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Ethnicization of Nigerian universities



Nigerian universities have gradually become ethnic colonies, a sad reflection of the general drift of the Nigerian state. Some reasons for this disease are practical – the fact that universities would naturally attract more persons from the immediate geographical environment where they are located. The second reason, the political reason – giving vacant positions only to ‘indigenes’ or persons who share some ethnic affiliation to the institution in question- is dangerous and antithetical to the spirit of intellectual exchange of ideas. To be sure this runs counter to the lofty objectives behind setting up universities.

I have elected not to address this malady in polytechnics and Colleges of Education because they seem too far seeped in this ailment that they can never be cured, at least not in the next 100 years. Most polytechnics and Colleges of Education in the country are created by state governments. They are seen as employers of labour for ‘their people’; not ‘foreigners.’ Foreigners could refer to persons from other states within the federation. Sometimes it refers to people who are not from the particular Senatorial District where the polytechnic is located. In other words, a polytechnic situated in a Central senatorial district would prefer to employ teachers and staff who are ethnically from the district. When it comes to management staff, sentiments and the political thinking push towards ensuring that the Chief Executive is a son of the soil. In some states, even the Vice Chancellorship is skewed in favour of ethnic origins.

The university ought to be a place that houses the best minds. The ethnic background or the race of the persons involved ought to be a nonissue. In other words, as a person trained in a discipline, it does not matter that you do not share the same colour or creed with the dominant ethnic group of the university. Knowledge and the endless possibilities of research and contribution to knowledge is the key factor. Also, competence and the ability to generate ideas and contribute to leadership should be over-riding. This is because knowledge or the pursuance of it knows no barriers once the mind is liberated. Sadly, under the military administrations this ideal was almost achieved in Nigeria. Men and women of different ethnic background were posted to universities as Vice Chancellors outside their home States.


It was under this arrangement that, for example, Professor Emmanuel Emovon became Vice Chancellor of University of Jos, Professor Frank Ndili became Vice Chancellor of University of Ife, and Professor Emmanuel Ayandele became VC of University of Calabar. Before these appointees, Professor Eni Njoku was VC of University of Lagos. During that era non-indigenes and expatriate staff were employed in the universities. At Nsukka, for example, there were academics from other parts of the country, University of Lagos, just as it was at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, University of Ife and University of Benin.

These days the universities are gradually being ‘ethnicized’. The University of Benin is a glaring example where there seems to be a declaration in recent times that except a Professor is of a particular stock, precisely and definitely local, he cannot become Vice Chancellor in that university. Colleagues in the university in question say that even an academic who is not from the dominant ethnic group in the State cannot be Vice Chancellor no matter how qualified. By the same token, the Governing Council cannot, for example, appoint a Japanese or a Kenyan or a South African intellectual with solid international contacts to lead the university. If this is correct then the Ivory Tower has moved from that university. If it is true of any university then the university idea has moved away from that university.


In some universities we are told that except one is an indigene of the state he cannot become Head of Department or Dean. When did the system degenerate to this level? How may we then produce excellent students if we remain in an incestuous relationship in staff recruitment? Indeed some Nigerians who currently head universities in America or Canada cannot for example head some universities in their home country once the university is located outside their state of origin. How small-minded we can be sometimes! If in the 1970s the University of Ibadan could produce a Vice Chancellor or Registrar from outside the South West region in spite of the many qualified Yoruba professors where did we go wrong?

Ethnicizing a university is a sure sign of underdevelopment. It shows that we have not grown beyond our primordial instinct. The University of Lagos recently produced a Deputy Vice Chancellor who is NOT Yoruba, courtesy of the highly-liberal minded then Vice Chancellor Professor Rahman Bello and an excellent University Senate. There are non-Yoruba representing Lagos State in the Federal House of Representatives. There was a non-Yoruba Commissioner in the Cabinet of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu when he was Governor of Lagos State. In some states across the country which are homogenous in culture or language some persons are rejected because they do not come from the particular state. Backwardness. These persons were so considered because they had lived well in the environment and given excellent service; as a result the appointing or electing authority deemed it fit to acknowledge and reward them. How many states can follow the example of Lagos? Indeed, if all states and Nigeria were like Lagos, there would be no Boko Haram or IPOB or whatever!

Let us open up the country in a liberal manner. An Igbo man, for example, who has lived his life in Kano should be given all the rights of an indigene. A Yoruba man who has lived in Delta State all his life should qualify for all that ‘indigenes’ are entitled to. So too a Deltan who has spent his working years say in Benue State should be considered as an indigene. In some cultures in the country, it is so bad that families say ‘this is a woman’s child; he is not entitled to what the child of a male descendant should get’. What this means is that people connected to an ethnic group or a state maternally are excluded from certain rights meant for paternal descendants. This is crude, backward, selfish, ignorant and barbaric. The universities and all tertiary institutions should show the way to the larger Nigeria by being focused on merit and excellence!

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