Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A scientific meeting and my anger

I just returned from a 90-minute scientific brainstorming session of my host centre, the Afrikan-StudieCentrum (ASC), Universiteit Leiden. The fulcrum of the discussion was an invited presentation by Professor Arie Rip, a philospher of science. I will skip the details--they are mostly in-house issues of research focus, team sizes and so on. One of the most contentious issues discussed was the tendency for politics and policies to want to interfere with research content and focus. Those at the meeting--we were just about ten--were passionately opposed to this kind of interference and decry the growing tendency. Rather than cooperate with research centres, they allege, ministries are trying to influence the focus of these centres and even the content of their research. They spoke with amazing vehemence and passion, with the kind of concern of someone whose territory, nay, life, is being encroached. For a while, I mentally left the venue and took a (mental) trip to Nigeria. Each time we hold meetings in my Department back home, we are preoccupied with a set of concerns completely different from those of these scientists at ASC. We talk about funding, electricity, salaries, a sick student, approaching strikes and ASUU meetings, deadlines, deadlines and more deadlines from the office of the Vice Chancellor--deadlines about results, deadlines about a report going to the NUC, deadlines about admission meetings, deadlines about a list to be sent to the NYSC, deadlines that you heard of only after they had expired. Deadlines often require typsetting and printing and you have to do all of that without electricity. I cannot remember that we ever discussed research focus or agenda inmy Department! The mundane matters of mere existence consume all our passion and energy. ASC scientists--do they know they are lucky that policy makers and politicians are trying to influence them? In Nigeria, policy makers and politicians don't even know we exist. We don't count. They don't need us. Our research counts for nothing. And that is why no professor of communication has been invited by the National Assembly (NA) to enlighten it about the Freedom of Information bill; no professor of law has been invited to the NA to help it out of the quagmire created by Yar'Adua's situation. Before the 2007 elections, no professor of medicine was asked to render his/her opinion on whether or not Yar'Adua's condition could prevent him from ruling. No wonder, even we do our research in Nigeria just to lengthen our list of publications and get promoted as and when (un)due. Nigeria--the most annoying thing is not that we are not there; it is that we aint even moving forward.

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