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INVESTIGATION: Zamfara moribund varsity operates from primary school

When Amina Ibrahim, an indigene of Baruten Local Government Area of Kwara State completed her secondary education in 2017, she looked forward to gaining admission…

When Amina Ibrahim, an indigene of Baruten Local Government Area of Kwara State completed her secondary education in 2017, she looked forward to gaining admission into the university to pursue her dream of becoming a certified nurse. The following year, she registered for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) but was denied admission despite securing the cut off mark.

“I wrote another UTME and failed, but I never gave up. Then I made another attempt for the third time and passed. I was very happy when I received my admission letter to study for a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the Zamfara State University (ZAMSUT). I even hosted a small party in our family compound before proceeding for matriculation,” she said.

But no sooner had the footsteps of family members, friends and well-wishers who came to celebrate with her for securing a university admission faded, than Amina began to feel frustrated.

“My happiness for securing admission into the ZAMSUT turned into bitterness because it soon dawned on me that I had entered ‘one-chance’. After my matriculation I have not been stable in school as an undergraduate. From 2000 we spent almost two years away from the school due to the coronavirus palaver.

 “Then I realised that the school depended only on visiting lecturers because they don’t have permanent academic and non-academic staff,” said Amina, who is now in her 200-level.

She is just one out of the many students of the Zamfara State University who are worried over the deteriorating state of affairs in the institution. Another student, who also reads Nursing, lamented that they had found themselves in a rather bad situation.

The 200-level student who craved for anonymity said the state government was playing politics with the university. 

“Zamfara is the only state in the country that didn’t have a state university before it was established by the immediate past governor, Abdulaziz Yari. When the current governor took over, he suspended the university before reopening it.

“During our first semester, we suffered. There are no permanent lecturers and the visiting ones who come from time to time are not even paid. It is obvious that the governor is not serious about the university because since he came into office he has neither rendered any financial assistance nor visited the institution,” he said.

Another student of History and International Studies said she found it strange that the university, which was established in 2018, still operated from a temporary site and yet to employ permanent academic and non-academic staff.

“We only have visiting lecturers who come to teach us three times in a week. Evan at that, they usually rush us in order to go back to their primary areas of teaching, as a result of which we don’t have value for our money. There is also mass failure as a result of this arrangement,” she lamented.  

Genesis, nemesis of ZAMSUT

Findings indicate that the state university is among the over 50 universities currently owned by state governments across the country. It was established in 2017 during the second tenure of ex-governor Abdul-Aziz Yari Abubakar and was opened for admission in 2018.  

The former governor was said to have created the institution because Zamfara was the only northern state without a state university at the time. Checks further revealed that a primary school was converted at Talata Mafara for the takeoff of the university.

Daily Trust on Sunday also learnt that although the National Universities Commission (NUC) had approved the establishment of the university as the 162nd in the country as at 2018, it is yet to be accredited.

Following its establishment, students were said to have been enrolled in the 2018/2019 academic sessions taught by academic staff whose employment was contract-based while the students took the first-semester examination successfully in 2019 before a transition of power.  

Among the over 25 courses offered in the university, which is currently in its 200- level are Public Health, Nursing, Physiotherapy, Mass Communication, History and International Studies, Mathematics and Computer Science.  

Following the voiding of the 2019 elections in Zamfara State by the Supreme Court, Bello Matawalle, who was the candidate of the then opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, became the governor. He was said to have set up a strategy and development committee that reviewed all the works that were executed by the previous administration.   

Among other functions, the committee, chaired by Professor Yusuf Adamu Tsafe, was to advise the new governor on the smooth takeoff of the school. 

Other members of the committee were Prof Yahya Zakari Abdullahi, Alhaji Musa Ahmed Bungudu, Jalaludeen Ibrahim Maradun, Malam Gazali Shehu Ahmad, Dr. Bashir Maru Maru and Fati Nahuche, a lawyer.

It was gathered that despite the committee’s recommendation in favour of the university, the governor was initially averse to its continuation. However, following mass protests by concerned individuals, including parents and students of the institution, the governor reopened the school in 2020 and appointed some principal officers, namely, Prof Mu’azu Gusau as vice chancellor; Bashiru Mafara as registrar; Usman Bungudu as bursar and Aminu Abdullahi as director of academic planning. 

However, in 2021, Prof Gusau handed over to the current vice chancellor, Prof Yahaya Zakari Abdullahi and moved to the Federal University, Gusau, where he is currently working, also as vice chancellor. He declined to speak on the status of the university when contacted by our reporter.

Documents obtained by Daily Trust on Sunday also indicate that the committee had recommended the appointment of academic and non-academic staff as earlier recommended by an implementation committee under the chairmanship of Prof Lawal Suleiman Bilbis (the current vice chancellor of Usumanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto).  

Similarly, the committee recommended the sum of N3.6 billion for a successful takeoff of the university and N100 million monthly subvention as running cost.

While vowing to revamp the education sector in the state, Matawalle reportedly implored the new appointees to discharge their duties diligently, promising to give the institution all the required support “to meet the demands of a new age and become a world-class university.”

However, our findings reveal that for the past two years, the Zamfara State University has been operating from its temporary site, even without academic and non-academic staff. As a result, all the functions of the institution that are expected to be carried out by the relevant  management staff, such as deans, heads of departments and examination officers are being performed by the visiting lecturers, who periodically come from other universities across the country. 

Investigation by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that the university could not recruit permanent staff and even pay the temporary ones (visiting lecturers) due to the failure of the state government to release the monthly sum of N100million overhead cost that was recommended by the strategy and development committee.

The vice chancellor of the university declined to speak on this and other inquiries sought by our reporter, but a highly placed government source in Gusau confided in Daily Trust on Sunday that only N47 million has so far been released to the institution as running cost since 2020, which is not even up to the N100 million recommended monthly by the committee.

“Even the N47m was released in piecemeal of N20 million, N10 million, another N10 million and N7 million respectively. With this, you don’t expect the university to recruit permanent staff or pay the visiting lecturers,” said the source, who wouldn’t want his name mentioned due to the sensitive nature of the matter.  

Visiting lecturers poised for showdown 

Ironically, the visiting lecturers, including laboratory technicians/scientists, are currently being owed salaries for between five and seven months. Many of them who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday vowed to remain on a work-to-rule, even as the school resumes for the second semester.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the school was supposed to resume academic activities for the second semester on March 13, 2022, but a visit to the temporary site at Talata Mafara showed that both students and the visiting lecturers were absent.

Some of the visiting lecturers who spoke with our reporter on telephone decried the situation in the school and vowed not to resume lectures for the second semester until their outstanding salaries were paid.

One of them who sought for identity protection said, “The last time we received alerts was in September last year, and the vice chancellor has not said anything to the lecturers. Most of us come from places like Kano, Kaduna, Zaria, Kebbi, and even Abuja. We spend our resources for transportation, accommodation and other logistics in order to teach the students.

“When we started, in the first 10 months we were only given tokens. But because some of us are indigenes of Zamfara we were determined to make sacrifices for the university to succeed pending the appointment of permanent lecturers.

“But since we are left in the dark we are not going to resume for the second semester, and if we are pushed to the wall, we will go to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission with a petition that we were duped with fake appointment letters. Even the students, no one can tell if they are going back for second semester.” 

Another visiting lecturer admitted that the absence of permanent staff made it difficult for students of the university to get value for their money.

“In view of the fact that there are no adequate lecturers to interact with, the commitment on the part of students towards learning is low because they don’t feel comfortable with the visiting lecturers.

“Also, the university is still operating from its temporary site, which was a converted primary school. There is no enough laboratory equipment; the available ones are only suitable for a primary school.

“Above all, the issue of non-payment of salaries to the visiting lecturers is bad, but what is even more painful about it is that there is no proper communication to that effect from the vice chancellor,” said the lecturer, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.

On his part, Dr Muawiyya Umar Ladan of the Department of Biological Sciences, Federal University, Gusau, urged other visiting lecturers to consider their assignment as their contributions to the progress of the Zamfara State University despite the political crisis bedeviling it.

“If my colleagues stop teaching because of non-payment of salaries, then we are killing the university. I believe the current problem faced by the university is political, but that would be resolved sooner than later,” he said.

Asked if it is proper for the university to continue depending on visiting lecturers, Dr Ladan said,  “This is the very bad side of the problem. We are worried because the students need permanent staff to guide them. Education is the only legacy you can bequeath to citizens.”

 

Permanent site project abandoned

Although former Governor Yari was said to have awarded contract for the construction of a permanent site for the university, our findings show that work has been abandoned. A visit to the permanent site, located a few meters away from the temporary site, showed that all construction work had been suspended.

Our reporter who went round the permanent site observed that there was not even a worker on ground, while construction equipment were also unavailable within the premises.

At the temporary site, all the lecture halls and laboratories were empty and lecturers were not seen on campus. Only a handful of pre-degree students were seen milling around.

Although the registrar was not available for comments, a source at the “Colony Complex” that houses the offices of the principal staff, including the vice chancellor, confided in our reporter that resumption date for the second semester had been rescheduled for April 5, 2022.

The source, who wouldn’t want to be named because he was not authorised to speak for the university said the shift in resumption date was informed by the threat from the visiting lecturers to embark on work-to-rule until their outstanding salaries are paid.

“The state government is worried by the threat from the visiting lecturers who have vowed not to resume teaching for the second semester until their outstanding salaries are paid. The extension is to enable them sort out the aggrieved lecturers,” the source said.

NUC may shut down varsity

There are fears among some educationists that the NUC may shut down the university which is yet to be accredited.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that a visitation panel was previously there for accreditation, but in view of the prevailing situation, the university requested for more time.  

A concerned citizen of Zamfara State who teaches at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Dr Tijjani Salihu Shinkafi, while expressing fears that the NUC might be forced to close down the university, advised the state government to consider adopting the model employed by the Borno State Government when it established its university in 2016.  

 “Lecturers with either MSc or PhD relevant to the courses offered by the Borno State University were transferred to the institution since they were already in the state’s payroll. This is possible in Zamfara State since we have a good number of MSc and PhD holders in the four tertiary institutions in the state.   

“Thereafter, the state government can employ more lecturers. Most lecturers are now sponsored by an agency called TETFund, which provides support to all tertiary institutions, including state universities in the country. Imagine how many billions of naira ZAMSUT may have lost since its establishment for just training and conference attendance by both academic staff if they were recruited.

“Above all, the governor needs to sit up to his responsibilities by properly funding education. The university stands a chance of being closed down by the NUC because after a certain period, all the universities are usually accredited. And accreditation of the ZAMSUT is expected this year. How can the school scale through the accreditation in the absence of both academic and non-academic staff?” Shinkafi said.  

Speaking in the same vein, Dr Jabi Aminu Mohammed of the Federal University, Gusau, advised the Zamfara State Government to transfer academic and non-academic staff from other tertiary institutions in Zamfara to the state university, as well as consider the report of the Strategy and Development Committee as it relates to staff employment at the university.

“We are happy with the courses offered by the ZAMSUT. Now that we are battling with the menace of banditry, I urge the governor and members of the National Assembly from the state to take education seriously as it is the only legacy to bequeath to citizens,” Mohammed said.  

Previous administration to blame – State govt  

The Zamfara State Government has blamed the situation in the university on the immediate past administration, saying the takeoff committee was neither given any clear terms of reference nor was it given the financial wherewithal to execute any initiative.

“For the record, the immediate past administration in the state secured the NUC licence for the establishment of the state university. However, it may interest the general public to note that only the site of the university was identified and secured in Talata Mafara and contracts for the development of facilities were awarded at hyper inflated costs to cronies. There was no management staff, academic and non-academic staff for the institution,” Ibranim Magaji Dosara, the state information commissioner said.  

He said the clear and sudden loss of interest in the university project soon after awarding outrageous contracts for structures to cronies was a clear demonstration that the previous administration didn’t have any further plan for the development of the institution.   

“Similarly, the financial grant required for the takeoff of the university was not provided. This was in addition to the flagrant refusal of the government then to appoint a vice chancellor, principal officers and management staff for the university to commence operation. 

“Furthermore, the previous administration neither employed any academic staff relevant to the courses set out for the university to offer nor did it employ non-academic staff that would facilitate the takeoff and subsequent conduct of academic activities,” he said. 

The commissioner said all the processes for the recruitment of 265 academic and 300 non-academic staff were in an advanced stage. 

“Interviews have been conducted for most of the applicants. They are awaiting the last stage of the final screening. The governor has also approved the release of N60m owed the part time lecturers,” he said.

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