Mr. Benjamin Obioha is a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communications, Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Anambra state. He is currently the staff adviser of the department as well as the coordinator of weekend programme in the institution. In this interview with Arinze Anaegbunam, the don bares his mind on the state of education in Nigeria.
Generally, the standard of education in Nigeria is not encouraging. The first obvious factor that affects the sector is negligence. As long as the government is not or is poorly committed to the education sector, many issues in the sector will be affected. Teachers at different levels are not happy with the job anymore, and, as such, are constantly at loggerheads with the government. Facilities in our institutions are nothing to write home about. In fact, educational standard in Nigeria, as at today, is not encouraging at all.
How would you appraise the quality of vocational and technical education in Nigeria as against the original concept?
Well, the technical and vocational studies in Nigerian polytechnics are not excluded from the pitfalls experienced in the education sector. Poet, JP Clark, in one if his poems titled, ‘Casualties’ said, “The extent of wrong is an off-site”. When the head is cut off, the mouth and ears cannot remain because, the root has been affected.
What do you consider a major challenge facing the Nigeria’s tertiary institutions in their quest to produce the needed manpower for socio-economic and political development of the country?
We have identified the roles to be played by the government. The neglect of this role is a big challenge. The students admitted into these tertiary institutions across the nation are not getting the best from the hired hands that should prepare them through lectures. This is primarily because the lecturers are not having job satisfaction as a result of numerous factors, which thrives on the pitfalls of the government. I have constantly maintained that in the absence of job satisfaction, nobody puts in the best into anything. The academic unions such as ASUU, ASUP, NUT, and so on, are constantly on industrial action, because of one issue or the other; which affect innocent students. The United Nations recommendation that 26 per cent of a country’s budget be allocated to education has never been followed by the federal government of Nigeria. Regrettably, this is a big problem in Nigeria. It is only in 2018 that the government budgeted N455.41 billion, about 7 per cent of the total budget. In 2017, it was N448.01 billion, a mere 6 per cent. No meaningful percentage has been budgeted to that sector. The sector, therefore, needs attention by the government.
What solutions do you proffer to improve the poor budgetary allocation to the sector?
Nigeria, as a country, is not different from other countries. From the presidency, senate, house of representatives, ministry of education, and so on, are fully aware of these problems. It is expected that they look into this sector, and give it its deserved attention by identifying with these noticeable problems. As the youths are the leaders of tomorrow, we need to give them the requisite training to enable them take the mantle of leadership.
There are growing concerns over poor quality of graduates being churned out of Nigerian schools today. What are the measures you proffer to check the problem?
It is unfortunate that this happens, and it is true that they do happen. We cannot pretend that we don’t know about half-baked graduates from our tertiary institutions. To adequately minimise or forestall this, we need to go back to the beginning. At the early stage, the family and the primary school teachers are particularly concerned in this. Anything inculcated in the child has a continuous effect in him as he grows. More so, the problem we have in the institutions is a problem of the nation having its root in corruption. Ordinarily, some students are not supposed to be allowed into the higher institutions because of their performances in the secondary school. Across the nation, we are aware of so many shortcuts, miracle centers and the likes, employed in gaining admission into the higher institutions. Some parents assist their wards in doing this. The proprietors and principals are not excluded. Also, remuneration of teachers is very discouraging because, it compels them to live at the mercy of these bad eggs. How could one explain the boldness of a student, who approaches a lecturer seeking to ‘sort’ his or her way through. If the teachers have enhanced salary and are paid as and at when due, this vice called bribery will cease. We have a problem in this country which is corruption.
Speaking about corruption and lobbying by students as reasons why we have poorly baked-graduates, what do you make of lecturers, who lobby their way into teaching?
This is a problem of leadership. Heads of departments should know the areas of interest and strength of the academic staff. For instance, in the department of mass communication where I lecture, we have the print journalism, public relations and adverts; development communication, broadcast journalism, and so on. It is unfair for any head of department to deny the students the right of good lecturers by allocating a course to a lecturer, who lacks capacity to deliver in such area. It happens though, but it is condemnable. For the benefit of the students, the nation, and education in general, it is appropriate that those involved in this act desist from it.
How would you rate the quality of graduates being produced in the Federal Polytechnic, Oko?
My honest assessment is that we produce the best of graduates. We also produce the better graduate as well as the poor graduate; at least, from this department of mass communication where I teach. There is no media house in Nigeria you enter today and wouldn’t find graduates of mass communication from the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, working there. We have graduates making us proud in the industry. But that is not to say that we don’t have those we are ashamed of. Generally, the department is doing its best in properly equipping its students.
What is your take on adult education and the speculation that a person cannot school at a certain age?
That speculation is untrue, misleading and improper. Education has no age limit. The very important thing is the mindset of the person, who wants to go to school. About 20 years ago, an uncle told me that he just sat for his junior secondary school examination (JSSCE), and I was marveled; but today, that man is a lawyer. As at the time he told me he wrote that examination, he was not less than 51 years. If you are determined, you can achieve whatever you set out for.
What are the challenges you encounter in pioneering the programme?
It is difficult for anybody in Nigeria to have any managerial role without encountering difficulties. Being the coordinator of the programme, I encounter peculiar challenges. Remember, to manage human being is the most difficult task. Sometimes, other colleagues team up against the coordinator. They also feel that the measures are put in place to hurt some people, but that is not true. When you fail to play along with them, they do all sorts of things to get at you.
What do you consider as the best strategy to deal with malpractices and sexual harassment in tertiary institutions?
The best strategy to deal with examination malpractice is to sensitise the students of the dangers inherent in them. The penalties are to be made known to them such as expulsion, indefinite suspension, demotion in class, and so on. This will make them know that the end point of examination malpractice is disastrous. Sexual harassment, on its own, is evil and shouldn’t be mentioned. There is no way to justify the involvement of lecturers in such act. I tell my female students that no lecturer can fail you if you are intelligent and know what you are doing. As much as I know, most of these girls are the ones abusing some of these lecturers sexually. Some of them walk up to lecturers to offer their bodies in exchange to pass a course. Such moves should be discouraged and the females students, particularly, should be encouraged to get serious with their studies.
Do you still think there is future for Nigeria education?
We cannot stop having hopes as human beings. People usually say, ‘if there is life, there is hope’. I do not expect things to keep deteriorating. If things are not faring as expected today, hopefully, in the nearest future, some crop of leaders will emerge to change the narrative. I see better days ahead for Nigeria and for education in particular.