Impact Factor and the Nigerian University System

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Impact Factor and the Nigerian University System

The interesting thing is that lately in the international fora it is the voices of those in the physical and medical sciences where the Impact Factor calculation originated that are becoming louder and louder against it. Ditto for the Americans and the Europeans who introduced it. Like our colleagues everywhere in the world, those of us Nigerians in the qualitative Social Sciences, Education, Humanities and Art specialisations simply ignored it until, in the case of the University of Nigeria, a precipitate retroactive introduction of the criterion in the 2011 Appraisal for the promotion into the ranks of Senior Lectureship, Readership and Professorship. On that occasion, the higher administration made publications in Impact-Factor-rated journals compulsory for all disciplines in the University after the Appraisal had been concluded at Departmental and Faculty levels and returned all affected submissions for a repeat.

Unlike our friend whose article I am reacting to, I will restrict myself to the discussion of the Impact Factor per se, and not discussion of the University’s internal administrative blunder. The only thing I can say about that is that ASUU UNN Branch did the most responsible thing in appointing a Committee to study and make recommendations on the matter. Glad that Professor Onwubiko observed how popular the report was, going by the excitement he described in his narrative.

One curious remark that is so conspicuous throughout the professor’s article is his disdain for knowledges [yes, knowledges!] that flow from Nigerian autochthonous systems. Anyone who is abreast with facts of our recent history and happenings in the international scene at the moment will marvel at the incongruity of this position in a discourse that is supposed to be about production of effective knowledge with social relevance. Evidence abound that production of knowledge that ignore local historical and cultural realities is a wild goose chase. Knowledge is a continuum. As a human group, you use what you know to engage what you want to know. Indeed on the subject of industrialisation that the professor cites, the problem of Nigeria since after the civil war is that leaders make the unrealistic assumption that they can leapfrog the nation-state into effective competition in the modern world relying entirely on extraneous ideas. On the level of the individual the equivalent is that of the unlikely berk who imagines that as a trader he can prosper by solely picking the brains of a rival with whom he is in competition. It doesn’t just work that way, and those who brought in this idea of globalisation, of which the Impact Factor proposal is one of its ludicrous abortions, know this. Yes, people can give and take in a highly interdependent world but it amounts to lunacy to think that effective ideas flow only from one provenance.

With particular reference to industrialisation, does anyone still remember that Eastern Nigeria that was fed with ideas from University of Nigeria was once the fastest industrialisation economy in the whole world? It was just in 1963, and the statistics were from the Americans’ Michigan State University’s world survey. Note that the performance was not fortuitous. It was designed. Nationalists who worked for the Independence, the likes of Mbonu Ojike, Nwafor Orizu, Adekoge Adelabu, and the rest of them, were determined to engage modernity unashamed of their identity and autochthonous systems. Those tactics included, but not limited to, an effective melange of the indigenous and extraneous knowledges that produced the international systems. Eminent scientist, Professor Anya O. Anya, referred to that feat by the post-Independence Eastern Nigerian government in a lecture in Calabar in 1993. When Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as the Premier proposed the establishment of Nigeria’s first indigenous university he had  in mind this strategy of fine blend of the best parts of the local and the global in knowledge production. As the historians, Professors Olisanwuche Esedebe and Okoro Ijoma report, at fruition Azikiwe took the name that was suggested in a 1919 editorial of the Lagos Weekly Record for the new university. A dream had come true! The usefulness of Afro-centric scholarship soon became obvious and in Nigeria here more emerged: Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly University of Ife), Ahmadu Bello University, and University of Lagos.

The Ghanaian historian, Professor Francis Agbodeka, writing on the University of Ghana, Legon, traced the reorientation of that former college of University of London to that initiative of Azikiwe in making modern university education relevant to African needs through the infusion of African autochthonous methods and relevant extraneous ideas. He said in the book, A history of University of Ghana, “The concern of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria for higher education went beyond West Africa … He lamented the lack of indigenous African universities sustained through African initiative anywhere in Africa. He implied that most of the problems facing Africa in the early part of [the 20th] century were due to this deficiency.”

Outside the West whenever I see strong modern social institutions, good economic performance (not just industrialisation), noteworthy advances in science or technology, I look for effective indigenous knowledge production unencumbered by such diversionary intellectual trivialities as Journal Impact Factor. I have seen it in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, and such places. They are all doing what Nigerian indigenous universities set out to do, and were doing so effectively, until the red herrings of Impact Factor and allied matters came in.

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Dr Ezeh teaches anthropological linguistics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and is the Coordinator of the Social Sciences Unit, School of General Studies of the University.

 

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