University education: Vehicle for industrialisation

Prof. Wale Omole

Prof. Wale Omole

THE fundamental issue in our education system is the content of instruction, developed for us since about 1900AD. The earlier authentic records and dates of European influence in Nigeria was 1472 when the Portuguese ships landed in Benin. However, the attempt to colonize any part of Nigeria by the Portuguese failed and this is why, our official language was never Portuguese.

In 1830, Richard Lander traced the course of River Niger to Brass and this led to the exploration of the interior from the seas and the development of trade.

In 1849, the first British Consulate was established at Calabar and in 1861, British Forces occupied Lagos, then a major slave-dealing centre. At the Berlin Conference in 1885, recognition was given to British interests along the River Niger and in 1886, control of the Rivers was granted to the Royal Niger Company, who administered the territory for 14 years. During this period the boundaries were fixed.

In 1900, the British government took over the administration, declaring protectorates over Northern and Southern Nigeria. By January 1, 1914, the British Amalgamated Northern and Southern Nigeria and established the Nigerian Council under a Governor General, Sir. Fredrick Luggard. By 1946, a new constitution was introduced. This brought regionalization to Nigeria’s government and set the pattern, which is the basis for the type of federation before and after independence, up until January, 1966.

Scattered forms of curricular were written for Nigeria Education System, mainly in Primary and Secondary Schools between 1914 and 1946 with minor modifications in readiness for Independence in 1960 and further minor modifications till date. The early Tertiary Institutions; The Yaba College as well as the University College Ibadan were patterned after British Institutions.

On the surface, there was nothing wrong with curriculum that duplicated all over the British Empire, since for example, the students enrolled in the University College could only complete and graduate in the University of London. The emphasis for tertiary institutions in Nigeria was to produce teachers for secondary schools, administrators for the civil service and priests and those to be trained as managers in some local organization.

The British curriculum was severely influenced by the Industrial Revolution in Britain, which began with improvements in the production of iron in 1709, when for the first time, coal was used instead of charcoal in iron smelting. The iron and coal industry grew side by side in the 18th Century and the invention of steam-engine (James Watt’s Stream-Engine) was sold to a customer in 1776. A new form of power took the place of the traditional wind and water, making enormous output possible. This was the curriculum we received, starting from nothing. A post industrial revolution curriculum for a pre-industrial country.

Industrial revolution, once begun never stop. Our curriculum which deals more with theory than operation, the content and style of delivery, the lack of adaptation of content to our natural resources, all conspire to make industrialisation difficult in our country. For as long as we do not make the necessary review of content and style, industrialization will continue to elude us and we will continue to depend on importation of things that God already provided in our land; manufacturing will be difficult for us, as we even pretend to classify assemblage process as manufacturing. We will most likely continue in trading and remain consumers of other nations’ goods. Our economies will be determined by trading rather than production and productivity.

Paradigm Shift

For emphasis, the education curriculum we inherited about a century ago seems to disconnect us from our land, and indeed disconnects us from several other growth pathways of our lives. We must review them and adapt them for our benefit. The fault is in us, for keeping them this long. But it is not too late.

Right from kindergarten level; our children need to have some simple and clear information about their surroundings, our environment, particularly the land we occupy. There is the need to sensitize them and excite them about the awesome gift under our feet.

By the time they are in the primary school, the jokes, the songs, the plays around their homes and at the school must focus on the enormous gift of the creator for us and what we must do to access them for our benefit. The benefit of others and series of survival strategies to tap them and use them for our own good. Excursion to small and medium pilot sites, demonstration sites, will raise questions about value creation from these free gifts. The green plants in the forest can be converted to many things including the fabrics they wear, the farm crops of cotton that will make high quality and comfortable textile. The arable farm will provide fresh food, better than packaged imported and chemically preserved raw food in the market.

Before they leave for secondary school, the children must be taught that all metals around them, including the rusty wasting dangerous nail in the gutter and up to the metal jewelry of gold, aluminum, copper, pearl and diamond, etc. adorned by human, particularly mothers and women, come from the earth beneath their feet. They must learn the ways and means to eject them, to purify them.

All these must be taught in very simple and local languages and dialects to start with. They must be able to enjoy the information to remember them.

Seeing and siting all of these packages will then be followed with theory and principles which is the reverse of what happens now. Our children will not have to memorize but rather, they will be talking of agriculture, rather than just the theoretical farming and value creation. They will be speaking geology, extraction, extrusion, manufacturing from the myriads of our endowment without the use of academic jargons.

Many of our adventurous children at the secondary schools will want to be part of the process and excited about a career in these beauty of creation. We will need to depend less and less on external consultants, who mostly borrow our wrist watches in order to tell us what the time is.


The crux of this discuss is moving from knowledge acquisition to competency building.

The journey from knowledge acquisition to competency is a far distance, which could be very rough, tough and tasking. Knowledge is the know, the knowledge, learning, information, facts, dogma, enlightenment, theory, principles, awareness, discovered, recognized, receive, accepted, noted, certified. The vehicle to move knowledge any further is called understanding.

A large number of issues are known, but not understood. One of the major draw backs in our education is that we acquire so much knowledge, but we also lack so much understanding. Again, we have ourselves to blame for not attending to the relevance of our curriculum and the transfer of theory to practice over the years.

Our education program still, lacks so much in ‘how’ and why? It still does not connect the man to his environment. Most of academics specialize in one area or the other, knowing more and more about less and less, growing up vertically with lack of attention to horizontal resting.

The content for competency is knowledge. Competency is capability, fitness, ability, efficiency, authority, ready to overcome.


Since understanding was not built into our education system ab-initio, this is time to act, as any further delay may be disastrous. We complained that hardly did we know that the mathematical set we compulsorily purchased to be presented on our first day in secondary schools in those days was not explained to us as the foundation of physics and civil engineering. Today, the internet is full of everything and all that is going on is that our children are just downloading, with hardly any explanations for understanding of the materials they capture. Even the online/offline package on “How Stuff Works” is still mostly information; not a ready to overcome competent capacity builder.


We earlier referred to the classic Industrial Revolution of Britain in 18th Century that led to the James Watt’s Steam Engine of 1776. Universities and Tertiary Institutions have the responsible for revolution in their countries. We will be day-dreaming to expect agricultural revolution to be initiated by local or foreign investors for Nigeria. Our farms are generally small farm holdings, if given the lead our farmers will gladly be part of the revolution. Our institutions, particularly, the tertiary Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education must take the lead.


We Must address the need to:

Increase Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) by the university.

Create a win-win situation for all concerned: staff, students and the community.

All the Unions to participate, contribute and financially benefit from the enterprise.

Staff members must be part of production, contributing to IGR and they must personally benefit more income in addition to salary.

Students must create time and participate in production to earn income, learn about business and relieve their parents’ financial burden.

Universities must target research work towards resources in their local environment and do pilot implementation and production to generate fund and establish utilization of research results, rather than allow reports to stay on the shelves in the departments and libraries.

Tertiary institutions must establish corporate outfits and companies to implement business directions.

Establish service centres in partnerships with seasoned technological and commercial organisation.

Student projects for undergraduate and post graduates that show promise of profitability must be piloted, even before patenting or publishing in academic journals.


Production Capacity:

Universities must have capacity centres in their communities and locations. They should involve and engage communities in production and value creation of their products, creating jobs for the people and improving their understanding and capacity.

The problems and issues arising from production, processing, conversion, storage, marketing, packaging and shelve life must constitute research direction in our universities. We must concentrate on our problems and design research programs to solve them.


The illusion that obtaining several post graduate university degrees with years of experience in corporate institutions are enough to qualify any one as a technocrat, is a ruse. Some very highly qualify and experienced technocrats in very developed economies may be less useful and productive in an environment like ours, crying for various revolutions.

Universities must design appropriate training for technocrats to build confidence in appreciating the proper diagnosis of issues, passion and commitment to solving problems, team work and selflessness.


The total strength of a chain is determined by the weakest link. Technical protocols are available in text books, in the classroom by the lecturers on the internet world wide, the operationalization is still a problem fir majority of our experts and grandaunts. Lack of diligence and impatience have been our undoing. Universities need to cultivate and transmit a culture of detail and dexterity in our students and practitioner to focus on technical details.

• Prof. Wale Omole, OFR is the former Vice Chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University and current Chairman, Editorial Board of The Guardian

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