Professor Michael Faborode is a former vice-chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Ile-Ife and former Secretary-General of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities. He shares his thought in this interview with TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE about the state of Nigeria’s education sector 62 years after independence and what the future holds. Excerpts:
Nigeria clocks 62 years today as an independent country, what do you have to say about the state of our education sector?
There are many things to talk about, but I will simply say there is nothing serious to celebrate about. This is because things were far better in the sector in the past than now. Then, for example, we could talk about the glorious days of university education. Nigerian universities then were highly rated not only in Africa but globally. But for the past 25 to 30 years thereabouts, the curve of progress has fallen down greatly, and the trend has continued in that manner. It is no longer what used to be. And most painful aspect of it is that we have not realised the enormity of the damage that has happened to the sector. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been treating the sector with levity as we are doing currently. And so, as we clock 62, we will need to revisit all facets of our educational life from primary to university. We must know that education is the driver of development. But do we really know that in Nigeria? I doubt we do, and even if we know, we must have to embrace total reform of the sector just like the one currently going on at the National Universities Commission for the university education. The reform is to revitalise the university system. And that means to take some pragmatic steps, the chief of which is to take education as if our life depends solely on it as a country. That is to take it as our number one priority. Either one is talking about health, agriculture, power, investment, economy or any other thing, it starts with human capital. Without quality human capital, it will be difficult to develop. So, no sector can progress without quality education.
How do you relate this to countries outside Nigeria?
It is simple. There are many countries to use as examples all over the world including those without resources as we have. They give education quality attention, and they use that to develop their human capital which in turn develop into knowledge economy.
I will quickly give only two examples and these are Korea and Malaysia. 50 to 60 years ago, Korea was in ruins due to a protracted war. But the country later exploited the knowledge system to become a force to reckon with today globally.
So, I believe that at that period, Nigeria was better than South Korea and even Malaysia. Malaysia also gives education a deserved attention and the result is obvious today. Now, both countries have not only met and overtaken us, but gone far ahead of us.
And ironically, instead of us to think about how we can rise up again, we are destroying the good aspect of our own education system that was there before. We have supplanted the value of good and functional education with corruptive tendencies.
So, any hope for us in the near future?
Our hope is only if we take urgent and concrete steps to revamp the sector. Otherwise, things will continue to go down. This is because the youth who are the future of the country are no longer seeing anything good to point to guarantee their future. All they are seeing is lamentation, agonies and pains. They can’t see the other side of life that things could be better. This is simply because there is no concrete process on ground to better the system.
Even at that, they are still trying their best. They are using digital economy to do something to better their lots. But instead of the system to help and support them to grow, it is hostile to them. The political ruling class is suppressing them.
So, they are not encouraged. And that is why they are leaving the country in droves. And that is enormous capital flight and brain flight or call it brain drain.
The implication is that the little money we are supposed to use to develop the system, these young boys and girls are taking it out to develop other countries. Whereas, we would have gotten a thousand fold of that in returns if the Nigerian system is working as it should.
Worse still, many of these youths don’t even know what those countries will offer them. They just believe that things there will not be as bad as it is in Nigeria. That is how bad Nigeria’s situation has turned to.
If their knowledge is retained in the country, they will use it to develop the country. They will create job, create prosperity, create real economic growth and even produce goods for export rather than importing almost everything into the country. Yet, we keep behaving as if all is well. In fact, Nigeria’s education is in a shameful stage. The political ruling class is doing as if they don’t understand what to do to make things work.
Well, I will say they are really bereft of ideas that can move us forward as a country.
What then can we do to change the narrative?
We need to carry out a 360-degree turnaround. And that is to give adequate attention to the sector. Education is the cornerstone for every other sector. It is the major sector that can bring about real economic development. And better we understand this, better it is for us as a country.
What then would be your projection for Nigeria’s education by 2030?
If the situation is not arrested and the trend not reversed, the sector would have gone down to zero level.
In those old days for example, we had few universities and few students. In the 60s, 70s, we had less than
12 universities across Nigeria. Then, we had foreign students and lecturers coming to Nigeria to study. It was because they found fulfillment in our system. Our universities then were well ranked Internationally.
But today, reverse is the case. You hardly see any foreign student let alone lecturer in Nigerian universities. It is our children that are now migrating to other countries such as Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic to study. Could anyone imagine this could ever happen in Nigeria. No stability again in our educational system.
For example, our public universities are now very unstable. Strike today, strike tomorrow. Both the ruling class and the worker’s unions have done a colossal damage to the system.
Government doesn’t know how it can implement agreement while the workers on the other hand don’t want to take chances because they don’t trust the political class. How can one even trust the political class particularly in the face of their flagrant waste of the country’s resources, flagrant abuse of power and office?
That is why it’s unheard of that an Accountant-General of the Federation for example does not know that a professor working in the university system can go on sabbatical and earn another salary, which is the practice in the university system all over the world?
And that is somebody in charge of the country’s financial system who does not know the simplest thing anybody who passed through the university system as a student should be able to know.
So, we go nowhere if we don’t get our education right now. Look at the security challenge we are facing today, the bottom line is that most of the youths that are into crimes are because of economic problem. And so, if we don’t know or pretend not to know that education is the chief cornerstone for other sectors to stand, we are in real trouble. Our education sector will continue to go down.
And government claims there is no money to fund education well, how do you react to that?
Well, even if there is no money, the most important thing is if you say there is no money to fund education what about the money being wasted to fund fuel subsidy, oil and gas and so on? What about the extravagant lifestyle of most of our political class? So, if we manage our resources well, the country would have been able to solve its education and several other problems. Politicians are just being wasteful. Look at the kind of money they are spending on the campaigns for next elections. Look at the number of people who went with Mr. President to the US for UNGA and how they were said to have lavished resources during the trip.
So, it is arrant nonsense for government to think it is because of lack of adequate resources that they will not fund education well.
If you are looking for any environment or institution that is least corrupt in Nigeria, it is within the academia. Academics don’t live extravagant life. Where will they even get money to lavish? So, you can hardly accuse them of being wasteful.
The only thing I know for sure is that it is no longer sustainable to continue to run public university education free like the one the Academic Staff Union of Universities is campaigning for.
We can’t get quality education free of charge like that of the Western Region during Chief Obafemi Awolowo, again.
Now people take their children to private primary and secondary schools where they pay heavily and now come to public universities and don’t want to pay anything. We can’t get quality education like that again in Nigeria.
That is the reality we must all accept. Look at private universities charging huge tuitions. Through that, they are able to hire good lecturers, equip their laboratories and develop their infrastructure and all that. Even though, nobody is saying the public universities should charge as high as private universities, they should be charging something reasonable. What ASUU can campaign for is that the cost should not be too high that many won’t be able to afford it. And when indigent students, either brilliant or not, are involved, government should then give them scholarship or bursaries. That is what it ought to be.
But how do you see the crop of politicians vying for powers in the next dispensation?
It is just unfortunate that we keep recycling same set of people into governance. But the reality is that they are the ones coming forward and can afford the process. And so, if we think we are going to get a messiah that will turn Nigeria around overnight, that will be a mirage. And since we don’t have an alternative, we just have to make do with those available. But we must all vote wisely this time around.
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