Respite For UNIABUJA, Lessons For University Education In Nigeria

(By Tayo Demola)

There is a clear-cut difference between teaching well in the classroom and being a good administrator. The two do not necessarily require the same skill and not many people can effectively combine the two skills. A university is not a laboratory or experimental specimen which you hand over to an inexperienced hand to determine the possibility of the outcome because you will be toying with the lives and future of thousands of people who would later on graduate to become future leaders and important decision makers.

THE University of Abuja established on January 1st, 1988, and enviably located in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria has been bedeviled with crisis for some time now owing to the inability of the school to obtain accreditation for some of its courses. There have been several protests by the students on this issue some of whom have unfortunately spent seven years for a course that is ordinarily supposed to last for four years!

  It is the duty of the National Universities Commission (NUC) to accredit courses, regulate and maintain high standard and ensure that adequate facilities are in place for the running of various courses in our universities. This duty it has discharged creditably well by denying accreditation to these courses lacking the necessary facilities including medicine and engineering and by ensuring that these departments in the University of Abuja meet the required national standard for course accreditation.

  For several years, professional bodies in Nigeria such as the Dental and Medical Council of Nigeria as well as the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) have denied recognition for products of UNIABUJA as a result of this anomaly. The multiplier effects of this are innumerable. The world has undeniably become a global village and whatever happens in the home front reverberates to the outside world and the international community and that accounts for why many Nigerian graduates who seek employment opportunities and greener pastures abroad have been denied placement due to the belief that these Nigerian products possess “untrusted” degrees.

   The situation at the University of Abuja has been of immense concern to stakeholders in recent times and it is surprising that a federal university of that status could make its students go through such harrowing experiences of having to spend several painful and unnecessary extra years before graduating from their chosen courses in the university. However, the latest news indicates that the NUC has finally accredited some of these contentious courses at UNIABUJA. I think it calls for celebration for those students and their parents, who have fought tooth and nail all these years for these courses to be accredited and here we are as they have finally been approved by the NUC. But let me advise you on this: Don’t ever celebrate until you eventually graduate from that course! The reason is not far-fetched. With the erratic and unpredictable nature of university and tertiary education in Nigeria, plagued by perennial neglect by government, incessant strikes and unstable academic calendar, the fact that your course has been duly accredited by the relevant body does not guarantee that you will graduate at the right time from the university.

  Students in Nigerian tertiary institutions would have to unfortunately contend with a whole lot of unpalatable experiences including constant lecturers’ strikes and denial of accreditation to the courses for which they have been validly admitted to study. Strikes have a crippling effect on the education sector and no wonder Nigerian graduates are regarded as half-baked by certain employers of labour who feel that these graduates do not have the necessary skills and wherewithal to be entrusted with certain positions of responsibility. We have heard of some Nigerian graduates who went abroad in order to obtain a second degree but were either denied opportunity due  to Nigeria’s poor educational standard or asked to undergo some years of study and scrutiny to ascertain their suitability before admitting them into those programmes.

  When we remember the UNIABUJA crisis, it brings feelings of neglect, incompetence and lack of accountability and foresight on the part of our university administrators. There is a clear-cut difference between teaching well in the classroom and being a good administrator. The two do not necessarily require the same skill and not many people can effectively combine the two skills. A university is not a laboratory or experimental specimen which you hand over to an inexperienced hand to determine the possibility of the outcome because you will be toying with the lives and future of thousands of people who would later on graduate to become future leaders and important decision makers. The prolonged situation in UNIABUJA over course accreditation as well as similar situations in several other Nigerian universities calls for concern of stakeholders because the future of our students is at stake and this is part of the lingering crisis in the education sector that is threatening to cripple the education system in the country.

 When students are admitted into various courses in our universities and other tertiary institutions, the school authorities have a constitutional and moral responsibility to ensure that nothing within their power hinders these students from graduating at the appropriate time from such programmes. Why did it take so long for the management of the University of Abuja, a federal university for that matter, to put in place the necessary facilities required for the accreditation of these courses? Did the school not receive its own share of federal allocation over the years or was it just a case of neglect and lack of accountability by people entrusted with the affairs of the university? These questions are pertinent because the issue here is peculiar to countless other Nigerian universities which are internally sick and need special financial surgical operations to bail them out of a monumental mismanagement of resources threatening to cripple their existence. Aside the lectures’ strike resulting from the failure of government to holistically address funding issues, what of the issue of accountability, integrity and prudence on the part of our university administrators?

  Does the case of UNIABUJA not show to any right thinking person that there is more to it than meets the eye? It is surprising that some state universities in Nigeria are ranked higher in performance index in certain courses than some Federal universities who as a result of the lack of adequate facilities required to run such courses only end up admitting students whom their facilities cannot cater for and these students end up wasting away their future with the hope that someday they will graduate from these schools all to no avail. Recall that in December 2012, a Special Presidential Visitation Panel to the University of Abuja had recommended the sacking of the Vice-Chancellor, Professor SundayAdelabu, and his management team due to the magnitude of systemic rot in the university. The Panel thereby recommended the appointment of another Professor from outside the university, with strong character, integrity and sound experience in university management as Vice-Chancellor.

  The lesson here is that when square pegs are put in round holes, the result you get is better imagined than experienced. We must stop playing politics with every issue in this country if we truly desire any meaningful development. If we must play politics, issues concerning education should be totally excused from such games because they should never be toyed with by any serious nation. To avert students’ protests and agitations such as the ones witnessed in UNIABUJA, school authorities should endeavour to utilise the resources available at their disposal to ensure that adequate facilities are in place for the smooth running of courses or else they should scrap these programmes to avoid misleading prospective students into seeking admission into them.

  A university is the world’s highest citadel of learning and an Ivory Tower which produces manpower for several sectors of the economy and should not be entrusted to people who have little or no managerial acumen. Governments at all levels, both federal, state and local level, should realise that education inevitably holds the key to Nigeria’s development and should ensure that the education sector is given utmost priority in the scheme of things.

• Demola is a public affairs analyst and director/CEO, Book Editors Nigeria, Lagos.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

RISE NETWORKS

"Nigeria's Leading Private Sector and Donor funded Social Enterprise with deliberate interest in Technology and its relevance to Youth and Education Development across Africa. Our Strategic focus is on vital human capital Development issues and their relationship to economic growth and democratic consolidation." Twitter: @risenetworks || Facebook - RISE GROUP || Google Plus - Rise Networks