Buhari and a university of his own
With the current preoccupation of President Muhammadu Buhari with the setting up of his own university, his flatulent claim of being actuated by public interest has suffered further repudiation. His pet project has unravelled him not as a touchstone of integrity, moderation and patriotism but as another victim of the acquisitiveness of the nation’s leadership that has ceaselessly undermined good governance.
To be sure, it was not Buhari himself who publicly vouchsafed his plan to set up a private university. It was his wife who disclosed that she would set up a university with the name Muhammadu Buhari University. But even if Buhari were not the originator of the idea, the fact that his name is associated with the project shows that he is fully behind it. After all, he has not disavowed his wife’s claim since the news broke. For Buhari, it is a rapid metamorphosis. Having transformed from being an iconic figure of discipline and credibility to now an intrinsic part of the corrupt political class who secure electoral victories through vote-buying, rigging and killing, Buhari wants to be among those who own private universities. Already, out of the existing 170 universities in the country today, 79 are privately owned. And the government is planning to grant licences for 303 more private universities.
By no means can we be convinced that this plan of Buhari and his wife is sufficiently indicative of their interest in education. It has rather shown three major things about Buhari: His inability to live up to the challenge of bequeathing great legacies; his quest to massage his ego; and a hankering for profit.
If Buhari were propelled by genuine interest in education, he would not opt for the setting up of a private university. He has many opportunities to adequately express this interest. His involvement in a private university would rather compound the crisis in the public universities. There is the not unfounded suspicion that Buhari would not project the best interest of the public universities when he is at the same time pursuing his private university. In the long run, Buhari may find himself in the hall of shame of former leaders who neglected the nation’s public schools for their private ones to thrive.
Instead of this misguided quest for a private university that the bulk of the citizens whom Buhari is presiding over their affairs cannot benefit from, he should seek to leave behind a functional educational system which is currently being plagued with a lack of funding. In the public universities which are under the control of the Federal and State Governments, lecturers are not enough. Because of the poor welfare system, those who should be in the university system because of their academic brilliance do not want to be there. There are no books and journals in the libraries. The environment is not conducive to learning: Students receive lectures standing in crowded classrooms, no electricity and water for research , among others .University teachers often express their grievances over these impediments to effective learning through strikes . Buhari could have found an innovative way of solving these problems instead of wasting his energies on setting up a private university.
Clearly, there is room for competitiveness. As in other climes, the public and private universities should be allowed to prove their mettle and spur themselves to greatness. But in those climes where there are Harvard and Yale universities, their leaders do not deliberately neglect the public schools for their private ones to thrive. Yes, in Nigeria, the coming of private universities has made a huge difference in the educational sector. In this regard, Afe Babalola has always been cited as a reference point. This is not surprising since Babalola as a former pro-chancellor of the University of Lagos, has had the opportunity to understand the problems of tertiary education. But we cannot say that Buhari and his wife have had this opportunity even though the former is the president.
Buhari does not need to set up a university to leave legacies in the university system. Even the late Obafemi Awolowo who genuinely had interest in education having broken free from poverty through it did not set up a university for himself. Rather, as the premier of the defunct Western Region, he demonstrated his love for education by founding the then University of Ife, a public university whose gates are open to all and not a private one that is accessible to only those who can pay the heavy fees that have probably been stolen from the citizens’ treasury.
Indeed, Buhari’s wife does not need to set up a university to leave a legacy. There are many opportunities for her to serve Nigerians and the whole of humanity. In this regard, Aisha Buhari should come to terms with the fact that the university she wants to set up would not serve the interest of those who really need it. How would the millions of children, including the almajiris, in the northern part of the country she comes from who have not had the benefit of a good primary and secondary education attend her university? So, Aisha needs to direct her energies towards making more children to go to school. She needs to vigorously campaign for the girl child to be free from premature marriage so that she can spend the early part of her years to acquire a good education. She also needs to make a strong case for more women in government. More importantly, she should know that her assignment in Aso Rock is not complete if by 2023 Leah Sharibu and other girls still being held by Boko Haram are in captivity. It is possible that the first lady has been making a case for these captives in secret . But when last did she publicly speak about these girls? When last did she comfort the parents? Is it in the captivity of Boko Haram and lecherous old men that these girls would attend her university?
If Buhari who claimed that he did not have money to buy his presidential nomination form now has billions with which to set up a private university, he should spend the resources on a worthwhile cause . Again, Buhari should be reminded that Awolowo did not build a university for himself but he lives on in the hearts of millions of those who benefited from the educational opportunities he provided. Nelson Mandela did not build a university for himself but he is in the pantheon of the greats not only in South Africa but in the whole world.
The overarching quest of Buhari should be how to bequeath a great nation to future generations. He should not demur at the prospect of playing a major role in the emergence of modern Nigeria. Are those referred to as the founding fathers of America identified with personal universities? Where are the private universities of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe and Benjamin Franklin? Yet, these were people whose love for education is unquestionable. Jefferson is said to have had a personal library of between 9,000 and 10,000 books which was the largest personal collection of books in the United States in that era. And in 1812 when British forces overran Washington, D.C. and burnt down the Capitol building, there were only 3,000 volumes in its library. It was Jefferson who later in 1815 used his personal library to rebuild the Library of Congress.
Buhari should think of uniting a divided Nigeria that is about disappearing. If he does not do this, his university may not have a country called Nigeria where it would be located. However, we should not rule out the possibility that Buhari is well aware that through his parochialism, divisiveness and poor management of the fissiparous forces of the nation, Nigeria may not exist for long. In that case, Aisha may not be planning to set up her university in Nigeria but in either Sudan or Qatar where she claims her partners in the project are waiting for her.
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