MANY Nigerians were shocked when the Central Coordinating Committee (CCC), an arm of the National Book Development Fund (NBDF) established by the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), last year revealed that out of a total of 150 doctorate (PhD) theses in various disciplines, obtained from several universities and scrutinized to determine which ones were suitable for conversion to textbooks, only 11 passed the tests.
The purpose of the TETFUND initiative, spearheaded by its immediate past Executive Secretary, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, which was to resuscitate and strengthen academic journals and encourage committed dons to publish textbooks, had also revealed the poor quality of many PhD theses, leading to the conclusion that some Professors have been endorsing deficient PhD theses that had in turn led to the award of fraudulent PhD degrees.
Post graduate students with research writing skills and the rudiments of academic culture, the Ekiti state government has organized a two-week summer Ikogosi Summer School (IGSS) at the Ikogosi Warm Spring Resort, where Nigerian scholars based in foreign universities were on hand to lecture the students.
The two-week featured 50 graduates of Ekiti state origin, currently undergoing their master’s and doctorate (PhD) programmes in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities in various universities across the country.
However, some of the students who spoke with The Guardian blamed the overbearing nature of some University lecturers for the prevalence of poor quality of master’s and doctorate theses.
Mr. Ojudu Oluyemi, who is undertaking his master’s programme in Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) said: “The federal government has to come in and restructure the system. It has got to the extent where lecturers see themselves as gods and would rather terrorise students than teach them. They believe so much in their powers and they want to make things difficult for students. It’s sad that a PhD programme can last up to seven years. In other countries, when you get in, you know when you are getting out. Sometimes, the more hardworking and smart you are, the more they want to torment you.”
According to him, the long time a student spends in the university may not necessarily translate to a good quality of work. “The overall tendency is that, once your supervisor terrorises you, you would want to do same to your students. It’s a chain reaction.”
Mrs. Jumoke Olurope is studying for her master’s in Indigenous Communication and Development at the University of Ibadan. She attributed the problem of poor quality of theses to lack of civilization and enlightenment.
She said: “I am a journalist. There is so much intimidation in the academic world and this is wrong. Lecturers have this penchant of making things difficult for students. There was a time I had to leave a university after spending just one session, because of one problem or the other.”
Mr. Francis Adeyemi, who is studying Economics at the Obafemi Awolowo University, said the time frame and unavailability of lecturers have largely been responsible for the problem. His words: “Every course has a scope and we are supposed to use primary data. But at the end of the day, we end up using secondary data because your supervisor would not be available when you need him and the academic calendar is not stable. So, most times, you end up using data that are cooked up and do not depict the real picture or capture the true situation.”
Mr. Abayomi Awelewa, who is pursuing his PhD in English at the University of Ibadan, regretted the situation in the university system that had resulted in graduates coming up with poor quality theses. He said: “A supervisor is supposed to guide you. Sometimes, the situation is so bad that you can hardly meet with your supervisor because he has to cope with 15 to 20 other students. Some postgraduate students have to make a living, so if you fail to work hard, you would definitely come out with a bad work”.
Mr. Akomolafe Abayomi, also from the University of Ibadan, however maintained that a system must be put in place to bridge the gap between students and their supervisors. He noted: “There are very few hands and a lecturer whose core mandate is to teach and research is also saddled with other administrative work, by being made an administrator or director. The university policy must address that and reduce the work load outside academics.”
One of the directors of the IGSS programme and a lecturer at Kansas University, United States (U.S), Dr Ebenezer Obadare, who insisted that there was no such term as a Nigerian, Ghanaian or Zimbabwean academic, also stated: “There are so many academic works that are done in a hurry and they lack substance. Some serious academics spend up to three years just to have their work published because it has to go through a serious process of scrutiny. As an academic, you should not just publish for the sake of publishing, but you must ensure that your published work has value. They (academics) should also steer clear of journals that don’t have value but rather go for standard. They may be rejected, but rejection teaches an academic humility. It is better to be rejected by a quality journal than to have 20 works published in a journal that don’t have value.”
Obadare, who is an associate professor of Sociology, also spoke on the academic culture of Nigerian academics. He stated: “I want to address the very concept of the Nigerian Academic culture. Something that has crept into the academic world is that false division between academic work in Nigeria and academic work in other parts of the world. I want to stress the point that you are either an academic or you are not. Academic culture should be the same everywhere. It has different component such as particular attitude to ideas, hard work, diligence, devotion, dedication, patience, pursuit of a set of ideas and those set of ideas are not divisible.”
On the way forward, he averred: “You have to ask yourself: What do you really want when you say you want to be an academic? You want to work in an environment that is dedicated to the pursuit of ideas? I think we have deviated away from that. You want to be part of a global community of scholars. You can live, teach and research in Nigeria, but your work is not only meant for consumption by Nigerians but also for people in different parts of the world, and that is because as an academic, you are speaking to a global audience”.
Another director of the programme, Dr Wale Adebanwi from the University of California, Davies, (U.S) stressed the need for a graduate to research on a topic that would impact positively on the country. He said: “Today, we are discussing research for post graduate study and grants, and the basic reason is that many students need assistance in terms of how to design their research. Research also needs resources and some of these students do not know how to apply for grants outside Nigeria.
“We are teaching the participants how to have a farm, to have their own fruits. There are lots of funds and grants available outside Nigeria that they can take advantage of, to engage in research work. Scholarship is one and it is global, so our goal is to build in them (participants) the capacity to access these grants”.
Governor of Ekiti state, Dr Kayode Fayemi said: “The conception (of the programme) was against the background of an eight-point agenda, which gives a prominent place to education and reverse the incidence of mass emigration of the best academics to greener pastures.
“The IGSS was proposed as a platform through which they (academics in the diaspora) can mobilize their expertise and exposure for postgraduate students, and to create and nurture relationship with scholars abroad.”
Renowned poet, Prof Niyi Osundare, from the University of New Orleans, (U.S) who delivered the keynote address, was emphatic in his argument that no university in Nigeria is of standard.
According to him, the capacity for Nigerians to suffer in silence is, itself, the principal cause of major problems in the country.
“I’m disturbed at our complacency, the way we surrender to defeat and the way we follow thieving politicians without asking questions,” he said. “Our younger people must ask questions. If you have come to the university to learn, insist on learning. If your teachers don’t come to class, ask them, ‘excuse sir, we were in class yesterday we didn’t see you?’ If he is a habitual late-comer, ask him why.”
He said: “Our students should know that asking the right (and, at times, wrong) questions and insisting on being answered is a very important part of their education. The culture of learning has to replace the present culture of materialism and mediocrity. Many of our writers have been disabled by the illiterate Nigerian society.”