Trophy hunters of the republic
January is the height of the hunting season when the animals are restless. The games are on the move looking for better feeding ground and watering holes. The game hunters are on their trail. It is usually in the dry season when the games are plentiful that Ogun is worshipped in most part of the Yoruba country for Ogun, the deity of war and patron of artists, poets and musicians, love his sacrifice fresh, dripping with blood. Even now, the game hunters are busy only that they are not armed with Dane guns or bow and arrows. Each of them is armed with power and a mighty pen.
The big game hunters must come with the trophy of the chase. Sometimes it is the elephant tusks or the stuffed effigy of the leopard or the lion. Every prominent Nigerian traditional ruler knows the importance of the trophy. Sometimes it is to signify ancient triumph or to identify the meaning of modern praise-songs. When you go to battle, you have to bring the spoil home. Sometimes successful generals come home with trophy wives. In olden times, women were the ultimate trophy of war.
Politics is now the new war by other means. It is regulated. Periodically, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, would summon combatants to the battle fields. Sometimes, heads and limps may be lost like in the recent Kogi and Bayelsa version of the war, but then, truce would be called until INEC decide it is time for another round.
The winners of these periodic battles have the right to spend the money of the republic in the way that appear just and proper to them. That may be why our President has directed that a new Transport University should be established in his hometown of Daura, Katsina State. With this, Katsina State now becomes one of the few states in the Federation that has two Federal University. Earlier, the government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan established the Federal University in Dutsin-Ma, Katsina State.
With the establishment of the Transport University, President Buhari has shown that he is capable of bringing a good trophy home. He also directed that N18 billion should be given to the institution as its initial take-off fund. Note that before this time, Katsina State had four higher institutions: the Federal University, Dutsin-Ma, the Katsina University, the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University and the Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic. I am not convinced that the Transport University has any other reason for its birth apart sharing the same birth-place with the President.
What is even of more concern is that our top commanders of our armed forces are also busy awarding trophies to themselves. Now we have the Nigerian Army University, Biu, the headquarters of the Biu local government where, Buratai, the hometown of the Chief of Army Staff is located. Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, has been Buhari’s Chief of Army Staff since 2015. Suddenly we are made aware that the defence and police establishment need more universities. Now we have the Air force Institute of Technology, Kaduna, the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, in Delta State, the Nigerian Police Academy, Wudil, Kano, and the Admiralty University of Nigeria, Ibusa, Delta State.
When Nigeria became a republic in 1963, the Minister of Defence, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, commissioned a study about the possibility of military threat to Nigeria. It was at the height of the Cold War between East and West and the trial of opposition leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who was standing trial for treasonable felony, was in top gear. Yet the report concluded that Nigeria may not be under any serious military threat from its neighbours in the near future. It warned however that Nigeria should worry more from internal crisis like the upheavals that was then going on in the Tivs Division of the then Northern Region. By the end of the decade, the prognosis was manifested in the Wet-e conflagration in the Western Region, the pogrom in the North and the Civil War.
Despite all these challenges, our leaders took meticulous care to establish the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, which today is a degree-awarding institution recognized and accredited by the Nigerian Universities Commission, NUC. It was an institution established by the British as the Royal Military Forces Training College. When Nigeria gained independence in 1960, the institution became the Nigerian Military Training College, NMTC, and later the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA. It was only in 1985 that the NDA became a full degree-awarding institution. It now has many students pursuing courses leading to the award of masters and doctorate degrees. General Buhari is an old student of the institution.
There is no obvious evidence that Nigeria needs new military institutions, especially the degree awarding type now. It is becoming increasingly clear that these new institutions are established as trophies for highly placed political office holders. In this wise, the institutional credibility of the NUC is undermined when it is not allowed to participate fully in the establishment of new universities. In the past, it use to insist on stringent conditions before a university is established. But how can it perform its duties effectively when the Commander-in-Chief wants a Transport University (whatever that means) in his home town?
Now that Bruratai has succeeded in attracting an Army University to his home local government, the other service chiefs would be under pressure to bring trophies home. We look forward to what trophy would be awarded to Vice-Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas, the Chief of Naval Staff, who hails from Nko in Cross River State. Ditto for Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar who would be expected to bring something tangible to Azare in Bauchi State. Of course, the people of Ode-Ekiti are waiting to hear the good news from General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin, the Chief of Defence Staff.
When President Buhari was campaigning, he did not promise us that he would establish more universities. He told us he would fight unemployment and corruption and combat the disgraceful scenario at the power sector. There is no doubt that he is facing these assignments with varying degrees of success. However, trophy hunting for him and his leading lieutenants is nothing but a big distraction. For a man reputed for strict personal discipline and ascetic lifestyle, this distraction is a worrisome indication of laxity. It is also a burdensome motif of the corruption of power.
There is no evidence too that Nigeria needs more Federal Government owned universities. By 1966 when the military seized power, there were only two Federal Government owned universities; the Universities of Ibadan and Lagos. Today, Federal universities are about 50. There are enough evidence on ground that the Federal Government is not taking adequate care of these institutions and there is need for a rethink of the strategies for their management and funding. By decreeing new institutions into existence, the government is inviting chronic indigestion for itself. This is not necessary.
The future of higher education in Nigeria belongs to the private sector. The government should study past reports on how to integrate this private sector into a profitable alliance with the public sector. We expect that the government should device ways to reward outstanding private tertiary institutions, especially universities and encourage them to pursue researches that would ultimate benefit the economy and provide employment. In the old Western Region there was an arrangement in which the government would give grants to certain categories of private, community and missionary schools that have met certain conditions. This is what the Federal Government should authorize the Tertiary Education Fund, TETFUND to do for private institutions in Nigeria. The reason for this is that the future of higher education in Nigeria lies more with the private sector and private institutions.
I still don’t see what difference a Transport University would make to the Nigerian economy. If it is such a brilliant idea, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, who has the largest transport fleet in Nigeria, would have founded one. Or would a Faculty of Transport for the Federal University, Datsin-Man not have done the same job? Well, we should let the President keep his trophy, but we must put a stop to the exploit of the trophy hunters.
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