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Time to reclaim lost territories

By Dare Babarinsa
03 August 2016   |   4:00 am
I was in Ado-Ekiti, last week where I visited the Afe Babalola University Teaching Hospital, ABUADTH, which is under construction. Though it is said to be a replica of Chelsea Hospital in the United Kingdom...
Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education

Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education

I was in Ado-Ekiti, last week where I visited the Afe Babalola University Teaching Hospital, ABUADTH, which is under construction. Though it is said to be a replica of Chelsea Hospital in the United Kingdom, it looks more to me like the iconic University Teaching Hospital, UCH, Oritamefa, Ibadan, only on a grander and finer scale. Aare Afe Babalola, the founder of the institution, is pursuing his dream at a frenetic pace.

Hitherto, the ABUAD College of Medicine had been affiliated to the Federal Health Centre, Ido-Ekiti. Then President Goodluck Jonathan approved Ido as a teaching hospital in 2014 following ABUAD’s request to use it as its teaching hospital for its medical college. Although ABUAD has invested more than N3.1 billion in Ido’s infrastructural upgrades, the unpredictable atmosphere in the place has now forced Babalola to paddle his own canoe.

ABUAD is only one of the many private universities in Nigeria that is challenging the dominance of tertiary education by states and Federal Government-owned institutions. Anyone who has visited some of these private universities would know that they mean business. The result has been pleasantly surprising. Those of us who attended the traditional universities can no longer snigger at the progress being made by the private universities. Earlier this year, I attended a science exhibition at the Covenant University Otta, and was marvelled by what I saw, including drones, fridges run by solar power and many other inventions relevant to our environment.

The investments in these institutions have been massive. Anyone who has ever visited Babcock, Ilisan, Bell, in Otta both in Ogun State, Elizade in Ondo State and Redeemer’s University, Ede, Osun State would know that the provision of private university education is one areas in which Nigerians are excelling. Last week, my friend, Prof. Dayo Alao, was installed the vice-chancellor of Adeleke University, Ede, where infrastructural investment is on a breath-taken scale. If all these are happening, then Nigerians ought to take a closer look at the private tertiary institutions, especially universities and polytechnics.

The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, in one of his recent public outings, stated that universities would no longer be allowed to conduct post-UME examination. He directed that the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, should take full control of the process. JAMB, in furtherance of the directive, had shortlisted some candidates and sent the list to some universities. Last week, it announced that it was withdrawing that list. Some universities have openly kicked against the minister’s directive. The University of Lagos, Unilag, has said it would take action to vet intake into the university beyond the gate-keeping function of JAMB.

Though some private universities, notably ABUAD, have expressed reservation about the unilateral abolition of post-UME examinations, most have decided to simply ignore the directive. What is apparent is that the minister is concerned about the quality of intakes into Nigerian universities, but I am not sure the abolition of post-UME may be the immediate answer.

I believe, to control universities, you will have to control the establishment of universities which is the primary responsibility of the National Universities Commission, NUC. The NUC had been rigorous in giving accreditations to new universities. In recent years, the NUC, under the leadership of Prof. Peter Okebukola and his successor, Prof. Julius Okojie, have not hesitated to withdraw accreditations from erring institutions. The NUC has also withdrawn accreditation to some courses earlier granted, seeing the laxity on the part of some universities.

In the past, establishing a university was not a matter of fancy or political dispensation. One of the traditions in Nigeria before the intervention of the military in the process was that a new university would be mentored by an old one for some years. Therefore, it was the University of London in the United Kingdom that supervised the early years of the University of Ibadan. It was Ibadan that mentored Jos and the University of Calabar while it was the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria that mentored the University of Benin.

Today, every governor wants to establish a university in his home village with the state fund. In some instances, a state that has poorly funded one university would establish another university in the hometown of the incumbent governor. We have an instance where a governor almost spent all the resources of his state to establish a university only for his successor to cancel it so that he can concentrate on the old university. In this process, the politicians are destroying the tradition of mentoring and meticulous planning that attended the establishment of Nigeria’s pioneering universities. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo announced the establishment of the University of Ife, in 1958, it was preceded by thorough planning. His successor, Chief Ladoke Akintola, followed the plan meticulously that led to the establishment of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) in 1962.

The government should take more interest in what is happening in the private universities. With the way they are going, they may become the benchmark of higher education in Nigeria. One area the government can exert influence is funding. It should direct the NUC to set up criteria that would allow private universities to attract Federal Government grants for specific research and academic pursuit. This is more so when some of these universities are owned by individuals and corporate entities that are paying huge education tax to the government. In the old Western States, some private secondary schools which met the criteria became grant-aided schools.

Just as it happened in the banking sector, those who ventured into the rarefied field of higher education should also be encouraged to keep to certain structural guidelines. This would include the appointment of the Governing Council, the Senate and the vice-chancellors. There was a time when the vice-chancellors of Nigerian universities were like the gods on Mount Olympus. When Prof. Adeoye Lambo was removed as the VC of the University of Ibadan following the Adekunle Adepeju crisis of 1971, the Ivory Tower was ruffled but not shaken. It would shake during the Ali-Must-Go uprising of 1978 when the VCs of Ahmadu Bello University, ABU and his counterpart at the University of Lagos, were fired. The situation got so bad at a time that a soldier, Major-General Kotangora, was appointed the sole administrator of ABU.

The university system is leadership driven. We remember the pioneering exploits of people like Prof. Hezekiah Oluwasanmi at Ife, Saburi Biobaku in Unilag, Prof. Isaya Audu of Ahmadu Bello University and Kenneth Dike of Ibadan. When Prof. Ladipo Akinkugbe, one of our living legends in the field of medicine, was appointed the pioneering vice-chancellor of the University of Ilorin, everyone knew that university must have a strong medical school. Afe Babalola, a giant of the Nigerian Bar, is making sure ABUAD is to be reckoned with in the field of law education.

Though the circumstances are different, we need to study why there is industrial harmony in most private universities and the situation is always tense in the public universities. Anytime there is peace in the public universities, it only means the absence of war. There must be something we are doing wrong that makes the most important sector of the education pyramid to always be brimming for war.

What the private universities are doing is to challenge us to reclaim lost ground. In 1961, the UCH, was rated number nine among the best public hospitals in the Commonwealth, better than many hospitals in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and India. Today, we know the situation is different. The UCH, like most government-owned teaching hospitals, is on the eve of another strike, it is under-funded and the workers are overworked. It is certainly no longer rated among the first 10 in the Commonwealth. We need to reclaim lost territories and recapture old glories. If it means conceding to the private universities and encouraging them, then we should not hesitate to do so.

The 300-bed ABUAD teaching hospital would be opened next year. Do not be surprised if you hear next time that the President has landed in Ado Ekiti to remove a troublesome appendix.