By Leonard Shilgba
First, let me congratulate all Nigerians for making the right choice and voting for General Buhari for the office of President of Nigeria. The choice is right because it is the most appropriate response by the electors to impunity, incompetence and corruption that have defined the government of President Jonathan. No nation can guarantee security and welfare of her citizens when those three evils are allowed free space in national life and conduct. Impunity destroys the judiciary and denies citizens of basic rights and freedoms. Incompetence renders ineffective and useless the most brilliant of development propositions, while corruption is the silent killer of society.
I must congratulate General Buhari for earning the trust of majority of Nigerians at this time; I pray he sustains it. One issue on which the General is perceived to be very strong, is the needed capacity to fight corruption that has hobbled Nigeria for decades. He has already assured that our money will be safe with him. Furthermore, he recognizes the important place of education in national development. While receiving a delegation from his home state that came to pay him a congratulatory visit, the President-elect said, “If you give education to a man or woman, you have empowered them to be productive. There is no better way to empowerment.” I cannot agree more with this.
The Federal Ministry of Education (FME) remains the agency for vision articulation, policy formulation, standard-setting, and monitoring of the education sector in Nigeria. Education entities such as the National University Commission (NUC) and National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE) are only parastatals under FME. It is indisputable therefore that the quality of education in Nigeria, at least at the federal level, will be compromised without qualitative leadership of FME and efficient and prudent management of the parastatals under it and universities and colleges under those parastatals. Corrupt practices by those parastatals and the institutions they are supposed to monitor have crippled the education sector. Is it a secret that some universities “hire” mercenaries to pose as lecturers during accreditation visitations by the NUC, and then dispose of them soon afterwards? Can we argue with the fact that some universities even go as far as renting facilities for those accreditation visitations? The management of those universities should be held responsible, and appropriate sanctions should be applied. This is one of the reasons why establishing the office of the Whistle-blower is very important. Scrupulous and conscientious staff of universities and colleges (federal, state and private) can leak out information on such corrupt activities and yet be protected on their jobs.
Federal universities and other tertiary institutions are owned and funded by the federal government through the FME through the respective agencies. For instance, a federal university A is owned and funded by FME, and then accredited by the NUC, which is a parastatal under the FME. How reliable is such accreditation? Besides, allegations abound of how NUC visitation teams are “facilitated” by universities for “accreditations.” Within federal universities and colleges, the phenomenon of “personal returns” deprive academic programs and projects of the needed funds. “Personal returns” are proceeds of corruption that go to some senior management staff of the university through inflation of contracts and orders. For instance, if actual cost of a project is N 5 million (five million naira), the management would state N 25 million (twenty-five million naira); the balance goes to management as “personal returns.”
Another problem with funding and management of federal universities and colleges is what I should call micro-management. Funds are allocated to university A by the federal government, and then domiciled in Abuja. The university leadership cannot access those funds. Contracts are awarded from Abuja for projects in the university. The Vice-chancellor is permitted to spend only a limited amount of money. He has no control over the execution of those big-capital projects. If a Vice-chancellor wants speedy release of funds from Abuja, he must grease the palms of certain federal officials who have custody of the funds. On the issue of employment, tremendous pressure is placed on university management to employ staff that are not needed, thus worsening the financial situation of the universities. Should a university have almost as many staff as its student population, while not having the requisite quality and number of faculty for its programs? There is another problem of stupendous expenditure on unproductive and dispensable University Councils, whose membership is generally based on patronage.
General Buhari must begin to address university education by looking into the process of recruiting Vice-chancellors and accreditation of university programs. He knows that poor leadership of any enterprise would yield poor outcomes. The Vice-chancellor should be the real CEO of his university in all practical ways, and search for vice-chancellors of federal universities should attain international prestige and outlook. Reputable international hiring agencies must be engaged to recruit vice-chancellors of repute, taking into consideration experience and influence in the corporate world, ability to attract funds, and ability to manage human resources. Appointment of vice-chancellors (university presidents) must not be part of rewarding political associates. The status quo is corrupt, and must be stopped.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has a policy of “free education”, beginning from first to ninth grade, and then later up to university level. Well, while I do not disapprove of this, I think there is not much clarity on it. Education can never be “free” because ignorance is expensive. Someone must pick up the bill: the government, the consumers, or some other organizations interested in promoting education. Therefore, if it costs, for instance, N 300,000 (three hundred thousand naira) per annum to train a science major in a federal university, and the government says that students should pay only N 50,000 (fifty thousand naira), then, government must provide a grant of N250,000 (two hundred and fifty thousand naira) to the university. Failing to do this would mean that government is offering “fraud education” and not “free education.” Genuine free education means a subsidy is paid on education per head to the universities that are service providers. Declaration of “free education” does not make the costs to just vanish away.
The Buhari administration must request each of the federal universities and colleges to furnish the following information: Number of students per program; costs per head per annum of training each of the students; deficiencies in learning and teaching resources and infrastructure; required number and quality of faculty for each program; and any relevant information. Based on the information, the federal government can determine how much of the cost it should bear and how much should go to the direct consumers (students). As a first step towards upgrading federal universities to international standard, six federal universities should be selected and designated as Group One Federal Universities, one each from the six geo-political zones. I propose as follows: North-West: Ahmadu Bello University; North-East: University of Maiduguri; North-Central: University of Jos; South-West: University of Ibadan; South-south: University of Benin; and South-East: University of Nigeria Nsukka.
Those six universities will be primary beneficiaries of the Diaspora Professorial Exchange (DPE) that should be established (I have written on this before). The Vice-chancellors will lead the process of international accreditation of those universities, using one of the international accreditation agencies that would be recommended by the FME. Recruitment of faculty for those universities will be done through credible faculty search committees that could use hiring consultants. Salaries of the faculty should be international rate and competitive. Facilities at the Group One universities will be expanded to take 50,000 students. Admission into programs of the universities would be highly prioritized on the basis of high performance on all qualifying examinations to be determined. Faculty evaluation by students, semester-by-semester, would be part of the determinants of job-security for faculty. Other federal universities should be included in the Group One universities upon attainment of international accreditation, which would attract more federal grants. Consequently there shall be reward for excellence, and therefore motivation to excel. This will definitely enhance quality. Eventually, many Nigerian students and their parents who spend billions of dollars abroad on university education shall keep the money at home as they are assured of the same or better quality of education in Nigeria. Those universities will also earn foreign exchange from foreign students that they will attract because of improved quality and international accreditation. There would be reduced pressure on the naira, forcing it to appreciate significantly against the US dollar just as Buhari has envisioned.