Musa Ajibola is a Nigerian studying for a PhD in Taiwan on scholarship. He has been on the Island in the last five years. In this chat with Rasheed Adebiyi, he bares his mind on transition to Taiwan, his expectation of Nigeria’s development journey and general perception of Taiwan’s culture. Here are the excerpts
Tekedia: Please tell us about yourself?
Musa Ajibola: My name is Musa Ajibola. I am currently a PhD student in Neuroscience at National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan; under the fellowship of Taiwan International Graduate Program (TIGP) of Academia sinica.
Tekedia: How does it feel transiting from Nigeria to Taiwan?
Musa Ajibola: It has always been an exciting experience seeking knowledge in another country and Taiwan is not an exception.
Tekedia: How much support did you get in order to fully settle down both at your study institution and in the society?
Musa Ajibola:The host institution made arrangement to receive me at the airport and also provided good accommodation at the student dormitory. Integrating to the society was very easy as Taiwanese people are naturally accommodating. The only major challenge then was the language and cultural differences.
Tekedia: How did you then handle the language issues?
Musa Ajibola: I attended a four-month Mandarin class. Though wasn’t enough to learn the language but at least basics to survive.
Tekedia: So, was it enough to ensure you find your way both at work and in the society generally?
Musa Ajibola: Not enough, at my work place we speak English. In the society, I can join some words together and we can communicate.
Tekedia: How was buying basic needs and navigating your way around the city?
Musa Ajibola: What we were taught during the class is enough to communicate in the traditional markets and stores. Navigating the community is easy because there’s always a English directory in public transport. But doing business within the community is almost impossible without good Mandarin skill.
Tekedia: What do you miss about Nigeria?
Musa Ajibola: Notwithstanding the despicable socio-economical situation of Nigeria, home is always home. Most importantly I miss my family.
Tekedia: What are those things you have seen in Taiwan that you would wish to see in Nigeria?
Musa Ajibola: There’s a lot of systemic and infrastructural development I would like to see in Nigeria in not so far future because we can’t afford to lag behind. For examples, I would like to see a well-structured education policy that will make funding research at our university a topmost priority of government at all levels. An education system with a focus on human capital development. Specifically, at our tertiary level, I think there is an urgent need to look at the whole system again and restructure it to meet international best practice. For health sector, with the current COVID-19 pandemic it has become glaring that we have issues with our healthcare system. In Taiwan for example, the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme is universal and even compulsory. Our government needs to improve the current National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and make it more inclusive, if possible compulsory. Most importantly, our primary healthcare centres should not just be buildings but functional. I hope in the future we can automate our healthcare system such that every hospital in the country can quickly access patients’ health history via the individual health insurance cards. I have also experienced organized transit system in Taiwan and mostly cashless ticketing system. I would like to see improvement in public transport system of Nigeria such that it would be so convenient and organized that the rich can use it. This should include reformed train system, and also our water ways.
Tekedia: How could you describe the work culture in Taiwan as compared to Nigeria?
Musa Ajibola: The work system is designed for everyone to be hardworking and carryout the assigned job at stipulated time. I would just say “you can’t break the work chain” so you must do your part timely. You rarely go to offices and have to wait a long time before being attended to. Though, this may be because 95% of work/jobs here are automated so relatively faster and more efficient. Moreover, average Taiwanese is trained formally and informally to be hardworking. And most of them have been engaged in one job or the other since their high school days, so they are full of experience.
Tekedia: How do you feel about the Nigerian government’s response to COVID-19 as compared to Taiwan?
Musa Ajibola: Taiwan’s response to Coronavirus outbreak is described by experts among the ,best in the world. Considering the close proximity of the island to mainland China where the first outbreak was first reported, it was among the most at-risk areas. Interestingly, today the country only has 443 confirmed cases, 429 has already recovered and 7 deaths. That is relatively a fantastic result of the Taiwan government response. The Nigerian government response was poor given the country experience with Ebola. It appeared as if we haven’t learnt anything from Ebola outbreak. For example, before the Taiwan index case on 21st January, the Taiwan government activated many action items to combat the virus including the testing centres, isolation centres and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the frontline medical officers. All hospitals in the country were supplied with PPE. To prevent a hike in the price of materials such as face mask, the government put a ban on face masks export. And estimated the number that can be produced in the country and work with the companies to increase its production. Even before the index case, the communication was clear and transparent that the use of face mask and social distancing are the solutions to prevent the spread of the virus. Both Nigeria and Taiwan had previously experienced disease outbreak, so it is expected that the two countries should handle the pandemic better. The island, Taiwan, was strongly affected by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 with over 150,000 people quarantined. This experience seems to have prepared the country well to handle the coronavirus pandemic. Although, Nigeria was also affected by Ebola outbreak in 2014 but the country’s response to coronavirus does not show any preparedness. It was expected that this would help Nigeriato respond faster and take the danger of coronavirus seriously than other African countries. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Another edge Taiwan has over Nigeria in handling the pandemic is the island universal coverage world-class healthcare system. The Taiwan government recognized that border control is not enough in controlling the spread of the virus, so the policies and actions go beyond border control. Every sector of the government was carried along. And the communication was transparent, accurate and lucid.
Tekedia: Thank you for your time.
Musa Ajibola: It is my pleasure.