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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NIGERIAN UNIVERSITIES AND TEACHING OF ECONOMICS



    Teaching of Economics in Nigerian universities has not witnessed substantial progress like it happens in the case of its quasi-rivals such as Business Administration and Accounting, who after all are offshoots of Economics that developed into independent disciplines not more than one century and a half ago. Business Administration has transformed into money making machine for Nigerian schools who run Masters of Business Administration (MBA) that continue to attract people with deep pockets such as bankers, employees of multinational organisations and tax collectors. But, the fact of the matter is that, though, many people continue to rush for MBAs their corresponding value in term of the type of job they can get one into is fast declining. And, the explanation for this is not far fetch; the standard under which these courses are offered do not meet international standards, as many schools compromise standard in order to make more money from big pocket students; ending up producing graduates who fall below employers’ expectations. Thus, the rush to offer professional courses such as the one mentioned has affected the ability of these departments and their manpower to offer regular courses such B.sc and M.sc further eroding the general standard of university education. In economic department itself, professional courses such masters of banking and finance are now seriously encroaching on regular academic programs due to lack of academic staffs to cover both.
   There are over hundred Nigerian universities (both private and public) today, located across all the six geographical parts of the country with substantial numbers located in the Southern part of the country. The number of universities offering economics among these universities number more than 50% of the total because of the popularity of the course and the demand for it in the labour market. A university like University of Ibadan (which is also the first university in Nigeria) boasts of the oldest department of economics in the country that up till today comprises of sizeable number of professors. The country’s main center for economic research (the equivalent of America’s NBER) is based in the University of Ibadan, likewise the Nigerian Economic Society (equivalent to the US American Economic Association). Other universities that came after University of Ibadan such as Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Nigeria Nsukka, University of Lagos, and Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, established their own economics departments that were to play a prominent role in producing the earlier generation of Nigerian economists. But, that is where it all stops as the Nigerian economists and economic departments in it various universities are today the shadow of there former selves; known for producing critical thinkers and scholars who have contributed in formulating government policies as well as playing important role among the community of academic economists around the world.
   Some of the prominent players in the formulation of the country’s economic policies were locally trained. This is to tell you how good these departments were during the 1970s and 1980s when graduates from Nigerian universities were on high demand around the world, and Professors left their chairs in Europe to come to Nigeria in order to take teaching appointments. Those that were produced during those years include Prof. Charles Soludo former CBN governor (UNN), current CBN governor Sanusi L. Sanusi (ABU), Minister of national planning Shamsudden Usman (ABU), Mansur Mukhtar former finance minister (ABU), former Managing Director of United Bank for Africa Toney Elumelu (Lagos), to mentioned only the key players of the current period. One of the reasons for apparent decline in the status of economics departments of Nigerian universities is absence of quality teachers to help with the teaching and the researching of the discipline in the universities which like most other departments have being affected by brain drains in which good professors who have published in world renown academic journals have gone abroad where there is better condition for teaching and research.  Some of those that cannot move abroad have moved their services to the private sector where there is better pay and working condition. The few quality professors that remain have divided their attention between the department and their outside consultancy works. Thus, at the end the one that pays the price is no other than the quality of graduates being produced by these institutions.
  Some of the world acclaimed economic departments such as Massachusetts institute of technology (MIT), Cambridge, Harvard, London school of economics, and Chicago boast of not only a number of Nobel laureates but an alumni base that has defined the course of economics over the last century and contributed to the development of the World economy. In these places the quality of their teaching materials is superb; their libraries and research centres the best in the world. No wonder everyone wants to go there in order to pursue his academic interests. Their academic staffs contributed to some of the best known Economic journals in the World such as Review of Economics and Statistics, Econometrica, Journal of political economy, Journal of monetary Economics, American Economic review, Economic Letters, etc. They not only contributed to shaping the curricula of economics around the World but defined it future direction. They adapt to technological changes as they appeared on the horizon and help define its contribution to business and economy; something you cannot say of Nigerian schools’ economic departments. They support promising students who show academic excellence with scholarship to further their studies something you hardly see here. Some of the half bake graduates produced in Nigeria end up pursuing careers different from the economic training they received at school.
  There is little contact between students and their lecturers apart from the occasional meetings for the usual class lectures, this did not help the development of the students into critical thinkers as they are left with the only mastery of what is contain in the hand out, a kind of garbage-in-garbage out (a world of crammers). This is contrary to what obtains else where, where apart from the class meetings professors give students individual attention to discuss economic matters with them and even help them to publish papers earlier in their career. In his autobiography after he received the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1992 the eminent American economist Gary Becker described how the department atmosphere was at Chicago where they were taught by great economists like Milton Friedman, Gregg Lewis, and T. Schultz. On Friedman, Becker has this to say, “He emphasized that economic theory was not a game played by clever academicians, but was a powerful tool to analyze the real world. His course was filled with insights both into the structure of economic theory and its application to practical and significant questions. That course and subsequent contacts with Friedman had a profound effect on the direction taken by my research.”
   Going back in time to 1930s, the department of economics at Harvard of that period comprised of some of the world greatest economist under one roof. These include Joseph Schumpeter, Alvin Hansen, Seymour Harris, Edward Chamberlin, Edward Mason, and Wassily Leontief who helped to inspire students that would later become world renown such as Paul Samuelson, Lloyd Metzler, Paul Sweezy, Kenneth Galbraith, Abram Bergson, James Tobin, Richard Musgrave, Richard Gilbert, Lloyd Reynolds, John P. Miller, and Richard Goodwin. Across the Atlantic ocean at London school of economics (of the same period of time) the economic department comprises academic staffs that include John R. Hicks, Lionel Robbins, Friedrich Von Hayek Roy Allen, Nicholas Kaldor, Abba Lerner and Richard Sayers. Thus, at the centre of the success of any economic department around the world is the composition of lecturers who are brilliant, hardworking, versatile, and highly motivated to contribute to the development of the department by given there one hundred percent to research and teaching. In Nigeria today it is only few departments that comprises of more than five full time professors (and this is mostly restricted to federal universities who paid professors in excess of N500, 000.00), majority of these lecturers comprises of masters holders and others pursuing their PhDs. And, the recruitment process into some of these departments have become skewed in favour of those who are connected, and where merit is followed some of the newly recruited tend to start looking for greener posture elsewhere the moment they get what they want.
    The curriculum in those departments also needs some changes to reflect the changing reality of our time. Like most things in Nigeria it is very difficult to introduce changes as those against it will do everything possible to frustrate it. Many scholars and commentators have emphasized the need to introduce courses that encourage free thinking and brainstorming but instead the curriculum stick to syllabus that emphasize pure mastery of the subjects in order to pass exam; as the only thing that matter is the certificate that one will graduate with at the end of his program. And, some of the lecturers are to blame for this scenario as they are accused of using strict marking scheme that do not allowed for student own contributions and research. Such lecturers are said to have given marks out according to what they provided in their lecture handout. This explain the inability of the graduating students to conduct any research of their own instead resorting to stealing others ideas and works and putting their names on it. Outside the school period, in their later places of work graduating student find it difficult to contribute to freethinking and innovation- that develop their places of work- what in reality Economics is all about. Though, economics is considered to be a quantitative subject one will be surprised to find out that a lot of economic students fear mathematics and statistics and consider them as their number one enemies. But, how can one consider himself an economist when he fears quantitative courses?
   But, the death of research culture is not only restricted to the students as the lecturers themselves find it increasingly difficult to conduct researches. In those circumstances where they wrote their papers they end up being published in departmental or faculty journals that in most cases are of lower quality than international or national journals. Then there is the proliferation of private journals in Nigeria who accept any kind of paper in as much as the author pays them the publication fees. Though, this problem is not restricted to Nigeria as is seen in other places around the world, that does not means the Nigerian academic economist should accept it. Though, not all fee paying journals are of low quality, there are a lot many that do not deserve the name academic journal. The only national economic journal of refute that remain in publication for over sixty years is that published by Nigerian economic Society, Nigerian Journal of Economic and Social Studies (NJESS) since 1959, the quality of the type of papers contributed to the journal both from Nigeria and abroad attest to the reputation of the journal in Nigerian academia. Other highly regarded journals include the one being published by the central bank research department, CBN Economic and Financial Review, and periodicals like that of Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation. But, the aim of any aspiring academic economist is to publish in world renown journals such as the ones I have made mention of earlier, so as to get international recognition and not to restrict his papers to national periodicals. Departmental conferences also have become the thing of the past as departments of economics around the country find it difficult to get the financial and human resources to organize such conferences, as was the case before, when they organized international conferences that attracted world renowned scholars from around the world. The proceedings of such conferences later get published in the form of books thereby providing student and lecturers with working materials of international standard base on their local environment.
Source:
1                             Autobiography of James Tobin, www.nobelprize.org
2                             Autobiography of John R. Hicks, www.nobelprize.org
                  Autobiography of Gary S. Becker, www.nobelprize.org

Monday, November 5, 2012

BUHARI PROGRESSIVE ECONOMIC IDEALS AND NIGERIA’S ELITE


     Buhari political economy that is derived from his believe in the principles of elimination of wastages, economic self determinism, productive investments, equity, and long term savings is indeed very different from what we have today in the Nigerian version of American liberal economic model that failed to learnt from the positive changes that have taken place in America itself in the last hundreds years. But, instead found a perfect partner in our local corruption, tribalism and absence of sympathy for those down the ladder who are in need. If you ask most people in the current government what its economic ideology is only few will give you a ready answer, as majority will be tasking their brains to find an answer. And, the simple answer you will get is economic growth; that this government aims to achieve economic growth so as to enter the league of the biggest economies in the world.  But, how should that economic growth be achieved? Economic growth without development, that champion the pauperization of the majority by the few, that act as a harbinger for the development of cabals who control both political and economic power is not in the long run interest of Nigeria. Neo-liberal models as we have seen in the post communist Eastern Europe can result in economic and welfare complications, destructions of major social fabric of societies, enrichment of few powerful groups by means of sale of government assets and finally hardship at the bottom of the scale. The obsession with the creation of the richest individuals on the continent, its biggest banks, or tallest building should not be the main concern of our policy makers. Like the famous development economist professor Dudley seers has rightly observes, the main questions that should preoccupied the minds of our economic planners should be what has been happening to poverty, inequality, unemployment? When these are reducing we will now talk of economic development. In the case of Nigeria all of these indicators are increasing despite our claim to have achieved more economic growth.
    What differentiate Buhari from most of contemporary Nigerian leaders is that the Nigerian poor sees him as highly committed leader who abhor corruption and injustice, a moral crusader in his own right. In term of commitment to the development and progress of his own dear nation and its people Buhari can be compared to such world leaders as Abraham Lincoln, Moa Zedong, and our own Murtala Mohammed. Like Murtala Ramat Mohammed that came before him, Buhari was kin on removing Nigeria from the clutch of Western debt institutions by his administration regular debt repayments and reduction in our dependence on external finances.  Buhari’s tract record as public servant during his military and post military career show him as efficient administrator who plug all leakages and wasteful expenditures, as well as some body who champion the need to boost the productivity of public employees. Exploitative capitalists and crook business people were brought to order making them to pursue their business interest inline with the national interest. Free enterprises economic system, as we see it in practice in some countries around the world, is a better economic system when compared to either of socialism or communism, as it allow freedom of trade and individual right to own property assets; but as good as it is it need strong government and institutions to function well or else it will result in anarchy and exploitation of the weak by the strong. In a country where corruption, rent seeking and bureaucracy has eaten into the foundational base of the economy, not any kind of government economic machinery can bring the needed scour to relief the nation and it people from the clutch of power hungry cabals. For free and fair competition to find a place in any economic set up you of all things need strong judiciary devoid of partisan politics and corruption, strong central government steered by accountable team, strong property and copy right, effective watch dog to fight against corruption and rent seeking, and easier access to sources of  finance. In a place where the central government still fights to restore peace and stability in unruly parts of the country, investors are not so sure of the security of their lives and properties; much remain to be done to achieve the desire economic change.
  In a recent special report by the London based the Economist, a weekly magazine, on the world economy, Nigeria was placed among the countries of the world that continue to experience increased inequality between the rich and the poor. This is happening despite its high economic growth rate that tends to concentrate wealth in the hand of few. The richest few continue to enjoy the dividend of democracy at the expenses of the majority who are poor; despite the fact that the leader of the current government (President Jonathan) as he widely told his audiences during the last year election campaigns, once moved around without shoes in his youth. Examples of how this regime favour the rich at the expense of the poor abound; the creation of Asset management company (AMCON) by the CBN to help prevent the collapse of the Nigerian financial system end up providing billionaires such as Otedola with highly subsidized loan paid from taxes payers money. All of the beneficiaries of the AMCON bad loan buyout are very rich people at a period when the government is removing subsidies on fuel. Federal government import and export licenses allocations, land distributions, contract allocations, taxes waivers, and employments all favour the rich and other government cronies. Thus, it should not be surprising to any one that the Nigerian elite don’t want changes to the status quo as offered by opposition politicians such as General Muhammadu Buhari. The elite main fear is that under Buhari the political and economic powers they hold for decades will shift ground and move to the poor, a kind of Marxian revolution. But, we all know that this is simply taken things too far, though the poor is expected to benefit from Buhari’s government that does not in any way exclude the rich. The fact that we are operating under democratic system with it inbuilt system of check and balances allays fears of any tectonic changes that should eliminate the Nigerian capitalist class.