Nigerian Public Universities at the Crossroads

The public primary and secondary school systems have almost collapsed and their issues are hardly discussed anymore. The same fate is gradually befalling public universities as the University system struggles for a lifeline, thanks to ASUU. Governments, over time, have repeatedly said they can't continue to fund public universities but have yet to provide a funding model for these public institutions.

The one-year budget for the operational expenses of our universities from FG can hardly suffice for one month. The electricity crisis that greeted public universities this year, especially that of ABU, was widely publicised. The public universities are currently left on their own to fight for their survival. Most public universities in the country have announced their registration fees following the current economic realities and these announcements were welcomed with criticisms and anger.

However, there has been serious anxiety of what the fees from Ahmadu Bello University, the largest university in sub-Saharan Africa, will be. The recent release of the said schedule of fees for Ahmadu Bello University undergraduate students eventually dominated social media on Saturday, 2nd December 2023. It was much lower than expectations and there was jubilation over the figures as ABU still retained its status as the cheapest university in Nigeria. It is perhaps the only university in Nigeria where students still pay less than N100,000 per academic year to study medicine and "Japa".

There was a recent argument over IGR in public universities and as it stands, we have made the government, who thought these fees were revenues, realise that these fees are service charges. Some of these services are provided by a third party. While the celebration and praise were ongoing, I tried to look at the charges for the specific items. My eyes went on to the municipal charges. These charges are meant to sort electricity bills, water supply services, diesel,  sanitation, and casual workers who clean the environment.

The municipal service after several engagements with the stakeholders was pegged at N15,000 per student. ABU is said to have about 40,000 students. That means the University will raise about 600 million naira from students for municipal services. However, the accrued electricity bill from academic areas is said to be about 1 billion naira for a year aside from water supply and sanitation. This means that on municipal service alone, the university will have a deficit of at least 400 million naira.

As we celebrate a more affordable fee in ABU as compared with other universities, nobody is bothered if the fee will be enough to take care of the needs of the University all through the 2024 academic year. Not even the members of the University. If ABU is not able to pay electricity bills after exhausting the 600 million naira in 2024, the same public and staff celebrating the low fee will blame the University for its inability to settle its bills. We are very unrealistic.

It appears that we are all self-centred after all. All we want is a system that satisfies our interests. We are not bothered about what it takes to make it work. Even the academics will gather and argue why the fees should be low but as supposed solution developers, none will tell you how to generate funds to augment the low fee. The leaders/management are expected to work out the miracle anyhow.

The government starves the universities of funds and the people are celebrating low fees. How the University will survive with the low fee is not discussed. Not even the conditions of the University workers are discussed. A strike is nearly criminalised. A case of beating a child and forcing him not to cry. The universities are meant to survive anyhow.

Not even the National Assembly members, the representatives of the people, discuss the conditions of public universities' lecturers. We recently got to know that an average member at NASS thinks the salary of a Graduate Assistant is not less than 1 million naira per month. The NASS committees on education that are supposed to be well informed about the University system hold an opinion that Professors earn millions of naira as monthly pay.

Surprisingly, some of the members of these House/Senate committees on education are former academics (Professors) in public universities. They can't remember anything about the system they left a few years ago. They added one zero from their mind to the about N100,000 salary of a Graduate Assistant to make it 1 million in their mind and to the N335,000 of a full Professor to make it 3.35 million naira in their mind. You can now guess what's in their mind whenever ASUU is on strike. They will be like what do these guys still want when their salaries are paid in millions?

Unfortunately, the new government seems to have no plan for education. That is not surprising. While Atiku wanted to give federal universities to states that can't manage their secondary schools properly, the president never said anything about education during his campaign. The only thing that he ever said was that universities won't go on strike again.

On a good day, you will think his government will request for the ASUU-FGN agreement to study and either call ASUU for discussion or make provision for the needs of the universities. But his only plan seems to leverage Buhari's starvation legacy on academics. They want to use the withheld salary to blackmail lecturers into not going on strike again. Dear Mr President, if we do not want to pretend that all is well, we all know what the education sector needs. If you give the public universities and other public sectors their dues, there won't be any reason for any strike.

To the management of ABU, I join the university community to commend your quick response to the fire outbreak in the Senate Building while an emergency senate meeting was ongoing on Friday, 1st December 2023 to unveil the new fee. Just after the fire incident, which occurred in a small room housing electrical Distribution Boards on the ground floor of the ABU Senate Building, there was a mischievous media report of "a mysterious fire in ABU's cash office" that went viral. No, sir! It was not the Cash Office, there is a very wide lobby that separates the Cash Office from the Distribution Board room.

Dear colleagues and members of the University communities, especially the academics, we are the ambassadors of the universities and the public relies on us for genuine information about our respective universities. They are quick to accept information about the University from us. We should not be quick to make false reports on the situations of the University without clarification. Let's ensure that we report events at the University the way they are.


Prof. Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik, PhD.
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

Copyright © Amoka 2023


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