Cranky octogenarians and professors – Part 2
Continued from yesterday
The Professor is a prolific writer. He wrote 13 books, chapters, articles in 10 books and monographs, four integrated production and pest management farmers’ field schools manuals; he authored and co-authored over 40 science and agricultural books for children, three tertiary books, one inaugural lecture at University of Greenwich, United Kingdom, four plant protection extension manuals, 13 books on junior secondary agriculture, five agriculture wall charts, two on nursery and primary mathematics, seven primary science and technology monographs, 12 teachers handbooks, nine books on learning basic agriculture for Nigeria primary schools, etc.
Tony is a happy man who relishes in the blessings of God Who gave him the opportunity to serve humanity. His children love him to no end. Their pride at the accomplishments of their patriarch and matriarch is unmistakable. Each of his children is a success story in himself or herself. The family radiates love. It was a rave privilege to be in that illustrious atmosphere. Prof. Egerton had an open house on his 81st birthday. Last week he had an open house. All his children in Europe and the United States and their spouses were all there. A small but grand affair they put in. Prof. Egerton is the world authority on African Labour Law, having taught at the University of Lagos for ages. To-day he is still a voluble academic who never fails to show his brilliance. He is interstitially bound to the interests and history of the University of Lagos. At this gathering were other professors – Prof. Ojo, a Human Resources Specialist, in Nigeria and East and South Africa, a veteran university administrator – Ade Kuti, who has retired to London and so on. As food and drinks flowed, so the conversation became more boisterous. One thing about university professors is that they really do not like to talk sitting down. So when an argument is on – regardless of how trivial, they are all jumping up and talking – usually at the same time, on top of their voices. Lesser mortals like us try and follow the trend of the argument but we are soon lost in the verbiage spewing out of the professorial mouths, liberally spiced with quotations from Goethe, Rousseau, Lord Denning and many others our professors call on for support. It is not quite a tower of babel, but close.
Let me take one of the several discussions. It started with some verdict on how well one Vice-Chancellor did in the university. Some liked his administration, others did not. The Vice-Chancellor had acquired land in different parts of Lagos so that professors could also have homes whenever they left the accommodation in the university that came with the professorial appointment. The conversation then moved on to the subject of consultancy and pay of university professor.
Obviously, underlying all this discussion was the question of how a university professor could afford to build a house if he was to rely on his salary alone. The simple answer was to allow professors to do consultancy – after all, what else is a university except the citadel of knowledge, which, probably tapped and paid for, could be of benefit to clients. So the university established a consultancy service open for hire. A payment for such services is divided among those participating in the consultancy and the university itself, thus enhancing the university’s internally generated revenue.
Was there no fear of a conflict of interest? How about the appointment letters that stipulated full-time 24-hour duty to the university? This was obviated by the university council stepping down this particular provision mainly through the device of the university council opening University Consult. So a professor of law or of Human Resources could hire out his services for pay to any client provided he did so at his spare time. None of the professors was alive to the sophistry of the argument; nor with the general principle that if you worked as a public servant you were not expected to do any work for any other organisation; for a lot of reasons for this, including the fact that a paid outside job may divert one’s abilities so much as to be detrimental to the primary duty of teaching and research.
The question was raised whether the rule in the university could be applicable to other public servants or even those who work in the private sector. For example, can an engineer in the Ministry of Works be a consultant to Julius Berger? Can a Petroleum Engineer in NNPC be a consultant to Shell, or Agip or Exxon Mobil? Can a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education be a consultant to a publishing company which publishes books on education?
Echoes of the debate about government doctors doing private practice arose. Others raised the point that their colleagues overseas were allowed to do consultancy. Why not in Nigeria? It was no use trying to tell these agitated, standing and shouting professors that you cannot compare apples to oranges.
Why not, they retorted, are they not all fruits?
The vibrancy of the occasion was engaging. Please do not write off our octogenarians. Their time will surely come.
As usual Prof. Egerton had the last word: it was a question of law – what did the letter of appointment say: apparently the letter of appointment of lecturers and professors did not foreclose private practice.