ABU without electricity: The reality of the underfunding of Nigerian public universities

Monday, 5th June 2022 marked my most unproductive 3 weeks since I was employed as an academic in March 2005 for lack of electricity to work. Within this period, I received a piece of new laboratory equipment but could not even test it due to the lack of power supply to the campus. Not even the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic was able to render me this unproductive.

It was the beginning of a beautiful and productive day on Monday, 15th May 2023. Just before midday, the power supply to the university campus was seized by Kaduna Electric. The University community felt it was the usual seizure and that it will be restored in a few hours. As the expected restoration was getting long, it became known to all that Kaduna Electric had again cut the university off electricity supply for its inability to settle the accumulated electricity bill of about 900 million naira.

While we were hopeful that there will be intervention from the owner (FG) to settle the dispute and get the electricity supply restored, the bulletin from the university on the 20th May 2023, about 5 days after the cutoff, made us realize that we are in for a long journey in the university without power supply. The university emphatically stated in the bulletin that it cannot foot the bill of over 100 million naira every month with yearly average overhead funding of just about 150 million naira.

According to the bulletin, the university had written the federal government to inform it of the institution's lingering power crisis. Unfortunately, the communication to FG seems not to have yielded any positive outcome even after 3 weeks and 3 days without electricity supply to ABU. The second semester which was supposed to begin on Monday, 19th May 2023, is yet to start because of the lingering power situation. 

The importance of electricity in a university cannot be over-emphasized. But ABU, the largest university in sub-Saharan Africa has had no electricity supply for over 3 weeks because of unpaid accumulated electricity bills, and the owner (FG) is not moved but establishing more universities. There was also a circular from the University of Maiduguri a few days ago that Yola Electricity Distribution Company has disconnected the electricity supply from the university over unpaid electricity bills.

The stakeholders of ABU are not moved either. ABU occupied a special position in the North. Sir Ahmadu Bello had a vision when ABU was established for the North and Nigeria in 1962. I can't believe that the 19 northern state governors will watch the academic program of ABU disrupted due to unpaid electricity bills. Is this how we want to sustain the vision of Sir Ahmadu Bello? No wonder Adamu Adamu, the immediate past Minister of Education, said "The education backwardness in the North is self-imposed.

The electricity cutoff was a piece of trending news for days. That was expected. ABU is a brand and you expect anything from there to make headlines. It also generated comments that revealed our ignorance of the operation of a public university. There were comments that ABU should be able to generate its own electricity or invest in alternative sources of energy. The question I kept asking that I have not got an answer to is this: who will fund such projects for ABU? The same people that can't help pay the electricity bills of the university?

Electricity is not generated with saliva. You can browse to find out how much FG spent on electricity generation plants. The FG has abandoned public universities to crumble, ABU can't pay the electricity bill, and everyone including the successful people that ABU has produced are pretending that all is well with the university. So, who will fund ABU to generate its own electricity or help the university to invest in off-grid for students and their training?

But on a serious note. Looking at the current funding model of the public universities, whose responsibility is it to pay the electricity bill for the public university since students ain't charge for it? The bills kept increasing due to the periodic increase in electricity tariff. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding increase in the yearly overhead fund to fund it. It is obvious that the yearly overhead fund from FG cannot pay the electricity bills. My thinking is that such bills should be sent to the Ministry of Education to settle pending when the burden will be transferred to the students.

It is an embarrassment to the North and what ABU stands for that the academic calendar is interrupted over the university's inability to pay its electricity bill that provision was not made for by the FG in their budget. There is accumulated electricity bill debt of about a billion naira to pay and there is a bill to pay from now till the end of the academic session that the university cannot afford. The critical stakeholders of the university need to come together to save the university from this embarrassment.

Supposing the university received the intervention it is seeking and the accumulated bills get settled, how do we pay the university bills beyond the current academic year since FG has refused to take responsibility for the bills of the university? ASUU has been on the battlefield with FG on the proper funding of public universities. A section of the public celebrated the treatment meted on these intellectuals over the fight for the public university system and the attempt to criminalize their actions. There are two major sources of funding of the universities: the owner (FG) and the beneficiaries (students). If FG deliberately refused to fund them, the students will have to do it. I guess it is time for the public to taste the bitter pills of the supposed defeat of ASUU.

You will agree with me that the overhead of universities like ABU is way beyond 150 million naira per annum. My guess is that the parents will have to get prepared as the burden of the electricity bill and other bills will likely be transferred to the students so that our universities can move well without any interruption due to stuff like electricity bills. The estimated electricity bill for a year should be divided across the number of students in the university and included in the student's registration fees. 

Somebody must pay the bills if FG won't and that person is you that have got a child in the university.


Prof. Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik

Copyright © Amoka, 08/06/2023

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