Let us take Nigeria and the singularity of the Amalgamation Policy of 1914. With the amalgamation policy of 1914, Nigeria’s future as a nation was almost irreversibly compromised forty six solid years before the dream of independence materialized at all. Bringing disparate ethnicities and cultural group together under one collective state structure was a good colonial policy with catastrophic postcolonial consequences. Nigeria’s plurality has remained the bane of her development since the Nigerian flag was hoisted on October 1, 1960. Ethnic rivalry and religious tensions have become two significant factors through which underdevelopment has been precipitated and consolidated in Nigeria.
What we call the national predicament in Nigeria is simple. It is to see how Nigeria’s various constituencies can be wielded together to fast track national development. How, for instance, can Nigeria be restructure in a manner that takes the sting off the amalgamation policy, and restore a genuinely federal polity that recognizes that its strength lies in its differences. It is molding this human capital into a fighting economic force that will transform Nigeria into a developmental state. Ironically, however, since independence, Nigeria has remained a project—a work in progress—that seems condemned to always trying to achieve nationhood and national development with frustrating results. This is because we have failed, so far, to convert diversity into a development template for growth and progress. Boko Haram, Niger Delta militancy, Fulani herdsmen, corruption, poverty, infrastructural deficit, unemployment, etc. have all a terrible mix of underdevelopment. And it is with the molding of this diversity of people into a detribalized human capital force that immediately tells us about the relevance of the university as a postcolonial higher educational institution.
Why is the university crucial for the development profile of “developing” countries? The answer is simple: the university is the source of research and leaning that serves as the recruiting ground for critical ideas about any society. Since the university is located within a specific site, its primary research focuses are constituted by the challenges of that site. Any Nigerian university, for instance, has the whole of Nigerian and her postcolonial plural challenges as the source of research consideration. These research focuses and the ideas generated from them ought to constitute a rich complement for policy programmes. On the other hand, the university is also the source of the human capital that feeds a nation’s development drive. This then means that the state of the university system ought to be one of the utmost policy concerns of the leadership of any state.
To therefore designate the University of Ibadan as a postcolonial university is to admit therefore that it cannot just be a university that is defined and excelled at theoretical learning and the proliferation of academic publications. A postcolonial university like the University of Ibadan cannot just be a university in the normal sense of a degree awarding institution that graduate students in vocational and non-vocational studies. Its mandate goes much more beyond that. This is because such a university is already inserted into a context of postcoloniality that has weakened the developmental vitality of any third world nation. In this context therefore, higher education in an underdeveloped state like Nigeria is an integral part of building up institutional strength that would facilitate the rehabilitation of the national project. But, Nigerian universities seem to have lost the sense of the universe in the university. To echo Professor Femi Osofisan’s fundamental thought, we seem to have lost the imperative to humanize. I do not know what the practice is here in UI, but if there is the ethnic HRM game going on anywhere in this hallowed citadel of higher learning, then something is fundamentally wrong with the idea of the university we have. It implies that our capacity to intervene in Nigeria’s national project cannot even commence if we are equally caught in the confusing bubble of ethnic jingoism and religious acrimony that has left the Nigerian state so vitiated and without direction. It therefore stands to reason therefore that the university system and its administration should be the focus of intense reform that will ensure that universities find their rightful place in jumpstarting national development.
What then are the challenges that the University of Ibadan must confront and overcome to be able to stay true to its mandate as a postcolonial university? I will identify three such challenges. But let me pause to acknowledge the deep challenges a federal university like the University of Ibadan faces with the running of the university and the need to remain the first and the best. We are all aware of the crucial insufficiency of the funding for research. Each university has to supplement government’s subvention with internally generated revenues that still does not meet the mark. Government keeps spreading its limited funding resources over new universities when the old ones are barely managing to survive. This is further complicated by government’s lack of political will to see the autonomy issue to its logical conclusion. Then, it is significant to mention the constraining limitation represented by the National Universities Commission (NUC) as an administrative gatekeeper that seems to be blind to the local peculiarities that each university is compelled to engage as a result of its local embeddedness.
Let us call the first challenge, the challenge of postcoloniality. The University of Ibadan came into existence as one of what someone has called the “institutions of empire.” Its curricular template was formulated to serve the colonial objective of law and order, and administration. There was also a Western ideological slant to what such universities were meant to impart to the students. Colonial universities were definitely not meant to instigate the development of the colonies within which they were founded. Thus, to be truly postcolonial, the University of Ibadan, if it has not started, requires a reinvention of its ideological basis in a way that makes decolonization a strategic responsibility of both the management and the academic members of staff. Decolonization in this sense requires a deconstructive intellectual spirit that critically interrogates the foundation on which the university was founded.