Despite the inability of the Imo State Government to cater for its existing university, the National Universities Commission (NUC) has issued an approval for outgoing Governor Rochas Okorocha to establish four additional state-owned universities.
The newly approved universities are the University of Science and Technology, Omuna Isiako; University of Creative Technology, Umuna and the University of Medical Sciences, Ogboko.
NUC also gave approval for another, the University of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences in Imo State, last week.
With these new universities, Imo now has five state-owned universities, which makes it the state with the highest number of universities in the country.
Already, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has condemned Mr Okorocha’s action, describing it as a “misadventure and a joke of the century.”
Also, PREMIUM TIMES learnt there are currently a lot of inadequacies in IMSU and the government may be unable to fund the new universities.
Nigeria currently has about 174 universities (43 federal universities, 52 state-owned universities, and 79 private universities).
IMSU, Poorly Funded – Official
PREMIUM TIMES learnt the first state university, IMSU, is poorly funded and the state government does not pay adequate attention to it.
In an interview Tuesday night, a top official of the university, who pleaded anonymity for fear of victimisation, said the government “does not pay attention to the institution at all.”
The source said the staff of the school constantly experience delays in payment of salaries “as the government does not pay until it gets a loan from the bank.”
According to the source, the staff receive 68 per cent of their salaries from government intervention, while the management of the institution source for the remaining 32 per cent to pay the staff.
The official claims the state government is also owing banks in the state.
“The staff have not been paid the promotion arrears since 2004 till date. Their pension remittance to PFA has not been paid for the past 36 months. Gratuity also has not been paid to our retired staff,” the source said.
The official also said “the government withdrew the land that was given to staff after paying a huge amount of money.”
“NUC is looking for money now. And you know, the governor is about handing over. By May 29, he ceases to be the governor of this state. So what he is doing now is to frustrate the incoming government.”
While receiving the master plan, academic brief and environmental impact analysis from Mr Okorocha on Tuesday, the Executive Secretary of the commission, Abubakar Rasheed, said the new universities would meet the need of the country.
“By the provision of the law establishing NUC and by the power conferred on me and having Imo state House of Assembly to pass the law for the establishment of the universities, I hereby recognise the three universities.”
Mr Rasheed said the commission would move into action on how to develop the curriculum for the universities to be allowed to commence operations in the University of Creativity.
Okorocha Defends Action
Speaking at the NUC office in Abuja, Mr Okorocha said the rationale behind the establishment of the new universities “was as a result of more candidates seeking for admission.”
“The challenges of no admission for our children will be reduced with the establishment of the new universities. As a state, we have made adequate provision for sustaining the university through enough funding to run the universities,” he said.
He said the project has been on for the past five years.
Meanwhile,, the national chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Biodun Ogunyemi, in a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Thursday night said “the government has plans to erode the basis of meaningful university education in Imo State.”
“ASUU cannot take him (Okorocha) seriously. We don’t believe that he meant what he was doing because universities are not primary schools. You have to ask him what has he done with the Imo State University, why is he doing this in his last month in the office. If he meant well for that state, he was there for eight years. Why should he wait till the last two weeks or so to establish three universities?” he said
Mr Ogunyemi said the governor is turning the establishment of universities into a constituency project.
“It is never done in any part of the world that you turn the establishment of universities into a constituency project. We see this as over politicisation of education and somebody must tell Governor Okorocha that he’s not helping that state. Every reasonable Nigerian should condemn this misadventure by Governor Okorocha. It is a misadventure and a joke of the century,” he said.
But, the chairman of Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), IMSU chapter, Felix Chukwu, said the establishment of the new universities will contribute to the development of the state, “if the government can adequately fund it.”
“We need development but will they be funded adequately? The governor is a wise man so I think I give him my support. But the issue is, will government adequately fund the universities?” he said.
The national coordinator of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Hassan Soweto, said Mr Okorocha “is following in the footstep of other anti-public education governors and state executives who establish public tertiary institutions, not to ensure more access to tertiary education but to steal public resources.”
“This is a governor who spent more money on statues and other frivolities, instead of people’s welfare. This one is a white-elephant project targeted at satisfying the ego of the governor or that of his political cronies,” he added.
He said the new universities “will suffer the same fate with other state universities which are underfunded.”
“We urge Governor Okorocha to desist from wasting Imo State resources on white elephant projects even in the twilight of his cheerless administration,” he said.