By Ganiu Bamgbose, PhD
Stereotype can be stretched beyond ethnic constructs. It is a phenomenon that manifests even in professional settings through axioms.
This piece is going to evaluate the axiom, “publish or perish”, as tightly held in Nigerian higher institutions as the basis for upward mobility in the academic career, with a view to critiquing its viability in educational advancement which assumedly should result in national development.
The publish-or-perish concept was an old colonial system of harvesting fresh ideas from young innovators and creative people, most likely towards the development of their countries. Such exploitative disposition of the colonialists did not only play out with our cultural artefacts but also at the level of the intellectual prowess of our earliest scholars.
Provided with enabling environments both at home and abroad, these sagacious scholars were at their best in terms of intellectual outputs which were implemented for societal advancement by its designers. Sadly, this well-designed and well-nurtured intellectual practice is unduly sustained in Nigeria with little or no significance.
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In Nigeria, publications have become the ultimate parameter for the promotion of academics. While this is not in itself a problem, the reality of the country in terms of poor standard of living has made many scholars digest this publish-to-move syndrome as a ritual than a true intellectual exercise born out of a truly felt societal vacuum to be filled.
Most universities, especially the government-owned ones, do not even seek the opinions of those for whose sake the lecturers are employed— students— in the promotion of the lecturers. This has also greatly affected the human face of the educational ventures with stories of abuse and victimisation by lecturers.
Moving on, the poor remunerations and unpalatable work conditions have killed the genuine desire to make impact in many lecturers. Anything shoddy that can be hastily put together to be published by other frustrated colleagues in our institutions and other schools can therefore just be assembled in good quantity for the next promotion. And maybe a question needs to be asked: who are to blame? Or better still, which way to go?
While this situation can be described as a systemic failure, the government of the country at the federal and state levels would have the bigger buns of the blame to swallow. Intellectualism is a painstaking effort which can only be driven by the right mental framework. A scholar who will have to fund a research from his or her insufficient take-home pay would be tempted to compromise ethics.
There is a great need to fund education. I can say with utmost confidence that Nigerians are among the best scholars in the world and can really ensure quality research that can cause the desired national development if given all it takes to get to work. At the different institutional levels, it is important for managements to encourage real socio-academic endeavours and look beyond academic submissions. Such will spur genuine innovations as everyone would want to make impact in their disciplines.
For the researchers, we need to be more interested in affecting our society, however infinitesimally. Like I like to ask myself: how does this publication matter to the woman selling pepper? We have to think beyond publishing and keeping them on our shelves while we await the next promotion.
Who is blessed because we write? What is better because of our publications? We must really move beyond the academic sort of writing where facts, figures, quotations, tables and literature abound with little societally significant findings and results.
With my daily lessons (English for Today) that are accessed by readers in over 20 countries through my website (www.englishdietng.com) and my weekly column on Business Day Newspaper, I feel more fulfilled about being a professor of social impact through a little daily and weekly effort than I am excited about becoming a professor of pragmatics and humour studies in about 10 years when I would have to submit works I would not know if they had ever been read by anyone.
We must think of how our intellectual efforts can make some changes in any way, however little, even when this is not made so easy by the society we find ourselves.
In conclusion, publishing among academics should not just be made an academic ritual necessary for career elevation. All that are concerned in the education project— the government, school managements and the academics— must consider the business of research as one that is ultimately about causing a change in the society and play their roles well in making the necessary changes happen.
Bamgbose (Dr GAB) is a lecturer in the Deparment of English, Lagos State University