Globalization and the Political Economy of Higher Education in Nigeria

Globalization and the Political Economy of Higher Education in Nigeria


Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome
Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow
University of Ibadan, Department of Political Science
Professor of Political Science
Leonard & Claire Tow Professor, 2015/2016
Brooklyn College, CUNY, USA

This paper was originally presented at the Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Washington, D.C. December 5-8, 2002.  It was revised and updated in June 2015.


We live in a rapidly changing, global world where the local and global are inextricably linked.  Due to innovations in communications technology and consequent extraordinary increases in trade, financial flows, and the ideas that shape what we think and how we think, we live in both a totally interconnected world and a radically disconnected world—a process I have described as full of antinomies.  Thus, Nigeria’s higher educational institutions are enmeshed in vibrant and ever-changing relations with their peers all over the world, and they may at the very same time be disconnected from them in spite of globalization’s presumed homogenizing force.  This is because some individuals or fractions of the Nigerian academy may be totally connected while others have not been able to connect.  Also, many scholars are engaged in cutting edge, world class research, and many more are not.  Many have published and are recognized worldwide.  Majority have published only locally, and are not yet recognized outside Nigeria.  This is not unusual if understood within the framework of antinomies. 

In this paper I contend that globalization has a profound effect on the political economy of higher education in Nigeria.  Globalization as a phenomenon is hardly new, although more people are conscious of living in a global world today than was the case in past eras of history.  Historically then, I see higher education as shaped by both local and global political, economic and social forces.  Higher education in turn, profoundly shapes the process of globalization since it is the arena within which ideas are produced, debated, deconstructed and reconstructed.  Ideas themselves have epistemic power, and the production of knowledge is inextricably linked with the manner in which humans understand and give meaning to their lived realities.

My quest in this paper is informed by the mission and vision expressed by the founders of the University College, Ibadan, for whom its primary role was to be Nigeria’s premier university “which would have a national outlook and which would bear unflinching allegiance to research, training, and service” (Raji-Oyelade, et al. 2010, 13).  The founders of the university were committed to academic excellence, and also wanted learning and teaching to occur in a serene and organized environment (Raji-Oyelade, et al. 2010).  As an alumna of UI, I benefitted from these sentiments because I had an education that prepared me to engage the world and compete with colleagues in some of the world’s best universities as student and teacher.  I was also equipped with tremendous confidence and top notch work ethic.  I expect a lot first from myself, and then from the people and institutions that I engage.  Let’s consider whether UI is living up to these ideals and fulfilling its mission in such a way as to impact our world, beginning with its own community and terrain, and then, our country, which at the current time is once again facing the predicament of budget and leadership crises and rampant disillusionment.  

Although the unending quest for knowledge is worthy of being the primary goal of education, because knowledge in and of itself is of such singular importance to humanity that we don’t need to concoct reasons for its centrality to the mission of educational institutions, one can also claim that to be truly meaningful, higher education has to be connected with human and national development priorities.  Thus, as Nigerians who are concerned about our country’s realization of its full potential, at this watershed moment in our country’s history, it’s appropriate to consider what Nigeria’s national development priorities are and whether there is a coincidence between them and the purpose of education.  If there is no connection or if the connection is poor, we should want to know why and it is necessary to give some thought to the remedies that may be appropriate and effective.  As well, higher education should be connected with human development that goes beyond preparing people to engage the economy as factors of production.  It should help people to develop the capacity to think more deeply, strive for more knowledge, think outside the box, and strive for excellence in the production of knowledge and its application to solve human problems.  Thus, the paper also takes the position that education is inextricably connected with both human development and national development.  The paper concludes that matters of higher education, being defined as a critical aspect of national interest, must reflect the collective vision of advances that Nigeria wants to make in the 21st Century and how it aims to get there. 

If education is deeply connected with human and national development, we should see education as a matter of national security.  Nothing expresses that sentiment better than the way in which the budget allocates resources.  If education is considered important in Nigeria, the percentage in federal, state and local government budgets devoted to education should be substantial and significant.  However, the national budget in Nigeria does not reflect that the country cares in any kind of significant way, about education.  Approximately 10.7% of the 2014 budget was devoted to education.  However, Prof. Okebukola, former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission considers government funding on education as closer to 25% when one factors in spending by state and local governments, but he also recommends a 30% spending level for the next 20 years to correct the problems in the educational system.  It is hard to synchronize the 25% figure with the state of Nigeria’s educational institutions, a factor that Okebukola attributes to “leakages”  (Atueyi 2015).

The main issues engaged in the paper include:

·         The purpose of higher education, broadly described
·         Purpose of Nigerian Higher Education, including University of Ibadan.
·         What ought to be done?

What is the purpose of Higher Education?

Conceptually, much ink has been spilled and many more words scattered to the wind over the course of human history about the purpose of higher education. 
It is also important, given the embrace of the corporate model in higher education and the valorization of entrepreneurship, to realize that education is central to national interest, and cannot be solely determined by market forces. Thus, the role of the state in making education policy, and funding education cannot be overemphasized.  Also, educational institutions and personnel cannot be bystanders in this discussion. They ought to participate in conceptualization, framing and providing the scaffolding that enables us to understand the purpose of education, its potential contributions to human and national development, and how best to connect education (the means) to national development (the end).  To do this successfully, higher educational institutions must be well-resourced as well as autonomous.  Some of these resources would necessarily be derived from the state.  Higher educational institutions must also be nimble and creative, bold and tenacious; committed to excellence and dedicated to the pursuit of truth, regardless of where it leads.  To what extent do our Nigerian higher educational institutions fit this bill?  To what extent is UI a leading light in this effort?

The purpose of higher education has been considered by scholars for time immemorial.  Conventionally, its purpose includes the creation, progression, absorption and dissemination of knowledge.  But higher education has both abstract and practical implications.  In the abstract, the creation of knowledge itself is an invisible process but it is expected to generate practical results.  For example, it may not be far-fetched to believe that higher education ought to contribute to the rapid industrialization in a country that direly needs it such as Nigeria.  Fundamentally, it also ought to contribute to the development of higher order cognitive and communication skills, where it trains people to develop logical thinking capacity that enables them to challenge received knowledge and the status quo.  It should engender the desire to harness and deploy sophisticated values and is also expected, (particularly for late developing nations, and using neoliberal principles) to deliver training for professional and vocational skills acquisition.  This indicates that there is a central tension between education as a public good and education as private benefit. 

There is also a tension between education for character development and education for career development.  These goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  The former means that we are able to train and motivate bright, imaginative, creative and productive people who are able to think outside the box, empathize with their fellow human beings, contribute to the production of knowledge and enhance the human capital at the disposal of the world at large.  In terms of the latter, it delivers competitive skills that enable its consumers to acquire good jobs.  Using the word “consumers” raises the specter of higher education as a business and brings up critiques of neoliberal models of higher education as too focused on the cold, calculated exchange of cash for knowledge, the intrusion of the profit model into what ought to be a singular dedication to the pursuit of knowledge, and consequent deflection from the primary purpose of education. 

Should the university not be concerned about its survival in a world where resources are finite, even scarce, and where there are salaries to pay, infrastructure to maintain and research to be funded?  Who should bear the cost?  To my mind, while it is acceptable and even desirable to have private educational institutions, the state has primary responsibility for ensuring the provision of access to education.  It also has the responsibility of ensuring quality control.  The effort should be to maintain the highest possible standards, and the task is even more urgent in a developing country like Nigeria, given the significance of ensuring both the production of knowledge for its own sake, and also of producing the people who would lead the efforts of making, administering and managing policies. 

If there’s anything to understand about globalization, it is that the world is increasingly competitive and Nigeria must be able to not only cope with the challenges, but excel.  These objectives cannot be achieved without privileging education and embracing the assumption that education is as important as national security.  It is also foolish for a country like Nigeria to allow itself to be hoodwinked into thinking that higher education is a luxury and basic education is sufficient.  Has any country been known to become a world power by taking such a position?    

Fortino defines as the central purpose of education, “the creation of prepared minds” (Fortino 2013),” and conceives of education as offering a “smart start” to its consumers.  Education is also widely considered as the avenue to opening doors of opportunity that lead to success, achievement, upward mobility, and fulfilment.  As well, education could contribute to the promotion of civic engagement and citizenship.  It is widely considered to have the capacity to prepare people to become good human beings.  

Essentially, with access to higher education, people should be able to truly know themselves, understand their place in the world, and also be given the confidence to challenge existing orthodoxies in the interest of humanity.  They should be given the capacity to better understand the world they live in, identify the problems therein and use their intellectual capacity to envision a better world, plus inspire others to share this vision and work towards its accomplishment.

What is the purpose of Nigerian Higher Education?

Nigeria currently has over ninety universities, although the NUC only lists forty-five.  These universities are both public and private.  Some are established by religious organizations and others secular.  I look upon the growing terrain of Nigerian higher education with both trepidation at the dismal state of many of our institutions of higher learning, most obviously in terms of the physical infrastructure, and more subliminally in terms of the disconnect between most of our universities and their core mission.  Given the devastation that befell our institutions of learning in the locust years described by the World Bank as “the lost decade” from the mid-1980s to the 1990s, most analyses of higher education in Nigeria explain the history, causes of decline and strategies for revival by focusing upon the inadequacy of government funding, the abandonment of the universities and even Nigeria by the intelligentsia and by the students that are most financially able to do so, the obvious infrastructural decay, falling academic standards, and the politicization of education.  In an effort to stem the hemorrhage, early in the millennium, the Federal Government of Nigeria and the World Bank negotiated a loan to revitalize Nigerian higher education, paradoxically after the very same World Bank contributed to the defunding of higher education via its recommendation in the Berg Report that African countries should concentrate on primary education because tertiary education is a luxury.  The Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller and MacArthur foundations also collaboratively decided to support African higher education to contribute to turning around the malevolent effects of “the lost decade”/“the locust years”—the reversals experienced by the continent due to the combined effects of the debt crisis and failed Structural Adjustment Programs.  These efforts contributed somewhat to providing funding for the initiatives favored by the Foundations but such funding was not available to all higher educational institutions.  It was also not meant to fill the budgetary gaps in the recipient institutions.  

In the case of Nigerian higher education, analysts have attributed the disjuncture between higher education and national development to the country’s history, including the manifold challenges of mal-development, particularly the challenges thrown up by country’s colonial history, as well the legacies of failed policies of the post-colonial state, particularly the combined effects of unsustainable national debt and the Structural Adjustment Program imposed by the World Bank and IMF that failed to produce the promised solutions.  There is a connection between the other identified causes including the defunding of higher education by the government and consequent decrepitude of the physical plant and instructional facilities; the brain drain and the loss of autonomy by the tertiary institutions, and the lecturers’ strikes, constant closure of the universities.  The dismal consequences for students and the universities can be traced to Nigeria’s inability to properly articulate autonomous strategies that are directed toward proactive and comprehensive national planning that understands that education is one of the major linchpins in social, economic and political well-being. 

Without the appropriate planning and the budgetary commitment plus single-minded implementation of policies geared at making our educational institutions competitive with the best in the world, none of the strategies for reviving the Nigerian higher education system will succeed.  I speak about revival because as a product of Nigerian higher education, I cannot help but note that we have had considerable decay in infrastructure, in esprit de corps, collegiality and morale, and most worrisome, in commitment to the core mission of higher education.

There is renewed interest in educational partnerships, as is obvious from efforts by the international development agencies such as USAID and DFID.  The foundations are also engaged.  I am here today as a Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow, to contribute to fostering linkages between us in the Diaspora and our colleagues at home, for the betterment of higher education in the continent.  As well-intentioned as the efforts are that are similar to that which brought me here, they will not make the expected high impact without harnessing Nigerian energies to envision the future we want and mobilize all hands on deck to create the improvements we need in higher education.  In addition, these issues must be viewed in the context not only of lost autonomy today, but as another phase in the intrusion of the phenomenon of globalization in the political economy of higher education in Nigeria.

I trace the origins of funding problems in the past, and contemporarily, to the intensification of pressures from Nigeria's integration into the global political economy.  The country’s confident embrace of the possibilities of such integration faltered in the 1970s, and its attempts to muddle through were stymied in the mid-1980s.  Nigeria’s universities and their academic and administrative staff were casualties of this disconnect between the country and its nationalist drive to create life more abundant for all.

The founding of the University of Ibadan and many others that emerged in the same era was framed by Nigeria’s colonization by Britain, an enterprise that drove the logic of educating colonized people, initially to serve the colonial machine in a subaltern capacity.  The struggle for independence and the nationalism that informed it meant that the colonized demanded and secured the sort of education that compared with what was available in the metropole.  University College, Ibadan came into being to train Nigerians to administer and manage their country.  Part of its mission was to groom people for leadership.  As a BSc Political Science graduate from UI in 1979, I consider myself a beneficiary of this intent.  The tragedy of the locust years is that such hopes were not fulfilled.  Many who were able went to far flung corners of the world for further education, academic, technical and professional jobs.  Despite claims that this brain drain would be ameliorated by either brain gain or brain re-circulation, Nigeria has lost much of the storehouse of skills, knowledge and knowhow that could have been harnessed to serve our country.  Remittances, although considerable, cannot possibly compensate for these outflows.  Thus, it is not out of place to ask whether UI’s mission is still being fulfilled. 

Even in the mid-to-late 1970s, we were dissatisfied with the quality of our education and were discontented with the governance of Nigeria from the first republic’s crashing of the dream that an independent Nigeria would bring life more abundant to all in a mere six years, to the long years of military rule, the brief period of the second republic—a riotous and disorganized period that ended once again, with military intervention.  Were these years good for higher education?  Not in my opinion.  Nigeria was left financially broke and almost broken in spirit.  The consequent decay in higher education could be seen in graphic relief—in the infrastructure and physical plant.  The damage to confidence and imagination were more profound but less visible.   There was tremendous brain drain from the professoriate due to better opportunities to engage academic inquiry and teaching in other parts of the world.  These were the locust years.  Economic crisis meant that Nigeria was unable to service its huge, unsustainable debt.  The Structural Adjustment Program as well as ‘third wave' democratization were both pushed by the World Bank as inextricably linked solutions.  

Many of the problems being experienced in the higher institutions of learning today may not have started in the era of Structural Adjustment, but they did intensify. In particular, the World Bank in the 1980s recommended that countries that had high debt and serious balance of payments deficit as did Nigeria ought to direct their attention more to funding primary and technical education rather than tertiary education, which is elitist. The recommendations were made in an atmosphere of economic crisis, where the universities were the most visible sites of anti- Structural Adjustment critiques and protests. The embattled state responded in ways that generated many of today's problems.

These problems generated profound and seemingly intractable reverberations that have stymied both scholarship and learning in Nigerian universities.  World Bank involvement did not only impede university autonomy, it negatively impacted Nigeria's political and economic development.  While there are other alternative sources of funding Nigeria's higher education, as indicated by the blossoming of private universities in the country, the total privatization of higher education is not an acceptable option.  In order to recover the ground lost during the locust years, the public universities must be restored to fulfill the vision and mission that drove the founding of UI.  In addition, private universities must contend with a rigorous certification system geared to ensure that Nigerian higher educational institutions have a pride of place in our rapidly changing and competitive world.  For both public and private, institutions, the creation of endowment funds that support higher education by Nigerians must be encouraged.  

Globalization and Higher Education in Nigeria and Africa

We cannot date the emergence of tertiary institutions in the African continent to the relatively late emergence of the contemporary crop of higher institutions of learning in the African continent. Anyone who knows African history knows of the existence of fine higher institutions of learning in ancient Mali and Egypt. Nonetheless, this paper restricts its comments to the tertiary institutions that were established first in the final days of colonialism, and more during the nationalist era of anti-colonial campaigns, the former to train personnel to man colonial posts, and the latter to prepare Africans to take charge of the production of knowledge, to equip them with the wherewithal to lead their various countries in different capacities, to enable them to become the vanguard in implementing the nationalist liberatory agenda.

Considered from the glorious and forward-thinking optimism of those heady times, it is clear that today’s tertiary institutions have come to a bad pass. All over the African continent, tertiary institutions suffer from what we see so graphically in Nigeria (although to a lesser extent today than in the locust years, but still significant enough to be troubling)– massive under-funding, infrastructural decay, and the brain drain.  As previously stated, most analyses of higher education in Nigeria explain the history, causes of decline, and strategies for revival by focusing upon the inadequacy of government funding, the abandonment of the country and universities by those scholars and students that are able to do so, the falling of academic standards, and the politicization of the universities. These analyses are both right and wrong. They are right because one would have to be blind and/or senseless not to see that today’s universities are but pale imitations, or even carcasses of yesterday’s shining beacons.  They are wrong because these phenomena are themselves caused by globalization.  The phenomena in turn shape our understanding and experience of globalization.

According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),

(1)    Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. (italics mine)
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children (United Nations Organization 1948).

Globalization has a homogenizing effect and international organizations are an avenue through which international regimes are developed.  The conventional definition of regimes in the international system is that they are norms, rules, organized procedures and common expectations that guide behavior (Keohane and Nye 1977).  Taking the UDHR as a reference point shows the relevance of globalization as a force that drives national processes.  It is front and center in discussions of the rationale for education, its purpose, its relevance to human rights, peace and freedom.  It also reflects the integral assumption that the state should bear primary responsibility for the provision of education.  Although it wasn’t independent when the UDHR originally came into being, when Nigeria became a member nation of the UN at independence, by not expressing an objection to them, it took on the obligation of living up to these international agreements.  Doing so is also for Nigeria’s benefit because living up to these obligations will contribute to its capacity to meet its development goals.  There is also a responsibility to parents, whose right to choose the kind of education could be said to confer on them, the capacity to participate in discussions and debates on education, but this interesting phenomenon is beyond the scope of this paper.

Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations also sheds some light on the connection between globalization and education in Africa, as well as on the centrality of education to human life when his representative, Nitin Desai said on his behalf, at a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the Development of Science and Technology in Africa, in New York on February 9, 1999:

Today, globalization is affecting all aspects of our lives, from the political, to the social, to the cultural. Only knowledge, it would seem, is not being globalized. In an age where the acquisition and advancement of knowledge is a more powerful weapon in a nation's arsenal than any missile or mine, the knowledge gap between the north and the south is widening. This trend must be reversed (Annan, Promotion Of Science, Technology Cornerstone For African Economic Progress, Says Secretary-General In Address At Headquarters. Press Release SG/SM/6891 SAG/21 1999).

It is clear that Nigerian universities have not only lost their autonomy today, but that we are observing another manifestation of the deep and profound engagement of the African continent with the global forces of production, of governance, and of social relations. 

I have argued that the crisis in Nigerian higher education is caused by the manner in which Nigeria like the rest of Africa is experiencing globalization.  Nigeria and the overwhelming majority of African countries are in the wake of deep-seated economic crisis.  Even when one wants to affirm the positive message of “Africa rising”, it is important to acknowledge that we are not out of the woods yet.  For most African countries, this crisis began in the 1970s. Nigeria was shielded from experiencing the worst of the crisis in the 1970s because of an oil boom that itself was the outcome of the operation of global political and economic forces. The Arab-Israeli war of the 1970s made it possible for Nigeria to exponentially increase the gains from the exploitation and purveyance of what increasingly became the most important earner of foreign exchange, crude petroleum.

The irrational exuberance of Nigeria’s oil boom years of the 1970s led to expanded capacity to fund many more universities in a system that practiced unabashed ivory-towerism.  Students were clearly being groomed by this system to take up cushy jobs as leaders in their fields and in the nation at large.  The number of institutions increased with each increase that the Nigerian government made of the number of states.  More recently, as Nigeria became drunken under another boom in the international petroleum market, there was a renewed wave of irrational exuberance that has now led us to a 7 trillion naira debt, but with many more universities established by government fiat, often with inadequate thinking about how to fund these universities, whether there is enough seasoned faculty and administrators to undertake developing them into centers of excellence, and scant attention to whether or not the students produced will be employable.  It may sound paradoxical, but I must hasten to say that despite these increases, Nigeria has not, by any stretch of the imagination, met the need and demand for higher education.  More shocking and troublesome is the fact that the country is yet to connect higher education with national development.

Let me reiterate and extend my argument: Education is central to national interest, and is too important to be left to pure market forces.  Thus, the role of the state in making education policy, and in funding education cannot be over-emphasized.  Without the prior articulation of autonomous and coordinated strategies that are directed toward pro-active and comprehensive economic planning that understands that education is one of the major linchpins to economic, political and social well-being, higher education will not thrive in Nigeria.  Without a clear understanding of the history of our country and the vision and mission that drove the establishment of higher educational institutions, we cannot understand the causes for the declines we witness, or properly apprehend and execute strategies for reviving the Nigerian higher education system.

To say that globalization is important is also to trace the origins of funding problems in the universities to the intensification of the pressures from Nigeria’s integration into the global political economy.  In the heydays of the neoliberal Washington consensus, the Structural Adjustment Program as well as “third wave” democratization were both pushed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.  Many of the problems being experienced in the higher institutions of learning today may not have started in the era of Structural Adjustment, but they did intensify.  In particular, the Bank in its Berg Plan (1979) did recommend that countries that fit the profile of Nigeria ought to direct their attention more to funding primary, rather than elitist tertiary education.  

The recommendations were made in an atmosphere of economic crisis, where the universities were the most visible sites of anti-Structural Adjustment critiques and protests.  The embattled state escalated its classic tradition of repressive responses to those who opposed its policies, methods and style of administration by unleashing the military, police, and security forces on the universities.  Demonstrators were shot at by security forces, as they were during the more ‘benevolent’ 1970s, critics were detained, interrogated, and forced into exile.  The universities became increasingly infiltrated by undercover security agents who laid the groundwork for today’s cults. The Association of Senior Staff of the Universities was proscribed time and again under the Babangida administration and the more brutal Abacha dictatorship, as was the National Students’ Union. These punitive and repressive measures were accompanied by further centralization of the tertiary education system in a manner that followed the administrative norm during the various phases of military rule. The power of the purse was also used to humiliate, silence, and marginalize the intelligentsia.

Profound under-funding of the universities, neglect of their infrastructure, and the marginalization of the intellectuals as a crucial part of the process of state building fell right in line with the IMF’s advice that there was an imperative need for rationalization through retrenchment, removal of subsidies, attrition, imposing market values on all aspects of life by “getting the prices right,” and the World Bank’s advice that the focus on tertiary education breeds an elitism that could scarcely be afforded. Like most social services, education became a privilege rather than a right, but the conditions under which it was produced and acquired simultaneously became Darwinian. Books, journals, equipments and teaching aids became unattainable luxuries for the overwhelming majority of students and professors, many of whom were pushed by the state into the burgeoning class of the dispossessed.

Remarkably, the intellectuals did not withdraw with their tail between their legs. They produced alternatives to Structural Adjustment, maintained their critiques of irrational government policies, and argued for academic freedom, university autonomy, as well as for a rethinking of the inevitability of SAP and the un-viability of alternatives. Given the state’s intransigence, this was a dialogue of the deaf. Direct repression, the escalation of a reign of terror, the compulsion of necessity to utilize multiple survival strategies such as for the “lucky” few, doing intellectual piecework for more affluent Western colleagues, and for the majority, becoming a part of the hustling and trading culture that pervaded every aspect of Nigeria’s socioeconomic life, could not but create what today seems to be the seemingly intractable problems in higher education. Scholarship and learning were stymied. There was an exodus to greener pastures in Africa and the West, again, by those who were able.

African and Nigerian higher education was deeply assaulted by the forces of Structural Adjustment, as well as by the illiberal democratization that took place in many countries.  Earlier in the millennium, in a dramatic turn-around, rather than advocate that higher education should be open only to the highest bidders, all of a sudden, everyone became newly concerned with the dismal state of higher education in Africa.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank, Carnegie Corporation, the Social Science Research Council, the Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the US State Department, and most of the major universities in the United States jumped on the bandwagon of strengthening higher education in Africa.  The World Bank in a shameless, a-historical manner, erased its role in creating the educational morass in which we find ourselves in Africa.  The Federal Government of Nigeria declared a commitment to the revamping of the educational system.  International philanthropic organizations declared that education was a priority, UNESCO and many multilateral organizations made important interventions.  One wonders though, where all this help was when African intellectuals were the proverbial voices in the wilderness.  It is impossible to reverse the tide of history, but Karl Marx’s observation in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is relevant to this situation.  I will quote an entire paragraph.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.  The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living.  And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.  Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of 1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95.  In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue (Marx 1852).

All Nigerians participate in the making of history, albeit not under conditions of their making.  The question they must all ask is the following: How can they stanch the flow of the lifeblood out of the tertiary institutions?  How can the heady optimism of the past and the vibrant production of knowledge that it generated be revived?  Given that Nigeria is in dire developmental straits, how do we make the educational system meaningful for the agenda of national development?

What is to be done?  One perspective

One imperative that flows from my argument that education is as important as national security is that a country that neglects to take heed of this imperative does so at its peril.  It stands to reason then, that the education budget should be substantial and sufficient.  Given that only 8% of the Federal budget was allocated to education until 2014, Nigeria does not appear to be aware of the need to sufficiently fund education.  Even in 2014, the education budget was woefully inadequate.  To be sure, additional funding was made available through Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) and other initiatives, but tertiary institutions have to compete for access.  Also, even combined with education spending by states and possibly local governments, these measures do not fill the shortfall in funding and they cannot address the considerable infrastructural decay and inadequacy that bedevil Nigeria’s tertiary institutions.  There is also the problem of mismanagement and misappropriation as a ubiquitous factor in the Nigerian public sector and a need to end the leakages caused by such kleptocracy. 

To underscore the importance of the subject of higher education in Nigeria, and to properly contextualize the problem of higher education, as not only a Nigerian issue but an African, and ultimately, a global problem, I consider the implications of a lengthy quote from a speech made by United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan at the launching of an earlier initiative to strengthen African Universities.

Universities provide the logical extension to basic education for all. The university is equally a development tool for Africa, . . . . It holds the key to something we all want and need: African answers to African problems; the capacity to address the most pressing issues both at the theoretical and practical levels (Annan, Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age. Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220. 2000).

It is hard to disagree with Kofi Annan about the importance of universities as a tool for development that enables us to traverse the divide between theory and praxis, to grasp the capacity to devise our own home grown solutions for our peculiar problems in the continent.  Do Nigerian universities serve these purposes?  Does UI?  If they do, should they complacently rest on their oars and contemplate their greatness based on old achievements?  Are there still challenges to address and problems to solve?  Kofi Annan goes on to say:

We look to universities to develop African expertise; to enhance the analysis of African problems; to strengthen domestic institutions; to serve as a model environment for the practice of good governance, conflict resolution and respect for human rights; and to enable African academics to play an active role in the global community of scholars (Annan, Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age. Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220. 2000).

Are our universities contributing to developing expertise that contributes to the ability to better analyze African problems?  Are we strengthening domestic institutions, are we a zone of excellence that provides a model of good governance, conflict resolution, respect for human rights, and do we nurture the capacity for our academics to participate actively among the world’s intellectual communities?  Kofi Annan further says:

Key to this is bridging the digital divide. At present, less than half a per cent of all Africans have used the Internet. This lack of access to new technology leads to exclusion from the global economy as well. The digital revolution has created new opportunities for growth in every field and industry. Since the most valued resource in this revolution is intellectual capital, it is possible for developing world countries to overcome the constraint of lacking finance capital and to leapfrog long and painful stages of the road to development that others had to go through (Annan, Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age. Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220. 2000).

None of us need be convinced of the importance of information communication technologies and their role in creating an interconnected world that affects economic, political, social and cultural arena.  While access to technology is of crucial importance, the development and nurture of the intellectual capacity to create technology—something that universities are potentially able to do—are even more important.  To what extent are Nigerian universities creating the intellectual capital that would enable the country do the sort of leapfrogging that Kofi Annan talks about?  To further delve into Kofi Annan’s thinking:

In the academic world, information technology must be more than a vehicle for long-distance learning and degrees. At its best, information technology will support, not supplant, Africa's own research and academic development. It should be a tool that: provides access to materials and enhances libraries; makes affordable periodicals and journals that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive; facilitates links within Africa and among African institutions as well as with the rest of the world; and finally, enables African scholars to contribute their research to the global bank of knowledge.
In other words, we should replace the digital divide with digital bridges (Annan, Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age. Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220. 2000).

UI has a distance learning program.  Information technology has touched virtually every aspect of academic teaching, learning, research, and even publication.  However, it is still important to ask:  to what extent have Nigerian universities and UI built digital bridges that invalidate the digital divide?  Are our libraries providing adequate access to electronic journals and books?  Are we using information technology adequately to connect Nigerian, African and other universities around the world?  Are we doing this easily, sufficiently and affordably?  Are we pleased with the extent to which we are contributing to the global pool of knowledge?

But in the end, there is no substitute for good teachers, a good curriculum and good teaching materials, developed by, for and with the African communities they are intended to serve.
We must strive to renew the faculty of African universities. This is a real problem, as my friends from African universities will attest. The old generation is retiring, and many of the young generation are opting to go into business where they get the big bucks or remain abroad after their studies. We must devise strategies to attract young faculty, and build up exchange programmes with universities outside Africa, particularly those with Africans on their faculties (Annan, Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age. Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220. 2000).

Basically, we lecturers and professors are teachers.  Good teaching is an art that can be crafted into a masterpiece of influences directed at shaping minds and consciousness such that the thirst for knowledge is gratified and nurtured to be insatiable, recognizing that there is no end to knowledge.  Are our curricula rich, varied, imaginatively designed and comprehensive enough to respond to the challenges of the present?  Do they provide bases through which we can engage the future?  To what extent is there communication and collaboration between our universities and the communities where they are situated?  TO what extent do these communities contribute to curriculum development?  Are we aware that they can?  Are we open to influences from them?  Where is our pipeline that contributes to the renewal of the faculty?  Do we embrace young scholars and nurture them, encouraging them to consider careers in teaching?  Are our exchange programs robust and thriving?  As a Nigerian in the Diaspora, I have to categorically say our efforts in this regard are minuscule, disparate, unfocused and reactive rather than proactive.  Further, Kofi Annan says:

As we assist Africa to develop its own bank of knowledge, we must also draw on it. African universities already play a direct role in poverty reduction programmes. Experts in economics, sociology and anthropology are training those who manage districts and projects on the ground. Others are assisting in the expansion of small- and medium-scale enterprises. The international community must make use of this valuable store of local expertise and experience (Annan, Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age. Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220. 2000).

To what extent do Nigerian and African governments see universities as a source of useful knowledge, theories, analyses that would contribute to solving Nigerian and African problems?  To what extent is the knowledge that the universities are producing influencing the international community?  What is UI doing about this?  What are Nigerian universities doing, beyond individual efforts by the few lonely personalities who have developed connections that benefit their individual interests?

. . . .
This is a moment in history that we should seize. By working together, we can succeed (Annan, Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age. Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220. 2000).

Are we ready to seize the moment?  Are we ready to cooperate and collaborate to make positive change?  Are we ready to forego short term individual gain for long term collective benefits?  As a visitor to UI who was produced by this institution, and who has been away, and is newly returned, I don’t see us as prepared to engage the struggle.  The university from my perspective is resting on its laurels.  It is basking in the reflected glory of the past, content to keep muddling through, content to engage in self-congratulatory lauding of its contributions to the production of knowledge, without sufficient consciousness that it lives in a competitive world where its status as Nigeria’s premier institution is challenged, and its capacity to compete with the world’s best institutions on an even footing is questionable.


Here is my humble submission: I want Nigerian universities to become world class institutions.  I want UI to be the leader of the pack.  However, if we are to do so, we Nigerians and Africans must envision what we want and figure out how to actualize our vision.  I am as scared of all the help that is being offered in the various partnership proposals than of the wanton disregard of the plight of the African Academy.  World Bank and other multilateral involvement will only impose a certain vision that is informed by an externally defined agenda for tertiary education, again, because African intellectuals may not be treated as the experts that can help us find our way out of the woods.  This will negatively impact on Africa’s and by implication, Nigeria’s political and economic development.  It will create irresoluble problems for the social system.

The state is no longer the only game in town.  There are other alternative sources of funding for strengthening higher education today, and in a way, that is a good thing.  The Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie and MacArthur Foundations are to be applauded for the higher education initiative at the beginning of this millennium.  They should however, proceed cautiously so as not to succumb to the pitfalls of developmentalism – a disdain for the local experts and the elevation of the foreign variety to the status of demi-Gods.  There are also private universities springing up very rapidly in Nigeria and other African countries.  This too is a desirable development but there must be a rigorous system of certification and institutional review.  These universities must also resist the allure of totally playing to the market and the tendency to exclusively train personnel for service sector jobs.

It is necessary that endowment funds that are completely indigenous be created to fund the universities and to create the agenda for the renaissance of scholarship and the serious pursuit of the production of knowledge. It is necessary that intellectuals, professionals, and businesspeople in Nigeria and its Diaspora participate actively in these efforts.

The use of virtual technologies can also facilitate solid academic and scholarly collaborations among Nigerians in the Diaspora and at home. We all should explore and develop these linkages in order to turn the brain drain to our advantage.  If the emphasis today is on Strengthening African universities, and donors are hell-bent on using foreign experts, we ought to subvert the natural desire to locate such expertise outside Africa by building the requisite social capital that puts us in the pool of candidates that engender the strengthening of the universities.  I say this because many of us are familiar with the terrain of tertiary education in Africa and Nigeria, particularly those whose careers in African and Nigerian Universities were cut short by the advent and intensification of Structural Adjustment. Many African and Nigerian professors in Europe, America, and even South Africa have headed departments, and some, entire universities.  Their combined experience would stand any reform initiative in good stead.  Their intervention, I submit may be more desirable than those from the outside who want to remake African and Nigerian higher education in the image of western ideals that are ill-suited to the demands and challenges faced by the African continent today.  In my view, African intellectuals in the Diaspora have much to learn from our colleagues at home.  I submit that the ideal situation is where there is a spirit of collegial partnership between intellectuals at home and in Diaspora to collaboratively take the lead in designing an agenda for strengthening the universities and in the implementation of such an agenda.

Finally, matters of higher education are a critical aspect of national interest, and of necessity, we cannot divorce higher education from primary and secondary education, which feed into the higher institutions, because “garbage in, garbage out.”  If education is a crucial aspect of national interest, it must reflect the collective vision of the advances that Nigeria wants to make in the 21st century and beyond.  The agenda must also incorporate a well-thought up strategy for how we aim to accomplish these goals.

No doubt, the Nigerian higher educational system has been thoroughly politicized.  This is inevitable.  We cannot address politicization by withdrawing from politics, but we can practice a different kind of politics.  The politics must of necessity be focused not just on the domestic matters that constantly create dissension and factionalization among students and intellectuals.  In Nigeria, there are problems with university autonomy from the government.  Most universities are unable to sustain themselves financially, and depend overwhelmingly on the funds that are doled out by the federal and state governments.  Yet, this should not be taken as unqualified endorsement of the neoliberal model of education, where the profit motive drives all.  If education is seen as a vital aspect of national security, it is clear that the state must take proprietary interest in it and fund it adequately.

Without financial independence, any plans for autonomy would be baseless and useless.  How do these universities cut themselves from the state’s apron strings?  Although fees may have to be charged, they cannot be totally determined by market forces because the state still has an interest in ensuring that higher education is given priority ranking.  In charging fees, provisions must be made for indigent students to be able to access higher education through grants, scholarships, and possibly loans.  Before autonomy, the universities have to be made whole again.  Infrastructural repairs and augmentation of inadequate facilities must be undertaken.  Libraries must be stocked with books and journals, attempts must be made to modernize instructional technologies.  Again, the role of the state is crucial.  External assistance may be sought and taken, but not at the expense of the independence that is required to build a meaningful educational system that engenders the realization of Nigeria’s development goals.

The universities are also a crucial part of building expertise in various areas of need.  If they are mandated to do so, and they are given the wherewithal to accomplish this goal, the dearth of expertise in the African continent would not be a perpetual matter.  Also, the universities are needed to teach those who would take up the mantle of scholarship and leadership in the future.  An investment in their ability to do so is an investment in the future viability of Africa.  The ability to do the jobs that the universities must undertake in today’s world means that they must use contemporary tools and methods. Information technology has revolutionized teaching and learning.  African and Nigerian universities must be given the tools and the requisite training to make use of these technologies.

In sum, I agree with Kofi Annan. Education is a more important weapon in a nation’s arsenal than any missile or mine.  It ought not to be left to pure market forces, and should not be handed over to even good friends who want to strengthen it.  If African and Nigerian tertiary institutions and educational systems are to be strengthened to meet the demands of the present and future, the efforts to re-focus them must be spearheaded by indigenes at home and in the Diaspora.  Among these indigenes, intellectuals are particularly able to understand the terrain and propose solutions.


Annan, Kofi. 1999. "Promotion Of Science, Technology Cornerstone For African Economic Progress, Says Secretary-General In Address At Headquarters. Press Release SG/SM/6891 SAG/21." February 9. Accessed September 4, 2002.
—. 2000. "Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age. Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220." April 24. Accessed November 1, 2002.
Atueyi, Ujunwa. 2015. "Nigeria should strive for a minimum of 30 per cent budget on education." January 14. Accessed July 1, 2015.
Fortino, Andres. 2013. "The Purpose of Higher Education: To Create Prepared Minds." June 6. Accessed June 6, 2015.
Keohane, Robert, and Joseph Nye. 1977. Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition. New York: Little, Brown.
Marx, Karl. 1852. "18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon ." Accessed July 18, 2002.
Raji-Oyelade, Aderemi, E. Oluwabunmi Olapade-Olaopa, Adeyinka Aderinto, and Nelson Obi-Egbedi. 2010. University of Ibadan: The Flagship - Six Decades of Postgraduate Education in Nigeria. Ibadan, Nigeria: Postgraduate School, University of Ibadan.
United Nations Organization. 1948. "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." December 10. Accessed October 2, 2002.

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