This one is a personal experience. Let us start with the words of our elders: the axe cannot rest when the oak tree, meant to lie on its side, is still standing erect. The 21st century is almost saying goodbye to its second decade, why are ‘developing’ countries still developing? The socio-economic trajectory is still pointing downwards such that a country such as Nigeria, the world’s 6th largest exporter of crude oil according to US Central Intelligence Agency’s The World Fact Book remains in the group of Low Human Development.

On the 2018 Human Development Index (a composite statistic that reflects life expectancy, education, and income per capita developed by Mahbub ul Haq and Armatya Sen in 1990), Nigeria is 157th out 189 countries. Why has development eluded countries of the Third World for so long? Nigeria has been an independent nation for a whopping 58 years. Malaysia, in the same age group with respect to independence, is at the 57thposition and in the Very High Human Development group along with the countries in the Group of Seven (G7). What happened, or better still, what is happening? Why is development sticky upwards for these countries? Can we continue to blame colonialism and neo-colonialism for keeping these countries down?

The axe mentioned above refers to development economists who have spurned several theories to explain, and, or suggest ways out of the quagmire of underdevelopment.  There have been classical theories and neo-classical theories, models and more models, yet developing countries remain developing including the democratic experiments which remain ‘nascent’ for decades; adulthood has consistently eluded the permanently baby nations.

Permit me to posit that one of the several causes of the inability of poor countries to reach the ‘take off stage’ and speed is their inability or ignorance on the use of experienced hands in institutions of higher learning and other sectors after their statutory period of service. This is particularly important in institutions of higher learning because they are ‘technopoles’ from which ideas radiate that push the society forward. This ties up with concepts such as triple helix which refers to interactions and linkages among the academia, industry, and government. It is on the hot plate in the famed Silicon Valley in California, United States. Silicon Valley hosts the world’s largest high-tech companies including Hewlett-Packard (HP, as any student in Nigeria, knows). Where I am going is that Stanford University is regarded as the strongest driving force in Silicon Valley.

How is this important in this piece? It is that the former Chief Security Officer of Facebook, Alex Stamos is now on the faculty of that famed institution. After his exit from Facebook, the university absorbed him immediately. He is part of a research team known as Information Warfare that is expected to work on the role of security and technology in society. That is how an experienced hand is recruited to propel the work of an institution of higher learning. Interestingly as The New York Times of August 1, 2018 reports, the CEO of Facebook has indicated that the company will continue to work with Mr Alex Stamos.

This issue struck me because on completion of my tenure as CEO of a Federal College of Education, letters and, or visits to private and public universities, Colleges of Education, Monotechnics, and polytechnics for sabbatical placement have yielded just one song: ‘no money.’ And so the experiences accumulated for about two decades lie fallow.

It reminds me that in the 1970s when I was a student at the University of Nigeria, sabbatical appointment abroad was basically a right. After seven years, a lecturer could go for a sabbatical with his/her entire family for one year. That is history, very far into the distance of vanishing memory.

Today in Nigeria, a sabbatical appointment is like searching for a pin in a haystack. Most academic institutions irrespective of proprietorship are finding it difficult to pay full salaries to their staff. If existing staff are not paid well, recruiting staff even to replace staff that have bowed out for whatever reason is not just near impossible, it is a landmine for any Chief Executive. As a matter of fact, Chief Executives and their Bursars literary pray for people to retire or resign. And attending conferences and researching are left for Tertiary Education Trust Fund. Maintenance of facilities, always a problem in government organizations in Nigeria, is near zero now.

These problems are real, but how do institutions function without new people who could bring energy and ideas into the system? To ensure survival, institutions now recruit ‘mercenaries’ during accreditation exercises.

Having enough lecturers should be the dream of all administrators. It is now a pipe dream. Way back in the nineties, Professor C. C. Okonjo submitted that universities in Nigeria were able to meet only 40% of their teacher requirements. The situation is undoubtedly worse by now. Incidentally, the affable Professor on his 90th birthday on June 21st 2018 told Daily Trust Newspaper interviewers that anyone who observes that his/her productivity is declining should leave the system. He, however, remains an adviser to the University of Nigeria where he once lectured students – including me – in Economics. And he is the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, where he holds, his pieces of advice are hardly taken as Daily Trust newspaper states.

For the good of the country, ‘cultivated brains’ and ‘practised hands’ should be given the opportunity to continue to make contributions including mentoring. They should not be regarded as deadwood fit only for the hearth. Developing countries cannot afford to have active brains with idle hands when developed countries are doing something different. Public and private sectors should work together on job creation projects so that both the old and the young can work together for synergy.

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