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 Amir Abdulazeez
President of Foundation for Better Initiatives (FBI)
Chedi Quarters

Chedi-Ingawa,

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The Challenge before the Nigerian Academia

by Amir Abdulazeez
 
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T

he year 2015 was quite eventful in the area of academic research, scientific progress and advancing knowledge globally. However, the year just like many others, silently passed without some tangibly significant innovative break-through from the Nigerian Academia. For example, it has been 30 years since a new antibiotic drug was discovered. Early last year, a team from North-eastern University in Massachusetts, U.S.A discovered Teixobactin. The team used the drug to successfully treat resistant disease-infected mice and hope to begin human trials within two years. This new drug according to them could be instrumental in treating the mutated, resistant diseases that have become immune to the old antibiotics that we have been using over the last 30 years. Its method of discovery they say, could lead to more antibiotic findings.

 

Despite the huge setbacks in the Nigerian education system which is primarily caused by poor funding and negligence, the Nigerian academicians still need to do more. They must defy all odds and take it upon themselves to use their various fields to collectively rescue the nation and set it on the path of prosperity. Whatever their excuses, they can’t absolve themselves from blame regarding the general Nigerian predicament. This is much more crucial and critical; particularly that it has become clear that we need more than good leadership to succeed. 

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In that same year, it was discovered that a fourth state of matter apart from solid, liquid and gas existed. A bionic lens with the potential to revolutionize eye care, designed to give patients perfect vision and ease eye operations was also invented by one Dr. Gareth Webb. A superior stethoscope with a smart adapter was also invented; it makes it possible for physicians to download heartbeat data to a smart phone. Water was discovered in planet Mars, a potential HIV vaccine and many other scientific discoveries were made over the same period, 2015.

The cold war between the USSR and USA that followed after the end of World War II was fought through different means. The Scientists and Academia of both countries played significant roles in trying to make discoveries that will strengthen their countries and outwit its rival. It was some of these discoveries that engineered the space race and popularized the use of artificial space satellites for gathering enormous information about the earth for human utilization. When Russia launched Sputnik in October, 1957, the world’s first artificial satellite, it was almost certain that world history would never be the same afterwards.

In the absence of reliable data, we may assume that the number of Nigerian professors that are still alive to be in the region of possibly 2500 or more especially if we consider the fact that there are more than 130 universities in Nigeria. Some first generation universities like University of Ibadan and Ahmadu Bello University Zaria may be having as much as or more than a hundred professors each. Such number of professors can change the fate of the world through research, not to talk of a nation. Apart from Wole Soyinka who won the Nobel Prize in literature, no Nigerian has ever won the prize in any of the categories; Chemistry, Physics, Economics, etc. Many of the winners did so because they did things that made great impacts in their countries or in the world at large. The British-born Swede, Agnus Deaton won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on consumption, poverty and welfare which helped governments to improve policy through tools such as household surveys and tax changes.

Although many Nigerian Academicians and scientist have remarkably left their marks across various fields of knowledge, we are yet to effectively build on their foundation. Moreover, we are yet to transform many of our past and present academic achievements into tangible and impactful actions for development. The academia itself appears to be generally stagnant. Chinua Achebe (Literature), Akin Mabogunje (Geography), Iya Abubakar (Mathematics), Egrinya Eneji (Agronomy), John Ogbu (Anthropology), Seyi Oyesola (Medicine) and Bisi Ezerioha (Engineering) are some of the few Nigerians that left their marks.

Some few Nigerian researchers and academics that made some significant breakthrough in impactful researches and inventions mostly did so outside Nigeria and those researches are owned by those countries that sponsored them, many of them are no longer even Nigerians, they’ve changed nationalities. Bisi Ezerioha for instance built some of the most powerful engines for Honda and Porsche. Another typical example is the Onitsha born but American made Philip Emeagwali. He was voted the greatest African scientist and the 35th greatest African of all time in a survey by New African Magazine in 2004. Former US president Bill Clinton described him as an example of what Nigerians could achieve when given the opportunity.

Individually, some very few Nigerian academics have achieved success and made appreciable progress, but collectively, the Nigerian academia generally lacks innovation, motivation and impact. Several internal and external factors are responsible for this. These factors include but are not limited to poor funding, corruption, lack of patriotism, poor self-belief and confidence, over dependence on foreign products, lack of vision, absence of self-challenge, invisibility and poor promotion, misplaced priorities and poor sense of responsibility. The issue is that many of the impactful researches conducted elsewhere are not beyond the intellectual capacity of our academics. The problem is that, we apparently don’t see the academia as a major sector for driving national development and innovation.

Seyi Oyesola, a University of Lagos trained doctor helped co-invented the ‘Hospital in the box’ in faraway United States. The Kaduna-born Jelani Aliyu helps design cars for General Motors. The Delta State born Oviemo Ovadje is credited with the invention of the Emergency Auto Blood Transfusion System (EAT-SET). Enugu born Sebastine Chinonye researched on wind-propelled turbines to generate electricity. Federal University of Technology Minna graduate Shehu Saleh Balami designed a solid fuel rocket in 2008. We have several examples of these Nigerians whose work were either done abroad or were done here but not adequately promoted, conceptualized, developed and put into effective use.

Some few months ago, I was walking through the corridors of the postgraduate school of one of Nigeria’s second generation universities when I noticed a very dusty and dirty room through one of its windows. When I asked, I was told that it is the room where postgraduate researches of Masters Degrees and PhDs are being kept. From the way the room looks, one has the impression that the only time when the room is opened is when the postgraduate school wants to ‘dump’ more research projects inside. Nobody knows when those researches would be ever consumed and by whom. One can’t even certify the quality and effectiveness of those researches. The best bet is that most of those researches are just the normal average researches conducted for the purpose of obtaining the degrees and not necessarily to add anything to knowledge.

Nigerian universities themselves are fast turning into commercial centers of aggressive and exploitative revenue generation instead of centers of research and innovation. This is due mostly to poor funding from government coupled with the universities’ inability to devise professional and non-exploitative means of self-funding. I heard of a university that charges N 11,000 for a simple academic transcript whereas a friend who studied in lowly-rated Uganda narrated how you are just a click away from freely obtaining your academic transcript on the university’s website.  

Right from independence to date, Nigerians have exclusively looked up to her leaders to solve the nation’s problems. While they can’t be blamed for such, it would have been better if we expect more from other stakeholders like the academia, especially that the leaders at all levels have largely proven to be unequal to the task of nation-building improving lives of the citizens. We must demand more from not only the academia but from all other major stakeholders. Government is not only the vehicle to progress; after all many academics failed to perform up to expectations when they were in government.

I was humbly opportune to be a member of an intellectual online forum with a multi-national membership. A topic of discussion about the central role played by academicians in moving the world forward in general and their individual countries in particular. A participant discussed at length how research findings from academicians effectively revolutionized the agricultural and energy sectors in Israel. Another narrated how the education sector partly contributed to the rapid growth and development of Singapore. Others discussed how their number of Nobel Prize winners across different fields helped boosted their countries’ reputation and increased global connection. I was left wondering whether there was one sector in Nigeria, be it Agriculture, power, industrial, technological, Medical or any other that has been effectively changed or improved through research from the Nigerian Academia? It is either the quality researches are not there or the attempts made are inadequate, unworthy, not promoted and not utilized.   

Despite the huge setbacks in the Nigerian education system which is primarily caused by poor funding and negligence, the Nigerian academicians still need to do more. They must defy all odds and take it upon themselves to use their various fields to collectively rescue the nation and set it on the path of prosperity. Whatever their excuses, they can’t absolve themselves from blame regarding the general Nigerian predicament. This is much more crucial and critical; particularly that it has become clear that we need more than good leadership to succeed. 

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