Engr Nuhu Halidu is a French-trained mechanical engineer with RCC Construction Company. UJI ABDULLAHI Iliyasu had a chat with him at Nasarawa. Excerpts.
Where did you qualify as engineer?
I am Engr Nuhu Halidu. I was trained at the Federal University of Science Paris and later Federal University of Science, Caen, Normandy.
The training in France and Nigeria
My training in France as an engineer was wonderful. In the afternoon, we would go for practical. I did my practical at Saviem Motor Industry. Whatever I obtained in the industry would be sent to the university. The industry was in charge of my practical throughout. We would not go on holiday unless with a genuine excuse. The university would teach the theory expect of the engineering while the industry take charge of the practical. After completing my course in the university, the industry asked whether I would want to continue with them. As a federal government sponsored candidate, I could not commit myself. But some of my colleagues stayed behind and even did their master’s and doctoral degrees. The problem of Nigeria is that if you return home instead of the federal government to give you job as an engineer, they give you pen and a mighty office and you become a pen-pusher. Then it is all writing without anything relating to engineering. This is not allowed in France. I told my teacher that as we were going home, we were going to be in the office. His question was: ‘where will those who read arts work is you take their job, whereas they can’t take your own job?’ This is Nigeria’s problem. After the government had spent a huge amount of money on you as an engineer, you return home to be given a big office. In the West, you work in the field you are trained for. You don’t go to another field because there are unions. Pharmacists don’t do the work of medical doctors unless he wants to go to jail
Any memoir on your scholarship in France?
There was a book I wanted to write; it was entitled: “The West Underdeveloped Africa.” But I was warned that if that book was published, I would be killed.
Were you inspired by Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa?”
No. I have never read that book.
How do you see the award of first class in our universities?
It is very much in order. The number of intelligent children in Nigerian universities is increasing. People fail to note that in the past the number of universities in Nigeria was small. A person regarded as intelligent was in the eyes of many people. Prof. Awojobi was the best mechanical engineer of his time. He was the Head of Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos. He designed most of Russian military cars. But he schooled in Lagos. He left Lagos after a problem with the authorities and went to Britain and got first class their too. Most of the students this man gave first class degrees to measured up to their grades. Why then should we criticize the students or the school? When our graduates go abroad they excel more. A student is not taught by one lecturer in the university. He must do well in all the courses taught by various lecturers in the department to get first class. Is it a small thing to get first class? Those who criticize the universities and first class students are only envious of their academic excellence. Give first class work to a first class student, if he cannot do it then criticize him. One Abdullahi Abdulkareem, from Ilorin, graduated with first class from Ahmadu Bello University as an engineer. Japan government snatched him to their country. Can you see? Go to the HOD of any university and ask him about the whereabouts of his first class graduates, he will tell you that they are excelling in their various work places abroad. Aliyu Jelani who completed his school in Nigeria is well known all over the world. He finished with first-class. If Nigerian school did not give him first class how can the eye of the world see him?
Why none of the Nigerian university is among the first 1000?
It is politics and nothing else. The question is what is the outstanding achievement of those on the list of 1000? Nigerian universities do not succumb to the financial demands of the body responsible for the ranking of the universities. They are not ready to remit money to the world Educational Learning Institute in Britain in the face of growth and development challenges. In Africa, only Ghana complies with their demand. Among the private universities in Nigeria only Afe Babalola University is playing their politics. It is ranked among the best university in the world. Germany, China and other communist states refuse to join the body. With all the technological development in China can you still doubt the quality of their education? These countries do not like their politics.
Do you think parents prefer private universities for their morals?
In private universities learning experiences are not interrupted as it obtains in public universities. In public universities, what a child should achieve in four years is prolonged to up to seven or nine years. If you have money as a parent where do you think you will send your child to? This is the reason why many parents are taking their children and wards to private universities. Students who overstay in the universities form the cradle of secret cults. It is not for the moral upbringing of their children that parents take their children to private universities.
Do private universities have more quality lecturers than public universities?
Public universities supply lecturers to private universities at part-time level. Those lecturers who are not given opportunities to practice fully in their field find solace in private universities.
What is the reason why the standard of education is falling?
I don’t agree that the standard of education is falling. It is now that the standard is rising. Discoveries made in Nigerian universities recently testify to my claim. Why did researches go to that level of discovery? It means knowledge is increasing now than before.
What do say about the issue of B.Sc./HND dichotomy?
In Nigeria they put a barrier between a degree holder and HND holder. B.Sc. holder in engineering designs and gives to HND holder to construct. If HND holder did not call B.Sc. holder to put him through, then is he more intelligent than him? They are only different in their methods.
Is the Post-UTME screening OK?
The post-UTME test or screening is not necessary. Once a candidate has got his mark from JAMB what is the use of post-UTME test? In Britain, once you have your A Level, there is no need for any screening at the entry level. Universities are just extorting money from students. If the universities doubt the capability of JAMB to conduct entrance examination for higher school children, and the authorities support them, then it is better for them to Scrap JAMB so that every school conduct exam for their prospective candidates. But it is difficult to stop the post-UTME test because the hierarchy of authorities in the education sector is receiving returns from the polytechnics, colleges and universities which conduct the post-UTME tests.
What do say about the recent JAMB cut-off points?
The reduction in the cut-off marks for universities, colleges and polytechnics will not lower standard. A large number of students who apply for places in the universities are not given admission. Where do you want the children to go? It is even good for rural students who hardly know how to operate computer, and are only using the handset experience. In Nigeria, children are shut out of the universities compared to countries like India, China and Britain. We should ask JAMB to tell us the maximum score. One Hundred and Twenty or 110 marks are over what? What is the maximum point for a student to obtain in order to qualify for admission? Is it 400, 300 or 180? And, for the JAMB to put some higher points for some courses, it has begun the process of discrimination right from their doorstep. The reduction in the cut-off points does not matter. Marks obtained at the entry point do not matter but exit point.
Did you at any time suffer racial discrimination while in France?
Yes. I went to France to do Mechanical Engineering at the Federal University of Science in Paris but midway, I transferred to Federal University of Caen in Normandy. Our lecturer who was a retired Lt. Col. and served in Senegal during the War was always saying nasty things about Africa. He said Africa was dirty. Even though I excelled in my lessons, he still wanted some of my white mates to oversee my activities. He said it cost France a lot of money to produce the facilities in the school, so I might misuse and break them if left unattended to. I publicly questioned his authority and promised to report him at the embassy. After the lecture, a white lady advised me to change school or I would never graduate and I did. When he later came looking for me at Caen, I told him I could no longer return to Paris.
Have you ever worked with the government?
I had worked with Federal Urban Mass. Here the office people would write the list of the motor parts we required in the workshop and bought them for us. The parts they bought were usually not good. I wanted made in Nigeria parts in my office, but they preferred foreign ones. One day they supplied us 157 Tata buses from India and within six months I got a memo from our chairman that they be auctioned off. My resistance couldn’t do anything.
Why do Nigerian mechanical engineers patronize roadside mechanics?
Those who insinuate that Nigerian mechanical engineers cannot repair their own vehicles are ignorant of the law. The law does not permit an engineer to repair his own vehicle. The same law applies to doctors. Ask any doctor whether he or she is allowed to operate on his/her mother. If a doctor is sick he is not allowed to prescribe drugs for himself. As a mechanical engineer, if your vehicle develops fault, you take it to the technicians and only tell them where you suspect the problem is; not to tell him what is wrong with your vehicle. Engineers are to design, not to construct. Engineers design and give to technicians to construct.