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Google and a long-distance runner

Dare Babarinsa

Feb. 13, 2020

The idea of a university germinated from the concept that knowledge can be domesticated and nurtured. Nigerian leaders from the time of independence have placed hope in the ability of our universities to change our land and lead us to join the rest of humanity in competitive advancement. If you want to know what the men and women of the Ivory Towers are thinking, you get more during their seasonal outings at convocations or inaugurals. It is usually during these two ceremonies that our universities try to re-assure us that they are still in the business of knowledge and that we are in it together with the rest of humanity.
One is sometimes worried that we have neglected for many decades the raw materials with which universities and other higher institutions are fed. There is a serious decline in quality of our elementary and primary education. Such is the shame that has overtaken us that leading private secondary schools in the country now advertise that they are running British or American curricula and that their products can pass foreign examinations. Yet this was the same country, during the fight for independence when our leaders insisted that our children must be taught according to our own challenges and environment. It does no good for us if our children are still being taught that Mongo Park discovered the River Niger.
Such is the inferiority complex that has overtaken us now that every private school displays as many foreign flags as it can get. For sure, you will find American, British and Canadian flags. Sometimes you will also find Chinese, Turkish, Saudi and Israeli flags. Since the era of Nelson Mandela you may now find South African flags. It is rare to find Ghanaian, Ivorian or Senegalese flags. Though most of the foreigners in Nigeria are fellow Africans, our school proprietors do not find African flags attractive. May I also say that almost all the private schools, because of these flags they adorn their premises with, regard themselves as international.
Many of our churches, like our businesses, are also international. Only the big churches are unashamedly Nigerian, including denominations that have their roots in foreign land. These include the Catholic, the Anglican (Church of Nigeria), the African Church, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, Christ Apostolic Church and the Apostolic Faith. It is interesting that it is the small, Pentecostal denominations that want the world to know that they are actually international. After all, they already opened a branch in Burkina Faso and Lesotho!
I don’t know whether Nigerian Islam is also as international as our Christianity. I have not been seen so many flags in front of mosques. May be because Islam, unlike Christianity, does not have a Pentecostal movement. However, something is already happening in the United States they may have serious impact on the world view of Islam especially in Nigeria. There is a new mosque in New York where a woman is the Imam and where male and female sit together during prayers. This phenomenon when and if it reaches our shores would certainly have an impact. I hope that by that time, the Boko Haram scourge would have been extirpated. Or else, they would have another reason to stay longer in the Sambisa forest.
Our universities are working to clear the sambisa forest of our minds inhabited by doubts and unbelief. I was at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, FUNAAB, Ogun State to listen to the Convocation Lecture delivered by the famous newspaper columnist, Professor Adebayo Williams, on Monday January 27. Williams spoke on The Beast Unburdened Once Again: Artificial Intelligence and Life More Abundant. He warned that Africa must prepare for the new frontier of knowledge which is artificial intelligence and its impact not only on the way we live and work, but also on our humanity.
“The old schools, universities, tertiary institutions are profoundly affected as knowledge economy takes root in most parts of the world and as the old system of learning gives way to revolutionary means of wealth creation,” he said. “Consequently, the old disciplinary order collapses and new disciplines emerge as an epistemological imperative of the new mode of knowledge production.As it happened during the Industrial Revolution and with grave consequences for the continent, Africa is once again a passive repository of historical developments in other places.”
Professor Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank, ADB, warned that Africa, in other to stem the tide of social disintegration, must acquire the skills to produce enough food for its teaming citizens. He was speaking the second day of the convocation ceremony at FUNAAB during which he was conferred with a honourary doctorate degree. The Vice- Chancellor, Professor Felix Kolawole Salako, in his own speech, assured Nigerians that the university was ready to execute its mandate to transform Nigeria agriculture. Salako said FUNAAB was ready to collaborate with the private sector to translate its ideas and research into profitable ventures.
One can only hope that our leaders would pay more attention to the universal knowledge revolution and its implication on Nigeria. It is no good news that despite our resources and the exploits of Nigerians on the intellectual field all over the world, Nigeria itself seems to lag behind. According to Professor Williams: “As we speak, and apart from the recent initiative of Google tentatively based in Ghana, there is no single worthwhile centre for Artificial Intelligence in Black Africa. This is at a time when Qatar has just established a whole University of Artificial Intelligence.”
There is the need for our governments to re-examine the involvements of private initiatives to make Nigeria and Africa competitive in the knowledge market. It is becoming increasingly clear that private institutions, despite their burden of colonial mentality, have re-energized the education in Nigeria especially at the tertiary level. There is the singular example of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, which has established one of best teaching hospitals in Africa and the world. You have to visit these institutions to understand the energy and enterprise that are driving them. The truth is that the future of higher education in Nigeria belongs to the private sector. It would not be cheap; but it would be worth it. That is what has happened to telecommunications.
One of Nigeria’s greatest assets in education is a teacher who started the hard way. Chief (Mrs) Winifred Adefolahan Awosika, the founder of the highly successful Chrisland group of schools, was almost a professional housewife until she convinced her husband, Dr Victor Awosika, to start a crèche in their servant quarters in Lagos. Mrs Awosika, an old student of Saint Anne’s in Ibadan, was trained at the old College of Arts and Science, Enugu campus, which later became the University of Nigeria and got her first degree at the University of Ibadan. She attended the University of Lagos for a post-graduate diploma in Education and later, in fit and starts, pursued a career as a teacher. Her wealthy physician-husband preferred she remained a full-time housewife. She obeyed for some years until she finally persuaded him to start the crèche in 1977.
By the time her husband died suddenly in 1988, the mustard seed had grown. She was now presiding over a flourishing nursery, primary and secondary school on Opebi Road, Ikeja. She still lives in the same old house which she shares with her late husband. Despite the burden and trauma of spousal loss, she has become the predominant matriarch of the Nigerian education sector. To crown her effort, she established the Chrisland University in Ogun State in 2015. She is one of the few players whose activities run across the entire spectrum from crèche to the university level. Awosika, who turns 80 today February 13, has proved that she is a long-distance runner.
Nigeria needs men and women who like Awosika believe in the system to turn our country around. Food, security, health and other social issues cannot be solved until we overcome the human element of our struggle. It is the trained mind that would make us competitive on the global stage.
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