The Parody of Nigerian Education and the Alternative Search for Foreign Certificate: Whither the Hope of a Better Future? (Part I)
In one of the activities held to commemorate the 49th anniversary of Nigeria independence from the clutches of colonial despondency, I had a sparkling tête-à-tête with some Nigerians who were grossly dissatisfied with the country’s state of haplessness. The thematic spotlight of our discussion was wide-ranging, but, it was soon narrowed to education because it held on one of the citadels outside the shores of Nigeria. While flogging budding issues on the awful state of education in Nigeria, one of the contributors made a scathing remark about Nigerian education, which perhaps drew my terse response. He remarked, “Nigerian education never made me, it is my sojourn abroad that has placed me in a good stead for purposeful scholarship.” He went as far as saying his professors are better than those at home, thus raising question about Nigerian intellectual human resource competence? I shouted him down and insisted that he desists from such misleading and generalizing claim. However, I was able to articulate some points which won me the attention of those on the other side of the talk. Since that moment I have been restlessly battling with the bitter parting shot, yet genuine poser which the younger chap left us with, when he said, ‘with the foreign search for education lies the hope of reviving the almost faded flavor of Nigerian Education.’ Can this be accepted as a statement of fact or should it be accepted on its face value? The following observations and lines of thought been verbalized will foretell.
Starting with a statement credited to one erudite professor, a political scientist of note, will make an interesting prelude into the gist of this article. This widely published man of knowledge had once worked in Nigeria as an expatriate lecturer for about 13 years before leaving for another country. That was in the golden days, when our universities were attractive to foreign lecturers and students. While in the middle of a very lively and highly charged class, the grey haired professor paused as if he was lost in thought. Suddenly, the man put up a cynical look, only to deliver a bomb shell which sent shock waves across the minds of Nigerian students who were seated in the midst of other nationals. ‘The Nigerian students that I am seeing are those who have run away from the academic rigours in their country. They are not the best of the students’ in Nigeria,” the aged professor said. After delivery his mouth-to-air missile, the widely read scholar put up a sigh of relief and went ahead with his lecture. What could have made this man of knowledge utter such statement given the fact that those Nigerian students to whom he directed his statement were his best students? Can it be ill-motivated or be a factual comparative assessment of what the aged professor know of Nigeria and what he has seen? To provide an objective response, one may need to, on the one hand take a look at the caliber and categories of Nigerians studying abroad alongside the circumstances that surround such search for what will be tentatively called foreign education. On the other, is to look for any connection between the preceding and the complexus associated with securing a visa which qualifies someone to travel out of the shores of the country for whatever purpose.
Based on informed opinion, there are three categories of Nigerian students studying abroad. There are those who are lecturers or employees in Nigerian Universities, who, for very cogent reasons have decided to pursue doctorate abroad, although a few are running masters’ programmes. They will henceforth be referred to as category A. Next to this, are those who are not university staff, but have chosen to pursue further education or begin their first degree overseas. Forthwith, they will be referred to, as category B. Those in category C include those, whose foundational and first degree educational instructional medium was, say in French, Arabic or Chinese, and have enrolled for higher degree with a different instructional medium. There is the last category, which for the purposes of convenience will be referred to as strayed students.
The dearth of functional library, poor state of learning infrastructure, lack or limited access to recent advances in various spheres of knowledge, length of time required to complete a PhD, are some of the factors which have compelled most lecturers to enroll for doctorate abroad. While some are on study leave with or without pay, others are placed on study loan, scholarship, (either from their university, government or other sponsorship agencies). The first question that comes to mind is how some of these lecturers got employed in the first instance. A number of factors come to bear here. There are those employed based on merit, due process, the man-know-man factor and some based on quota system. The squalid condition of service in our universities have made lecturing unattractive to quality and first class students, so, most of them do not bother to seek for job as a university lecturer. Few who stay back to lecture may have resorted to this option may be as a result of some elderly intervention, personal decision or after various attempts to land a better offer have failed. On this note, our universities are left with the option of employing the availables. Based on this, it can be said the percentage of high quality students or first class brains who seek job or get employed in our universities have reduced beyond the marginal. So, one can proceed to suppose that a sizeable percentage of high quality students or first rated brains who are in the system, more so recruited based on merit and through due process constitute a fringe of the young lecturers in Nigerian universities. So, this leaves us with dearth of quality hands as lecturers in our higher places of learning.
Those employed on the basis of man-know-man somehow overlaps with those smuggled into the system through the quota system, but, there exists delineating distinctions between the two. The man-know-man beneficiaries may get employed based on a contact with a well-placed figure, who can get anything from the establishment. This may be through a contact person within the system or based on a special request by a god-father elsewhere. The god-father may be one olori-ebi– head of the family, head/member of fraternity, king, emir, obi, political figure, pastor, imam, business magnate, or what have you. Such intervention is often sought in getting a relative, or any associate employed as a lecturer or member of staff. The percentage of those recruited through this channel, who truly deserve a place in the university are also very small. But, this is one of the easiest means of getting into the system. Thus, this increases the percentage of the undesirable hands who are in our academia. Also, the quota system involves some element of lobbying, and hardly prioritizes merit, so, the overlap with the man-know-man basis of getting recruited into the system. This is more predominant in state universities, where certain percentage of the staff to be recruited are ceded to local governments, towns or even, the place where the university is located. Some conservative states in the Northern and Southern region take the lead here. Here again, merit surely suffer. In this quota system brace, there is also the unsolicited tribal, racial and religious card put to play by highly placed members of the university while recruiting lecturers into the system. With all this, it can be said that quality or merit is not major determinant of who becomes a lecturer in our universities, at least since the last 15 years. This is part of the reasons why the quality in our universities has dropped alarmingly. Given the veracity of this analysis, it can be said that, the percentage of our
lecturers seeking PhD abroad who are fit for real academic work have also dropped. So, there is the high probability that with whatever training they receive abroad, they may not be able to feel the void in their profession as a lecturer. This will become clearer when it is treated, the aspect of this piece which focuses on what people do to earn a foreign certificate and the interacting factors that work things out.
Those in category B, which embrace those who left Nigeria not as employees in any of the Nigerian universities, could have decided to do this for a number of reasons. This might be as a result of reasons which range from the need to acquire better education for academic to non-academic purpose, to the struggle for survival. Some of those in this grouping are enrolled in foreign universities by their parents as ease out option, especially, those children that have become the black sheep of the family. This, in effect increases the number of the undesirables. Also, in this assemblage, is a fair percentage of those brilliant students who have refused to solicit lecturing job. This is for the simple fact that they are less bothered traveling abroad since they are having nice time with banks, oil companies, communication industries, multinational companies and a number of places where they are hotly chased. Very few amongst them may have a rethink to either return to the academe or resign their job in pursuance of higher education abroad. Even, if they do, at least, the stark truth is that most of them do end up as consultants or simply return to the private sector as big boys. To the exception of these set of people and those from financially well off families, the remaining set of people in category B, do rely on personal income or assistance from friends and, at times, on struggling relatives, to acquire a damn expensive education abroad. Within this bracket, there also exists the very few who also have amassed the means required to sponsor their education. On this ground, one can easily surmise that the bulk of those in category B are financially constrained and may not be the better candidates for further studies, especially at the PhD level.
So, most of those in category B find it difficult to foot their academic and day-to-day expenses abroad, especially those who have the left the country with the members of their nuclear family. In other words, they are often lurked in survival battle. As a result, added to the question of their fitness for higher degree is the problem of financial detraction, hence, the reason why they are always one-leg-in and one-leg-out student. Therefore, the only option is to seek for job that can make them survive, so, in the process, another reasonable percentage do end-up leaving studying for a journey of no return. For those in this group, who are fortunate to combine the struggle for survival and academics, they hardly concentrate on their studies. So, it can also be concluded, that a greater proportion of those in category B may not be able to optimize the opportunity to acquire a good education abroad. One thing with foreign education that is often at the mercy of this category of students is that, the system is somehow flexible. Eventually, with late hour efforts, these sets of students, that is the financially constrained ones, may end up making it in one way or the other to pass their exams and eventually badge a certificate. At this juncture, it can be said that, there is the low percentage of quality students in this group as well as the dominant percentage who are not financially well off to sponsor their education abroad. This is the first defect and challenge with those in this group.
The second defect with those in category B is closely associated with those who are on good financial footing, especially the children of the wealthy ones, whose parents might have acquired such wealth legally or illegally. The money at the disposal of these set of students is always too much, so, one reason why most of them pay less attention to their academics. Abroad, part of the unwritten law, is that, students hardly fail, especially those who are not defaulters. This reality dawn on Kate Eliza O’Connor, so, why he pronounced that, ‘Universities treat overseas students as cash cows.’ There are some universities who may penalize their lecturers for failing students of this sort, because universities now combine business making with scholarship. Alderman in a speech delivered at the University of Buckingham partly substantiated this when he said, “I have heard it seriously argued that international students who plagiarize should be treated more leniently.’ The special treatment in actual fact transcends the aspect of plagiarism as this concept of cash cows plays significant role in the overall grading exercise. At whatever rate, the money making drive of universities can be said to have relegated scholastic pursuit to the second fiddle, hence, the leveraging pad for these set of students to have their way, without bribing.
For those in category C, that is, folks seeking higher degree with an instructional medium that is different from their previous education, the greater percentage of them share the defects of those in category B. Although they do undergo a language bridging course aimed in getting them switch to the new language, the simple fact is that, one or two years is not enough for those involved in researches or studies leading to the award of masters and PhD to acquire the needed proficiency level. What often provokes this switch is the fear of being accommodated into the labour market back home, so, the duress to learn in the language recognized by the market and employers. Most of those in this category must have either had their foundational education in Francophone or Arab speaking countries. While a small percentage may scale the language-switch hurdles, yet, with serious defects, many hardly acquire the language required for conducting researches, demystifying sources, advancing the frontiers of knowledge and worse still, may not be able to communicate in simple, intelligible and academic language that is deserving of their pedigree. To meet up with the challenges and rigour of acquiring such degree, PhD inclusive, they do rely on friends to submit assignments. For those with the financial muscles, their last resort has often been the assignment/term paper/thesis mill, where anything academic paper is up for sales. This may be on the internet or by engaging the services of those on ground. often times, they do get whatever they want because with minimum effort and the unwritten code of students’ hardly failing, the grace door to becoming and achieving their dream is widely opened to their favour. A finding by the University of Alberta which identified sources of cheating to include dearth of proficiency in writing and research skills, external factors (e.g., family commodification of knowledge and education, places our argument in context.
The last category, labeled as strayed students comprise those who have no business in the four walls of the university, but, secured student visas to get out of the country. To secure admission, they rely on forged documents such as doctored transcripts, forged certificates, bogus WAEC certificates and spurious testimonials. A fair percentage of those in this category graduated with a third class or pass from the university and some went to polytechnic, monotechnic, only to cook up a university degree so as to secure admission for further studies. Even, some of them are NCE graduates, and of the schools of Agriculture and Nursing respectively. This is not often detected because most universities abroad do not confirm whatever document is submitted to them. To get these fake documents, they may co-opt with an insider, relate with the oluwole boys and some just do that within the pleasure of their homes.
Based on the aforesaid, if one is to take the average of those studying abroad, it will tilt towards the side of the le
ast qualified Nigerians. So, our grey hair professor seems to get it right. Now, attention will be turned to how and what people do to get masters or PhD abroad….