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Church-owned vasities not for the poor, as members cry out

Emmanuel  Edukugho and Ishola Balogun

Fees of Church-owned universities in Nigeria per semester: Bowen University – N650,000, Covenant University – N640,000, Benson Idahosa – N500, 000, Babcock University – N450, 000, Redeemers University – N375, 000,  Ajayi Crowther University – N350, 000, Fountain University, Oshogbo – N320,000.

Samuel Alayande had worked more than half of his life for his church. Not because he had the calling, but he chose to be dedicated in any church activity.

He and his wife whom she married in the church were never found wanting in any church activity. Just as they made donations to keep the church activity afloat, they gave their energies for any labour required in the church.

They considered whatever service as necessary not only for spiritual gain but also for the expansion of the church. The church then decided to own a university, members contributed hugely with every remaining kobo in their pockets. Alayande, like other poor members gave N9 out of every N10 he had.

Apart from giving his meager earnings in offerings, tithes and donations to the church in order to bring the project to fruition, he and members of his family worked tirelessly for the project. They cleared the bushes, they toil the ground during the foundation process, carried blocks, carried bags of cements just to ensure the project came to lime light.

Few years after, Alayande’s sons and daughters who grew in the church could not study in the church-owned university because their parents could not afford the huge fees charged by the institution they helped to build. Alayande’s case typifies one of the several cases of how the poor is massively working for the rich.

Library of one the universities

It is no news that several church-owned universities were built on the donations, offerings and tithes from the poor members of the church. Even when they had no more money to put into the construction, they gave their sweat and toil; doing all kinds of manual labour to actualise the completion of what they often refer to as their own universities.

Yet, these people, after the completion of the project, can’t afford the fees, they can’t have their children trained in the universities they helped to build.

Ironically, the manipulation of the poor continues even as their regular offerings and tithes are used to service the day to day running of these institutions that have become the exclusive preserve of the rich.

In spite of the phenomenal rise in the number of private universities in the country, not less than N1million is paid yearly by parents who have their children in these private universities. How many of the poor members of religious bodies can afford this huge amount to have their children trained in these institutions for at least four years?

Bolaji, a young brilliant chap with excellent JAMB and Post-UME results which qualified him to study medicine had his hope of studying in the university owned by his church dashed merely because his parents who are members of the church could not afford the fees.

Another young man also lamented why he had to leave a particular church as a result of what he described as injustice – taking from the poor to give to the rich.

“So can you explain to me why I shouldn’t I leave the church? Why should I continue in that deceit? How has it changed and affected my world? Why are these church-owned universities unaffordable to the common man? I pay my tithe, my church builds a school, but I can’t afford to send my child to that school. They made it only for the rich when the poor contributed more to the school.  It is ridiculous,” he said.

Just as others grumble in silence on the trend of funding a church-owned university but can’t benefit from it, others believe that tithes and offerings are commandments from God and should be obeyed.

They believe the reward is in heaven as they continued to donate generously from their meager resources whether they can afford to send their children to the school or not.

Among the prominent Christian Mission universities whose fees are between N400- N500,000 per semester are Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State; Covenant University, Canaan Land, Ota; Redeemers University, Landmark University, Omu-Aran, Kwara State; Crawford University, Igbesa, Ogun State; Veritas University, Novena University, Ogume, Delta State; Wesley University of Science and Technology, Ondo, Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, Fountain University, Oshogbo, to name a few.

Saturday Vanguard gathered that from the beginning, church members were mobilized to the sites to help in construction work, carrying blocks, clearing bushes and doing all kinds of manual labour. Most of the foundation projects were completed on internally generated human and material resources.

Like Babcock University, which has its roots in the Adventist College of West Africa (ACWA), now fully owned and operated by the Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) Church.

As disclosed by Prof. J.A. Kayode Kakinde, President/VC, “it was to invest a great deal of spiritual energy resources (faith) into the attraction of investors for the realisation of its physical plan and instructional facilities.”

Investigation showed that in the first move, UBA Plc (when it was called Standard Trust bank), responded to provide short terms funds needed for the immediate take off in 1999, while St. Augustine Investments Ltd., (SAIL), funded the Phase II of the expansive Faculty of Science and Technology complex on a low rate 20-year repayment plan.

Instructional facilities in the Faculty of Science and Technology include the right and left wing as well as the centre core classrooms and offices, the lecture theatres each with a 286-sitting capacity, and the 700-seater Wilfred F. Riley Science and Technology Auditorium.

The Hostels were contractor-financed projects occupied by students after the 2003 handing over by Berger Paints Plc.

The N42 million mini waterworks donated by parents through the Parents Consultative Forum took care of water generation, treatment, storage and distribution.

Most of the housing facilities for male and female students were completed also through internally generated human and material resources.

Pastor Enoch Adeboye, G.O RCCG

For Crawford University, Igbesa, owned by the Apostolic Faith Church established in Nigeria in 1944, the first set of students admitted in 2005, graduated in 2009.

The institution prides itself as a “center of excellence, to produce graduates with a balanced education with outstanding intelligence, good morals and the fear of God,” according to Gabriel Kayode Ajayi, Chairman of Board of Trustees.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Samson Ayanlaja, in spite of acknowledging the enormous works and sacrifices made by  church members in building the university, still said there were challenges such as building more hostels, cafeteria and office complexes to accommodate students, and to provide office spaces and laboratories.

Amorit International is constructing male and female hostels, a degree foundation building to be financed through internally generated revenue, while the Parent Forum is to build the staff centre/shopping mall.

With more financial obligations ahead of its members, other areas highlighted were the building of College of Arts complex and connecting the campus to the national grid.  Those members who still cannot afford to send their children to the school have more to contribute.

The Living Faith Church Worldwide also known as Winners Chapel International whose President and Founder is Bishop (Dr) David Oyedepo, owned Covenant University, Ota, is not different.

The church which has over 4,000 branches in Nigeria spreading across all major cities and towns including the country side, has as its World Headquarter, Faith Tabernacle Canaan Land, Ota, with 50,000-seat capacity auditorium which runs four services on Sunday morning with the first three services filled to its capacity.

Bishop Oyedepo who is also the Chancellor of Covenant University, said the church has two universities running: Covenant University in Canaanland and Landmark University in Kwara State, adding, “in Ghana, and in Congo Kinshasha, we have acquired large parcels of land where we hope to build universities in the future.”

Bishop Oyedepo of Winners Chapel

According to him, “the small mustard seed that was planted some 28 years ago has grown to become a mighty tree with wide-spread branches spanning across the length and breadth of Nigeria and over 50 nations of the world. Services at Faith Tabernacle are like major evangelistic crusade with as many as 1,000 – 3,000 people surrendering their lives to Jesus Christ every Sunday,” Oyedepo testified.

He revealed at the 30th anniversary of the church, the Education Mandate of the Ministry, saying that after obtaining the certificate of occupancy for Canaanland in 1998, he sought the face of the Lord on the use and design for the facilities.

“On 29th August 1988, during the ground-breaking event, I openly declared what I received of the Lord especially that a portion (Moriah) has been carved out to build a secondary school and another (Hebron) carved out to build a university.”

Since inception till date, the physical and infrastructural development of Covenant University are unique, outstanding and cannot be compared to any other higher institution in the country.

Oyedepo had always attributed the source of funding to God, insisting that the university never obtained loan from any bank. This meant that the bulk of the funding came from members of the church. Both the lowly, and the highly placed in industries and government officials are members of Winners church.

A member (name withheld) said that in the beginning, he worked at the site of Covenant University in Canaanland, Ota, carrying blocks on the head with several others while building the institution.

“At the end, children of such members cannot study in the school because they can’t afford to pay the fees,” he bemoaned. He noted that only children of affluent, wealthy members, outsiders and even Muslims are admitted.

The total average unit cost of undergraduate education in these private universities is in the neighbourhood of N500,000 per session and may be higher for Science/Technology based disciplines, Medicine, Engineering and Law.

With such fees, students truly deserving of university education whose poor parents are members of the church are denied admission for lack of funds.

“We have inequality even in the church as there are poor and rich members. Inability even in the church as there are poor and rich members. Inability of most people to send their children to quality schools that they worked hard to build cannot be justified because the main route to success and achievement in life is education,” a church member told Saturday Vanguard.

“But there are ways and means put in place by management of the university to recognize scholarship, talent and academic ingenuity of indigent students,” he added.

Poverty has been identified as a major barrier to human development including education. Nigeria is estimated to have a population of over 160 million. About 75% of this population live below poverty line, meaning they earn less than $2 daily.

Education, vital for the growth and development of a nation is still not adequately accessible in Nigeria causing high incidence of poverty in the country.

An Apostolic Faith Church member who spoke with Saturday Vanguard said members’ children are not denied admission to Crawford University because of fees. “Students are admitted on merit and fees are moderate, affordable to all members and non-members alike,” adding, “we don’t discriminate against the poor.”

A source at Canaanland, Ota, explained that those saying Covenant University fees are exorbitant should check some secondary schools that charged about N1 million yearly. However, good universities do not come cheap. “We don’t even depend on school fees for our developmental projects. God provides the fund.”

It was gathered that several members of the church can’t afford to pay the fees, but there are arrangements to offer scholarships to the brilliant students of members.

A parent, who is also Vice-Deacon, Patrick Eniawhosa, at the last matriculation affirmed that Covenant University is the best in Nigeria. “Fees are moderate, lower than what students in some secondary schools pay. Our prayer is to finish up well as Kings and Queens and our children will become source of honour.”

Professor Joshua from University of Calabar said he brought his child to Covenant University all the way from Calabar which speaks volume on the uniqueness of the school. “I’m a university professor,but brought my daughter here, three in other universities. She is the last child we are investing on. I believe God will testify to what Covenant University is doing for Nigeria, Africa and humanity,” he said.

Mrs. Rita Akinrinade, whose husband is the Vice-Chancellor, Osun State University, expressed delight that her son is in the school.

Further investigation showed that in some of those private universities owned by churches, members who cannot afford the high fees are usually advised or encouraged to patronise other universities in which the fees are affordable. This is based on the fact that there are several public-owned universities, especially federal government ones that charged relatively low fees.

But how would the church members who have contributed spiritually, financially (no matter how little), and sometimes through labour (physically) and cannot afford the high fees charged by their church-owned universities be compensated?

How would the church entrench the much needed sense of belonging for the universities built with the sweat and toil of poor members even if they try to justify that university education cannot come cheap. Something obviously needs to be done to correct the anomaly.

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