Professor Michael Umale Adikwu is the Vice Chancellor, University of Abuja. He is one of the few professors of Pharmacy in Nigeria who rose to the top through hard work. Born to agrarian parents in Benue State, Adikwu achieved academic excellence on scholarships. He discusses the problem with Nigeria and challenges of the Nigerian education sector and solutions in this exclusive interview with IGHO AKEREGHA (Abuja Bureau Chief) and MATTHEW OGUNE.
From the word go I was the national cordinator of a World Bank assisted project a year before I came, up till 2013 June. I always pointed out to any person that came my way that what is happening in our educational system is not something that we should allow outsiders to hear.
You buy research equipment it is not used, do you know that in this university, sometimes when people are on strike, they chase them out of their offices and I say why? Do you strike against yourself? You should be doing your personal work because when students are not around you have time to do research.
When I joined the university in 1990, my supervisor said when students are not on sit, you will enter the lab and do a lot of open ended research, so when the post graduates comes in, you can give them something because you have already done the research. I want to say that no statement is truer than we are very rusty because our curriculum is outdated, let me also tell you it is going to be very complex in reviewing it because if you change the curriculum, you have to get the teachers to teach that subject.
I have done post doctoral research in three countries, Germany, UK and Japan, and we usually find out that the curriculum is modified regularly and I also say that the amount of money the government spends on equipments is not like that oversees. They have central laboratories, such that if it is there, all the people from the centre will go there and do their research, they are not going to look for new equipment for research everyday, as you are using the equipment, you are paying a little amount of money after some time they replace it.
Education in the past and now
People always tell me that Nigeria educational standard has fallen and I say No, if you are talking relative to time, education in the 70s is not as good as what we have now in Nigeria. The truth is that, what my children can do now, I couldn’t have done when I was in primary school in the 70s. There was no way I could operate a computer. I couldn’t even use a handset. Even their grammar these days, mine wasn’t as good as that.
What has happened is that education has become very complex and dynamic that is why you discover that it is growing elsewhere but stagnant here.
When I was in the university, my pharmaceutical teacher was an Indian, there was another one from India and the other from Poland but in Nigeria now, you find out that you must be from the same village to be the Vice Chancellor, if you are not in a particular religion, you cannot be a Head of Department.
There is nowhere in the world that tribe or religion determines knowledge, that is why Europe is growing, when i was in Manchester, somebody said our children don’t want to read again, they want to read public speaking so that when they graduate they can become celebrities. But what did we do, we bring people from all over the world, you bring your knowledge, I bring my knowledge and we have synergies. So, their own (Europe) educational system is growing while ours is stagnant or growing at snail speed and that is the problem we are having.
Every problem have a solution lying near it. We have to change our curriculum. But sometimes when you want to, they talk about NUC benchmark, which benchmark? it’s a minimum benchmark not a maximum. For 17 years, the area of modelling has not been developed in this country because after teaching the students there is no external supervisor. If you are a Pharmacist by training and you go to a phamaceautical conference and they are doing drug exhibition, do you know that the amount of drugs coming from the European companies is tremendous because of this modelling issue, you don’t need to go and be killing a rat before testing your drugs or using a pig or dog, they just use computer algorithms and that is helping them. Why can’t we do that?
Asian countries are copying and copying well and they are doing well with it, this is the only country were we cannot copy, everybody are looking for ‘Kobo Kobo’ and it doesn’t help any nation. We must sincerely look at our curriculum and train the teachers because a professor said when I went to Germany that some of the teachers might be good knowledgeably, but they don’t have the right skills to impact it. So we are trying to develop communication skills for secondary school teachers. The problem of every society is not money, the problem of every society is brain, we don’t have it here and that is the problem of our nation.
The problem with Nigeria
You can be intelligent and you are not using it. In this country, we carry the money and leave the work. In overseas, they put the money down and put the work on top. Nigeria should be the wealthiest country that people should be struggling for visa to come to, it was happening in the 70s.When you talk about quality of life index, and the white man wants to sample they go to the village. They don’t come to you who is running up and down for Kobo Kobo and that is what they use to measure the quality of life index. if you measure the quality of life of the people in our villages you will know that Nigeria is not growing instead we are going down.
Nigeria has no work plan
Every society has problems, but what are the work plans you have drawn to solve them. I don’t think Nigeria has a work plan and even if it has, it has not been implemented. Before I came to this university, there are problems on ground and I drew up my work plan that is what they call mission, this is what I will attack at this point, that is why you have not heard of any problem from this angle for the past three years. What we are saying is that you draw up work plans and you make people to tackle each of them.Worries for the future
What worries me most is the future of our children. Do you know that the average Nigerian student even those yet unborn are thinking of the Mercedes Benz they will drive. The solution is, in the university we must teach the students leadership.
Problem of university lecturers
Our lecturers are so proud that most of our students cannot even approach them. We did convocation for five years and we had only eight first class and I asked, is it Spirits that teach here or human beings? I had to set up a committee because to me that is strange. Other universities are producing 200 some 170 infact, if it is 50 or 80 we even say it is small.
We have our problem as lecturers, we need to talk to ourselves, but let me also tell you we must teach our younger ones good governance because if students can do election with serious campaign, it calls for concern. I have to tell the Dean of Students Affairs not to allow our students campaign because when a student borrow money for election and when he comes in what do you expect him to do, he will look for a way of recovering that money probably to pay back.
Black man mentality
When you are talking about changing a situation, and when you are having a problem, create a think tank to look at that problem, they will solve it because there is no human problem that doesn’t have a solution. The black man is just deceiving himself. You can’t find this type of behaviour in Europe. We are just a consuming nation. In the 70s there was no colour TV. Today, we have colour TV, very distinct, many of the people stealing our money are the ones dying of kidney failure, nothing is as good as being sincere to yourself. I think we need moral education in this nation. I always argue that even moral education won’t help us because all the churches and mosque what do they preach, is it not moral education?
The problem is situated in every Nigerian because our President said change must begin with me, You cannot be taught moral education, you must teach yourself. Change must begin with me is a classical statement.
My background is just like every other African child background, played on the floor, my father and mother didn’t go to school, they were farmers. I did all my education through scholarship right from secondary school, so I had nothing. I didn’t grow up in my village, I grew up in my wife’s village, Utonkon in Benue state.
The challenges were like every other Africa child, we all have certain challenges and I never neglected my challenges. I did what I have to do and non has failed me up to this moment.
Godfather is in Nigeria
The issue of I must know somebody is killing the nation, I don’t need to know anybody to get anywhere, all I need to know is God. Somebody needs a job,instead of coming to apply you go and pay somebody to get the job and you end up having unqualified people who cannot do the job.That is prependalism, when you use public office to favour yourself, in Europe when somebody does something for you and you say thank you, he asks you why are you thanking me? That is my job. but in Nigeria if you don’t thank them, it is a problem. In the 70s, whether you can write your name or not and you are finishing from school, you are getting a job.
What needs to be done
If you massively give education to people, among them you will produce the great men. There are Children who are very good but don’t have access to education, in terms of quality of our universities, if you are talking about producing people for the education sector, our university system should concentrate on the older universities like ABU, UNN Nsukka, UI Ibadan, OAU Ife, UNILAG Lagos and all the older institutions, the admission should tilt more towards post graduate studies so that they can produce the teachers.
We need more institutions to expose people, in the US there are schools they call colleges, they produce first degree but you cannot use that first degree for higher degree anywhere, they massively train their people. Americans believe that if they train one million, they may get five geniuses among them which is also critical for our existence.
The Nigerian mindset
The mindset of the average Nigeria is wrong, we are not focused on work, we are focused on money which is our major problem. I must also add that Nigeria is a wealthy country because so many countries do not have all the things we have