By Douglas Anele
However, and this is the crux of the matter, those responsible for running the universities on daily basis have, through financial rascality, misused available financial resources. Wastages and corruption in the system are legion. They include explosive increase in the purchase of official cars, frequent unnecessary trips by top management of universities many of whom are senior academics, huge allowances and gifts for members of university councils, lavish convocation ceremonies, overpriced contracts awarded to relatives, friends and cronies of VIPs in various campuses most of which are poorly executed, and so on.
I am sure that many senior academics at different levels of authority will have serious cases to answer if the federal and state governments undertake thorough independent audit of the entire financial transactions of universities. Hence, although our political leaders deserve opprobrium for neglecting the universities and wasting available resources on self-aggrandisement, sometimes criticism of government for not providing basic facilities in our institutions of higher learning is misplaced because highly placed lecturers in positions of authority oftentimes misappropriate available funds. Meanwhile ASUU leaders and activists insist that government must provide everything universities need to function, even relatively inexpensive items these institutions, through imaginative financial management, can comfortably provide for themselves. In this connection, any university that does not have good classrooms, decent toilets for both staff and students, markers and dusters for lecturers, fairly good library and basic equipment like Bunsen burners for laboratory work ought not to have been licensed to operate by the NUC in the first instance. Approving half-baked universities just because of the explosion in the number of candidates seeking university admission is a waste of time, money and human resources.
Yet, NUC continues to approve such universities, with the active connivance of senior academics and Professors for whom “anything goes” as long as their financial demands are met. Now, instead of Vice Chancellors wasting money on things of tangential value, such as creating new directorates, lavish convocation ceremonies and purchase of vehicles among others, they should use such funds to provide affordable items for teaching and learning. It is pertinent to observe that, in virtually all universities transparent accountability with respect to funds for capital projects and money derived from internally generated revenue is lacking. For a change, ASUU should be demanding from university authorities across the country proper accountability with respect to the subventions from government for capital expenditure, instead of blaming government all the time for petty items like Bunsen burners, toilets, fans etc. It is well known that the new buildings and facilities in various campuses are below the standard established in the years from 1962 to around 1990, which is a reflection of unimaginative planning and lack of Platonic aesthetic sensibility amongst university authorities.
This is corroborated by the fact that buildings constructed in Nigerian universities from around the 1990s, supervised by senior academics in the relevant departments as consultants, are ghettoes compared to the world class structures built before that time at the University of Lagos, such as UNILAG library, faculty of engineering building, the Senate Building the Council Chambers, Main Auditorium, etc.
Another problem is the ethnicisation of key positions in the universities, and I will use appointment of Vice Chancellors to illustrate the point. Ideally, by its mandate, a university is supposed to be universalistic in orientation since its mission consists in the pursuit of knowledge of The True, The Good and The Beautiful. This implies that merit, excellence, and proven record of performance must be the decisive factors in the selection of candidates for the elevated position of VC. Nevertheless, for a sizeable percentage of lecturers the most important factor is the ethnic origin of a potential VC; the question of merit and competence is secondary.
On several occasions, lecturers from a particular ethnic group where a university is located insist that a “son of the soil” must be the VC or else they will make things extremely difficult for any non-indigene who has the audacity to take up the post. It is a measure of increasing indulgent narrow-minded provincialism in the academia that virtually all VCs in our universities hail from the culture area where the institutions are located.
Once upon a time, when Nigerian universities were truly Ivory Towers, the Vice Chancellors of the Universities of Ibadan, Lagos, and Nigeria, Nsukka, hailed from the same ethnic group, and from my research, they performed well. Why must the VC of UNN be an Igbo? Must the VC of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, be a Yoruba? I am not aware of any principled stance of ASUU against the ethnicisation of Vice Chancellorship in our universities, which is unfortunate because that position is critical in the proper day-to-day management of universities, and ethnicity is neither a necessary nor sufficient criterion for selecting the most qualified candidate for the job.
Anyway, Nigerian academics in general have retreated into the cocoon of ethnic parochialism, because it provides many of them a strong platform for negotiating and competing effectively in the system to make up for deficiencies in cognitive and emotional intelligence as well as in character.
Even in the recruitment and promotion of lecturers, several heads of departments, deans of faculties, provosts of colleges and VCs have consistently sacrificed merit on the altar of ethnicity. Students even allege that some lecturers give preferential treatment to students from their ethnic group while grading examination scripts, tests and take home assignments. To summarise: the proclivity of an increasing number of lecturers to put ethnic considerations before merit and capacity to perform is a dangerous trend that has impacted negatively on our universities; colleagues should begin to think seriously about how to discourage the practice. Lecturers are mainly responsible for the skewed procedure and requirements for promotion of academics, which allows square pegs to be in round holes in our universities.
Now, the criteria for advancement from one cadre to another are set by academics with the approval of university councils. I maintain that the system is inadequate because it places too much emphasis on journal publications, especially foreign ones, and neglects quality of teaching. Many truant lecturers with poor teaching skills have successfully exploited the weaknesses in the system and became Professors either by cloning and plagiarising works written by others (including graduate students), publishing in non-existent or very obscure journals or by recycling the same set of ideas in different publication outlets.
Indeed, some desperate colleagues connive with unscrupulous individuals outside Nigeria to float phantom journals just for attaining the professorial rank after which the so-called journal will sink into oblivion. Of course, some lecturers neglect teaching, and concentrate on publishing half-baked and badly argued ideas in order to be “high flyers” in the system. I just cannot understand why ASUU has never worked to ensure that a good system for students’ evaluation of lecturers’ performance is instituted in universities as one of the factors that determine the career movement of lecturers.
Douglas Anele is a Public Policy Analyst.