By Dele Sobowale
I hold that man in the right who is most in league with the future — Henrik Ibsen, 1828-1906.
On Tuesday, April 7, 2015, I found myself in Yenagoa. Then it occurred to me that it would be unpardonable for any regular media commentator, finding himself within forty minutes of Otuoke, the President Jonathan’s home town, not to go there. Like it or not, the community had become part of our nation’s history by producing one of our Presidents. But, I had another reason.
The Federal University of Otuoke, which was established in 2011, along with others is situated there. Readers of this page surely must be interested in the university situated within a stone throw of the President’s country home. So, I went off in search of knowledge about a town and a university which are both destined to be part of our future history for a lot of reasons.
Along the way, I quickly discovered that FUO is not too far from the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, NDUTH. It was almost irresistible for me not to add that teaching hospital to my list. But, I was under time pressure. Nevertheless, NDUTH, will still feature in this article later for an important reason.
Coming from Yenagoa, the visitor encounters a signboard saying Federal University of Otuoke, Permanent Site, before reaching the small town itself. Actually, calling Otuoke (pronounced Oteke by the indigenes is a stretching the point a lot. The entire length of settled territory is only about three kilometres in length in one of those communities served by one road leading in and out.
Another sign soon points to the Male Hostel, placed at a “safe” distance of one kilometre from the Female Hostel, which is tucked almost opposite the Administration Building. Yellow must be the favourite colour of the people of Otuoke because in addition to the university’s buildings, the two modest houses belonging to Jonathan’s parents are also painted yellow. The President’s own old building, which one sees on the right hand side, immediately coming across a Bailey bridge is however different.
All the buildings are painted grey with white trimmings. That, I am afraid is all the description of the community that space permits. The main issue is the university itself. One thing is clear about FUO; if Jonathan had not approved it being situated in Otuoke, probably nobody else would have done it. So FUO represents a monument to the transient hold on power of a native son.
In many respects, one might say, that it was a divine gift to a modest community. Commendable as that was on the part of Jonathan, the future of FUO needs to be examined as other Presidents, who might not be as enthusiastic about the place succeed GEJ. And, the test comes soon enough. On May 29, 2015, FUO’s greatest supporter, who could have attracted a lot of financial support to the institution departs – leaving FUO as one of the large pool of universities which Jonathan ill-advisedly established in 2011.
To start with, Otuoke lacks all the facilities to support a university by itself. On the contrary, in a few years, the university community will become the majority of residents in the “town”. Even now most of the senior academic and non-academic staff would find it difficult to secure the sort of accommodation to which they are accustomed elsewhere. Those with school-age kids will most probably prefer to live in Yenagoa and make the forty minutes trip to campus everyday.
Having got that far, I naturally could not resist sneaking into the premises to look up names on Notice Boards; perhaps, to discover the name of leading Nigerian scholars. I was not expecting to find any and there was no disappointment. I won’t publish names now. Perhaps a second visit will lead to that. Every visit to a Nigerian university invariably seeks to answer one very difficult question: Will I send my kid there — all things being considered?
And, until I reached FUO, the answer always seemed so self-evident; especially when the infrastructure is excellent, the staff are generally, if not all, well-qualified and the fees are reasonable. In short, if there is a conducive learning environment. FUO presented a problem because it reminded me of community universities in the United States of America. They were established to provide basic university education for youths in the local areas.
They are not under any illusions that they compete with Harvard, Yale or University of California. But, they provide an adequate knowledge base from which talented kids can proceed to bigger universities for post graduate studies.