Placing leadership comfort over quality education

Hearty congratulations to The PUNCH newspaper on its meritorious award as the 2014 Newspaper of the Year by the Nigerian Media Merit Award. My felicitations also go to the Daily Editor, Martin Ayankola, and the Editor, Sunday Punch, Toyosi Ogunseye, as well as other staff of the company who recently won awards. I am proud of my association with the numero uno newspaper in the country and pray for continued excellence in the service of our suffering motherland.

In a two-part report published on November 8 and 15, 2014, Saturday PUNCH a sister publication, did a research where it reported that governors’ lodges are costlier and better funded than the academic institutions of most states in Nigeria. According to the paper, “the cost of building many government houses in Nigeria is far higher than what it takes to build many universities in the country with some state houses gulping as high as nine times more than the cost of building a university.” Holy Moses! The newspaper’s investigation further revealed that, “in many states where billions of naira were expended on building bogus and expansive state houses for the First Families, universities owned by such state governments were in terrible conditions. In addition to this, many programmes run by these state universities have yet to be accredited by the National Universities Commission, the regulatory agency for universities in Nigeria, due to lack of funds.”

The report articulated the cost of building some state houses vis-a-vis what the state governments spent on their educational institutions. Some of the examples cited include Bayelsa, Delta, Ekiti, Kaduna, Plateau, Cross River, Ondo and Osun states.

In Bayelsa State, for instance, a Government House Complex named, “The Glory Land Castle”, allegedly gulped at least N24bn. Ironically, there is high level of infrastructural decay at the Niger Delta University owned by the state government. “The Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, Niger Delta University branch, Dr. Tuboukiye Sese, was quoted to have said that, “In the university, internal roads are non-existent, office space is a sad development and student hostels are in poor state.” On top of these, many of the university’s programmes were not accredited during the last accreditation exercise.

In the same manner, the Kaduna State Government which just inaugurated a new N9.6bn Kaduna Government House has a poorly funded university. According to the report, medical students of the Kaduna State University recently protested the non-accreditation of the institution’s medical courses by the NUC. They also griped at the poor conditions at the Barau Dikko Specialist Hospital, which is supposed to be the university’s teaching hospital.

The story is said to be similar in Akwa Ibom State where the government constructed a State House with the sum of N16bn and a Banqueting Hall with a 500-seating capacity with the sum of N18bn. In other words, while the state government could afford to pay a total of N34bn on constructing a state house and banqueting hall, unfortunately many courses in the state-owned university remain unaccredited. The Saturday PUNCH reported that the NUC, between July and August 2014, accredited only 11 courses in the institution’s Faculty of Natural and Applied Sciences while courses in other faculties like Business Administration, Arts, and Education, among others which are over 40 have yet to be accredited.

A former governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, allegedly borrowed N3.3bn to build a state house. However, he could not raise about N800million needed to accredit courses in the state-owned university locate in Ado-Ekiti. The report further revealed that despite Plateau State’s budgetary allocation of over N400bn in the last three years, the state government has not been able to fund the only state university established nine years ago. The university has also not been able to graduate any student since inception in 2005. If you think it’s because the state government is broke then hear this – the Governor Jonah Jang administration is reported to have recently sent a bill for N23.4bn supplementary budget to the state House of Assembly for consideration and approval. In the proposed budget, supply and fixing of curtains, blinds, customised cutlery and other items at the new Government House will be awarded to a foreign firm for N443m. Can you beat that?

In my own Osun State, a source who craved anonymity allegedly told a PUNCH reporter that when the administration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola was inaugurated, the Osun State University needed N900m for the accreditation of its Faculty of Medicine. The state government did not provide the money and as a result, 100 and 200 levels students were given alternative courses such as Chemistry and Physics, among others. The government also promised to send 300 level and above students to Ukraine to complete their studies.

However, the state government claimed it spent only N146m. Shouldn’t the governor have sourced the money to get the state university’s Faculty of Medicine accredited rather than sending students to acquire worthless certificates in some sub-standard universities abroad?

The cost of building a brand new university from the scratch is put at between N5.5bn and N12bn.This is expected to be complemented by separate investment of between N1.8bn and N2.7bn for accreditation of courses with science-based courses gulping more money than non-science based ones. This is what some state governors are using to massage their ego by building themselves earthly palaces accompanied with mobile fortresses.

What Saturday PUNCH investigative report has shown is our government’s disdain for education and selfish approach to governance where humongous amount are wasted to build government houses when a fraction of such scandalous sums would have assisted to strengthen state’s academic institutions and enable them to provide qualitative educational services. Anyway, it is not totally unexpected that state governors are behaving in this self-aggrandising manner since none of their children or wards attends these public academic institutions.

It is quite disheartening that rather than provide needed funds for their educational institutions, many state governors in the country have abdicated their responsibilities to the interventionist funding agencies such as the Universal Basic Education Commission and Tertiary Education Trust Fund formerly known as Education Tax Fund. To make the matter worse, even the desired matching grants necessary to access the UBEC fund have not been forthcoming leading to huge unaccessed funds. As of September 8, 2014, there is a total unclaimed UBEC funds in excess of N49bn. Under the matching grant, each state is to provide a counterpart funding to whatever the Federal Government is bringing. However, not many states are keen to put down their own matching grants hence the huge unaccessed funds in the midst of the dire financial needs of most, if not all, public schools in Nigeria. TETFund equally has the challenge of billions of naira unaccessed by public tertiary institutions who simply fail to follow due process to get the funds earmarked for their institutions. It must be stated that there is no need for matching grants with TETFund. This is a clear attestation to the fact that there is a lack of political will to address the rot in Nigeria’s public education sector. Sad, very pathetic!