I am embarrassed that my colleagues, Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, are mimicking the tropes and templates often deployed by politicians to talk about their “accomplishments” in office.
Recently, I watched a fancy, professionally packaged online video, replete with commentary, about the “achievements” of the VC of a federal university in the North-central zone who recently completed their 5-year tenure.
I thought I was watching one of the familiar gubernatorial video informercials that governors commission and routinely use to advertise their achievements.
Even the language in this VC achievement video was the same as that of gubernatorial TV informercials, with the generous use of words such as “commissioned,” “built,” “contract awarded,” and under his/her “able leadership.”
And, just like the gubernatorial informercial, this video focused on physical infrastructure –buildings, halls, hostels, facilities, etc.
There was no mention of this VC’s achievements in the realms of teaching, research, and service, the three metrics by which a university’s success or failure is measured.
There was nothing in the video on how the VC was able to raise the quality of teaching or research or how under their leadership lecturers in the university published papers in top-tier journals, won fellowships, awards, grants, or made patentable discoveries and inventions.
There was nothing about improving institutional governance and town and gown relations and interface.
You can imagine my unsettling surprise yesterday then when I joined a Zoom lecture given by a former VC of UniAbuja in which he reeled out a list of his accomplishments, which were all physical infrastructures.
I had to ask him why Nigerian VCs are now sounding more and more like political executive office holders boasting about the infrastructures built and commissioned during their tenure.
I asked him why I don’t hear VCs boasting about how they raised the quality of teaching, how they built or rebuilt a research culture in their institution, how they tackled ethical problems, and how they raised academic standards, leading to measurable upshots in the teaching, research, and service metrics.
His answer to my question touched on some of his intangible accomplishments in the aforementioned areas, but he soon lapsed into the familiar rhetoric of how he completed infrastructure projects started by his predecessors and initiated several new ones.
I realized that political practice and rhetoric in Nigeria’s pretend democracy has crept into and polluted university administration. Little wonder that university VCship contests are eerily similar to gubernatorial electoral contests.
When will our colleagues who administer Nigerian universities realize that buildings and physical structures do not make a university?
Someone said physical infrastructures are the only achievements that resonate politically with Nigerians. That may be so, but the VCs are not politicians, so why are they pandering to politicized understandings of success and achievement?