One of the core principles of tertiary education in Nigeria in respect to economic development and socio-political order was that made available by 1960 Report of the Ashby Commission on Higher Education premised on creating a national elite; engendering development and; promoting unity and nation-building.
Also, General Yakubu Gowon’s administration accelerated the need for tertiary education to be an instrument of national unity, peace and social cohesion when the Federal Government at that time took initiative to set up universities and expand the scope.
However, the realities today show that rather than being the manpower for social integration and exponential economic development, higher institutions have become hubs for tribalism, nepotism, marginalisation etc.
Nigeria’s former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Prof. Abubakar Rasheed, current chairman, National Universities Commission, NUC, have expressed worry that poor leadership, mismanagement and federal character principle, were factors responsible for the alleged low standard of higher education and the rise of incompetency, tribalism and nepotism among higher institutions in country.
The duo were the chairman and guest lecturer respectively on the occasion of the Lagos State University, LASU’s 22nd Convocation lecture tagged: Role of Tertiary Education in Promoting Social Cohesion and Peace: Opportunities and Challenges for Nigeria.
Obasanjo said until Nigeria got the issue of leadership, development, governance and values right, higher institutions in the country would not be ranked among the best in the world.
His words: “Nigeria’s higher institutions can achieve their core aim of unification and social cohesion if we get the issue of leadership, governance, development and the promotion of values which remain our culture, right.”
The ex-military Head of State, added that “mismanagement has caused the problems we are facing in the country today. One would wonder why we have 164 universities in the country, the questions are how, where, why, when and what have we done to make our higher institutions achieve the unity needed for Nigeria to move forward. I am still wondering that we go out to hire manpower outside the country,” the chairman said.
Prof. Rasheed said the role of higher education remained the building of human capacity at the highest level and the production of citizens to serve the need of the society in promoting stability, development and progress.
The guest lecturer explained that although tertiary institutions were conceived for the development of socio-political order and a tool for social integration, the aims and objectives have not been realised.
He lamented that the dreams of our founding fathers in setting up tertiary institutions have failed “through challenges of parochial, sectional and regressive forces that have worked against its unity and nationhood. It is sad to say that tertiary education institutions are, tragically, yet to be the incubators of national unity and social cohesion.” said Prof. Rasheed.
He identified the lack of adequate funding and grants to tertiary institutions, bad governance among others, as factors that impede the goals of higher institutions in Nigeria.
Calling for a paradigm shift on the part of tertiary institutions to produce intellectual elites that would bring the desired change to not only ensure peaceful co-habitation, but spurned economic and political growth.
“The challenge for the immediate future, and it is an urgent one is to get our tertiary institutions back to do what they can do best, create a national elite that would facilitate the emergence of a truly united nation.
“In addition, tertiary education institutions, TEIs, in Nigeria must reinvent themselves to be able to cope with the challenges of social cohesion and peace. They must undertake internal self-assessment and re-strategise their operations “
Prof. Rasheed added that, “Social instability in Nigeria has resulted from a history of bad governance and the insensitivity of governments to the living conditions of the citizenry.
“To promote literacy and good governance, aimed at alleviating poverty through job creation and research/innovations that would positively impact the well-being of the people, I suggest that TEIs do this; engage in education for social cohesion; promote good citizenship; promote literacy, promote entrepreneurship education and promote good governance,” he advised.
Calling for restructuring of higher education, the NUC boss explained true federalism and orientation among key stakeholders in the sector, and a retreat of vice-chancellors all of the institutions in the country with staff of NUC that would enable the formulation of a blueprint, would bring the desired change.
His words: “We are aspiring to true federalism in our institutions. We have now gotten a committee to handle and help us develop a blueprint for revitalising university education in Nigeria. Now, many of the themes in the blueprint do not require money but a question of attitude. Should lecturers be allowed to skip classes? Why should students get to class, and the lecturer will not come? Why should it take months to mark scripts and release results? Why should students graduate and wait for long before getting their transcripts? Why should obtaining transcripts which ordinarily should be taken for granted, be a multitask as sometimes when you apply for a transcript, it takes months, and even years? These are issues we are trying to address.”
Next month, by the end of June, we shall call a retreat for the vice-chancellors of Nigerian universities with the NUC staff to discuss these issues and find means and ways of revitalising the operations of the universities,“ he promised.
Prof. Rasheed also noted that positive change in higher education made not be feasible if the students were not included in key decisions. “Universities are about students, and if there are no students, there will be no universities. If there are no universities, there will not be NUC. We are trying to see how can we empower students to participate in the decision making of the university system. If you go abroad, the United Kingdom, UK, America, there are students in senate.
“How can we bring into the university Senate, so that when the Senate is discussing issues pertaining to students, the students will be there and there voice will be heard. Our ultimate goal is to help us create institutions that respect difference. Institutions where everybody whether Nigerian or non-Nigerian can be safe, secured and can feel wanted and when they can interact. Because that is the beginning if we want to continue to have a nation. A country that prosper and that can help us realise our dreams.” opined the NUC chairman.