June 17, 2018

Onuoha calls for ethnic diversity on Nigerian campuses and in the academy of sciences

Professor Kalu Mosto

The concluding part of J.K. Obatala’s late-night interview with  Dr.  Kalu Mosto Onuoha formerly Petroleum Technology Development Fund Professor of Geology, at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). At 70, he is now Emeritus. Onuoha—who  has been president of the Nigerian Academy of Sciences (NAS), since January, 2017—explicated current issues, his priorities, among others.

Since Igbos have amassed so much wealth, do you think they’d be willing to secede again and leave all that money behind?

No, to tell you the truth. I’m speaking as somebody who knows what is going own. The Biafra agitation and this IPOB and all that…It is because of what the politicians are doing…

Most Igbos are not interested in Biafra. I’m not… In fact, we Elders always say to young people, “We have seen war. We know what it’s like. We don’t want it again”.

But the truth is, people are jobless. Who are the people marching? They have nothing doing. It’s people who are not in school. Those in school, are not among the marchers.

Then, a youth graduates—and, after three years, doesn’t have a job. With a university degree, he has nothing to do. He’s still living with his father. So, they’re angry!

 You’re saying that the underlying causes of the agitation are economic?

Professor Kalu Mosto

Yes. Completely. Nobody wants it. They don’t have support. Don’t worry yourself about those who will always come out vocally. Some of them are making money out of it.

I’ve heard that from other sources, as well.

It’s true.

What is your take, on the present state of Nigerian universities?   I’m worried about the present situation, from many vantage points.

Number one, there’s just too much central control. That’s the major problem.    Government can decide so many things, about how the universities are run.

Little is happening in the Ministry of Education… Funding is a big problem…The way Vice Chancellors are summoned is another. They have to be scampering to Abuja, on short notice… Exactly the same thing is replicated at state level.

Secondly, the universities were well run before. They had a good mix of staff, from all over the world. When I came to Nsukka, we had Americans, we had Indians.…we had all sorts of people on the academic staff.

Now, we’re so ethnically based… How many Yoruba are at UNN? How many Igbos are at Ile-Ife? How many none-Deltans are in FUPRE? Or Northerners in Ibadan, studying? You know, that kind of thing.

What strikes me, as I move around to various universities, is that nowadays, nobody carries a book!

Yes. [Laughing] You are very correct! That’s one of the things that’s causing concern. Students don’t own books! In those days, we bought books.

But today, getting students to buy, and read, them is a problem…. Books and articles, can even be downloaded from the Internet. But our students don’t take advantage of this.

Again, they are products of our educational system where, in some schools, people are just promoted, willy-nilly.

As a result, you can see somebody going to the School Certificate class and he or she cannot speak one correct sentence!

Yes. I’ve seen that.

People in the universities, first year, second year…they can’t read compositions. Out of every ten persons in a class, only three or four are good. The rest are mediocre—or worse!

We have a situation, in which a secondary school pupil can attend only art classes or study only science—and graduate. I have a serious problem with that. What do you think?

I also have a problem with it. Even in our West African School Certificate, we took “history,” “geography” and “literature,” along with “chemistry,” “mathematics” and “advanced mathematic”.

Good schools, will make sure students do many of these subject, up the fourth year.

I went to Hope Waddell Training Institution, in Calabar, for instance—one of Nigeria’s oldest Secondary Schools, established in 1896.

I’ve read about it. It’s a very famous school.

Pupils came from Sierra Leone, Liberia and other places to attend. Nnamdi Azikwe went there. Dennis Osadebe  went there. Quite a number of Nigeria’s historical figures, were students at Hope Waddell, including Eni Njoku.

In that school, they require so much. I mean, for School Certificate, we took up to nine or ten subjects! And had to pass all of them.

Being a geologist, are you working with indigenous oil companies?

Well, you know, I’m just starting, as President of NAS. So, some of the things I have in mind are still being worked out. But there are two Fellows working with me, who  just came out of the oil industry…

More and more Nigerians are maturing, coming out of Shell and other companies, after 25 to 30 years of work.

So, there are many “small-time big players,” as I will call them, producing 2,000 to 4,000 barrels per day…

Some Nigerian companies are really getting quite big. A few are even beginning to operate outside Nigeria, along the west coast of Africa—getting concessions in other countries.

Have you formulated specific plans?

Well, since the multi-national oil companies are divesting (even Shell is doing so), there may be research NAS can carry out, to strengthen the hands of indigenous firms.

But we’ll have to be very careful, because the Academy is doing science and technology—which is an evidence-based something. We don’t want to be seen, as political.

We can cultivate a synergy, by encouraging the development of marginal fields—oil fields the majors leave. This is a way of increasing indigenous reserves.