ILLEGAL UNIVERSITIES AND SCHOOLS
“Amend the NUC law and give the commission sufficient powers of immediate and outright closure of illegal universities with further powers of severe sanctions including forfeiture of the school properties to government while the promoters, founders, councils and teachers of such illegality should face life imprisonment”.
Long ago during the years of military rule, a prominent figure in one of the military governments remarked that ours is a country where “anything goes”. I wonder if anyone can really doubt the truth of this assertion in a country in which incidents of fake drugs, fake food items including baby food products, fake religious leaders, fake law enforcement officials, fake government officials amongst others are common place. However, much as one could argue that several of these incidents are not limited to Nigeria, it is increasingly becoming clear that Nigeria is a leader in one particular area of the fake goods or services market; fake or illegal schools. Have you heard of the University of Industry, Yaba? How about the UNESCO University, Rivers State or even the Blacksmith University, Anambra State which from its curious name must be a school for students aspiring to a career in the centuries old vocation of iron works. Why have illegal schools become so common place in Nigeria?
Education is an important factor in the development efforts of any society or government. In Nigeria, the Government is enjoined by the provisions of Section 18 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) to ensure that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. Prior to the coming into effect of the current Constitution and particularly in the early years after independence, the regional governments, most notably the Government of the Western Region, had indeed placed a high premium on providing adequate educational opportunities for the citizenry by the introduction of numerous policies such as free education. Governments established primary, secondary and tertiary institutions of learning which provided in most cases free or highly subsidised education.
However with the passage of time and worsening economic situation of the country, it became apparent that Government could not continue to fund education alone. Decreased funding brought about dilapidated structures, exodus of highly trained and qualified staff, labour unrests and student disturbances. Many public schools became schools only in name. In several instances, students were forced to take lectures in the open field or under the shade provided by trees as the regular classrooms became inhabitable. It was against this background that private schools began to blossom. Private schools suddenly became the choice of many parents who had become disgruntled with the decay in the public schools and who all the same desired quality education for their children. To a large extent, these schools have performed creditably well in assisting Government to meet the obligation imposed upon it in Section 18.
ADVENT OF ILLEGAL SCHOOLS
However the Nigerian educational system has for decades now been troubled by the high number of fake or illegal institutions of learning. It appears that some Nigerians desperate to exploit the yearning of Nigerians for education have identified the educational sector as a potential gold mine through the establishment of illegal schools. Before now, Nigerians were accustomed only to incidents of fake clothing or food products. But at the moment, fake or illegal schools are now a common phenomenon. Recently the National Universities Commission released a list of 36 illegal Universities operating in the Country. From the list of published on the website of the body, the Universities were located in virtually all parts of the country. Many indeed had very curious sounding names which reasonably should have alerted discerning minds to the fraud represented by the institution. On the list of illegal universities were UNESCO University, Rivers State, Pebbles University, Atlantic Intercontinental University Okija, Samuel Ahmadu University, Makurdi, Christian Charity University of Science and Tech., Volta University College, Royal University Izhia, Houdegbe North American University, Atlanta University, Anyigba, Sunday Adokpela University, Otada Adoka, Richmond Open University, Arochukwu, Lobi Business School, Makurdi, APA University, Utonkon, Bolta University College, Aba, United Nigeria University College, Okija, Blacksmith University, Anambra State, Pilgrims University and one University of Industry, Yaba Lagos.
As shocking as the above revelation is, it is clear that the problem is not limited to tertiary institutions alone. In Lagos State, the Government closed down three private schools operating in the State. One of the Schools was reported to have been using a Container used for the importation of goods as a classroom. In Delta State, the Government shut down over 600 illegal schools. In Ogun and Kaduna States, the numbers of illegal schools detected were 160 and 642 respectively. In Kaduna, the Commissioner of Education stated that several of the schools were operating from uncompleted buildings, garages and shops. As staggering as these figures are, I believe that the number of illegal schools operating in various states are much higher. Furthermore, it does appear that the presence of illegal schools is not new. Many Nigerians have been “awarded” the Certificates of these illegal schools in their bid to acquire education. Several of these persons only discovered the truth when they presented their certificates in the process of either seeking employment or seeking promotions at their places of work.
Furthermore, it appears that the illegality in the operation of schools is fast transcending the fact of registration with the regulatory authorities alone. In other words, a school which is properly registered and therefore operating legally in the eye of the law, may yet be operating far below the minimum standards required by law which in my estimation will still qualify it as an illegal school. A visit to many so-called Private Nursery and Primary schools will reveal that many of the teachers are poorly trained and often with little or no educational qualification themselves. Such schools basically employ fresh secondary school graduates who are pursuing admission into tertiary institutions. In few instances where some of these so called teachers had some form of education, they are usually lacking in any form of training required to enable them interact with very young pupils who by that fact alone deserve special attention. Yet these primary schools are the foundation of the country’s educational system.
I am of the view that the increasing number of such schools shows that much more still needs to be done by governments and the regulatory agencies. It is on record that after USA, Nigeria has the largest number of illegal universities in the world.
That the NUC could identify and publish a list of 36 unaccredited or illegal universities, as good as it is, is also an indictment on the law establishing the commission. That 36 illegal universities could be identified is a pointer to the fact that there could be more. The question then is how do we get out of these embarrassing quagmire? The answer is that government should urgently and immediately amend the NUC law and give the commission sufficient powers of immediate and outright closure of illegal universities with further powers of severe sanctions including forfeiture of the university’s properties to government while the promoters, founders, councils and teachers of such illegality should face life imprisonment.
What the promoters of these illegal universities are doing is worse than armed robbery. Apart from ruining the future of education in Nigeria, they are equally jeopardizing the interest of young Nigerians yearning for quality education for which they deserve no mercy.
….to be continued
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON