Barely three weeks to the end of his eight years in office as Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha came out with a banquet of four brand new universities for the state as a parting gift. That would rank as the most audacious joke in promoting “access to university education” anywhere. Without any legislative authorization and appropriation by the state House of Assembly, Okorocha simply decreed the new “universities” into existence and thereafter dashed off to Abuja to “obtain” their licenses.
In a statement issued by the governor’s media aide, Sam Onwuemeodo, last week, Okorocha boasted he had built “a total of six universities, four polytechnics and two colleges of education. And with the latest development, out of the six newly established universities, four …have been issued operational licenses.” This, he claimed, was a demonstration of his “unflinching charity for education,” whatever that means. No mention was made of how the fantasy creations, it is not dignifying to call them anything else, would be funded when the existing Imo State University isn’t or if indeed there was any need for them in the first instance.
He reeled out the names at the University of Science and Technology, Umuna Orlu; University of Creative Technology, Omuma, Nkwere; the University of Medical Sciences, Ogboko (Okorocha’s hometown); and the Imo State University of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Aboh/Ngor/Umuagwo (located in three different local government areas). At best, all these creations only qualify as faculties of a university.
When added to the existing state university in Owerri, which until recently had no halls of residence until TETFUND and NDDC built and donated three to it, the burden that Okorocha, who lauds himself as the first governor in Nigeria to implement “free education from primary to university level,” is bringing on the state, in funding five universities with the attendant consequences on its lean finances, becomes palpable. Already, the state has two other tertiary institutions, namely, the Imo State Polytechnic, Umuagwo, and the School of Health Technology, Orlu, whose operations have been hamstrung by poor funding over the years.
For a state in a parlous economic condition, this is unnecessary. According to data obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics, as of 2018, Imo State’s external debt was $59,515bn while its domestic debt was N98,782bn. Its Internally Generated Revenue for the year, however, was just N14.884bn while FAAC allocation was N54,181bn! So, how will it fund the contraptions? An economist, Dr Jekwu Ozoemene, observed over the weekend that, “If Imo State were to be a bank, the CBN and NDIC would have long moved in to protect depositors’ funds. If it were a company, then, its going concern-ability would have been in doubt, its auditors would have qualified its accounts or it would have become insolvent and declared bankrupt. If it wasn’t already technically insolvent, its non-existent corporate governance structures and absolute lack of transparency meant an inevitable outcome not very different from the position of Nigeria and several other states of the federation.”
However, he concluded that “the state soldiers on” because “sovereigns and sub-national governments are not exactly like companies or banks (and Nigeria can always print its own money).”
In the state’s 2018 budget, the education sector got a miserly N14bn out of N190bn appropriated, a mere 7.37% of the total budget, far below the UNESCO benchmark of 26%. It is not known how much of this amount was eventually cash-backed by the government. The monthly subvention by the government to IMSU is unknown too, as the PRO claimed it is a “top secret” when asked. But you will see the evidence of poor funding in the infrastructure and capacity deficits in the institution while workers “are not paid their salaries until 13th to 18th of the new month,” a lecturer told me.
“None of the ASUU-FGN Agreement provisions has been considered for implementation since Okorocha came on seat,” he added. This shows that the governor does not put his money where his mouth is as a self-acclaimed lover of education. Apparently, he sees university education in terms of quantity and not quality.
Truth be told, Okorocha is not alone on this. In Oyo State, outgoing Governor Abiola Ajimobi chose to create a brand new Technical University, Ibadan instead of properly funding the existing Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, part-owned with the Osun State Government, to increase its carrying capacity. The result was a crisis that led to a shutdown for eight months recently owing to students’ protests. Nearby Ogun State is similarly burdened with three grossly underfunded universities, namely, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Moshood Abiola University of Technology and Tai Solarin University of Education. The story is the same in Ondo State with Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, University of Medical Sciences, and Ondo State University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa. Whoever told these governors that university education is such a cheap enterprise to be embarked upon as the “spirit leads?” Perhaps, they are taking a leaf from the Jonathan administration that chose to set up six new federal universities with a laughable take-off grant of N1.5bn each when the existing ones are crying for help.
Aside from the challenge of financial capacity, my representative in the state assembly informed me on Thursday that it was only last week Tuesday that four executive bills were hurriedly ferried into the parliament during plenary for their attention and expedited legislative action. He said the bills, contrary to legislative procedures, were made to begin their guided legislative journey from the second reading before the lawmakers angrily stopped further action protesting non-payment of their entitlements by the executive. So far, no further deal until they are settled, he told me.
Bizarrely, as noted above, even without this legislative approval, the governor had obtained operating licenses for his caricature entities from the National Universities Commission and even gone ahead to appoint members of their governing councils.
The Executive Secretary of the NUC, Abubakar Rasheed, was beside himself with delight when he handed out licenses of the four new universities, in one fell swoop, to Okorocha. Like a magistrate, he declared, “By the provisions of the law establishing the NUC and by the powers conferred on me (as the Executive Secretary) and the Imo State House of Assembly having passed the law for the establishment of the universities, I hereby recognise the universities.” It is doubtful if any due diligence was carried out by the NUC boss before doing this to ascertain the legality, feasibility, sustainability and necessity of these creations. In response, Okorocha said the action had “vindicated” him and silenced “opponents of the administration (who) have been trying in vain to distort or puncture” his uncommon “achievement.”
Interestingly, this same NUC, a few years ago, as The PUNCH columnist, Ayo Olukotun, reminded us in his column on Friday, May 10, (See, Revisiting Nigerian universities’ bottom league position), adopted a “policy” to have a couple of Nigerian universities to attain what was called, “world-class status.” Olukotun, a renowned political scientist and teacher, lamented in the article, “As far as I am aware, there was no road map provided for moving some universities from their current backwater condition to the proposed world-class position, however that is defined.” How can this be achieved when the one who heads the NUC did not see anything wrong in dishing out four licenses to a distressed state finding it difficult to pay salaries and pensions? How handing out four licenses for new universities in one day to a departing governor as parting trophies to be displayed approximates efforts to achieve “world-class” universities in Nigeria is what the NUC also has to explain.
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Strangely, the so-called new universities do not even have any appropriation in the state’s 2018 budget given that the 2019 appropriation bill is still mired in controversy less than 20 days to the end of Okorocha’s tenure.
In contrast, Lagos with a population estimated at 22 million as against the five million of IMO, and N382.18bn in 2018 from IGR, garnering a growth of 14.4 percent in contrast to the N333.96bn it earned in 2017, has only one state university, a polytechnic and a college of education. Even these institutions are spectacles of shame with poor facilities.
In sum, there is no need for these glorified colleges created by Okorocha on the twilight of his rule. It is just another way of creating jobs for the boys with new bureaucracies and perks. The existing state university should be enhanced through adequate funding to build new classrooms, laboratories, libraries and hotels for students to increase its carrying capacity.