Nigeria Will Not Develop Until We Fix This Problem
The content of this page is taken from the book entitled
“The Failure of University Education for Development and What to Teach Instead.”
by Samuel A. Odunsi, Sr.
“any plan for diversification or development in Nigeria should no longer be taken seriously without addressing the failure of higher education.”
What does development mean for Nigeria?
Development means that Nigeria will rise to meet the West and other developed countries as an economic equal. Like China has recently done. This is also what development means for other former colonies of the West that are now politically independent.
Why has Nigeria not developed?
The single cause of underdevelopment in Nigeria is the failure of higher education (universities and technical institutions) to train graduates to operate their western economy as well as expatriates. Expatriates consist of people from the West and the developed countries of Asia who make things work in Nigeria. We know that the companies and organizations operated by expatriates perform the best in the country. E.g., oil and gas industry, construction industry, telecom, etc. If a large operation is running well in Nigeria, the chance is great that expatriates are the managers behind it, even if it’s owned by Nigerians. Without the managerial leadership of expatriates, the facility will deteriorate or collapse over time, as we have seen with the systems inherited from colonialism, such as utility services (e.g., electricity, water, mail) transportation system (railways), social services, agriculture industry and many others, not to mention the deterioration of the currency from 1 naira to 1 dollar in the early 1980s to hundreds of naira to 1 dollar today. The failure of higher education to equalize the managerial performance of Nigerian graduates with those of expatriates has been the unspoken cause of underdevelopment since independence.
Can’t Nigeria just hire the expatriates it needs to develop the country?
It’s possible in theory for Nigeria to hire enough expatriates to develop the country. But it’s not possible in reality because Nigeria can’t afford the financial cost. Hundreds of billions of dollars a year, if not trillions, will be required to pay the salaries of expatriates that can develop the country as defined.
What is the purpose of higher education for Nigeria?
When economic development is the goal, the practical purpose of higher education is to train people to perform as well as expatriates in the role of manager or entrepreneur in the public and private sectors so that Nigerian graduates can lead and supervise the rapid and continuous development of their country. If higher education in Nigeria could supply a steady stream of graduates that are as effective as expatriates, the country will quickly develop for real. In numerical terms, Nigeria already has more than enough graduates to make development happen. But higher education has not been effective in that way. All that higher education has done is provide technical training, which benefits only the individual that might get a job in Nigeria or overseas. Technical training has proven useless for development when the managerial leadership of expatriates is not present. Higher education will not meet its purpose until every new graduate can reliably do what expatriates do. That will begin to happen only when the type of curriculum change we recommend is implemented.
What are the symptoms of the failure of higher education in Nigeria?
The symptoms of the failure of higher education include persistent poverty, persistent dependence, persistent corruption, persistent instability, persistently bad governance, the lawless violence of terrorism, and other problems exclusive to the former colonies of the West. We’ve been led to believe that these symptoms are the causes of underdevelopment. That is wrong. Expatriates are in Nigeria with Nigerians, yet they do what Nigerian graduates generally cannot do. The symptoms don’t affect the performance of expatriates. The symptoms are incurable until Nigerians begin to perform as well as expatriates in increasing numbers. The most ethical and corruption-free leadership from elections or revolution, or from so-called uprisings do not address the failure of higher education. Measures such as anti-corruption laws, or protests, civil unrest, and finger pointing do not address the failure of higher education. Revenues from the export of oil and gas and other raw materials, or from globalization and foreign aid do not address the failure of higher education. Such revenue may provide tenuous prosperity or modernization and give a false impression that development is taking place. However, the symptoms of the failure of higher education don’t go away.
Why can’t Nigeria diversify its economy?
For a country like Nigeria, diversification means import substitution. That is, producing at home most or all of the products that are currently imported. A small but important part of diversification is refining locally all the raw materials that are extracted in Nigeria instead of overseas refinement. The majority of diversification is building and maintaining the infrastructure, supply chains, and institutions that will support import substitution over the long term with Nigerian managerial leadership. In addition, the goal of diversification is to offer products and services at a standard that is good enough for overseas export. Successful diversification is the only means for rising to meet the developed countries as an equal. A country that can supply much of the nation’s demand for food, electronics, machinery, automobiles and other items will be a prosperous country, a truly developing country. But efforts to diversify the economy have failed because of the shortage of effective managerial leadership. The only system in place to systematically fill the shortage and which claims to already do so (according to speeches made at graduation ceremonies) is higher education. But higher education has never done that. Hence, without the leadership of expatriates in numbers that Nigeria can’t afford, five-year or ten-year development plans, Vision 2020, Vision 2030, knowledge economy, large scale agriculture projects, and other plans for industrialization or development, will not meet their goals. Previous development and diversification plans have not worked because of ineffective higher education. For the same reason, future plans will not work either. As a result, attempts at economic diversification in a persistently underdeveloped country like Nigeria is largely a futile exercise.
Why is higher education effective in the developed countries and not in Nigeria?
Higher education appears to work for the developed countries. So, if it doesn’t work for the underdeveloped, then it’s automatically assumed that something is wrong with the people of these countries. We reject this notion. Nothing is wrong with people. Instead, something is wrong with the education. Our view is that culture, not education, is what is “working” for the developed countries. The curriculum of western education that is in effect everywhere in the world, including Nigeria, does not contain the elements that will equalize the performance of graduates with those of expatriates in the course of acquiring higher education. Western education does not contain the necessary elements because recognizing and including these elements in the curriculum was never a requirement for education to be “effective” in the developed countries. The western economic model, which was imposed on Nigeria by colonialism, is an extension of Western culture. The West never had to deliberately connect its culture with an economic model that was imposed by a different culture, and still doesn’t know how to do so. As a result, academia has never been able to explain how culture makes development happen in the developed country in a manner that is teachable to others. The conceptual tools required for a teachable explanation, therefore, do not exist—until now. In addition to providing the missing tools, we have also devised the curriculum that will connect with the native culture of the individual student the western economic model that higher education represents.
Why are China, Japan, and South Korea developed, since their cultures are not Western?
The short answer is that these countries have cultural elements in common with the west. So, nothing extra is needed in the higher education curriculum to connect the western economic model to their culture. For the first time, we have identified these elements of culture that have been universally misunderstood and completely overlooked. We’ve also devised the means to systematically impart and nurture these elements to full strength in the educational setting within the 3-4 year duration of higher education.
Will development happen in Nigeria if the quality of education is improved?
The answer is no! Improving the quality of education will not make development happen because it does not address what is wrong with higher education. The quality of education in Nigeria was arguably at its highest immediately after independence from colonialism and has steadily deteriorated ever since. Better quality western education did not make development happen back then because the quality is not the problem. The problem is the academic curriculum itself. Specifically, what the curriculum is lacking. The content of the academic curriculum is largely the product of western culture. The perceived effectiveness of this curriculum in the developed countries and among expatriates is built on top of that culture. In a country where the western economic and social model was imposed by colonialism, such as Nigeria, the underlying culture remains different and the higher education curriculum has nothing to build upon. Instead, what is learned in higher education is segregated in the mind of the graduate as a series of protocols or technical skill. What is learned has a superficial connection to the native culture of the individual and cannot be consistently applied contingently or instinctively to practical challenges as the expatriate does. This obvious problem has remained unsolved because the assumption behind the academic curriculum, which originated in western culture for the people of that culture, is that the connection is already present in the student. The West did not have to deliberately make such a connection in its people. As a result, their curriculum offers no provision for bridging the gap. Improving the quality of this type of education will not make up for what is missing in the curriculum, to begin with. Stated bluntly, our graduates will not perform as well as expatriates even if every Nigerian institution had the quality of Harvard in America or Oxford in England. This is why overseas graduates who return home have been just as ineffective as local graduates. By the same token, there is no magic number of graduates that will suddenly make development begin in Nigeria at some unknown future date. Higher education that does not equalize the performance of the graduate with the performance of expatriates upon graduation will not suddenly do so in the future. Increasing the number of such graduates in society will not make equalization happen either.
Can development happen in a unique Nigerian way?
Again, the answer is no. The suggestion that Nigeria or any former colony of the West may have an alternative path to development is wishful thinking. The economy of Nigeria has to be managed like the western economy that it is. Nigeria is a western economy that is malfunctioning. Colonialism remade the economy of Nigeria in the image of the West, and there is no turning back. On Independence Day, the British handed over to Nigerians a working western economic and social model, complete with institutions, a civil service, a legal system, military system, education system, healthcare system, monetary system, commercial industries, and so on. Nigeria did not abandon any of the systems imposed by colonialism. But to operate properly, these systems require the foundation of self-sustaining economic diversification and increasing productivity led by the competent management of tens of thousands of Nigerians with higher education in both the public and private sectors. The continual failed efforts to operate these systems without the required foundation, without the required managerial leadership, is what makes under development persistent and permanent. This is a problem that has resisted all attempts to solve. Yet, the traditional methods of old can’t support a much larger population and the contemporary aspirations of the Nigerians of today. So, like most other former colonies of the West, Nigeria is stuck with a social and economic system it cannot properly operate with no way out. This trap is what we call the Pain of Underdevelopment. The only way out of this frustration is for Nigerians to make their western economy work as it’s supposed to. Nigerians have to perform as well as expatriates and manage their economy as well as the developed countries. There’s a system in place for training young Nigerians to do exactly that. It is the elaborate system of higher education. But higher education has never met that goal. The only unique aspect of making development happen in Nigeria or in the other former colonies of the West is the new ideas needed for doing so. We possess the ideas.
Do Nigerians have what it takes to graduate higher education and immediately perform as well as expatriates?
The answer is yes. But not under the failed curriculum that’s been blindly followed for generations. The problem is not a lack of intellect or motivation on the part of Nigerians. Individual Nigerians, like human beings everywhere, possess and demonstrate what we consider to be the minimum requirement for making development happen at the level of the developed countries. Higher education simply does not know how to tap into this inborn capacity. We have identified this capacity. We have also identified the required steps for integrating it with the western economic model to which Nigeria is now bound with irresistible force. And it can happen in the time it takes to get a degree. The solution we propose is available for implementation on a test basis among small groups in a few campuses or all at once for the entire nation. When properly implemented, the result is guaranteed and measurable.
What happens next?
We can choose to keep things the way they are and do nothing. We can choose to ignore this presentation and keep wasting resources on education that is guaranteed to fail for development. We can choose to make the failure of higher education the economic and social failure of our country and accept as our fate the permanence of corruption, instability, poverty, and hopelessness in our society, as well as the suffering of the people. We can choose to complain and blame each other for our plight and do nothing new or different to improve it. But any plan for diversification or development in Nigeria should no longer be taken seriously if the choice is to do nothing about the ineffectiveness of higher education. Like it or not, choosing to do nothing is now a deliberate vote for our present miserable and precarious condition.
The alternative is to take the steps that will make development happen and stop calling the symptoms of bad education the causes of underdevelopment. Stop accepting the blame and shame for the failure of higher education and hold higher education accountable. If education does not overcome the constraints of culture, that is the problem of the education, a failure of the education. It is not the problem or failure of the people that the education is not working for. Education that is ineffective because of culture is still useless education. So is education that does not make graduates as effective as expatriates immediately upon graduation, or that promises to do so at some unknown future date. This type of education has kept Nigeria down for too long and must be discarded and replaced with one that systematically overcomes unconscious cultural barriers and equalizes the performance of new graduates with those of expatriates immediately upon graduation. This is the only outcome that can lead our country down the road of real economic development and a real hope for the future. This alternative will be enacted by implementing our new curriculum in Nigeria’s institutions of higher learning.
It goes without saying that there are numerous exceptions whereby Nigerians have performed and served with distinction as effective and conscientious managers, administrators, supervisors, and entrepreneurs. But the meaning of persistent underdevelopment is that the exceptions don’t make a difference overall. There have not been enough exceptions to make development happen for the whole country. Our solution promises to make every graduate exceptional in this manner.
It must also be noted that we’re not advocating the replacement of expatriates in Nigeria or in any other country. A truly developing economy will add capacity at a rate that will quickly consume available managerial and entrepreneurial talent, expatriates included. The goal of development is to expand the economic pie to the size of the developed countries. The goal is not to replace expatriates, but to have a lot more people do what expatriates do, in more areas of the economy, at an increasing rate. We’re advocating a lasting measure, not gimmicks.
Click to watch a video about the new curriculum that will replace the current ineffective one.