WHEN the Federal Government announced the creation of the Linkages with Experts and Academics in the Diaspora Scheme (LEADS) in 2007, it was widely hailed as an initiative that would go a long way in resurrecting the culture of research in Nigerian universities and restoring Nigerian higher education to its former place on the global map. LEADS’ many laudable objectives were clear on this intent. Among them were: attracting ‘experts and academics of Nigerian extraction in the Diaspora on short term basis to contribute to the enhancement of education in the Nigerian university system,’ creating ‘appropriate engagement positions and job satisfaction for Nigerian academics and experts,’ and encouraging ‘healthy staff movements, interaction and collaboration across and between Nigerian universities and other sectors of education.’
Almost a decade after its creation, however, the disappointing news is that the scheme has drastically fallen short of attaining these worthwhile goals. For example, according to reports in the media, it would appear that the Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu and the National Universities Commission (NUC), which is saddled with the everyday management of the scheme, are at cross purposes as regards both methodologies of implementation and actual policy targets.
For another, the scheme appears bogged down in bureaucratic quicksand, caught between the incompatible oversights of the NUC, the Education Ministry, and the Tertiary Education Fund (TETFUND), which is expected to provide the bulk of the funding for the programme. At any rate, there has been a lot of motion with very little movement to show for it, with the unfortunate outcome that the current scholar-beneficiaries of the programme, all recruited from universities across the United States, are marooned in various Nigerian institutions where ordinarily they should be providing active intellectual service.
The lamentation of one of the LEADS scholars, Professor Daniel Awodiya, currently attached to the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), encapsulates the distress the scholars are facing due to the apparent shabby preparedness of the NUC. Awodiya said: “You hardly can get any information from the NUC about what you have to do to register yourself after your arrival in the country; how to navigate the programme, nobody understands this! So, I had to go to NUC myself, find some contacts by myself and started communicating with them in order to know what was going on. I had never received any phone call from anyone in the NUC regarding the programme that they sponsored. So, I would say, they organize the programme to get us into Nigeria and once you are in Nigeria, you’re on your own! And indeed, I have been on my own in the last seven months I have been here.”
Needless to say, this is far from ideal, and things would have to change drastically, and in short order, to get the scheme back on track. For instance, aspiring and current LEADS scholars must be able to obtain all relevant information about the Scheme easily online. For its part, the NUC needs to put its house in order by providing accurate information about the Scheme on its portal. The commission does not inspire confidence with its claim that “about nineteen scholars have been engaged” in the programme. Is the NUC unable to count? What exactly is the meaning of ‘about nineteen’? Eighteen? Twenty?
Second, the NUC must liaise with TETFUND to pay the salaries and other entitlements of current scholars immediately, and promptly henceforth. There is simply no point uprooting scholars from their various domiciles, only to expose them to immiseration and uncertainty in Nigeria. The LEADS Scheme is a great idea, one whose timeliness and significance cannot be overestimated. It should not be allowed to go to seed.