The authorities should banish the idea of university of transportation

The Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi hinted last week that he had set a date for the ground-breaking ceremony of a University of Transportation in President Muhammadu Buhari’s home town in Daura, Katsina State. Earlier last year, he had played down the issue by casually arguing that there was “nothing special” in siting the project for which some N18 billion had reportedly been earmarked. “The president did not even know I will choose Daura. Daura is part of Nigeria. If we sighted it in Sokoto, it is still part of Nigeria. So why is the emphasis on Daura?” Amaechi asked. “If I had chosen Port Harcourt, Enugu, that is the same way I would have chosen Daura.”

The minister needs to re-examine his rhetorical question and indeed the entire statement. But there are also other pertinent questions: Why a university of transportation? Do we need this when many of the existing universities have departments of transportation technology? Under which education policy is this project being embarked upon? Why is Amaechi, more or less, speaking for the Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu?

The crisis in our educational sector is so total and frightening. As things stand in Nigeria today, nearly every segment of our public education system has collapsed. That explained why this administration, in the last year of its first tenure, thought of declaring a state of emergency to revamp the sector. But it failed to do so. The state of many Nigerian university campuses today is pathetic. The weak financial conditions in the universities are exacerbated by the current crippling economic crisis afflicting the nation. Ironically, the problems are largely self-inflicted.

The growth trend in the universities is expansive instead of developmental. Over the years, there has been a proliferation of institutions of higher learning without the backing of adequate resources to meet the needs of the students and the university communities. Students study in overcrowded and poorly-ventilated classrooms. Even more troubling, qualified and experienced lecturers are scarce while libraries lack relevant materials in books, up-to-date journals and laboratories. The research units of many of our tertiary institutions are starved of funds resulting in lack of implementation of the few research results. In a world where knowledge is the key driver of growth and development, Nigerian universities are literally working with bare hands.

It is therefore little wonder that frequent bursts of strikes have become the routine weapon used by university staffers to force the authorities to listen to their plight. It is noteworthy that the federal government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had for several years been locked in a running battle over the implementation of agreements on the funding of the country’s public universities. The most recent nationwide strike was triggered by complaints that the Buhari administration had consistently refused to implement the ASUU-FG agreement reached in 2009.

These strikes have contributed significantly to the decline in the quality of graduates of our public universities. The hurried academic calendars, following the end of industrial actions allow for very little attention to serious studies. That is why our public universities have continued to slide down the ladder of academic ranking, even among their peers in Africa. What makes the situation even worse is that strikes are now being alternated between academic and non-academic staff of the universities.

So why do we need a new university when the existing ones, scattered all over the place, are deplorable, ill-equipped and underfunded? Beyond cronyism, what point does the minister of transportation want to make? We view this project as not only trivialising university education in the country, but a reckless waste of scarce resources. President Buhari will do well to veto the idea.