By Prof Ogundele
The modern world is anchored to education especially at the university level, understandably because robust human capital – the gateway to socio-political stability and industrialization can never be engendered without it (education). Industrialization is the strong vehicle for sustainable economic growth and development in a myriad of ways. In other words, education is basically about the promotion of skilled manpower for development within the confines of local, regional and trans-oceanic geographies. Given this scenario, Nigeria can only be an exception at its own peril. This awareness underscored the reason why the University College, Ibadan was established in 1948, following the recommendations of the Elliot Commission of 1943. UCI was affiliated to the University of London. However, the project had some teething problems or challenges such as low enrolments of students and high dropout rate.
Consequently, the federal government set up in April 1959 the Ashby Commission of Inquiry to advise it on the higher education needs of Nigeria for the next 20 years. It is on record, that before the submission of the Ashby Report, the government of the Eastern Region had quickly founded its own higher institution called University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The University of Ife, Ile-Ife (later re-named Obafemi Awolowo University) and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria were established in 1962 (in line with the Ashby Commission’s recommendations) by the Western and Northern governments respectively. In 1962, the University of Lagos was created by the federal government. UCI became a full-fledged university during the same year (1962). By this token, the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos became the first two federal universities in Nigeria.
During this period, Nigeria had a population of about 45 million. The newly created Mid-Western Region also established its own university in 1970. It was named the University of Benin. All these regional universities later metamorphosed into federal institutions. They are popularly called the first generation universities up to now. The number of universities in the country has been increasing exponentially since this period. Today, Nigeria has 180 universities and more than 60 “janjaweed” or “wuru-wuru” (unapproved) ones crisscrossing our landscape. The Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), first established by the Act No.1 of 1974, is saddled with the responsibility of approving applications for establishing universities in the country, based on general and specific guidelines. This service and regulatory body underwent some amendments in 1993 under Decree No. 10 of 1993.
Currently, over 300 applications for the establishment of new private universities are being considered by the NUC. Certainly, more individuals and organisations will soon submit their forms. Our dear First Lady, Aisha Buhari was/is also legitimately planning to establish a university to be named Muhammadu Buhari University. This is to be located somewhere in the north in honour of her husband. I’m not unaware of the need to create a greater space for qualified young candidates to gain admission to the university since the human population of Nigeria is now 201 million. But in doing this, we must not cast caution to the winds. Private universities are not an aberration provided high standards occupy a conspicuous position in the scheme of things.
Thus, for example, some private universities are doing very well in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Those in the UK include the University of Buckingham, Regent’s University and St. Mary’s University. Again, the United States has such prominent private universities as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology. They are some of the best universities on our planet. Some of the relatively prominent private higher institutions in Nigeria are Covenant University, Ota; Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti; American University of Nigeria, Yola; Bowen University, Iwo and Igbinedion University, Okada. Although the above-mentioned schools are struggling to improve on the standards of their programmes including teaching and research, they are still light years away from the expected level of excellence.
Poor funding leading to a gross lack of facilities and the inability to attract very experienced, world-class teachers/professors remain a devil to wrestle with. This is in addition to the imposition of a much-regimented life-style on students. Excessive regimentation on students is an anathema to creativity and/or innovation. Freedoms of thought and expression within the framework of common sense are sacrosanct. Excesses or draconian measures in the name of discipline reduce most private universities in Nigeria to the level of secondary schools. Professor Oloyede – the Registrar of JAMB was thoroughly dismayed recently at the low standards in most private universities in the country. His complaint was/is rooted in patriotism. Where are the other stakeholders? They don’t care a hoot! Mediocre university education has now reached epidemic proportions.
Today, almost every lawmaker in Abuja is struggling to get a university-approved for his village for political and/or commercial reasons. Sometimes, these politicians see private universities as a status symbol. Most candidates who write JAMB examinations are too academically weak to become university students. They should go for vocational education instead of making a nuisance of themselves in the long run. Half or “quarter”-baked graduates would not be able to remain afloat the stream of modern development. Consequently, Nigeria would begin to experience more economic imperialism. Chinese, Japanese, Britons and Americans among other foreign nationals even with polytechnic certificates would be ruling our industrial landscape if NUC failed to halt the drift towards weak university education. Even our public universities need greater funding so that they can enlarge and enrich the available facilities with a view to admitting more qualified candidates. Sub-standard education is a danger to the heart and soul of any society.
Permit me to illustrate here, an aspect of the state of the nation’s university education. The recently approved curriculum by NUC for Archaeology was a retrogressive change. Old courses that had been expunged by the departmental/central authorities in Ibadan more than three decades ago are now being showcased as products of a new curricular reform. Such courses include Pleistocene Geography, World Prehistory including Archaeology of the Near East and Science in Archaeology. NUC wants us to be teaching “Archaeology of Jericho” in Nigeria in the 21st century. This is exceedingly ridiculous! Indeed, this is the time we should be engaging more than hitherto in Archaeology as if society matters. That is archaeology with a special emphasis on knowledge applications. West Africa has to be the runway as` we focus on archaeo-tourism and peace/conflict management among others. The “Walls” of Jericho-encumbrances to academic excellence and market-sensitivities must be dismantled now. We would be doomed to greater failure if the federal government refused to rescue Nigeria which is sinking fast to the bottom of the ocean of modern education and development. This simply means that Nigeria’s university educational system is in dire need of a radical overhaul involving federal, state and private institutions. Most of them are to a large degree, a mockery of factories for intellectual productions.
Prof Ogundele is of Dept. of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan.