Professor David Iornem has worked, at various times, at the Kaduna Polytechnic, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Bayero University, Kano. Today, he has a university in Cotonou, Republic of Benin. He spoke with MUHAMMAD SABIU about issues in the Nigeria’s education system. Excerpt:
YOU established a university in the Republic of Benin. What is the status of that university now?
I am happy to report to you that the university has taken off; and it took off on a very memorable date purposely to fall on my birthday, which is 15th of August. I have just returned from Cotonou. I met the students from Nigeria at the border where I received and shook hands with them, facilitated their movement across the border to give them the sense of belonging, security and satisfaction. I was there with staff of the university. We admitted 25 students and we are expecting that at least, 20 of them will be on ground by the first week of September. On the day that I went to start the university, eight had reported and they started classes. As I am speaking to you, they are now 12.
How many of them are from Nigeria?
We are expecting that out of the 20, 15 will be from Nigeria, 5 from Benin Republic. You know we admitted 25 believing that others may not come; but even if the 25 come, we can accommodate them in our scheme. So far, out of the 15 Nigerians that are expected, 2 from the Republic of Benin and 11 from Nigerian side have resumed.
As a foreigner in Benin Republic, how are you coping with the issue of non-indigeneship?
They have a system that is welcoming, if you follow their rule of law; it doesn’t matter from where you come. There are rules that you need to obey about the setting up of a university, when a university has been set up and you are running, the way you submit report (the people that enrolled into your university, the documentation that you require from students that are coming to your university who are not indigenes of Benin Republic) etc. People from many countries have set up universities there, mostly from Europe and even Nigeria.
But why did you choose to set up a university in Republic of Benin?
As I said, they are welcoming. They are not like Nigeria where the National Universities Commission (NUC) is an obstacle to anything regarding higher education. There, their attitude is ‘let us create opportunity for people in our country, and by extension, for people in West Africa’. They consider education as a commodity – which is the right thing. Education is a commodity service that can be marketed. Education is something you can even export. So, if a Nigerian goes to establish a university in their country, they are earning foreign exchange. There are close to 400,000 Nigerians who are studying in Ghana. Their average school fee is about 3000 dollars per year. Calculate that and you will see what is going to Ghana from Nigeria. These students will eat in Ghana, apart from other services they will enjoy in Ghana like books and clothes that they will buy. Ghana is doing the right thing because it enables members of ECOWAS to move around and study as they want; but in Nigeria, it is not like that. So, as I said, Benin Republic is very welcoming, and their procedure is not as expensive as you have in Nigeria.
When you say NUC is a barrier to university education in Nigeria, what exactly do you mean?
When you say that to set up university in Nigeria, you need 200 hectares of land or more, you constitute a barrier. You don’t need that in today’s age of ICT. When you say that to set up a university, you need to go and deposit hundreds of millions of naira; that is not necessary. When you say to set up a university, you have to build a hostel, this and that before you get a license to run a university, you are creating a barrier. We don’t need all that. There are people who can provide accommodation off-campus, and you concentrate on your own teaching and research. Apart from that, if I am to be frank with you, monies that go under the table before licences are issued in Nigeria is a national scam.
Are you then calling for the scrapping of NUC?
NUC has its own role; I would rather recommend restructuring and redefinition of its roles. There are some roles it took upon itself which are not necessary. The NUC is not supposed to do accreditation. There are various professional bodies. In the field of Mass Communication, we have the APCON (Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria); they can do accreditation. In the field of Accounting, you have (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), you have Association of National Accountants of Nigeria (ANAN), and they can do accreditation. In Marketing, you have the Nigerian Institute of Marketing, and the Chartered Institute of Marketing in Nigeria. This is how it is done in other places. NUC just appointed itself to be in charge of accreditation, and they use it to raise money for themselves through bribery. Vice chancellors will boldly go to a state governor and say that ‘NUC is coming for accreditation; you know some money has to be …’ They do that, and if you don’t know, money is approved for that – official bribery! These are some of the barriers they cause.
You don’t need a university to run many courses before they can take off. In my university in Cotonou, we are running just Bachelor of Business Administration. Someone can specialise in Marketing, and someone can specialise in Human Resources Management; but (I’m running) just Bachelor of Business Administration, and I got the licence and accreditation from the government to do it. If I am admitting about 20 to 50 students, has that not contributed to eliminating people who are looking for admission? If many people are allowed to open small university colleges, you can imagine what will happen. If I were in charge and I get the nod of the government of Nigeria to completely erase the problem of university admission, I can do it in two, three years. No child in Nigeria looking for admission will say he has not got admission. Every child will get (admission) and there will be nothing like the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). JAMB is an elimination process, as I have always said, not a qualification for admission into university. Qualification for admission into university is (West African School Certificate (WASC), NECO (National Examination Council) five credits. That is what is required. Even people who have not got up to five credits, in Ghana and other places, including the United Kingdom), there are channels through which they can improve themselves to become matriculated students. We are just creating problems for our young people.
There is this issue of NUC scrutinizing those universities abroad. Are you not worried that at the end of the day, when your students come for national service they may be affected by NUC policy?
One of the reasons I chose Benin Republic is that degree certificates there are signed by the vice president of that country, who is in charge of education. He signs before even the director or the head of the university signs. It is a diplomatic approach. If they say they do not recognize signature of a vice president, then what?