The immediate consequence of the incessant haranguing university teachers experience at the hands of whatever government there once was is that the lecturer lost the esteem that he was once accorded: he went for months on end without pay and the whole nation would see him as a selfish person who argued only on behalf of his pocket. Sometimes, these universities are shut indefinitely for as long as a whole year, making nonsense of university academic calendars. The question then was: how did anyone expect those dictators to understand the challenges the university system experienced when they hardly saw the four walls even of a secondary school?When I attended school, there were more than three Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) face-offs with either Babangida, Abacha or Abacha over something that had to do with salaries, funding or something else. At other times too, when it seemed that the ASUU were on the verge of brokering some sort of agreement with the government, their Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities(NASU) cousins jumped in the fray and brought the entire system to a standstill once more. The smart ones resignedly dumped their country, sought better climes where their brains are better appreciated and are today, I tell you, doing well for their surrogate countries. There was one here in Nigeria who now lives abroad. He has devised a contraption they say can store water enough to last the next fifty years while it is possible to wash your hands with spittle here for lack of water. I remember a certain lecturer mine who proceeded on Sabbatical leave to Canada. After she came back, an overjoyed student body sent representatives to welcome her, hoping that we would benefit from her wealth of academic fecundity. She shooed us away, that her new place has as salary for one month what she should get in five years here. These incessant hiccups in the system made one feel like a bye-product who could not describe himself as either having graduated from this or that session. Apart from the debilitating effect that this has had on the system itself, one thing became constant: your degree lost its value and edge in the eyes of mostly the international community and even in the eyes of local employers. I found it a little difficult to understand why everyone complained that Nigerian graduates were half-baked and therefore unemployable when we did nothing tosupport our teachers when they took on successive governments on account of dilapidating infrastructure in these schools.
It was not only through the kaleidoscope of the international community that we saw that Nigerian degrees lost relevance and prestige. Notice the myriad of adverts either from the UK or the US or even from far flung places like Kiev in the Ukraine in The Guardian wooing our students to come to school in places where they already recognize that our educational arrangement is dilapidated and very near collapse. The way it is now, British and American school administrators via their agencies see Nigeria in terms of the old Mali empire that had too much gold that could be picked up at sunset in the form of a disorganized academic culture.
Our parents lost interest too. Most of them had gone to school, as we say here in naija, ‘when school be school’, referring to a situation when you had to go to school for four years and not a minute more or less. I have not forgotten those fantastic stories that were told by those who were there before us. They had it all: excellent catering services, excellent hostel facilities and thoroughbred professors who were as hard as nails yet exhibited an avuncular disposition to a budding student. A lot of them did what was known in those days as ‘Cantab’, preparatory foreign ‘A’ Level programmes that helped them cope with the initial frustrations normally associated with academic rigours of university. If you see remnants of the notes they took while in school (in splendid cursive), something occurs to you that whatever it was that they experienced as students in tertiary institutions may have been flushed down the john.
Now, before I go right ahead to discuss the question of Nigerians moving in hordes to study in universities in Ghana, let us first of all visit the incidence of January 17, 1983. The Nigerian government considered the over 2-million Ghanaians here at that time illegal aliens, who ran away from their country because of the harsh economic realities that were on ground. Busia, Achaempong, Akuffo, Limman all had a fair share in running aground an economy probably established on solid ground by the Nkrumah epoch. At that time that about a million aliens were expelled, I remember the remnants then as either the artisans, the masons, the cobblers, the gardeners, the tailors who did just about any odd job to survive. And suddenly, Rawlings’ structural adjustment programme began to yield dividends, prompting visiting American president Clinton to declare in 1998 that Ghana was ‘the new African Renaissance’. Before anyone realized what was happening, all of the Kofis, the Abenas, the Kwames and Kwabenas who once lived around my neighbourhood disappeared, went back to Ghana on account of the economic miracles that were said to be taking place.
Just about the same time that all of this was happening (that short time between Shagari, Buhari and Babangida), our own economy began to experience a lot of distress. It eventually collapsed. Very sensitive sectors of the economy like the health, education, transport sectors took a concomitant plunge also. All of this may not have been too difficult a matter to attend to but instead of a Rawlings, we had a plague if not of a Busia, it was of an Achaempong or an Akuffo or a Limman at the helm of Nigeria’s affairs. Therefore, what has happened seems to be the perfect example of the reversal of fortunes of a tragic hero known as Nigeria: we have falled from grace to grass and the irony of it all is that it is to those we shooed that we must now send our students.
Now, now, now and now. Don’t get me wrong. Listen, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Nigerians studying in universities in Ghana if those who have decided to send their wards there have passed a vote-of-no-confidence on the system here. Universities in Ghana are not even up to a quarter of the number we have here and I guess that is why they are better run. We are told that there are no strikes. We are also told that power supply is not as PHCN as it is here and that the universities are moderately well-equipped. So, if there is value for money in the educational industry in Ghana (bearing the ECOWAS tenet of co-existence in mind and) because the environment is enabling and is affordable, why not? If the ones here cannot absorb the teeming number of those who need university education and the ones in neigbouring countries could, why not? Very auspicious Nigerians( Bishop Ajayi Crowther et all) have had training in Sierra Leone, aka the Harvard or Athens of Africa and we know that Fourah Bay College in West Africa had a budget that is the semi-equivalent of some of today’s Ivy League schools.
Now having established that point, it is important as well to state that with Nigeria’s fabled human and natural endowment, we have no business whatsoever sending our students to any school within the West African sub-region for tertiary education. I argue thus because the whole business has the mien of an indictment that says that we cannot harness the vast potentials inherent in our educational sector. If students from Egypt, Tunisia, the UK, France or Australia would rush to Nigerian universities the way ours do to these countries, why would we complain? But the whole thing is such a one-sided affair. I would love to leave the embarrassment of Nigerians studying either the Sciences or the Arts in universities in the Sub-region at the doorsteps of those who did not consider the spiraling effect their harassment of my teachers has caused