By Chijioke Uwasomba
It is strange but not surprising that, even as the ideological war between the Federal Government of Nigeria along with its supporters across the country and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has got to a decisive stage, the Federal Government which is not making any sincere efforts to resolve the issues in contention is, however, busy establishing new universities. Like President Goodluck Jonathan and his dunderhead advisers who established eleven universities in a fell swoop without caring a hoot how they could be funded, the Buhari regime has also gone ahead to establish more universities at Ila-Orogun in Osun State as a patronage to Chief Bisi Akande, the first Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC); another university at Azare in Bauchi State where the current Minister of Education, Mr. Adamu Adamu who has displayed utter incompetence in resolving the issues that led to the strike comes from. In Akwa Ibom State, the second federal university has also been established to placate Mr. Godswill Akpabio, the former Governor of the state and latterly Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. To compensate Senator David Mark for being the Senate President for as long as he wanted, a federal university has been established in his Otukpo community.
Bills proposing the establishment of over seventy-two federal universities are at various stages in the National Assembly. There are no bills before the National Assembly to fund and to redirect the existing universities to fulfil their manifest destinies as centres of global excellence, neither do the legislators have grand ideas on how to make laws that could turn the fortunes of the country in the areas of establishing factories, industries, technical hubs, industrial parks, artisanal centres of excellence and other productive engagement capacities that could give the country qualitative leap within the comity of nations. All that the various layers of the government in cahoots with their business counterparts think about is the establishment of universities in every nook and cranny of the country without any genuine concern for their funding and the quality staff to drive the schools.
It is not the Federal Government alone that is involved in this jamboree as the stage governments have joined suit. Some of the state governments even with the parlous state of their economies have as many as three or four different universities. The out-going Osun State governor, Mr. Gboyega Oyetola has, with indecent haste, recently announced the upgrading of the Ilesa College of Education to a university with his supporters taffy in their ululations. Already, the state has its university with six satellite campuses spread across the various political constituencies of the state. A trip to the main campus in Osogbo with its fantastic landscape shows that had the planners of the university been altruistic and development-minded, there would not have been any need to spread the campuses in spite of the politics of the state. Had all the campuses been brought to the main campus in Osogbo, the university would have been one of the best universities in the country given the solid character and content of its faculty. The in-coming governor should without any equivocation restore the state university to a-one campus university and reject the political gambit of the out-going governor as it relates to the State College of Education at Ilesa. The state does not have the required resources for such gambits.
The former fumbling governor of Imo State, Mr. Rochas Okorocha, announced the establishment of three more universities before he left office even when the existing Imo State University has suffered lack of funds to operate fully as a university worthy of its name. Kano State has two existing state universities and is planning to set up two more universities. Lagos State has, as of today three universities; Oyo State has two, two in Ogun State while Delta State has four. In Bayelsa, as small as the state is and not minding that there is a federal university established by President Jonathan, the state has established three universities. In Rivers State, there are two state universities and the state governor is currently establishing satellite campuses in different parts of the state. The Kogi State government has also another new university in its kitty. Not long ago, the out-going governor of Enugu State, Mr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi announced the coming into being of another state university, obviously in his Senatorial Zone. David Umahi, the governor of Ebonyi State has recently inaugurated King David Umahi University of Medical Sciences in his natal environment. It is curious that most of these states establishing new universities are neither funding the existing ones nor paying salaries as and when due as can be noticed in states like Imo and Abia states where university workers are owed as much as ten months in salaries and allowances. Before Mr. Adams Oshomohle left office as the governor of Edo State, he established another university at Iyamho-Uzairue in Etsako West LGA where he comes from.
From the foregoing disclosures, it is obvious that Nigeria’s emergent power elite, in its warped conception of governance, sees the establishment of universities as a vocation that serves its political frolicking. Some have also argued that in this business of establishing universities, more multi-millionaires and billionaires are being created. It is also suggested that a racket is at play between and amongst state officials, private business actors, the National Universities Commission (NUC) and some consultants, leading to the flurry of licences awarded to all sorts of individuals and organsations to establish and own universities.
These new universities are poorly conceived, a parody of universities and unwisely structured. Universities are complex knowledge production centres with their deep philosophical foundations, objects, values, norms, virtues and fundamental organizing principles that speak to higher ideals and high-mindedness in every conception and praxis. In many well organized societies, apart from the established roles universities are expected to play in the production and sustenance of high level manpower for their countries, the universities are profound sounding boards for the leaders as the latter always rush to their universities for informed advice on all matters of policy and national development. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the avatar and rigorous thinker effectively embraced the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) as the lynchpin of his development agenda and governance dynamics when he administered the former Western region of Nigeria before the reactionary forces within and without did him in. The crisis in the university system is occasioned by poor funding and the cavalier manner governments at all levels treat the system. We can wager that these new universities being sited and inaugurated will not be funded and therefore, become another source of friction and national embarrassment as currently being witnessed in the face-off between the government and the union of academics and other campus-based workers.
Universities cannot and should not be treated as business centres or constituency projects by our politicians who are only thinking of how to win the next election cycle without thorough evaluations of sustainability. Universities by every definition are not money-making ventures even though they may offer ancillary opportunities for small scale services for the survival of the poor in our society. Governments and private individuals and organizations establishing universities MUST give serious thoughts or be compelled to do so and to engage in background checks before embarking on this idea to save our society from the unintended consequence of their actions.
Nigeria is, unfortunately, a more surreal environment than real. Nothing appears to hurt the Nigerian people especially the elite who are always ready and willing to defend the traducers and mis-managers of their lives. Ordinarily, you would wish that they would react to the debilitating conditions imposed on them by their misbegotten rulers. But the reverse is the case such that if they are pushed and pinned to the wall, they begin to ferociously blame and antagonize their fellow victims who they could have aligned with to fight their cause as a collective. Nigerians are such a forgiving lot hence they are treated with ignominy and deliberate condescension. This is the study of Nigeria writ large!
As the strike action by Nigerian academics gets to its seventh month and the General Mohammadu Buhari (Rtd.) led Federal Government and its supporters across the country are dribbling the nation, the Nigerian public which stands to benefit from ASUU’s stance that the public universities should be adequately funded for the benefit of the country especially the poor are beginning to distance themselves from the union. They have started to show signs of weariness and disapproval of the on-going strike. A section of the media has begun to question ASUU’s position regarding the need for the government to fund education adequately. This can be understood given the nature of most parents who see the universities and other higher institutions as kindergarten where their children and wards should be kept. Some of these parents do not seem to understand that their children and wards live in hovels and study under excruciating circumstances that do not guarantee a deserving future. The deliberate underfunding of the universities has done a lot of incalculable damage to the university system and undermined the latter’s historic capacity of guaranteeing the realization of a well-ordered and rounded production of knowledge.
Taking these paradoxes in its stride constitute the challenges a platform such as ASUU MUST continue to pursue.
Uwasomba writes from the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.