By Nnamdi Ojiego
Samuel Ekanem, a professor of philosophy at the Federal University, Wukari, Taraba State, made history on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, when he became the first Inaugural lecturer of the institution ten years after the university was established. Ekanem, a lawyer and educationist, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard exclusively, after the historic academic exercise, insisted that corruption and bad leadership were never Nigeria’s problems. He proffered practical steps to solving the myriads of challenges facing the country. Excerpts:
How do you feel being the first inaugural lecturer of the university?
Indeed, I have God to thank for making that possible, because, I have a few of my colleagues who became professors before me.
Though they were not ready, I thank God for making it possible for me to be ready. And being the first in anything is not always easy. It is for me, a rare privilege to profess my academic ideas and vision.
Why did it take about ten years in the life of the institution to have an inaugural lecture?
Well, the university was founded in 2011 by the then President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. And the first vice-chancellor did not do something serious about promotion.
He did his best to at least, recruit quality lecturers but he did not promote people to the cadre of professorship. However, when the second vice-chancellor, Professor Abubakar Musa Kundiri came, he developed documents, which is like a benchmark for promotion, and he saw the promotions through.
Though Prof Kundiri was always calling on professors to come out to present their inaugural lectures, this call was not heeded to by the professors especially the older ones which I think, as I stated in my lecture, that the socio-economic and political situation in the country may have served as de-motivating variables to hinder my few older colleagues from stepping forward to do what I was challenged to do in laying a solid foundation for an effective academic culture in this citadel of learning.
You know, you have to be in a good frame of mind to articulate what you have to say as a professor, package and present it as a lecture. Again, an inaugural lecture’s title is not just any title. It must be well thought out to reflect what you represent because you are not just giving a lecture; you are also professing your profession.
So, with the tenure of Kundiri as the Vice-Chancellor almost coming to an end, and with several professors promoted by him, in which I am a worthy and well-deserved beneficiary, I decided to volunteer myself to lay the foundation for this important academic tradition. So, I think those are the things that accounted for the delay.
Talking about the title, what informed your choice of the topic of the lecture – The Value of Philosophy in Education and Technological Development in Nigeria?
I could say that I’m not just a philosopher, I’m also a lawyer and an educationist. I started my lecturing career in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calabar. I’m also a trained teacher by the fact that I have a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education and registered with the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria.
I have also been a lecturer in the Faculty of Education, specifically, Department of Educational Foundation of the Cross River University of Technology.
So, over the years, I have been thinking and researching the problems of education in Nigeria such as reasons for incessant strike action? You know, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, just returned from over nine months strike and was on verge of embarking on another one if not for the intervention of the Minister of Education.
We have a lot of crisis in Nigeria. Some have said it is leadership while others said it’s corruption. But if you look at it, is our problem that of leadership and corruption? What brings bad leadership? Are our leaders not the product of our education system?
So, in reflecting and thinking what is fundamentally wrong in Nigeria that we cannot get it right, and whether it is in Nigerians DNA to be bad people? I discovered that it is not in our DNA to be bad people.
I make bold to say that Nigeria’s problem is not that of leadership and corruption. Why I said so is because, from 1960 to date (2021) Nigeria have had sixteen (16) leaders (both military and civilian) and yet things are getting worst.
Nigeria has about four major anti-corruption agencies namely the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and the Nigeria Police.
There are thirteen major anti-corruption laws in the country and when we add the proposed bill titled “Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency Bill”, we will be having five (5) anti-corruption agencies and fourteen (14) laws on corruption alone. Despite all these, corruption still strives and our leadership crisis and failure worsens every day.
So, is leadership and corruption Nigeria’s problems? No, I don’t think so. Nigeria’s problem is not that of leadership or corruption. Nigeria’s fundamental problem is the lack of philosophy that will serve as a compass to steer the ship of the Nigerian state in the educational and technological aspects.
We don’t have a philosophy that drives our educational system. So, the lack of philosophy of education in Nigeria was the reason for many maladies as can be seen in terrorism, religious intolerance, cultism, rape, violence, criminality, tribalism, discrimination, political corruption, climate change, environmental degradation and a general decline in humane existential values.
Like I submitted in my lecture, the way out of the present social maladies demands a focus on the educational system. If the educational system is anchored on sound philosophy, all forms of social vices in the society will die a natural death.
However, no enduring and sustainable policy on education can be successfully outlined without first and foremost, identifying the core overall philosophy of the country.
If you look at some countries of the world especially, the so-called developed countries; they have a philosophy that drives their education system such as pragmatism, existentialism, imperialism, nationalism, idealism and all that. We have been moving from pragmatism to idealism to nationalism to existentialism to realism.
But the truth is, philosophy is supposed to be a reflection of the totality of the way of life of the people. All those foreign philosophies cannot fit into our system because they are not home-grown. So I have been thinking and reflecting on it, and as a result, have developed this philosophy I called Essencism.
Essencism tends to develop the physical and spiritual aspects of life. We relate the physical with science and technology, while the spiritual is the mind. Remember, every evil like terrorism, corruption, bad leadership etc, is a product of the human mind.
So if you have a philosophy that enhances the training of the human mind, and make the mind to be pure, then, we will have good leaders, good scientists, good technologists, and good Nigerians. So, that is why I said that the problem of Nigeria is not corruption or bad leadership but of lack of philosophy.
Education and Technology
This is the crux of my lecture. The lecture was entitled: The Value of Philosophy in Education and Technological Development in Nigeria, An Essencist Voyage. That Essencism is a philosophy that should guide our educational system.
In my lecture, I showed that there is a correlation between education and technological development, and this is anchored on the fact that technological development is the key artery through which countries of the world attain true independence.
The level of technological development in every given country is based on the system, policy and philosophy of education prevalent in such a country. Without a sound system of education, no nation-state can lay a solid claim to development politically, socially, scientifically, or technologically.
This suggests that it is only a sound philosophy of education that can guarantee technological development. But unfortunately, Nigeria as a country has no philosophy of education which can inspire creativity among Nigerians.
Are you saying that Nigeria does not have a philosophy of education?
Yes. We don’t have a philosophy of education in Nigeria. I challenge anybody to show me a philosophy of education, a philosophy that guides Nigerian education. Like America has pragmatism, Germany has idealism and other developed countries with their philosophies; can you just tell me what Nigeria’s philosophy is?
There exists no philosophy of education or policy in the country that is technologically driven or technology-oriented. There is, therefore, an urgent need for the country to evolve and develop a philosophy that will encourage and promote the culture of “do it yourself”.
Until Nigeria establishes or lays such a philosophical foundation in the educational system and prioritizes its value, there will be no progress made in the areas of education and technology.
Are you proposing Essencism as the solution to Nigeria’s socio-economic and political challenges?
Yes, because the terrible situation of the Nigerian educational system and her technological advancement can only be changed and achieved through a home-grown philosophy of education which I have designated as Essencism.
It is only the total adoption of Essencism as a philosophy of education that Nigerian can effectively resolve the multifaceted crisis prevalent in the country. Essencism is a coinage from the word, Essence; what makes a thing, a thing. And when you relate it to the human being, man is dual and that duality is both physical and spiritual.
So, that philosophy will help in creating or bringing about a complete personality of the Nigerian person, a Nigerian citizen that is physically strong, aware of his physical environment, and who is spiritually sound, mentally alert and aware of his moral obligations to himself, the next person, the society and the country.
Is inaugural lecture compulsory for university professors?
Yes, if you follow the medieval history where the concept of university originated from, it is. But in Nigeria, there are a lot of factors making it not to be so. For example, professorial promotion in some universities is politicised, still the problem of philosophy.
Because to be a professor is no mean fit, it supposed to be strictly on merit and not by favouritism. And when you get to that rank, it is incumbent on you to profess what you know.
Sharing your knowledge and your understanding with others is why the university is seen as an ivory tower. Ordinarily, immediately a professor is promoted, he is supposed to have an inaugural lecture. The inaugural lecture is the time for the university to show the entire world that this is the product of her own. This is who we have produced; this is what he/she has been doing.
However, that has not been the case as some of those people like I said, were favoured and they don’t have what it takes to truly profess. Some of them retired without doing it while some do it towards the end of their career, and that becomes a valedictory lecture and not an inaugural lecture any longer.
It supposed to be mandatory because that will promote scholarship. When we don’t think or reflect on why we are having bad leaders? Why we are having so many problems in our educational system? Why our scientists are not making a breakthrough here in Nigeria but only do that when they travel abroad?
Why are we having poverty amid so much abundance? These are the things academics are supposed to think and reflect on and proffer solutions to. And as philosophers, we try to identify problems and then proffer solutions.
Are there any sanctions or punishment for professors who fail to give an inaugural lecture?
It depends on the university. Recently, a vice-chancellor of a federal university, I think, in Lokoja, made it mandatory that any person that has not made an inaugural lecture, their professorship will not be announced. So it depends on the university. However, there’s no clear-cut law that says you must do it.
You mentioned incessant strike actions as one of the problems bedevilling our education sector. Aside philosophy of education, what other solutions will you proffer?
There is a need for a fair system that will produce quality leaders that know what justice and fairness are; that knows the value of education in the national development of our country.
We need a government that realizes that agreement is binding and respects it. In other words, the federal government should learn to respect the agreement. If you say this is the agreement you entered with ASUU, please keep to it.
On the part of the lecturers, it is not everybody that is called to be a lecturer but because of unemployment, we have a lot of people who have no business being in the educational sector, who lack the commitment and love to impact knowledge. ASUU should also develop a system of bringing out quality leaders from the branch to the national level who will not side with management for their selfish interests.
Why are you and some of your colleagues against the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System, IPPIS, as proposed by the federal government?
Clearly, the IPPIS is an aberration. It is a breach of existing law. It is bad for a government that swore to defend the constitution as the law of the land, to breach that same law.
IPPIS is against the law that establishes all universities. It is clearly stated in the University Miscellaneous Act, that the governing councils are to manage all the resources, finances of universities both the ones for personnel and capital projects and not IPPIS. This is happening when we are talking about restructuring, and the government is over centralizing. That’s why ASUU is against it.
How’s UTAS different from IPPIS?
UTAS, which is the University Transparency Account System, is different from IPPIS because, it will be domiciled with NUC, the regulatory body of all the universities in Nigeria.
NUC knows the personnel cost of every university. So, it is easier to interface with NUC than the accountant general of the federation and that way, the bursary of the universities have direct access to UTAS.
Also, NUC, through accreditation, knows the number of lecturers in each department of every university, their ranks and when these lecturers will be promoted or retired. So, UTAS will be better managed than IPPIS, because it is domiciled with NUC. And mind you, universities don’t operate civil service system or structure. So UTAS will be seamless, better, superior and in terms of technicalities, it’s far ahead of IPPIS.
UTAS gives universities autonomy and does not breach the law like IPPIS, which breeds corruption. One can sit somewhere in Abuja and effect names. Again, IPPIS is not a conception of Nigeria, it is an American-based system while UTAS is home-grown. I don’t know why we cannot patronize and appreciate what we have.
UTAS is more rugged, more versatile and it is far ahead of IPPIS. It also meets and satisfies all the conditions and all the categories of staff we have in the universities. So it’s a win-win situation because the government can always monitor what NUC is doing and NUC being a regulatory body, can monitor what the universities are doing.
Has the federal government adopted UTAS?
They have adopted it in principle but you know, they are still playing politics with it by trying to use the various government agencies that will have to give final approval to delay it.