Okowa’s Conversion of Tertiary Institutions into Universities: Sagacity or Accidental Masterstroke?

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Magnus Onyibe, a former commissioner in Delta state government, commends the decision of the Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa to upgrade three tertiary institutions in the state to universities

One of the iconic leaders that is often cited all over the world as an exemplar, is Lee Kuan Yew, who was the Prime Minister of Singapore that owes much of his fame to the legacy of a phenomenal, rapid and systematic development of the small island nation in a manner that it leapt from 3rd to 1st world over a relatively short period.

And the accomplishment of the development feat in Singapore was achieved partly through the concerted and strategic efforts of providing qualitative education to young Singaporeans who were to later take over the mantle of leadership from Lee Kuan Yew and his epoch making team.

All that is documented in a seminal book authored by the former prime minister titled “From Third World To First.The Singapore Story: 1965-2000”
Since childhood , l had learnt from my mother that it is education that makes the difference between the cleaner and the doctor in the same hospital.

Both are human beings. They may even be from the same womb, village or clan. But the doctor obviously acquired education by attending schools to obtain the relevant skill set , while the cleaner did not. Hence both of them ended up in their respective stations in life.

In other words, the doctor functions in an exalted position, while the cleaner occupies a lowly position , simply because he/she did not seek or obtain the requisite education that could have stood him/her in better stead.

And who can better personify or embody the metaphor and analogy of the doctor and the cleaner in the hospital than Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa? He is the son of a nurse and a school teacher (both parents are now of blessed memory) who trained him as a medical doctor, before he became a dyed-in-the-wool politician , practically climbing up from the bottom of the ladder of all the public offices before emerging the current governor of Delta state.

Without educational opportunities, Okowa might not have attained the position of authority that he occupies today.
So having been a youth with ambition, he knows how critical it is for the youths of Delta state today and beyond to be equipped with market ready skills through education .

That’s why, as soon as l heard the good news about the proposed conversion of the three colleges of education, agriculture and polytechnic into universities, l reckoned that it must be a product of alchemy between education and prosperity which l was convinced must be very clear to Okowa as a governor and a conscientious politician.
Keeping in mind the foregoing, l concluded that the governor must have decided to expand and deepen the infrastructure for education in the state to provide opportunities for the burgeoning number of youths that are bristling with hope to acquire the knowledge that would enable them be up-skilled for the rapidly evolving new age market.

Unbeknownst to me, the decision to upgrade the college of education, school of agriculture and polytechnic into universities is not so much a product of political calculations or machinations, neither is it because the governor and his cabinet are abhorrent of polytechnic and monotechnic education.

Rather it is an initiative borne out of the fact that Delta youths whose quest for education has been insatiable because of their renown high lnteligence Quotient (lQ), were actively rejecting polytechnics and colleges of education as pathway to higher education. And that was being reflected by the dwindling number of applicants to such institutions; compared to the deluge of applications into the lone university in the state that has surpassed its capacity by over four folds.

So upgrading the college of education, school of agriculture and polytechnic is basically driven by the wisdom in the idiom “necessity is the mother of invention”.

Before proceeding further , l must put on record that the leadership prowess of first identifying a problem and then creatively solving it exhibited by governor Okowa and his team has put butterflies in my stomach. That’s because such dynamism is hardly a quality common amongst public servants .

It takes critical thinking and dexterity to identify the reality that while talented youths were making a bee-line to Delta state university, Abraka in droves, and as such the only university in the state was literarily bursting in the seams ,the foot-fall of those applying for admission into the polytechnics, school of agriculture and colleges of education spread across the three senatorial zones was in trickles and lackluster.

Were it not for the discovery , the state would have continued to wallow in ignorance; would continue to waste scarce resources by funding institutions that were turning out uninspired students , and worse of all, the education sector could have continued on a slippery slope to the abyss with the unenthusiastic students of the schools languishing after graduation. The scenario painted above is an antithesis to what Delta state stands for in the spheres of education, sports, arts/culture and even the world of finance where indigenes of the state are acclaimed to have earned and attained domineering and towering heights.

Before proceeding further, it is apropos that we take a quick excursion into the origin or building blocks for the robust educational bulwark that the state famously known as the “Big Heart” has been leveraging or adopting to drive and facilitate the state’s preeminent position in the top echelon of academia, sports, arts/culture and entrepreneurship.

Under the watch of chief James lbori , governor of Delta state , 1999-2007, a multiplicity of higher educational institutions were established or upgraded in all the three senatorial zones to meet the active demand for education.

That’s simply because the few educational assets that the new state inherited, (such as the College of Education, Abraka) when then Bendel state was split into Edo and Delta states, were proving to be inadequate and insufficient.
To shore up the scanty educational infrastructure, chief lbori converted the former College of Education in Abraka from a campus of Bendel State University multi campus arrangement into Delta State University, DELSU and made the College of Agriculture in Anwai,(soon to be a university) one of the campuses of DELSU.

Thereafter the college of agriculture in Ozoro was also converted into a polytechnic, while Ogwashi-Uku and Oghara also had polytechnics established in those locations. They were also complimented by another three tertiary institutions which are the colleges of education in Warri, Agbor and Mosogar.
That’s the robust educational infrastructure that lbori either established or improved upon and bequeathed to or got inherited by his predecessors.

Nearly a decade and half after his exit , the infrastructure for education is now creaking under the weight of the insatiable thirst for Western education by the imitable and immutable youths of Delta state.
The plan by the current governor, Ifeanyi Okowa to convert or upgrade the institutions that have become as dated and unattractive as dinosaurs and whose place for the academic certificates is in the basement or attic; to something as coveted and treasurable as items that everyone would like to wear on their sleeves or seek to put on display as objects of pride on their trophy mantlepiece, is like an elixir or capstone of a sort.
That in my view is also a master stroke , albeit accidental.

The state’s Commissioner for Higher Education, Professor Patrick Muoboghare justified the proposed bill that is now receiving legislative attention at the state house of assembly thus:

“The total monthly expenditures of Delta State on these three Colleges of Education, Warri, Agbor and Mosogar that has 2, 888 students are N457 million per month for a total staff strength of about 1, 893, giving the state government a staff student ratio of 1:1.5 students to a staff. To us that is wasteful expenditure.”
Put succinctly, Delta State government has been wasting the sum of N457 million as emoluments to lecturers who ‘teach‘ empty halls at the three Colleges of Education listed above.

Comparing the prevailing situation (that the governor is trying to change) to what obtains in the neighboring state , the commissioner for higher education made the following disclosure :

“a neighbouring state has a student strength of 14, 000 in the university with salary wage of N250 million while Delta has a student strength of 2, 888 at the NCE level with salary wage of N457 million.”
Expending a whooping N457 million to educate only 2,888 to an ordinary national diploma(ND) level of education in Delta state, while a neighboring state spends a mere N250 million to equip 14,000 with university education (bachelor’s degree) is scandalous.

The assertion above is underscored by the fact that N250m applied in the education of 14,000 students to degree level is practically half of the N457m that it takes to educate a mere 2,888 Deltans to national diploma level.
In fact, given the data provided by the commissioner, the neighboring state in comparison trounces Delta state in both cost of and quality of education . So the misalignment of resources is therefore a double jeopardy for Delta state which must be remedied without further delay.
The commissioner’s further analysis of the calamitous and chaotic situation that compelled the review of the old system is striking.

“For the 2019/2020 admission, 25,896 candidates chose Delta State University, Abraka, as first choice. Out of this number, 22,358 qualified, applied for and wrote the post-UTME examination.
“Only 4,854 could find space after the admissions, leaving the remaining 21,042 candidates stranded and almost hopeless.

“We need to provide for these qualified and ambitious children and this we are doing through the establishment of new universities by upgrading three existing tertiary institutions.”
In my assessment, a proposal to fix the financial hemorrhage and at the same time meet the yearnings and aspirations for more qualitative education by the teeming Delta state youths, is not only sagacious, but also a masterstroke even by European or American standards.

If government at the federal level studied, identified and proffered solutions to the seeming enigma of why capital expenditure(Capex) for infrastructure development has continued to an ant size, while the operational expenditure (Opex) for salaries and over mundane costs , has remained an elephant size; which is the main reason for the stunted growth of our country, Nigeria will not be the poverty Headquaters of the world.

Better still, if concerted efforts had been made by our leaders at the centre to identify the underlying reason or reasons for the escalating tide of religious Insurgency, banditry and heightened levels of criminality racking the polity, with a view to addressing the identified aggravators , perhaps our country would have been experiencing the type of socio-political stability enjoyed in the Scandinavian or Baltic countries of Sweden , Norway, Finland and Denmark; rather than occupying the number 3 position after Afghanistan, Syria in the world Terrorism index.

Clearly, not being diligent enough to engage in such positive introspection by our political leaders at the national level has put us in the same league as Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Sudan, which is so stomach churning.
Just last week, Transparency International, TI , the global corruption tracking agency downgraded Nigeria in its 2020 global corruption index to the position of l49 out of 180 countries profiled with our country being second only to Guinea Bissau as the most corrupt nation in west Africa.
So with such a litany of woeful records , l’m scratching my head trying to figure out which failed or failing country and leadership index Nigeria is yet to break.

It is quite repugnant that a country with so much potentials for progress and prosperity has become a text book example of the allegory of giving gold to the swine. It boggles the mind that some of the leaders steering the ship of state of Nigeria since independence have successfully managed their homes or nuclear families to commendable , if not enviable heights as most of their children populate higher institutions abroad, yet Nigeria and Nigerians are stuck in poverty and misery.

Why can’t our leaders transfer such leadership dexterity applied in managing their homes into nation building? Is it not also a major indictment that while the education system in our country is in the doldrums , our leaders are selfishly sending their children/wards to the best institutions abroad for higher and qualitative education, when our folks here can’t even have access to quantitative education?

And instead of railing against the rating agencies or denying the obvious ,as information and culture minister , Lai Mohamed has been doing , why don’t our leaders engage with the agencies so that the underlying issues such as the causative factors for rating Nigeria poorly can be determined and mutually addressed?

Is that not what has been done with the ease of doing business rating that was abysmally low but now dramatically improved after government set up a team under the purview of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to review and reform the system by removing the bureaucratic bottlenecks?

Returning to the breaking news in Delta state , l would like to seek the permission of readers to emphasize that the colleges of education and to some extent, the polytechnics that were established or converted to their current status after being established about four decades ago, had become repulsive to Delta youths in the way and manner that other animals avoid skunks, while the only university became as attractive to the youths as bees are attracted to nectar.

Having figured out that polytechnics and colleges of education did not offer our irrepressible youths the optimum and fulfilling pathway to higher education, and the single state university was not enough to meet the huge demand, governor Okowa decided to create more nectars (universities) that would offer the bees (youths) more opportunities to sate their unbridled enthusiasm for high quality education. In essence , what Okowa is seeking to do with the proposed education bill is to optimize the existing infrastructure in the state for maximum benefit.
Why can’t the federal government engage in similar critical thinking with a view to pulling our country back from the apparent race to the bottom.

For a short moment, let’s ignore the airport in Asaba which was started by lbori , completed by Uduaghan and upgraded during Okowa’s first tenure to boost commerce and tourism in the state. And let’s not get carried away by the boost that the completion of the Asaba stadium, started by Ibori and completed by Okowa has accorded sports development in Delta state in particular and Nigeria and Africa as a whole during Okowa’s first term. But let’s contextualize by taking a few steps back to recognize the transfiguration and heft that Okowa would be according education by the sheer deftness of seeking to elevate three tertiary institutions to university status.

For decades, Delta State government and its people had been contending with the federal govt to upgrade the Petroleum Training Institute, PTI-federal government owned oil/gas focused learning institution located in Effurun, near Warri to a university status.

Being the only federal government higher educational institution located in Delta state (major source of income for the nation, yet no federal presence) the plea for PTI to be converted into a university was inevitable since Delta state university, DELSU in Abraka was considered inadequate to take care of the unmet demand for higher education by teeming Delta youths.

Given the humongous number of pupil population that are churned out and ready for tertiary education annually, the allure of the golden fleece to Delta youths can’t be overestimated. So to say that DELSU has been bursting in the seams is not a hyperbole .

The foregoing is validated by the fact that the state is also the homestead of the irrepressible infant named SUCCESS who became instant internet celebrity when she stood ready , able and willing to take lashes of the cane from her teacher as a trade-off for her being accepted into the classroom as opposed to being sent home for being behind in fees payment.

The exaggerated machismo displayed by the enfant terrible, aptly named SUCCESS is raw evidence of the determination of the average Delta state child to gain quality education which is the arbiter on whether one becomes the cleaner or the doctor in the hospital as l earlier hypothesized.

The kid SUCCESS’s exhibition of the strong resolve to get education irrespective of her parents inability to pay her fees represented a Kumbaya moment for me with respect to the cruciality of education to Delta kids and youths .
Let me spare readers the stress of wondering where SUCCESS got her spunk and gumption.

For those that are not aware , Delta state is also the state of origin of Jim Ovia , the founder and chairman of Zenith bank-Nigeria’s largest bank and James Hope college-which may soon evolve into Information Technology University, if my hunches are right- and the wave making Tony Elumelu, the chairman of UBA and HEIRS holding.
It is an understatement to state that both Ovia and Elumelu with roots in Delta state have made remarkable impact in the financial services world with their banking tentacles stretching from Nigeria to the rest of Africa , Europe , Middle East and the USA .

l will also be remiss if l don’t underscore the fact that the Central Bank of Nigeria , CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele and the new Chief of Defense Staff, CDS, Lucky Irabor are also products of the education system in Delta state that Okowa is aiming to bolster via the policy that he has just unfurled?
Believe it or not , and inspiringly, all the financial colossus and public sector juggernauts highlighted above began their lives with the academic, moral and entrepreneurial education that they obtained from primary, secondary and tertiary institutions back home in Delta state.

Which is why the saying “Charity begins at home” rings true as Okowa appears determined to leave the legacy of education as his bold mark in the fabric and tapestry of Delta state.
By and large , Okowa’s loud statement on education as he goes into the last stretch of his tenure will certainly burnish his image as a governor who left behind for his people a fountain of knowledge to quench their thirst for education as a future forward reward asset for the next generation.

Perhaps the initiative would also etch into the minds of Deltans Okowa’s good deed in the education sector in the manner that the establishment of Bendel State university , now Ambrose Ali university in Ekpoma, by one time governor of the state, professor Ambrose Ali of blessed memory, still resonates with Edo state people.

One thing that is for sure is that the three locations where the institutions that are to be upgraded into university are located will never be the same again.The universities would propel the towns into prominence in the manner that Ambrose Ali university thrust its host community, Ekpoma into the public eyes.
Think of the cliche ‘ No Nile, No Egypt.’
If anyone should compare the Ambrose Ali university and Ekpoma town symbiotic relationship as the Egypt and river Nile analogy or come up with the slogan “No Ambrose Ali university, no Ekpoma”, that person won’t be far from the truth.

In the light of the above , one would imagine that in not too distant future , a similar tag may unwittingly be applied to Agbor , Anwai and Ozoro . My optimism is premised on the belief that one or two of the proposed university towns that were quaint and less boisterous, would soon be swamped by Golden Fleece seeking youths not only from Delta state but also from across the country, and indeed Africa as a whole.
By the way education tourism is now flourishing within Africa.

South Africa, Botswana and Ghana as well as even Benin Republic are actively soliciting for students and receiving hordes of them via online and CNN advertisements from Nigeria owing largely to the challenging relationships between university lecturers and government/labor management authorities in our country which keeps universities shut down for years .

While applauding Okowa and his team for the deft move, hopefully the legislators on whose desks the proposals have been laid would share the excitement and enthusiasm of most Deltans about the money saving and skill enhancing opportunities inherent or embedded in the policy initiative, and as such pass it speedily.
To those who may be worried that a preponderance of universities(presumably 4 state govt owned) in Delta state which has a population of about five million people would have a down side , l would like to remind them that the state of California in the United States of America, USA has at least 10 state government owned universities within its territory or borders.

Also, in response to those complaining that the title-university of education-gives Agbor the wrong end of the stick , let me hasten to remind them that the London School of Economics , LSE in the Uk does not offer only courses in economics as its name implies. In fact, it also provides law degree programs and has other liberal art courses too.
So, irrespective of wether the proposed University of Education, Agbor and university of agriculture, Anwai , are focused on the disciplines attached to their names, they are not restrained by any rule from offering or teaching other courses and programs. Education, Agriculture and Science are just the primary focus or core competencies of the universities hence they are so named. In practice, nothing debars them from offering other degree programs in other disciplines. I’ve also heard rumblings about the college of education Warri being left out of the current upgrade. To such complainants , l would like to also remind that government is a continuum. With the rotation of power between the three senatorial zones introduced and nurtured by the first governor in the fourth republic, chief James Ibori (1999-2007) remaining on course , the next governor would, God willing and all things being equal come from Delta central zone.
Under the watch of the new governor from 2023, the college of education Warri can be upgraded to a university status if the need arises.

If you ask me, the more institutions of higher learning , the merrier, as long as government continues to provide funding support for the institutions in a public-private partnership arrangement in order to realize the set goals or objectives of priming our youths who are the leaders of tomorrow with cutting edge education at minimum cost to government and optimum outcome for the students and input to society .
In these days and age, Human Resources that generate ideas fudged out of intelligence are more in demand and accorded higher value than natural resources.

Today , Delta depends on proceeds from oil/gas. But as electric vehicles become the dominant means of powering engines in the next decade or two , oil/gas would drop from its preeminent position as income generator .
So harnessing the Human Resources potentials of Deltans to position them for a world less dependent on fossil fuel which the proposed universities would facilitate, is a future forward initiative or leap of faith of which l applaud Okowa and his team for evincing.

In the same breathe, l recommend the model to government at the federal level for adoption.
Given that money is too tight to mention now as it is diminishing at a geometric progression, while financial inflow is at arithmetic progression, plus the fact that we live in a highly competitive global village where intelligence is now a critical wealth aggregator, a government that is bereft of critical thinkers, and as such can’t scientifically and pragmatically address existential challenges in the society, lends itself to being labeled a disease and liability instead of an asset in the order of Lee kuan Yew, the avatar for elevating the poor via education in the Singapore story.

I believe president Buhari may be craving or desires Lee Kuan Yew’s type of accolades after office hence he recently became his own spokesperson by saying to Nigerian elites “stop harassing my government” while alleging that their assessment of his government is not competence based.

It is ominous that mr president decided to speak out for himself during his visit to his home state katsina for APC membership validation exercise. That’s quite the opposite of his taciturn leadership approach that Nigerians have been compelled to associate him with in the past 5 years .

His tiff with the elite that he is accusing of passing negative judgement on his government may also be reflective of the belief (my assumption) that he is being under marketed. In which case it would be an indirect indictment on his image and reputation managers.

To address that concern, I recommend an introspection and reexamination of policies and processes of governance with a view to recalibrating or realigning them with the new reality as Delta state just did with the education sector.
If mr president takes up the challenge , he may never know what such soul searching or introspection might unlock that could positively change the legacy of his 8 years as president before 2023 when he is due to bow out of office .