Prof. W.O. Alli

We now have so many universities in the country, a total of 129, made up of Federal, State and Private Universities and still counting.  At the same time, the quality of socio-cultural life, economic and industrial innovation and level of integrity has never been poorer.  All through the 1960s and up to the end of the 1970s, there was a certain quality of public life and service delivery in the country.  You could feel intellectual rigour in public life.  University workers, academic and non-academic, were considered eloquent testimony to the grand aspirations of the nation in their public and private lives and in their social comportment and in the quality of service they delivered.  It was therefore not surprising that the Universities were centres of intellectual flourish and fecundity.

Because most university staff were intellectuals who followed the intellectual tradition of humility, modesty, genuine commitment to pursuit of knowledge and high academic and moral standards, and above all, shunning the maddening crowd of the political class in their compulsive, ostentatious and oppressive decadence and disdain for the common people and common good.

Who are intellectuals?  Intellectuals are people who “have the ability to think and understand complicated ideas”, are committed to a certain quality of being and living, built on the pursuit of knowledge and its application to personal, social and public life!  It must be stated that while many intellectuals have gone through rigorous training in citadels of learning, there are many, whose lives portray them as intellectuals even though they have not acquired much formal learning.  Such people abound in different spheres of national life.  Equally true is the fact that there are many people who have acquired much formal learning, even found abode in citadels of learning such as universities and have risen over the years to positions of seeming professional authority, yet cannot be described as intellectuals.

It is assumed that the Universities are the natural habitat of intellectuals because it is expected that much rigorous learning is going on there and therefore, the people there are expected to be impacted by such atmosphere.  But we have intellectuals in the public and civil services and in the private sector in the most unlikely of places.  We have men and women in the media, at the bar and bench who exhibit extraordinary passion and commitment to certain quality of work and living.

However, the dilemma that is confronting Nigeria today is that while we have these highly rated certificates and have many people who have been awarded academic titles and work in the university system, there has been a marked decline in that quality which defines an intellectual as we identified above.

If you look around the Nigerian ivory towers, the vibrant energy of the old and the youth which drive intellectual life is largely missing.  To start with, there is a great fall in the intellectual and aesthetic appeal of Nigerian ivory towers.   The intellectual is expected to provide light to society in several respects, to exhibit high level of commitment to socio-economic, political and cultural progress, and to positively impact on society, setting agenda by sheer force of character and example.

What define the current age is the inordinate ambition of many a so – so intellectual to be reckoned with in the larger society, usually in the material sense and not in character and learning.  To achieve this goal, many academics cultivate what is considered the right social group.  They join prominent social clubs, and of course, to be seen in the right circles!  They pursue political appointment with a vengeance, craving for social relevance in the most unedifying of places for intellectuals.

So instead of being the conscience of the nation and society, the average contemporary Nigerian intellectual is all too eager to join the club of those who ruin the nation by indulging in all manner of unethical behaviour.

Someone observed that in Europe, America and increasingly in Asia, after work, the intellectuals continue to brainstorm on key issues of the day, while in Africa, the so-called intellectuals retire eagerly to social clubs for drinks with the so-called people that matter and banter the days away.  Innovation and discovery cannot occur in such environment.  I remember the days when the University of Jos had a Staff Club which provided an intellectual environment for socializing and set a certain quality of social and cultural engagement.

Whatever efforts our new intellectuals make is only to feather their nests, to gain political advantage over colleagues, to block the advancement of others, to trade off on all manner of principles and generally, to politicize every and all aspects of  academic life!  There was nothing that could not be traded.   As a result, the political class does not have to work too hard to have recruits into the nation’s burgeoning political class, because the intellectuals are available for the taking.  At the end of it all, they only get peanuts because there is not enough for all to be accommodated in the rat race of primitive accumulation.

The most appalling aspect of the new intellectual environment is the decline in the rigour in academic work of the new intellectual.  This is seen in the poor quality of teaching and supervision and the general impact on the young and vulnerable students that come to the universities whose morale are quickly eroded as they see through the screen of the individual failings of their academic mentors

Sadly, it is clear that the new intellectuals contribute to the emergence of the Nigerian oligarchy in the Fourth republic!  This is so, because, instead of providing light and championing liberating ideas, many members of the academia now belittle the intellectual in the race to belong to the ruling class.

Though, it is sometimes argued that the path to national greatness is in the hands of the political class,  I would rather argue that, if the university intellectuals would really change their ways and try to have a more purposeful intellectual life, be more committed to intellectual rigour, shun the mores  of the decadent class, avoid careerism, moderate its political and material acquisition instinct  and try to be honest father and mother figures to the youth, trooping into the universities, Nigeria would be on the mend in a short while.

To achieve this objective, intellectuals have to change their attitude and reappraise their values.  Government also has to provide better governance paradigm and invest in the promotion of an enabling environment in the universities in terms of good facilities and staff offices and other necessary requirements for intellectual work.  Government should also stop its efforts to muddle up the system by politicizing appointments in the educational sector generally.

Even though I must admit that the workload of academics is much and this may undermine the efforts to achieve excellence, as intellectuals, we must endeavour to strive to overcome all these challenges that flow from poor national governance.  Academics must reappraise the intellectual tradition and thereafter try to return to it and to live it.  This will be the only way to redeem the nation, for where the intellectual vision and tradition is lost or trampled upon or discarded, the nation is doomed.


Prof. W. O Alli can be contacted by email at:  alliwo@yahoo.com and on Telephone number: +234(0)8035991377



  1. Dr Raphael Ogar Oko says:

    I think that this piece raises an important issue of recreating the intellectual tradition in our educational institutions. In my opinion, the failure of the academic community in Nigeria is responsible for the failing state of our nation. Our scholars are not doing enough to respond to the challenges our society is facing and it is very unfortunate.

    In my opinion, the scholars create the government and not the government creating scholars. This places a huge burden on our academic community to do more than we are doing now. I have visited tertiary educational institutions in few countries and I feel that we have not gotten it right yet in our tertiary educational policy and management. It is not very clear what the national policy on education has about tertiary education but I think that a lot need to be done to create a new millennium policy on education that will be more inclusive and responsive to the needs of the present and future generations.

    From the entry point to the exit point, our institutions have all failed. This year alone, about 1.7million wrote tertiary admission examination and we have learn from the Hon Minister that only 500,000 may be admitted, which means that about 1.2million will be denied access to tertiary education this year and the figure will continue to rise by next year unless some innovative ideas are introduced. While the need for JAMB was very critical, there are issues emerging now on its relevance and which programs are offered to prepare students for the examination if they mean anything above secondary education. Added to the burden on students is the newly introduced entry examinations by universities, which have no recognized curriculum that will guide students preparations after the secondary school and JAMB exams. Our system lacks any clear culture and structure and we have huge problems of needed infrastructure. A system that core stakeholders cannot ensure defined culture, structure and infrastructure for operations cannot produce anything meaningful and this why we seem to moving backward while others are going forward.

    The quality of graduates from tertiary institutions in Nigeria also puts a big question mark on the level of intellectualism in this great sector. I had a graduate from one of the universities on NYSC posted to my office. He studied English Language and graduated from his university but cannot spell the word “language” without copying from a book. How did he graduate? How was he able to deceive or buy over about 10 lecturers each year for four years to be qualified to graduate? I have wondered how this is possible and what is going on.

    Our scholars seem not to have solutions to admission challenges, they have no idea of how to ensure those admitted are well educated in “character and in learning” and they cannot assure that the graduates will be employable. I am afraid of where we are going and doubt if increased funding is just the solution. How long shall we operate educational institutions as charities, receiving subvention from government on monthly basis and cannot prove commensurate returns on investment. I hope that we can come to the realization that the last days of the present system of tertiary education has come and we need to begin the new days now. A new culture of tertiary education and a new generation of tertiary educators are most needed now and as Prof Alli has aptly coined it, we need to reappraise the intellectual tradition. Many intellectuals seem to be on intellectual holiday and are more focused on material accomplishments than the scholarship that they committed to.

    I hope that as the light of the nation, we can reawaken the system and give it new life. A new vision of tertiary education is needed and as I wrote somewhere else, the time to renew tertiary education is now. There is the need for a national tertiary education graduation examination board like WAEC, so that freedom of tertiary education can be realized and this will bring about most healthy competition among stakeholders.

  2. adaka terfa says:

    There are myraid of issues facing the world of intellectualism right from the appointment of our educational administrators which no longer follow due process and merit. The implication of this is, the administrator aligns himself to his god fathers (or goddess mothers) so as to keep himself on seat in terms of recruitment, admission and even appointment of HODs and membership of committees. Some administrators initiate policies to water down the standard so as to allow some students pass through the rigous of academics without academic knowledge passing through them. For instance, a lecturer could be queried for poor performance of students in exams with disregard to the poor entry behaviour of the students.
    In a nutshell, politics has eroded every aspect of our lives academics is not exceptional. This explains why we‘re now at a cross road where every Jike & Harry finds himself in our classrooms as lecturers. We‘ve large number of lecturers in our tertiary schools today even with Ph.Ds who cannot compile a page of lecture notes without “cut & paste“ sorry “copy & paste“ and of course cannot express themselves. In other words, some of the students are seemingly better than their lecturers in demonstration of academic prowess.
    The piece by Prof Alli, I consider it as a reawakening and we must collectively launch our campaign “back to basis“ to save our already dwindling system from obvious collapse.

  3. Prof Obi B. Florence says:

    This is a great piece. I say kudos to Prof Alli for the write up. I completely agree with him on the declining state of intellectual traditions in our varsities. However, I wish Prof had a word of advice for heads of our varsities on the recruitment process of academics which seems to have been so politicised. I believe strongly that not all teaching and desiring to teach in our universities are internally motivated. Many are driven so by the improved conditions of academics. This accounts for the decadence and abuse of the system.

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