Sule Emmanuel Egya is a professor of African Literature and Cultural Studies at the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Niger state. In an exclusive interview with UJI ABDULLAHI ILIYASU, he talks about Nigeria’s poor budgetary allocation to education, incessant ASUU strikes, establishment of state version of TETFund and the ethnicisation of Nigerian universities and sundry issues.
Do you think it is justified for ASUU’s incessant strikes?
In my view, even if ASUU goes on strike 10 times in a year, it is justified. I am in the system and I know that the system is a mess. And for those of us who have visited universities outside Nigeria, attained the status of international scholarship, we know that the system here is terribly bad. Consider these issues: 300 or more students in one class, a lecturer supervising 40 student projects, a university running on a generator, lack of or chaotic internet network on campus, overcrowded hostels, highly insecure campuses, I can go on listing them. Not to talk of the fact that the Nigerian lecturer perhaps has the worst condition of service in Africa. Our government has never been a listening one. What we need is pressure. We need great pressures to force the government to do the right thing. If government doesn’t want ASUU to go on strike, they should give us the minimum standard in universities. I do not know of any university that gives its staff research grant. How do you drive a society without research? How can a society move forward without research? And don’t argue that because TETFund is giving money for research, the universities shouldn’t give fund for research and other necessary facilities. As a professor, my university should be able to earmark research grant for me and provide every conducive environment for me to be able to undertake such research. They should also create a conducive environment for teaching and learning. All these things hardly exist in our universities. The state governments and federal government should revisit their very poor budgetary allocations to education to stop ASUU from going on strike. Countries that are not suffering from out-of-school children syndrome or countries that are not educationally disadvantaged put more money in education than our country which is educationally disadvantaged. Why should annual education budgets hover around seven per cent in a society where millions of children are out of school?
Why is ASUU insisting that members will not enroll on IPPIS?
ASUU has its own problem but the federal government, especially the Buhari government, is emasculating the university education. He is drying the universities rather than nourishing the system. What I mean is that instead of putting more money to the university education, he wants to take away what the universities are surviving on. Isn’t it clear to every Nigerian by now that the Buhari government appears not knowing the values of education? The Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) is one way of reducing the amount of money that should be going to universities. I am not surprised that they are coming up with IPPIS and other measures that will impoverish universities. ASUU chairman is not right to say IPPIS is a distraction and not the main cause of agitation. I don’t think IPPIS is completely a distraction. The government said they are using it to fight corruption, and fighting corruption cannot be a distraction. However, I think that the government should drop the idea of using IPPIS to fight corruption in universities. It should adopt other measures. Have there not been measures for fighting corruption in the university before the emergence of the IPPIS? It does not capture the peculiarities in the university system. ASUU has produced a template that will capture all these peculiarities but the federal government is not interested in it.
Can the IPPIS fight corruption as claimed by the federal government?
That is possible. I can confirm that there is a lot of corruption in the universities. Most of the managements of universities are corrupt. I believe that half of the university problems are caused by the vice chancellors. We have corrupt vice chancellors who recklessly misuse funds. They create unnecessary expenses without giving priority to core academic matters. How can a vice chancellor use the university’s meagre funds to travel around the world in the name of creating collaborations for the university in the same manners that our politicians travel around the world on public funds under the pretence of attracting investments? It is highly respected, world-class scholars and researchers that attract collaborations, networks, even investments to universities, not vice chancellors. A vice chancellor should remain in the university and run it well. Running a university is not a small task. But you find our vice chancellors, like the politicians that they desperately ape, running around wasting the university’s money. That said, I don’t think IPPIS should be the only instrument for fighting corruption. IPPIS can be used to fight corruption in the civil service but not in academia because of its special case. The federal government can devise alternative means of fighting corruption.
What do you say about TETFund funding state universities?
State universities are not being run well. Sometimes you wonder why they were established in the first place. But are the federal universities being run well? The problem is a general one. The elite class that runs this country hate education with passion. As everyone knows, universities have far more attention than the secondary and primary levels. What I think is that most of these state universities shouldn’t have existed. One way of getting out of this problem is to enact a law in which all state governments are compelled to establish educational endowment fund. Every state that has a university should have an endowment fund, just like the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), dedicated to running its university, but not only for universities but for primary and secondary schools.
Is the proliferation of private universities good for Nigeria?
Proliferation of private universities is a function of a failed system. People think it is a form of capitalism but for me it is a result of a failed state. Nigerian state has failed education and some money making businessmen are taking advantage of that by establishing universities in order to make money. In reality, there shouldn’t be room for private universities if the governments have taken good care of public universities. If every state has a university, why should there be need for private universities? I think private universities should be discouraged. NUC should try to discourage the establishment of private universities and see how they can enforce proper funding for public universities.
Do you agree that our universities are highly localised?
They are worse. They are localised, provincialised and ethnicised. It is so worse that you don’t have academics and students moving freely and smoothly between universities in Nigeria. If students and lecturers cannot move freely, cannot cross fertilize within the same country, how is it possible to bring people from outside the country? That is one of the first problems. A state establishes a university and ethnicises it to a very ridiculous level, such that incompetent ethnic jingoists take over the running of the university. Even the federal universities are suffering from what they called quota system or federal character or whatever. For someone to go to a federal university, they still look at indigeneship and catchment area and whatever. Until we are able to deal with these matters there is no way we can begin to have foreign lecturers and foreign students here.
Another point is that what we are running is not standard enough to attract foreign lecturers and foreign students. As a matter of fact, foreign lecturers and foreign students will not understand the system we are running. How do you bring in foreign students and then in the middle of their studies ASUU goes on strike? It doesn’t make sense.
How has been TETFund impacting university education?
The generalisation by TETFund director in Dubai that lecturers were misusing research grants doesn’t speak well of the director, if indeed he said so. I respect TETFund and its Executive Secretary. And I have benefitted quite a lot from the Fund. Thank God you said the TETFund director was misquoted. TETFund is doing its best but it needed to re-strategise because TETfund has a wrong notion that building physical facilities is what makes a university. It is the quality of teachers and students that makes a university. They should concentrate on laboratories, libraries and provide material students can read and become great. Without knowing it TETFund is sometimes contributing to the downfall of education.
Take for instance, TETFund builds auditoriums and classrooms for a university. Then the management of the university will say because they have auditoriums and classrooms, they have the carrying capacity to admit 300 students in a department. Meanwhile there are just about 10 lecturers in that department. Then a lecturer is confronted with a large, unteachable class, or supervises 40 student projects. Imagine how a lecturer will give attention to 40 students in one year. But the university will tell you that they have the carrying capacity because TETFund has given them structures. Both the federal and state governments are not ready to employ lecturers. You just told me that Professor Bogoro said he was going to focus more on research and development. In that case, I advise that the focus shouldn’t be on lecturers alone but also on students. In point of fact, some of the lecturers are not worth the investment TETFUND makes on them. What is the point of sponsoring an incompetent lecturer? In my view, focusing only on lecturers is one big mistake. TETFUND should also empower the students. They should give the students standard internet. They should give them online libraries, physical libraries, cutting edge laboratories, and other facilities. TETFUND should identify brilliant postgraduate students and give them grants. In fact, TETFUND should unbundle itself from universities and deal with individual students and researchers. Deal directly with the students and researchers, and ensure that anti-corruption agencies grab anyone who misappropriates the funds.