Members of the House of Representatives, on Thursday, rejected a plea to stop bills seeking the creation of tertiary institutions amidst a cash crunch, noting that they promised their constituents tertiary institutions during campaigns.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila had during the debate on a bill to establish the University of Transportation, Daura, Katsina State, urged members of the House to agree to “suspending” all tertiary education establishment bills in-line with the recommendation of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Mr Gbajabiamila’s plea followed the contribution of Ifeanyi Momoh, who opposed the establishment of the school.
Mr Momoh argued that the federal government should instead upgrade the National Institute of Transportation Technology, Zaria, to a federal university.
“I’m just thinking aloud because we have the NITT – Nigeria Institute of Transport Technology – in Zaria. When there is an institute of transport technology, which deals with the science of transportation itself why are we now looking at establishing a Federal University of Transportation? We can amend the enabling law – the Act – and upgrade the NITT to a federal university.
“Why I’m saying this is that the constant proliferation of universities in our country is not helping us. That is the truth! We have so many universities here and there. We have so many university bills and at the end, when they are approved, we will be talking about funding – no funding,” he said
Following the remarks by Mr Momoh, the speaker proposed suspending tertiary institution bills.
He informed members that the request is imperative considering the financial situation of the country and the inability to meet existing obligations to ASUU.
“Do we continue to bring bills for university establishment at this very time when there is even no revenue? We have been meeting with ASUU. We had a four-hour meeting the other day. What they said, which was uniformly agreed, was that the NUC bill is before us, they pleaded that we put a curb to it,” he said.
Consequently, Mr Gbajabiamila proposed a motion for suspension of such bills.
However, following the voice vote, it was obvious that members were against the proposal to stop the proliferation of universities as the “nays” had the vote.
As a sequel to the rejection of the motion, Mr Gbajabiamila, therefore, allowed both the Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase and Majority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu to speak on the proposal.
Mr Wase said to halt university bills would mean putting the political ambition of lawmakers in jeopardy because some have promised their constituents tertiary education.
“You know how politicians behave sir. When some people don’t hear their community mentioned, whether the bill will be signed or not, it is also negative, politically.
“Those who have gotten the scores have gotten. Those who have not gotten, if you say don’t do that, you may also be putting their opportunity in jeopardy. I am sorry to say it live. The issue is political,” Mr Wase said.
Also speaking against the proposal, Mr Elumelu said lawmakers are under pressure from constituents on the establishment of a university. He noted that there is an expectation from constituents regarding the establishment of universities.
“In my opinion, I think it is not wise to shut down every voice or every member on this floor as it relates to sponsoring a bill for the establishment of either college of education or polytechnic or university in their various communities.
“Mr Speaker, I said this because when you go home (constituency) and you are talking to your people (constituents), most often, the first thing they ask you is ‘why are you not bringing any school to your constituency?’
“And when you say it is not possible and they see your colleagues sponsoring the same bills for the establishment of universities, it becomes a negative for you as an individual who is representing them.
“So, whether it is signed (assented to by the President) or not, it is not the issue; the issue is that that member is able to show that he has the interest of his (or her) constituents at heart.”
Realising that the members were not ready to yield, Mr Gbajabiamila said there was a need to strike a balance between what they feel is right and the expectation of the constituents.
Mr Gbajabiamila noted that the House will consider putting stringent conditions for the establishment of universities in the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) bill, to prevent the proliferation of schools. He stated that the effort is similar to the consolidation of banks done under Charles Soludo as CBN Governor.
“There is a balance between demands by constituents and what is good—when we know what is right. I get your (Mr Elumelu) point and the DS’ point. But for me, I think this matter will be resolved when we pass the NUC bill, where perhaps, we can make the establishment of universities more stringent, otherwise, you will run into a situation where a state government or whoever will just come, get a building or three buildings together and say they want a university,” he said.
He added that the stringent measures will be in place until “such a time when the government is no longer funding universities, you can have 200 in your state. That is the business of the university, not the business of the government.”
PREMIUM TIMES had in an analysis, exposed how federal lawmakers use the establishment of tertiary institutions as campaign promises.
Federal government-owned and some state universities are currently shut down due to the inability of the federal government to fulfil agreements with the ASUU.
The schools have been shut down since 14 February. Although the National Industrial Court (NIC) ordered the lecturers on Wednesday to return to school, the union has already indicated plans to appeal the judgment.