By Musa Kalim Gambo
To start with, it must be easily concluded that Usman Bugaje is an excellent speaker for any gathering that seeks to place Nigeria on a microscopic slide to analyse its minutest of details. Therefore, Gombe State University made the best choice when it invited Bugaje to serve as the keynote speaker for the 10th,11th, 12th, and 13th pre-convocation lectures of the university last week.
Given Bugaje’s multi-disciplinary background, there could have been no doubt about his competence to speak on the theme of the pre-convocation lecture “Education and Development: The Challenge of Content, Competence, and Character in Nigerian Universities”. While a topic of this nature may sound like a cliché-ic abstraction of the troubles in the Nigerian university system, Bugaje’s treatment and perspective of the topic are both fresh and passionate.
Bugaje was out on a journey to establish the nexus between education and development. With the oft-repeated argument that there can be no meaningful progress without education, it is clearly established that Africa has had a flourishing system of knowledge transmission until the coming of the colonials. When they came, they suffocated the existing system in favour of their own.
Among the gathering, mostly the graduating students who listened to Bugaje’s lecture, not many may be aware of Africa’s glorious past and pioneering role in the development of universities around the world. Indeed, not many may be aware that what the West regards as an Arab contribution to education is largely a veil over the combined Persian and African efforts. It is a clear attempt to obscure the true position of Africa as a pacesetter in the world of knowledge and the evolution of civilisation. As poignantly described in his citation, Usman Bugaje is a pan-Africanist. This simple description as a pan-Africanist will not allow him to deliver such an important lecture without exposing the true fallacies that represent Western intervention in African education.
In many respects, Bugaje’s generation of the past benefited from a functional, effective, and not defective education system. It was such a system that prepared them to be competent for a diverse set of roles within the country and around the world. As a matter of doubt, were they so well equipped or was it simply the scarcity of manpower at that time? I have listened to many elderly people, mostly those who studied in Nigerian universities in the ‘70s and ‘80s, who, in their critique of the education and governments of today, make mention of the number of jobs they had at their disposal when they graduated. What was the Nigerian population size at that time? What was the manpower needed? And what was the economic power of the country then? These are questions that must be answered before a comparison is made between the glorious past and the gloomy today of our nation.
With the bulk of information, and indeed knowledge at the disposal of the student today, competence should not be a problem. Unfortunately, it is in many areas of modern endeavour. Within the educational system, quality of content and competence of output are intertwined, like the Staff of Asklepios or the Caduceus Wand, a symbology of the healthcare background of Bugaje.
An educational system where teachers have problems of competence across all levels will definitely have to deal with the complex question of the quality of content imparted to the students. The issues at stake here are – the relevance of the content being taught and the capacity of the teacher to deliver.
A friend of mine from one of the first-generation universities in Nigeria narrated the difficulty of his lecturer. This lecturer has taught the same content in phytochemistry for almost twenty years. He was on the verge of becoming a professor in that field of chemistry. However, he has this handwritten note that has spanned his career in this field.
In spite of being an expert in this phytochemistry, any day his handwritten note was not with him, his class would not hold. There was a day my friend and his colleagues sat for a very tough test by this soon-to-be professor of phytochemistry. They were asked to draw the chemical structure of a certain phytochemical, which was passively mentioned as an example during one of their sessions. Most of the members of the class couldn’t get the correct structure. They, therefore, requested the lecturer to help answer the question. It was quite interesting that this soon-to-be professor of phytochemistry could not answer the same question he set for his students. This suggested that in spite of his years of experience teaching the course, he would have failed if he sat for the same test.
This interestingly sad anecdote paints the picture of the Nigerian university in response to the question of competence.
Kalim writes from Zaria via firstname.lastname@example.org.