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Buharists, university education and the gains of nationhood

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President Muhammadu Buhari

By Rotimi Fasan

EARLIER this year, Aisha Buhari, Wife of the President or First Lady as she now wants to be known, revealed that she was planning to set up a university in the name of her husband, Muhammadu Buhari. Even though the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, thought of Aisha’s plan as some kind of joke, the woman seemed in earnest.

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And there was no reason why she should not be. Establishing a university would be her own contribution to the growth of her home state of Adamawa, she reasoned. Lending a hand to the development of Adamawa was the context in which she spoke even if she didn’t reveal where the university would be located.

Unlike ASUU which thought the idea of new universities puerile in the face of the overwhelming state of decay of existing public universities, Aisha must have concluded that the problem of tertiary education in Nigeria was not that of poor funding which is considered by many as the major reason for the decayed infrastructure in our universities.

For her, the issue was probably one of number, precisely that Nigeria needs more universities to cater for the education of the ever-growing army of secondary school leavers. This would explain why she would not see the establishment of a university as a non-starter. The more so, if it is established in the name of her loving husband.

In electing to establish a university, Aisha Buhari was perhaps also telling anyone willing to know that it is not too early for her to start planning for her post-retirement years as an ex-First Lady or Wife of the President. For an outspoken woman like her, taking the back seat cannot be a viable option. Never mind that her husband once (in)famously said she would be a good candidate for the “other room”, whatever that meant.

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But Aisha would not be silenced notwithstanding the acute conservatism of the Muslim North, in spite of which her voice could still be heard loud and clear at such a male-dominated gathering as a recent Assembly of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs where she lashed out at our leaders. Moreover, in choosing to establish a university, she would not be doing anything new, or doing anything past rulers of this country have indeed not done before.

Considering the rot that has overtaken the tragedy that is misnamed Nigeria’s educational system, particularly the tertiary education sector, establishing private universities has become one of the most lucrative businesses in the country. The rate at which universities are established in Nigeria should rank among the highest in the world. Nigeria currently has about 180 universities, that is fully licensed and operational. There are many proposals still awaiting the imprimatur of the National Universities Commission that is ever so obliging.

It would not matter that many of these new universities, either managed by faith-based institutions or private investors, are owned by individuals and groups that implemented many of the dangerous policies that brought about the decay in our public tertiary institutions. The point now is that these ex-rulers are willing to invest in the same sector some of them helped to destroy. Bells and the American University right in Aisha’s home state, both universities owned by former rulers, should be wonderful inspiration for her unfolding plans.

Whether we believe them or not, these former rulers, business owners and managers, want Nigerians to know that the universities that bear their ownership imprint are the products of their own hard labour. Aisha and her family too could join the bandwagon of owners’ of private universities, even if Nigerians find it difficult to wrap it round their heads that the first family that could not afford to pay the President’s nomination form prior to his emergence as president (but for the intervention of  ‘friends’), could somehow now afford to float a university, a far more capital-intensive project. Surely, the same friends that settled the cost of the presidential nomination form, will again come to the rescue. Thus, Nigerians can rest easy that Aisha’s university would be financed with private funds.

But that is more than we can say for the likes of Tukur Buratai and Sadique Abubakar, respectively, the chief of army staff and the chief of air staff. Both men have been spending tax payers money to locate universities in their states. While Buratai has established the Nigerian Army University in his hometown of Biu in Borno State, Abubakar has secured approval from the NUC for a Nigerian Airforce University in his home state, Bauchi.  This, in spite of the existence of an Airforce Special Operations Command in Bauchi. This wastage of public funds complements what is already going on with the unending war against insurgents in the same north-east zone that is both the home of Boko Haram and the military chiefs setting up military universities. Are these universities the resources needed to combat Boko Haram? Was the absence of an Army university the reason why Buratai’s village was sacked by Boko Haram?

These military chiefs are clearly idle and have long outlived their usefulness in office. Their self-serving agenda has blinded them to the realities on the ground. The clear duplication of activities that is represented by this ramping up in the creation of military institutions, called universities, is totally lost on the military chiefs including President Muhammadu Buhari himself who, this week, laid the foundation for the take off of a University of Transportation in his hometown, Daura.

Rather than injecting funds into existing institutions of higher learning, President Buhari and his surrogates are busy setting up more of such institutions even as they go about proclaiming cost-saving measures as virtues of their administration. This is aside the ethnic-agenda and nepotism that the location of these institutions proclaims.

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In a so-called federation where the federal character principle operates, is it not worrisome that virtually all military and paramilitary institutions are located in just one section of the country in addition to putting total control of these institutions under people from this same region? And when people talk, they are called names, cast as unpatriotic ethnic warlords and accused of spreading hate speech. What can be more hateful than this blatant denial of a sense of belonging to and exclusion of Nigerians from other regions of the country from the gains of our commonwealth?

By locating all major military and paramilitary commands/institutions in the north, is President Buhari deliberately positioning the north for the perpetual control of the country, rendering opposition impossible once coercive power is vested in one region? The Buharis and others in power now can set up as many private universities as they like. It’s their choice. But they cannot and should not attempt to exclude other Nigerians from the gains of our federation.

Vanguard

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