Whither the university system in Nigeria? (II), by Prof MK Othman


Deep Thoughts with Othman

Nation-building through innovation, good governance, infrastructural development, excellent foreign policy, increased productivity and virtually all aspects of human progress are acquired as a product of a university system.

The system produces high-quality leadership of the society who can uprightly surmount societal developmental challenges.

When the system is dysfunctional, the society pays exorbitantly and may be doomed to fail, if care is not taken. This is because a malfunctioned university system produces unbaked professionals to operate and manage the affairs of society.

The consequences will be so dire to the nation, pushing it to an abyss of insecurity, squalor, and poverty. The picture of a rotten university system is best captured by a famous quotation of Nelson Mandela of blessed memory who said: “destroying any nation does not require the use of atomic bombs or the use of long-range missiles…., it only requires lowering the quality of education and allowing cheating in the examinations by students, patients die at the hands of such doctors, buildings collapse at the hands of such engineers, money is lost in the hands of such economists and accountants, humanity dies at the hands of such religious scholars, justice is lost at the hands of such judges”.

How has the university system in Nigeria been faring? What kind of graduates the system is producing? These were the questions posed last week.

No doubt, the university system in Nigeria is perfectly designed in line with best practices to adequately meet societal needs and aspirations. The system has checks and balances for self-governance.

In addition to the university internal organs (council, senate, convocation, and congregation), a presidential visitation panel comes around at five years intervals to examine the working of the system and make recommendations for perfection.

So, if the university organs are properly constituted and made to function optimally, the system will not only address societal challenges but will be able to predict future problems with readymade solutions. However, this is not the case in Nigeria.

First, the council members are hardly constituted properly especially, the four external members who are supposed to be appointed by the council of ministers after due consultation and consideration.

Their appointments are influenced by political consideration as a kind of “democratic dividends for helping to achieve political victory/election”.

Representatives of Senate, congregation, and convocation are appointed through election among members of these bodies. Alumni dominates the convocation election, for instance, the guidelines of the recent election of convocation representative of Nnamdi Azikiwe University on Friday, 9 April 2021, stated that “only Alumni members whose names are captured in the voters’ register are eligible to vote”.

In some universities, the Alumni presidents emerge as convocation representatives in the council. Why must graduates be registered members of Alumni before being eligible to participate in the convocation election? However, there is relative sanity at the council largely because of the internal members.

Second, the council cannot effectively discharge its responsibilities because of several reasons. Among these reasons is the way and manner government constitutes and inaugurates the university council. Sometimes, the reconstitution of the university council takes months.

Thanks to ASUU for agitating that the university council must be in place at all times. Gross underfunding is another key reason. Generally, education is grossly underfunded. For instance, from 2016 to 2019, the percentage annual average budgetary allocation to the education sector was 7.35 while in 2020, the allocation was less than 6 per cent. This was less than half of the recommended 15 to 20 per cent of the Dakar Framework for Education for All (EFA).

The UNESCO benchmark allocation to education is 26% of the country’s total budget. Within this paltry allocation, the university system is worst affected. Apart from personnel emblements, all other budget lines are grossly and poorly funded.

How can the university recruit and maintain quality staff and provide needed equipment and facilities for training and research? Another reason is the usurpation of the council’s power, which affects council performance.

For instance, government operates an “enveloped budgeting system” in which limited fund allocation is done arbitrarily without due consideration and consultation. Council has statutory power to make a budget with inputs from academic departments in a ratio of 60:40 for the academic and administration.

Even the national assembly is attempting to usurp university council power; recently a circular from the Senate Committee of Tertiary Institution and TETFUND was addressed to the Vice-Chancellors/NUC ES warning them of recruiting academic and non-academic manpower without involving the committee, which violates extant statute for recruitment of manpower.

This is a usurpation of council power and a display of ignorance of what university is. Some vice-chancellors make recruitment with little or no knowledge of their councils.

A university’s management organ such as the Senate also usurp council power, example one of the functions of the University of Ibadan Senate, as stated in the governance document is “The appointment and promotion of teachers at the University” https://www.ui.edu.ng/uigovernance; this is a clear usurpation of council power.

So much has been said on the policymakers and implementers within the university system; what of the system operators (teachers) and students?

ASUU as a teachers’ union is the most formidable and indefatigable pressure group sanitizing the university system otherwise Nigeria would have experienced system collapse a long time ago.

Industrial action is the only weapon ASUU uses to make government respond to the herculean demands of the university system.

The system is tired of perennial strikes and government has a veritable key to preventing a future strike by genuinely sitting with ASUU to find a lasting solution. Limited financial resources are the major bone of contention.

So, the government can even challenge ASUU on how it can sustainably and viably fund the university system in Nigeria. It was done before; today, TETFUND is the impressive result of that kind of challenge.

However, teachers are assumed to be people above board but systematic corruption has reached the university system. So, there is a need to checkmate the excesses of few people within the system.

Finally, our population explosion has resulted in multiple students crammed in dilapidated classrooms and laboratories making the environment not conducive for teaching and learning. This has corrupted our students making them do anything to pass exams without acquiring the needed knowledge.

To prevent system failure and the collapse of the nation, the government should call critical stakeholders for an education summit. Issues to be discussed should include adequate and sustainable funding of the university system, overhaul/review of programs’ curriculum to address emerging societal problems, climate change mitigation among others.

Professor Othman writes from NAERLS, ABU Zaria, and can be reached via email: mkothman@gmail.com.


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