UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY AND THE NATION
Address by President Ibrahim Babangida to members of the Academic Community, November 16, 1985.
This occasion has been arranged primarily as a get together to enable me, as visitor to all the nation’s universities to meet, and get to know the leadership of the nation’s universities and some of the senior members of the teaching and other staff. Some of you have had to travel far and all of us have just had a heavy lunch. Ideally we should all take our leave and look for a comfortable corner to rest and to digest our meal. However, since it is unlikely for me to meet so often with such a large number of the very best brains in the country in one and the same place, I have exercised the privilege to “detain” you a little longer for some remarks concerning our universities and their role in the community in the circumstances we face today.
As I observed in Kuru some 3 — 4 weeks ago, we as a nation have a lot to be proud of in the 25 years of our nationhood, even though our circumstances today do not give room for complacency. As I observed on that occasion, the field of education, particularly university education has witnessed the most spectacular growth. From a mere 5 universities in 1965, ‘there are in this country today 24 federal and state universities a growth rate of almost one new university each year. Enrolment has similarly grown at a very fast pace. In the 1965/66 session there were only 7,709 Nigerian university students. Today the number exceeds 122,000 or a growth rate of some 5,800 students per year. Today, we can confidently boast of owing the largest university in the whole of Black Africa.
The contribution this growth represents towards the solution of the nation’s manpower needs cannot be underestimated, especially when we consider the various programmes and courses mounted by nearly all the universities to cater for intermediate and vocational fields in which the nation was sadly deficient at independence.
Perhaps, even more critical is the readiness and willingness of the university community to break out of the conventions of the old university traditions of the European system and to accept the burden of the pre-degree and Basic Studies Schools as a means of creating opportunity and access to university education for the educationally disadvantaged areas of the country. Whatever the controversies may be, the university system has also lived with the various schemes of admission which have served the same end. Taken as a whole, the record of the university system schemes towards greater national integration commends itself to me and to the Administration: You have reason to be proud of your achievements in this regard and you have absolutely no reason to abandon your general approach whatever the criticisms might be.
Over the same period also, the university community has moved out of the ivory tower and has come to play a role in society which is envied by the members of other academic communities the world over.
The positive aspects of this development include the growing participation of members of the academic community either as supporting research teams or as direct participants in the programmes and ancillary institutions of government at the national and state levels. Others include the various seminars aimed at evolving national policies especially in the field of agriculture, education, and government and administration to name only a few.
The national conferences of the Institute of Administration of Ahmadu Bello University and similar ones of Ife and Ibadan among others have assisted in clarifying issues and made positive suggestions on ways in which we may serve the needs of our society better. I am aware, as you must be, that this raises many serious questions not all of which produce flattering or ‘reassuring answers for the relationship between the university and society.
Some of these questions relate to what may be regarded as the true and morally justifiable role of the academic. It may be said that when the emphasis shifts away from the conception of the academic calling, and moves to the idea of self-defined and self-determined mission to change society as a primary objective and to make this the central focus of activity; without proper and due regard to the will, wishes and beliefs of society, then the academic has changed into something completely new and problematic for himself and for the society which supports his activity. I appreciate that this is a contentious matter.
In this regard it is my belief that the Nigerian academic environment is probably the freest in the world, far-there can hardly be any other university system in the world in which the academic, especially in the arts and the humanities enjoys a similar degree of freedom to define exactly what he teaches as and how he teaches and the latitude to judge almost summarily anyone. May I in passing commend to all our academics the address of the Waziri of Sokoto Alhaji Junaidu on the occasion of his graduation to an honorary doctorate in Ahmadu Bello University in 1971. It represents I believe, the best conception of the correct relationship between the university community and society at its best.
These observations must not be understood in any way to mean an intention by this administration to curtail the freedom of the academic community. In fact, we regard academic freedom as an indispensable ingredient of all the freedoms we are Committed to uphold and to promote.
We are however trustees of society as you are and it is essential that we behave and act in such a way that we justify their confidence and faith. The overwhelming majority of our people have had no access to Western education. They have a way of life, beliefs and values which they cherish. It is the duty of the university community to accept the rare and unique challenge to move centre stage of the pursuit of a painless marriage between their work and the world outlook of all of our peoples. Only then can we regard ourselves as having fulfilled over mission to our past and to posterity, for only then can we have given our society a sense of self and identity. Only then can we have become the torchbearers and champions of our own destiny.
In this respect the most important relationship in the university community is the relationship between the academic and his student. For it is through this relationship that society eventually feels the impact of the academics work. At all times in history, this relationship has been conceived as one of love, care, concern, affection, guidance, protection and education. The academic must in all respects stand for the parent and for society at large in relation to his student. He is obliged morally to expose him to all existing knowledge as objectively as he can. He must avoid the exploitation of the student for any games or causes outside the strictly intellectual. He must avoid any judgment of the student’s work which is not directly related to the known and accepted standards of performance. Morally he must act as his guardian and parent. He must shield him from tendencies and influences which will disrupt his life and render his education valueless in his later years. He must likewise mould him to become a useful member of society and keep him away from those things which place him at odds and at war with his fellowmen.
In other words he must seek not only to arm him with knowledge but also to impact to him those social skills which equip him to be at peace with society, and contribute to his own survival and betterment and to those of society. How much you have been able to do this during those years of your greatest achievement is yet an open question; but such issues will no doubt engage your attention in the years ahead.
In this respect you may well consider useful an examination of the reasons why so many Nigerians who can afford to do so, prefer to avoid the Nigerian university system and educate their children abroad. You may also find useful an examination of the view held by many that the standard and level of university education in this country is on the decline. True or false it is not an opinion you can ignore.
All this means that even as I congratulate you for the great contribution you have made to national life in an outside academic work, you are being challenged to do better in the years ahead. I need hardly remind you of the statements made in my speech at Kuru. This Administration regards you and similar institutions such as NIPSS as the intellectual and moral trust fund of the nation. We are faced with an economic and financial crisis which has necessitated the declaration of a 15 month period of economic emergency. We have curtailed military expenditure and have halted planned investments in hardware and various military projects until the economy improves. We have reversed the decision to move the Armed Forces Headquarters and thus avoided an expenditure of well over 120 million. We have cut the salaries of members of the Armed Forces and Police through their voluntary co-operation. Similar cuts have been applied to public servants in the civilian sector.
Those and other schemes such as the ban on the importation of rice and maize will no doubt make an impact. However, it is true that part of the underlying causes of this crisis, apart from mismanagement and corruption, has been the burden of rapid and spectacular growth of development expenditure over a very wide field. The pattern of growth in expenditure on university education has been part of that story. As the moral and intellectual trust fund of the nation you will be relied upon by the Administration to make a serious contribution to the efforts necessary to restore normalcy to the economic system.
In this connection you should give greater cognisance to what is feasible and what produces results as opposed to what is ideal, for we are not in a position to please ourselves. In as far as this affects the university system you have to examine and reconsider aspects of the administration and financing of university education. This is a very wide field but we can make a start by a reconsideration of the Cinderella system of university education through undergraduate in-campus residence. There is a universal decline in this approach as the costs of modern university education mount. You may also have to re-examine the desirability of concentrating purely on applied research in your programmes.
While this Administration will do all that is possible to ensure that the university system does not suffer unduly because we consider you indispensable instruments of building the future, you may find it useful to yourselves and to the Administration to organise a national seminar on this subject. If you do the administration will take the keenest interest in the proceedings.
In the meantime I draw your attention to the declaration of this administration of its commitment to work towards a better society. Men of learning such as yourselves will admit that it is in the midst of the greater hardship that men are challenged towards greater achievements in future years. To this end the administration’s immediate attention is directed to the restoration of our economic health.
I thank you for coming and listening. I congratulate you once again for the economic contributions you have made to our progress and look forward to your contributions to our future growth.