What are the criteria for establishing public universities?

The recent hijacking of specialised universities by the president and his military commanders is, to put it mildly, very unfortunate. The questions abound: What are the criteria for the establishment of public universities in the country? Do the National University Commission (NUC), Ministry of Education, National and State Assemblies have any role to play? In the case of federally funded universities, what is the federal character requirement for the siting of these universities? Are there locational needs?

In the case of military institutions, there would appear to be no consideration whatsoever about national security or even basic locational advantages in the siting of the army and air force universities in particular. Like the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Air Force, Marshal Sadique Abubakar is situating an Air Force University in his home town, Bauchi. The army university was established last year in Biu, home town of Buratai. In a statement recently, the Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed hailed Abubakar for using his good offices to establish a university in the state. The Police University has already been located in Kano.

In the case of the University of Transportation, the choice of Daura is obviously driven by the lone factor that it is the president’s home town. What we are therefore witnessing is a deepening of the conquest mentality by a section of the executive branch. In the case of the army and air force chiefs, there couldn’t be a more blatant display of battle field conquest mentality. It is quite worrisome that military officers should display open political traits with no fear of consequences.

Clearly, new precedents in impunity and abuse of power are being set by the Buhari administration which rode to power on the mantra of anti-corruption and ‘change’. It has elevated the rot and iniquities in the system to a most shameless level. At no other time in our national history have we witnessed such mindless assault on our sense of fairness and equity.

University by its nature cuts across many disciplines and covers different spheres of knowledge acquisition. It also has a complex structure that requires huge funding. These two critical factors therefore raise questions about by the move by almost all the arms of the Nigerian military to establish their own university. At the same time one is constrained to ask the reason for new military universities when indeed the country presently has a degree awarding Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA). Whatever additional knowledge and skill requirements that are needed can be easily accommodated by expanding existing facilities or creating a second campus, but definitely not this rush to duplicate military universities by the military chiefs.

It is self-interest for highly placed public officials to drag national institutions and installations to their home villages. But such self-interest is unenlightened and flawed. At best, it portrays the public official in question as basically a native in a regrettable primordial sense. These are people who are elevated to the pinnacle of national leadership and responsibility but who remain villagers and ethnic bigots at heart, unable to rise to a higher patriotism and objectivity that sees the entire nation as their primary constituency. Leadership by such clannish elite cannot serve the ends of a truly fair Nigerian republic. In the hands of these nativist elite, the obvious lop-sidedness in key appointments becomes a real weapon of national divisiveness.

This is a very unfortunate regression for the ideals of national unity to which Nigeria still aspires.