As many African universities face all sorts of crises and many are closed because of protest, Dr. Okome put all the problems in perspective. Contributing for the fourth time to this forum Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Ph.D.  is based at Brooklyn College, CUNY. Department of Political Science.


Most analyses of higher education in Nigeria explain the history, causes of
decline and strategies for revival by focusing upon the inadequacy of
government funding, the abandonment of the Universities and even Nigeria by
the intelligentsia and the students that are most financially able to do so,
the obvious infrastructural decay, falling academic standards, and the
politicization of education.  The recent negotiation of a loan between the
Federal Government of Nigeria and the World Bank to revitalize Nigerian higher
education must be viewed in the context not only of lost autonomy today, but
as another phase in the intrusion of the phenomenon of globalization in the
political economy of higher education in Nigeria.

This paper will argue that neither the history, nor the causes, nor the
strategies for reviving the Nigerian higher education system will succeed
without a prior articulation of autonomous strategies that are directed toward
proactive and comprehensive economic planning that understands that education
is one of the major linchpins in both economic and political well-being. 
Education is central to national interest, and cannot be solely determined by
market forces.  Thus, the role of the state in making education policy, and
funding education cannot be overemphasized. 

The paper traces the origins of funding problems to the intensification of
pressures from Nigeria's integration into the global political economy.  The
Structural Adjustment Program as well as ‘third wave' democratization were
both pushed by the World Bank. Many of the problems being experienced in the
higher institutions of learning today may not have started in the era of
Structural Adjustment, but they did intensify.  In particular, the World Bank
in the 1980s recommended that countries that had high debt and serious balance
of payments deficit as did Nigeria ought to direct their attention more to
funding primary and technical education rather than tertiary education, which
is elitist.  The recommendations were made in an atmosphere of economic
crisis, where the universities were the most visible sites of anti- Structural
Adjustment critiques and protests.  The embattled state responded in ways that
generated many of today's problems.

The paper considers these problems as generating profound and seemingly
intractable reverberations that have stymied both scholarship and learning in
Nigerian universities. It takes the position that World Bank involvement will
not only impede university autonomy, it will negatively impact Nigeria's
political and economic development. While there are other alternative sources
of funding Nigeria's higher education, as indicated by the blossoming of
private universities in the country, it argues against the total privatization
of higher education. In addition to the founding of private universities [with
a rigorous certification system in place], the creation of endowment funds
that support higher education by Nigerians must be encouraged.  The paper
concludes that matters of higher education, being defined as a critical aspect
of national interest, must reflect the collective vision of advances that
Nigeria wants to make in the 21st Century and how it aims to get there.

To underscore the importance of the subject of higher education in
Nigeria, and to properly contextualize the problem of higher education, as not
only a Nigerian issue but an African, and ultimately, a global problem, this
paper begins with a lengthy quote from a speech made by United Nations
Secretary General, Kofi Annan at the launching of an initiative to strengthen
African Universities.

"Universities provide the logical extension to basic education for all. The
university is equally a development tool for Africa, . . . . It holds the key
to something we all want and need: African answers to African problems; the
capacity to address the most pressing issues both at the theoretical and
practical levels.
We look to universities to develop African expertise; to enhance the analysis
of African problems; to strengthen domestic institutions; to serve as a model
environment for the practice of good governance, conflict resolution and
respect for human rights; and to enable African academics to play an active
role in the global community of scholars.
Key to this is bridging the digital divide. At present, less than half a per
cent of all Africans have used the Internet. This lack of access to new
technology leads to exclusion from the global economy as well. The digital
revolution has created new opportunities for growth in every field and
industry. Since the most valued resource in this revolution is intellectual
capital, it is possible for developing world countries to overcome the
constraint of lacking finance capital and to leapfrog long and painful stages
of the road to development that others had to go through.
In the academic world, information technology must be more than a vehicle for
long-distance learning and degrees. At its best, information technology will
support, not supplant, Africa's own research and academic development. It
should be a tool that: provides access to materials and enhances libraries;
makes affordable periodicals and journals that would otherwise be
prohibitively expensive; facilitates links within Africa and among African
institutions as well as with the rest of the world; and finally, enables
African scholars to contribute their research to the global bank of knowledge.
In other words, we should replace the digital divide with digital bridges.
But in the end, there is no substitute for good teachers, a good curriculum
and good teaching materials, developed by, for and with the African
communities they are intended to serve.
We must strive to renew the faculty of African universities. This is a real
problem, as my friends from African universities will attest. The old
generation is retiring, and many of the young generation are opting to go into
business where they get the big bucks or remain abroad after their studies. We
must devise strategies to attract young faculty, and build up exchange
programmes with universities outside Africa, particularly those with Africans
on their faculties.
As we assist Africa to develop its own bank of knowledge, we must also draw on
it. African universities already play a direct role in poverty reduction
programmes. Experts in economics, sociology and anthropology are training
those who manage districts and projects on the ground. Others are assisting in
the expansion of small- and medium-scale enterprises. The international
community must make use of this valuable store of local expertise and
. . . .
This is a moment in history that we should seize. By working together, we can
succeed." (UN Secretary General Kofi Annan).1
       Globalization as a phenomenon is hardly new, although more people are
conscious of living in a global world today.  Historically then, higher
education is shaped by political, economic and social forces.  It in turn,
profoundly shapes the process of globalization since ideas have epistemic
power, and the production of knowledge is inextricably linked with the manner
in which humans understand and give meaning to their lived realities.
Globalization and Higher Education in Nigeria

We cannot date the emergence of tertiary institutions in the African continent
to the relatively late emergence of the contemporary crop of higher
institutions of learning in the African continent.  Anyone who knows African
history knows of the existence of fine higher institutions of learning in
ancient Mali and Egypt.  This paper restricts its comments to the tertiary
institutions that were established first in the final days of colonialism, and
more during the nationalist era of anti-colonial campaigns, the former to
train personnel to man colonial posts, and the latter to prepare Africans to
take charge of the production of knowledge, to equip them with the wherewithal
to lead their various countries in different capacities, to enable them to
become the vanguard in implementing the nationalist liberatory agenda. 
Considered from the glorious and forward-thinking optimism of those times, it
is clear that today’s tertiary institutions have come to a bad pass.  All over
the African continent, tertiary institutions suffer from what we see so
graphically in Nigeria – massive under-funding, infrastructural decay, and the
brain drain.  Most analyses of higher education in Nigeria consequently
explain the history, causes of decline, and strategies for revival by focusing
upon the inadequacy of government funding, the abandonment of the country and
universities by those scholars and students that are able to do so, the
falling of academic standards, and the politicization of the universities. 
These analyses are both right and wrong.  They are right because one would
have to be blind and/or senseless not to see that today’s universities are but
pale imitations, or even carcasses of yesterday’s phoenixes.  They are wrong
because these phenomena are themselves caused by globalization.  The phenomena
in turn shape our understanding and experience of globalization.

According to Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “(1)
Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the
elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.
Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and
higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human
personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship
among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the
activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be
given to their children.2
Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations also sheds some light on
the connection between globalization and education in Africa, as well as on
the centrality of education to human life when his representative, Nitin Desai
said on his behalf, at a meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the Development of Science and
Technology in Africa, in New York on February 9, 1999

Today, globalization is affecting all aspects of our lives, from the
political, to the social, to the cultural. Only knowledge, it would seem, is
not being globalized. In an age where the acquisition and advancement of
knowledge is a more powerful weapon in a nation's arsenal than any missile or
mine, the knowledge gap between the north and the south is widening. This
trend must be reversed.3

It is clear that Nigerian universities have not only lost their autonomy
today, but that we are observing another manifestation of the deep and
profound engagement of the African continent with the global forces of
production, of governance, and of social relations.

     I argue that the crisis in Nigerian higher education is caused by the
manner in which Nigeria like the rest of Africa is experiencing
globalization.  Nigeria and the overwhelming majority of African countries are
in the throes of a deep-seated economic crisis.  For most African countries,
this crisis began in the 1970s.  Nigeria was shielded from experiencing the
worst of the crisis in the 1970s because of an oil boom that itself was the
outcome of the operation of global political and economic forces.  The Arab-
Israeli war of the 1970s made it possible for Nigeria to exponentially
increase the gains from the exploitation and purveyance of what increasingly
became the most important earner of foreign exchange, crude petroleum.

  The irrational exuberance of Nigeria’s oil boom years led to expanded
capacity to fund many more universities in a system that practiced unabashed
ivory-towerism.  Students were clearly being groomed by this system to take up
cushy jobs as leaders in their fields and in the nation at large.  The number
of institutions increased with each increase that the Nigerian government made
of the number of states.  I must hasten to say that despite these increases,
Nigeria has not, by any stretch of the imagination, met the need and demand
for higher education.

   Let me reiterate and extend my argument:  Without the prior
articulation of autonomous and coordinated strategies that are directed toward
pro-active and comprehensive economic planning that understands that education
is one of the major linchpins to economic, political and social well-being,
there cannot be a clear understanding of the history, causes, or strategies
for reviving the Nigerian higher education system.  Education is central to
national interest, and is too important to be left to pure market forces. 
Thus, the role of the state in making education policy, and in funding
education cannot be over-emphasized. 

   To say that globalization is important is also to trace the origins of
funding problems in the universities to the intensification of the pressures
from Nigeria’s integration into the global political economy.  The Structural
Adjustment Program as well as “third wave” democratization were both pushed by
the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.  Many of the problems
being experienced in the higher institutions of learning today may not have
started in the era of Structural Adjustment, but they did intensify.  In
particular, the Bank in its Berg Plan (1979) did recommend that countries that
fit the profile of Nigeria ought to direct their attention more to funding
primary, rather than elitist tertiary education.  The recommendations were
made in an atmosphere of economic crisis, where the universities were the most
visible sites of anti-Structural Adjustment critiques and protests.  The
embattled state escalated its classic tradition of  repressive responses to
those who opposed its policies, methods and style of administration by
unleashing the military, police, and security forces on the universities. 
Demonstrators were shot at by security forces, as they were during the
more ‘benevolent’ 1970s, critics were detained, interrogated, and forced into
exile.  The universities became increasingly infiltrated by undercover
security agents who laid the groundwork for today’s cults.  The Association of
Senior Staff of the Universities was proscribed time and again under the
Babangida administration and the more brutal Abacha dictatorship, as was the
National Students’ Union.  These punitive and repressive measures were
accompanied by further centralization of the tertiary education system in a
manner that followed the administrative norm during the various phases of
military rule.  The power of the purse was also used to humiliate, silence,
and marginalize the intelligentsia.

Profound under-funding of the universities, neglect of their
infrastructure, and the marginalization of the intellectuals as a crucial part
of the process of state building fell right in line with the IMF’s advice that
there was an imperative need for rationalization through retrenchment, removal
of subsidies, attrition, imposing market values on all aspects of life
by “getting the prices right,” and the World Bank’s advice that the focus on
tertiary education breeds an elitism that could scarcely be afforded.  Like
most social services, education became a privilege rather than a right, but
the conditions under which it was produced and acquired simultaneously became
Darwinian.  Books, journals, equipments and teaching aids became unattainable
luxuries for the overwhelming majority of students and professors, many of
whom were pushed by the state into the burgeoning class of the dispossessed.
Remarkably, the intellectuals did not withdraw with their tail between their
legs.  They produced alternatives to Structural Adjustment, maintained their
critiques of irrational government policies, and argued for academic freedom,
university autonomy, as well as for a rethinking of the inevitability of SAP
and the un-viability of alternatives. Given the state’s intransigence, this
was a dialogue of the deaf.  Direct repression, the escalation of a reign of
terror, the compulsion of necessity to utilize multiple survival strategies
such as for the “lucky” few, doing intellectual piecework for more affluent
Western colleagues, and for the majority, becoming a part of the hustling and
trading culture that pervaded every aspect of Nigeria’s socioeconomic life,
could not but create what today seems to be the seemingly intractable problems
in higher education.  Scholarship and learning were stymied.  There was an
exodus to greener pastures in Africa and the West, again, by those who were

African and Nigerian higher education was deeply assaulted by the forces of
Structural Adjustment, as well as by the illiberal democratization that took
place in many countries.  In a dramatic turn-around, rather than advocate that
higher education should be open only to the highest bidders, all of a sudden,
everyone is now concerned with the dismal state of higher education in
Africa.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO), the World Bank, Carnegie Corporation, the Social Science Research
Council, the Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation,
the US State Department, and most of the major universities in the United
States have jumped on the bandwagon of strengthening higher education in
Africa.  The World Bank in a shameless, a-historical manner, erases its role
in creating the educational morass in which we find ourselves in Africa.  The
state has declared a commitment to the revamping of the educational system. 
International philanthropic organizations have declared that education is a
priority, UNESCO and many multilateral organizations have made important
interventions.  One wonders though, where all this help was when African
intellectuals were the proverbial voices in the wilderness.  It is impossible
to reverse the tide of history, but Karl Marx’s observation in the 18th
Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte is relevant to this situation.  I will quote an
entire paragraph.

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do
not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances
existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all
dead generations weighs like an Alp on the brains of the living. And just as
they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating
something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary
crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service,
borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present
this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed
language. Thus Luther put on the mask of the Apostle Paul, the Revolution of
1789-1814 draped itself alternately in the guise of the Roman Republic and the
Roman Empire, and the Revolution of 1848 knew nothing better to do than to
parody, now 1789, now the revolutionary tradition of 1793-95. In like manner,
the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his
mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses
himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and
when he forgets his native tongue.4
All Nigerians participate in the making of history, albeit not under
conditions of their making.  The question they must all ask is the following: 
How can they stanch the flow of the lifeblood out of the tertiary
institutions?  How can the heady optimism of the past and the vibrant
production of knowledge that it generated be revived?  Given that Nigeria is
in dire developmental straits, how do we make the educational system
meaningful for the agenda of national development? 


   Here is my humble submission:  I am as scared of all the help that is
being offered in the various partnership proposals than of the wanton
disregard of the plight of the African Academy.  World Bank and other
multilateral involvement will only impose a certain vision that is informed by
an externally defined agenda for tertiary education, again, because African
intellectuals may not be treated as the experts that can help us find our way
out of the woods.  This will negatively impact on Africa’s and by implication,
Nigeria’s political and economic development.  It will create irresoluble
problems for the social system.

       There are other alternative sources of funding for strengthening
higher education today, and in a way, that is a good thing.  The Rockefeller,
Ford, Carnegie and MacArthur Foundations are to be applauded for their higher
education initiative.  They should however, proceed cautiously so as not to
succumb to the pitfalls of developmentalism – a disdain for the local experts
and the elevation of the foreign variety to the status of demi-Gods. There are
also private universities springing up very rapidly in Nigeria and other
African countries.  This too is a desirable development but there must be a
rigorous system of certification and institutional review.  These universities
must also resist the allure of totally playing to the market and the tendency
to exclusively train personnel for service sector jobs. 
It is necessary that endowment funds that are completely indigenous be created
to fund the universities and to create the agenda for the renaissance of
scholarship and the serious pursuit of the production of knowledge.  It is
necessary that intellectuals, professionals, and businesspeople in Nigeria and
its Diaspora participate actively in these efforts. 

The use of virtual technologies can also facilitate solid academic and
scholarly collaborations among Nigerians in the Diaspora and at home.  We all
should explore and develop these linkages in order to turn the brain drain to
our advantage.  If the emphasis today is on Strengthening African
universities, and donors are hell-bent on using foreign experts, we ought to
subvert the natural desire to locate such expertise outside Africa by building
the requisite social capital that puts us in the pool of candidates that
engender the strengthening of the universities.  I say this because many of us
are familiar with the terrain of tertiary education in Africa and Nigeria,
particularly those whose careers in African and Nigerian Universities were cut
short by the advent and intensification of Structural Adjustment.  Many
African and Nigerian professors in Europe, America, and even South Africa have
headed departments, and some, entire universities.  Their combined experience
would stand any reform initiative in good stead.  Their intervention, I submit
may be more desirable than those from the outside who want to remake African
and Nigerian higher education in the image of western ideals that are ill-
suited to the demands and challenges faced by the African continent today.  In
my view, African intellectuals in the Diaspora have much to learn from our
colleagues at home.  I submit that they ought to be allowed to take the lead
in designing an agenda for strengthening the universities and in the
implementation of such an agenda.

Finally, matters of higher education are a critical aspect of national
interest, and of necessity, we cannot divorce higher education from primary
and secondary education, which feed into the higher institutions,
because “garbage in, garbage out.”  If education is a crucial aspect of
national interest, it must reflect the collective vision of the advances that
Nigeria wants to make in the 21st century and beyond.  The agenda must also
incorporate a well-thought up strategy for how we aim to accomplish these

No doubt, the Nigerian higher educational system has been thoroughly
politicized.  This is inevitable.  We cannot address politicization by
withdrawing from politics, but we can practice a different kind of politics. 
The politics must of necessity be focused not just on the domestic matters
that constantly create dissension and factionalization among students and
intellectuals.  In Nigeria, there are problems with university autonomy from
the government.  Most universities are unable to sustain themselves
financially, and depend overwhelmingly on the funds that are doled out by the
federal and state governments.  Without financial independence, any plans for
autonomy would be baseless and useless.  How do these universities cut
themselves from the state’s apron strings?  Some fees would have to be
charged.  These fees cannot be totally determined by market forces because the
state still has an interest in ensuring that higher education is given
priority ranking.  In charging fees, provisions must be made for indigent
students to be able to access higher education through grants, scholarships,
and possibly loans.  Before autonomy, the universities have to be made whole
again.  Infrastructural repairs and augmentation of inadequate facilities must
be undertaken.  Libraries must be stocked with books and journals, attempts
must be made to modernize instructional technologies.  Again, the role of the
state is crucial. External assistance may be sought and taken, but not at the
expense of the independence that is required to build a meaningful educational
system that engenders the realization of Nigeria’s development goals.

The universities are also a crucial part of building expertise in various
areas of need.  If they are mandated to do so, and they are given the
wherewithal to accomplish this goal, the dearth of expertise in the African
continent would not be a perpetual matter.  Also, the universities are needed
to teach those who would take up the mantle of scholarship and leadership in
the future.  An investment in their ability to do so is an investment in the
future viability of Africa.  The ability to do the jobs that the universities
must undertake in today’s world means that they must use contemporary tools
and methods.  Information technology has revolutionized teaching and
learning.  African and Nigerian universities must be given the tools and the
requisite training to make use of these technologies.  In sum, I agree with
Kofi Annan.  Education is a more important weapon in a nation’s arsenal than
any missile or mine.  It ought not to be left to pure market forces, and
should not be handed over to even good friends who want to strengthen it.  If
African and Nigerian tertiary institutions and educational systems are to be
strengthened to meet the demands of the present and future, the efforts to re-
focus them must be spearheaded by indigenes at home and in the Diaspora. 
Among these indigenes, intellectuals are particularly able to understand the
terrain and propose solutions. 

1.  “Secretary-General, At Launch Of Initiative To Strengthen African
Universities, Says Education Surest Investment In Current ‘Globalizing’ Age”
Press Release SG/SM/7365 AFR/220.

2.  Universal Declaration of Human Rights

3.  “Promotion Of Science, Technology Cornerstone For African Economic
Progress Says Secretary-General In Address At Headquarters” Press Release
SG/SM/6891 SAG/21 9 February 1999

4.  Karl Marx, 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon