Afe Babalola proffers solutions to falling education quality in Africa

In his book titled: “A Paradise for Maggots: The story of a Nigerian Anti-graft Czar”, Wale Adebanwi, a Rhodes professor of Race Relations and Director, African Studies Centre in Oxford University, painted a lucid but agonizing picture of how corruption has robbed Nigeria of its best in virtually all facets of human endeavor.

Likewise, legal juggernaut and Founder, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, yesterday recalled how the quantum and quality of education in the colonial era up to 1966 when the Military made an incursion into governance in Nigeria, was a lot better than what it is today.

In his usual brutally frank, firm, fair but friendly persona, the frontline legal icon and educationist painted a picture of how a combination of lack of true federalism among the states created at the 1884 Berlin Conference having regard to amalgamation of many incompatible tribes, failure of successive African governments to invest adequately in education, failure of African governments to sensitise their citizens that no government alone can fund quality and functional education and poor leadership as well as over bloated population have over several decades combined to render the search for sustainable education in post-colonial Africa illusory and utopian.

In a lecture titled: “The Search for Sustainable Education in Post-colonial era in African States” in Oxford University, United Kingdom (UK), yesterday, Babalola recalled that in terms of quality, composition and structure, the educational institutions established during the colonial era in many parts of Africa enjoyed the three essential trappings of being autonomous, collegial and self-governing as they were meticulously planned and patterned after elite UK universities.

Unfortunately, the elite classical model of university education in such model institutions like the Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone (established in 1877), Achimota College in Gold Coast and Yaba Higher College (both established in 1934), and Liberia College in Monrovia (1833) and the University College, Ibadan, Nigeria among several others, started dwindling at an escalated rate with the takeover of government by military dictatorships in many parts of Africa with the attendant insufficient funding of education and overconcentration of political and financial power at the centre in most African states.

He said: “With military leadership in Nigeria came the absolute concentration of powers in the central government. The military constitutions in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Libya, amongst others, accumulated several executive powers to the central government, thereby strangulating the capacity of the regions and states to independently finance and execute education expansion programmes.

“The added impetus for military authorities to curtail students’ demands and protests as well as checkmate university staff unions led to the rise of governmental control and influence over key decisions in the education sector.”

Like Steven Kumalo, the main character of “Cry, The Beloved Country” once remarked that “the tragedy is not that things are broken, the tragedy is that things are not be mended again’”, Babalola, a sure footed authority in educational matters, feels that it will be grossly unfair to continue to blame the dwindling fortunes and quality of education on the colonial masters when African states should rather look inwards and ask salient questions about what successive African governments have done to build and improve upon what the colonial masters bequeathed to them at independence.

Illustrating with Nigeria, Babalola recalled how Nigerian university system became increasingly less autonomous, less collegiate and highly dependent on government for funding and decision making in the period between 1966 and 1999 when Nigeria was under Military rule with the attendant over concentration of political and financial powers at the centre.

It was during this period that government became a major stakeholder in education and started meddling in such routine educational matters like the constitution and membership of the governing councils of universities and appointment of key administrative officers of universities.

He lamented that lack of adequate funding has forced African universities to become local institutions, attended mainly by local residents from the immediate state or region where such universities are located, unlike the practice in those days where the likes of the University of Ibadan, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and the University of Lagos were like mini United Nations with students and lecturers from all over Africa, Europe and America.

In his view, Africa can only build world class universities for a world class economy by deploying significant portion of their yearly budgets to revitalizing and supporting their universities, both private and public, stressing that education that does not equip graduates to become independent thinkers, employers of labour, captains of industries and agents of economic change in the key sectors of the economy is unsustainable and irrelevant.

By investing in entrepreneurial education, African universities can also diversify their income to become more self-sustaining and this is what he has been doing since he established his own university, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD), in 2009, after his seven-year stint as the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Lagos. Today, ABUAD’s ventures, according to him, contribute significantly to the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the university.

Undoubtedly, his experience as a former Pro-Chancellor & Chairman of Council of the University of Lagos where he was voted Best Pro-Chancellor twice by the NUC and subsequent establishment of his increasingly famous ABUAD, where he has deployed over N80 billion for investments on state-of-the-art infrastructure and ICT expansion since it commenced academic activities on Monday, January 4, 2010, today stands him out as an authority on how a university should be run and how a university should not be run.

To get out this quagmire, Babalola, canvassed for national restructuring, which would end “the brand of federalism practiced across post-colonial Africa that has stifled innovation and has made it difficult for states, private sector and even universities to attain the required level of financial and structural autonomy needed to drive sustainability”.

Worried by the quality of leadership in the post-colonial African states, he quipped: “Africa needs a new crop of leaders who are prepared to provide a vision for true federalism. We need leaders who will not sink back to pre-mordial ethnic attachments nor be moored or covert bigotry.

“We need leaders who will invest their personal fortunes to develop their country. We need leaders who are prepared to make sacrifices and make personal contributions to higher education which cannot be met by government alone as I did in UNILAG.

“We need more Nigerians particularly the rich ones to invest in education by establishing not-for-profit first class institutions of learning similar to ABUAD.”

He concluded by canvassing for national restructuring and constitutional reform to correct the arbitrariness that occasioned the 1884 Berlin Conference where incompatible people were amalgamated as nations and the frail and structurally defective federal structures put in place by the colonial leadership. Perhaps the 1884 Berlin Conference and the resultant lopsided partitioning of Africa viz-a-viz the amalgamation of incongruous people as nations must have inspired Walter Rodney in writing his enthralling masterpiece titled: “How Europe underdeveloped Africa”.

In Babalola’s view, “our current claims to being a federation is not only comical and deceitful, it indeed requires urgent surgical operation. Restructuring is not a call for disunity or conflict; it is a well-informed call for a speedy return to the confederation principles contained in the Independence Constitution which our Regional Leaders negotiated with the British between 1957 and 1959”.

He equally canvassed for a National Education Fund (NEF) and the commitment of a minimum of 25 per cent of the national budget to education in order to be able to rapidly catch up with the rest of the world in terms of quality education.

He wondered why ABUAD, like all other private universities, has been excluded from accessing the multi-billion TETfund University Research Funds. TETfund is made up of five per cent levy on public and private companies to support education. Worse still, government also collects custom duties on education and hospital equipment freely donated by foreign philanthropists.

Besides, Babalola admonished African leaders to promptly address the peculiar African factor of geometric rise in population through reckless procreation which impacts negatively on the yearly revenue of government with regard to government expenditure on other sectors.

Recalling the story of a 93-year-old Bello Abubakar in Nigeria who had 97 wives and 185 children, Babalola added: “It is unfortunate that while other countries are curtailing population growth, Africans revel in producing children without caution. When China woke up to the reality of population explosion starring it in the face, it pegged the number of children in a family to one. On the contrary, we continue to revel in the unwholesome habit of giving birth to a multitude of children.”

He therefore called on the governments of African states to make it abundantly clear that there is a limit to the amount of money they can provide for education in the midst of competing areas of needs.

They should equally stop deceiving the populace that if elected, they will provide free education. This, in his view, is how Nigeria came about establishing several state universities which are nothing but glorified secondary schools.

Olofintila wrote from London

Source: The Nation