The Upper Crust

Varsities: Curriculum isn’t problem, despots are (1)


With Uche Nnadozie

I just flipped through a newspaper. The report claims that a lecturer at the University of Ibadan committed suicide, although possible motives were not adduced, however friends, family and colleagues think this crime was committed because the man has been frustrated and depressed for a long time. Here is a mathematics major, who has had his master’s degree since God knows when, but who for inexplicable reasons has been unable to obtain his PhD from UI for a whopping 22 years. This is tyranny writ large. The first thing is to think that the man has been a dullard. Here is the thing, except you have not tried to study at post graduate level in Nigerian universities, especially those in Southern Nigeria, you will  begin to doubt the dead man or his relatives’ accounts. In fact, the frustration begins as soon as you take courses to complete your master’s programme.

The PhD programme in a typical Nigerian university is often laced with all manner of temptations. Your supervisor instantly becomes God. You must not just worship him or her, you must worship everything around him. You pick his or her bills depending on how economically viable you are. Otherwise you become his slave. Most of his errands will be run by you. You will literarily wash his feet with your spittle. You are at his beck and call at all times, washing car here, sweeping offices there. You are teaching on his behalf at undergraduate level or marking scripts at any level. He stays away from work but receives the alert; however, you the slave must do the work for him and be paid no dime. Indeed, you will be grateful you did. You need such odd jobs to know you are on the “right” side. If you don’t get it, then your topic will never be “research viable”, your supervisor will go on “leave”, on course, to conference or get an appointment. You will wait! Oh woe betides you if he dies, or reports to the faculty that he can no longer supervise you. Think for a minute if your supervisor claims you are “rude”!

These supervisors don’t care. They are loud, arrogant and all over the place. They tell students their stories of agony and how they managed to get their PhDs or professorship. They are determined to make you pass through the horror in two or three folds. They are proud to see you reduced to a slave with no worth or no self esteem. It is that bad. Yet the whole system is one big conspiracy. Students don’t speak out, neither the slave masters. But these are the academics that come to the public and pontificate. They tell the society how things should be but they practice these ways and means in breach. They are the perfect green grass and the green snake. They blend into the dictatorship of the ivory tower; a place where no one brooks descent.

Their words are like the perfect dictator, yet they write or speak on television regaling us about democracy and rule of law. Like Christianity, our universities are enclaves of despots.

Many of our professors and other categories of teachers and non academic staff do not think that the university is a place to proffer simple practical solutions to societal problems. Instead, they do everything to ensure our problems are escalated. Tell me one problem they have solved in their campuses, just one? The society don’t have electricity, they don’t too. In spite of all the faculties in engineering and other sciences, universities in Nigeria have failed to provide one solution to electricity needs of the country or even of theirs. They criticise the government, collect money when they go on strike, take salaries and allowances while on strike then take money or sex from students and pass them. How can such a system provide solutions? All they do is compound our problems. Apart from lack of technological innovation, they don’t provide any solution for our social issues. Instead they compound that too.

This type of university teacher is either a former cultist, current cultist or a sex predator. They combine these vices because they have the opportunity to mark scripts and award grades. Not because they are such horrible people ab initio. They do these things because there is a reward no matter how gross. But it doesn’t end there. They also boast about it. They make students who may not play their game suffer for their indiscretion. You may be regularly graded poorly, or in the case of Ph.D candidates, your presentations will always come off bland and without depth. You will be told how stupid you are and why you should not have wasted your time to come take a PhD course as though they that have it have two heads. It is as if they don’t want others to bear the title. It’s like a cult. Even exceptionally brilliant students suffer similar fate (but not all the time).

Till date, government just does not pay attention to these universities. They let them be as though there is some sort of conspiracy to not tamper with them. As a result, all manner of crimes go on in the administration and management of the community called the university. The only time government pays some attention is if the unions go on strike. The negotiations that follow are always outside the school premises. After each negotiation, I don’t see ministers and other negotiators tour these schools up and down the country looking out for the things that they pay for. I don’t see education ministers; Nigeria Universities Commission officials tour schools. They all just sit back in their offices. So the teachers just do what they like. Even legislators on oversight hardly visit schools; hardly go to lecture halls, theatres, halls of residence, laboratories, etc to see things for themselves. They visit the senate building, sit with the senate members, collect some cash and retire to their hotel rooms with some of the female students as escorts.

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