By Adekunle Adekoya
These are very interesting times in our dear country, and if you like, in the whole world.
With the war in Ukraine and galloping prices of fossil fuels, the global economy is being moulded in a way we have not seen before, worsened by the fact that attention has been forcefully diverted from common threats like COVID-19 to other existential issues.
What is worse, COVID continues its mutational advance with the isolation of a new variant which is said to combine the characteristics of the Delta and Omicron variants. The new variant is now called Deltacron.
At home here, the unspeakable happens almost on a daily basis as life and living gets nastier, more brutish, and shorter. I do not think there exists a Nigerian who ever thought that these things can ever happen in our country – Nigeria – the beautifully crafted land where almost any crop grows, blessed with large flowing rivers, beautiful, lush forests, and good people.
Who would think that after fighting a civil war, which ended more than 50 years ago, terrorists could take over large swathes of our lands, kidnapping for ransom, and levying taxes on our people? Who would ever imagine that any person, or group(s) of persons will be audacious enough to down a military jet, or attack an Army base, and kill soldiers? It must be the plot and sub-plots of thriller writers to imagine and pen down an attack on Kaduna, the state with the highest number of military installations, to the extent that the state is not just a killing field, but is gradually being isolated from the rest of the country.
Driven by the increase in prices of petrol and diesel, prices of food items, and other goods and services are rising at a speed so fast one wonders whether by Easter, or Eid-el-Fitri, a family will still be able to afford a fowl, just one fowl, with which to mark the festivities. Don’t forget that there is more or less no electricity, and with no relief in sight, we’re all running generators, those of us that can’t afford it inclusive.
Meanwhile, travel is dying, with trains running out of fuel or being derailed by terrorists.If these are not enough to worry about, what of the university system which has been grounded by strikes?
Apart from ASUU, the non-academic and other staff of universities, NASU and SSANU also have grouses with government and have declared warning strikes. It does not seem that the Senate is bothered by the grounded university system.
If it is, it would not even entertain, let alone consider some of the bills brought before it. One recently-passed bill is that seeking to establish a Federal University of Medical Sciences and Biomedical Technology in each of the six geo-political zones in Nigeria.
The bill was passed during plenary last Tuesday after the chamber considered a report on it by the Senate Committee on Health (Secondary and Tertiary). I find that simply astonishing. The Federal Government, at the last count, lays claims to 43 universities, state governments own 48, while private universities account for 79, making a total of 170. Of the 43 federally-owned universities, which one of them is adequately funded? Of their teaching hospitals, which one of them is adequately equipped?
On webometrics.info, a site that displays the ranking of universities in the world, our best and oldest, the University of Ibadan is ranked no 1,231. Is that where we belong? Did the senators whose committee produced this bill avail themselves with information of this nature, and what can be done to improve the situation of Nigerian universities?If our universities are currently in the condition they are in, what have the senators done about it? Hostels in federal universities are fast turning to pigsties, while the teaching-learning process is still locked in the 1960-1970 format, more than 20 years into the 21st century. Is the establishment of more universities the answer?
The Goodluck Jonathan administration established some nine universities in Lafia, Nasarawa, Lokoja in Kogi, Kashere in Gombe, Wukari in Taraba, Dutsin-Ma in Katsina, Dutse in Jigawa, Otuoke in Bayelsa, Ndufe-Alike in Ebonyi, and in Oye-Ekiti in Ekiti State. Which of these new universities compare in terms of staffing and infrastructure, not to talk of funding, with the second generation of federal universities?
Some of the first generation federal universities are still in the first and second phases of their development plans. One thinks the Senate ought to focus more attention on getting the Federal Government to fund its universities better in the interest of our youths, their future, and our country.
Establishing more universities, now, is a no-no. Funding existing ones very well to permanently end one of the reasons for ASUU strikes is what should engage our attention. But we all know where attention is focused — who gets elected or re-elected, though that should not be at the expense of our nation’s future.