“Tomorrow, President Buhari will lay the foundation stone of the University of Transportation in Daura, Katsina State. The Transport University which will be built by China Civil and Construction Company (CCECC) will be the first specialized institution of its kind.” So says the statement issued by the Presidential Media Aid, Bashir Ahmad.
It’s not the first time that the government is taking such a step, even though there’s Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology Zaria striving through underfunding.
In 2018, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, spearheaded the establishment of Nigerian Army University in Biu, Borno State. According to the Nigerian Army, the university was to focus on nuclear technology, and since Borno State is rich in uranium, and it is the center of the war with Boko Haram terrorists, Biu became the right location for the university.
The Military University of Biu also offers degrees on environmental courses, biotechnology, cyber security and intelligence gathering. But it wasn’t the first degree awarding institution by the military. There is also the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) that has been in existence since 1964, offering certification and degrees in different categories of security studies.
The Nigerian Army University wanted to do something different, going beyond the professional army activities. Buratai said then:
“The Nigerian Army of today cannot afford to remain static and must therefore explore the fields of science, engineering and even the humanities.”
According to the chairman of the University Planning and Implementation Committee, Major General Mathias Efeovbokhan (rtd), the university would accommodate 75% civilians and 25% military personnel. He said there is need to train civilians and the military together to foster cordial relationship among them. Moreover, the university will play the role of Silicon Valley in offering tech-based services to the Nigerian people.
In response to the establishment of the Military University, prof. Abubakar Rasheed, the executive secretary, the National Universities Commission (NUC) said:
“We at the NUC are excited that the Army University will not be exclusively for the military but instead will cater for the entire society. This will lead to the advancement of knowledge. When people of all strata participate in research generation in the university, there will be a harvest of knowledge that will positively impact the nation’s development.”
While the army was working to establish the university, the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Air Force were submitting application to the NUC for their own universities.
Less than a year after Buratai established the Army University in his home town in Biu, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar has toed the same lane to establish Air Force University in his home town in Bauchi. The Chief of Naval Staff is the next in line, and the trend is likely going to go beyond that.
While the development has become a cause for rejoicing to some, others are worried about the intent and outcome of establishing universities in the name of armed forces and other government agencies.
Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana, (SAN) told Punch that the decision of service chiefs to establish universities is abuse of office and contravenes the federal character principle.
“The Nigerian Defence Academy already exists and it awards certificates. The same NDA is not well funded and yet the military is establishing new universities in the hometowns of service chiefs. Interestingly, NDA, the army university and the new air force university and other institutions are mostly concentrated in the North. This is against the federal character principle,” he said.
There are over 200 universities and tertiary institutions in Nigeria, and each one of them is remarkably underfunded. The incessant strike action by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been based mainly on lack of adequate funding by the federal government: A situation that has resulted in successive mediocrity in the universities. Earlier this year, the NUC published ranking of universities in Nigeria, and those who made it to the top went celebrating.
The twist in the moment of joy came when the Times Higher Education (THE), published its rankings for universities around the world, and only three out of the top 10 Universities in Nigeria made the list below 1,000. Covenant University was ranked 401, the University of Ibadan, 501, and the University of Lagos, 801.
Underfunding has been the major reason for lack of competitiveness of Nigerian universities in the world stage. And the federal government seems not interested in providing the needed fund to facilitate the needed infrastructure that will enable competitiveness beyond the shores of Nigeria.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved N2 billion for the Air Force University, while the already existing universities need more than that to stay in shape.
Nigerians are concerned that the establishment of universities in the North while already existing ones are neglected is a political precedent that will do more damage to the already wobbling academic foundation than good: One of the reasons being that the courses offered by the new universities are all available in several other universities in the country. So it is regarded as a waste of scarce resources that should be channeled to something more profitable.
It is also believed that following the pattern, other government agencies like the FRSC, EFCC, NPF etc. will be opening their respective universities soon.