Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

What The Papers Say

People's Daily Graphic, Ghana

Are we safe?

Remarks which have been forthcoming in the aftermath of the earth tremor which occurred in the early hours of last Tuesday have once more exposed the magnitude of the flaws in the country's geophysical and climatological recording operations.

In November of last year the Meteorological Services Department, near Legon was the subject of one of our comments in this column because of the department's inability to provide very important meteorological data on request.

In that comment the GRAPHIC went to great lengths to catalogue the numerous excuses which have become characteristic of the personnel of that department. In the end, however, it became obvious that in spite of some of the genuine excuses such as breakdowns of a computer machine the personnel were only loafing and that even in the face of those setbacks they still could have done a lot of beneficial work. This was not the case because of lack of supervision.

At the same Legon outfit, this time the seismic station, last Tuesday's earth tremor passed unrecorded with the excuse that there were "no batteries" to work the machine. It did not end there. One other station at Kukurantumi could also not record the tremor because of "lack of recording paper." The excuse given in the case of a third station at Ho seems unassailable so the GRAPHIC will like to leave it at that; but certainly not those of lack of batteries and recording paper ...

National Concord, Nigeria

Contractors or university teachers?

Predictably, the reaction of the academic community to Major-General Muhammadu Buhari's recent condemnation of university teachers who engage in "private practice" has not been entirely friendly.

This could not have surprised anyone. The university community, so eager to point at some other people's shortcomings, is super sensitive to criticisms that borders on its Integrity. But what point did the community seek to make in its reaction to the head of state's charges of divided loyalty?

Major-General Buhari's remarks to the effect that our university teachers spend most of their time chasing contracts, private consultancy, and other businesses are too well known to be a matter in dispute. Anyone who is acquainted with the goings-on in our universities would readily appreciate this point. Since the mid '70s when oil brought new prosperity to the nation's elites, and teaching, once a noble and rewarding profession, became a pauper's undertaking, many university teachers could not resist the temptation to become part of the race for material acquisition. Thus, as General Buhari told the convocation audience of University of Lagos, the ills of society have eaten deep into our universities.

Nevertheless, the attempt by some members of the university community to explain away the head of state's serious indictment appears to be less than honest. Admittedly, universities are part of the Nigerian society and they cannot, dialectically speaking, rise substantially above the nation's general misfortunes. But, as General Buhari was quick to paint out this kind of argument is not only has the university wallowed in materialism does not provide that every facet of society ought to be so infested; at least no university teacher should use this as an alibi to try to justify his or her illegal involvement in jobs other than those for which he or she is paid to do...

The Guardian, Nigeria

The lure of lucre

The Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, is mad - mad, that is, with anger. And his anger is directed at University lecturers. They have, he feels, abandoned their noble duty of teaching and research for the pursuit of filthy lucre.

In a speech read on his behalf at the recently-concluded convocation ceremony of the University of Lagos, the General said it was "common knowledge that many university lecturers spend much more of their time in private commercial and industrial ventures" instead of performing their appointed duties. Many of them, he continued, had turned into contractors, private consultants, hoteliers, and even block makers. Gen Buhari dismissed as untenable the usual excuse that the university is part of the society and must, therefore, reflect both the good and bad sides of the society, arguing that "to accept this view is to abandon the important moral duty attached to their posts."

The General's anger is, in many respects, of course justifiable. As the visitor of most Nigerian universities he is particularly well-placed to know what transpires within the orbits of these towers of ivory. And what transpires therein does not at all glitter. If anything, the vices are legion.

In addition to the rampant private practice, there are many lecturers who must compromise the virtue of their female students if such students are to pass their examinations. There are deans who admit students only from their hometowns. There are professors who write examinations for their wives and others who convert research grants to their own private use. There are vice- chancellors who award university contracts to their brothers and others who believe that any car below the status of a Mercedes 280 is beneath their exalted status in life. The list is in fact inexhaustible.

Again, while it is true that many lecturers are guilty of the shortcomings already enumerated, it must be conceded that the majority neither possess the objective means nor nurse any subjective desire to engage in any pursuit other than teaching and research. But this group of honest and committed academicians are hampered and frustrated both by the present underfunding of the universities, the misdirection of available funds to 'lobbyists' and yesmen, and the general anti-intellectualism that pervades our society.

The way out of the present morass therefore lies in doing two things. First, the administration of the universities should lend itself to greater democratization. This democratization should not be restricted to appointments and promotions or even interferences by the governments but should also include periodic assessments of lecturers by their students. In the second place, the present level of funding for the universities should be raised. If the present duplication of services and research and wasteful expenditures are eliminated, some savings might be made which could be more usefully ploughed back into more relevant ventures …

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