ILLEGAL UNIVERSITIES ON THE INCREASE
“Amend NUC Law to empower closure and forfeiture of illegal institutions and impose life jail for their proprietors”.
I have over the past weeks focused on the reasons for the advent of Private Universities and why despite the challenges being faced by them, the portrayal of these schools, in the article published in the Tribune, as lacking in standards is grossly inaccurate. Thus last week I made a case for an amendment to the Tertiary Education Fund Law to enable private Universities benefit. In making the above points on behalf of Private Universities I am not unmindful of the fact that some unscrupulous individuals have sought to take undue or perhaps indeed patently illegal advantage of the decision of the government to allow private individuals to establish universities. This has taken the form of establishment of illegal universities. I therefore intend this week to once again identify the problems posed by these illegal universities and the need for urgent action by government.
ADVENT OF ILLEGAL SCHOOLS
As stated earlier, it was the background of poor funding of public schools by government 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.
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. In 2014, the National Universities Commission released a list of 36 illegal Universities operating in the Country. In August 2015 it released a list showing that the number had increased to 57.
57 ILLEGAL UNIVERSITIES
In a bulletin dated 23rd May 2016, the Commission revealed that the 57 Universities had been closed down while 8 of them were undergoing further investigations or court actions. 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 staggering as these figures are, I believe that the number of illegal schools operating in various states are much higher. The NUC itself acknowledges this fact as it states on the website that the list provided by it is “not exhaustive” 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 tertiary level and also in some cases extends beyond 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. In Lagos State, the Government closed down three private schools operating in the State. One of the Schools was reported to have converted a Container used for the importation of goods to 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.
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 57 unaccredited or illegal universities, as good as it is, is also an indictment on the law establishing the commission. That 57 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.
AARE AFE BABALOLA SAN, CON