The first title I chose for this column was “UNIABUJA’s dwindling fortunes”, but had to change it. It is not apt because talking of a dwindling fortune presupposes a glorious era. Sadly, the University of Abuja, the subject of this column, has never had a glorious epoch, so to say. So, the question of it (fortune) dwindling does not arise. This is very disheartening; for a university situated at the nation’s capital to be so badly battered is a bad PR for the country’s reputation.
The place of the fortress of learning and cradle of knowledge in nations’ march to greatness has never been in doubt. However, the Obama administration raised the bar in the role the university should play in a nation’s intellectual development. Perhaps, in doing this, he makes it a priority to visit and deliver speeches in universities/schools of some countries he has been to. Apart from his inspiring candour, which normally is a motivation for the university community, I think there is a more compelling reason to indicate that the nucleus of humanity’s progress is located in the ivory tower.
Thus in 2009, Obama visited Egypt and delivered a speech at Cairo University, University of Indonesia in Indonesia, in 2010 and College Green in Dublin in 2011. That same year, Obama was in the UK and he visited Globe Academy, in Southwark, South London where he and British Prime Minister, David Cameron, had a table tennis match against the school boys.
At Seoul and Burma, (Myanmar) recently, he gave speeches at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and University of Yangon, respectively. The propriety of Obama’s visits to symbols of democracy, knowledge and power cannot be lost on discerning minds. Do we have symbols that represent who we are as a people? Yes, because we have them, and no because we do not preserve and value them.
If Obama were to visit Abuja, Nigeria, today, can anybody dare include visiting the University of Abuja as part of his itinerary? Would our policy makers have the courage to point at the UNIABUJA, either the Gwagwalada campus or the permanent site on Airport Road as an ideal citadel of learning? So mistreated and decrepit is the university that for the second time in six
months, the students protested the non-inclusion of engineering students in exams time table last week, leading to the closure of the school. Six months earlier, students of the faculties of medicine and engineering cried out for help in another form of protest, because of the non-accreditation of their courses. The minister of education intervened and it looked like all was well until last week. The approach of the students this time (and as usual), of disrupting traffic flow, and creating a chaotic scene may be wrong, but is it not bad enough that government would establish a university and not fund it? I understand that the university’s take-off grant was never given to it, so it had a shaky start.
All stakeholders—students and ASUU— have made allusions to the incompetence and lack of seriousness on the part of the leadership of the university, yet the government has continued to tolerate and treat it (leadership) with kids’ gloves, as if nothing is happening, just because the affected students are not their children or wards. The NUC executive secretary at an interview last week, indirectly indicted the government of culpability. He questioned the initial location of the university in a primary school without as much commitment to infrastructural development.
On the second day of the students’ protest, the school authorities ordered the students out of the campus. That’s normal, but to unleash military men on hapless students is an irresponsible response. Soldiers invaded the school, beat up and wounded some students, and forcefully ejected them from the campus. It’s a testament to the level of the country’s degeneration, that a small campus problem could engender the invitation of soldiers to campus. This level of decline is unprecedented in the history of crises in universities, while not discountenancing the 1986 students’ riot in ABU, Zaria, that left four students dead.
So you see, from a shaky start to the military imposed siege on the university (during Abacha’s time); from poor infrastructure to inept leadership and from one unresolved crisis to the other, the University of Abuja has been like an orphan suffering from eternal neglect. Now, tell me, when will the school ever enjoy a glorious moment?