As Nigerians earn academic accolades in foreign schools, economy bleeds

Real life doesn’t always have a Nollywood ending. But if it does, the Amukamaras — Promise, Prince, Princess, Precious and Passionate — are good cast for a Nollywood tale in the US. They are part of the growing number of Nigerian-American athletes, born in Uncle Sam’s country, who are excelling at the top levels of high school, college and professional sports, in spite of the wrong choice of word by the British Prime Minister that Nigerians are ‘fantastically corrupt’.

Also cast in the riveting tale are, Andre Iguodala and Victor Oladipo, who play in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Ime Udoka, an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. The Acho brothers — Samuel and Emmanuel — are in the National Football League (NFL), the sisters — Nneka and Chiney — Ogwumike of the Women National Basketball Association (WNBA) are the second pair of siblings drafted No. 1 overall in a professional sport, alongside Peyton and Eli Manning, while Jahlil Okafor of Duke was the third pick in the 2015 NBA draft.

Though, compelling success stories like this hardly animate news pages these days, especially, now when global economies are battered and crawling, a lot of Nigerians are making waves in the world over.

Across the world, scouts go all out to recruit Nigerian talents. Only recently, at the Howard University’s 148th convocation in Washington DC, of the 96 graduating Doctor of Pharmacy candidates, 43 were Nigerians. Of 27 awards given, 16 went to Nigerians.

In 2012, 22 year-old Nigerian, Emmanuel Ohuabunwa, broke academic record at John Hopkins University. He emerged the best graduating student in the school with a grade point of 3.98 out of 4.0 in Neurosciences.

Another Nigerian, Uwa Osamede Imafidon, who graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) in the US, with master’s degree in microbiology, made a 4.0 CGPA out of the maximum 4.0 CGPA. Before her sojourn abroad, she had earlier bagged a first class degree in Crop Science from the University of Benin, and was the Best Graduating student in her Department.

Saheela Ibraheem was named one of the World’s 50 Smartest Teenagers, and the US President Obama met and commended her on this feat at a reception celebrating Black History Month. At just 15 years old, Saheela Ibraheem was accepted into Harvard University, which makes her among the youngest students ever to attend that school. But that’s not the most impressive part; Saheela was accepted at 12 other colleges, including MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Brown, Princeton, Columbia, and the University of Chicago.

On same high note, 50 Nigerians made first class honours out of 253, who graduated in various academic disciplines at the 2015 convocation ceremony of the Linton University College, Malaysia. There are over 9,000 Nigerians studying in that country.

Last year too, 19-year-old Evance Ochuko Ivwurie Jnr. added his name to the list of Nigerians, who have, in recent past, won academic laurels or made history in their respective fields of educational pursuit, especially, in Europe, Asia and America. He made history, by becoming the youngest graduate in the 166 years history of Royal Holloway, University of London. He graduated with a first class degree in Economics.

The list of Nigerian high flyers seems endless. Only on June 19, 2015, the 150-year-old Cardiff Metropolitan University in the UK awarded a Nigerian student, Alexander Chinedu Obiechina, the Nevile Gaunt Prize for best final MBA project for a manufacturing business plan.

That same month, another Nigerian student, Oluwatobi Olasunkanmi, 24, emerged winner of the William Charnley Prize for the best first class in Law at the world-renowned University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

In faraway Japan, Akwa Ibom State-born Ufot Ekong also made Nigeria proud. In his first semester at Tokai University, Japan, Ekong solved a mathematical puzzle, which students have failed to solve for more than 30 years. The 24-year-old Ekong also broke a 50-year old academic record by graduating as the ‘Best All Rounder’ with a first-class degree in Electrical Engineering. He also scored the highest grades the university had witnessed in 50 years.

Dr. Victor Olalusi has equally proven to be one of Nigeria’s brightest students. He was once honoured by Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Education for being an ambassador of excellence. As a medical student, he scored a 5.0 Cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) for seven consecutive years at the Russian National Research Medical University (RNRMU), Moscow.

For this, he was recognised as the best graduating student in the whole Russian Federation in 2013. Even in Russian Language class, he maintained 5.0. Olalusi is not new to gathering academic laurels having emerged Best WAEC Student in Nigeria in 2004. He won Cowbell Award in 2006, Highest Post UME score at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in 2006 and OAU Medicine First Merit list in 2006.

The depressing conditions at home, which extend to educational institutions, may be responsible for a situation in which Nigerians do so well even in rarefied abroad while the same talent, acumen or brilliance is hardly ever noticed at home. Indeed, many of the high flying Nigerians in the Diaspora may not have made it at home as they would have fallen victim of a stifling bureaucracy and excellence-suffocating corruption. That is the tragedy of Nigeria, a system that emasculates its own very best, rewards mediocrity and kills the spirit of excellence. Nigeria often carries on as though not structured for success with the youths, having had their hopes dashed and aspirations stunted, imbibing the wrong values.

Professor Duro Oni, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Management Services, University of Lagos, said, “this is not surprising, giving how enterprising Nigerians are, when they set their minds to what they want to do. If you were to probe further as to the backgrounds of the 43 graduands that bagged the Doctor of Philosophy and the 16 award winners, you may find out that most of them got their first degrees from the faculties of pharmacy in Nigeria.”

According to Dr. Sola Adeyemi of University of Greenwich, London, “I read that story and I can assure you that it is not strange nowadays for such things to happen, and I cannot see any immediate implication of the ‘feat’ to the Nigerian economy or the education system, except, perhaps, that Nigerians may now be diverting their education tourism routes towards Howard University.”

Sometimes, achievement brings pains. The demand for Nigerian talents abroad is decimating and destroying human capacity development, which the country needs. Most of these Nigerians, who completed their studies in Europe and the United States, are not returning home. The contradiction is that while millions of dollars are spent yearly to recruit and pay expatriates working here, the country has found it difficult to woo back the Nigerian professionals now working outside the continent. This has characterised Nigeria’s history since the military era of the 1980s.

Like sewer that carries away the waste population, the more pronounced the country’s successes in academics, the greater the pains, if there are no ploughback means like Diaspora Fund. Each year, thousands of highly skilled Nigerians seek greener pastures to the USA, Europe, Arabian countries and other developed lands. Thus, the country loses its strong human capital that took enormous resources to nurture and produce.

Although, records show that Nigerians make less than one per cent of the immigrant population in the U.S., in 2013, it was found that one-quarter of black students were of Nigerian ancestry. Besides, over a quarter of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional qualification against 11 per cent for the white population.

In the United States, 64 per cent of foreign-born Nigerians aged 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree. According to statistics available from the Census board of the US, more than 43 per cent of African immigrants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher—slightly more than immigrants from East Asia. Nigerian immigrants are especially educated, with almost two-thirds holding college degrees—a significantly higher percentage even more than Chinese or South Korean immigrants.

Nigerian-Americans, for instance, have a median household income well above the American average, and above the average of many white and Asian groups, such as, those of Dutch or Korean descent.

About 380,000 Nigerian immigrants and their children live in the United States, up from 25,000 in 1980. They have settled in metropolitan areas like New York, Houston and Washington, and as a group, they are far more likely than the overall American population to receive undergraduate and advanced degrees, according to a 2014 analysis done for the Rockefeller Foundation and the Aspen Institute.

Beyond the brain drain, the country faces a bleak economic period now, thus, it is unable to provide the forex for studies abroad for some of the ‘creative geniuses’, even though, some do so for fad. This is just an example of widespread problems confronting Nigeria.

Not long ago, President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria couldn’t afford to sell forex to parents seeking to fund their children education abroad. He said the high demand for forex by parents of the students studying abroad to pay their wards’ tuition fees had been putting unnecessary pressure on the Naira, which in turn, affects Nigerian economy.

He, however, said any parent who could afford forex outside of the official window could go ahead.According to him, “those who can afford foreign education for their children can go ahead, but Nigeria cannot afford to allocate foreign exchange for those who decide to train their children outside the country. We can’t just afford it. That is the true situation we are in.”

A study conducted by the Exam Ethics International, a non-governmental organisation, says Nigeria loses N1.5t yearly to foreign education. The report said, yearly, Ghana gets N160b of Nigerian students’ funds, while Nigerians spend over N80b on education in the United Kingdom. Nigeria currently spends over $2b yearly as capital flight on education abroad.

“Nonetheless, what is the point of paying £13000 per annum for tuition, plus other attendant expenses, to study Economics in the UK, France or USA, when that N6million plus other expenses, multiplied by the number of students, can greatly enhance our educational system?” Adeyemi asks.

“But, in our economy, N9m ($45,000) per annum is a lot. That’s about N400m. Imagine what that can achieve at the University of Lagos, or Ibadan or Jos,” asks Adeyemi.

The problem as of today is that Nigerian universities are dying slowly. The system is in the threshold of collapse, because of government’s insensitivity.

Today, cultism, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape and many untold vices are rife among students in institutions of learning. This is sad. It is worthwhile to remember the past when this same Nigerian system was great, universities were centres of academic excellence, students aspired to great heights while research and productivity were high and leaning was geared towards the betterment of the society.

Nigerian institutions ranked among the best in the world and the system was devoid of greed and those destructive tendencies that now reign. It is in Nigeria’s national interest to arrest the decline and re-invent this system.

From one university to the other, problems abound. There are inadequate facilities and the environment is non-conducive for learning. Whenever an academic session begins, accommodation problem sets in for a university like the University of Lagos. There are just 8,000 bed spaces to 20,000 students. A room meant for four students is congested with not less than eight students. The students still cook in the room, making them prone to danger.

Though, it is against school regulations, students who cannot afford or are unable to secure accommodation on campuses squat with their friends. Most of the schools are not able to provide adequate accommodation for students.

Another challenge is the lack of classrooms for knowledge impartation. A classroom that was originally meant to accommodate between 50 students to 100 students on a normal occasion now has over 500 students, this leads to some students not attending lectures at all and some just there to mark attendance without gaining any knowledge.

Oni blamed the problem of brain drain and the professionals migrating on infrastructural deficiency. He added, “in an educational system, one should be thinking of certain issues that elevate mankind, but you find yourself coping with primary considerations of water, electricity and so on; those things should be taken for granted. In a laboratory, you are trying to create new methodology, you can’t be thinking of electricity to create at that level.”

Oni added, “I have always been of the view that first degrees should always be in Nigeria, while post graduate degrees may be obtained abroad, or better still, to have some exposure abroad while doing the post graduate programmes here in Nigeria. It is becoming a fad for some Nigerians to send their children abroad, even for first degrees. While this may be a personal choice for their parents, I do not personally subscribe to it. All my four children (adults now) took their first degrees in Nigeria and they are all doing well.”

He continued, “all my kids took their degrees from Nigeria. They all made up their minds, as to which courses that wanted to offer, though, with some counselling. I am a strong advocate for our offsprings doing their first degrees in Nigeria. Because fees are not paid at Federal Universities for tuition, some parents do not appear to value this.”

Oni said, “it is the unfortunate thing. When you generate IGR, it should be able to enhance academic activities. But unfortunately, what we have is that a couple of years back, we were paying N18 per kilowatt-hour for electricity. It moved to N20, then N24, as at May, our electricity bill in UNILAG is about N61 million a month, as against N45 million in the previous month. You make all these revenues and have to use it to pay for basic facilities and amenities. Those things don’t happen abroad. Even as an individual, when you are employed, if you start paying more than one-third of your income for housing, then you are in trouble. Universities have to pay so much for municipal services. When you generate money, you are supposed to put some into research and areas that will elevate society, but you generate and use to pay for services. It is not done that way.”

According to Oni, “there is a need for a paradigm shift in respect of this and our Vice Chancellor, Prof. Rahamon Bello has made some suggestions to government, which is receiving attention. At the appropriate time, the full details of this will be revealed. Some of the institutions that some parents send their wards to, especially in West Africa, do not have a fraction of the facilities and quality of staff of universities in Nigeria.”

Adeyemi said, “the quality of books in the libraries must also be considered and most importantly, there is the need to adjust academic programmes in a way that would conform to the country’s socioeconomic and political reality.”

He added, “what we should start working on in Nigeria is how to re-focus and re-purpose our educational system. Training outside the country may have been worthwhile when our economy was managed from Westminster. In these days, we need to train Nigerians for the Nigeria’s economy; we need to infuse our culture(s) into the system to make learning and teaching relevant to our needs. How is a BA in American History or BSc European Economy going to contribute to the Nigerian system? Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying there is no value in what some of these students learn. There is a lot of value to some of the courses, and many of these can be of great benefit to us in the country.”

For the Greenwich College teacher, “Nigerians should be encouraged to study at home, not just by promises but by two things: raise the infrastructure of the educational institutions and provide genuine incentives to students. Award scholarships, give out bursaries, make international scholarship such as Commonwealth Award and UNESCO awards open and available to deserving students for post graduate studies and stop restricting these to the children and wards of our polikleptocrats in Abuja and the state capitals. Fully fund sabbaticals for lecturers to research and network with other academics all over the world and stop these affairs where a Nigerian Professor can neither structure a proper sentence together or tell you a single fact about his area of specialisation without turning to Google or Wikipedia.”

What future is there for a country whose best brains and minds flourish in the Diaspora, contributing to the development of those societies? Nigerians should feel good about their compatriots who are doing well abroad. They must, however, reflect on this phenomenon and begin the work of making home a fertile ground for nurturing the same kind of excellence.

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