Interview with the legendary Prof K. Schoeneich of Geology Dept, ABU Zaria

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Prof K. Schoeneich is an Icon in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria and a legend in the field of Geology in Nigeria and Beyond. He is a professor of hydrogeology who has been in the university system since 1955 and still active at the Department of Geology, at Ahmadu Bello University. In this rare interview with Abubakar A. GUMI, he talks about his life, career, the Nigerian educational system and many more.

Question: Professor Sir, may we have an insight into your biography (a brief about yourself)?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Yes. I was born before the last world war, precisely in the year 1932. I entered university in 1950. I also graduated as a Master Science in 1955. Thereafter, I was granted a Doctoral Degree in 1963. Since 1955, I worked with two universities in Poland and two universities in Nigeria. For Poland, I worked at the Department of the Geology University of Warsaw; And later at the Department of Geotechnics and Soil Mechanics at the University of Szczecin.

In Nigeria, I have worked at the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Jos and now I am at Department of Geology, Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. Here, at Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria, I had been working since 1978 on a part-time basis, since 1997 on full time.

So, I have experience with four world-class universities. While working at the universities in Poland, I worked in industries, at the same time, in water supply, drilling boreholes or in waterworks providing piped water to the consumers. In 1978 when a team from Federal Government of Nigeria came to Poland to recruit specialists in various areas; among them was Professor Cornelius Kogbe,  who was at this time the Head of  Department of Geology, ABU Zaria and at the same time, he was also a member of the Board of Directors at Plateau State Water Board in Jos.

He engaged me on full time at Plateau State Water Board as Chief Hydrogeologist and at the Department of Geology Ahmadu Bello University on part-time as a lecturer in Hydrogeology and Water Resources Management. Thus, Professor Kogbe wanted to give students of Geology Ahmadu Bello University an industrial exposure.

At the interview in Warsaw, I had this advantage over other candidates who applied for working in Nigeria, that I knew geology and history of Nigeria, and it impressed probably the interviewing panel of Nigerians, Professor Kogbe among them. Sorry, I do not have his portrait, but it is hanging on the wall in the Heads of Department Office. I repeat He engaged me on fulltime to Plateau state Water Board as Chief Hydrogeologist; to Ahmadu Bello University on a part-time basis as Lecturer in Hydrogeology.

Prof K. Schoeneich walking in ABU Zaria main Campus.
Prof K. Schoeneich walking in ABU Zaria main Campus.

Question: Can we know more about your field of specialization because it is understood that you dwelled in hydrology?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Not hydrology. It is hydro-geology. Eh, originally hydro-geology was limited only to groundwater. Science brought us to the knowledge of the groundwater only. Now it is teaching of groundwater, surface water, and atmospheric water; and it is an applied science. This department produces specialists in the water supply to give water to everybody at the cheapest possible price and water of good quality, healthy, non-polluted water.

Question: Sir, recently there was a total renovation of the ABU dam, was it under the care of this department of geology?

Prof K. Schoeneich: No. How it happened was, that, about six years ago, the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shehu Usman Abdullahi, established the Implementation Committee on Protection of Environment in the ABU Main Campus. This committee actually centred on the problem that the water was not flowing regularly to every tap and that there were complaints that the water was not of good quality containing contaminants and toxins.

And the aim of the Committee is to manage water and protect the environment on the Campus. Management means, making the best use of the environment. So we protect water from contamination and making sure that there should be always enough water flowing from taps. I am a member of this committee but the initiator is Dr. S. K. Musa, immediate former Director of the ABU Health Services. Because, environmental management aims at improvement in the public health, elongation of life expectancy at birth, for the residents of this Campus.

This environmental committee measured the rate of siltation of the Kubanni Dam at the ABU Main Campus and found that if no intervention is taken, already in the year 2022 there will be rationing of water in the Main Campus, first in the dry season if the present rate of siltation continues, already in the year 2050 (35 years to come), Kubanni dam will be completely silted up. This would mean an ecological catastrophe because ABU Campus has no alternative source of water. Residents of the Campus consume every day about 1,200 m3 of water.

To bring this water from the Zaria Dam in tankers would require sending every day 120 water tankers to aria Dam, located 40 km away. This would make water on the Campus as expensive as Coca-cola. Luckily, the Ecological Fund and the Presidency helped with the money and technical expertise. The dredging of the Kubanni Dam, the first dredging of a dam in Nigeria and in Africa is about to be completed. Once more thanks to the Ecological Fund (under the Presidency) for the dredging well done; without the dredging, there would be an environmental and ecological catastrophe. Without water, ABU Campus cannot exist.

Question: What inspired you, Sir, to join ABU as a University Lecturer; having selflessly served with the University of Jos for quite sometimes?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Aha! in Jos it was after my coming to Nigeria for several years until 1997. I was on a full-time basis in the Plateau State Water Board as engaged in Poland on a part-time basis later-on on a fulltime basis at the University of Jos at the same time with the Plateau State Water Board. When the directive from the Federal government came that the civil servants should have only one full-time work; I decided to leave Jos and come here to aria on full-time in 1997.

Question: Please, tell us more on your experience in ABU Zaria.

Prof K. Schoeneich: I had only one good experience. I am fascinated by the efforts of Professor Shehu Usman Abdullahi (former V.C. ABU Zaria) and his successors including the former Vice-Chancellor, Professor Abdullahi Mustapha and the present VC. Prof. Garba of keeping Ahmadu Bello University in the family of world-class universities, but you know, it is not easy.

Question: Sir, did you face any challenge being in ABU Zaria, maybe as a lecturer or anything?

Prof K. Schoeneich: You know challenges are always in life. So far I was lucky to overcome these challenges. But, everywhere whether in Nigeria or in Poland, everywhere and at every time in life, there are challenges.

Question: Prof. your students are swayed by your fascinating character and your friendly relationship with them most especially during field trip/excursions, which, according to them often lead to their academic excellence. Do you notice that?

Prof K. Schoeneich: I repeat. I had experienced the work in the industry and I prefer hydro-geology as a course which should be learned in the field, not in the class. I learned water almost entirely in the field, not on the blackboard. And I am only repeating what my teachers and what my lecturers taught me, what I learned from them.

Question: From the recent past, your union ASUU had a five (5) month old strike in late 2013 through early 2014, with all the saga involved in it; Professor, can that be said happening in Poland’s universities’ education crisis?

Prof K. Schoeneich: ASUU is not my union.  I am not a member of the union because I am on a contract basis. Therefore, as a contract employee, I cannot be a member of the trade union. So I cannot go or think of a strike because it would be a breach of the contract. Asking whether a strike happens in my country’s universities in Poland, is a very good question.

In Poland and probably in the whole European Union, strike in education at universities is not possible. It is considered non-ethical. So all the problems with the employer, it is with the government, are resolved amicably through peace-talk and meaningful negotiation. There was no strike never in my life when I worked in the two of Poland’s universities.

(cut-in ) so strike does not happen in Poland?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Yes. In my experience since 1955, there was no single strike in the universities and I would have heard if there was any after I left Poland since my mobile telephone makes it easy to be on daily basis in contact within Poland. To my knowledge, there was no single strike of universities or secondary schools. In Poland’s strike of universities, academic staff is considered quite unethical. I cannot recollect a strike even in primary or secondary schools in Poland.

Question: One of the ABU first class students of 1977 (Nasiru El-Rufai, Kaduna State Governor), asserted that 80% of published journals by Nigerian university lecturers have no visibility in the international knowledge community. What do you think that portends?

Prof K. Schoeneich: His Excellency the Governor, I do not know from which department he graduated.

(Cuts-in) Quantity Survey

Prof K. Schoeneich: Aha. It is an industry-oriented department. I would disagree with him. From my point of view as a geologist; we in geology are adding to the regional knowledge of geology in Nigeria and what is published is used in the publication of the books on the geology of the world and geology of Nigeria when it is relevant.

To buttress this, we have an academic linkage of equal partners with one of the universities in Poland, of which already 17 students from Nigeria were trained in Poland from 3 months to 6 and even 9 months each, at the cost of the Polish partner. And at the moment, today, two Nigerian students are being trained in Poland in the technics not yet known in Nigeria. And we expect that the same number of students from Poland will be invited to be trained here in ABU Zaria-Nigeria.

One of those 17 was a first-class Doctor Engineer who was examined here (in ABU Zaria) with an external examiner from a Polish University in Poland. Look at the logo of the doctoral dissertation done under the academic linkage. The author, K’tso Nghargbu, is a student of the two world-class universities (the University of Silesia in Poland and Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria). And he is a member of the Nigerian Association of Graduates of Polish Universities.

And he is a Doctor of the Medical Geology (in ABU Zaria); The Academic Linkage, under UN Millenium Development Goals, titled “Save Nigerian Savanna: Geothermal Energy as an Alternative to the Firewood” is focused on documentation in Nigeria deposits of geothermal energy because oil and gas will be completely exhausted in the World and in Nigeria about the year 2059. So we must look for the alternative source of the energy before this deadline.

And we must before that trains a cadre of professionals capable of operating geothermal power stations.  And that is how this linkage, “Safe Nigerian Savannah: Geothermal Energy as an Alternative to the firewood came into being. This is in anticipation of the energy crisis which is likely to afflict Nigeria and the whole world about the year 2059.

And before this happens the price of fuel and kerosene will gradually go up. With regard to the cost of kerosene, rural people, rural Nigerians will have no option than on the cutting of firewood from Nigerian forests, which are already shrinking at a rate of 1,000 km2 per year. And these Nigerian forests, together with other forests located in the tropics, are generating to the atmosphere oxygen, which is also needed in Poland.

We should not allow Nigerian forests to disappear: It would be against our interests! Said the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Silesia in Poland, Professor Stefan Banys, signing academic linkage “Save Nigerian Savanna: Geothermal Energy as an Alternative to the Firewood” with the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. This is how the academic linkage between the University of Silesia in Poland and Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria, came into the being.

So, I do not think that the papers in Nigerian journals, published by Nigerian university lecturers have no visibility in the international knowledge. In Nigeria there are international scholars; let me mention very few of them I know. The late former Dean of the Faculty of Science, Professor Nok, was a well-recognized international scholar.  Prof. E.C. Ike (he is no more with us. He is in another university) also an international scholar.

Question: So, in effect, are the researchers trying to device means as an alternative to which more other sources can be realized and relied upon energy other than oil?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Yes. Soon there will be no oil and we must not be taken by surprise. We must be prepared to this, by locating the sources of geothermal energy, and also training students on the exploitation of the geothermal energy. We need solar energy and geothermal energy which, contrary to the oil, do not pollute the environment. Oil is polluting the environment. It is responsible for recent climate change. It causes global warming because it pollutes the atmosphere.

Question: It is also observed that no Nigerian academic is in the league of Nobel Laureates or a nominee of Nobel Prize to date. What can you comment on this?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Please, until independence in 1960, the Nigerian educated class was very thin. Do you agree? The mass education came from the early 1960s; so certainly time will come when there will be Nobel prizes. In Poland also for a long time, there was no single Nobel Prize winner. Time has come that there are now, the same with Nigeria like Professor Wole Soyinka who is known everywhere in the world; not only in Nigeria.

Question: A report from an unnamed authority says ‘only 2% of Nigerian universities attract expatriate lecturers, over 80% of Ghanaian universities attracting the same. Sir, what are your remarks on this observation?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Yes, it is a good question. Actually, it is from this your question I learn that only 2% of Nigerian universities attract expatriate lecturers.  You see, under the United Nations, Millennium Development Goals there is item ‘8’ globalization, exchanging the experiences.

Lecturers should freely flow from university to university irrespectively of boundaries. Now, in united Europe, people in Poland are employed by  English universities, and people from the United Kingdom (England) are employed in Polish universities. We are now on the initial stage of globalization. We implement globalization through academic linkages with universities located abroad.

Question: Prof. on lecturer/Student ratio, most of the universities like the University of Abuja are 1:122, Lagos state University 1:111, ABU Zaria 1:130. But, in contrast to Harvard and Cambridge universities, it is 1:4 and 1:3. What is your experience in this phenomenon?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Yes, there is over admission in the Nigerian universities. It affects negatively the quality of teaching, especially in sciences, medicine, and engineering.

Question: It says graduates of now are unattractive to public service unlike the best and brightest of those days from Oxford University, Cambridge, ABU Zaria, and Ibadan University. Do you subscribe to that impression?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Yes, as they graduate from the University of Warsaw, I immediately after graduation found employment. From the better, universities graduates have a better chance of getting good employment. So it is everywhere. The graduates of Cambridge, Oxford have no problem with getting jobs.

Questions: Professor Sir, it is argued that Professors of many countries in the world do have their designation (title) suspended by the Universities when they get into politics and political positions until they are back to their universities. For instance, President of the United States, Barak Obama who was said to be a Professor at the University. Why are Nigerian Professors going into politics with the title?

Prof K. Schoeneich: One of my best graduates, Dr. K’rso, has withdrawn his doctoral title; and suspended his work with a governmental university, for the time when he intended to go into the politics. But I understand that it is not mandatory. He can use and can choose not to use the title. It is an individual choice whether in Nigeria or in Poland to use or not to use the academic title. For instance, in my bank, I am not using my title because it is irrelevant.

Question: Sir, in your view, what is your appeal to the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari for the total overhaul of the university system? How do you envision University system in Nigeria, you wish PMB to revisit or reconsider?

Prof K. Schoeneich: I cannot answer this question because I am not following the recent news. I did not know whether or not he wants to overhaul the Nigerian university system.

Questions: But Sir from your past experience in Nigeria, what kind of advice can you give to Mr. President in terms of your own area of specialization?

Prof K. Schoeneich: I am coming back to the directive of the Ahmadu Bello University Governing Council made about two years ago. The teaching, especially of applied sciences and engineering should be industry-oriented, to make graduates employable. However, it is difficult to implement this directive, because not every university lecturer had been exposed to industrial problems.

Question: Sir you once lamented that you had a nasty experience at a meeting of alumni of Faculty of Geology, University of Warsaw.

Prof K. Schoeneich: One of the alumni who were present at this meeting, working with the oil industry in the Niger Delta, said that he got this job answering an advertisement in a Warsaw daily newspaper. Asked why his employer advertised for filling a vacancy in a Polish newspaper instead of Nigerian newspaper, he said that probably in his employer’s perception graduates from Polish universities are more productive. In support of his opinion, he gave an example of four Nigerian Youth Corpers working under him on an oil rig in Niger Delta.

He had a reservation about their knowledge of petroleum geology. I asked from which Nigerian university these Youth Corpers came. He responded that from Ahmadu Bello University. I was embarrassed in the presence of many decision-makers in the Polish Government and European Union agencies. Unfortunately, the alumnus from Niger Delta was right. In contravention to the directive from ABU Governing Council to make teaching industry-oriented, petroleum geology is taught by an academic staff, who never in his life was on an oil rig, and he had never taken his students for a field trip to an oil rig. You cannot teach petroleum geology with chalk and blackboard.

Question: Finally Sir, what is your philosophy about life.

Prof K. Schoeneich: I think I am unable to answer this question of my philosophy about life. I have no philosophy.

Question: Sir what is your thought about life?

Prof K. Schoeneich: Unfortunately, I do not know what life is; I do not know what is a matter or what is energy. I am lost, I overheard that, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time can be reverted. But I do not understand this.

INTERVIEW BY: ABUBAKAR A. GUMI, Department of Mass Communication, Faculty of Social Sciences, ABU. Zaria.

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