By Dele Sobowale

“What does corrupting time [in Nigeria] not diminish?…

Horace, 65-8 BC. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 247).

I must be the only Nigerian who was not shocked by the news that “the National Universities Commission, NUC, has released a list of illegal degree-awarding institutions operating in the country”. (VANGUARD, August 28, 2015, p 6). The report went on to state that Prof. Julius Okojie, Executive Secretary of the NUC, announced that “Certificates obtained from these sources will not be recognised for the purpose of NYSC, employment and further studies.”

A Cross Section of the Final Year Students  Photo By Diran Oshe
File: A Cross Section of the Final Year Students Photo By Diran Oshe

Professor Okojie has not only condemned the institutions, he has also indicted the NUC which he has headed for several years and which under him had allowed illegal    universities to proliferate all over the country virtually unchecked. Perhaps, it is a part of the wind of change blowing all over the country that the NUC which was aware of the existence of the illegal universities for several years, without taking action, had suddenly woken up to its responsibilities.

According to the story carried in virtually all the leading papers, 65 institutions are involved. The list includes illegal universities operating in virtually every state in Nigeria. But the favourite areas for illegal operation of universities are those which the NUC should find it very difficult to explain how they could have missed them and allowed them to operate for so long – Lagos and Abuja.

Close to twenty per cent of the illegal universities operate in Lagos and Abuja including a Federal College of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Abuja – which actually pretends to train doctors. The NUC also promised to “prosecute proprietors, recover illegal fees and charges on students”.

To say the least, the NUC has demonstrated complete incompetence, carelessness and corrupt tendencies in handling the matter of illegal universities. The NUC and the Nigerian public had been alerted to the existence of illegal universities, as well as legal universities running unaccredited courses, more than fifteen months ago. For instance the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana, had been operating for over five years, and still does till now.

Each time the Lagos programme is rumoured to be closed down, one discovers that it has been allowed to resume operations elsewhere. The NUC will need to explain to Nigerians why it has taken so long to close those universities. And why now? Meanwhile, despite former President Jonathan’s ill-advised and politically-motivated approval of about twenty five universities between 2010 and 2015, all the approved universities now number only about 150. The 65 illegal universities, so far discovered, bring the total to 215.

That means that close to one third of our universities are illegal. In addition, a good number of those approved by government are running unaccredited courses. The latest proof of that is the palaver over law graduates of the National Open University of Nigeria, NOUN, being barred from the Nigerian Law School. NUC and the Council on Legal Education, CLE, waited until several hundred aspirant lawyers had graduated before telling them they were ineligible for the Law school and NYSC.

To be sure, the operators of those institutions should be punished for luring unsuspecting aspirants to those institutions only to waste their funds and mess up their lives. But, the greatest blame and punishment should be reserved for NUC officials who tacitly allowed the educational equivalent of fake drugs served to gullible parents and our youth.

The promise to recover illegal fees is at best laughable, or, at worst detestable. Professor Okojie would not have become a professor if he is not extremely intelligent. But, he must be playing on our collective intelligence to expect to convince us that the fees will be recovered. Ordinary commonsense should have told him that before the closure of the institutions, the proprietors would have drawn down the accounts and transferred them elsewhere. By the time NUC obtains judgment there will be nothing left in the bank accounts. Professors!!!

Furthermore, judgment/conviction on the hundreds of cases will take years; most of the proprietors would have vanished by then. So, who will be there to pay? The victims themselves might not be around to collect the recovered funds – even if there is any. In that case, who owns the funds?Finally, Professor Okojie failed to address the most vital concern of the victims (students, parents etc). They wanted education which would render them employable.

Through the gross negligence of the NUC, DSS, Police etc, they have been deprived of the education as well as their money and time. Almost impossible as it is, even full recovery of funds will not constitute total compensation. An aspirant who started a four year course of study at nineteen, four years after is twenty three. For that individual, starting again means graduating at twenty-seven; he is too old to start as a Management trainee.

So, where is the compensation for the waste of opportunities and lives for which the NUC is partly responsible? Frankly speaking, I think Professor Okojie should go. Under him the NUC has failed woefully and has created enormous problems for his successors.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.