the students have to draw the line between radicalism and rascality. The fact that you have access to information or digital tools does not mean that you ignore your responsibility. Their rights as students must be moderated by responsibility.

And this is one of the problems we are facing all over the world, technology is giving people enormous rights, enormous assets, enormous power but not the accompanying sense of responsibility that will moderate them to know exactly where to draw the dividing line. And this is exacerbated by the anonymity that makes a person wants to say anything that he thinks he has the urge to say without moderating it because he believes he has a tool that empowers him to say what he can say. And that is where training and technology adoption strategy must come in. Before you unleash technology at an educational level, people must know that there are responsibilities they have towards their institutions, towards their nation and towards their fellow men. Why will people be raping a girl and then record it and put it on YouTube. Why will there be an accident and before the relatives are aware that there has been an accident, somebody who should be providing help is filming instead and broadcasting. You can see that technology has unleashed on us, our animal instincts. And I think that is where we have to take everything to the next level.

The fact that we now have parents’ forum in the university is in itself, a tragedy

This is what we are also saying about politics, politics without conscience. The same thing with the media. At a point we all have to challenge ourselves to know where to draw the line as human beings. Basically, it is a whole crisis situation and the dimension of the crisis is at a very crude level in Nigeria. There are somethings you can’t do to students outside the country, in the United Kingdom for instance. And whether we like it or not, we must come to the terms that as soon people get to the level of the university we must recognize them as adults. One of the symbols that will show you our orientation towards student is when you get to know that Universities now convene Parents Teachers Associations (PTA). Alumni are no longer enough. The fact that we now have parents’ forum in the university…that in itself is a tragedy. What happens to those who are parents themselves. This is telling you that the assumption now is that universities are equal to kindergartens. This is the orientation and that is why we are having crisis all around, because some students are now asserting that you can’t treat them that way. And if the so called parents who are standing in loco parentis cannot fathom why, they should be challenged.

Watch out for the concluding part.

#SaveEducationInNigeria is a column on THE PAGE where we engage stakeholders in the educational sector. Here we interview edupreneurs, student leaders, professors, administrators and others who are actively involved in the sector. Our discussants examine the challenges facing the sector and proffer solutions.

Copyright 2017 The Page. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.thepageng.com as the source.



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