Email: nimi@profbriggs.net

Creating World Class Universities For A Vibrant Nigerian Economy and Sustainable Democracy

CREATING WORLD CLASS UNIVERSITIES FOR A VIBRANT NIGERIAN ECONOMY AND SUSTAINABLE DEMOCRACY

 

24TH CONVOCATION LECTURE

UNIVERSITY OF UYO

                                                                      

                                                                       by

 

NIMI BRIGGS

Emeritus Professor, University of Port Harcourt.

Pro-chancellor and Chairman of Council, Federal University Lokoja.

 

email: nimi@profbriggs.net

website:nimibriggs.org                                                                 Friday 2 November 2018

 

INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.

I cherish the opportunity to be here today and I thank the university authorities for the privilege to deliver this 24th Convocation Lecture. I wish in a special way to recognise the pro-chancellor and chairman of council, my friend and colleague Professor Austin Awujo. Permit me also to pay my respect and tribute to a statesman and an illustrious son of this great Akwa Ibom State, the late Professor Donald Ekong, the pioneer vice-chancellor of this institution when it commenced operations in 1983 as the Cross River State University. He played a similar role at the University of Port Harcourt, my base, first as its pioneer principal when it was a college of the University of Lagos, and later as its pioneer vice-chancellor when it attained a full-fledged university status. I am glad he became the first honorary graduand of UniUyo at its first convocation in 1994. May his soul rest in peace.

Available information indicates that in early 2000, the University of Uyo operated mainly from a temporary site and that it had 10 faculties and 68 departments. Specifically, in 2000 it graduated 1,952 students out of whom one passed with first class honours degree.  Today, the university is operating from multiple campuses, the faculties and departments have increased to 12 and 81 respectively and it will be graduating 3,629 students with 32 receiving first class honours degrees. I am therefore led to conclude that the celebrations by this university community at this year’s convocation are not misplaced. They have been earned; and I congratulate Council, Senate and all staff and students for the remarkable achievements.

My first contacts with the University of Uyo were at the turn of the millennium when Professor Akpan Ekpo, a venerated development economist, currently the Director of the Central Bank of Nigeria Learning Centre, was its vice-chancellor and I, in a similar position at the University of Port Harcourt. We picked up friendship from our Niger Delta roots which blossomed and quickly extended when Professor Ivera Esu, a well-grounded soil scientist, then vice- chancellor of the University of Calabar and now deputy Governor of Cross River state, came on board. We visited when we could and in our many discussions would wonder how nice it would be if we could use our collective efforts as chief executives of federal government-owned universities located in the Niger Delta to improve the development paradigm of the area – a region so well endowed with natural and human resources and yet so devoid of the vibrancy, opulence and richness of life that should accrue therefrom. Mr vice-chancellor, just shy of twenty years down the line, I plan that the main plank of my lecture today, will be to relive those memories through the concept of world class universities and direct our minds to how they apply to this great citadel of learning, the University of Uyo.

TOP OF THE RANGE UNIVERSITIES

Ivy league, Russel group and world class are some of the expressions used to describe some global top of the range universities. The Ivy League commenced about 1933, as a collegiate athletic gathering of sporting teams from eight privately-owned universities, located in North-Eastern United States of America. They include Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Columbia. Outside athletics, the quality of work of these universities was good and so the league soon acquired connotations of academic excellence, selectivity in student admissions and social elitism. The universities in the league became viewed by many as some of the most prestigious that are constantly ranked among the best worldwide. The Russell group also had a peculiar beginning. The name took its origin in 1994 from the meeting venue in Russell Hotel, London, of a group of universities in the United kingdom to petition government to make decisions in the interest of member institutions on issues such as funding and research, among others. These universities include Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge. The number eventually grew to 24 that spread across the country and as was the case with the Ivy League, their prestige, fame and excellence in teaching, research and community engagement quickly soared beyond that of the hotel venue from which their name emanated. Thus, the Russell Group, to varying degrees, with each member having its history and ethos, became globally acclaimed research institutions, committed to maintaining the very best research standards as well as outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with the local, business and public sectors. Universities in the group have huge social, economic and cultural impacts locally across the United kingdom and around the globe as they produce more than two-thirds of the world’s leading research findings that emanate from universities in the United Kingdom and support more than 300,000 jobs in the country.

It is pertinent to point out that it is neither athletics (as in the case of the Ivy League universities) nor the meeting venue (as in the case of the Russell Group) that makes these groups of universities top of the range. Their fame and global prestige, honour and respect come from their proficiency in the work they do, especially, in the quality of the students they produce, the research that emanate from their respective institutions and the contributions they make to social order, progress of humanity and development globally and especially in their respective communities.

In the case of world class universities, precise definition as was done for the other two groups is difficult. Not only are there no permanent members of this group, the characteristics that distinguish a world class university have been hard to define with certainty and universal acceptance. Little wonder that some writers are of the view that “every country wants a world-class university. No country feels it can do without one. The problem is that no one knows what a world-class university is, and no one has figured out how to get one.”1&2 However, taking a cue from the general remit of universities – teaching, research and community engagement – one can surmise that world class universities are those that are better equipped, execute their responsibilities better and obtain better results in comparison with others, as judged by the global community in a rank ordered manner. Put differently, those that come top of the list in any reliable and credible positioning of universities, based on certain criteria. Again, what this top number should be, lacks unanimity – 100, 200 or even 500, out of the estimated global total of over 26,000 universities. But for the purposes of today’s convocation address, I will peg the number at the first 100. Understandingly, most of the Ivy League and Russell Group universities regularly feature in the various world class university rankings even when the cut off is 100. Oxford University of the Russell Group has topped the world ranking for three consecutive years in 2017, 2018 and 2019! (recently released rankings for 2019).

Thus, ranking of universities has become the medium through which the outside world confers the elite status of world class universities on some institutions on the basis of international recognition, irrespective of their locations and proprietorship. This elite upper- class standing underscores the crave for such institutions as it is believed that, outside the issues of prestige and international recognition, such institutions are better able to contribute to the development, growth and global competitiveness of their respective countries, in an exponential manner since development issues are now largely knowledge-driven. Indeed, so strong has this belief become, especially since the turn of the millennium that the vice-chancellor of the University of Malaya, had to resign his appointment when in 2005, Times Higher Education (THE) – one of the global university ranking organisations – published its supplement in which his university had dropped by almost 100 places compared with that of the previous year.3     

Several global university ranking organisations now exist including Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU – Shanghai ranking) THE, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and the Webometrics or Ranking Web. They each use various combination of factors to rank universities and publish the ranking outcomes annually. In a broad sense, these factors include research excellence and impact; quality of faculty, their citation, geographical spread and percapita performance; overall level of expertise available in the institution; selectivity of students, options available to them and their countries of origin; awards received; graduate employment; linkages with industry and employment agencies; historical reputation; quality of publications; alumni profile; the teaching and learning environment. In stipulating these criteria, the overarching factor is that of quality and excellence in all that the institution does. Quality and excellence thus become critical factors in growing world class universities.4 However, it would appear that some universities do not wait for the honour to be conferred on them; they claim it aspirationally. I was recently a member of a National Universities Commission (NUC) delegation that visited some universities in Egypt. One such institution which is located in the Nile delta of the country is formally known as kafrelsheikh University, World-class university, even though, according to the president (vice-chancellor) of the institution, the university is ranked 601 by THE!  However, judging from the very impressive and modern infrastructure, the imposing faculty buildings, the state-of-the-art scientific and research equipment as well as the magnificent teaching and learning environment that the university offers, some justification may be advanced for that claim. This is more so when one realises that the university was only established in 2006 and commenced full operations in 2011. But it remains to be seen if, over time, the strong head start that the institution currently has, translates into sustained qualitative academic and professional achievements as is indeed expected of world class universities.

WORLD CLASS UNIVERSITIES, NATIONAL ECONOMIES AND DEMOCRACY.

An examination of the annual lists of globally ranked universities will show that a good number of the first 100 are situated in prosperous countries with stable democratic governance, notably, the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), Germany, Netherland, Canada and Australia. The 100 best universities in the recently released 2019 THE world ranking, consists of 40 in the USA, 11 in the UK, 7 in Germany as well as the Netherland, 5 in Australia as well as Canada, 3 in China as well as Switzerland, 2 in each of France, Japan, South Korea, Sweden and 1 each in Belgium and Finland, making 105 universities, taking the ties into consideration.5 While it is not being suggested that the activities of these universities are solely responsible for  the buoyant economies and reasonably stable democracies in most of these countries, no one would argue that they do not make vital contributions to national prosperity as well as the growth and maintenance of well-organised societies, where democratic institutions thrive. In such cultures universities serve as examples of best practices and conscience of the larger society and they work for societal good in many ways even at the cost of passing judgement on aspects of the society.  It is for these reasons that such universities are held as high-value national assets and nations avidly seek to establish them. World class universities turn out graduates who commonly occupy the higher echelon of society. Through cutting edge research, they produce goods and services of superior quality and durability which are procured by other nations thus boosting the economies of the countries in which the universities are domiciled even as they positively impact their communities in many different ways – humanitarian services, employment opportunities, entrepreneurial activities, scholarships to indigent students, development of infrastructure and others. In effect, world class universities produce better results as compared to those of others which also carry out similar functions.

World class universities are able to obtain the kind of results described for several reasons. They are usually well funded from a combination of sources including high student tuition fees, liberal subventions from governments and or proprietors, substantial income from sponsored research projects and generous gifts from alumni, including returns from university advancement activities. Accordingly, some, like Harvard with over $36 billion and Stanford with over $22 billion endowments, are rich institutions which deploy such endowments to employ notable and celebrated faculty across the globe whom they pay very well; fund research and own patents: expand their institutions, including the construction of new buildings; establish innovative programmes that meet student, industry and societal needs and continually improve on the standards of their universities. Faculty in world class universities, in addition to good pay, enjoy academic freedom within well-defined autonomous governance structures and well-equipped facilities for teaching, research and administration. They are highly fecund as they often produce ground-breaking research findings and are frequently the recipients of the Nobel prize – one of the most prestigious academic awards – in their respective disciplines and areas of expertise.  Between 1901 and 2017, the Nobel Prize and the Prize in Economic Sciences have been awarded 585 times to 923 people and organisations. The first 20 of the universities to which these recipients are affiliated, are universities that commonly make the world class list.6 Students are admitted into world class universities through highly competitive processes (less than 3% of applicants get admitted in some universities) that reflect not just intellect and ability but also aptitude and geographical spread. In order to capture brilliant but financially weak students, world class universities create generous packages which see such students through graduation and even beyond. Once admitted, students enjoy a rich experience, not only in academics but also in sports, culture, contacts and international travels. They are exposed to wide connections that influence their future as many end up in positions of prestige, authority and power. All British prime ministers attended world class universities within and outside the United Kingdom, most commonly, Oxford and Cambridge. Furthermore, alumni of world class universities owe special allegiance to their institutions. They donate readily to the advancement of their universities and also support them in many other ways. World class universities play strong roles globally as well as within their regional and local communities. They also collaborate with businesses on joint research projects to which they supply highly qualified graduates to serve as work force. Cambridge university where Isaac Newton studied in the 1680s, provided much of the learning environment that enabled his fertile mind to contribute so richly to the advancement of the human race through his work on the science of gravity and the laws of motion that eventually made flying, and even the incursion into space possible. The same occurred recently when Stephen William Hawking, probably the world’s greatest theoretical physicist, a staff of that institution taught the world so much about cosmology and the universe, despite his immense physical challenges. The University of Bonn founded in 1818 is an institution with tremendous international reputation and contacts with which it corporates with renowned partners around the world. In 2017, the university had 4,600 international students (12.7%) and 38 international professors from a total of 550. University of Glasgow of the Russell Group has invested 1billion pounds in transforming the west end of the city and creating 3,000 new jobs. Furthermore, universities in the Russell Group play a crucial role in the current industrial strategy of the United Kingdom (UK) which aims to boost productivity, especially through enhanced manufacturing capacity and share prosperity across the country as they are located across the whole of the UK. Wherever they are, world class universities serve as strategic assets to the country around which advances in research and future businesses tend to grow and get catalysed to create jobs, increase productivity and enhance prosperity. Silicon Valley, probably the world’s most successful IT revolution centre, was born out of the Electrical Engineering Department at Stanford University, a world class research – oriented institution. Activities in the valley constitute one of the major driving forces behind the huge economy of the state of California in the USA, which is based mainly on agriculture, education, health and tourism. Here in Nigeria, mention must be made of the University of Ibadan and that of Ile Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), which, though not classified among the world’s best 100, provided the appropriate learning environment that led to the emergence of two globally recognised literary icons – the late Chinua Achebe, whose work Things Fall Apart is ranked among the best 10 books ever written and Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Prize laureate in literature.

UNIVERSITIES IN NIGERIA AND THEIR QUEST FOR WORLD CLASS STATUS

 Nigeria joined the global university community 70 years ago when the University of Ibadan, the country’s first, was established in 1948 as an affiliate of the University of London, following the Walter Elliot Commission Report of 1943 on Higher Education in West Africa. From that commencement, the country’s universities have increased to 165 as at August 2018, classified, on the basis of proprietorship as 43, owned by the Federal Government; 47 by state governments and 75 by private organisations. The federal universities are further classified as first and second generations as well as specialised universities. None of these classifications, connotes quality and excellence as was the case with the Ivy League and Russell Group universities. However, probably based on staff qualifications and their numerical strength, age of the institution, track record, available infrastructure and fee requirements, students tend to prefer the federal universities, especially those of the first and second generations as indicated by patterns of requests for admissions through the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). While the inclusion of education on the concurrent list in the constitution of the country made the establishment of state government-owned universities possible, it was Decree No. 9 of 1993 that heralded the emergence of private universities.

Nigeria’s 2014 National Policy on Education, the latest and most robust in the series, advocates that higher education should contribute substantially to national development as is expected of world class universities. The policy anticipates that this should be done through the training of high-level manpower and the vigorous pursuit of teaching, learning and research to generate and exploit knowledge. However, in spite of these laudable goals, the NUC recently had cause to worry when it stated that the higher education system in the country suffers certain challenges that have undermined its quality and performance.7 Not surprising therefore, in the aggregate web ranking of world universities, no Nigerian university ranks among the first 500 in the world and no Nigerian laboratory ranks among the top 1,000 in the world also.8 Thus, no Nigerian university is currently classified as a world class university. This indicates that the ability of the country to produce world-class manpower and conduct relevant research for national development may be compromised. This is against the background of a Nigerian higher education system, especially its universities subsector, that was once highly rated in the world and served as a source of national pride.8 Of note was the world-renowned chemical crystallography centre at the University of Lagos, the first-class computer centre at the Ahmadu Bello University, the pool of experts in nuclear physics at the University of Ife and the global fame that the University of Ibadan acquired as a leading centre of excellence in tropical medicine, development economics and historical sciences. Mention must also be made of the large number of persons who had studied and or worked in the Nigerian University System (NUS) and attained great heights in their careers even though they may not have won the Nobel Prize. Such persons include the engineering scientist, the late Ayodele Awojobi, and Chike Obi, the late renowned mathematician, and also the scores of medical scientists who are doing remarkable work abroad, especially in the USA and UK but had their training in Nigerian universities and post graduate institutions.

However, universities in Africa, Nigeria inclusive, have expressed concern that current global rankings with strong emphasis on research output and publications in high impact journals like Nature and Science as well as the necessity for a strong web presence do not  sufficiently address their issues and do not take cognisance of the peculiar circumstances under which they operate.They refer to problems of perennial poor funding necessitated by the continent’s financial difficulties, the large number of students they deal with, the infrastructural deficits they  contend with, especially in the areas of the provision of municipal services of electricity, water and sanitation and the frequent interruption of academic activities for various reasons. Furthermore, the fact that universities in Finland, a country with one of the best educational systems in the world, do not commonly feature in the top globally ranked universities appear to give some support to the view that current university ranking criteria may be unduly skewed. Here, it is pertinent to observe that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) does not advocate the pursuit by universities of world class status or high rankings as goals in themselves but that rankings should be used as overall guide for the improvement of the operations of institutions.9 Some pundits therefore suggest that while striving to be listed among world class universities, African universities, should at the moment, prioritise the training of skilful manpower required to alleviate shortage of working force and corruption and to undertake research that will address the many problems Africa is grappling with. Their aim should not be fixated on global rankings but on the assurance of quality geared towards solving the socio-economic problems of the region.10 

It is in this overall context that Nigeria has been taking a number of steps to revitalise its university system and to make it more responsive to the needs of the country while pursuing its aspirations of being counted among the global bests. It gives some comfort  that three universities in the country – Covenant, Universities of Ibadan and Nigeria – made the global best 1,000 in the recently released 2019 THE ranking.5 They were also ranked 7th, 8th and 23rd bests respectively in Africa.5 The steps that are being taken have included enhanced funding through interventions by the Tertiary Education Tax Fund (TETFund, formally Education Tax Fund – ETF) to federal and state universities and granting them a measure of autonomy, especially the power to appoint their vice-chancellors, in consonance with their respective councils. In furtherance of these steps, government has shown a renewed determination to improve on previous efforts and to radically invigorate the NUS to desirable standards for better relevance and improved global recognition through the pursuit of quality and excellence in all its areas of operations. The current Executive Secretary of the NUC, Professor Abubakar Adamu Rasheed is the arrowhead of this renewed vigorous drive. Let me comment briefly on some of these measures. 

Renegotiation of the 1999 agreement between federal government and university unions.

In recognition of the vital role industrial harmony among all stakeholders in the NUS plays in the optimal functioning of the system, the federal government, in 2017 empanelled a body to re-negotiate the collective bargaining agreement it signed with the unions in 1999. Vast areas are being covered in the exercise including funding options for the universities, staff welfare, salaries and emoluments, autonomy, productivity and discipline. It is hoped that at the successful conclusion of the renegotiation, appropriate recommendations will be made to government which would have satisfactorily addressed most of the issues that had caused repeated frictions in the system and debased scholarship. Such recommendations, if implemented, should place universities in Nigeria on a pedestal that would enable them to attain their desired world class status as well as contribute significantly to national development. 

Formation of a Strategy Advisory Committee (STRADVCOM) by the NUC.

In January 2018, the executive secretary of the NUC, after extensive prior consultations, inaugurated an eight-man Strategy Advisory Committee, consisting of former ministers, serving and erstwhile vice-chancellors, staff of the commission and led by a former executive secretary of the commission to, among others, advise the NUC on programmes and projects that would enhance the quality of university education in the country in consonance with the 2016 – 2019 strategic plan of the federal ministry of education, which seeks to use education as a tool for fostering the development of all Nigerian citizens to their full potentials.  The fundamental goals of the strategy committee as he indicated, should include advising on:

  • extensive review of curricula in universities to incorporate knowledge and skills required of graduates in the 21st century
  • how to improve access to university education for more students
  • upgrade of facilities for teaching, learning and research
  • the enhancement of qualified teachers with doctorates in the NUS
  • improvement of the quality of graduates from the NUS
  • sources of sustainable funding
  • measures to reduce academic corruption.

Accordingly, since the consultations and inauguration, STRADVCOM has:

  • Commenced the development of a blueprint for the rapid revitalization of university education in Nigeria (2019-2023). The first draft of this evidence-based action plan which is being developed through multi-stakeholder input with cost and sharing of funding responsibilities is ready and is currently being circularised among universities for their final contributions and approval. It is possible Senate of the University of Uyo has received and made its comments on this important document. Unique in its comprehensive scope and coverage of areas previous efforts had failed to address, the blueprint gives year-by-year plans, the practicality of proposed activities and the costing of these activities.
  • Produced a Directory of Full Professors in the NUS 2017. The number and quality of full professors in a university constitute a defining feature of that institution through which it executes its tripartite functions of teaching, research and community services, on which the degree of proficiency in what the institution does is predicated. A revitalized NUS should therefore provide an accurate list of this cadre of academics not only for tracking, but also as a veritable source of information for organisations, scholars, researchers, governments, administrators and professionals who may require the data contained therein for various purposes.
  • Produced a document on the State of University Education in Nigeria 2017. The purpose here is that every single university in the NUS should publish an annual account of its activities covering teaching load, research output and their exploitation, challenges and other issues of interest. Such a drill will hold individual universities to account and define the overall quality of work going on in the NUS. The 2017 version of this annual documentation has kick started the exercise.
  • Commenced actions on the development of a blueprint for Nigeria’s prosperity by 2050. Nigeria’s current estimated population of 200 million is projected to double by 2050 at which time, Nigeria could become the third most populous country on earth, after China and India. Such a phenomenal population increase will come with its threats and opportunities, to which the presidency has requested the education sector to proffer solutions in relation to the anticipated challenges. The solutions to be proffered will include how to feed, educate, house, transport, provide employment and health services and even governance for the anticipated number of people. STRADVCOM has got the universities involved in this crucial assignment and has requested them to address these issues in the areas of food security, health, education, housing, transportation, governance and leadership, employment, power, urban development, infrastructural development, industrial productivity and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) development. I am aware that the University of Uyo has made its contributions to the blueprint in the document it submitted on Governance and Leadership. These recommendations coming from the full weight of the NUS should be of tremendous value to present and future governments in the country. They should also place the universities at the centre of the decision -making process and enhance their relevance to national development.
  • Other activities of STRADVCOM include
    • advising on the review of the curricula of all disciplines as currently contained in the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standards (BMAS) document and the inclusion of other disciplines.
    • offering advice on the publication of a monograph series on important aspects of university administration.
    • delivering policy briefs to the NUC.
    • advising on the resuscitation of ranking of Nigerian universities based on the quality of their academic programmes as well as the resuscitation of institutional accreditation.

As is evident in the actions that STRADVCOM has taken so far, the committee, as much as possible, involves the universities in its activities through the various inputs it calls on the institutions to make on various aspects of its work. This is predicated on the conviction of the committee that the NUS contains quality staff that can proffer solutions to the many problems of the country if given the opportunity.

Paying better attention to private universities.

The Table below shows that private universities in Nigeria currently make up almost 50% of universities in the country but only about 5% of the overall student population are registered in them. Even then, such students are concentrated in just about three or four of the private universities.

 

NIGERIAN UNIVESITY SYSTEM

 Proprietors, Universities, Student Population.

PROPRIETORNo. of UNIVERSITIES (%)No. of STUDENTS (%)
Federal43(26)1,328,087 (67.50)
State47(28.5)534,975 (27.19)
Private75(45.5)104,486 (5.31)
TOTAL165(100)1,967,548 (100)

Source: NUC.

 

Several reasons may be adduced for this apparent aversion to private universities by students. Obviously, the higher fee structure in those universities plays a role but there is also the issue of inappropriate management of some of them by their proprietors which makes them unattractive to students as worthwhile academic institutions. In an attempt to tackle this problem and to set private universities in Nigeria on a proper course to fulfil their mandate, as is the case in many other places, the executive secretary of the NUC set up another panel of experts in February 2018, to, among others, draw up a Corporate Governance Code, with sanctions for default, for private universities in Nigeria. The experts have concluded the assignment and the document has been submitted to the Executive Secretary.  

CHANGING THE NARRATIVE.

As was reported in the 58th Nigeria’s Independence Anniversary edition of the Vanguard Newspaper on October 1, 2018, under the title of Nigeria’s Education Landscape tweaking to greater reforms, no nation can rise beyond the quality of its education system as education remains the back bone of every nation. At the presidential retreat on education in the country in November 2017 the president bared his mind on the decadent state of education in the country, reiterating once again, what previous governments had all echoed. The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu amplified further and took a no -holds-bared approach to the issue stating that denial will do the country no good. Said he, it is education that shapes, corrects and restores society; but to be able to restore order to society, education has to be made a national priority.

Universities in Nigeria must rise up to the challenges posed by education in the country for no other organisation other than theirs is better suited to effect the required changes. They do not have to wait to be listed among the world’s best 100 before they can produce graduates with the competitive skills to grow national economies in the 21st century. Even in their present state, they can commit to finding solutions to the biting poverty that is so prevalent in the country and show themselves as best practices from which social order can emanate. It is in this respect that the current efforts by the Executive Secretary of the NUC must receive universal support for the multiple throng attacks he is using to confront the challenges and to change the narrative.

 

Universities in the Niger Delta.

In an earlier section of this lecture, I gave an indication of how Professor Akpan Ekpo, an erstwhile vice-chancellor of this university and I reminisced severally on the fortunes of the Niger Delta. How, despite its huge resources of oil and gas which has converted deserts to modern cities elsewhere, rich ecological system, the harbinger of immense wealth for many nations and the blessing of the gift of a delta formation which has created paradise of pleasure and huge agricultural outlays for those privileged to have one, the Niger delta has remained essentially decadent and desolate. Development indices are dismal; its people, largely poor and ravaged by diseases; its land decimated and degraded by children without hope, living on the fringes of society and its waters and shores taken over by unimaginable filth, oil pollution and human waste. Mr. vice-chancellor, I wish to advocate that universities in the region must confront this odium and be in the forefront of efforts to correct this calamity.

Whereas education at the sub tertiary level is largely designed for the acquisition of the ability to read, write, count and possess skills needed for daily living, rational thinking and self-advancement, that at the tertiary level, especially in universities, has the additional responsibility of finding solutions to problems that confront humanity. For, it is in so doing that universities, without prejudice to their positions on world ranking lists, acquire relevance and contribute to national and local economies as well as help build a stable society where prosperity is shared with less restive individuals who encourage democratic institutions to thrive.  Agenda 2063, the Africa We Want, where the continent’s developmental aspirations are enunciated, expects that the continent’s ocean/blue economy which is three times the size of its landmass and of which the Niger Delta is an integral part, shall be a major contributor to the continental transformation and growth11 The same position is virtually reiterated in all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – ranging from issues on the eradication of hunger and poverty to health for all and the quality of life on land and under the sea – that aim for the execution of some social and economic measures designed for the Transformation of our World.12 So, even as universities in the Niger Delta think globally by seeking to grow themselves into world class universities, they should also act locally by seeing the region as an albatross that should command their commitment to its development. To my mind, nowhere else in Nigeria is the need to change the narrative more urgent than it is in the Niger Delta. Happily, some efforts are being made in this direction; a few deserve a brief mention.

Institute of Petroleum Studies, University of Port Harcourt.

The petroleum industry, the main source of economic activities in the Niger Delta, requires professionals with internationally acceptable standards of skills and knowledge to which many students trained locally are unable to aspire. In an effort to solve this problem and to avail students with the requisite skills and knowledge, the University of Port Harcourt established an Institute of Petroleum Studies in the early 2000 as a collaborative organisation between Uniport, the IFP school Paris and Total Exploration and Production. Founded on the Triple Helix concept of government/academia/industry partnership,13 this multilateral collaborative venture between a university in the Niger Delta, a top of the range petroleum institute in Europe and an international oil company of global standing, has been phenomenally successful. Students receive instructions from Uniport staff, those of IFP school Paris and senior professionals from various industries. Accordingly, their qualifications are certified not only by Uniport and IFP School Paris, but also by a number of international professional bodies.  This saves the industry and Government foreign earnings and enhances the nation’s economy while at the same time domestically developing internationally exposed and well-trained human capital for the industry.14 Furthermore, the institute has blossomed and berthed a number of other strategic academic and professional institutions including the Emerald Energy Centre and the World Bank Africa Centre of Excellence in Oil Field Chemical Research. As expected, graduates of the institution are now employed in several areas as top-grade professionals managing the oil and gas industry.

Niger Delta Energy Corridor.

With Nigeria’s current proven gas reserve base variously stated as between 183 to 190 trillion cubic feet15,16&17 and an undiscovered potential of 600 trillion cubic feet, all of which is located in the Niger Delta, tremendous potentials exist to use this as a medium to correct some of the developmental ills of the region. These hydrocarbon resources have been exploited for over fifty years and largely processed overseas with minimal multiplier effect and little impact on the development of the region. In October 2011, some professors from the University of Port Harcourt and from the Rivers State University of Science and Technology as it then was, along with some industry experts, developed the concept of a Niger Delta Energy Corridor while serving under the aegis of the then Rivers State Economic Advisory Council as a strategy of processing the region’s vast natural resources in the Niger Delta in order to accelerate industrialisation and enhance regional development. The aim is to resolve a long standing critical national challenge of developing the Niger Delta and its mangrove swamps, in particular, whose magnitude of problem is large, and societal confrontation has not sufficiently addressed over the years.

In essence, the project consists of an Energy Corridor that would run from Cross River State, through the states of Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo, Ondo and terminate in Lagos State that would provide an energy base from which developmental activities can spring easily in each of the respective states.  The Corridor is conceived to be implemented by private sector consortia of local and foreign exploration and production companies, as well as those of project finance and infrastructure, that would be listed in Nigerian and Foreign Stock Exchanges in order to broaden the capital base and create credible corporate governance. These actions are still in the offing.

 

Eradication of HIV in the Niger Delta

South Africa (7.1 million), Nigeria (3.2 million) and India (2.1 million) are the countries with highest number of patients living with HIV/AIDS. In Nigeria, some of the highest prevalence rates are found in some states in the Niger Delta and fortunately, this is another area where universities in the region are playing a role in changing the narrative in the effort to bring down this high HIV prevalence in the region with its associated high mortality and morbidity. The Niger Delta University in Amassoma, Bayelsa State in 2012, established a dynamic Genito-urinary and HIV Medicine unit cutting across the departments of internal medicine and obstetrics and gynaecology so as to concentrate on this preventable tragedy. Headed by Professor TC Harry, a world-renowned expert on the disease, the unit has mounted such vigorous management of patients with the condition in the state that remarkable improvement is now being recorded. In 2010, the sero-prevalence of the disease was 9.1%, which was not only far above the national average of 3.4%, it was the 3rd highest in the country. In 2014 this rate had fallen to 3.4% and to 2.7% in 2017. Furthermore, the state has been able to achieve an overall viral suppression of 73% thus placing it on course to meeting the 2020 UNAIDS target of 90% of people living with HIV knowing their status, 90% of those diagnosed as having HIV infection receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy and 90% of those on treatment having undetectable viral load by 2020  as a means of ultimately eradicating the disease.18 it is expected that the good results being obtained in Bayelsa State will have a knock-on effect on the rest of the region.

The University of Uyo.

 Vice-chancellor, conceptualised and built as a state government owned University of Cross River State in 1983 and taken over by the federal government in 1991 as the University of Uyo, UniUyo can be said to have seen the best of both worlds. It is therefore, rightly regarded as one of the flagship tertiary institutions in the Niger Delta. The topic that you have asked me to address at this 24th convocation anniversary is fascinating as it has a wide sweep, covering world class universities, the economy and issues of sustainability. I commend the university for the choice as I am led to believe that it connotes an in depth understanding of the changing dynamics in the mission of universities where knowledge constitutes the currency of value. Knowledge defines world class universities. It is traded in the globalised world as a commodity and creates the bases for the prosperity, order and good life of nations that generate and exploit it better than others. And finally, its perpetual pursuit by way of research and innovation is the surest avenue to sustainability in development, quality of work and contributions that can be made to the betterment of  societies. Sustainability therefore emerges as the take home from this convocation lecture and I urge you to Educate for Sustainable Development.

In today’s new age of knowledge where knowledge society and knowledge economy determine prosperity, the old capital of land, labour and natural resources are gradually giving way, as they are not sustainable, to human and technological capital acquired through higher education, research and development, as these are sustainable. Research and development that foster sustainability should therefore be the direction for your university to go. By educating for sustainable development, your progression to the status of a world class university will be assured; your contribution to the national economy, guaranteed and your input to the emergence of democratic institutions, definite. Above all, your ability to alleviate the decadence and human misery, currently entrenched in the Niger Delta will be great.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

About this time last year, I was carrying out a similar exercise at the Federal University Lokoja.19 At that convocation lecture, my plea to the university community was to urge them to make good the reason for their establishment by researching on the issues of grave importance around them – the confluence of two large waterways, the rivers Niger and Benue, the burden of history on the city of Lokoja as the “home” of Lord Lugard and his wife Flora Shaw, the first capital of northern Nigeria where formal education commenced and the birth place of Nigeria project. My message in today’s convocation is similar – to urge you to establish a university that would pursue the tenets of sustainable development.

Attaining the status of world class university and to be counted among the best 100 in the world should not be an end by itself. It is what a university is able to achieve within the bracket it finds itself that should matter the more, especially the impact it has on its community and the larger society. The Niger Delta where this university is located appears to be in dire straight – recurrent violence, kidnappings, degraded environment and a large army of youths who live from day to day, essentially without purpose. The region beckons on University of Uyo and all others for an intervention to salvage its youth from future servitude, its land from desolation and its people from extinction. But quite frankly, judging from the magnitude of the problem before us all, can this university or indeed, any other in the Niger Delta, fail to heed such a call?

I thank you all for your time.

 

 

REFERENCES

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4 Briggs, Nimi. 2017, Keynote Address. 9th International Conference and Workshops on Quality Assurance in Higher Education in Africa, Accra, Ghana.

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16.Daily Post. July 1, 2016

  1. This Day October 3, 2018
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