Way back in those days, my father who attended Ahmadu Bello University in the 70s, always lamented to us about how excellent the academic environment was, such that a university like ABU was comparable to any other university in the world, both in terms of teaching and research. This was and is still evident from the manner in which ABU's earlier graduates have excelled in their chosen fields of endeavour both in the public and private sectors of the economy. For that, ABU was known as Nigeria's famous and most prestigious university.
It recently made an indelible mark in the pages of history after producing the first Nigerian president (Umaru Musa Yar'adua) to ever attend a university! This is also a university that is known as the most populous in Africa south of the Sahara. This may have resulted from the fact that ABU has the whole of Northern Nigeria as its catchments area when it comes to issuing out admissions to new students - a factor which makes it markedly different from any other university in the country.But as days went by, military men who practically understood nothing about university education came into power and gradually, the university system as a whole started approaching a terrible doom where lawlessness became the order of the day. Academic facilities started turning out to be insufficient for the ever-growing population of students; lecturers who are not well paid and who no longer enjoyed the teaching profession but are still in the job in order to make ends meet developed cowardly attitudes of openly requesting bribe ÔÇśin cash and kind' from students in order to pass their ÔÇśprey' students.
In the course of time, therefore, the attitude of students towards fetching out the ÔÇśsubstance' of university education gradually declined. After all, a one-unit course may not go above a thousand naira; two-units for two thousand naira and so on as is the case in some universities. Lecturers represent themselves in the class by issuing handouts to students at prices they wish, while taking note of those who buy the handouts and those who do not, so that these handouts will secretly constitute a prerequisite towards achieving a reasonable grade in the course concerned. The issue of massive failure of students following frustrations cast in the minds of the lecturers is also on the increase as most hardworking students hardly scale above a third class degree.However, all of these happen because there is no ruling body that is ready to look into such issues, whereas students who have been victims of such problems have nowhere to take their problems to. The inefficiency of record-keeping is most rampant amongst our universities today. It is hard to find any student in any public university who has not faced the problem of record-keeping at one time or the other in his university career. Usually, results are being mixed up, grades interchanged, thus giving merit to undeserving students and subsequently de-meriting the deserving ones; more rarely the untraceable loss of all documentations about a student. This often leads to rash decisions by the university Senate to send the affected students out of the university on grounds that they have no records, which makes them non-members of the department in good standing and therefore are declared ÔÇśillegal students' hence withdrawn. But the activities of our lecturers have sometimes resulted in grave revolts from the students, where they sometimes issue out threats of all sorts to the lives of their lecturers. Although this has not yet been recorded in Nigeria, in America, there were incidences where angry students shoot people at random in both secondary and university levels. The most recent happened in Virginia Tech, in Virginia State where a student named Cho Seung-Hui murdered scores of his fellow students and lecturers before finally killing himself. Another incident was that of the Columbine High School in Colorado where two final-year students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, staged what is today known and documented as ÔÇśColumbine massacre'. These students were thought to be calm-looking and soft-hearted that none amongst their peers and teachers ever imagined that they were capable of involving themselves in this ÔÇśmini-genocidal' act. They later killed themselves after they were satisfied that their minds had been relieved of the long-planned massacre.
We certainly don't pray for such inhuman acts to transgress over to our society here in Africa, but if I am a lecturer in any of our public universities, I will be ever-ready for that bullet that may come from students at anytime, especially if I know that I am not the ÔÇśeasy-relating' and ÔÇśall-embracing' type. With the never-ending problems faced by our universities today, various metamorphoses have been recorded, as lecturers flee from such universities into the political society since the university job is no longer prestigious.
Professors who used to be world-renowned and their achievements often celebrated, have gone into professing lies at our various levels of government like the present-day Senate. On the other hand, the unfortunate ones still in the teaching profession are always ready with their CVs in case they come across any political appointment outside the university where they can accumulate government funds to themselves and their immediate families. This is the reason why today you have a thousand and one PhDs in politics or occupying many political positions like senatorial seats, governors, House members and their ilk, failing to remember that PhDs are best meant for the academia.
With this and many other things, the world or better still the advanced world never takes Nigerians with indigenous degrees serious, because they believe that anything from our universities is simply fatuous. Nigerians in the Diaspora are in good positions to attest to these facts as they have openly been discriminated against in the international job market. It has been said that many Nigerians especially those who fled the country through the American Visa Lottery programme are engaged in some godforsaken jobs over there in the United States.
I have heard of Master's degree holders (who obtained their degrees here) often work as night-watchmen, and so it can be safely stated that these people have failed even in the most prosperous land ever known throughout the history of human civilisation. They have failed in "God's own country, man's own paradise"; they have repeatedly failed in the land of the free and home to the brave courtesy of our so-called Nigerian public universities that instilled in them a ÔÇśNeanderthal' knowledge.
The only way out for those who have failed is to go back to the classroom, to learn in the modern way and no longer the traditional way they were used to, and subsequently, obtain world-class degrees so that they may be employed in a somewhat more lucrative organisation. Consequently, it is a welcome development that Nigerians are beginning to realise the importance of establishing private universities by the day. These private universities will serve as a model to fight the corruption in the fabric of our public universities. Although most of them are expensive in terms of tuition, but it can be guaranteed that they will be less expensive as they continue to flourish over time, so that average Nigerians can one day afford to send their children to some of them.
Until then, those lecturers in public universities will understand that they are of less importance, the government will then pay less attention to the demands of the unending strikes that these lecturers embark on every now and then. The issue of punitively giving ÔÇślow energy' degrees to students who don't deserve it will become a thing of the past, as this privately-owned universities are ready to give out quality education engineered in a conducive learning environment which will naturally resurface the extinct first-class degrees.
Some well-to-do parents have also realised the need to send their children abroad as justified from the teeming number of students going to study in countries like Cyprus, Malaysia, UAE, Ukraine, India, Canada, etc. where degrees are realised at a little bit cheaper prices/cost in comparison to the British or American standards. The alarming population of students seeking admissions in the above-listed countries is so enormous that most of these universities are fond of sending their representatives to Nigeria to solicit for potential students with interests in studying in their countries.
These ÔÇśstudent-hungry' universities go to the extent of giving an ÔÇśon-the-spot' admission to students alongside travel documents and some counseling. This revolution taking place in the university system I think happened in the same manner and in succession to secondary schools. For that, I can say that the ÔÇśprivate secondary school syndrome' has come over to the universities. It can be clearly remembered that way back in fifteen-twenty years ago, private secondary schools were not common; those that were existing were not as cheap as to warrant the enrolment of students from the average Nigerian homes.
Today, they are so abundant and at reasonable costs that most parents are capable of sending their children to them, and this automatically led government-owned secondary schools into irrelevance obsolesce. When I finished primary school about ten years ago, all my colleagues and I sought admission into Federal Government Colleges.
Though these colleges were not perfect even as at then, they were pretty better than they are today. That was why most students in these colleges then felt they were one step ahead of their counterparts in other public secondary schools. However, these colleges are gradually losing students, as seeking admission into them is virtually a lost glory, because most primary school leavers opt for private secondary schools that they can afford. This situation, I guess, has come to the universities.
Aminu, Writes from Dougirei South, Yola, Nigeria. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org