I am a Professor


By Abdelghaffar Amoka, PhD.

I have been to different offices and saw congratulatory posters and calendars of senior colleagues to celebrate their promotion to the rank of Professor. Some of this new culture always reminds me of the likes of Dr. Bala Usman that were more than qualified to be Professors but decided not to be. But here we are today celebrating the rank with posters, calendars, customized written pads, etc. I didn’t know the origin of the culture of making a professorial congratulation calendar, but it appears to be a general practice in recent times. Congratulatory messages for the appointment/promotion to the rank have even been upgraded to newspaper advertorials. I find this to be contrary to the principles of academics.

What is in the rank of Professor to celebrate by the individuals, family, or friends? It is supposed to be another facet of the life of an academic with more responsibilities, more headaches, and so many academic and community expectations. You should rather be congratulating the university for having another professor as that suppose to be a plus to the university’s profile in terms and grant-winning, capacity building, and national/global ranking. The university at that level is supposed to be relying on you, as a professor, to attract research grants and mentor its seasoned academics and researchers.

I think the best form of individual celebration of the promotion to that exalted rank is an Inaugural Lecture where you present how far you have come to earn the exalted position and the future research path you have created for the younger academics (your mentees) to fit it in. That path is supposed to bring funds to the university. But that is sometimes not the case here. Instead, we hold onto university politics.

The first time I had close contact with a Professor was in the late 80s when I got to know that Dr. Sunday Asun, my father’s cousin was a Professor at the University of Jos. I was like wow! Professor in our family? He was like a superhuman to me. He was much adored and held in high esteem by all of us till he passed away and he is still a reference point till today. Whenever he travelled home, as a child, I always wonder what was in his head. To me, he knows everything as a Professor. He co-authored a Biology textbook for Senior secondary students, that was shortly after 6-3-3-4 was introduced, and his nephew, who was my classmate, got some copies while we were in SS1. I was so excited to see the name of someone I know as the author of a book. We were so happy to show the book to our classmates and with an emphasis that the Author is our uncle.

I rated academics very high right from the time I was a child. I had little or no exposure but I admire Teachers/Lecturers and the only Professor I know. Their characteristic afro-like hair with those patches of grey hair was so adorable to me. Professors are to me, the finest people to have existed and Professor Asun was my idol.

I got to the university with that mindset and found myself in Physics by accident. I was first taught by a Professor in my second year at the university. Though I didn’t like the idea of studying physics at that time, but I was so pleased to be taught by a Professor. It was an unbelievable experience receiving a lecture from a Professor. The quality of thought is different. You can feel that thing that made them Professors. In my final year, one of the Professors was able to make me find something to love in Physics. That was the first time I heard of “optical fibre” and the role of physics and the concept of “total internal reflection” in endoscopy in medicine and optic fibre communication. And further interactions with him made me start considering the idea of choosing academia as a career path. His humility was unbelievable. There is nothing like a nonsense question. He was prepared to answer all your questions. Professor N. Hariharan doesn’t wait for you till you come around, he looks for you if the need arises.

Then I eventually got into academics in 2005 and I realized it wasn’t as I had fantasized over the years. The reality I met was not exactly like my idea of academics over the years. I realized that what existed up to the late 80s and possibly mid-90s was quite different. The university system has degraded seriously and has affected the quality of thought. Underfunding and poor welfare had impacted negatively to the system over time. As at the period I joined, academics were just trying to survive. No research fund, no motivation. The quality of teaching and research had eroded. I was sort of disappointed and discouraged.

Of course, it is published or perish in academia. Even though the research output was near zero for lack of funds and incentives, nobody want to perish. So everyone still publishes anyhow in order not to perish. All sorts of so-called university journals were floated for promotion’s sake. Publication in journals abroad used to be considered during the promotion to professorial cadre but it became silent. For those that still want to have a feeling that they have international journal papers, predatory journals like Journal of Innovative Research in Computer Science & Technology (IJIRCST), International Journal of Innovative Research in Engineering & Management (IJIREM), etc, were floated where you pay and get your paper published without proper peer-review.

There is this one that Prof Sa’ad Tukur, the former VC of FUT Minna termed as “communal effort”. One talented individual did work but helped colleagues come along by putting their names on the paper and called it group research and publications. This was one of the reasons why some Nigerian universities discourage group publications. It is in reality, not a group publication.

All these have possibly led to the production of Professors that may not exactly be qualified for the rank judging from the quality of their ideas. They have the journal requirement for promotion but may have never attended an international conference or publish in any indexed international journal or won any research grant. Of course, these may not be part of the promotion requirements in that university.

There have been efforts to address this issue and some Vice-Chancellors are now emphasizing the need to publish in index journals. It will internationalize the research work of Nigerian academics and also enhance the visibility of the researcher and the affiliated universities in the research World.

The University of Ilorin for example has ranked journals in their promotion guidelines. The value attached to an article published in Q1 is like 4 times higher than the value attached to an article in a non-index university-based journal. We hope other universities will tow the path of Unilorin.

While these VCs are making efforts to take us back to the path of glory, a university recently appointed a serving Minister as a Professor. The last academic rank of the Minister was an Assistant Professor in a university in Saudi Arabia. The Nigerian University was either misguided in the appointment or somebody was convinced that an Assistant Professor in Saudi Arabian university is equivalent to a Reader in a Nigerian university. And interestingly, the people that often criticize the rot in our university did not see anything wrong in the academic fraud but congratulating the “Professor” and calling the criticism envious or what they call “Hassada” in the Hausa language. I never knew our moral values have gone this low.

Envy? Academia is our constituency and we have the responsibility to defend it from internal and external aggression. If we don’t defend our constituency, no one will. If I need to envy anyone in this government, I think it should be the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Gambari. He was a distinguished academic and diplomat that was still found worthy of service in his 70s. I read profiles like his and their academic achievement and I wonder if I will be proud to be called a Professor looking at our limitations and my research output. He was a visiting professor to 3 universities in the US. Can my academic and research output in our current setting earned me such when I become a Professor?

I read the biography of Prof. Ibrahim Gambari and I realized how much we have lost it. Prof Gambari who received his BSc (Econs) degree from the London School of Economics (1968) and his MA and PhD in Political Science/International Relations (1970, 1974) from Columbia University, USA was employed as a Lecturer at Queen’s College, the City University of New York in 1969 and later became an ASSISTANT PROFESSOR at the State University of New York from 1974 to 1977.

He returned to Nigeria to work as a SENIOR LECTURER at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, in 1977, where he rose to become a professor in 1983. He was appointed as a Minister and returned to Ahmadu Bello University in 1985 before he was later appointed the Nigerian Ambassador to the United Nations.

The point to note is that the revered and highly respected Prof Gambari returned to Nigeria as an Assistant Lecturer to pick the job of Senior Lecturer and not a Professor. Even though Prof Sa’ad Tukur said there is no generalized NUC rule on promotion/appointment, and that every university decides on who to appoint as a Professor, but there seems to be no documented evidence that any university in Nigeria has appointed a politician or any other person who was an Assistant Professor with papers in predatory journals as Professor. FUTO is possibly setting that pace for others to follow.

Now that politicians are now feeling that the title “Dr.” is getting too common among themselves and the PhD holders among them are now interested in the title “Prof.” to distinguish themselves, we can possibly create honorary professors in our universities to make the acquisition of the title easier and less controversial. It may even be a source of revenue generation for our underfunded universities.

Anybody can have the “Dr” title at the moment. So, anyone should also be able to acquire the “Prof” title too. Let’s just pantamize the title and make it easier to be acquired. We can all be Profs!

Meanwhile, we are not envious of Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim. Some of us in academics just want to set the record straight. He can still be a Professor, there is no doubt about it, but he needs to take the path of the likes of Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. The title does not make a man but what is in him.


Related articles

Recent articles