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The epidemic of universities in Nigeria


University of Nigeria Nsukka

Whenever Nigerians start doing the same thing, be sure that there is money to be made in that enterprise. Many years ago, we had only three denomination of the church – Protestant, Catholic and African. In the last 25 years, the expansion of evangelical churches is truly phenomenal. There may be other reasons for this explosion but the spinning machine of money is certainly a major factor. The reason we are inured to importation is that many people make money from it – banks, customs, anti-smuggling, the military, NPA officials and so on. If we were growing agriculture for export, not that many people would be seeing the money.

For years, we had seven or eight good universities. In the past 20 years, we now have over 150 and we still need more. But the explosion in university education is not that we are all suddenly bitten by the bug of scholarship. Rather a lot of money goes with the establishment of universities and being a graduate is definitely a probable key to the road of success.

Of late, the epidemic of new universities has bitten the political establishment. The Ijaw has the political establishment. The Ijaw of Delta have agitated and got a Maritime University sited at Okerenkoro in Gbaramatu kingdom. The place has been transformed by buildings put up by Tompolo who is reputed to have made billions from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and others in siting the university at Gbaramatu. I have no argument with anyone making money and siting a university in an impoverished part because, apart from anything else, the university brings and encourages development: But it also brings social problems which advocates tend to ignore before it is too late.

My problem is more esoteric and conceptual. The university sited in Gbaramatu is called a Maritime University and buildings have sprung up all over the place which suggest to me that the plan for the university must be hasty and inadequate. Even physical structures take conceptual plans with phased development goals. It is not something to be rushed except for those out to make a quick buck. But what is a Maritime University? Also in Delta State, there are plans for a Petroleum University. What can this mean?

I can understand a university that has courses or departments for Maritime Studies or Petroleum Engineering and other related subjects. The university should also have other facilities which do not necessarily have to do with the maritime or petroleum. It’s central focus may well be these specialties, like the London School of Economics, but the London School of Economics (LSE) teaches several other courses and it is part of the Omnibus University of London, which has other colleges, campuses and specialties like School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Queen Mary College, Imperial College, Kings College, St Barths, Guys Hospital, etc.

These new universities are being driven by government ministries or parastatals which reinforce my belief that there must be a lot of money to be made in these pet projects – a new avenue to siphon off considerable funds. Moreover, these new universities obviate the necessity of rigorous planning, costed construction, how to keep the university going.Will it be independent if it is funded, for example, by NIMASA (maritime) NNPC (petroleum)? There are others that have been broached – Transportation University, ICT University, Custom and Immigration University, Labour University (presumably this would include courses on unemployment or shall we have a full blown Unemployment University?) What would an ICT university teach which the computer departments and schools do not teach now, and if they do not, why not expand the curriculum to encompass these needs? What would a Petroleum University teach that is outside what is taught in the Petroleum Engineering Departments?

It is not that special interests cannot have their universities – the theological universities have been in existence for a long time. In Britain, the Trade Union Congress believed that Trade Unionism should be taught at university level: they persuaded Oxford University to establish Ruskin College, which specialised in Trade Union matters, short courses, full three year courses, mostly for mature adults. The alumni include Tom Mboya leading politicians in Kenya, Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Lord John Prescott, former deputy Prime Minister, Adams Oshiomhole, former governor of Edo State, Ben Enwonwu, Nigerian artists, Siaka Probyn Stevens, Prime Minister and President of Sierra Leone, some three alumni had been general secretary, of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), George Woodcock, Norman Willisetc. The establishment of Ruskin College so incensed some blue-blooded students that they vowed to destroy the college. They founded a fraternity; whose entry qualification was that a prospective member must bring a brick he had used his bare hands to tear out from Ruskin College!

In Oron, we have the Maritime School. Nothing says we should not have another one at Gbaramatu but what is needed there is a full blown university with several courses and schools, including one for maritime studies, oceanography, salt water erosion, mangrove forest defoliation etc., fishing, fisheries, the coral beds etc.

The same argument goes for a Petroleum University. When I raised the objection that there was no Maritime or Petroleum University in the world, I was told that what was wrong if Nigeria became the first to have these universities. (In fact, there is a Petroleum University in China).

Now the ministry of Transport wants a Transportation University. The concept is too wooly to really comment upon. This is not to say that more universities should not be built with special interests in transportation as distinct from engineering. These specialties should be incorporated in a normal university. I suspect that if these universities did not have the money and raison d’etre being given to them – ICT, Transportation, Maritime, and Petroleum – funding them would be so difficult that they may not take off. Which still brings me to the point already stated that when Nigerians start doing the same thing, there is money in it.

Must all our leaders, incidentally, own a university? OBJ (Bell University), Atiku (American University in Yola), Jonathan, Federal University Otuoke (it is not owned by Jonathan – but who owns the land on which the university is to be built?

I am not saying that we have enough universities in Nigeria. The private universities are expensive. They pay between N400, 000 to N600, 000 per semester. But more importantly, graduates should not be produced just for the fun of it. The Nigerian system has no sustainable process to absorb all the graduates we produce. Graduate payment is still hovering around N50, 000 per month or less.

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