By AA Muhammad-Oumar
What you wrote about the attitude of university lecturers is true, and in fact very charitable for in truth, in many respects, the situation on ground is much worse. The fact of the matter is that the Nigerian educational system has no room for inquiry, experimentation and rigorous analysis. It has no room for independent thinking, for arguing against the conventional and for developing confidence in the self.
I remember vividly the case of a physics teacher during our “A” levels who was trying to explain the concept of acceleration, in particular the notion of per second, per second and he couldn’t make the class understand. After about twenty minutes of trying, he ended the lesson by saying frustratingly, “Look, this is what I was taught and that is what it is; you just remember it so that we can make progress!”
Many of our classmates just laughed it away; only few were intelligent enough to understand the implication of that lecturer’s action, but they had nowhere to turn to and complain. And this was 1975.
Thus, it is very common today to ask students who vigorously enquire to please shut up and allow the class “to make progress” (oh, how I hate such exhortations)!
However, my concern is with those other lecturers who are diligent and hardworking but whom the system emasculates. I can spend hours writing on this but let me restrict myself to three incidences to highlight the problem. First, students are so used to being told what to do and what to write that most of them would not enquire and learn on their own. Well, what do you expect from a graduate student who receives his lessons via dictation by his lecturer for him to copy?
So any lecturer who insists on rigour hits a wall with both the students and his fellow lecturers. He is petitioned against, and those in authority rarely bother to listen to his side of the story, but rule against him. Even those administrators who listen they dither when the result is out and more students fail than pass. This is aggravated by the mounting number of students who have to retake the course and made unacceptable when some of the students have powerful parents or guardians.
Second, the library system in Nigeria is pathetic. I can say with little fear of doubt or contradiction that our secondary school library (1969-1973) was better equipped than most current universities’ libraries. Not only that, there is hardly any library in the country that has inter-library requisition or loan system in place.
Ironically, instead of the information age assisting greatly in scholarship, it actually detracts it in Nigeria. This is because the systems allows for blatant plagiarism. Many students given simply go to the internet and download [other people’s work], append their names and viola, they have fulfilled their duty! And they get away with it either because the lecturers simply couldn’t be bothered or because they don’t know better for that is how they acquired their qualifications too.
So, again, if one insists on doing the right thing he is labelled as harsh, wicked or sadistic. I remember vividly a student telling his lecturer (who was a senior lecturer) that what he was asked to do was not done by professor so and so. He was right. Professor so and so doesn’t do that, but he was wrong to assume professor so and was right.
Where else in the world would you find a university system where once one is a professor (never mind how he got there) then that person is above the academic law and could do what he damn well pleases, literarily?
Finally, the university system in Nigeria has no self-regulating mechanism. Lecturers are rule onto themselves and woe be tide the student who demands his right or even asks for an explanation. Like you wrote, lecturers look at students’ works at their convenience and pleasure and there is no way of making them behave, except for the few students who have powerful parents or guardians either in the form of other senior colleagues or political appointees.
It is very common to see lecturers concentrate all their classes in the last couple of weeks or so to the end of the semester. Lecturers spend most of their time doing things other than their statutory duties, and the system tolerates this and even abets it by lack of regular power and very poor library system.
The conventional wisdom in Nigerian tertiary education is that a lecturer is only expected on campus if he has a lecture to deliver, thereafter he is on his own. To make matters worse ASUU would side with their own against the student. I remember a case of a lecturer who was asked to head a committee on examination malpractice in the university, whose report pointed out that examination malpractice is not only limited to students but extends to lecturers too, and suggested sanctions for such erring lecturers. Yes, you guessed right: the report never saw the daylight. Local ASUU made sure of that.
In conclusion the task of correcting the tertiary educational system in Nigeria is enormous and requires multi-prong approach. The starting place is the senior secondary school, and this is where new graduating students from foreign universities can be of enormous help if given the chance. In other words employ such graduates and put them on the same pedestal as their colleagues in the universities with the option of transferring their services to the university after 3 to 5 years.
Secondly establish an ombudsman system for the universities where complaints can be made and addressed promptly.
Thirdly, part of the government’s agreement with ASUU should include the establishment of a self-regulating system that will ensure lecturers do not take undue advantage of their students.
Fourthly, make it mandatory for TETFUND to set aside at least 15% of its disbursements towards making tertiary libraries alive.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, a system should be evolved where plagiarism in any form is seriously sanctioned and widely publicised. The case of some universities subscribing to Turn-It-In © and grading levels of plagiarism as acceptable/tolerable or not should be done away with totally.
There should be ZERO tolerance for ALL forms of plagiarism. Here is to hoping we’ll live long enough to see that day. After all, the academic status of India of the early 1970’s is not the same as that of today.
AA Muhammad-Oumar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org