National Assembly’s New Ridiculous Universities

By Casmir Igbokwe

That the National Assembly is considering establishing 80 new higher institutions in Nigeria shows how abnormal our thought process can be sometimes. That the lawmakers are even debating the bill at a time the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike makes it more absurd and a grand exercise in shadow chasing.

The 80 bills or so are said to be at various stages of the legislative processes at the Senate and the House of Representatives. The institutions are 27 universities, 22 colleges of education, 19 polytechnics, six institutes, one federal college of agriculture, one college of forestry, one federal college of veterinary assistants, one school of mines and geological studies, one police academy and a paramilitary academy. If the National Assembly succeeds in creating these new schools, it will bring the number of federal educational institutions to 164.  The proposed ones are to spread across the 36 states and the federal capital territory.

Already, the Senate has passed bills for the establishment of one polytechnic each in Kabo, Kano State; Daura in Katsina State; Ikom in Cross River State; and Langtang in Plateau State. The upper chamber also passed bills for the establishment of two universities: a federal university of education in Aguleri, Anambra State and a federal university of technology in Manchok, Kaduna State.

There is also a federal college of education Esugbenu Irrua in Edo State; federal college of education (technical) Arochukwu in Abia State and National Institute of Construction Technology and Management, Uromi in Edo State. The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, reportedly said after the passage of the bills that approval of the federal schools would further register federal presence in the affected communities with positive multiplier effects.

I am not against the establishment of tertiary institutions where we have great need for them. But from the look of things, almost every Senator and House of Representatives member want a federal institution in his constituency. It looks like we want to build schools on political sentiment without considering their viability.

The question is, how have we funded the existing institutions and what are the chances of the survival of the new ones? If you are a product of any Nigerian university in the 80s or 90s, just pay a visit again to your alma mater and get the answer for yourself.

Last August, I visited the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and wrote a piece entitled “UNN and rot in Nigerian universities”. In that article, I chronicled the rot in infrastructure and some other areas of life in that great citadel of learning. For instance, some of the popular hostels like Zik’s Flats and Mbanefo are dilapidated and abandoned. Most of the existing ones are in such a bad shape that you will not wish to rear pigs there.

Similarly, in many other Nigerian public universities, hostel facilities are overcrowded and horrible. Female students in some of these universities reportedly take their bath in the open. In some cases, you find over 10 people in a room that is meant for about four people. For some parents who are given to superstition, the fear now is that evil people steal female students’ underwear in such crowded places for ritual purposes.

In off-campus hostels, students face exploitation and violence of different kinds including rape and murder. Annual rent for an average self contained accommodation at Nsukka, for instance, goes for about N200, 000. And students who can afford it rush to pay even when the hostel is still under construction.

The most pathetic experience was the recent killing of a 300-level female student of Mass Communication at Delta State University, Abraka, Elozino Joshualia Ogege, 22. She fell a victim to suspected ritualists while searching for accommodation. Some internet fraudsters allegedly collaborated with some private DELSU security guards and abducted Elozino inside the campus. They took her inside a bush where they first plucked her eyes while still alive. Despite the girl’s cries and pleas that they should forgive her and let her go, they still removed her breasts and heart before decapitating her.

Besides, in many of these institutions, students far outnumber the available facilities. As such, some 200 students will end up occupying a classroom meant for about 60 students. In some instances, over 1000 students struggle for space in lecture halls meant for less than 150 students. Many of these students sit on bare floor or peep through windows to attend lectures. More than half of them do not hear or even understand whatever the lecturer teaches. They end up paying for private tutorials to make up for what they lost in the classrooms.

With regard to some other modern facilities, you will be surprised to discover that some private secondary schools are even better equipped than many public universities. ASUU had noted that less than 10 per cent of the universities have video conferencing facility; less than 20 per cent use interactive boards. Internet services are either non-existent or very slow and epileptic. Libraries are not digitalised and the resources are outdated. Over 700 development projects are reportedly abandoned in these schools. Many of them don’t have good source of water, clean toilets, and good laboratories. Also, many of them don’t have qualified academic staff as they rely heavily on part-time or visiting lecturers. The list of the rot is almost endless.

To some wealthy Nigerians, the perception about Nigerian public universities is very low. A relation of mine, for instance, thinks federal universities are for poor people. Two of his children went to a Ghanaian university. Throughout the period they were in these schools, there was no strike, no cult attack and no academic disruption of any kind.

So, those who cannot afford to send their children to Ghana, United Kingdom, or the United States will have to contend with whatever our rotten system throws at them.

ASUU has been agitating for a change in the status quo. It has been on strike since November 4 to press home its demand for improved system and enhanced salary structure in our universities. The Federal Government had reportedly failed to implement the components of the agreement it entered into with the union in 2017. Part of the agreement is the release of the N20 billion the Federal Government approved for the revitalisation of public universities. The money was supposed to have been released in two instalments between September and October 2017. ASUU is not happy that the government has not released this money.

So, how can we be talking about establishing as many as 80 new tertiary institutions when we cannot fund the existing ones? ASUU President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said it all, “We don’t need them. What we need is to improve what we have. What are we doing to fund the universities we have? What are we doing to bring them up to speed with their mandate? Government is not addressing that. ASUU is on strike because the existing ones have been neglected. So, it is sheer politics, and when you over-politicise education, it cannot be used for national development.”

The Federal Government should declare a state of emergency in the education sector. It should also convoke a national conference on education where stakeholders should proffer solutions to the crises bedevilling our education system.

Education is key to personal and national development. The Federal Government cannot afford to neglect that sector. The 7 per cent allocated to education in the 2018 budget was grossly inadequate. If half of what goes into security votes is ploughed into education; if half of the questionable N10, 000 loan scheme the FG calls Tradermoni is deployed in our higher institutions; and if half of the money that will be squandered in buying votes for the 2019 Presidential election is judiciously allocated to our public schools, Nigeria will be better for it.

 

Re: Metele massacre: Like Jonathan like Buhari

Casmir, three takeaways from your today’s column: 1.Illiterate frontline soldiers may misunderstand the statement that “the military has decided to deploy drones to fight insurgents”.  2. The public deserves to read the published list of killed soldiers to know their composition. 3. The Army should review its old practice of sending a pair of boots, cap, belt and uniform of a soldier killed in battle, to his parents or next of kin, as a way of informing them of the death of their son in battle. A widow at Amankwu  Eke town, Udi LGA, Enugu State, was recently presented this strange gift, and a letter, delivered by unknown faces in army uniform, to her village home. The bad news bearers were flummoxed when the woman fainted. No villager, chief or councillor, was contacted to break the bad news, and handle an ugly situation.  The news bearers became confused. This is Nigeria Army doing smallpox vaccination of school children, in the 21st century.

Dr Chuka Nwosu, Port Harcourt, +2348085914645

It is very painful how our young soldiers were killed by the so called Boko Haram. It is very unfortunate and sad indeed in spite of resources government has been spending to end the menace in the North-East zone. Our security agencies should be on the alert all the time. I console the families that lost their loved ones in that attack. May their souls rest in peace, amen!

Gordon Chika Nnorom, +2348062887535

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