The Senate recently passed bills for the establishment of five polytechnics, two universities, two colleges of education and one institute of technology. The 10 proposed federal institutions are part of the over 80 bills that the National Assembly (NASS) is currently working to establish. The proposed 80 federal institutions spread across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT; comprising 27 universities, 22 colleges of education, 19 polytechnics, six institutes, one police academy, one federal college of agriculture, one college of forestry, one paramilitary academy, one federal college of veterinary assistants as well as a school of mines and geological studies.
Out of the 27 proposed varsities, 10 are for education, eight for Agriculture, fur for technology, and one each for science and tech, medicine and medical sciences, aquatic studies and health. While 37 of the 80 bills are from the Senate, 36 are in the House of Representatives. The breakdown of the proposed institutions by states of location shows that Kaduna and Anambra have the highest with five institutions each. While Kano, Borno, Cross River, Abia, Taraba and Ogun states have four each, Gombe, Bauchi, Benue, Plateau and Ondo States have three institutions each.
While approving the report on modalities of establishing federal universities, federal polytechnics, and colleges of education in January 2018, Senators resolved that such institutions will be established only in states where they do not already exist. Unfortunately, the distribution of the proposed 80 new institutions apparently negates Senators’ earlier resolution because none was proposed to be located in some states including Zamfara and Yobe states where such institutions are lacking.
Reacting to the 80 bills, President of ASSU Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi said “We don’t need them. What we need is to improve what we have. What are we doing to fund the universities we have? What are we doing to bring them up to speed with their mandate? Government isn’t addressing that. Why is ASSU on strike? ASSU is on strike because the existing ones have been neglected? So, it`s sheer politics, and when you over politicize education, it cannot be used for national development”.
If these 80 new institutions were allowed as proposed, it will raise the number of existing federal tertiary institutions in Nigeria from its current figure of 84 to 164. The first set of five federal universities in Nigeria was established in 1962. At the time the five premier universities were established, Nigeria`s population was not more than 50 million people. Now that the country`s population is estimated to be 200 million people, about four times the county`s population in 1960; the number of existing federal tertiary institution has grown from 5 in 1962 to 84 in 2018. The five premier universities which were established in the following historical sequence are University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; The University of Ife, Ille-Ife; the University of Lagos, Lagos; and the University of Ibadan, Ibadan.
While it took past Nigerian leaders about five and a half decades to establish 84 tertiary institutions, the current MPs, like the millet counters in Yauri, Kebbi State, are set to enter into the Guinness Book of Records for proposing an increase (by nearly 100 percent) of the total number of federal tertiary institutions from 84 to 164 within one legislative session.
It is ridiculous that while the federal law makers are passing bills to create new institutions, they have surprisingly remained deaf and dumb over the one-month-old strike action embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) for reasons of poor funding of university education. This insensitivity simply portrays the National Assembly as an institution that is not part of the solution to the collective challenges confronting the country but rather as part of Nigeria’s problems. It also shows how present-day legislators have replaced common national interest with regional political sentiments. The establishment of new tertiary institutions is supposed to be need-based as done by past leaders.
The MPs would be seen to be serving public interest if the bills for the 80 institutions were designed to compel the executive arm of government to increase funding for higher education. Indeed, it would be to their credit if the 80 bills were substituted with one that obliges the executive to draw up a national development plan every four years. Such a plan shall outline the country’s needs in all sectors of the economy in addition to setting targets for achieving them.
When a man who, due to financial constraints, is finding it difficult to provide basic necessities of life including feeding, shelter, clothing and medical care for his family members tells you he wants to marry more wives, it shouldn’t take you time to see such proposal as not only wild and crazy but also an attempt by the man to ruin his family. Even in contemporary Nupe society where the status of a man particularly in the first half of the 20th century was determined by the number of wives of he had, modern realities have redefined the rate at which men marry more wives. This is the context in which many Nigerians see the attempt by the current MPs to create 80 new institutions. The 80 bills are indeed a misplaced priority.
The late renowned educationist and Nigeria`s former Minister of Education (1990-1992) Professor Aliyu Babatunde Fafunwa, must be referring to MPs of the 8th Session of Nigeria’s National Assembly when he described some demands for more universities as “mere wishful thinking”. Prof. Fafuuwa wrote in his book A History of Higher Education in Nigeria that “Some of these demands are based on ‘states pride’, some on real need necessitated by geography and others on mere wishful thinking. May Allah (SWT) guide our lawmakers as they represent Nigerians, amin.