ABUAD: Chal­lenge to ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards

The Punch - - VIEWPOINT - Tayo Oke

Adr­tay­ooke@gmail.com

fe Ba­balola Univer­sity Ado Ek­iti is one of al­most 100 pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties that have emerged from the ru­ins of fed­eral and state uni­ver­si­ties in the last 20 years in Nige­ria. founded only in 2009, it has out­grown and out­paced many of the fore­run­ners of such ini­tia­tives around the coun­try. Its rise close to the top of the de­liv­ery of qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion in this coun­try was punc­tu­ated last week, by the sign­ing of a part­ner­ship agree­ment with Aster DM Health­care, Dubai. It is a part­ner­ship which in­volves the sup­ply of equip­ment to help the new ul­tra-mod­ern ABUAD Teach­ing Hos­pi­tal in the area of “tele-con­sult­ing”, “tele-di­ag­no­sis”, and “tele-man­age­ment”.

What these re­ally mean in a lay­man’s lan­guage is that the med­i­cal staff at ABUAD will be able to re­ceive train­ing and sup­port by re­mote con­trol from Dubai. Se­nior med­i­cal staff at Aster DM Health­care in Dubai will be able to per­form med­i­cal ser­vices in Nige­ria by proxy. In other words, while not be­ing at ABUAD phys­i­cally, on the ground, they will trans­mit (live or oth­er­wise) in­struc­tions on pro­ce­dure through ABUAD med­i­cal per­son­nel who will be act­ing as their eyes and ears on the ground, at least, un­til they too have mas­tered the trade well enough to stand on their own un­guided and unguarded.

While not be­ing the ideal set up, no equip­ment, how­ever mod­ern, can re­place the nec­es­sary touchyfeely hu­man pres­ence, es­pe­cially in a hos­pi­tal en­vi­ron­ment, it is, nonethe­less, the bold­est at­tempt any in­sti­tu­tion has made in this coun­try to do­mes­ti­cate de­liv­ery of high qual­ity med­i­cal ser­vices. It is a com­mend­able ef­fort to slow down (not stop) the pace of med­i­cal tourism from the coun­try at large. The ben­e­fit to ABUAD and the med­i­cal in­dus­try in Nige­ria, in gen­eral, is too much to re­count. That said, it needs to be asked, pre­cisely what the ben­e­fit is to the Dubai out­fit. Is this truly a case of some­thing for noth­ing agree­ment in a cap­i­tal­ist world? Ac­cord­ing to the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Aster DM Health­care, Dr. Harisha Pil­lai, the equip­ment was “do­nated” to ABUAD in “ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the self­less mile­stone achieve­ments of the ABUAD founder, Afe Ba­balola (SAN)”. This is a cu­ri­ous state­ment in­deed, given that it would ef­fec­tively be set­ting ABUAD up as a di­rect com­peti­tor in the lu­cra­tive health­care busi­ness for the elites and su­per­rich (who largely do not wish to, or en­vis­age dy­ing) any­time soon. It is il­log­i­cal to think that the Dubai out­fit would wish to pro­mote a ven­ture that would sub­stan­tially re­duce their own profit mar­gin by drain­ing away their cus­tomer base in Nige­ria in favour of ABUAD or any­one else for that mat­ter. Any­way, be that as it may, this last ob­ser­va­tion un­der­lines the rai­son d’être of this piece.

Be­fore draw­ing the reader

more into this dis­cus­sion, it is ap­pro­pri­ate for me to make a dec­la­ra­tion of in­ter­est at this junc­ture. I was a se­nior aca­demic mem­ber of staff at ABUAD, briefly, in 2014/2015, where I taught across three dis­ci­plines: po­lit­i­cal sci­ence, in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions and law at un­der­grad­u­ate level be­fore go­ing back to pri­vate prac­tice. I had no per­son­nel is­sues with the univer­sity, no axe (or other sim­i­larly dan­ger­ous tools) to grind, and would hap­pily go back there at some point in the fu­ture. That said, the cri­tique put for­ward here is from the van­tage po­si­tion of some­one with a di­rect knowl­edge of the sub­ject mat­ter, but who is also now well and truly de­tached to com­ment on the phe­nom­e­non of ABUAD in the best tra­di­tion of col­umn polemics. The ti­tle of this write up is, ip­so­facto, de­lib­er­ate; ABUAD poses a chal­lenge to ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards in this coun­try for all sorts of rea­sons.

first, the founder, ‘Aare’ (Ha-reh) (his ex­alted tra­di­tional ti­tle),afe Ba­balola, Se­nior Ad­vo­cate of Nige­ria, is a colos­sal, who strad­dles, in­deed looms large, over the Nige­rian po­lit­i­cal and le­gal land­scape, yet he re­mains very much an enigma. Sec­ond, ABUAD is an in­sti­tu­tion that models it­self on the (lib­eral) Ivy League in­sti­tu­tions of the West, yet, it em­ploys a most il­lib­eral method of up­hold­ing or­der in the univer­sity. The laisser faire ap­proach of the Ivy League in­sti­tu­tions of the West in­dulges stu­dents to such a ridicu­lous de­gree that ABUAD stu­dents can only ever pon­der with envy. Some of the best lead­ers the West has wit­nessed in re­cent mem­ory in­clude Bill Clin­ton, and even Barack Obama. Both ad­mit­tedly drank and dab­bled in recre­ational drugs as they were com­ing through life as stu­dents in Ivy League uni­ver­si­ties in Amer­ica. Ox­ford and Cam­bridge uni­ver­si­ties in the United King­dom are grounds for rig­or­ous aca­demic train­ing, but they are also fer­tile grounds for hard play and in­dul­gence in all kinds of so­cial vices ab­horred by so­ci­ety at large. To them, there is no cor­re­la­tion be­tween a reg­i­mented higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem and good (pro­duc­tive) cit­i­zen­ship in later life. ABUAD clearly dif­fers on this. Third, ABUAD is lo­cated in one of the most de­prived, ru­ral vil­lages on the out­skirt of Ado-ek­iti, the state cap­i­tal, yet, it is only ac­ces­si­ble to the sons and daugh­ters of the rich and the well-heeled across the coun­try. To the lo­cals, the in­sti­tu­tion is lit­tle more than a chimera; it of­fers a win­dow to a world be­yond their wildest dreams, the sym­bolic ef­fect of which could be­come dangerously dis­em­pow­er­ing. fourth, ABUAD is rightly ded­i­cated to aca­demic ex­cel­lence and it takes pride in the achieve­ments of its staff at home and on the global stage, yet, han­dles aca­demic free­dom with lev­ity; a fun­da­men­tal tenet of qual­ity univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion.

Hav­ing said the above, the proof of the pud­ding, they say, is in the eat­ing. ABUAD has scaled so many heights in its achieve­ments in var­i­ous dis­ci­plines in­clud­ing hi-tech and en­gi­neer­ing, and now medicine. No point run­ning through the list of the pres­ti­gious awards be­stowed on the founder by es­tab­lished in­sti­tu­tions around the world and on the univer­sity’s stu­dents al­most in equal mea­sure. Clearly, some­thing is work­ing for the univer­sity. That ‘some­thing’ many peo­ple be­lieve, is the founder him­self. He is both the univer­sity’s de facto Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer and its num­ber one mar­ket­ing man­ager at the same time. He is an oc­to­ge­nar­ian still driven by am­bi­tion when oth­ers of his ilk are slouch­ing on deckchairs, clamped on the green, man­i­cured lawn, in their back gar­den sip­ping Cham­pagne, mak­ing merry, and won­der­ing what else to do in the twi­light of their years on earth. Not Aare Ba­balola. He runs the in­sti­tu­tion from gut feel­ings, sheer stub­born­ness and the spirit of in­de­fati­ga­bil­ity. Very few peo­ple are leg­ends in their life­time, Aare Ba­balola is one.

An­other crit­i­cal el­e­ment in this chal­lenge to ed­u­ca­tion stan­dards is, of course, the par­ents and fam­i­lies of the stu­dents who keep troop­ing into the univer­sity’s gate, clam­our­ing for ad­mis­sion for their chil­dren year-on-year. They are not put off by the type of cri­tique in this piece, if any­thing, it could even be what drives many of them to­wards the univer­sity. They are lured to the in­sti­tu­tion, I think, by the ideal of the ‘per­fect’ grad­u­ate walk­ing back home at the end of their en­deav­our. What­ever it is, the par­ents, them­selves, have ne­glected (good moral and eth­i­cal be­hav­iour) to in­cul­cate into their chil­dren from home, they feel re­lieved to find an in­sti­tu­tion that lit­er­ally takes it upon it­self to fill the void they have cre­ated in those chil­dren through their own ne­glect. If all it takes to have the per­fect grad­u­ate is pay an eye-wa­ter­ing sum in school fees, then, many of them are will­ing to do just that. Whether or not the grad­u­ates, now in their thou­sands, turn out to be as ‘per­fect’ later on, is quite an­other mat­ter en­tirely. In my view, if you enter a univer­sity, any univer­sity, as dam­aged goods, there is very lit­tle the univer­sity can, or should do to re­pair you be­yond pro­vid­ing you with an en­abling en­vi­ron­ment to reach your full (aca­demic) po­ten­tial.

In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, the big­gest strength of the univer­sity is, alas, its ma­jor weak­ness; the univer­sity is over-de­pen­dent on the pres­ence and abil­ity of its founder. It re­mains a mat­ter of con­jec­ture for how long the in­sti­tu­tion will sur­vive his even­tual (dare I say in­evitable) pass­ing. He is mor­tal af­ter all, like the rest of us. Nonethe­less, Aare Ba­balola has shown us, in this coun­try, how to run a suc­cess­ful univer­sity. He has, in the same breadth, shown us how not to run a suc­cess­ful univer­sity. The state­ment is an oxy­moron, sure, but it is the ul­ti­mate para­dox that lies at the heart of ABUAD.

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