FACILITIES in the country’s universities, especially those owned by the Federal Government, have become an eyesore, thereby reducing them to shadows of citadel of learning. As a result, the Academic Staff Union of Universities and students have been protesting for a change to no avail.
Graphic details of the poor state of infrastructure at some of these universities were front page pictures of this newspaper on July 29: halls of residence at the University of Nigeria, Enugu campus, are overgrown with weeds. At the Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, pit latrines dot the landscape, while heaps of refuse have taken over the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, and its students’ bathrooms have become most revolting.
At the University of Port Harcourt, its Mandela Hall could be mistaken for a charred prison, while students of the Ahmadu Bello University queue to use the convenience. Bed bugs feed on the blood of students at the OAU. There, two students engaged themselves in a fight with Sniper recently, over who might have infested their beds with the insect. Hostels at the University of Lagos are infested with the same blood-sucking insects, a reminder of the embarrassing students’ riot there over the matter two years ago. It is incredible that 16 students can be crammed into a room at one of the halls at the University of Calabar. The rot is virtually in all the universities.
These problems stem from government’s gross underfunding; maladministration of the universities by the authorities who admit students beyond the carrying capacities of their institutions; and non-enforcement of standards and regulations. One of the students at UNILAG volunteered, “We should have four people in a room, but we have squatters in all the rooms. So, from four in a room, we can have eight students.”
The Federal Government owns 43 out of the 95 public universities, which it cannot maintain. Yet, it has set up more institutions since 2012 when it renegotiated the 2009 revitalisation of universities agreement with ASUU. This compounds the crisis. Under the pact, universities were to get N1.3 trillion over a period of five years, which would have ended in 2017. But only N200 billion was released in 2013. Government’s breach of the agreement has induced countless ASUU strikes.
It is utter irresponsibility for the government to continue to establish universities, which it is incapable of funding adequately. In the twilight of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, it set up nine new universities in the implementation of the irrational policy of having a federal university in each of the 36 states, including Abuja; even when some benefitting states fill their Unity Colleges admission quota with pupils who scored between two and 14 marks out of the 200 obtainable.
Unfortunately, Buhari’s government has followed the same path with the approval of Army and Navy universities, despite the existence of the Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna, and the National War College, Abuja, which have university status. The National Institute for Legislative Studies now engages in postgraduate studies, while the police had much earlier joined the craze for the ownership of a university. These institutions are needless because the degrees they run can also be obtained from other public and private universities.
Together with inadequate funding and proliferation of universities, lack of basic facilities like water, electricity and bathrooms, sufficient lecture halls, students halls of residence, office accommodation and bookshops, outdated libraries, ill-equipped laboratories and inadequate research funding; deficiency of lecturers with PhD continues to be the hallmark of these universities. A university is a global centre of excellence, devoted to teaching, research and innovation for the overall development of the society. Any such institution devoid of this ambience is just a travesty of the system.
The degenerate existence of our universities explains why they are not well-regarded even in Africa, let alone globally. Interventions from the Petroleum Development Trust Fund and Tertiary Education Trust Fund in funding the building of halls of residence, libraries, lecture halls and award of postgraduate scholarships to deserving academics seem to be tokenisms against the background of the degree of the prevailing mess. Quality is critical in university education. These universities should be radically overhauled to attract international students and faculties – two critical criteria that confer universalism on them, from where their origin was derived.
As a result, there is the urgent need for the government and all the stakeholders to have a dialogue on how the universities could be best funded so as to bring them up to scratch. Some concerned stakeholders have suggested private sector partnership in the provision of some facilities like hostels, as is the case in some countries. This makes much sense. It would help in reducing the crisis in the accommodation of students, many of whom live in insecure apartments outside the campuses and are exposed to cult and ritual killings.
The reality of a new approach or response to the decrepit facilities in our public universities, therefore, cannot be avoided anymore. But government should staunch its obsession with setting up more universities when existing ones are dwarfs in standards.
Given the imperatives of the ASUU-FG agreement, much is expected of the former to mount sufficient pressure on the government to implement it. Unfortunately, the union appears to be fickle-minded and often self-centred. Calling off each strike when the government dangles a few arrears of the Earned Academic Allowances has become routine and defeatist. Its last fray ended in February with government’s promise to release N25 billion for this purpose, whereas at issue is the N200 billion annual payment for universities’ revitalisation project. Therefore, for ASUU, the larger interest of the system should be the compelling reason for action; and not for the EAA.
Apparently, these embattled universities cannot be Oxford, Harvard or Cambridge universities overnight. But the subhuman environment under which the students study has national and international implications. Therefore, the National Universities Commission, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board and other regulatory authorities should intervene to ensure that at least, minimum standards are maintained.