AS a vast majority of Nigerians celebrated Valentine’s Day on February 14, yet for the students of Federal and state-owned universities, the celebrations were tainted with the news of a one-month warning strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, who, after several weeks of inviting government and all stakeholders to honour the terms of the previous year’s agreement, resorted to embark on strike. 

The President of ASUU, Emmanuel Osodeke, while announcing the ‘comprehensive and total’ strike action, reportedly reiterated the demands of the union which includes the revitalisation of public universities, payment of earned allowance(s), improved funding of state universities, payment of promotion arrears, and the implementation of the terms of the 2021 Memorandum of Action. 

It would be recalled that the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, while emphasising Federal Government’s commitment to better funding of public universities in December 2020, reportedly stated that: “I will not give ASUU the opportunity to go on strike (again) because I have three biological children that suffered from this imbroglio that we found ourselves in.

READ ALSO: Proliferation of universities despite government’s poor funding of existing universities

So, I am a committed parent, I am involved, even more than some ASUU members because some of them have their children in private schools. I will not give them the opportunity because I will make sure the government does its own bit. I have structured the agreement in such a way that it is doable.”

Certainly, much remains to be seen about the statement of the Minister, particularly as such has not been backed up by necessary action. To date, our public institutions are characterised by poor funding, infrastructural decay, non-payment of earned salaries of academic staff, and incessant industrial strike actions.

 Yet, in the midst of these, Federal and state-owned universities keep springing up every year, with the Lagos State Government assenting the establishment of two universities very recently. 

Last week, I discussed the establishment of the National Universities Commission and its seeming inability to perform advisory roles vis-à-vis the creation of tertiary institutions. This week, I will further shed light on this state of affairs. The Commission must have more control over the creation of universities.

Section 10 of the Education (National Minimum Standards and Establishment of Institutions) Act empowers the Commission to lay down the minimum requirements necessary for the establishment of universities, including academic programmes to be run by them.

However, education falls into the concurrent legislative list as contained in Part II of the 2nd Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. Paragraphs 27, 28, 29 and 30 of the said Schedule provides as follows: 

“27. The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the Federation or any part thereof with respect to university education, technological education or such professional education as may from time to time be designated by the National Assembly.

28. The power conferred on the National Assembly under paragraph 27 of this item shall include power to establish an institution for the purposes of university, post-primary, technological or professional education.

29. Subject as herein provided, a House of Assembly shall have power to make laws for the State with respect to the establishment of an institution for purposes of university, technological or professional education.

30. Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs of this item shall be construed so as to limit the powers of a House of Assembly to make laws for the State with respect to technical, vocational, post primary, primary or other forms of education, including the establishment of institutions for the pursuit of such education.”

Pursuant to the above, both the Federal and state governments have legislative competence over the issue of universities and can both establish federal and state universities respectively. What is, however, clear from a combined reading of the above-stated provisions is that NUC which is itself a creation of the Federal Government has no power to stop a state government from establishing a university.

Indeed, by virtue of Section 4 of the NUC Act, the role of the Commission is merely to advise the President and the Governors on creation of new universities. 

The power of the states to create universities as they deem fit remains unaffected and extant. Interestingly, the full effect of the powers of the NUC in relation to the establishment and location of a university are only felt in the case of private universities. As a result, therefore, most state governments establish universities with little or no regard for the provision of adequate infrastructure and facilities. 

Universities are established by the states and sited, based on political rather than educational and logistical considerations, in often obscure and undeveloped locations with little or no facility to accommodate the take-off of the universities.

In order to make themselves popular in their constituencies, some establish universities and multiple campuses in their hamlets or villages which lack infrastructure like electricity, water and accommodation. Some use abandoned modern school buildings as universities, while some have little or no provision for accommodation, leaving students to fend for themselves in that regard. 

The Nation Newspaper issue of Thursday, April 29, 2010 in its column on education reported the difficulties encountered by students of one of the universities established by one of the South-West states. 

It was reported that in order to beat the accommodation problem, some students of the institution in order  had taken up residence in houses originally earmarked by the indigenes of the town to keep their livestock, including goats. Likewise, the laboratories and other teaching facilities in some of the universities are below the standard expected in secondary schools. There was the case of a graduate in Engineering who never saw an engineering laboratory throughout his university days. 

Way forward: Universities in Nigeria are, in the words of Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, “constituency projects”. Despite the fact that the NUC is statutorily responsible for the licencing/accreditation of universities and their programmes, many state governments and indeed the Federal Government mostly establish universities based on political rather than educational considerations. 

A university is often established with multiple campuses in undeveloped and extremely rural communities simply to reward a particular community or politician deemed as favourably disposed to the government in power. The effect is that some state universities are often sited in villages or hamlets with little or no facilities for proper impartation of knowledge. 

I am a staunch advocate of universities operating from their permanent sites. A situation in which university operating from its permanent site with developed infrastructure is allowed only the same number of accredited programmes permitted a university operating from rented accommodation is to say the very least, capable of encouraging the establishment of ill-equipped universities while at the same time discouraging those who had gone the extra mile to ensure that their university, at inception, operates from its permanent site. 

Further, to redress the anomaly of the arbitrary creation of universities, it is my suggestion that the NUC should play a more visible role prior to the establishment of universities by state and Federal governments. I should not be mistaken as saying that the NUC should only be more stringent in its accreditation of the courses offered by these government-sponsored universities. Certainly, the NUC must have increased direct involvement before the establishment of a new university. 

Undoubtedly, the revival of the educational sector is paramount to the progress of this country. If, however, government accords more priority to the creation of more universities than the funding and maintenance of the existing ones, such will be counterproductive and inimical to the progression of our society.

 In the words of Malcolm X, education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.

Vanguard News

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