Major General Mohammed Tasiu Ibrahim, the commandant of the Nigeria Defence Academy, In an exclusive interview with African Leadership Magazine’s Chrys Anyanwu, discusses some of the challenges impeding the growth of Africa’s educational sector. Excerpt:
Findings reveal that African universities lag behind in the global ratings, particularly in the quality of research. As a frontline administrator of a reputable degree awarding institution and leader of one of Africa’s notable defence academy, what can you say is responsible for the state of Africa’s public tertiary institution?
First and foremost, it is the raw material primary schools and post primary institutions produce in Africa. The input and its quality must be traced from the primary system of education. This coupled with declining societal values of hard work, honesty, and resourcefulness, amongst others, is perhaps responsible. The funding is also a factor in the sense that most schools especially primary and secondary schools in Africa, particularly Nigeria are poorly operated and maintained despite having committed teachers and good curriculum. The wholesale abandonment of the Teachers Training Colleges system in Nigeria has also affected the quality of teachers which cascade down to poor selection process by the universities, most of whom have no option than to source from the poor raw material base.
The Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) is among the few academic institutions that have committed a lot to the development of specialized tertiary education in Africa with a startling record of over 17,598 graduates- which include foreign officers from other African nations including Benin, Liberia, Chad, Guinea, Gambia, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, among others. Having positioned yourselves as a pan-African institution and with your enormous experience in the academia, will you really say African governments are giving education the much needed support and enabling environment to flourish like its counterparts particularly in Europe and America?
The answer is emphatic no. To elaborate, most governments in Africa pay only lip service to education. Education may not necessarily have to be university education. It could be vocational, informal/Islamic schools or even integrating them into the educational system; but they are still left at the rudimentary stage. Above all, fund for education is quite abysmal. The current government in Nigeria has tried to ensure proper funding for education however on that ground, it is however hardly implemented.
In most countries, students carry their tables to and fro the school for learning. The absence of research grants, promotion of linkages with other African countries and world renowned tertiary institutions, absence of required books not the plagiarised are all part of the challenges. The absence of motivation to really push the frontier because the pursuit of education is often based on people seeking for gainful employment rather than for developing capacity, emancipation and expansion of his thought frontier as a solution provider.
Additionally, the absence of employment and placement make people look for other means of living without education; so, we have, for instance, rich people with little or no educational background.
All these lead to decline in educational pursuits and high rate of dropouts. This is not the case in the United States and Europe where people tend to get jobs for more recognition and adjustment.
The NDA has been adjoined to be one of the best in Africa and fastest growing in the world. What do you do differently in this institution to earn you this impressive record?
Basically, it is attributed to discipline. The bedrock is discipline in whatever the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) does. The undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, the Commandant, staff and students are all guided strictly by compliance and timing. Instructional activities and lessons are carried out as at when due. The Academy has autonomous funding, though not enough but it allows for research as well as industrial harmony. Above all, it is a serious institution that is focused and resolved to deliver on its mandate.
What actually inspired the NDA to crave for a degree awarding status in 1985 and how far have you been able to realize the mission and vision of the institution in the new frontier?
The major motivation is the quest for highest quality of manpower for the Armed Forces of Nigeria. Even though the Academy at early stage produced excellent officers, but it has been determined that in order to be competitive internationally there was the need to aggregate all the academic activities to a degree awarding institution; and since then we have realised the correctness of this decision. The NDA products have easily fitted into international setting as well as domestic environment. This can be seen from its many products that are into public life after retirement. So, the bottom line is that our products must be able to still contribute to the greater society as well as internationally after a successful military career. Therefore, it is a value-based motivational programme and also to give the products a pedestal upon which they can conduct a postgraduate programme in their area of choosing long after graduating.
Your institution offers courses for both civilians and military personnel while your rich profile suggests unwavering progressive military background. What has the challenges being for you in ensuring a high level of decorum amongst the students, bearing in mind the understandable different background?
Well, the Academy unites all its students, lecturers, staff and the Commandant behind a single purpose which is products that will serve the nation in military capacity. To do that, we need to ensure quality as well as purposeful individual in the course of the training. The major challenge as always is in trying to ensure a delicate balance between the divide in military and pure academic pursuit in the Academy. There is a tight and healthy competition between the two which the NDA has been able to expertly manage with great success as can be attested by the number of years we have been able to produce balanced and well grounded military leaders from the Academy. However, there is always the challenge in trying to input new programmes. This usually is attained by consensus between the academic and military training components. Once the consensus and design is made, all rally around to implement same. With regards to harmony and understanding between the students, Nigeria is federalist structured country and what obtains at the national level obtains at the NDA. In other words, the NDA mirrors the federation. We have been able to live with ourselves for almost 100 years as a united indivisible country. Therefore, a minute segment of it such as the NDA will obviously find it easy to fit in. Above all, it is in providing equal treatment for all and also equal opportunities for all our students to excel within the parameters of hard work, discipline, commitment and academic excellence.
Leadership has been one of the major challenges to Africa’s growth and development. As one who provides leadership and mentorship to young leaders in the continent, especially in the academia, what would you say is responsible for the quality of leaders we breed in the continent?
I think Africa coming from its background has tried in training of leaders to a large extent to be better, purposeful and visionary as well as transformational. Unfortunately, they are saddled with leading largely illiterate followers. Therefore, no matter how good a leader is, he has an uphill struggle. These coupled with the fragmented nature of African society in forms of ethnicity, religion, culture, differentia in income generation and capability, superstition, idleness, indolence and all tend to nullify any excellent leader that Africa has produced. The overriding poverty in the continent also tends to encourage self aggrandisement by individuals as against larger good. Additionally, the perception of governments as provider for all trends does slow down progression in Africa. Governments tend to be in every facet of African countries’ lives. The leaders is more or less like a monarch or a Father Christmas figure that provides everything to everyone in equal measure and tends to make the followers sit back and expect manna to fall from heaven. In the end, whatever good that the leader is able to provide cannot go beyond the ordinary and mundane.
Your submission for the presentation of the African Leadership Medal of Honour received an overwhelming yes. How does this honour come to you?
It is always nice and gratifying to be recognised amongst the teeming number of people, particularly as a military officer who found himself by chance into the fora of academic field and endeavour. It is quiet elating and I see it not just as honour for me but honour for the NDA and Nigeria as a whole. It is with deep sense of humility and acknowledgement that I accept the honour wholeheartedly and I wish the organisers continuous success in their endeavour of promoting leadership excellence in the academic world as well as other fields of human endeavours. Thank you and God bless.