If we are serious about moving this country forward, we must pay attention to education. If we do, we just might fix the bugbear of rising youth unemployment, and the insecurity associated with it. Let’s bring some glory back to our universities. A strong academia will help solve a lot of the problems plaguing Nigeria. That is their job.


Three facts to kick-start this conversation. Nigeria currently has about 170 universities, yet none has a research portfolio of US$1 million. A professor in a Nigerian university earns less than N6 million per annum. And whilst other countries have entrepreneurship and innovation centres, our universities have gone on to build bakeries, pure water and soap-making factories in the name of entrepreneurship.

We should be bothered. Especially those of us who passed through these universities before or even during the periods of anti-intellectual fervour that characterised successive military governments in the country.

Back in the 1990s, I can’t now recall the day of the week, but I was on my way home after lectures. A few of us students were on the tube (London Underground) during the rush hour. When the doors opened at the Chancery Lane Station, the chancellor of the Exchequer and one of my law professors walked into the carriage we were. There were no empty seats. So, both gentlemen were looking for a spot to hold on to whilst standing. Immediately, we, the professor’s students, began competing to offer him our seats. We were not focused on the chancellor. For most people on that train, he was a regular Joe. In the United Kingdom, our professors were far more important than politicos. Very important!

Last week, I was at a forum organised by the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) and the Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC) to discuss matters related to academia. It was not until the executive secretary of the NUC was giving his remarks that I realised that I was in a room filled with professors and very senior members of the Nigerian academic community. At the end of the session, I saw one or two of these professors waiting for taxis. Most of them seemed so ordinary.

In a normal society, the town goes to the gown to ask for solutions. In those supposedly “more advanced” society, it is recognised that even prime ministers are products of professors. With the way we treat our academics, it is easy to understand how we can have 170 universities but still be beleaguered by so many problems.


If it were a session for governors or senators, that venue would have been swimming with bullet-proof jeeps with blacked-out windows, and gun totting para-military personnel.

At this forum, I really did feel worried for these men and women, who ordinarily should be respected. Once upon a time, even in Nigeria, professors were like mini-gods. They represented progress and the future. They owned research and development. In the First Republic, lecturers earned more than politicians. Today, you hear of vice chancellors waiting to see a governor for hours. Going to Abuja to see a deputy director. Or being summoned by civil servants. Can you imagine the president of Harvard University or vice chancellor of Oxford University being summoned anywhere by anyone outside his governing council?

During the military era and in the period of endless strikes which inevitably followed, as moth after naked flames, some in our academia took to driving unofficial taxis (“kabukabu”) just to survive! Many years after, I am not convinced that their lot has changed significantly. Even after four democratically-elected presidents — two former military personnel and two ex-academics.

In a normal society, the town goes to the gown to ask for solutions. In those supposedly “more advanced” society, it is recognised that even prime ministers are products of professors. With the way we treat our academics, it is easy to understand how we can have 170 universities but still be beleaguered by so many problems.

During the engagement session at the forum I was at, a learned and distinguished member of society was very much dismissive of our degrees and how PhDs are awarded. His comment riled the other eggheads present. But the truth is, as painful as it sounds, the confidence once reposed in our academy has long disappeared, even internationally. Of course, we still have some strong reputations in pockets of learning. But as a nation, we are very far from where we started, even after independence.

I believe very strongly that our universities need their autonomy. We need real and impactful institutional reforms in the sector, which will ensure financial viability for our universities as entities independent of officialdom. Several of our institutions need to be protected from our politicians and politics.


I believe very strongly that our universities need their autonomy. We need real and impactful institutional reforms in the sector, which will ensure financial viability for our universities as entities independent of officialdom. Several of our institutions need to be protected from our politicians and politics.

We need to be deliberate about fixing the outcomes of the anti-intellectual mindset spawned by military rule. Whilst speaking to possible solutions at the forum, a member of the public suggested that the corporate sector be mandated to invest a percentage in some fund to keep the sector from keeling over. I don’t agree. The solution to the problem with our education sector does not lie with corporate Nigeria. In addition to which, we don’t need more directives, deductions and taxes which really do not solve anything.

We are slowly becoming a nation focussed on checking all the right boxes, regardless of outcomes. We are, thus, left with so many directives all over the place that don’t make any sense to those expected to comply with them. With all the deductions from diverse sources and contributions to education since the mid-1980s, what progress have we made? We still have over-crowded lecture halls. Grossly under-paid personnel in academia. And derelict facilities.

If we are serious about moving this country forward, we must pay attention to education. If we do, we just might fix the bugbear of rising youth unemployment, and the insecurity associated with it. Let’s bring some glory back to our universities. A strong academia will help solve a lot of the problems plaguing Nigeria. That is their job.

‘Lande Omo Oba is a lawyer and everyday girl.