By Dele Sobowale
I was in Uyo two weeks ago when an NTA news item brought me up short. Unfortunately, there was no writing material around to record the name of the official in one of the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Education who was being interviewed. Apparently, officials in the Ministry and its agencies had been invited to Aso Rock to brief the President about the education sector. The President had asked them why Nigerian universities had such low ratings among African and global universities. What startled me was the reply reported to have been given to Buhari.
False claims made to the President include the following. University of Ibadan is now ranked eighth in Africa and a few Nigerian universities have joined the first 1,000 in a recent ranking exercise. Expectedly, the fellow did not reveal the name of the organisation which carried out the study; so there was no way to verify. I think the omission was deliberate. With the wind of change blowing through the Federal Government, it is certain that the Ministry of Education should quickly follow NNPC, NPA, Police, Customs Service, DSS and Aviation in the purge that is expected. Even the official being interviewed knows that there had been a pervasive decline in the quality of education from the primary to the tertiary levels. So, how on earth can we be improving our standing in the African and global league tables when we are spending less, not more, on our universities? Let me point out some of the fallacies involved in what the visitors (including NUC, NBTE etc) told Buhari.
In 2014, less than 30 per cent of capital allocations to the universities were released. In 2015, second quarter capital allocations are just now being disbursed. On the whole, budgetary allocations to universities declined in 2014 and are set to decline further in 2015. Meanwhile, tuition and other fees charged by the universities had remained frozen because decisions on funding education in 2014/2015 were driven by the 2015 Elections which did not end until April. By then, the universities were locked into the funding deficit they have experienced since the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP. One does not need to be an economist to understand that no improvement can take place when funds are dwindling. The most obvious question to ask those who went to brief Buhari is: how were they able to perform the magic of improving service delivery with the paucity of funds?
Meanwhile, the testimonies from the universities themselves expose the lies that were fed to the President. In the October 25, 2015 interview published in PUNCH, Professor Ibidapo-Obe had referred to Nigerian universities as “ghettos”. A more apt description would be difficult to find. The first question that leaps to one’s mind on reading that is: can anything good come out of barrios? Most probably not.
Professor Okebukola, former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, had been associated with more Nigerian universities than just about anybody on earth. In an interview with Charles Abah, published in PUNCH, October 27, 2015, page 27, he had this to say when asked questions about research in Nigerian universities. “Here we need at least five things. We need to provide the necessary infrastructure for conducting quality research; which is now grossly lacking. Second, we need to build research capacity of university staff to align with modern methodologies. Many of our researchers are still living in the past…Thirdly, we need to provide grants to support quality research. Nigeria is one of the countries which is low down in the global league of investment in research…Fourthly, we need to improve the intellectual honesty of our researchers…Fifthly, we need to have better compensation package for award-winning researchers….”
With so many deficits in the area of research, and with the situation getting worse daily, why are we denying our low ranking compared with other countries?
On April 22, 2015, the Ondo State University of Medical Sciences became the 140th university approved by the NUC in Nigeria; and the 31st to offer medical and health-related courses. But, the annual budgets of all 31 put together, cannot be anything near that of one single American Medical School. The equipment and facilities are often obsolete. Dr Leke Pitan, former Commissioner of Health in Lagos State under Governor Bola Tinubu, once told this writer how he went to the USA and discovered obsolete medical equipment in a hospital warehouse and requested for them to be sent to Lagos.
They were light years more modern than what the hospitals in the Centre of Excellence paraded in its own Teaching Hospital. Back in 1980, as the Country Sales Manager for Smith Kline and French (now part of GlaxoSmithKline), I requested for the company to provide free of charge endoscopes to medical schools at Lagos, Ibadan, Benin, Nsukka, and Ahmadu Bello. I was at one of those schools three years ago and saw the old endoscope damaged and packed away in one corner of the Internal Medicine section. It has not been replaced. Nobody uses that old scrap anymore. That should tell us something about medical education.