Professor of History, Siyan Oyeweso, is the Provost, College of Humanities and Culture, Osun State University, Ikire campus. He speaks with TUNDE ODESOLA on topical issues
WHAT?S your view about the state of the Nigerian university system?
The country has made modest achievements since 1948 when it started university education. Today, we have more than 30 state universities and about 27 federal universities. There is qualitative and quantitative improvement in university education. Gone were the days when universities were islands to themselves; today, there are international benchmarks guiding the university system. We may not be there yet, but we are growing. The limitations of the university system in the country included lack of accessible Information Communication Technology, funding and lack of adequate libraries. Like we have in Osun State University today, all Nigerian universities should be desirous of making all their facilities ICT compliant.
UNESCO advises that 26 per cent of each country?s national budget to be earmarked for educational development. No Nigerian government has achieved this recommendation?
It was a recommendation by an ad hoc committee of UNESCO. Nigeria must move away from ad hoc recommendation and prioritise education. There must be a conscious acceptance of the fact that education has a cost and government alone cannot fund it. For example, a computer science student would need a laptop. The government might not be able to buy computers for all students. Therefore, parents must be ready to share in the cost of education because it is their responsibility to cater for their children. No doubt, we must have in place a situation where the brilliant, but indigent students should be taken care of by the government and stakeholders. I will recommend the Osun State University model, whereby five per cent of each local government council?s allocation is expended on the state university. If this kind of model can be replicated in Ekiti, Oyo, Ondo, Lagos and Ogun states, you?ll agree with me that there would be an improvement in university education. If these funds are properly managed, we can project for five to 10 years. Internally generated revenue should not form the dominant structure of university funding. Osun, Nasarawa and Adamawa are examples of states that are committing huge resources to education funding.
Isn?t it ironic that many of those canvassing payment of fees in Nigerian universities were themselves beneficiaries of free education?
I benefited from free education. But Chief Obafemi Awolowo could achieve free education for all because he had vision; he was committed and he had dependable lieutenants. We don?t have such leaders with Awo?s commitment and passion anymore. Nigeria has been balkanised; the soul of education is being torn to shreds. It?s all about prioritising and commitment. Osun State is one of the poorest states in Nigeria, yet it has been able to manage its education sector very well. Advocacy for private funding of universities is to make parents and guardians responsible. Without disservice to the memory of Awo, it is clear today that the federal, state or local government cannot declare absolute free education. Yes, the access to education must be given to all and sundry. Nigeria?s primary and secondary school structures are collapsing. Free education might be sought at the primary and secondary school levels but at the university level, people have to pay to get quality.
As the provost of the College of Humanities and Culture, UNIOSUN, what are the challenges confronting your college?
As you know, UNIOSUN is a new university; we hope our college building would be completed by February or March. We are looking forward to having our language laboratory in place very soon. We have taken delivery of a 500 KVA generator. We have a well-equipped health centre. We have committed students and a set of well-motivated and dedicated lecturers.
What is your view about the national education policy, which gives 60 per cent priority to science and 40 per cent to arts and social sciences?
It is a deliberate policy to further the cause of science in a society that needs to be technology driven. But the fact is that science and technology derive their roots from the arts. The dichotomy is unnecessary. There?s a symbiotic relationship between science and art; the two are meant to serve humanity. Science and art should be harmonised and not divorced.
What?s your view about the moral decadence in the university system?
Whatever you find in the university system is a reflection of happenings in the larger society. If we really want to check moral decadence in the country, we must revitalise family values. Moral degeneration is a failure of the family system. Whether you are talking of 419, organised crime, robbery or cultism, whatever way you look at it, the family is at the base of everything. The family must take care of its responsibilities. Fathers should be seen as men of honour and mothers should be seen as women of virtue. What we have today are absentee fathers and mothers who feel parenting is about paying school fees alone. They are never there when their children need them for psychological and spiritual training. In the past, people don?t steal money from the church or mosque, but what do we have today?
Do you share the criticism that greeted the composition of the federal cabinet?
At a particular level in service appointment, I believe anyone who has basic university education should be able to head any ministry. The former Director-General, NAFDAC, Prof Dora Akunyili, is now having a larger portfolio; she is not heading a mere agency. She is adequately equipped mentally to succeed at her new post. President Musa Yar?Adua has a seven-point agenda and he must have seen some qualities in Akunyili to make him appoint her to the Information Ministry. Britain and USA have non professionals heading their ministries. People can complain if a non professional is made to head a spe...ed agency like NAFDAC or NDLEA. Heading a ministry is an administrative affair. Akunyili wasn?t created by God purposely for NAFDAC. She can serve as Minister of Health or Minister of Education.
What?s your opinion about the travails of former Chairman, Economic and Financial Crime Commission, Mr Nuhu Ribadu?
Ribadu was a seasoned officer, dedicated, hard working and courageous, but he didn?t respect due process. It was wrong of Ribadu to shun posting and attend NIPSS graduation in mufti. He now knows that power is transient. On the whole, he performed well, he was fearless. I think his sack should be commuted to retirement with full benefits. His personal strength and love for Nigeria should be taken into consideration. The lesson Nigeria must take away from this episode is that we should build institutions and not persons. Nobody is above the law; nobody should play the philosopher king. Nigeria is capable of producing hundreds of Ribadu. For example, Justice Kayode Esho has performed excellently in all public services he has rendered without blemish. If you merge the EFCC with the ICPC and you head them with Justice Esho, you will be amazed with what the retired justice will turn the organisations into. Ribadu made some mistakes. He played power game. He, however, remains an honest man. People who ride on the tiger?s back don?t disembark.
What solution would you proffer to Nigeria?s decaying infrastructure?
In the past, Nigeria used to have development plans. We had the 1970-1974 plan under Gen Yakubu Gowon. After the military, we began to have visions, but it appears we are not seeing the visions clearly. What we need to have is a Marshal Plan to arrest infrastructural decay and get our economy on course. What level of infrastructural development has government put in place in the Obafemi Awolowo University, for instance, where student intake has skyrocketed? The government should look at what it wants Nigerian universities such as OAU, UI, ABU and UNN to be like in the next few years. It is imperative for the government to construct more auditoriums, laboratories, theatres to meet the growing student population in the country?s tertiary institutions.