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Celebrating Soyinka In A Recession

Posted: Jul 11, 2015 at 1:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Soyombo Opeyemi


There is intellectual recession in Nigeria. It is high time we conducted an intellectual audit of tutors in our higher institutions of learning. Is it refutable, as someone recently argued, that ‘half-baked’ graduates are produced by ‘half-baked’ lecturers; that a mango seed can only produce a mango fruit, certainly not an orange? When you have a system where a lecturer appears at the beginning of a semester, dumps the scheme of work or course outline in the class and reappears about a week or two to the semester examination to give ‘areas of concentration’ to the students or allow cash and sex to determine their grades, then you are bound to have ‘half-baked’ graduates. 

Prof. Wole Soyinka

Prof. Wole Soyinka


Should the practice of intellectual tyranny – where the teacher plays God or determines who should or should not graduate – continue or should the students themselves be involved in the assessment of their lecturers, as it is the case abroad and in some private institutions in Nigeria? How do we end the current intellectual sterility and circle of substandard learning, even when the limited funds deployed to these institutions and their internally generated revenues (IGRs) are generally mismanaged? What salary structure is appropriate for our academics so that we can end the yearly ritual of going on strike for months and then coming back to collect salaries for the period of the industrial action? Should the government, in the Nigerian context, continue to superintend public tertiary institutions of learning or should we turn them over to private hands in order to extirpate these endemic and systemic cultures?

Is it time we converted the polytechnics to universities, like Britain did? Since the majority of those who go to polytechnics are as good as their counterparts in the universities, should we convert all polytechnics to universities or turn them to satellites of contiguous universities in order to accommodate majority of our teeming youths seeking varsity education every year? And how much destruction has the take-over of public schools in the 1970s by governments done to our educational system?

The Sunday Post of October 29, 1967 carried a press release by Anthony Enahoro, the Federal Commissioner for Information, announcing the detention of Soyinka by the Federal Military Government. The very first paragraph of that release is intriguing: “A famous Nigerian playwright, Head of Drama and Lecturer in English of the Lagos University, Mr Wole Soyinka, has been detained…”

What exactly made a lecturer with seven or nine years of experience famous? How could a man with only a Bachelor’s degree become the Head of Department of English, Head of Drama, in less than seven years of taking up a university appointment? I believe the answer would be located, mostly, in the fact that Soyinka is both a teacher and practitioner – or is more of a practitioner than a teacher, to underscore the point here. Even as a fresh graduate, his play, ‘The Invention,’ was premiered at Royal Court Theatre, London, where he worked for two years before returning to Nigeria. While in school, his presentation on ‘Tipping’ won an oratory contest. He told stories on BBC and staged a play at the Students’ Drama Festival – all a rare feat for a Nigerian at that time.

The way a theatre practitioner will impart knowledge to students will be different from the way a mere teacher of Theatre will do. In the same way, a practising lawyer will affect the students better than a mere textbook teacher of Law. A civil engineer with many years of field experience will achieve better results with his wards than a classroom civil engineer. What we have in our tertiary schools are essentially classroom teachers, not practitioners. No matter how good you are as a Professor of Mass Communication, a ‘media practitioner’ of the same number of years or less, who can also teach, will affect the students far better than you do.  Sure, a practising Agriculture lecturer will know so much through experience and achieve far better results with learners than a textbook lecturer.

Yes, I’m aware of the Industrial Attachment scheme for students, sabbatical for lecturers, etc.; these are not enough to produce well-rounded graduates, especially in this age. So what is the kernel of the argument here?

I know a few lecturers who are practitioners of what they teach (despite the limitation of time). They attest to the huge impact of the practical experience on their fields of study, and consequently, on their charges. What we need on our campuses now are more of trainers than classroom teachers. There is need to make our education functional – a tool for national development. Our academics should no longer live in ivory towers. The essence of knowledge is its use to advance human cause. Knowledge that has no utilitarian application outside the school system is of no value. In the context of the marriage between the ‘Town’ and the ‘Gown’, Soyinka is the archetypal lecturer needed for our tertiary education. What a huge impact have his works, in print and on stage, made on our society. Prof. Barth Nnaji is on the same pedestal with Soyinka in this regard. His theoretical as well as practical works in the field of power speak volumes.

While encouraging our dons to practice, there is need to draw teachers (instructors or trainers) from outside the college or school system and evolve a system where students will have 35 per cent of their classes (scheme of work) with the practitioners, who have the ability to teach, while teachers within the school system retain 65 per cent contact. In other words, the practitioners will be employed to teach on a part-time basis while the school teachers are, of course, on full-time.  This should constitute a major concept of the marriage between the ‘Town’ and the ‘Gown’.

I observe this in the academic community in Nigeria. Rather than ask about your work, the question is usually, “What did you study?” It is always about certificate, not necessarily what you can do or your track record. If Bill Gates had applied to teach a course in Computer Studies in any tertiary institution in Nigeria, he would have been asked how many degrees he secured in Computer Studies!

The rule, of course, is that you must teach what you studied in the college. But there are always exceptions. The academic community in Nigeria is closed and stuck in a time warp. This is to its own disadvantage. Imagine a hypothetical case of a Chuka Momah being turned down from taking a course in Journalism or Physical Education just because he studied Microbiology! The two books unveiled in 2014 by Momah, according to Anthony Akaeze, “have been hailed by many critics as invaluable works that sportsmen, sport education instructors… will find useful because of their richness and the diversity of subjects treated.” (TELL, April 21, 2014)

C’don Adinuba, by virtue of the depth and breadth of his public offerings, has no business being completely outside the academic milieu. Students under the tutelage of his likes in Journalism, Political Science, English Studies, etc. cannot but come out as well-grounded graduates. C’don had to abandon his post-graduate studies because he was not getting any value for the time and money. If he were to apply today for a teaching appointment, he would be asked if he had a PhD, yet he ought to be training PhD students! Thank God our erudite scholar, the trainer of trainers and teacher of teachers, Prof. Soyinka, neither has an MA nor a PhD! I am here putting Convention on trial. I expect witnesses just as I anticipate a robust defence.

Yes, government must take the ultimate responsibility for the recession but everything is not about government. Prof. Babatunde Munir Ogunsanwo once spoke about “academic ‘dead-woods’ who remain in the system for decades without self-improvement” and those who indulge in attending to their lectures “a week or two before the commencement of an examination.” Prof. Ogunsanwo spoke then in 2009 during his inaugural lecture at the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye. With the reforms and innovations going on now at OOU, which have resulted in the institution emerging the best state university in Nigeria within a short space of three years (2012 – 2015), perhaps the solution to revamping our educational system does not necessarily lie in turning them over to private hands. These reforms should now spread to other public higher institutions in Nigeria. The President, state governors and other stakeholders in the education sector must insist on cast-iron discipline and accountability on our campuses. There must be efficiency and excellence. A system should also be put in place to distinguish and reward the academics and support staff that labour day and night to nurture a great future for Nigeria. 

These are among the issues that should engage our attention as we celebrate our literary icon, the teacher and trainer, my intellectual avatar, Wole Soyinka, now in the early evening of his life…!


Soyombo, author and public affairs commentator, sent this piece via densityshow@yahoo.com.