Chairman of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, Dr. Wale Babalakin, at the weekend,
addressed journalists on the state of education in the country and the practical steps that will set the Nigerian
university system on the path of glory. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports
Perhaps his position in the Nigerian university system earned him the appellation, “an emerging pillar of education in the country.” Dr. Wale Babalakin, the current Chairman of the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, had been Pro-Chancellor and Chairman, Governing Council of the University of Maiduguri, Bornu State since February 2009.
As Chairman of the implementation Monitoring Committee of the 2009 agreement between the Federal Government and the various staff unions of Nigerian universities, the immediate past President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie had commended him for the “unprecedented understanding and passion he has shown for the university cause.”
Babalakin’s passion in education sector, especially higher education informed his call for full autonomy for universities. He said autonomy will make managers of the universities proactive, knowing that they have to source funds to pay lecturers’ salaries, improve structures, fund research, among others.
“Nigerian education system will only take its place in the world of education when universities become autonomous again. That will be the first thing. When as a pro-chancellor, I know that I must find money to run the university, I must pay salaries, I must encourage the students, I must ensure that the university is well placed so that it can attract scholars, I must ensure that scholars are productive so that from their production, I can get a good image, from their image, I can get some return. As long as university education system is such that we are all waiting for subvention to spend without any responsibility, then we are unserious.”
He said the country’s university system is currently at a crossroad and incapable of supporting Nigeria’s development. “I believe that there is a direct correlation between the quality of education in a system and the welfare of the people and that today, Nigerians’ welfare is very poor because the quality of education is also very poor.”
Babalakin also argued that with autonomy, universities would invest only in areas of competitive advantage and concentrate on programmes that would be of immense benefit to their immediate environments. “The ultimate solution is for universities to be autonomous. If I know that all I have for the year is N10 billion, I will spend the money in areas that are most useful and you will see the quality of students that will come out of there.”
Reacting to the possible consequence of autonomy, which is fees increment that many stakeholders have argued against, he said: “We have to make a choice, do we want education or not, if we want education, we must find a way of paying for it, I know that there are creative ways of paying for education that will not kill the students, those are the areas that we need to go and explore so that we will start producing proper graduates, not those that will be described as unemployable.”
His experience as chairman of the implementation monitoring committee of the FGN/unions’ 2009 agreement
According to the pro-chancellor: “One of the things that is slowing down Nigeria today is that we have a cavalier attitude to agreements. In our culture, agreements are only to be obeyed if they are favourable to us, this is a wrong attitude. It is an attitude that shows or reflects the level of our underdevelopment. As the chairman of the implementation monitoring committee of the 2009 agreement between the federal government and ASUU and also between the federal government and non-academic staff unions, I can say categorically that it has been a relatively good outing; we had more months of peace in the universities than in the previous years. But we have also had two or three industrial actions that are inconsistent with the agreement and totally unacceptable.
The first one was the sympathy strike by ASUU in support of the universities in the South-east when they were all closed down or having problems with their proprietors. There is no provision in the agreement for sympathy strike. It was unfair to the federal government and the funders of the federal education system to see their money and resources being used for the sympathy strike. I made a statement at the convocation of the University of Maiduguri condemning the action.
The second strike, which occurred because of the slow implementation of the 2009 agreement in the area of retirement age of scholars, that strike, though avoidable, was caused by the inefficiency of the Federal Government and it was promptly resolved by the president, under the leadership of Secretary to the Government, Anyim Pius Anyim, the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i and other committed players in the education sector. Serious commendation must go to the team for the resolution of the strike.
Strike as a weapon of protest should be used when there is a demonstrable infraction or a clear violation of agreement and I hope that the union members will adopt this approach. Let us explore the mechanism provided for dialogue, honour the various agreements before embarking on an industrial action.
On the responsibilities of pro-chancellors of Nigerian universities, he said: “The crop of pro-chancellors of Nigerian universities today are dedicated to the furtherance of university education, the country should commend them for their efforts, especially in the face of their challenges. We meet quarterly and if there is need to meet earlier, we do, to debate education, to share ideas, to assist one another with university administration, and the commitment at this meeting, the quality of debates at this meeting is one of the highest seen nationwide I do not think there is any pro-chancellor who thinks that the university system today is acceptable, we all believe there is great room for improving the university system.”
His Achievements at the University of Maiduguri
As pro-chancellor of the university, Babalakin coordinated the construction of a multi-million naira independent power project, which currently guarantees 20 hours uninterrupted electricity supply to the institution. The project, which is the first in the Nigerian university system, was inaugurated in December 2011. He had also donated over N13 million to the university to execute various projects, as well the donation of over N12 million for the upgrading of its library in 2010. He had also purchased stethoscopes for indigent students of the university’s college of medicine.
“UNIMAID has a first class agriculture faculty, desert study, medicine. When I got to Maiduguri, we did kidney transplant at the university and we have been doing series of it since then”, he said. On the Federal Government’s efforts to reposition the university system, he said:“I think and believe that the president of the country is keen on education being repositioned and he has demonstrated this at many fora.
First, the tenure of university councils, once he was told that the university council tenure was statutory, he reversed the decision, dissolving the university council, reinstating them and stating clearly that they must spend their four-year tenure. We need this level of stability to make any enduring change in the universities.
If you do not know the tenure of your administration, how can you plan, so we must commend the president for honouring this statutory provision.
“Although the university amendment bill, which gives autonomy to university councils in the appointment of university administrators, including the vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors was signed in 2003, it did not begin operation until 2007. Since 2007, the government of Yar’Adua and now the government of Goodluck Jonathan have not tried to interfere with the appointment of university administrators. I think in this area, university system has achieved close to 90 per cent success within its first five years of operation.
The president must be commended for not being persuaded to interfere with the system. Soon after his election, the president held an education summit, where a roadmap was presented and discussed and now waiting for implementation. These are efforts that should be commended.”