The Pro-Chancellor of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Wale Babalakin, has called for immediate revitalisation of Nigerian universities, adding that Nigerian varsities cannot continue to be at best Number 800 in the world.
Babalakin said in the next five years, at least, one Nigerian university must be in the top 100.
The lawyer spoke at the University of Ilorin (UNILORIN) while chairing the Third Annual Registry Lecture Series, titled: “Public Service Rules And University Administration: Re-engineering For Excellence.”
Babalakin, who is also the Chairman of the Federal Government Renegotiation Committee with unions of Nigerian universities, said his committee had realised that for Nigeria to position itself as a leading nation, it must improve its educational system.
His words: “We have discovered that one of the challenges of the educational system in Nigeria is funding. We have also determined the average cost of funding every course. For example, this means that for UNILORIN with the population of 50,000 students, based on the average cost of N1.2 million required yearly per student, the university requires N60 billion per annum to reposition itself as a first rate university in the world. Where is this money going to come from?
“From my experience with various universities, all UNILORIN has today is government allocation to pay salaries; some insignificant figure for recurrent and capital expenditure – definitely less than N1 billion annually -; and TETFUND, which cannot afford to give the university N1 billion yearly. In total, you have about N12 billion and you require N60 billion, where will the difference come from?”
Explaining that various arguments have been put forward on where the difference should come from, the legal practitioner said: “A school of thought is that the money must come from government. Why not, if government can afford it? But if government cannot afford it, where will it come from? Our position, as negotiators for the government, is that somebody must pay – either government or someone else – but we are not willing to delay the revitalisation of Nigerian universities. We are not willing to be No. 800 in the world. In the next 5 years, one Nigerian university must be in the top 100. It will be a celebration, if there are many more. Our employers will decide where the money is going to come from but this is the volume of money required to revitalise universities.”
Noting that he was impressed with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s bluntness a few days ago when he made it clear that unless various arms of government become very creative in the funding of their governments and institutions, the effect of the minimum wage and some other policies would strain the financial position of many of these institutions, Babalakin said the concept that Nigeria is a wealthy country that only has to distribute largesse is an unfortunate concept that was developed over the years.
“Nigeria is not a wealthy country at all. By the time you divide the gross income by the population, you will see that Nigeria is very poor. That is why leaders have been warned that Nigeria may become the poverty capital of the world,” he added.
Proffering solutions to the problem, the philanthropist said the situation was not hopeless, explaining that “we must use our capacity and intellect to create a larger economy to create greater resources that will be enough to go round everybody”.
On the topic of the lecture, Babalakin said it was very relevant to university administration, adding that when the universities were established, everyone had its own laws.
“Since then, so many of these laws have been questioned, eroded and qualified by general laws and circulars that did not specifically amend the university laws. This leaves the administrators of universities running helter-skelter to determine how these circulars/laws affect them. This is a very great challenge for an administrator and it confuses university administration. I urge universities to highlight such issues and bring them to the government’s notice so that government, through the legislature, can come up with comprehensive laws that leave no room for contradictions.
“These rules must be complied with and they must be harmonised to guide administrators appropriately. For stability, university rules cannot be changing every year. I think they should be reviewed every 10 years after careful consideration of issues that may arise in the future.”
Emphasising the need for all Nigerians to work together to recreate the Nigerian university system, Babalakin recalled the good old days when the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, was rated between the 4th and 5th hospital in the Commonwealth.
He said to take UCH to where it used to be, Nigeria needed to inject substantial money into UCH, attract the greatest scholars to the hospital and create a new environment of scholarship.
Babalakin said it was sad that while most countries were aspiring to move on to greater heights, Nigeria was struggling hard to get to where it used to be.
Urging Nigerians to remain committed to the task of restoring the country’s lost glory in spite of the many challenges, the lawyer said: “Whatever happens, I assure you with the words of former United States President John F. Kennedy that the torch has been passed to a new generation that will not be deterred by these obstacles.”