BY EMMANUEL EDUKUGHO
IN one fell swoop, unprecedented in the annals of higher education in this country, the federal government established nine out of the 12 universities purportedly meant for the remaining states without federal universities. Vice Chancellors and registrars have been appointed for the take off from the next academic session in September.
The nine with their two principal officers are:
* Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, Ebonyi State — Vice Chancellor, Prof Oye Ibidapo-Obe; Registrar, Mr. G. O. Chukwu;
* Federal University, Lokoja, Kogi State — Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdulmumini Rafindadi; Registrar, Mrs. Habiba Adeiza;
* Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State — Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ekanem Ikpi Braide; Registrar, Dr. Idris Jibrin;
* Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State — Vice Chancellor, Prof Mohammed Kabir Farouk; Registrar, Dr. Abubakar Bateto.
* Federal University, Wukari, Taraba State — Vice Chancellor, Prof. Geoffrey Okogbaa; Registrar, Mr. John Ansho.
* Federal University, Dutse, Jigawa State — Vice Chancellor, Prof. Jibrila Dahiru Amin; Registrar, Alhaji Yusuf Adamu.
* Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State — Vice Chancellor, Prof Chinedu O. Nebo; Registrar, Dr. Modupe Ajayi.
* Federal University, Dutsin — Ma, Katsina State — Vice Chancellor, Prof. James O. I. Ayatse; Registrar, Mr. Abubakar Yusuf.
* Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State — Vice Chancellor, Prof. Bolaji Aluko; Registrar, Mr. David Suwari.
Education Minister, Prof Ruqqayatu Rufai, while announcing the appointments explained that the decision of Federal Government to establish the universities was informed by the imperative of creating more access to university education for a large number of qualified candidates who are annually stranded due to lack of carrying capacity by the existing universities.
Saying that the appointments take immediate effect, the government has directed Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to facilitate students’ intake into the nine universities by September, 2011.
She said the decision to establish the universities was also informed by the principle of equity in the distribution of federal universities to cover all the states in Nigeria because there are at present 12 states without federal universities.
“Federal Government has approached the matter systematically by establishing nine universities in first instance while the remaining three states will have federal universities in due course.”
About N1.5 billion sourced from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) has been approved for each university making a total sum of N13.5 billion as take-off grants for the nine.
She stated further that the appointment of vice chancellors and registrars was done to avoid “localisation of the new universities and ensure that they take off as national and international centres of knowledge.”
According to the Minister of Education, the pioneer Vice Chancellors were carefully chosen from the ranks of former vice chancellors, deputy vice chancellors, provosts of colleges of medicine as well as distinguished Nigerian professors in the diaspora, adding that, “no vice chancellor shall serve in a university within his or her geo-political zone.”
In their own reactions, three professors in the United States of America made vice chancellors, said they are ready to impact on Nigeria’s tertiary education uniquely. Professor Bolaji Aluko from Howard University, Washington DC, regarded as one of the Prime African-American Universities in USA, now vice chancellor of Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State.
A professor of Chemical Engineering, Aluko was reported from New York as saying: “Although the assignment is surprising, I am willing to accept the challenge.”
The others are Professor Geoffrey Okagbaa from University of Southern, Florida, (USF) appointed Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Wukari, Taraba State and Professor Mohammed K. Farouk of Florida International University (FIU) as Vice Chancellor of Federal University, Kashere, Gombe State.
Sequel to the creation of these universities by an executive fiat as it seemed to be, President Goodluck Jonathan, in a speech to delegates at the PDP presidential primary election in Abuja, January, said that his administration will ensure equity in the establishment of educational institutions whereby every state will get a federal university.
He affirmed that his government had a deliberate policy to address injustice in the distribution of federal universities because while some states have two of these universities, others especially in the north had none.
But Professor Ukachukwu Awuzie, National President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) believed President Jonathan is politicising the issue of university location as if it’s a constituency project.
“It is not the number of universities that matters. Are we establishing these universities for people to attend as day students? I don’t understand this.”
Awuzie told Vanguard Education recently that the problem is not about number as the country has over 110 universities presently.
“They should be properly funded, provision of modern equipment, facilities and running relevant programmes. Government should be prepared to fund the system properly in order to become quality institutions. We are short of 30,000 lecturers needed to teach in our universities.”
He referred to the brain drain, claiming that, “even some of the lecturers we have are leaving,” asking, “what are we doing to upgrade existing facilities.”
Some schools of thought expressed similar views that existing universities be upgraded to take in more students for enhanced admission while at the same time establishing new ones. Corruption in management has been blamed for the decaying university system and the motives for the new universities are political, timing wrong as this is not the right time.
Other issues raised by the stakeholders include lack of employment opportunities for graduates as thousands of them are still roaming about in search of jobs, poor infrastructure, no electricity, no water, defective, irrelevant curriculum, siphoning of funds, lack of well-articulated strategy for adequate funding, transparency and accountability.
On his own part, Prof. Olufemi Mimiko, Vice Chancellor, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State, decried the process of establishing the nine new universities, through mere government announcements without conducting a thorough feasibility studies on the type of institution, the location and funding.
He insisted that universities are unique institutions that should not be established with mere government pronouncements or be toyed with on the basis of political considerations.
Mimiko frowned at lack of due process in establishing the universities pointing out that the crisis rocking some communities in Ekiti State and loss of lives over the location of the new university meant for the state could have been avoided if the proper process had been followed.
Initially supposed to be sited at Ikole Ekiti as approved by the Federal Executive Council at its meeting of December 22, 2010 and announced by the Minister of State for Education, Chief Kenneth Gbagi. But suddenly, Ikole was dropped and replaced with Oye Ekiti. It was alleged that Oye’s name mysteriously came up through the surreptitious activities of some top politicians believed to be allies of President Jonathan.
Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi has insisted that the government won’t allow the relocation to Oye.
“Although the new university belongs to Federal Government, the prerogative of where to site it belongs to the state government hosting the university on the land nature has bequeathed to it. We want to assert unequivocally that it is the state government that grants certificate of occupancy to give legal backing to the construction of any structures on its land.”
Establishing universities to satisfy political interests rather than promoting the educational needs of the nation posed serious danger to the future and sustain ability of these institutions.
Some stakeholders contend that the meagre amount of N1.5 billion for each university when even the entire N13.5 billion for the nine may not be enough for one standard university showed clearly that the Federal Government is just playing to the gallery and not ready for academic business of proper running and sustenance of universities that can stand the test of time.