Abeni Aso-Oke

Unravelling the Crisis in Nigerian Universities: A Tale of Pervasive Impunity and Neglect. By Akeem Bello

Unravelling the Crisis in Nigerian Universities: A Tale of Pervasive Impunity and Neglect.  

Abeni Aso-Oke

Abeni Aso-Oke

In Nigerian universities, there exists an alarming pattern of unchecked power abuse among administrators, neglect by owners, and fear of the unknown by those who keep it running, mirroring the political tumult plaguing the nation’s broader landscape. Universally respected centres of learning have been consumed by a bitter struggle for dominance, with Vice-Chancellors at the forefront, exercising virtually unrestricted authority that undermines the primordial quest for academic excellence. This transformation from scholarly inquiry to brute bureaucratic might has seeped into every nook and cranny of campus life, casting a dismal pallor upon the historically sacrosanct environments where knowledge was once nurtured. As university administrators prioritize self-interest above all other considerations, the intrinsic equilibrium between instruction, research, and student growth is gravely compromised. The ensuing power struggle has engendered a climate of trepidation and conformity, eviscerating the essential tenets that define higher education as a worthy endeavour. Unfettered by accountability or transparency, Vice-Chancellors persist in consolidating their influence, callously neglecting the well-being of pupils, faculty members, and support personnel alike. The deleterious consequences of this state of affairs imperil the very foundation of Nigeria’s higher education system, risking to unravel decades of progress and jeopardizing the futures of forthcoming generations. Unless immediate corrective action is taken, the integrity of these institutions will continue to deteriorate, leaving behind a lasting legacy of administrative recklessness and academic decay. The time has come to determine whether individuals charged with safeguarding Nigeria’s academic patrimony will muster the courage to confront the entrenched elites and restore honour to the nation’s universities. This pervasive impunity is enabled by several factors. I would like to examine these issues by the roles of stakeholders in university administration. This will present the argument from proper perspectives.

The Vice Chancellors

Abeni Aso-Oke

In this write-up, I examine the current status of academic freedom and autonomy within higher educational institutions, with particular attention paid to the recent surge of authoritarianism and the increasing influence of university administrations on these domains. My findings suggest that this shift in power dynamics has resulted in a gradual deterioration of the foundational principles of academic independence and the suppression of divergent viewpoints. Throughout history, universities have held the reputation as centres for intellectual inquiry, providing scholars with an environment conducive to exploring novel concepts without fear of retribution or censure.

However, it appears that this long-standing tradition is currently under threat due to the rising dominance of administrative control over academic development. Nevertheless, contemporary developments have changed these institutions into heavily fortified structures managed by people who give priority to controlling them rather than advancing scholarly development. As a consequence, there has been an increase in safety measures on campus, such as the deployment of armed and covert officers, which has muzzled dissent and marginalized voices questioning the existing order.

The consolidation of authority among university administrators has additionally resulted in a blending of lines between administrative supervision and academic leadership. Frequently, these authorities are more interested in preserving control than advancing educational quality. This transformation endangers the foundation of higher education because it undermines the intricate equilibrium between institutional supervision and intellectual exploration. Moreover, the ascension of university executives to powerful political roles has added to the deterioration of academic freedom. These persons frequently prioritize their pursuits above those of the academic society, resulting in choices that jeopardize the honesty of study and instruction. By silencing oppositional voices and suppressing alternate points of view, they menace the fundamentals of academic civilization and its capacity to encourage innovative thought.

Security personnel are deployed not to protect against physical threats but to suppress dissenting voices, the cherished principle of free inquiry becomes a casualty. Students and faculty, once emboldened by the promise of unrestricted exploration of ideas, now find themselves navigating an environment fraught with fear and suspicion. This pervasive atmosphere of intimidation casts a long shadow over intellectual discourse. The exchange of ideas, which should be the lifeblood of any academic institution, withers in the face of pervasive surveillance and the implicit threat of repercussions for divergent opinions.

As students and faculty become hesitant to express their views openly, the vibrant tapestry of perspectives that should characterize a university is replaced by a monolithic silence. Moreover, the deployment of security personnel in this manner undermines the trust essential for a healthy academic community. Instead of fostering an environment where individuals feel secure to challenge prevailing norms and engage in constructive debate, universities become breeding grounds for mistrust. Students and faculty alike become wary, questioning whether their words and ideas are being monitored, leading to a chilling effect that stifles the free exchange of thoughts. The transformation of universities into fortresses of security and intimidation represents a troubling departure from their fundamental purpose. Universities must rediscover their commitment to fostering open dialogue and free inquiry, reclaiming their role as crucibles of knowledge and enlightenment.

Sycophancy

Within the intricate tapestry of academia, a disconcerting trend unfolds as Vice-Chancellors, ostensibly the custodians of scholarly ideals, redirect their focus toward the cultivation of sycophantic alliances within the university echelons. This marked deviation from the noble pursuit of intellectual excellence introduces a discordant note into the hallowed halls of higher learning. Rather than fostering an environment conducive to rigorous scholarly inquiry, the academic leadership seems preoccupied with the construction of a loyalist cohort.

The ramifications of this sycophantic orientation reverberate throughout the academic landscape, engendering an atmosphere where identifying and neutralising perceived adversaries supersedes the promotion of intellectual rigour. The inherent clash between genuine academic pursuits and the pursuit of personal loyalty not only detracts from the central mission of academic institutions but also cultivates an environment antithetical to the principles of open inquiry and free discourse.

Compounding this divergence from scholarly ideals is the disconcerting backdrop of unpaid arrears of salaries and allowances for the dedicated staff members who form the backbone of the academic enterprise. This fiscal neglect paints a stark portrait of misplaced priorities within university governance. As the administration seemingly prioritises the cultivation of a cadre of loyalists over honouring financial commitments to the academic workforce, the very foundation of a thriving academic community is eroded.

The dichotomy between the noble aspirations of academia and the pragmatic realities of administrative choices underscores a systemic issue that demands meticulous scrutiny. The erosion of scholarly pursuits in favour of sycophantic alliances, coupled with fiscal neglect, raises fundamental questions about the ethical underpinnings of academic leadership. As the academic community grapples with these challenges, a collective revaluation of priorities and a resolute commitment to scholarly values become imperative for the restoration of the true essence of higher education.

The Council

As the fabric of effective Council supervision unravels, a distressing narrative unfolds within the academic realm. The supervisory mechanisms, which should serve as bulwarks against unilateral decision-making, now languish in disarray. This erosion of oversight not only marks a departure from established norms but also provides a breeding ground for unchecked authority within university administrations.

A concerning dimension to this unravelling scenario is the transformation of council members into contractors and appendages of Vice-Chancellors. Instead of serving as impartial moderators of the university system, these council members, entangled in allegiances and dependencies, deviate from their intended role. This shift from independent oversight to becoming extensions of administrative power further compounds the governance crisis, as these members, once entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding the academic mission, now appear more as conduits for the consolidation of authority.

This abdication of responsibilities by council members heralds a troubling era where university leaders operate with a diminished sense of accountability. The decisions taken within the administrative echelons, bereft of the checks and balances provided by an effective council, risk becoming detached from broader academic considerations. The consequence is a university landscape shaped by isolated choices rather than informed, collaborative decision-making.

The unchecked consolidation of power within university administrations, facilitated by the breakdown of council supervision, creates an environment where the core mission of academia is overshadowed by individual agendas. The ramifications extend beyond the immediate consequences of isolated decision-making, impacting the very ethos of academic institutions. The erosion of oversight mechanisms not only weakens the democratic principles inherent in academic governance but also undermines the foundation of trust that should exist between leadership and the academic community.

The Government

The current predicament confronting our educational institutions has deep roots in a systemic flaw aggravated by the dereliction of duty on the part of the government in fulfilling its crucial function. The lack of rigorous policy frameworks and efficient monitoring mechanisms creates a propitious soil for the unchecked growth of impunity. In this void of governance, funds designated for education often suffer from mismanagement or diversion, thereby perpetuating a detrimental cycle of institutional deterioration that echoes throughout the entire academic terrain.

At the core of this administrative negligence lies the government’s failure to institute and enforce policies that would serve as bulwarks against wrongdoing within educational institutions. The scarcity of stringent controls enables Vice-Chancellors to act with a sense of invincibility, convinced that their actions will escape scrutiny. This atmosphere of unchecked authority not only fosters an environment where decision-making occurs without accountability but also encourages leaders to deviate from the fundamental tenets of academic leadership.

The allocation of funds, supposedly destined to nurture educational institutions, assumes paramount importance within this ecosystem of neglect. The mishandling or redirection of these resources not only weakens the financial health of institutions but also perpetuates a vicious circle of decline, where insufficient financing hinders the very objective, these funds were designed to achieve. Furthermore, the lack of a comprehensive oversight framework allows for a hands-off approach to prevail, allowing Vice-Chancellors to exercise authority without the necessary constraints that ensure their choices conform to the greater good of the academic community.

The consequences of this governmental recklessness extend far beyond the immediate financial mismanagement; they have a profound impact on the very essence of higher education itself. To address this situation, it is imperative not only to reassess governmental priorities but to launch a sustained effort aimed at creating and enforcing regulations that promote openness, responsibility, and prudent resource management within educational institutions. Restoring the government’s active involvement in supervising and assisting the educational sector is essential to shattering the cycle of neglect and ensuring that institutions of higher learning can fulfil their noble purpose of knowledge dissemination and scholastic greatness.

ASUU

The arbitrary and seemingly perpetual nature of strike actions, particularly by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), has indeed become an entrenched modus operandi in the Nigerian higher education system. This recurring pattern of strikes poses multifaceted problems that significantly impede the growth and development of education in the country.

One of the primary challenges is the disruption of academic calendars. Frequent and prolonged strikes disrupt the continuity of teaching and learning, leading to extended academic sessions, delayed examinations, and a general disruption of the educational rhythm. This not only hampers the progress of students but also diminishes the quality and depth of their education, as vital instructional time is lost.

The inconsistency in academic schedules also affects the competitiveness of Nigerian graduates on the global stage. Employers and educational institutions worldwide expect a certain level of continuity and coherence in academic records, and the persistent disruptions caused by strikes can negatively impact the credibility of Nigerian degrees.

Financial implications further compound the issue. The withholding of salaries during strikes places additional financial burdens on academic staff, exacerbating already existing challenges within the higher education sector. The long-term financial instability within universities, coupled with the erosion of infrastructure and resources during periods of inactivity, contributes to a cycle of decay that impedes growth and development.

Moreover, the chronic nature of strike actions fosters an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability within the academic community. This environment discourages prospective students, both domestic and international, from pursuing education in Nigerian universities. The resultant decline in enrollment undermines the potential for growth and innovation within the higher education sector.

The impact of ASUU strikes extends beyond the immediate academic realm, affecting research and scholarly activities. Prolonged interruptions disrupt research projects, hinder academic publications, and diminish the overall intellectual output of the universities. This stagnation impedes progress in critical fields and contributes to a widening gap between Nigerian universities and their global counterparts. The arbitrary and persistent nature of ASUU strikes in Nigeria poses a myriad of problems that collectively hinder the growth and development of education.

Few References

In advanced societies, university administrations are often distinguished by a commitment to academic excellence and transparent governance. Certain Vice-Chancellors (VCs) exemplify a leadership style marked by humility and dedication to the institution’s educational mission rather than political manoeuvring.

One noteworthy example is Michael Crow, the President of Arizona State University in the United States. Crow is acclaimed for his transformative initiatives, fostering innovation, and expanding access to quality education. His focus on inclusivity and interdisciplinary collaboration has propelled the university to new heights without succumbing to political pressures. Crow’s leadership demonstrates that a VC can drive positive change without compromising academic principles or resulting in unnecessary politics on the campus.

In the United Kingdom, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, is recognized for her strategic vision and commitment to research excellence. Rothwell’s tenure has seen the university thrive academically and financially, emphasizing the importance of visionary leadership over political posturing.

Similarly, Dame Ruth Deech’s tenure at the University of Oxford’s St Anne’s College saw her prioritise academic integrity and meritocracy, cultivating an atmosphere conducive to intellectual curiosity and innovation, which significantly contributed to Oxford’s enduring reputation as a preeminent academic institution.

Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town reflects a dedication to upholding academic excellence while simultaneously attending to broader societal concerns. Her tireless efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity within academia are evident in her steadfast commitment to creating an environment where both research excellence and social responsibility are valued equally.

Similar to Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, Professor Grace Alele-Williams’ tenure as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Benin represented a pioneering moment in Nigerian Universities, as she became the first female Vice-Chancellor in the country. Alele-Williams’ tenure was defined by a resolute pursuit of academic standards and gender equality, laying a lasting foundation for future generations of scholars.

Before his appointment as Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega served as Vice-Chancellor at Bayero University Kano. During this period, he diligently promoted academic rigour, transparency, and accountability, resulting in significant academic growth for the institution. Additionally, Professor Rahamon Bello’s tenure as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Lagos witnessed notable developments in research output, international collaborations, and enhancements to academic facilities, solidifying the university’s position as a premier centre of learning.

These few examples of distinguished individuals show that VCs can successfully navigate the complexities of university administration without resorting to political tactics. Their leadership is characterised by a genuine passion for education, a collaborative approach with faculty, and a focus on achieving tangible academic goals. Such VCs serve as beacons of inspiration, showcasing that humility and dedication to scholarly pursuits can lead to outstanding performance without compromising the integrity of higher education institutions.

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To navigate the intricate challenges plaguing Nigeria’s higher education system, a comprehensive and strategic approach is imperative. First and foremost, the reconstruction of effective Council supervision mechanisms is non-negotiable. This pivotal step aims to reestablish transparent and accountable governance within universities, creating a foundation for sound decision-making and responsible leadership. Emphasizing the importance of impartial oversight, the rejuvenation of Councils is essential to break the cycle of administrative impunity.

Simultaneously, government intervention must transcend superficial measures, delving into the root causes of the crisis. Robust policies and enforcement mechanisms should be implemented to ensure that funds allocated for education are utilized judiciously and exclusively for their intended purposes. This entails stringent checks and balances to prevent mismanagement or diversion of funds, fostering financial integrity within educational institutions.

Furthermore, instilling a culture of accountability and transparency within university administrations is paramount. Timely payment of salaries and allowances for academic staff should be prioritised, recognising the crucial role they play in the academic environment. This not only boosts the morale and well-being of lecturers but also creates an environment conducive to learning, research, and overall academic excellence.

In conclusion, the redemption of Nigeria’s higher education system necessitates a collective and sustained effort. Both university stakeholders and government bodies must collaboratively engage in dismantling the prevailing culture of impunity and neglect. By addressing issues at their roots, implementing effective oversight, and fostering a commitment to transparency, the nation’s universities can reclaim their pivotal role as catalysts for knowledge dissemination and intellectual advancement.

Akeem Bello Writes from Ekiti State.

A University, Teacher and Public Analyst

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