As the Academic Staff Union of Universities started an indefinite strike in Nigeria this week, the Chairman of the University of Port Harcourt chapter Austen Sado has added a new twist to the claims and counter claims from the unions and the federal government.
Addressing newsmen today, Sado said former top public officials are the “promoters” of private universities in the country and that they were behind the deliberate under-funding of public universities. This chronic shortage of funds has, over the years, resulted in a near collapse in those universities, from infrastructure to academic standards to the working conditions of teaching staff.
Nigerian public universities that used to be among the best in Africa have all but lost their past glory in the last two decades or so. This decline has happened as the country witnessed an exponential rise in private universities. Sado reported that there are several applications with the regulatory body, the Nigerian Universities Commission, to approve the establishment of new private universities.
He lamented that the agenda of running down public universities and establishing private ones was “denying poor Nigerians” the chance of a decent education because they couldn’t afford the tuition fees charged at private universities. By denying public universities of essential funds, the powers that be increased the demand for private provision, and created a market in which those fee-paying institutions could profit.
Some of the universities established by former public servants include Bells University of Technology in Ota, Ogun State, owned by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, and the American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola, Adamawa State, owned by former vice president Atiku Abubakar.
Bells University fees range from 410,000 naira ($1,131) – 460,000 naira ($1,269) a session for first year students to 553,000 naira ($1,526) – 643, 000 naira ($1,774) for students from their second year and above. AUN charges $8,090 a session for tuition and accommodation.
Most Nigerians with the means either send their children to private universities or send them abroad. Public universities are now the exclusive preserve of the majority whose financial circumstances have meant they have no choice.