By Ugochukwu Iwuji
At the core of learning anywhere in the world is research. Essentially, a research is a systematic study of materials and sources with the aim of establishing or proving a fact. The classroom, journals, academic conferences and workshops present avenues for researchers to show how well they have researched a subject matter. There is usually an air of confidence and panache which naturally and seamlessly radiates around a scholar who is adept in research. Conversely, scholars who do little or no research are usually timid and insecure. Thus, they resort to intimidation and extortion of learners to hide their complex. There is indeed a burden of research hanging on the ‘necks’ of so many academic institutions in Nigeria today. This burden hangs even with a fiercer temerity on Nigerian polytechnics whose pedagogical leaning is deeply rooted in practice and application. The silver lining in technical education, therefore, can only be seen where there is a deliberate and concerted effort to rekindle the fire of research among scholars in our institutions of higher learning. It is therefore cheering to hear in the news recently that the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund) gave an outstanding performance award on research to the Rector Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Owerri, Engr. Michael Arimanwa (PhD) for tenaciously championing and sustaining the tempo of research in the institution. The polytechnic under Arimanwa’s rectorship was also commended by TETfund for accessing requisite research funds with which to expand the scope of technical education.
According to the Fund, over sixty five scholars from the Federal Polytechnic Nekede were able to access over two hundred million naira to carry out targeted researches in various areas of science and technology. These scholars were said to have submitted tenable proposals which enabled them access the grants. The researchers so embarked upon, according to sources, were so financially taxing hence could not have been possible through self-sponsorship. A further probe by this writer revealed that the Rector of Federal Polytechnic Nekede had given research and learning a top priority in the institution. To further drive home the significance of research, the Rector had revamped and refocused the Centre for Research in the institution, while charging it to organise periodic workshops on research in the polytechnic. It was also further discovered that the Rector had established many academic journals in the institution as a means of spurring lecturers to action in the area of aggressive research. Having reawakened the zest for research, the Rector had challenged lecturers to publish in pair-reviewed journals locally and internationally as a way of gaining visibility. This writer also discovered that the Rector of Federal Polytechnic Nekede had inaugurated a team of researchers at the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic to offer non-pharmaceutical solutions to the society. The team had quickly hit the ground running and after some time, it was able to come up with far reaching results. The team, for instance, massively produced hand-sanitizers for the Polytechnic community and the public. It also went ahead to fabricate a semi-automated hand-washing machine. Still neck-deep in research, the team would later produce a fully automated hand-washing device which is solar-powered. Expectedly, these facilities were generously donated to the government and relevant institutions by the polytechnic, while companies also came to acquire them at a cost. Already, the polytechnic has acquired patent for the hand-washing machines because of their originality. There is indeed no end in sight to what research can achieve for mankind.
For a Polytechnic that had been rated best-performing in the country by the Nigerian Board for Technical Education, it was no surprise that recently its Rector won the Public Servant of the Year award by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (Imo State Chapter) An investigation by this writer also revealed that in 2021 alone, the Rector has been able to rake in so many awards and laurels for the Polytechnic owing to his single-minded approach to research and academic excellence. It was also discovered that a lot of lecturers had been sponsored for higher degrees within and outside the country, with a vision of turning the polytechnic into a haven of world class technical education where its students could compete with their peers anywhere in the globe. It is noteworthy that TETfund is actively involved in research sponsorship and not only in infrastructural renewal in higher institutions. What is however unacceptable is the lethargy on the part of the Nigerian polytechnics towards accessing research funds. Teaching and learning are integrally related to research. And since education is naturally tied to development, it behooves our institutions to be research-conscious. New technologies cannot just be discovered without a research. Similarly, new knowledge forms cannot exist if there is no deliberate research to interrogate, probe or improve on the existing one. Change, therefore, goes beyond being a lexical item to being a product of a purposeful research.
The countries we call ‘developed’ have come to be so referred because they paid serious attention to research. They spent money to inaugurate research ventures and had a consensus in executing research findings. In these climes, researchers are also heavily incentivized. And scholars take pride in delving into deep, calculated and complex researches, whether qualitative or quantitative ones. Man lives in a flux world and only researches can offer solutions out of the challenges of the world. In South Africa it has been said that government institutions, companies and organisations buy research findings from scholars at a high price with which they tackle existential problems.
In a world that is increasingly becoming challenging (as has been witnessed with the capricious COVID-19 virus), Nigerian higher institutions are left with very little options when it comes to research. Lecturers should be on the vanguard of breaking new epistemic grounds instead of recycling century-old knowledge forms. It is sad quite unfortunate that scholars who should engage in goal-oriented researches are at the nadir of despair. Many others are tragically on a wild goose chase for the filthy lucre while neglecting their primary duty of engagement. Nigeria can assail the armada of existential challenges in all areas of her life if the passion and resilience for research is revived and our institutions refocused on their primary role of research. The Federal Polytechnic Nekede has so far shown capacity towards reviving technical education through research. Other institutions of higher learning should take a cue. Similarly, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund has demonstrated courage in research development in Nigeria and should be commended. Corporate organisations should join in the noble venture of inaugurating research funds and facilities on choice areas of development. This is one way of radically contributing to national development.
Dr. Iwuji writes from Owerri, Imo State