Monday, 30 December 2013

(85): Online journalism and the ethical question in the Nigerian media (II)

The myth and the controversy generated by the alleged letter written by Iyabo Obasanjo, daughter of former president Olusegun Obasanjo suggested that it is in the interest of the media organization to acknowledge the source of the information. To date no one can say with absolute certainty whether the letter was genuinely written by Iyabo, or whether it is a political fabrication.

The second observation regarding the letter from Obasanjo is the growing rivalry between traditional and new media. Online publications have one major advantage; they can easily break stories, and continue providing update within a 24 hour news circle, not all the traditional media enjoy the luxury of having separate editorial boards for the online and traditional outfits, each taking independent decisions in running its stories while at the same time complementing each other. 

Recent trends in journalism suggest that for the traditional media to compete with online news media, they need more investment in building new media platforms. The Washington Post, New York Times, Daily Mail are typical examples of how they use online news platforms to break stories. They understand that the 21st century audience does not have the patience to wait for 24 hours before getting in-depth analysis and update on the story.  They do that with an eye on other online news competitors such as BBC News online that is run by separate editorial teams.

The issue of positioning also comes to mind here, a lot of the emerging online news organizations do not have adequate journalistic training, compared to those in the traditional media, therefore some of them are quick to break stories in order to solidify their market positioning, and increase popularity but do not always pay attention to following a rigorous editorial procedure in order to ensure the accuracy of the story.  The traditional media needs to make a decision between quickly jumping on the bandwagon to break a story, and ensuring the credibility of the information before making it public. I believe both the traditional and new media need to learn from each other.

The third observation the controversy generated is on ethics, originality and courtesy. There are a lot of ethical challenges faced by the media industry, some of which are universal and others peculiar to the Nigerian situation. This controversy has highlighted the inability of a section of the Nigerian media to live up to the basic standard of the journalism profession. There are a lot of factors responsible for this. First is journalism training itself. The institutions that train our journalists, from polytechnics to universities suffer from shortage of  the basic infrastructure required to train future journalists. 

Second, the imbalance between academics who teach journalism, and professionals from the industry who train the students on ‘the field experience’ is so wide, to the extent that when students graduate from the college or university, they are not ready to go into practice, rather, their new employers have to retrain them, before they could be ready to function as proper journalists. 

Third, journalism is a profession that goes with passion, and you have so many people who joined simply because they could not get job elsewhere. Therefore whatever comes their way; they append their names on to it and send to their bureaus.

The Nigerian Union of Journalists has an important role to play here by revisiting the code of conduct of the Nigerian media, and devise ways to address the future confrontation between sister institutions.  Media houses themselves, should create partnership among themselves which in practice even the global media industry pursues. 

I do not see any reason why Premium Times will not establish partnership with the Daily Trust or Guardian or Blueprint newspapers, or Sahara Reporters with the Punch, Leadership or People’s Daily newspapers. Such partnership exists for instance between CNN and ABC News, with that kind of official partnership, if none exists already, the news organisations that publish purely on online platforms, and the traditional ones that produce both hard copies and publish online versions, can easily exchange stories, train staff, use the bylines of reporters, and even share offices in the areas where only one of the partners has a bureau. This could go a long way in solving the accusation and counter accusation of plagiarism, originality and ethics. What do you think?



Tuesday, 17 December 2013

(84): Online journalism and the ethical question in the Nigerian media (I)

It will take a political storm like the one released from Ota farm by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to displace the series of events marking the death of Nelson Mandela from the pages of Nigerian newspapers. The storm was so powerful it has arguably created the hottest debate in the polity and overshadowed other stories.

In this specific contribution my interest is not in the letter itself, but the debate it has generated among various media organisations within Nigeria, particularly the acknowledgement of sources, which I believe has an implication in both the theory and practice of journalism. I hope students are following the debate with keen interest because I could see a lot of areas for postgraduate research which if pursued could contribute greatly in enhancing the quality of journalism in Nigeria.

Of particular interest in the debate is the exchange between Premium Times, an online news outlet, which got the scoop and breaks the story to the world, and newspapers like the Punch, an old timer in the field of traditional journalism, and Leadership, another newspaper that is gaining ground in Nigerian journalism.

Before discussing the issue of attribution which created the hot exchange between various newspapers, let me discuss some of the issues observed which would help us in understanding the underlying issues which contributed in the allegations and counter allegations between the various news outfits.  

The first observation highlighted by the cold war between these newspapers is the challenge that online journalism is posing against traditional media. This challenge should not be seen in a negative way. While newspapers around the world continue to increase their online presence, the need to satisfy their audiences who rely on traditional means of communication still consumes their energy.

Online journalists are dealing with a set of new audiences who are hungry for news, prefer to access information from the internet and enjoy the interactive nature of the online news media. Despite the attempt of the online news outlets to break stories and give their contribution to journalism, there is still skepticism about the quality of journalism produced on the internet. That skepticism could partially explain the resistance of the traditional media to acknowledge stories they sourced from the internet.

I do not think the challenge posed by the online media will overtake the influence of traditional newspapers, it will simply require the traditional outlets to change their business models, which some are doing well, while others are still trying to adapt. This point was aptly captured by the French newspaper Lemonde Diplomatique, “that in the history of communications the introduction of new media has never succeeded in chasing out the preceding technologies”.

There are two key noticeable issues which need to be settled in this debate; lack of aknowledgement of sources and sometimes outright plagiarism, and secondly how far can you go in acknowledging the sources of the original story. Ethically speaking all sources of information should be attributed, and this is in the interest of anyone who lifts a story from a secondary source. The attribution enhances the credibility of the medium, but it also protects it from falling into legal disputes should the story be a fabrication or contains libel or defamation. 

On the other hand when a story breaks, as many journalists know, serious media organisations would always make an effort to explore other angles from the story in order to make their own mark, but at the same time to outdo their competitors. Certainly some media organisations would have done that on the “storm from Ota farm”. I do not see any conflict here, its simply part of basic ethics to acknowledge the source of the story, and the same is expected from the media organisation that break the story to acknowledge its competitor, should it quote a different angle from its competitor. 

With all its shortcomings journalism in Nigeria remains one of the most vibrant in Africa, at least the media is relatively free to bring such issues of national importance to public domain.

To be continued



Monday, 9 December 2013

(83): Who steps into the shoes of Nelson Mandela?

Africa had never been short of great people. But few would argue against the idea that in colonial and postcolonial Africa, the greatest son produced by the continent is Nelson Mandela.  Here is a man from a humble background, whose traditional name was “a trouble maker”, yet he translated the meaning of his name in a positive way, by making trouble against white minority rule in South Africa to ensure the emancipation of his people. Mandela was a natural fighter. As he told us is in Long Walk to Freedom, “there was no particular day on which I said, from henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise” (p.95).

The struggle of Nelson Mandela United the African continent, various African leaders from Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who made one of the largest donations to the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela’s political party and the platform for fighting against apartheid, to Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who supported the struggle against oppression in South Africa, to Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya, who became the Arab son of the struggle to free the people of South Africa, down to  the likes of Halie Selassie of Ethiopia, the sincerity of Nelson Mandela’s struggle united the continent, and the world at large.  Murtala Muhammad of Nigeria lost his life potentially one would argue, due to his stand on the struggle to free African countries like Angola and South Africa, although the failed coup that resulted in his assassination had the colouration of a domestic uprising.

The life of Nelson Mandela developed in phases. From that of a youthful freedom fighter working to emancipate his people, to a politician who has the dexterity to plan, coordinate, and negotiate the freedom of his country from prison, to statesman who lived above his ambition by sacrificing his desire to lead South Africa. One would argue that if there is one leader in Africa, who deserves to remain president for life, and would have secured the backing of his people, it would have been Nelson Mandela.

For with without doubt, the freedom and liberty for black and other coloured South Africans to live as equals to the whites is more important to them, than living the most affluent life as second class citizens under the apartheid system. Yet Nelson Mandela decided to quit, and by so doing, he has helped his country to consolidate the transition to independent statehood. The dream of Nelson Mandela to have a country where social class is irrelevant has not yet been achieved, but the hope to build a country where everyone is relevant remains alive.

The spirit with which he fought, the conviction he had that no matter how long a journey takes, it will one day reach its destination has inspired others to fight for the freedom and dignity of their people. One lesson I learnt from reading the biography and observing the life of Nelson Mandela is one key thing, whatever cause you are pursuing, it is those little things that you do, those minor sacrifices that you make which will one day lead to greatness.

The struggle of Nelson Mandela to free South Africa was unique, it comprises of certain qualities that are rare in Africa today. The struggle involved Muslims, Christians, Blacks, Whites and the Coloured. In one hand you have the likes of Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba, while on the other end you have the likes of Ahmad Kathrada, Yusuf Dadoo, and Ismail Meer, coming together to fight a common enemy. It is not surprising therefore that the ‘rainbow nation’ reflects the coming together of these unique personalities for the dignity of their country.

The struggle led by Nelson Mandela has left a legacy, the legacy of forgiveness. As professor Ali Mazrui once argued, that one of the unique qualities of Africans is “short memory of hate” and he cited the case of Nelson Mandela’s ability to forgive his oppressors at a time when he had the chance to avenge for the wrongdoing he tested together with his people. 

Of course Nelson Mandela is not perfect. He has his pitfalls. “one day, during this same time, my wife informed me that my elder son, Thembi, then five, had asked her, “where does Daddy live”, said Mr Mandela in Long Work to Freedom, “I had been returning late at night, long after he had gone to sleep, and departing early in the morning before he woke.” (p.119), Mr Mandela added. This is the sacrifice he had to make, but it was a feeling that his family had about him in the few years that he could stay with them.

Nelson Mandela is gone, his legacy will be remembered for generations, but the one billion dollar question is, who steps into his shoes? I looked around Africa, and even went on window shopping in other continents, I saw some leaders with potentials, but on a closer scrutiny, I realize that they are not like Nelson Mandela. I came back to Africa again, the picture is not looking good, but we shall never lose hope; if you have a name in your mind, kindly suggest it, for somebody needs to fill that shoe, now, tomorrow or in the generations to come.


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

(82): The age of smart kids

In the late 1980s, I could vividly remember arguing with fellow school mates about the computer, most of us have not seen one physically except in some movies. “Duk Kano babu computer, sai dai ko a gidan gwamna” (there is no computer in the whole of Kano, may be in the government house), said one of us. To the kid, computer was basically imaginary; it is associated with all sorts of myths. One day while passing by Kantin Kwari market, I overheard one mai waazin kan turmi (street preacher), talking to an assembly of youths, and he mentioned something that left me perplexed. He was talking about a computer that is used to catch fish,  people were listening attentively, yet you could see clearly that he was describing a device he has never seen in his life.

But this has changed; we now live in the world where technology is as accessible as drinking water. In a 2001 lecture delivered by Professor Ali Mazrui at the Bayero University, Kano, he mentioned that there are more computers in some universities in the developed world, than in some African countries. Today, it is extremely difficult if such a statement will hold. If there is one segment of the society that has been affected today by the digital revolution,  it is no more than our kids. They are growing in the age of laptop, iPad and iPhone.

One scholar who appreciates the changing nature of our kids is Professor Don Tapscott whose book “Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World” explores the attitude and culture of the 21st century young people, whom he fondly calls the Net Gens. In a review written for the Economist magazine, Professor Tapscott stated that “Net Geners are more active. Almost 80% of them read interactive blogs daily, leaving comments and adding links. They multitask, watching TV while texting, talking on the phone or surfing the Internet. They’re more likely to use their cellphones as everything from alarm clocks to GPS devices. They may even use their phones’ cameras as a kind of instrument for social action, for instance, to document police misconduct. They see the computer as more than a tool, as a place to congregate with friends. Their safe communal spaces aren’t mainly in the physical world, but rather online, on social networking sites like Facebook. Rather than being antisocial, Net Geners are developing an entirely new set of social skills”

South Korea is one country that appreciates this changing nature of young people, and decided to come up with an educational policy that integrates the use of technology in education. As a result of that, children from South Korea are ahead of kids from other countries including European and North American nations.

Of course in developing countries, we are yet to reach a stage where our primary and secondary schools will be digitally revolutionalised, and it will be hasty to pull the trigger without working on some fundamental issues such as teacher training, child poverty etc. Yet for parents who can afford, there are so many useful applications to help their kids learn from their iPad and other devices. The Quiz up app is one example to aid the learning of your children. It can help your children especially with mathematics, history, geography, science, health education and other subjects. In fact your kids can invite children from other places around the world to compete in these subjects and see how far they have mastered the subjects in their school.

Of course supervision from parents will be useful, especially to educate your children on the content of certain subjects that might have cultural implications on your child.  It is important to understand the positive aspect of these devices by parents, so that children do not just use them for games and chatting unnecessarily, while gaining nothing in terms of their intellectual development.



Tuesday, 26 November 2013

(81): "Seven lessons of leadership": An Overview (III)

A key lesson every leader should learn from is the fifth quality suggested by Professor David Gergen, what he calls “a sure, quick start”. Leaders tend to acquire a political capital which they need to utilize as quickly as possible. Whether the leader comes through the ballot box, or snatches political power like the military often do, people tend to give the new leader the benefit of the doubt; though not every leader will have the luxury to enjoy that. 

If Murtala Muhammad had been slow when he came to power, probably he wouldn’t have a legacy to be remembered for. If Thomas Sankara was so slow at the beginning of his leadership, his name would have been among those leaders whose name may require some “Googling” before understanding who they were. The honey moon period shouldn’t be allowed to evaporate before taking advantage of it.

Leaders tend to have some energy and enthusiasm at the beginning of their tenure. It does not have to be political leadership; it can be the chief executive of an organisation or even a traditional ruler. If the time is wasted engaged in dirty-politicking, then the impatience of followers and public scrutiny could catch up with the leader, and very few do recover from that.

The sixth quality of leadership according to Professor Gergen is “strong, prudent advisers”. This is a key ingredient of successful leadership, but one ignored by many African leaders; advisers tend to be appointed based on political patronage rather than their experience or ability to deliver. In some cases, political thugs are appointed to hold key positions in government. Of course appointing the best advisers may not guarantee success, because the leader must be willing to listen to them, and be ready to accept their criticism where they differ.

A leader should understand his goals, identify the key areas he needs to focus on and ensure that the right people handle those departments. They must have the free hand to exercise their judgement. If you take Nigeria as an example, the caliber of people the leaders of the first republic surrounded themselves with, says a lot about their intentions. If you look at the cabinet of Tafawa Balewa, whatever their shortcomings were, there were several people in the cabinet, both at the federal and regional levels who can competently hold the position of Prime Minister or the Premier of their respective regions. Here we are in today, where people who are not qualified to lead a local government are managing a country in Africa.

It is interesting that with the exception of the likes of Dr Nnamdi Azikwe who has a PhD, the leaders of the first republic were school certificate holders, and at best hold a first degree. Yet their in-depth understanding of leadership, and the knowledge they exhibited could not, and would not be matched by today’s mediocre grand certificate holders.

Finally, the seventh lesson of leadership from the perspective of Professor Gergen, is what he calls “inspiring others to carry on the mission”. Mahathir Muhammad, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkurmah, Mahatma Ghandi, Lee Kuan Yew, Murtala Muhammad, are world leaders whose fellow countrymen always mention with respect and enthusiasm. They have transformed themselves into the founding fathers of their countries, and the countries are still matching on their vision. “The point is that the most effective presidents create a living legacy, inspiring legions of followers to carry on their mission long after they are gone” said David Gergen.

The leaders who understand this articulate a vision that becomes a defining moment in the history of their nations, and even those who disagree with them, ended up trying to be associated with them or try to claim part of their legacy.

As our countries match towards the election of new leaders, public discourse by the media, civil society organisations, and even partisan politicians should focus on leadership by example. Unfortunately, even some of the followers have developed self-defeatist attitude by focusing on who has enough resources to fight for position of power, rather than competence and ability to deliver; and at worst ethnicity and regional sentiments guide our choice of leaders rather than honesty, transparency, fearlessness, vision and a clear sense of direction.

Yet few months after elections, we start crying that things are not going well. The public should understand that one mistake in casting and defending the ballot box, would mean four or more wasted years of inept and worthless leadership.




Monday, 18 November 2013

(80): "Seven lessons of leadership": An overview (II)

The second important lesson of leadership, according to Professor Gergen is what he calls “A Central Compelling Purpose”. According to him, “just as a president has a strong character, he must be of clear purpose. He must tell the country where he is heading so he can rally people behind him”.  If you look at successful leaders around the world, one thing that becomes clear about them is this sense of purpose. They know the direction they are taking their country to. The message will be so clear that even those who disagree with them will have no option but to support their cause.

In contemporary times you will be talking of world leaders like Mahathir Muhammad of Malaysia, who made his vision clear about transforming Malaysia into a developed country and making sure that the ethnic groups in the country; the Malays, the Chinese and Indians agree to share the same country even if they have reservation about the union. The story of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Malaysia’s neighbour is another interesting story of how purposeful leadership can transform a nation. Within 26 years Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore from a struggling third world country into a developed first world economy.

Within Africa, the vision of Murtala Muhammad, despite leading the country for only six months, showcases leadership with a ‘compelling purpose’. He has achieved in those six months what other leaders could not dream of achieving in eight years. It is not for nothing that the likes of Kwame Nkurma, Julius Nyerere, Thomas Sankara or even the likes of Jerry Rawlings are fondly remembered. Whatever their imperfection, they have demonstrated that leadership must be for a reason, and within the brief period they have been in office, they tried to make a difference.

The third lesson according to Professor Gergen is “A capacity to persuade”, the absence of this quality could perhaps explain the failure of leadership in African countries. How many times did our leaders found it imperative to carry the followership along by trying to persuade them to buy into their programme? A key ingredient of the third lesson is the ability of the leader to be a motivational speaker, one who can win the heart of his audiences, and bring them to his fold even if they disagree with him.

It is quite surprising that under civilian administrations, various African governments will rather employ dictatorial approaches than working to convince their citizens to accept their agenda. Not even in political rallies during electioneering campaign would you see the power of persuasion at work in our continent. With television radio, and the internet at our disposal, yet the energy of political office holders will be spent strategizing on how to rig elections, than convince people even in matters that they can easily swing public opinion in their favour.

The fourth lesson of leadership according to Professor Gergen is “an ability to work within the system”. Different countries have different political systems. But whether in democracy or dictatorship, there are certain mechanisms for checks and balances. There is a procedure for doing business. For leadership to be successful, it should respect these procedures, and never attempt to circumvent it. In fact the ability to work within the framework of the existing political system, whether it is through the national assembly, the judiciary, or abiding by civil service procedure, is a sign of leadership that is well meaning, sincere in its intentions, and ready to leave a legacy for the next generation to follow. Desperation from political leadership to bypass the political system and create its own procedures for short time political gain is a sign of weakness, and a leader that is surrounded by selfish and incompetent advisers.

 The leaders that have succeeded in other countries did not descend from Mars; they are human beings, who just like each and every one of us, where born and brought up by fellow human beings. The difference though is that they possess some of the qualities we have mentioned, while others are battling to understand themselves, before they could even understand the people they lead.

To be continued.

(Views expressed in this and other opinion articles are strictly personal)


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

(79): “Seven lessons of leadership”: An overview (I)

Let me start by saying that the title of this contribution is not mine. It is the title of a chapter in the book Eye Witness to Power written by Professor David Gergen. Certainly if you watch CNN and perhaps other American networks, Professor David Gergen may not be new to you. He is one of the leading pundits on American politics. So what is interesting about this gentleman? Well he is basically what in countries like Nigeria would be called AGIP (any government in power), but perhaps David Gergen is not the typical AGIP, as his approach to politics may be different from what we know in other countries.

I came across the book under discussion in 2008 during a conference in Boston organised by the American Political Science Association (APSA). After purchasing the book, I met a former Nigerian minister at the house of a friend, who by coincidence was pursuing a postgraduate degree at Harvard University, and was taught by Professor Gergen. After a brief discussion about the book, while enjoying the hospitality of our host, who provided a superb tuwon shinkafa and miyar taushe (pounded rice and vegetable soup), which even as a Bakano (someone from Kano), I must confess that I enjoyed the delicious food provided by our host from Zaria, whose house has become an assembly point for Nigerians in Boston.

The former minister said Eye Witness to Power is a must read for everyone trying to understand the challenges of leadership. I couldn’t wait longer to finish the book. I do not necessarily agree with everything that Professor Gergen said in the book, especially his comparison of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. But the meat of the book is in the last chapter which is the subject of this article.

David Gergen had the opportunity to serve four American Presidents, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton as an adviser. After retiring from government he took a Professorial Chair at Harvard University’s school of Government. Part of his contribution was to write this book which essentially is a summary of his experience in the White House. The last chapter of the book, “Seven lessons of leadership” is his thesis on the qualities a leader should possess, and the lessons to learn from the hassles of leadership, if the leader is to be successful, based on what he observed from the four leaders he served.

I chose this topic because of the politicking one is seeing in different African countries. Since many, if not most African leaders are products of Western educational system. It is perhaps important to remind them about their role and responsibility using the language they understand and the countries they look up to.

The first leadership lesson of leadership according to Professor Gergen is that “leadership starts from within”. From what Professor Gergen observes, a leader should understand himself first. According to him one thing he observes is that American Presidents are well read, and “politically savy” yet those of them who failed were the architects of their downfall. “The inner soul of a president flows into every aspect of his leadership far more than is generally recognised” said Professor Gergen. “His passions in life usually form the basis for his central mission in office”, he added.

Here it is interesting to note that the personal characteristic of a leader stems from his character, upbringing and interest. One question I would like to ask is whether political parties, and other stakeholders consider the passion of a politician before giving him the chance to lead people? Of course I can be academic here looking at the reality in African nations, but that does not take away the relevance of the question, because inadvertently, the interest of the leader and his passion in life would have bearing consequences in the way he leads.

I found one example cited by Gergen about Bill Clinton, he stated that despite what Gergen described as “the flows in his character”, Bill Clinton is well read, and during meetings, he normally makes reference to issues he reads about countries, his travels and the rest, which sometimes can checkmate advisers who would like to mislead the leader. So use your judgement to weigh the consequences of having a leader who is not well read, and does not understand the world we live in. The example of Bill Clinton’s successor is still fresh in the memory of the world. One interesting issue mentioned by Gergen at the end of the first quality of leadership is that “No one can succeed in today’s politics unless he or she is prepared to fall on a sword in a good cause”.

To be continued

(Views expressed in this and other opinion articles are strictly personal)

7th Muharram 1435
11the November 2013

Monday, 4 November 2013

(78): Where are the Muslim Scientists?

Last week at the World Islamic Economic Forum in London, the first time such Forum took place outside the Muslim World, showcases how Islamic financing is growing around the world. According to the British Prime Minister David Cameron, Islamic finance is growing fifty percent faster than conventional financing. Of course more needs to be done to strengthening what is gradually appearing to be an alternative to the conventional model.

But my take while listening to the speeches of different world leaders was a statement from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Nawaz Sheriff. Mr Sheriff briefly lamented on the state of the Muslim world, and how far the Muslim world is left behind, and what needs to be done to revive its hitherto compelling spirit, which greatly contributed in scientific and technological advancement of the world. According to the speech by Mr Sheriff, in the middle ages Muslim scientists produced ninety percent of the literature the world over, yet at the moment, Muslim scientists produced just one percent.

The message of Mr Sheriff was clear, for the Muslim world to regain its position globally; it has to revert to what made it ahead of its contemporaries in the past. Just have a quick look at the list of Muslim scientists and their inventions as listed by the website, you are talking about the likes of Abu Nasr Al-Farabi, known as  Alpharabius, Albattani known as Albatenius, a famous mathematician and astronomer, Ibn Sina or Avesina famous for his contribution to medicine and philiosphy, Ibn Battuta, Ibn Rushd also called Averroes, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khawarazimi, famous for the invention of Arabic numerals and Algebra, Omar Alkhayyam, Abubakar Alrazi “considered one of the greatest physicians in history” according to the famous scientists website; Jabir ibn Alhayyan “the father of Arab chemistry known for his highly influential works on alchemy and metallurgy”, Ibn Ishaq Alkindi, also called Alkindus “who is known as the first of the Muslim peripatetic philosophers.”, Ibn Alhaytham (Alhazen), “Arab astronomer and mathematician known for his important contributions to the principles of optics and the use of scientific experiments.”

The remaining scientists include Ibn Zhur (Avezoar) “Arab physician and surgeon, known for his influential book Al-Taisir Fil-Mudawat Wal-Tadbeer (Book of Simplification Concerning Therapeutics and Diet)”, Ibn Khaldun, a historian, sociologist and economist and the author of Muqaddima, an important work thought to have influenced the work of later Western philosophers like Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Herbert Spencer,  and Ibn Albaitar “botanist and physician who systematically recorded the discoveries made by Islamic physicians in the Middle Ages”.

These are just a selection of the famous Muslim scientists who contributed to the development of science and technology that is sometimes ignored or even assumed such contribution never existed. It does not even included such giants like Imam Attabari, who is both a scholar of Tafseer (Quranic exegesis) and a medical doctor, or the likes of Imam Al-Ghazali whose contribution would make you hide your face in shame when you see what some of our universities are producing as professors.

But this is the past; we have to think about the present. The Muslim world does not lack the people who will conduct research and regain the glory of the civilization that was once the leading light of the world. What the Muslim world lacks are the institutions that support the development of these scientists to produce the knowledge that our world will continue to desire. The Muslim scientists of the past were successful because of the support they receive from the State and through philanthropists who understand that for a civilization to stand on its feet, it has to be mounted on the pedestal of knowledge.

Research has shown that the Muslim world led the way in the past, because of how endowment funds (Awqaaf) and other philanthropic activities support people to study and produce the best literature without worrying about the hassles of life, which may take away their attention. In fact other civilizations learned about the institution of Waqf from the Muslim world, a point that was made clearly by Tim Wallace-Murphy in his book “What Islam Did for Us: Understanding Islam's Contribution to Western Civilization”. Wallace-Murphy explained how the West learned from the Muslim world how to establish these endowment funds, a factor that critically contributed in the development of institutions like Oxford and Cambridge. 

Unfortunately, the institution of Waqf has been neglected or at best left to the background in the Muslim world, and reviving it, and making it to function in line with current challenges will contribute greatly in producing the Muslim scientists that can bring back the lost glory of the Muslim world.

(Views expressed in this and other opinion articles are strictly personal)


1st Muharram,1435
4th November, 2013

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

(77): Killing the lice on your eyes

Kashe kwarkwatar ido (literally translated as killing the lice on your eyes) is a common Hausa adage which can perhaps be explained in English as satisfying your curiosity. Travelling around the world is one of the greatest opportunities to kill the lice on your eyes. People tend to like hearing stories about other places. This time around my destination is Washington DC, the United States which I visited in the middle of October 2013. It is my third visit in five years. To many people, among the famous places to visit in order to kill the lice on your eyes would include the White House, the US Congress etc, especially when the country was engaged in the debate over the government shutdown. For me the most interesting places to visit could actually be outside the famous symbols of power which we see on our television screens almost on daily visit. In fact the best places for me are the bookshops; where you will find series of publications, even on topics you never think someone will write about.
a portion of the Berlin Wall displayed in the museum

Before departing for Washington, someone posted a book review on the Nigeria Muslim Forum discussion list. An eye catching review on a book recently released, entitled “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders” written by Professor Denise A Spencer. According to Professor Spencer, “by the time Congressman Ellison was elected and swore his private oath of office on Jefferson’s Qur’an in 2007, I thought as a historian that I might have something to contribute”.

You might recall that in 2007, when Mr Ellison was elected as the first Muslim into the US Congress, there was serious controversy when he suggested that he wants to take his oath with a copy of the Qur’an owned by former US President Thomas Jefferson, the author of the declaration of US Independence, first Secretary of State and third President of the United States. As someone who is interested in the study of multiculturalism and representation of identity, this is definitely an important literature. It is a book that explains the role of Islam and Muslims in the evolution of the United States. But my curiosity does not end in getting a copy of Jefferson’s Qur’an, I already have list which I was eager to purchase, and gladly I did.

As I settled in my hotel, and checked my email, I saw a message from my good friend Malam Habeeb Idris Pindiga, the Editor of Daily Trust Newspaper. Habeeb was a year ahead of me at Bayero University, Kano. He was responding to an email I sent to him earlier. You know as a Public Relations Practitioner, you have to be friendly to journalists, it is even much better if the journalist is already your friend (I am sorry Habeeb, I know your paper has strict rules over brown envelop, so let me exonerate you quickly, this is not a bribe).

After some correspondence we agreed to meet outside the World Bank headquarters. I told Habeeb about the series of books I purchased, and the ones still on the line. I knew definitely that I will learn something from him, because three years ago, it was him and Bashir Saad Abdullahi who recommended another book to me, Flat Earth News written by the investigative journalist Nick Davies. It is a book I will suggest everyone who reads the news or watch television must read. If you do, I assure you, you will never be the same again. Because it will be clear to you how journalism has been penetrated by vested interests, and how stories are planted in the media to mislead the public.

Do you trust the press?
But Habeeb’s gift to me this time around, was not a book. “Have you been to the news museum?”, he asked “No, in fact I never heard about it. In my previous visits to the US I never had time to come to Washington”, I said. The following day we visited the News Museum owned by USA Today. It is an important information hub for anyone who wants to kill the lice on his eyes. There is a record on almost every important story that happens around the world. The museum has a section that features the front pages of other newspapers around the world. In fact, they even brought the remains of the Berlin Wall, part of the antenna at the top of the World Trade Centre, destroyed on 9/11/. A section is dedicated to the pictures of journalists who died on the front line. Other sections simply feature the front pages of key global stories, think of any?

Habeeb has mastered this museum; he took me to every section and explained the historical artifacts in the museum. There was an interesting quotation in the museum I found interesting, it says in times of disaster, everyone runs away, except journalists and emergency workers. But the one I keep thinking about was a poster with the following bold inscriptions: CAN THE PRESS BE TRUSTED? What is your opinion?



Monday, 21 October 2013

(76): University education and generational change in Africa VI

The second source of funding that will help universities in Africa is inter-regional consolidation. If you take countries like Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and emerging oil economies like Angola, they do better in comparison to other African countries. Equally important are the free trade zones, as well as lack of travel restrictions among African regions such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Southern African Development Community (SADEC) provide ample opportunities for exploring the potential of African universities, and generating more income. Institutions like Bayero University, Ahmadu Bello University or the University of Ibadan have every potential to explore the educational market in neighboring countries like Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroon etc. the expansion of market and economic activities should not just be restricted to material goods and services, education should be the  most important commodity that should be transferred across borders.

The good news is that there is thirst for higher education almost everywhere, what is difficult is affordability, so if you take these institutions to the door step of these neighboring countries you will be in position to consolidate your income, and most importantly provide educational services. It is not as easy as it sounds, but when you have chief executives that have the foresight to pursue long term initiatives that will bring both quality and income, it is doable. The University I was teaching until few months back, Northumbria University in North East England, is now the largest provider of university education in Hong Kong, and making similar in roads in Singapore. These are countries in faraway Asia; and that business strategy started not long ago. Within short period the university saw its income rise, and began to recruit top class academics around the world, and began to compete with the best universities in Britain.

Other Universities from United States and the United Kingdom are opening campuses in Malaysia, the Gulf Region, China and North Africa. African universities should explore the potential within them, otherwise within short period, with the proliferation of private universities, and the European and American Universities seeking ways to maximize their incomes, our universities, which at the moment are attended by our brothers and sisters only, while the elites send their kids abroad, will become like public primary and secondary schools. I hope it never happens. About nine years ago, one of the Professors in Nigerian Universities, currently holding an executive position told me that, there is every possibility that in the next few years our universities will become like public primary and secondary schools.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw some pictures on the state of Nigerian campuses published recently in the Newsletter of ASUU (Academic Staff Union of Universities-Nigeria). Without exaggeration, some refugee camps are better equipped than the condition students learn in our universities. And these graduates are expected to compete with those in the Ivy League universities around the world.

The final strategy to help African universities is the need to create regional educational hubs in Africa. Here I mean, in each region, from the North to South, East to West and Central Africa, top class universities need to be produced that will serve the economic needs of that region. To do that, a political decision needs to be made. The African Union should be the one to make that political decision. In this regard I will suggest, that All African Heads of State agree to a Marshal plan on the development of education which will support these educational hubs to develop for at least 20 to 30 years, until African Universities are in the position to compete with  other universities around the world. One great mistake that Africa will make is to allow the current state of higher education to continue as it is.

Gone should be the days when universities simply produce glorified-literate individuals who can only join government services and append their signatures on documents to release money or approve contracts. African States should think of universities that produce innovators along our value system. In coming up with this Marshal plan, African philanthropists should be involved, and we are not short of them, many are racing to feature in Forbes  list of dollar billionaires. Left to me the effort of people like Mr Mo Ibrahim to give award to African leaders, which in recent years are difficult to find, I will rather suggest he gives that money to one African university to develop its infrastructure; that way good leaders can be produced who may not even need an award, but who see service to humanity as their reward.

Note: Please visit my blog:  to read the previous editions as I have made some modifications especially to some errors my attention was drawn to after publication.




Tuesday, 8 October 2013

(75): University education and generational change in Africa V

The strength of Harvard University’s endowment fund is quite exceptional, because the $30 billion that the university makes from its donors is more than the entire amount spent by British universities, as a BBC report in 2011 indicated. The Harvard University endowment fund is an example of where private effort is made to generate funding for university education.

Here is an example of government effort to establish a world class university. As reported by Global Higher Education, the King Abdallah University of Science and Technology in Jeddah started with an investment of $12.5 Billion. This is just one university that is at the moment in transition to compete with the best universities in the world.

So to return to our main subject, universities in Africa need to device creative means of financing their activities, some of these means are not beyond reach. For this reason this column will suggest three different alternatives to seek additional income for universities. The first solution one would propose is intra-regional consolidation which has various elements. A common trend you find in some African universities is multiplication of effort. For instance you can find three universities in the same region receiving funding from the same government, yet each of these universities would have chemistry department, biology department, sociology department etc. Yet at the end of the day neither department possesses enough staff strength and modern equipments to the highest standard. Instead of having three or four similar departments producing so many half-baked graduates, the universities should collaborate with each other and produce centres of excellence with each university focusing on its areas of strength. 

Let’s take some universities in Nigeria for instance. What is the key difference in terms of specialization between Ahmad Bello University, Bayero University and Usman Dan Fodio University? How does the University of Lagos, the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University differ from each other in terms of the quality of the courses they offer and the nature of their specialization? Running a university in this age is a serious business that requires a lot of strategic thinking in terms of the local and the global positioning of the institution.

If you take for instance the United States, you can see the point I am trying to make when you look at some universities in the same region. Both Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are located in Boston, yet each of them is different in its global positioning. Similarly, the Colleges of the University of London such as University College London (UCL), Imperial College, and the School of Oriental and African Studies have a clear global positioning such that students clearly know why they apply to these universities. Employers clearly understand what to expect based on the specialization of such institutions. Governments requiring policy input know exactly which institution has the uniqueness to address their concerns.

In essence, African universities need to create a brand for themselves. This will help in coming up with better ideas for income generation. If you revisit the list of the best universities in the world as mentioned earlier in this series, one thing you will notice is that almost each one of them has an identifiable brand. The creation of this scholarly brand is essential in attracting the best into the universities. These students would eventually take policy making positions; some of them will run successful individual businesses etc. when a university succeeds in producing high quality graduates, it must follow that up with a strong alumni programme, by making sure it remains in touch with each student from graduation to retirement.

Alumni associations are not about annual gatherings. They are about unlocking the potential of your graduates, following their career development, and utilizing their experience as well as resources for the benefit of the university. In universities elsewhere, it is not uncommon to find departments getting free teaching from their students who have amassed so much experience in their field, and running classes free of charge. It is not uncommon to see key university infrastructure in various universities built by their alumni. The alumni are equally the best starting point for establishing a strong endowment fund for universities.

These kinds of initiatives are part and parcel of creative investment. A key area of investment for universities is housing within the region of the university. Just take a census of students living in university surroundings, paying exorbitant amount for rent, yet the very universities in whose neighborhood these students are living do not benefit from anything economically. A lot of our universities actually have enough land to build houses and give it as rent to the students. Anyone who studied in British Universities will tell you how substantial part of the houses surrounding the universities are owned by the universities. These are investments that do not require deep thinking before they could be initiated.

To concluded