"WR6_gUnUj-ztiW07KQcOCnTel9A"/> Notes From Atlanta: On Bauchi’s Fake Lecturer—and What Should be Done

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Bauchi’s Fake Lecturer—and What Should be Done

By Farooq A. Kperogi

News of the conviction of 51-year-old Daniel Ishola Owoademi who taught at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) in Bauchi for over 12 years with fake American and Canadian educational credentials raises several disconcerting issues not only about the state of university education in Nigeria but also about the ethos that defines us as a nation.

The first obvious issue it brings to the forefront of public consciousness is our uncritical adoration for the foreign, what I call the cult of the foreign. If other societies suffer from xenophobia, that is, the irrational fear of foreigners, we are afflicted with the plague of xenophilia, which I define as the excessive idolization of anything foreign.

Mr. Owoademi’s employers at ATBU Bauchi were, without a doubt, mesmerized by his claim to have had an American and Canadian education. According to news reports, Owoademi claimed to have earned a Higher National Diploma (HND) from a non-existent American “Institution of Modeling” and a bachelor’s of science degree from an unnamed Canadian university. On the basis of these forged foreign “qualifications,” he was offered a job to teach Nigeria’s future technological leaders.

But this also raises the even more worrying issue of lack of due diligence on the part of ATBU’s administrators. The first obvious red flag in Owoade’s qualifications is his claim to have received an HND from an American institution. There is NO such thing as an HND in the American educational system. HND is a European, mostly British, educational peculiarity, which was brought to parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand by the British. (Read my previous write-up on HND and American education) That university administrators, who make hiring decisions on teaching staff, didn’t know this basic fact is truly troubling. It makes you wonder how many more people have exploited the embarrassing ignorance of university administrators to “game” the system.

The other issue that Owoademi’s unconscionable fraud dramatizes is the absolute low standard and expectation of teaching in Nigerian universities. A barely educated man “taught” at a Nigerian university for over a decade without being detected. This happened precisely because, frankly, it doesn’t take a whole lot to be a university lecturer in Nigeria. All that you need to be a university lecturer is the capacity to stand in front of a class, dictate prepared notes to students, and assign grades at the end of the semester.

I regret to say this because there are many outstanding teachers in Nigerian universities. As a product of Nigerian universities myself, I have benefited tremendously from some truly exceptional teachers. But this fact does not detract from the reality that university teaching in Nigeria is in a really terrible state. As much as I learned from some exceptionally inspiring and hardworking teachers, I also had several mediocre teachers who did no more than read out notes that were handed down to them by their teachers from eons ago and who brooked no questions after the dictation exercises they fraudulently dignified as “lectures.” Unfortunately, these kinds of indolent, note-dictating lecturers are becoming the rule rather than the exception.

And that is precisely why any idiot can be a university lecturer. This is possible because there is no accountability of any sort in Nigerian university teaching. Many Nigerian university teachers, for the most part, are pedagogical tyrants who are neither accountable to their students nor to their employers. Had there been an institutional mechanism for periodic feedback on and evaluation of the performance of university teachers, Owoademi—and many like him—would never have endured in the system. But it gets even worse: many university lecturers, in fact, don’t show up for their classes. I had lecturers who came to class only five times in a whole semester!

So I want to propose that the National University Commission (NUC), in cooperation with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), introduce end-of-semester paper-based or electronic student evaluation of teachers, similar to what obtains in many industrialized societies.

Every semester, students should have the right to anonymously evaluate the effectiveness and preparedness of their teachers. They should be able to rate what they have learned from their teachers and point out any concerns they observed in the course of the semester. A lecturer who gets consistently low evaluations and poor comments from students should be observed by the chair of the department or some other senior staff and be appropriately counseled. The evaluation should form part of the basis for promotion, pay raises and, in extreme cases, termination of appointment.

The idea of student evaluation of instructors is, of course, fraught with its own problems. It can, for instance, lead to grade inflation, lowering of standards (where standards exist, that is), and “reverse” student tyranny, but these problems are unlikely to arise in a Nigerian setting because there is already a culturally sanctioned power distance between students and lecturers, unlike in the West.

The Academic Staff Union of Universities should mature beyond being an agitational trade union that does no more than shut universities periodically to demand unearned, across-the-board pay raises for its members; it should also be concerned with the professional conduct of university teachers. This is the only way to salvage its terrible public image as a bunch of lazy, incompetent, perpetually striking, note-dictating, money-grabbing bullies who are in university teaching only because they have no other options. I am the first to protest that this is a notoriously inaccurate portrayal of all university teachers in Nigeria. But ASUU needs to sit up and confront the problems that inspire this unflattering portrayal of Nigerian university teachers in the popular imagination.

To be sure, certificate forgery isn’t exclusive to Nigeria. Even in the United States, there have been instances of people who forged certificates to work in top-tier universities. A recent notable case involves the dean of admissions for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of America’s top five universities. The dean, identified as Marilee Jones, faked degrees to work at the school since 1979. She was “outed” only in 2007.

But it’s impossible for her to have lasted that long if she was on the teaching staff of the university. Perhaps the NUC and ASUU should initiate a comprehensive inspection of the educational qualifications of all university lecturers. It’s now easier than ever before to confirm the authenticity or otherwise of foreign qualifications.

Although only a small fraction of university lecturers may be found guilty of possessing fake qualifications, a thorough audit of lecturers’ qualifications is still worth the effort because one fake lecturer produces thousands of fake graduates.


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