Recession and economic crisis: Where is the academia?
As the debate on how best to rescue our economy from recession rages on, the academia has been most surprisingly and lamentably very silent. Are they also in a kind of intellectual recession? Given the increasing number of universities in Nigeria, the reverse should be the case. The academia should be in the forefront of generating ideas and solutions on how to salvage the economy and address other social problems we have. The sustainable growth of most successful economies to a large extent depends on the tripod framework and relationship of the government, the academia and the private sector.
The middle position of the academia is not accidental! It is strategic and normally protected and supported meticulously. Reason being that the academia performs a kind of fiduciary duty to the society. Through robust conceptual, theoretical and empirical research, they generate the ideas and policies used by both the government and the private sector. They are a kind of power house of ideas and innovation, a guardian, protector and trustee for a better society. Remember they are called the citadel of learning! It is a place where all kinds of skills and human capital are trained and developed. An environment where visionary leaders are identified, properly trained, moulded and announced to wider society for effective utilisation to achieve our common good.
A very senior friend and colleague, an emeritus professor of economics and regulation who incidentally is not from Nigeria recently asked me the position(s) or recommendation(s) of Nigeria’s academia on the nation’s economic crisis. Unfortunately, I had no answer to give because there was none. He humorously asked if there was a government ban on them to which I answered that I was not aware of any. Lamentably, the recent 2016 Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) Conference with the theme ‘Made in Nigeria’ somehow suggested that there might be a ban on the academia (possibly a self-imposed one). Even with the vantage position of the NESG and the publicity given to the conference, I identified only three academics! Interestingly, the three ‘wise’ men even though with Nigerian universities maintain some sort of affiliation with the NESG. The implication is that the Nigeria academic community was absent during the NESG conference. With such development, I am at a loss on how the diversification of our economy and the ‘made in Nigeria’ mantra will be achieved.
It is sad and painful that the only time we properly hear of members of our academia is during the announcement of an impending or imminent industrial action or their unending negotiation with the Federal Government. Nigeria wants and needs to hear their views and positions on so many issues and challenges confronting us as a nation. On the ongoing debate and demand for the restructuring of Nigeria, where are the ‘erudite scholars’ of Ahmadu Bello Univeristy, Zaria, Universities of Ibadan, Ife, Nsukka, Jos, Maiduguri and Port Harcourt. We need to know if there is consensus or disagreement. On the renewed Niger Delta crisis, it will be important to know the possible solutions from our renowned professors in Universities of Port Harcourt, Calabar and Delta State University.
On the reconstruction of the North-East to avoid a resurgence of Boko Haram, are the leading authorities in Islamic Studies, Sociology, Development Studies, Law and Geography of University of Maiduguri part of the reconstruction efforts and what are their views? On efforts to address the increasing tension and conflict in the South East due to IPOB, MASSOB and other groups, where are the first class scholars of University of Nigeria Nsukka, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and Odumegwu-Ojukwu University. As the herdsmen continue their attack across the country, where are the disciples and students of Bala Usman, Eskor Toyo, and Edwin Madunagu? What are their suggestions on how best to address our litany of socio-economic and political problems. The issues and problems we desperately want to hear from our academia are many but they are disappointingly very silent. As our many social problems continue to increase on daily basis, my worry is exacerbated when I remember that there are very few or no successors to our very few good scholars like Professors Wole Soyinka, Adebayo Ninalowo and Ben Nwabueze. This, Professor Nwabueze equally lamented in my recent encounter with him during a flight from Lagos to Enugu.
When I say that we want to hear from them, I don’t mean the very few individuals that infrequently contribute to our myriad of challenges and problems. I am referring to well researched position papers from a group of academics. For instance, on the recession and foreign exchange crisis, we desperately need to see and read the views and suggestions of the Department of Economics of University of Lagos or a paper jointly authored by about 10 of their professors of Economics and Finance on how best to salvage the economy. It is the same expectation that we have of Department of Economics/Finance of most of our universities.
On a recent visit to a federal university in the South-East, I shared my worries with another senior colleague who maintained that the academia is talking but in a rather different and interesting way. He took me to a ‘Beer Joint’ very close to the campus and to my surprise, I met over 25 academics including about 10 professors in a heated debate on the need for urgent restructuring of Nigeria among other national issues. The debate was extremely organised and lively that it can be likened to a national conference except for the bottles of Hero beer and plates of pepper soup that covered the tables. Any television station that airs the debate live will definitely increase their viewers by about 70%. It was terrific but somewhat disappointing!
Unanimously, they all agreed with no dissent, that the views of the academia are neither sought nor listened to by all levels of government (federal, state and local government). And as they are not sought or listened to, they (the academics) have also decided to officially keep quiet as they perceive their efforts and contributions as a waste of time. My observation from my interaction with many academics is that most now see their jobs purely from instrumental perspective. The only thing that matters now is what they can get using their job. There is a clear absence of that intrinsic interest in being a teacher. This is dangerous and sad! With such mindset, I am at a loss at the direction of our dear country and economy.
• Dr. Ngwu is a senior lecturer in Strategy, Finance and Risk Management, Lagos Business School (LBS).