By Rich Odu
What is unheard of in the annals of tertiary education in Nigeria played up at Alvan Ikoku Federal University of Education, Owerri, recently. Three months into its existence as a university, rumours circulated that the university had been reverted to the college of education that it used to be.
Angst took over the entire campus of the new university as staff and students who had been basking in the euphoria of their new status took to the streets, barricading the major Orlu Road and disrupting traffic.
Nothing at first, was heard from the federal government which took over the institution four years ago from the Imo State government. However, the Imo State government, apparently disturbed at the situation and being the government that is feeling the heat, issued a statement debunking the reversion story.
Apprehension still hovered in the ivory tower until the four unions in the universities, namely the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT) let off the lid by going on a one-week warning strike over a purported letter said to have instructed the former provost of the former college of education, Dr. Blessing Ijioma, to return to her former position as provost while the university was to be put on hold.
According to the letter which the union officials claimed they did not sight at the onset, a panel had been set up to ascertain the viability of the university and the other three elevated from colleges of education across the federation.
Others said to be involved were the Federal University of Education Zaria, Federal University of Education, Kano and the Adeyemi University of Education, Ondo State.
Staff, as well as students of the institution were insistent on not accepting a “return to Egypt,” wanting to press “forward ever and backward never.”
A twist in the sordid affair, however, was that the vice chancellor of the university, Prof. Sadiq Abubakar, was said to have received no letter asking him to step down.
This made the issue rather more confusing and problematic until a federal official, in a military style, told the striking workers that the decision to put the universities on hold was President Muhammadu Buhari’s.
According to him, the president, “in his wisdom”, took the decision and that no one, not even the former provosts, influenced it. The clarification came late as the general feeling had been that the former provosts had done it to regain control.
Putting the universities on hold suggests the possibility of a withdrawal of the status already conferred on the institutions three months before. An action of this sort would require very cogent reasons to douse the discontent that would follow.
Reports are that a final decision on the fate of the institutions would be taken when a panel set up to look into the viability of the universities had submitted its report.
Was it really necessary for the president to suspend the universities pending the report of the panel? Wouldn’t the panel be working while the universities continued to run? Indeed, it is not difficult to perceive prejudice in first putting the university on hold in anticipation of a panel report.
Subjecting the universities to a “viability” test gives an impression that the previous administration effected the elevations without consulting the National Universities Commission (NUC). It is not easy to believe this.
Going by the workings of a democratic and due process compliant administration, former President Jonathan who had his full team of ministers and civil servants, could not have unilaterally pronounced the institutions universities without adequate input of these technocrats in education.
Again, the argument in some quarters that the former president pronounced them universities too late holds no water as he only ceased to be president on May 29, 2015, the day he handed over. Besides, we would not expect the government to the grounded before handover.
In addition, the process to elevate the institutions could not have started the day it was pronounced. Looking at the spread – two in the north, one in the west and another in the east – it appeared that former President Jonathan had gone to equity for wisdom before appending his signature to the document that effected the changes.
Come to think of it, is Alvan not worthy of a university status? An institution long affiliated to the, University of Nigeria Nsukka and has been running degree programmes ever since? An institution which even as an advanced teachers college, had churned out great teachers who are today grandmasters in educational administration?
Aware of these glowing achievements, proponents had pushed for the takeover of the institution by the federal government and the eventual conversion to a university. One wonders the viability test such an institution would be subjected to, more so in the hands of a nebulous committee outside NUC.
It ought to be incongruous to right-thinking persons that the former provosts, who had been adequately accommodated in the new university structure as deputy vice chancellors would choose to engineer a reversion, to “go back to Egypt,” as one of the placards on Alvan gate described the situation. Although it might seem that a return to status quo would gratify the provosts, chances are that they have been caught in a crossfire.
That leaves us with speculations that the anti-Jonathan sentiments are fully at play. Perhaps, the elevation is being considered by some of the new administrators as one of the much touted corrupt practices of the past government!
Perhaps the president is afraid of funding the universities. If private universities are capable of fending for themselves, why won’t a federal government university. Talk of viability? Unviable states and local governments have not ceased to exist, let alone institutions that have potentials to raise funds. Let’s not go the Boko Haram way to say that western education is a sin.
There appears to be a ‘kill Jonathan’ camp springing up in this new dispensation. Its aim is to wipe out the Jonathan legacies in the name of fighting corruption. The Alvan issue and the shelving of the 2nd Niger Bridge project as well as the insistence on probing Jonathan’s administration in isolation of others add up to confirm this.
This camp needs to check its phobia for its predecessor before it drags Nigeria into another conflagration.