In defence of Nigerian graduates

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It's long but i found it very interesting.

In defence of Nigerian graduates
By Sun News
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Making a case for the Nigerian graduate is not all about playing the devil’s advocate. However, the betting is that many Nigerians will see it as treading the solitary path, for they are so much involved in condemning the Nigerian graduate. But we run the risk of building a castle of ignorance if we choose to ignore the other side of the coin.

It was the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, who expounded the poetics of the wasted generation in 1986 - a generation which was said to be a negation of moral values, whose education was seen as a statement on intellectual bankruptcy, and whose future was drifting towards hopelessness.

Though I was still a kid, grasping with the fundamentals of elementary education, when the acclaimed literary genius invented this aphorism, I was made to understand that had in mind, among others, the youths of that era, especially the educated ones. Since then, some discontented Nigerians have continued to condemn that dead metaphor.

The Nigerian elite, too, joined the fray in making a mockery of the contemporary Nigerian graduate. To them, a bachelor's degree is nothing but a glorified toilet paper, and its holder does not deserve much respect, as long as he graduated from a Nigerian university.

It was also reported in the press sometime ago that American universities no longer admit holders of Nigerian bachelor's degrees in their masters degree programmes, except they undertake special examinations to ascertain the credibility of their qualifications.

It was learnt that, in some cases, some are even asked to enroll for fresh degree programmes before taking up their masters. Besides, employers of labour in the country have made a mountain out of a molehill on this issue. While majority of them now insist on the acquisition of Second-Class Upper degree as a prerequisite for employment, others place emphasis on phony cognate experience. With this new-fangled proviso, graduates with Second-class Lower and Third Class degrees are automatically blacklisted from seeking employment, and, by implication, are assumed not to have graced the four walls of the university.

Apart from that, some educational analysts have posited that the standard of education at all levels has fallen, arguing that in the 50's, and 70's, Nigerian graduates used to rub shoulders with their contemporaries from Harvard and other respected tertiary institutions in the world.

Above all, President Obasanjo took this sentiment to a new height when he declared recently that, henceforth, only graduates with excellent results would secure jobs in Federal Ministries and Government's establishments. The deduction from the President's pronouncement is that not even holders of a glamorous Second-class Upper degree, like us, are considered good enough to work in his hallowed Ministeres, populated with ageless men with out-of-fashion Standard Six Certificates and inferior Class Five-attempted results.

These unflattering comments on Nigerian universities, which have resulted in a blanket categorization of Nigerian graduates as misfits, is in my view, based on misconceptions. Thus, I have taken it upon myself to disentangle the unholy matrimony between misinformation and disinformation on this matter, without any inclination towards bias.

Interestingly, this writer belongs to the millennium set of Nigerian graduates, and, though I graduated from a state university, IMSU, Owerri, I served at a high profile Federal University in the country, UNIBEN, only a couple of years ago, as a corps member. Thus, I am not a stranger to the reality on the ground.

In the light of this, I am not comfortable with the frivolous yardstick used to measure the average Nigerian graduate. In as much as the National Universities Commission (NUC) has not come up with any convincing statistics to buttress the point that the contemporary Nigerian graduate is wholly half-baked, the prevalent assumption does not hold much water.

Let's face the truth. Are we trying to say that majority of the Nigerian graduates in the banking sector, medical, legal, government ministries and parastatals, as well as in the other private and public sectors, whom Nigerians are accustomed to using in judging the contemporary graduate, the real Nigerians graduates? Without any prejudice, the answer would not be in the affirmative.

The sad reality in the country today is that the penchant for favouritism, nepotism and tribalism has made it possible for the enthronement of mediocrity in all facets of our national life. Hence, a mediocre can easily find his way into undreamt-of positions in the society. And when he begins to exhibit traces of intellectual wavering, the same coterie of Nigerians who perpetrate these double standards would turn around to lambast all Nigerian graduates!

If I may ask again, are those Nigerian graduates who often travel overseas for higher educational pursuits the real Nigerian graduates? I am afraid that the answer may be in the negative. This is because, in most cases, these are the offspring and wards of the upper class that might have been spoilt by the temptations of affluence that they decided to play the leering homunculus while at school in the country. And when they go over there to disgrace Nigeria, the world would categorically condemn all Nigerian graduates. Indeed, it has become a rare miracle nowadays to see an intelligent poor man's child travel overseas for higher educational pursuits, and there is always a difference when the right people get there.

This goes to show that those whom the world has been using to assess the average Nigerian graduate are merely an insignificant but privileged population of educated ignoramuses. The real Nigerian graduates who know their onions are rarely given the chance to prove their mettle, and, in many cases, are wallowing in the unfenced jungle of oblivion.
Besides, is there any merit in President Obasanjo's grandstanding that only holders of first-class degrees will secure jobs in Federal Ministries?

Certainly, the president has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. That anybody holds a first-class degree in Nigeria does not necessarily translate that he is far better than those who have degrees in the Lower Division, neither does it mean that a holder of Third class degree is a model of ignorance.

Those who are conversant with the Nigerian university system will not be proud to crack this expensive joke. It is evident from recent precedents, that what appears on degree results are no longer the genuine reflections of the graduates' qualities. While in some case, it is; in most cases, it is not. A myriad of factors, such as lecturer's victimization, indigent background, hostile academic environment, among others, can rub a good student of his deserved result. Also, a determined moneybag can easily earn a First-Class degree on a platter of gold.

Therefore, the president should be educated that there is nothing so special about a first-class degree, especially in the Nigerian context. Hence, this is an alarm bell to all misinformed employers of labour in the country that it is time they desisted from drawing unnecessary dichotomy in employment requirements.

While one does not want to belabour the point that the standards of university education may have fallen, to an extent, it is important to be mindful that this does not necessary translate into a hypothesis that the standards of graduates themselves have fallen, too. I will only agree that the standards have only fallen for those whose unheralded misadventure to the Ivory Tower is solely to depend on plagiarized lecturers' handouts and skeletal lectures, as well as revel in the glory of cultism and debauchery. Apart from that, a plethora of brilliant Nigerian graduates still abound today.

Another point, which has been relegated to the background by these crusaders of mischief, is the nefarious roles being played by the educational authorities in the land. Frankly speaking, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the university authorities nationwide have torpedoed merit in the admission process. Without any consideration for the aftermath, they admit inept students to tertiary institutions. Thus, making the universities incubators for never-do-wells. And experience has shown that the university is not a miracle centre for transforming any student with low Intelligent Quotience (IQ). It is a case of garbage in, garbage out, so to speak.

It is, indeed, saddening that the garden-variety of semi-literates from Nigerian universities have painted an ugly picture of Nigerian graduates. But the truth is that Nigerian universities, though with certain amount of imperfections, are not yet the Bermuda Triangle, many may want us to believe. The contemporary Nigerian graduate is not and cannot be a write-off.

Akubuiro writes from Lagos.
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