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Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Nigerian university education at a moral crossroads - Niyi Akinnaso


Barely a week ago, a 19-year old female student I mentor in a state university called me up early in the morning. She told me of a lecturer, who had singled her out as they walked out of class and asked her to see him in his office. “I haven’t noticed you in this class until today”, he told her. “You should come and see me in my office later”, he concluded. My mentee said she had been reluctant to go and asked me what she should do.

I advised her to go but with her phone recorder turned on and a friend loitering outside in the hallway. Should anything untoward happen, a shout would alert her friend to bang on the door.

She was the first person I called after my wife drew my attention to the jaw-dropping BBC video of a senior university lecturer cum pastor at the University of Lagos, making brute sexual advances to a female journalist posing as a teenage girl seeking admission and of another lecturer making similar advances to another female journalist, posing as an adult student wanting to change her course to the lecturer’s department.

Both cases reminded me of a 2003 a pop song, titled Mr. Lecturer, by Eedris Abdulkareem. Here is an excerpt:

My lecturer wants to have sex with me …

Hey! You girl … what’s your name?

My name is Bimbo, Bimbo Owoyemi

That’s very good, very smooth and very nice

Come and see me immediately in my office.

Bimbo goes to see the lecturer, who then tells her she failed his test and exam, and then added: “You know what to do”, a quid pro quo code for sex for grade.

Sexual advances to female students by male lecturers or staff were not unknown even when I was an undergraduate in the 1960s. However, by the time I joined the teaching staff in the early 1970s, the practice had taken root. Sexual escapades between lecturers and students were going on in the offices and in the few hotels around.

The practice escalated with the inroads of Army officers into the university campuses in the 1970s, more than 30 years before Eedris’s Mr. Lecturer lyric. At that time, it was not unusual for an Army guy to snatch even a lecturer’s student-lover and send her off to London or Paris for a weekend.

What makes lecturer-student sexual encounters different today is fivefold. One, there are widespread across universities, public or private. Two, they are frequent. Three, they are often non-consensual. Four, they are often cases of sex for grade. Five, the offense goes largely unpunished. As a result, the practice is not only rampant today, it seems to have been normalised. Yet, it is a serious breach of professional conduct.

It was only in 2015 that a case of rape of a teenage girl by a part-time lecturer inside a study hall at the University of Lagos came to the limelight. The fellow was arrested by the police, alright, but not much was heard about the case thereafter and no lesson seems to have been learned from it by other lecturers, especially at UNILAG.

Then came the case of Professor Richard Akindele, who was involved in a recorded sex for grade scandal. He was promptly suspended by the university management and eventually dismissed by the Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi-led Governing Council after investigation. True, the UNILAG management promptly suspended the lecturers involved in the scandal reported in the BBC video, the public awaits the decision of the Dr. Wale Babalakin-led Governing Council of the university.

These cases have serious implications not only for the reputation of the universities involved in the scandals, and of Nigerian universities in general, but also for the public attitude to the quality of Nigerian education and especially of female academic flyers.

Only recently, I was shocked when someone talked down a young lady who had a Second Class Upper degree from a premier university and was looking for a job commensurate with her qualification and degree classification: “A female student? She might have attained the degree classification through sex for grade”. This is a serious indictment of hard-working women, who genuinely deserve their grades and degree classification. Such a comment could only complicate the psychological pain that predatory victims go through.

Sex for grade is only one of the serious ethical problems confronting Nigerian universities today. I have written repeatedly about corruption in university management, from the offices of Principal Officers to the executives of the unions, including the Student Union. Like the sex for grade cases, corruption cases in the universities have festered without due attention or deterrent measures.

Corruption cases involving investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission have never gone beyond sensational arrests and court appearances. The kid gloves with which such cases are handled have fueled the militancy of university unions in recent years. This is especially true of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, whose members often know about the deployment of resources and the movement of files within the university system.

In 2017, in reaction to cases of corruption involving the management of some Federal Universities, I drew attention to lessons to be learned from Romania, where the negative practices now going on in Nigerian universities have been rampant for quite some time, leading that country to stagnate for years without skilled labour.

The Romanian Academic Society, an education think tank, rose to the challenge by forming the Coalition for Clean Universities, drawing participants from university unions, students, journalists and other stakeholders. A university integrity ranking system was developed whose outcome is used to name and shame institutions that are failing in their duties, as well as to celebrate and spread good practices.

An evaluation team, consisting of both faculty and students, periodically performs a governance audit of public universities, basing its evaluation on four major criteria, namely, transparency and responsiveness; academic integrity; governance quality; and financial management. To this list, we might add gender sensitivity. Appropriate documents are obtained from university management in these areas, followed by a field assessment during which management, academics, administrative staff and students are interviewed. Based on the data obtained, universities are assessed and ranked and the results are made public.

Since the first evaluation in 2009, Romanian universities have improved significantly in the four categories assessed. It is high time a similar system of evaluation was developed in Nigeria. The current practice requiring universities to assess themselves and be corruptly assessed by the NUC, has proved unsuccessful. A broad coalition of stakeholders and independent assessors is sorely needed. 

Niyi Akinnaso

(Thenationonlineng)

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