By Jerome-Mario Utomi
It is no longer news that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State on Tuesday, January 26, 2021, sent a bill to the State House of Assembly, seeking to upgrade the College of Education, Agbor to Delta State University of Education, Agbor; Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro to Delta State University of Science and Technology, Ozoro and Delta State University, Anwai Campus to Delta State University of Science and Agriculture, Anwai-Asaba.
The Delta State government last Wednesday said its decision to upgrade the three tertiary institutions to universities was to eliminate wasteful expenditure and expand admission spaces for Deltans seeking university education.
At a glance, this is an incontrovertible triple score that other states in the country should emulate because universities across the world are regarded as the intellectual power base of any nation without which there will be no development
But like every new invention which comes with opportunities and challenges, the move has prompted conflicting reactions from Deltans with many objecting to, and stating in clear terms inherent evils associated with such propositions.
Let’s accommodate some of those concerns.
While asking how much the Governor has released to the higher institutions in the state from 2015 to date to carry out researches in various fields, many argued that the Governor should not have contemplated the upgrade, when the current state university at Abraka is grossly underfunded and graduates of these institutions are roaming the streets looking for jobs.
Some of our graduates they explained are fuel pump attendants at petrol stations, some are commercial tricycles and motorcycle riders, bus and taxi drivers and fish farmers of insignificant quantities, yet our Governor is not concerned about their plights.
To others, there is nothing these upgraded universities will do that they have been unable to do now with their current status or just to change their names to university and give temporary joy to their staff and the communities hosting them.
Looking at these controversies from both sides, this piece truly believes that they are ‘objective’ concerns. These commentators are concerned Deltans/citizens who want to share their ideas and opinions with the rest of the public. They have their place in human reasoning.
Yet, in this analysis, there are dual observations that plagued their commentaries.
First, most of those that doubt the assumptions on which the state government’s decision was predicated did not understand that our children have a right to hold the state accountable if they (state government) fail to provide this traditional but universal responsibility to the citizenry which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and the election of leaders confer on them.
Particularly, when the future of the children- and that of all human civilization, by extension is hanging in the balance as a result of government failures.
Another ill inherent in their arguments is that framers of those questions did not understand the threat that keeping brilliant children on the waiting list for university admission for too long could pose to the state as idleness could make them take to the street.
As we know, the streets are known for breeding all sorts of criminals and other social misfits who constitute the real threat such as armed robbers, thugs, drug abusers, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to the society.
There are countless examples to support this claim, but perhaps, understandably, the first that comes to mind is the explanation by the Delta state government that with about five hundred public secondary schools and more than five hundred private secondary schools in the state, turning out SS3 graduates every year, the number of students in the state seeking university admission every year was high.
Also, going by the information released by the state government, for the 2019/2020 admission, 25,896 candidates chose Delta State University, Abraka, as the 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,” the state government had noted.
Hardly, no one now disagrees that students had since lost interest in NCE programmes which accounted for their low number in the colleges of education. A reality the state government added makes them spend N458 million on 1,895 staff for 2,888 National Certificate of Education (NCE) students in the state’s three Colleges of Education.
Unfortunately, of course, aside from the analysis of the critics being dead wrong, there is, in the opinion of this piece, no amount of investment in the education sector that will be considered too much. We also need to face the fact that the traditional progressive solution to societal problems is to redouble emphasis on education. This fact has made education an extremely valuable strategy for solving many of society’s ills. In an age where information has more economic value than ever before, it is obvious that education should have a higher national priority.
It is also clear that democracies, going by the words of development professionals, are more likely to succeed when there is wide-spread access to high-quality education.
Secondly, investing in education is useful and expedient as the sector helps examine in depth the causes of Nigeria’s political instabilities and the crisis of governance. Education, they say, is the bedrock of development through which nation can achieve hyper-modern and accelerated development. With sound educational institutions, a state/country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes, and projects.
As can be seen from all records, investment in education also has a role to play in fighting insecurity in the country.
When a country’s defence capability is continually upgraded with new technology and information technology incorporated into the weapon system, it requires highly educated and trained people who can integrate the various arms into one system and operate them efficiently and effectively.
However, while it is important to underline at this point that well-educated citizenry is more likely to be a well-informed citizenry, this piece must on the other hands, acknowledge that upgrading of universities without making adequate funds available can impede lecturers from carrying out scholarly researches, truncates academic calendar with strike actions, laces such university with dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities with the university producing graduates devoid of linkage with the manpower demand by the nation’s industrial sector.
It can also lead to a state of affairs where the university pushes to the labour markets graduates that are extremely well educated but ill-informed or misinformed.
We must remember that in the 1930s and 1940s, many members of the Nazi Party in Germany were extremely well educated-but were still trapped in a web of totalitarian propaganda that mobilized them for evil purposes. This must be avoided in the present circumstance.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via [email protected]/08032725374