Dr Niyi Adebanjo is a Senior Lecturer and former Head of English Department (HOD), Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), in Ogun State. In this interview with SEYI SOKOYA, he speaks on the problems facing the education system in Nigeria and proffers solutions to them. Excerpts:
With your experience in the education system in Nigeria, what do you think of the approval given to some private universities by the Federal government recently?
Personally, I see this development as a capitalist approach. We all know that every system has its own super structures through which they drive their economy and society. So, it is a cultural thing; the capitalist in this country are trying to control the destiny of men in the wrong direction. They are not offering any education in this country for God sake; it is just head knowledge they give. Each individual that have become outstanding in their various endeavours in the last 20 years to the best of my knowledge, achieved their success through self discovery and personal training to be successful in their chosen careers. Our system is so badly run; there is lots of corruption in the system. This is a system where we see professors that will go out of their primary obligations to lobby for political appointments, especially things they don’t have ideas about. What is the usefulness of the eight universities that were just licensed; what would they do differently from the over 60 universities we already have. What are the new things they are bringing into the system? They just want to make things worse for the education system and especially on the part of the masses. People are still even complaining about the ones built by the religious organizations. It is so sad that we are experiencing all these in our educational system. Nigeria needs to get things right and our education system needs an urgent restructuring. I think the government is just paying leap service to our educational system.
Did you also settle for the recent resolution on JAMB?
For me, examination they say is not the best test of human ability; you cannot test students by JAMB. We all know the problem JAMB has. I remember a particular year that I served as a supervisor; I wrote a report that the school I supervised then should be delisted due to the examination malpractices, among several issues, but nothing was done about it. The system running currently is also faulty; a typical example is that of my son, whose computer was shut down three times during the process and I don’t think there is an allowance for computer error. At the end of the day he scored above 170, yet he could not gain admission into the university. There are other cases like that, but nothing was done about it. Though the idea of Post UTME to screen students is a good one, unfortunately some universities have turned it into a source of raising funds because the government will not pay a dime. We also all know what is all going on in our private own universities too. I learnt that President Buhari is trying to stop Tetfund to state owned universities because the proprietors of these universities have abandoned them. Most buildings in OOU are sponsored by the Federal Government through Tetfund. These are the problems we are facing.
What do you think is the way forward?
It is about the ideal that a nation is striving for. It is sad that this country doesn’t have the ideal of what it is striving for. What is our national ideology? What is the mission of the ministry of education who ought to be in charge of our education system? What is our target? I would just say that to revive this education system in this country, we need a complete social reconstruct. It is clear that we no longer value education, competence and brilliance as well as excellence. Recently, a First Class student of the University of Ilorin was given not up to N50, 000 as a prize, but somebody who flaunts her nudity will be celebrated and be given millions of naira. The telecommunication companies and well-meaning Nigerians prefer to sponsor those who sing useless music than the brilliant chaps. So, to bring our education on the right part, we need a total reconstruct. All those who claimed to be representing us at the national assembly should be flushed out completely because they don’t have solutions to the problems of this country. If anybody has a future it is in education. If you don’t educate your people, how do you expect then to build a sane and competitive society, a society that will give equal plain ground for everybody to operate? We don’t have such a society. I urge everyone to go back and have the motive of reconstructing the society. Personally, I have made personal efforts to develop myself and I’m committed to impact positively into people. I thank God for my university and all the lecturers for their support and trainings in realizing my potentials.
Do you agree that the university education is losing its value as claimed by some?
The university is still producing some few intellectuals and very sound graduates. You have not met with doctors, PhD holders, professors who cannot use English creatively and competently. If you cannot communicate your mind, how do you realise your vision? And if you have a vision that you cannot communicate, it will die. They are few indeed; take a look at our society, what landmark inventions are in our universities? None. Even those of us in the humanities that deal in theories, people even condemn our activities in this field and without humanities there is no society. We have deemphasized history and government even at the primary and secondary school level. When we were young, history was a compulsory subject for these leaders. A people that do not know the history of their past cannot project their future. We have people now who don’t know where we are coming from, so how can they know where we are going or track a better future and this is what the university is doing. As I said earlier, it is the collaboration of the government and the capitalist in order not to make the education system work as a result of their selfish interest. The paper (certificate) is not the important thing, but the knowledge because that is the power to all things. You will be ashamed to see or hear graduates of universities when they come forward for interviews. Some will find it difficult to give simple definition of the course of their study.
What has been your experience so far as a lecturer?
It has been pleasant and sour. So far, I have seen the good and the bad side in the field of academics. I have met with fantastic people who are no longer students, but a friend. My joy in the lecturing job in the last 21 years is that I have seen those who I have impacted, surpass me. It is my joy that I now see some people who went through my tutelage doing well in their chosen careers. I also had the privilege of heading my department for more than six years as an acting HOD which gave me the opportunity to reshape the system with a high level of discipline. The other side of the job include the numerous and avoidable strikes that paralyses ones capability and salaries not paid on time. Also, research grant not given more than once when other colleagues go four to six times a year and fully sponsored by their system and to be a good researcher is very costly in this country. My most traumatising moment in this career was when my university International Secondary School on the first day of resumption sent out my children because of unpaid school fees when the institution owed me six month salaries. I was at the senate on that faithful day; I raised the issue at the forum and the Vice Chancellor called the principal immediately instructing him not to send away students of staff of the university.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I am the only son of my mum, not that she didn’t have other male children before me, but according to the story I heard, the two sons she had before me were poisoned. Of course, in polygamy those who have sons are believed to be the real wives. My mother suffered a lot of turbulent moments in marriage because of her inability to have a male child. I was told my dad told my mum not to come back home if she had a female child when I was to be given birth to, but fortunately she had a male child. In fact, my dad could not believe the news until I was brought home for him to confirm. The challenges of the polygamy was so enormous to the extent that I could not go to school until the intervention of my four sisters who were already in school and insisted that the only son must have education. I could remember that experience vividly; it was a real war because my parents almost pulled me apart and this was how I got educated and became what I am today. My greatest joy is that the little boy that was forced to go to school has been teaching in the last 21 years at one of the reputable universities in Nigeria, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) at the department of English. I have a first degree in English and Masters in English as well. Also, I work in the vineyard as a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
You are now 50, how do you feel and what are your aspirations?
I feel extremely grateful to God for the grace to be 50 and still be strong. I see this as a privilege and thank my immediate family and everyone that have one way or the other have an impact on my life. I want to thank my wife who has been supportive in the past 18 years of our marriage. Though it has not been rosy, I thank God for everything. My aspirations are still many because I am still a role model for my children. I want them to still be striving even at 50. For me, I am not surrendering yet because I am still very young. My dream for now is to power an NGO that will drive the younger generation to become great using their potentials and stop cutting corners. I believe I have enough experience to achieve this, especially with the experience I have garnered both in the church as a youth pastor and in the academics. It has always been my dream to impact and contribute to the growth of the country and I believe I can achieve that through this medium.
If not lecturing, what profession would you have chosen?
I think I would have become a practicing lawyer because I actually had the dream of studying law and when I came to the university, I applied for law for three years and I was not happy when I was given English Education. I was given English again having waited for another admission. I took it with the impression that I was going to cross to law at my 200 level, but before I knew it, I had already fallen in love with literature and I have a very strong GP in my first year. I just thank God for the grace and how far He has brought me in my career. Meanwhile, the dream is not dead yet; I will still pursue it and practice as a lawyer maybe after my retirement.