A renowned Professor of African Religious Traditions from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, Jacob K. Olupona, has blamed what he called “the tragic decline in the quality of education” in the country for the high rate at which Nigerians flock to other countries for educational pursuit.

Professor Olupona, who holds the twin chair of African and African American Studies as well as African Religious Traditions of Harvard Divinity School, made this observation last Tuesday (March 19, 2013) while delivering the Universityof Ilorin Public Lecture entitled, “Rethinking Higher Education in Contemporary Nigeria: Reforms, Challenges and Possibilities”.

The erudite professor explained that there is no clearer sign of the declineof the Nigerian universities than the number of students who turn to universities abroad for their education.

He noted that “available statistics suggest that this figure is astronomical, and of course, we know for sure that those who have the means to go abroad are the children of the elite.”

Lamenting that “the high demand foreducation abroad is a response to the poor quality of education we provide at home, as well as the pitiable access to higher education offered in the country”, Prof. Oluponaopined that “Nigerians seek to reap the benefits of others’ labour without seeking to transform our own institutions into ones that will attract others to Nigeria.”

In the incisive and well-received lecture, organised by the Centre for International Education (CIE), University of Ilorin, the Walter Channing Cabot Fellow stressed that foreign institutions made sacrifices in building their institutions and advised Nigeria to do the same.

In order to correct the decline and rotin the country’s education system, Prof. Olupona called for an urgent rethink of public education in the country “as an honorable and worthygoal to pursue.”

Wondering why the nation’s politicalleaders would not consider education a significant place to invest for the future of our children, the guest lecturer decried “the situation where education has been so largely relegated to the for-profit sector, as we see in the private universities.”

The Nigerian National Order of Merit (NNOM) award winner also advised Nigerian universities to stop bestowing honorary degrees on unqualified individuals, stating that university officials must feel the pulse of both the University Senate and the common people to determine if a citizen deserves such a significant honor.

Professor Olupona said, “honoring the undeserving degrades the status of a university’s degree and demeans the community of learning”, adding that “such practices send the wrong signals to those in the outside world, who justifiably believe that honorary degrees have become a ‘cash and carry’ phenomenon in Nigeria.”

The multiple award-winning scholar also tasked government to stop appointing politicians who are non-academics into the University Councils, saying that “the ruling government has enough committees on which to place party members, whose job it is to serve the nation.”

He pointed out that “partisan politicsand the gross negligence of government officials” must not be allowed to ruin the nation’s universities and institutions of learning, explaining that “when politicians are appointed as members, or even chairs of University Councils, they often insist on controlling the governance of these institutions.”

He suggested that distinguished educationists, retired Vice-Chancellors, and industrialists should be appointed to serve on the University Councils.

“In governance, agriculture, information technology, health, and learning practices, Nigerian institutions have critical roles to play in renewing and re-engineering this nation,” Prof. Olupona said, adding that “We cannot continue to ask for divine intervention alone, as is the common practice in our nation today.

Yes, I believe in divine intervention, but human hands have as much of a role to play in our redemption as divine grace”.

Earlier in his opening remarks, entitled “Just Before Tomorrow”, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin and Chairman at the occasion, Prof. AbdulGaniyu Ambali, observed that despite the increasing number of higher educational institutions in the country, there are still problems of access, with the universities unable to cope with the demand for admission yearly.

Citing the situation at the University of Ilorin, Prof. Ambali said, 64,121 candidates met the minimum criterion (scoring 200 and above) for the current 2012/2013 admission exercise conducted last year.

The Vice-Chancellor said, “Though 43,871 candidates sat for the pre-registration screening exercise, 23,871, which is 54.4% of those who sat for the screening test, passed while the University ultimately matriculated 7,098 students who constitute 29.7% of those who are qualified and 11.10% of those who made the minimum score of 200 in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).”

Prof Ambali stated that apart from the problems of access, quality, funding and infrastructure, there is also the problem of brain drain through which staff members sent abroad for further training refuse to return home.

Among those who attended the public lecture were representatives of the Governors of Ekiti, Niger and Kwara States.

The Executive Secretary of the Nigeria University Commission (NUC),Prof. Julius Okojie, was represented by the former Vice-Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Prof. O. O. Balogun.

Also in attendance were two former Vice-Chancellors of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Oba AbdulRaheem and Prof. Is-haq Oloyede as well as the Vice-Chancellor of the Kwara State University, Malete, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah.

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