Monday, 26 August 2013

(71): University education and generational change in Africa (I)

The challenges facing Africa are too many, lamenting about them will not solve the problem, ignoring them will compound the situation, finding solution to them requires innovation and prioritizing the needs of the continent. Few will argue against the idea that education is the solution to these problems. 

By education I do not mean producing literate individuals holding paper qualifications. Graduates who will be happy for acquiring degrees, while their qualifications do not reach the lowest degree of quality compared to their best competitors. Here we are talking about producing competitive and innovative talents. Young men and women who have the capacity to generate resources, create ideas, and provide leadership in various spheres of life for the development of Africa, whether from within or outside the continent.  We are talking about a comprehensive approach typical of the style of China, by using its population to influence both the educational and economic development around the world.

Few will argue against the idea that investment in university education is at the heart of development especially in the 21st century. Let us prove this by looking at some statistics. In a special report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in May 2012, by the year 2020, China and India will produce 40% of graduates the world over. According to the report “Looking ahead, it’s likely that the global talent pool will continue to grow across most OECD and G20 countries, and that the fast-growing G20 economies will continue to account for an increasingly large share. According to OECD calculations, there will be more than 200 million 25-34 year-olds with higher education degrees across all OECD and G20 countries by the year 2020. What’s more, 40% of them will be from China and India alone”.

To understand the kind of investment made in higher education, let us look at the picture in the last ten to twelve years. The report suggested that “In 2000, there were 51 million 25-34 year-olds with higher education (tertiary) degrees in OECD countries, and 39 million in non-OECD G20 countries. Over the past decade, however, this gap has nearly closed, in large part because of the remarkable expansion of higher education in this latter group of countries. For example, in 2010 there were an estimated 66 million 25-34 year-olds with a tertiary degree in OECD countries, compared to 64 million in non-OECD G20 countries. If this trend continues, the number of 25-34 year-olds from Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and South Africa with a higher education degree will be almost 40% higher than the number from all OECD countries by the year 2020”.

While India and China alone are projected to produce 40% of university graduates by the year 2020, here is a simple analysis of the rest of the countries mentioned in the report. Starting with Argentina and Brazil (South America), China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia (Asia), Russia (Europe), and finally South Africa (Africa).  

Without the need to think deeply, all the countries are members of G20, yet only South Africa made it in this statistics from the African continent. Do African countries think South Africa alone can shoulder the responsibility of the continent without a reciprocal role by the rest of the continent? The position of South Africa in the OECD data is interesting, because if quantity in number is the determining factor in producing graduates, perhaps Nigeria will top the table in Africa. But the world has changed; we live in a knowledge based society where firms are interested in employing innovators, rather than salary-collecting graduates. The former is potentially what South African Universities produce, coupled with other factors that are essential for economic development.

Still when you study the world ranking of universities around the world, more than any country in Africa, South Africa leads the way. Let us look at the Times Higher Education ranking of universities around the world, (of course this does not mean the rankings are bias free), South Africa has the only four out of 400 universities from Africa. Here is the question to think about, what is the relationship between economic development and university education. There is additional point that needs to be made regarding these figures which requires an answer, what is the ratio of graduates from India, China and other G20 countries in the best universities around the world? What is the ratio of African students in the best universities mentioned in world ranking of universities like the Times Higher Education?

To be continued…

6:16 pm

Thursday, 22 August 2013

(70): Your feedback

I am sure everyone is sick of the pictures coming from Egypt. As we mourn the dead ones among them, and pray that Allah brings an end to this conflict, here is the feedback I received from the readers on some of the issues discussed in this column.

On lateSheikh Isa Waziri: Indeed it was a great loss, a very big gap that won't be easy to fill, a father who was cheered and loved by all. We thank Allah for Sheikh Isa Waziri, we thank Him for those eminent scholars who died before him, may their gentle souls rest in Allah's Mercy, ameen.

One thing you didn't pointed out brother Jameel was that he was the first scholar to show the way to real practice of Islam in Kano and environs. Yes ! The efforts of Sheikh Qalarawiy won't be covered, he (Qalarawiy) spent much of his time exposing the innovations introduced into Islam consciously or sub-consciously by some scholars in Nigeria.

He suffered a lot from the hands of those who hate true practices of Islam, and he was the first scholar to challenge those in government to be fair in their dealings. An example was his efforts to correct the then Governor of Kano State Alh Abubakar Rimi in some of the utterances he made. He also did the same to the present Governor Rabi'u Musa Kwankwaso during his first tenure; he did the same to Governor Shekarau. He fears no one when it comes to the truth and true application of Islam.

May Allah guide our living scholars to follow the foot-steps of the pious scholars ever in Islamic history, may our nations be free of violence and turmoil. Those who vowed to distract our peace may Allah engage them with themeselves and never give them victory wherever they emerge, O Allah. May your efforts be rewarded copiously.  Muhammad Sagir (Abul Masakin)

Many thanks for that tribute to Sheikh Isa Waziri, Wazirin Kano. You have said most of the important things about him. In a letter he wrote to my brother, who was then compiling his Master's thesis on the contributions of the Sheikh to the development of Arabic language in Nigeria, the late Sheik gave his date of birth as 1924. So those who said he died at 89 are more accurate. – Dr Saidu Ahmad Dukawa.

On Kiyakiya Flights for Umra goers: It reminds me of a dilapidated Kiyakiya I boarded in Calabar in the 1990s. As we passed by a passenger with her luggage, the bus had to reverse to pick her up. Guess what... the conductor had to drop, get under the bus and did something we didn't know... probably put the reverse gear, so the bus began to reverse. After picking the passenger, he went under again made an adjustment and the bus began to move forward again ... Allah ya tsare! Dr Farouk Sarkinfada-Faculty of medicine, BUK

Everything in Nigeria is done haphazardly to get a quick result. That is how the leaders always want things to be, because someone, somewhere is benefitting from the that .Things are allowed to degenerate in order to satisfy the greed of those in power and their foreign collaborators who help them to milk the country dry while drumming lies into our ears thinking that we are the fools. We are watching, there must one day be an end to this madness.-Balarabe Alkasim

On mobile phone as a urine laboratory: This is really an interesting innovation and a positive application of IT in solving problems. It reminds me of a research study I participated on developing a reference 'digital slide box' on the web that aids identification of various species of malaria parasites, another blood parameters, and for quality control of results. We need more of such innovations. I am only worried of how and when our brothers and sisters in some remote areas of the world could benefit from it. I am also concerned on how these tools could wipe away some manual toosl that we used in the past or currently using as back-ups to the 'digital tools'- Dr Farouk Sarkinfada, Faculty of Medicine, BUK


Monday, 12 August 2013

(69): Tribute to a scholar and grandfather

I heard the news of the demise of Shaikh Isa Waziri in the Haram of Makkah few days after he has returned to the final abode. It was the subject of discussion among many Nigerians in the vicinity of the Haram. Shaikh Isa Waziri became famous for his tafsir (exegesis of the Qur’an) in the month of Ramadhan , and by Allah’s mercy he died in the last ten days of Ramadhan. Shaikh Isa Waziri was a household name especially in Kano where he was Chief Imam of the late Murtala Muhammad Mosque, later Chief Imam of Kano, and finally as the Waziri of Kano.

Shaikh Isa Waziri will be missed by the Muslim community in Nigeria and beyond. He was such a charismatic figure, scholar, judge, father and grandfather. His humility, sense of humour, modesty and respect for the traditional institution, which he was serving until his death distinguished him from many among his contemporaries. Newspaper reports suggested that he died at the age of 89. Shaikh Isa Waziri will be remembered for at least three key qualities that he exhibited during his lifetime. His simple approach towards the interpretation of the Qur’an for the benefit of the ordinary listener, his impeccable sense of humour, and his role as a bridge builder among the Ulama (Islamic scholars) and the general followership in Kano.

Since he was appointed as the Chief Imam of Murtala Muhammad mosque, named after the former Head of State and potentially the best President Nigeria ever had, Shaikh Isa Waziri became a household name. His Tafsir was transmitted in both radio Kano and CTV, the two state owned broadcasting outfits. His Tafsir, along with those of Shaikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi aired by Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Kaduna, were among the most popular at the time.

Although he was relatively old when he was actively delivering the Tafsir, Shaikh Isa Waziri was able to attract the young, the old and the elderly. He was particularly popular among the sisters and the youths, who greatly contributed by sending questions which the Shaikh would answer at the end of the Tafseer; and this is where his great sense of humour was exhibited. The sisters would sometimes tease the Shaikh by sending gifts to him and other members of his team, yet they will decide the distribution by giving the largest portion to mai-jan-baki (the reciter of the Qur’anic verses which the Shaikh translates), and the gentleman sitting by him popularly known as the man who says “amin dan kashiful gummati”; and the smallest portion to the Shaikh. In his predictable characteristics Shaikh Isa would sometimes say “ku tattara ku bashi” (give everything to him).

I saw one great quality with Shaikh Isa Waziri around 1994 during the annual Dawra, which is a course for Arabic teachers organized by the Islamic University of Madina under the leadership of Shaikh Abdallah Zarban Al-Ghamidi.  A dinner was organized at Da’awah Group of Nigeria in which almost all the Islamic Scholars in Kano were present. Equally present at the dinner was late Shaikh Umar Fallata, a highly respected Islamic scholar who teaches in the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It was an interesting event, because despite all the differences between Izala and Tariqa, many prominent Islamic scholars from Tijjaniyya, Qadiriyya, and Izala were present. But one thing you cannot miss during the dinner was that Shaikh Isa Waziri was the rallying point among these scholars, some of whom do not get along publically. On that day, I saw some wonders, because some of the scholars that members of the public thought would look away when they meet each other were so respectful of one another. You wouldn’t be completely wrong if you suggest that sometimes our scholars dribble the followership.

Apart from the pain of losing this great and peaceful son of Kano, there is always one question that keeps recurring in my mind for many years whenever an Islamic Scholar is lost in Nigeria. The question is simple, where is his replacement? Shaikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi, Shaikh Lawal Abubakar, Shaikh Nasiru Kabara, Shaikh Adam Abdallah Al-Ilori, Shaikh Muhammad Kamaluddin Al-Adabiy, Shaikh Jaafar Mahmud Adam and many were among the Islamic scholars who left us, yet you can hardly find a suitable replacement with the same level of commitment to the cause of Islam.

While these scholars have departed us (may Allah forgive their shortcomings and grant them Jannatul Firdaus), our key message goes to the living scholars, particularly due to the worrying trend, which was a subject of discussion between yours sincerely and a prominent Islamic scholar in Nigeria. That is the culture that is growing among the young scholars who hardly pay attention to writing and research, but invest their effort in preaching to the general public, which is of course important, but hardly produce scholars.



Friday, 9 August 2013

(69):Kiyakiya flights for Umrah goers

If you live in cities like Kano or Zaria you must be familiar with the shuttle bus known as Kiyakiya. It is normally a ten, twelve or sixteen-seater bus. Until it was overtaken by Achaba (commercial motorcycle), Kiyakiya is the basic means of public transportation in many cities in Northern Nigeria. So if you don’t have a car, motorcycle or a bicycle, you must create a mental map on how to utilise the services of Kiyakiya. What is amazing about this shuttle bus is that it has certain ways of operating which can provide an interesting movie script.

First, it doesn’t have operation schedule. Unlike what obtains in some countries where the bus operates according specific timing, for instance every ten minutes, and the bus usually has an identifiable number, for instance, if a bus is tagged with 40 and is intended to   shuttle from Bata to Mandawari, it means in whichever part of the city you see bus 40, it always has one destination, Bata to Mandawari. If you see bus 41, it means it is taking a different route.  Kiyakiya has no identifiable number, nor does it have a schedule. So you can wait for an hour before it arrives, it doesn’t have clearly identified bus stop, so a passenger can stand on any part of the road, and it will fetch him there. If you are unlucky Kiyakiya develops fault on the road, you have to wait for the mechanic to arrive, get it fixed, and then you move on. There is no limit to the number of passengers it can take at a time.  No, every available space is a potential passenger seat.

One day in the mid 1990s, one of my teachers was getting married, it was a big wedding, all the cars available were full, and there were so many people invited who couldn’t get a space, some Kiyakiyas were brought as supplement. I joined one of them, luckily for me I was sitting on the front seat. I saw one of the wonders of this world, one that could win a Nobel Prize in risk taking. The Kiyakiya has no gear-handle, the driver had a spare screw driver, so whenever he needs to change the gear, he quickly inserts the screw driver into the broken hole the gear-handle was supposed to be, then he would change the gears. You need to see how he was sweating to understand what I am talking about. On a different occasion during the excessive fuel scarcity of the mid 1990s, I boarded another Kiyakiya, the driver needs to refuel the bus, guess what? Instead of petrol he used kerosine, and immediately started lecturing the passengers on how kerosine can be used as a substitute for petrol, I quickly alighted before reaching my destination.

But don’t think that buses are the only means of public transport that are run like Kiyakiya. Certainly not. The Nigerian aviation industry is sometimes run like Kiyakiya; flights arriving late, or being cancelled without much information, or you can even buy a ticket and on arrival at the airport to find that your seat has been sold to a more ‘important passenger’. Let me tell you another short story that nearly caused a matrimonial diplomatic row for me in 2004, which perhaps even Ban Ki-Moon would need to scratch his diplomatic bag before finding a solution. Two days before my wedding I travelled to Abuja via one of the airlines that has one of the best jingles when it comes to radio advertising. Children actually start dancing immediately they hear the jingle on Freedom radio in Kano.

I was scheduled to return to Kano 24 hours before my wedding, meanwhile I have left a carpenter in my house to finish all the carpentry work needed in the rooms and the kitchen, so that everything will be ready for the arrival of amarya (bride). On arrival at the airport around 6pm, we started hearing rumours that the flight has been delayed from Lagos, the rumour became true because until mid-night the flight had not arrived, yet no official from the airline came to offer an explanation or apologise.

Meanwhile amarya was busy calling to findout whether I have arrived, and if the carpenter has finished the work. GSM was quite new then, so the service was so poor, but I managed to pass the bad news that the flight has not arrived, but will soon find out about the carpenter. Unlucky me, my friend Malam Ghazali called to inform me that the carpenter has done Kiyakiya with my money and has not done the job. When he went to his shop to find out his whereabouts, he was told that the carpenter has travelled to Gwarzo to campaign for a local government chairman. La haula wala quwwata illa billahil aliyal azeem.

Then around 2am, an official from the airline came to inform us that the flight will not be arriving from Lagos, and so we will be lodged in a hotel, and our tickets will be reimbursed. That is Kiyakiya aviation industry. The motivation behind this article is another Kiyakiya attitude that is happening to Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) visitors from Nigeria. On Sunday morning I went to visit a close friend who came for Umrah from Canada. We studied together at the University of Sheffield, and we have not seen each other for three years. It was nice to see this brilliant fellow again, a promising young Professor and close associate.

As we started discussing he told me that his mother has just arrived from Nigeria for the Umrah. But to his surprise she told him that there were so many passengers travelling, so the airline operators decided to avoid airline safety mechanisms by taking as many passengers as possible, just like every space in Kiyakiya is a potential passenger seat, so was every available space on this flight. In fact it took off while many of the passengers could not even wear their seat-belts. Luckily I heard this story several times from Umrah passengers traveling from Nigeria. I told my friend that he should not be surprised if there is a governor or a minister in the flight, someone who might have the influence to call the airline operators to order. Please, please, if there is someone who cares to listen in the aviation ministry, let him advise the Umrah Airline operators not to do Kiyakiya with human lives.