Nigerian university dons and the dangerous politics at ASUU branches (2)


By Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik

Even though we are not living up to the expectations, Academia is still blessed with critics and we often criticize godfatherism in Nigerian politics. But here it is, raising its ugly head in Academia. And unfortunately, some of these critics are among those that have constituted themselves as these “godfathers” rather than mentors.

Academia is an institution where you develop people that work with you and look up to you. You naturally influence these people by virtue of the mentor-mentee relationship and they will always look up to you with a lot of regards. I was at the IOP Dielectrics conference in 2011 at Canterbury and one of my PhD supervisors introduced me to his undergraduate Lecturer in the university who, as of 2011, was working for Schlumberger, Cambridge.

My presentation became a topic of discussion and in the process, he gave me an idea that with the results I am getting, my work can be tailored towards producing an electrically conductive natural ester drilling fluid for oil and gas exploration. I eventually got my first post-PhD research grant from that topic in 2013 and I have a PhD student working on the subject at the moment. Mentors display their characteristics where ever you meet them.

I have also met great minds in Nigerian universities that you don’t want to leave when the chance presents itself to have a chat with them. We have quite a number of them at Ahmadu Bello University. I was opportune to serve as a member of a committee in ABU with some carefully selected Professors; Experienced, Researchers and Research Grant winners. I so much cherished being in the company of this set of Professors that I wish the committee work never ends. That time spent with these great minds and workaholics was perhaps one of my best times in the university. So much wisdom and inspiration. I doff my hat to the Mentor who identified these people and carefully selected them and gave me the opportunity to be with them. I will write about the Mentor at the appropriate time by Allah’s will.

We were coming from Friday prayers one day and we met Prof Ibrahim Sani of the Biochemistry department. The 1 hour we spent talking with him was like 5 minutes to me. The celebrated Prof Suleiman Salau of the Mass Communication Department, ABU had so much impact on the department that they find it difficult to let him go after his retirement. He didn’t need to lead the department like an emperor, held onto the headship of the department, establish himself as a godfather to be the person he was and still is in the Mass Communication Department.

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Prof I. B. Osazuwa organized a geophysical workshop in ABU in 2006 that brought his mentees and associates from different universities to Zaria.

He organized a similar workshop at Federal University Oye, Ekiti in 2018 (12 years later) where he pulled together more. The VC of the university was said to be wowed by the crowd he put together in the university for the event. Unlike godfatherism that is built on selfish interest and lasts for a while, your mentees followed you to where ever you are and the mentee-mentor relationship lasts a lifetime.

Why then do some Academics in Nigerian universities decide to constitute themselves as godfathers in university politics instead of establishing themselves as Academic Mentors? Could it be due to the lack of academic mentorship capacity in us or is it due to poor academic and mentorship structure in our universities? But then, with the current university structure and challenges, some senior colleagues have been able to distinguish themselves in academics and research and have mentored a number of people. Maybe the capacity is not just there and they decided to hold onto political influence within the university. But for how long? Time is ticking fast and I think it is time to change strategy.

Nigerian Universities’ management can help with some restructuring so that today’s “small boys” don’t find themselves in the same situation when they eventually “grow up”. We need to advocate for the institutionalization of mentorship programs within the academic departments of our various universities. One way to develop mentorship is through the establishment of active “Research Groups” in the departments. Few departments in some Nigerian universities already have such. But it should be institutionalized and a policy developed to make the group leader and members active. Every academic staff should belong to a research group. The already established senior colleagues in the respective groups are made to mentor the younger colleagues. A new recruit should not just jump into the classroom till after proper mentorship.

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The group leaders are recognized by the university and the management through the Research office should be aware of who to hold responsible for the failure of a particular research group. The group with the highest research output should be recognized to encourage them and push others to achieve the same. Since the groups provide the base-stock for the postgraduate programs, the postgraduate schools should be able to provide support for the operation and sustainability of the research groups and their activities, no matter how little.

We are Academics and the priority should be on academics and not campus politics. Political loyalty is temporary and for personal gains. You can see how politicians fall out easily once they’ve got what they want. No one will genuinely look up to you if you don’t have anything to offer. Some of our younger colleagues are left on their own. Some practically supervised themselves during training. So, how do you want to earn their respect? Senior colleagues can do better by showing genuine care to those behind them. Be a serial research grant proposal writer and win some like some of our Professors and you will be overwhelmed with the people that want to work with you. Establish yourself as a seasoned researcher instead of a local politician, and your influence will extend outside your university, Nigeria, and Africa.

ASUU at all branches needs to change strategy and begin proper engagement with members at all levels. The branches should be seen as protecting the interest of all and not a selected few. I have never heard of a workshop to engage new staff by our union for my 16 years in the university. There is the need for annual Retreats that target the new staff to educate them on their role as Academics and the expectations. The Union needs to make the members understand the objectives of the union and take them through the journey. It will make the members understand and appreciate what the Union stands for and the sacrifices our elders have made for us to be where we are today.

There should be proper education and orientation on how to be a good mentor and mentee as the case may be, and how to relate with our students. Some of us have appalling staff-students relationships. We should not be left alone to learn on our own. The personal development and career progress of the members should be among the priorities of the branches. ASUU must work hard to remove the existing wall between the senior and younger colleagues across the branches.

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To my younger colleagues, there are several ways to help yourself to become good at your job. When you read an interesting research article, don’t just archive it and walk away. Send an email to the corresponding Author to initiate a discussion on the work. You can get yourself a mentor with that. I got a number of links through that and I nearly got a PhD position. They are always willing to share ideas. With internet service that is readily available now, you can build a network from your office. If you are among those complaining of a lack of mentorship, we have to avoid the same mistake. Let’s develop ourselves to be true mentors to those looking up to us.

I still remember how some colleagues were referred to as “small boys” some years back and they were not pleased with it. Today they take pride in using the same statement they considered derogatory yesterday. I do not like the tag “small boys” in academia and I wish I can change the narrative. If you are ever referred to as a “small boy” and it also pissed you off, please make sure you do not address or treat your younger colleague as a small boy, no matter his age.

We are the future of academia in Nigeria, the nation builders and so much is expected from us. We must live up to the expectations. And of course, your loyalty to ASUU should be unquestionable. You need ASUU as much as ASUU needs you.

Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik is of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria

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