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Rain of varsities, dearth of …

Many words were competing to be the most suitable to fill the gap in the title of this piece. The gap was, therefore, left for…

Many words were competing to be the most suitable to fill the gap in the title of this piece. The gap was, therefore, left for readers to provide the missing word or words after reading the column. It was mind-boggling to read in the Daily Trust edition of October 29, 2021 about the establishment of 30 new public tertiary institutions amidst poor funding of existing ones. Eleven of the new proposed institutions are universities. 

In June this year, the federal government approved the release of N18 billion for the take-off of four specialised universities. The list of the newly established universities includes the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko (2018); Nigerian Army University, Biu (2018); Federal University of Transportation, Daura (2018); Others are the Federal University of Agriculture, Zuru, Kebbi State (2020); the University of Health Technology, Otukpo, Benue State (2020); the Federal University of Technology, Babura, Jigawa State (2021); Federal University of Technology, Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State (2021); Federal University of Health Sciences, Azare, Bauchi State (2021); Nigeria Air Force University, Kaduna (2018) and the Federal University of Health Sciences, Ila Orangun, Osun State (2021). 

Ten new polytechnics were also established. They are located at Ile-Oluji, Ondo State; Daura, Katsina State; Kaltungo, Gombe State; Ayede, Oyo State; Munguno, Borno State; N’yak, Shendam, Plateau State; Ohodo, Enugu State; Ugep, Cross Rivers State; Wannune, Benue State; and Orogun, Delta state. The newly established colleges of education include those at Iwo, Odugbo, Isu, Ekiadolor, Gidan Madi, Jama’are, Birnin Kudu, and the Federal College of Agriculture, Kirikasamma. 

In addition to this, several dozens of bills proposing the establishment of universities have also been passed by the National Assembly as if the lawmakers were in competition with the executive arm. If we proceed this way, there would soon be universities as many as the number of Senators or Members of the House of Representatives. The question is whether the decision to establish more universities (whether by the executive or the legislature) was genuine or political. For some who request for same institutions because others have done so, it’s a fashion. It is hoped that President Buhari will not assent to some of these bills on new tertiary institutions. 

What would be your reaction, for example, when a married man who is unable to feed and properly cater for the needs of his two wives gives you an invitation card that he is marrying two more wives to complete the maximum number of four allowed in Islam (believing that the man is a Muslim)? Someone whispered to me that he will not attend the wedding ceremony of an irresponsible man; describing the two new brides as foolish. The man is, no doubt, irresponsibly reckless for abusing the Islamic provision that allows a man to marry up to a maximum of four wives. Truly, the man and his family would be happier if the little money he would spend to bring in two more wives is used in improving the lot of the two existing wives. 

Like the miserable life that may be orchestrated by such a man (Allah knows best) on his family members, students admitted in to these ‘mushroom’ public universities are not likely to have the best of training and quality education. Government would be seen to be wise when the N5bn or N2bn take-off grant for a new university is rather released for the revitalisation and expansion of an existing one. Lest we forget, part of the FGN/ASUU Agreement in 2009 was the provision of N200bn annually for the revitalization of universities in the country. This has remained on the list of ASUU demands for all its industrial actions in recent years. 

Recall that ASUU suspended its 9-momth strike in December 2020 because the federal government agreed, after several negotiations, to within the first quarter of 2021 release N30bn instead of the initially agreed N200bn as revitalization fund. One year after the strike was suspended; the N30bn had not been released. This was what compelled ASUU, last week, to issue a 3-week ultimatum for government to fulfil the promises it made 12 months ago. This poor response to the needs of existing universities is enough evidence that the newly established universities are far from becoming sustainable; suggesting that the purpose for establishing many of these new institutions are political.

The rot in most federal universities in Nigeria today is better imagined. Indeed, it’s an eye sore. From dilapidated or over-stretched classroom facilities (where they are available), to obsolete or non-existent library materials, ill-equipped laboratories (where they exist), over-crowded hostels, and poor electricity supply. While recruitment waivers are given every now and then to CBN, NNPC, FIRS, NDIC, and similar choice government MDAs to enable highly-placed public and political office holders fix their children there, the embargo on recruitment into federal universities has perpetually remained un-lifted; probably because ‘their’ children would not apply there; and therefore, the opportunity should rather remain sealed for other children. The last time recruitment of academic staff on permanent appointment was done in many federal universities was over a decade ago!

More disturbing than all this is the apparent disconnect between Nigeria’s needs and courses prioritized in the universities after their establishment. This only exposes the country’s careless norm of not having a national development plan. Such a strategic document tells us what, when and how many the country needs in terms medical doctors, health facilities, schools, teachers, roads and other infrastructure based on demographic estimations projected for the county. We just chuck out thousands of graduates annually in areas that add little value to our national manpower and economic needs.  

Having had an idea of how federal universities look like, readers can now choose from the following set of words “quality graduates, functional education, useful knowledge, practical skills, industries, or jobs” to complete the title of this piece, “Rain of varsities, dearth of. ..” May Allah guide relevant authorities not only to appreciate that economy today is knowledge-driven but also to improve the percentage of budgetary allocations to education beyond the customary one-digit, amin.

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