Successive governments in Nigeria have invested heavily in the establishment of universities over the decades hoping fervently that these institutions can play a ground-breaking role in addressing problems of underdevelopment such as poverty, social wastefulness, low production, unemployment, hunger, illiteracy and diseases, among others. Although the direct contribution of the nation’s universities in solving identified problems has not been independently established, very little attention has been paid to this enormous lapse from the nation’s ivory towers due to the myriad of challenges which they face.
Nonetheless, a second line of intervention in national development is available through the alumni associations of these universities. Indeed, the strength of any university alumni lies in the pool of skills and talents available to be tapped for national development and not in its ability to serve as a money pot to its parent institution. University alumni associations can also be invaluable as a coaching network that significantly enhances the employability of future graduates.
As the Conference of Alumni Associations of Nigerian Universities (CAANU) noted during a visit to Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti in 2013, alumni associations should participate actively in the development of their various institutions and their nation like their counterparts in developed countries. CAANU reasoned that the challenges of university education and development can only be properly addressed with the involvement and contributions of those who passed through its four corner walls.
It is in this regard that the recent courtesy visit by the National Executive Committee of the University of Lagos (Unilag) Alumni Association to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Aso Rock Villa in Abuja highlights the critical role that university alumni associations can play in national development as well as the development of the alma mater.
The Olor’ogun Dr Sonny Kuku OFR, FAS; National President of the Unilag Alumni, who led other committee members on the delegation told the Vice President that the Federal Government can draw from the Association’s various sectoral groups as resources and think-tanks. The delegation delivered a letter to the Vice President who is also an alumnus of the widely acclaimed university of first choice stating the views of the alumni on the way forward for the nation and its economy as well as its perspectives on improving the nation’s university system.
In the letter to the Vice President, the association said its members are keen to support the Federal Government in Nigeria’s trying times and listed the association’s perspectives on social development especially relating to human capital development, security and the provision of quality social services. The association emphasized the challenges of infrastructure improvement, diversifying the economy through agriculture and manufacturing, resolving foreign exchange issues and providing a more business-friendly environment. They also presented the Alumni’s perspectives on improving the university system in terms of funding and autonomy.
The association urged the government to seek ways of engaging the youth, particularly on Information and Communication Technology (ICT), as a way of ensuring that the contribution of this vital segment of the population is efficiently exploited. They added that the government needs to accelerate and sustain its interventions in power and transport sectors.
Highlighting the need for the government to make agriculture a top priority, the association said the government should focus on policies and programmes that would lead to significant improvements in agricultural yields and products quality. “There must be proper administration, void of corruption and misappropriation of funds. It is time for a change. It is time for a revolution.”
Declaring that doing business in Nigeria is still very tough in spite of the government’s best efforts, the Unilag Alumni Association remarked that there is a need for clarity and consistency in policies as well as alignment between monetary and fiscal regimes in order to build confidence and grow foreign direct investment (FDI). “To this extent, the government should streamline the work of the ministries for co-ordination and effectiveness.”
The association recommended a 3-point solution to the perennial problem of funding in the nation’s university system. It wants the Federal Government to pay the universities per student instead of the current arrangement where subventions are doled out. Also, the Association wants our universities to place less emphasis on the tedious task of driving internally generated revenue because this distracts them from offering resourceful solutions to the nation’s challenges by way of inventions and breakthrough research, among others. “Lastly, the students must be encouraged to pay reasonable fees and all levels of government (local, state and federal) give scholarships and student loans”, just as individuals, communities and well-meaning organizations should also come to the party, the Association said.
Giving the Association’s perspective on university autonomy, the letter noted that members “believe that universities should become autonomous and governed independently, rather than through the Federal Ministry of Education, which could remain a regulator… We also believe that the structure of appointments to university councils should be reviewed.”
The association expressed delight with the Library Funding support by the Federal Government to the University of Lagos recently. It sought further intervention in addressing housing deficiency in the system, land reclamation and structural changes in financial autonomy to cut red tape and enable the university to fast track development.
Welcoming the Alumni to the Villa, Vice President Osinbajo said the task of nation building is a demanding one and the Federal Government needs all the help it can get from every Nigerian. He assured members of the Association that he would continue to do his best in the discharge of his duties as Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and make the University and its Alumni association proud.
Responding to the delegation and the views expressed in the letter, the Vice President expressed his appreciation to the Alumni for the time taken to visit and share with him their ideas on moving the nation forward. He said the issues mentioned by the Alumni are very valid and believes the country is fortunate to have credible men who are concerned about the challenges facing the nation’s economy.
On issues regarding the University of Lagos, the Vice President promised to think through the concerns raised and get back to the National Executive Committee of the University of Lagos (Unilag) Alumni Association. Prof. Osinbajo also assured the Alumni that he will continue to cooperate with the Association and with the University of Lagos
He reassured all present that the government is completely focused on dealing with issues the country is grappling with and is determined to make the country better. He said the present administration is committed to empowering the relevant anti-corruption institutions to ultimately foster an environment where the kind of astounding corruption that has held sway becomes a thing of the past.
The Vice President reminded the delegation of some of the government’s quick wins including the reversal of the insurgent onslaught which would have resulted in the complete takeover of local governments in the North East, had the corruption impeding the country’s fight against Boko Haram not been stemmed.
Prof. Osinbajo said the government is looking at self-sufficiency in the agricultural sector, particularly with rice and wheat production. The government has made arrangement to subsidise and buy up produce from farmers to encourage local rice production. He said the government has also placed some restriction on importation of rice.
In his vote of thanks, the 1st National vice President of the Association, Otunba Seni Adetu, expressed the appreciation of the association for the quality time spent with Prof. Osinbajo; and suggested that this channel of engagement should not be a one-off but continuing to the mutual benefit of the national government and the unilag Alumni.
Other members in the Alumni Association’s delegation to the Villa included Deaconess Arit Ibanga, 2nd Vice President and Professor Olayide Abass, the immediate Past President of the Association.
––Okoya wrote from Lagos