An academic around Prof Kyari Mohammed whose appointment as the pioneer Vice-Chancellor of the Nigerian Army University, Biu has just been announced says he, (the VC) represents a breed of scholar activists who have been able to bridge the gap between research and policy. “For him, the value of research can best be measured by the extent to which it solves a problem. That has been the defining character of his scholarship”.
It is unlikely that anyone else would contest this. Most others would add the in-coming VC’s ability to think and enact Nigeria, (look at the diversity of his list of who delivered university lectures, etc) or operate beautifully above the ancient disciplinary boundaries in the Nigerian university system as in establishing Centre for Peace and Security Studies at a university of Technology. In other words, Prof Kyari Mohammed is on the list of that generation of academics who can hold their own anywhere else.
If this is right, shouldn’t those congratulating him have rather been commiserating with him given the near impossibility of running a credible university in Nigeria today? Or, is it possible that Prof Mohammed has told them he has a magic wand?
The fact of the ‘mission impossible’ nature of running a credible university is what everyone knows but refrains from articulating because many do not consider it to be worth the trouble, the censor and the silent punishments that comes with saying it openly. So, only officials and strong members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) feel protected enough by union power to make a career of saying it from mountain top.
But ASUU harps probably too much on financial resources when, in fact, the greater element of the impossibility of the university idea in Nigeria today has more to do with the antiquated nature of the body of knowledge being dished out, the overarching make-up of the studentry and certain protocols that makes no sense in much of the world anymore.
Claiming that the body of knowledge is largely antiquated (especially in the Social Sciences) is another way of indicting the body of academics. That is true on the surface. On a deeper level, it is not. Rather, it is a thorough going critique of the Nigerian State whose responsibility it is to insulate university education from the vagaries peculiar to Nigeria’s locale in global political economy. As Prof Asisi Asobie has beautifully explained this in a 1996 interview, when a graduate or any entrant is recruited into academia, it is based on signs of promise of academic excellence which s/he would have to nurture as time goes on. If as time goes on, the fellow goes nowhere, interacts with no other academics and has no access to quality journals, then s/he simply becomes a civil servant or anything else but an academic. This is the sense in which academics without access to the larger academic space is a critique of the state rather than the individual academics. Such academics can only give what they have and that might not be more than the class notes they took several years ago. But knowledge transmission requires more nuances and caveats than notes that have even gone out of currency.
So, the first pitfall of congratulating Prof Kyari comes from here. Unless he has got a guarantee from above permitting him to import very strong heeled academics, he is likely to end up running a mediocre Nigerian Army University. Is that a fate to wish someone with his existing good record? He is a practitioner of throwing the dragnets and bringing in scholars from here and there, especially tapping into Ibadan or managing to convince one of the established but retired academic figures. But how many of them are still around that he can cart away to Biu?
The other possibility would have been to look for fresh PhDs produced outside the country and who desire to get into academia in Nigeria. But even as tough as getting into academia outside is, how many of such would accept the pay packet on offer in the Nigerian university system which is still relatively miserable on a comparative scale?
Without fresh PhDs from outside mixed with big names existing in the existing universities, the Nigerian Army University will just be another Nigerian university at the level of infrastructural crisis, the institutional self-awareness about the mandate of knowledge and a definitive input such as the library. The outcome is that the students will be learning stuff that have been overturned, surpassed. Like the rest of the universities, we will then find students of International Security, for example, who knows absolutely nothing beyond scraps of realism, very little of liberalism and nothing else. Or those in Mass Communications would be telling you that news is what is strange. Or who, in Political Science, would be debating power as strictly a matter of jet fighters/coercion. One listened to one such class recently and they were so excited about living such a conceptual lie.
The point is that the curriculum is largely outdated, methodology is worse except in the humanities and the Sciences and the concepts are badly treated. It was not so before and only those who witnessed the past can make these kinds of assertions and challenge anybody, including the NUC, to contest it. NUC will not even attempt contesting it, having announced a committee to update the courses. It is not clear what has happened to that.
The less said about the studentry, the better. This is not in the sense that people talk about merit in Nigeria, absolutising a fixed number of credits and so on. No. It may not be possible to do without criteria for admission into the university. Left to some of us, however, the number of credits would not be as fundamental as the briefing a typical undergraduate gets the moment s/he crosses the gate into the campus. In the absence of that, some students in the Third Year are still lost about where they are. Some of them may have good scores but the behaviour, the focus, the disposition and the calculations have not absorbed a single point from the inherently scholastic logic of the university.
Whether the Nigerian Army University admit civilians or is strictly for military personnel, this is what Prof Kyari will confront except, again, he has a magic wand hidden somewhere that would enable him manufacture geniuses out of those heading to Biu.
Against the foregoing, to which many things can be added, is it congratulatory messages or messages of sympathy that a newly appointed Vice-Chancellor for any university at all in Nigeria today needs?