By Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik
We (Nigerians) are a very interesting set of people. God truly took his time to specially create us. In most cases, we look at issues with emotions and live by the moment. For every discussion, especially if it’s on a controversial issue, we choose the side to support based on the personality involved and our loyalty at that moment. We pose to know everything and as online expert commentators on all issues.
A widely publicized questionable promotion by a Nigerian university was observed a few days back that created heated discussions where individuals that have got no idea on how universities work and can’t differentiate between Assistant Professor and Associate Professor were trying hard to defend the questionable act by the university. Some attempted to give a religious colouration because an Islamic Scholar is involved. A popular online public commentator was so sure that the promotion to the rank of what he called a “full professor” has no specific criteria. That, universities can confer professorship to anyone they so wish. Really? By the way, there is no rank called “full-professor” in any Nigerian university.
Let me share my opinion having spent the last 16 years in academia on tenure appointment at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. 5 of these years were spent in Europe; 2 years as a Postdoc at NTNU Trondheim, and 3 years for PhD/Part-time teaching assistant at Leicester. While I was at Leicester for graduation in July 2012, my second PhD supervisor hosted me in his house at Market Harborough. During our conversation, I asked him about the criteria to get the position of a Lecturer at Leicester and other universities in the UK and he said PhD with 5 journal articles in reputable journals. I asked about Professors and he smiled and responded that it is about how much money your innovative ideas can bring to the university. Professors are the lifeline of the universities in the UK as they are relied upon to attract grants/funds to the university. He added that you can be just Lecturer or Senior Lecturer till retirement if you can’t attract enough grants to earn a promotion.
Dear Nigerians, Professorial rank is not an honorary rank. Not in the British university system and not in any university in Nigeria. There are criteria to get to the rank. Search online, and you will find the promotion criteria/guidelines for several universities around the world. There is a strict guideline for promotion to the rank of Professor or any other rank in all the universities around the world. For Nigeria, I find the university of Ilorin promotion guidelines very interesting. It is a progressive and result-oriented promotion guideline. The guideline if implemented judiciously will place the university in a scholarly database visible to the world of research. I am hoping that other universities in Nigeria will adopt something similar.
For some universities in Nigeria, to be qualified to be promoted to the rank of Professor, you must have published a minimum of 15 journal articles in “non-predatory” journals, have 7 conference proceeding/conference papers, be involved in community service, have supervised at least 2 PhD students, involved in teaching and research for at least 3 years after the last promotion to the rank of Reader (Associate Professor), etc.
Meanwhile, before you get to that highest university rank, a fresh PhD with 3 journal publications and 2 conference papers may be employed as Lecturer II or Lecturer I. You are expected to teach for the next 3 years, research within that year and publish a total of 6 journal papers and 4 conference proceedings/papers to be promoted to the rank Senior Lecturer.
As Senior Lecturer, you are expected to be involved in postgraduate and undergraduate teaching and supervision for 3 years, supervise at least 1 PhD student, published a total of 10 journal papers and 5 conference proceedings/papers, engage in community service to be qualified for a promotion to the rank of a Reader (Associate Professor). And from there to the rank of Professor after satisfying the minimum condition stated above.
Every Nigerian public university is established with an Act of the National Assembly. They are independent of each other. They have their respective Governing Councils that steer their activities. Some academics rise faster by moving from one university to another. But for you to move from one university to another, you must secure a fresh appointment at the university you want to move to. You can then transfer your service from the old to the new public university in Nigeria. That is how it works.
The point to note is that a university cannot offer a promotion to an academic in another university. A non-faculty member and without employment history cannot be offered a promotion in any university except NUC has approved a rank called “Honorary Professor” for politicians.
Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim (aka Sheikh Pantami) was a lecturer at ATBU Bauchi from 2004 to January 2014 according to his ResearchGate profile. He proceeded on study leave in 2010 to Robert Gordon University, Scotland for his PhD. Immediately after his PhD in January 2014, he got an appointment as an Assistant Professor at the Islamic University of Medina. Some said his rank at the Saudi University was Associate Professor. But I doubt if any serious university will employ a fresh PhD as Associate Professor. He spent 2 years 7 months at the Saudi university before he terminated his contract to pick up the political appointment at NITDA in 2016.
Meanwhile, it is not certain if he absconded from ATBU to pick up the Saudi job or ATBU has no bond for their PhD scholars that went on study fellowship. He left Saudi Arabia to pick up the appointment with the government in 2016. He has worked as DG and is now a minister for the past 5 years. He seems to have no link with any university over the last 5 years and specifically no employment history with FUTO. But only to see the advertorial from Zamfara state governor on a national daily congratulating the Sheikh for his promotion to the rank of “Full Professor” in 2021 by the Council or Senate of the University. He was said to have published 160 papers. Papers that could not be found on the database of scholarly articles.
The advertorial raised questions and discussions started. From his history in academia, he seems not to possess the requirement for the said new rank. He is not involved in teaching and research for the last 5 years. Meanwhile, as a Minister of the Federal Republic, he can’t even take up another Federal government job except he resigns. If FUTO actually needed him for whatever reason, they could have hired him as a Visiting Professor, which is a part-time job and it is allowed. They can then offer him the position of Professor when he is done with his political appointment as long as he is willing to live, teach, do research, and supervise postgraduate students at FUTO.
During the discussion, some irrelevant points were raised. It is to note that during the time of Aristotle, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and up till Wole Soyinka’s period, you can be a Professor without a PhD. But that is not the case now. For now, you can’t be a Professor (aside Medical Consultants) without a PhD. There is an ongoing discussion on the need for Medical Consultants to have a PhD to become Professors. People are quick to mention Dr Bala Usman even though he was not relevant in the discussion. The highly respected critic was qualified to be a Professor but chose not to be a Professor for personal reasons.
Yes, we have issues of irregularities in the appointment and promotion in some of our universities and we hope that the Governing Councils of the respective universities can put an end to that someday as we work towards regaining the lost glory. But this questionable promotion at FUTO of a PhD with 2 years 7 months post-PhD teaching and research experience and 3 visible materials on Scopus and without employment history in the university, seems to be part of such irregularities.
Dear University managers, we have a responsibility to protect the university system and the ranks which are reserved for only those in the university that have worked for it and merited it in accordance with the university guidelines. We should not let it go the way of honorary degrees that are allegedly being purchased by politicians that are hungry for titles.
ASUU has over the years worked very hard for the Autonomy of the universities, especially the federal universities, to shield them from political interference that is crippling the university system in Nigeria. We are still struggling with the principle of university autonomy even with the existence of the Autonomy Act. Let’s not give room for the interference to take new dimensions. We all need to rise against the irregular appointment and promotions like this so that it will not become a norm like honorary doctorate that is allegedly sold to politicians.
Dear Sheikh Pantami, you are a highly respected Islamic Scholar that I want to believe is not looking for titles. Titles can’t add value to your personality and what you stand for. It has no value for the hereafter. You have recorded notable achievements as a Cleric and as DG of NITDA and the Minister of Communications. It is obvious you have a love for academics. Just be patient and finish your assignment as the Minister. You can then join us in Bauchi or Owerri to mentor the next generation of cyber security experts, and you will rise to become a highly decorated Professor.
Dear Executive Secretary of NUC, I hope you will read this piece and take appropriate action to protect the little integrity left in our universities.
Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik writes from Zaria and can be reached through email@example.com.