National Integration And The University Challenge in Nigeria
National Integration And The University Challenge in Nigeria
His Majesty, Nnaemeka Alfred Ugochukwu Achebe, CFR, mni, MBA, LLD (Hons), Obi Of Onitsha, Agbogidi
Being An Address Delivered At Kogi State University, Anyigba, on 30 January 2010 At His Installation As First Chancellor Of The University and Conferment Of Degree Of Doctor Of Science (Honoris Causa)
Protocols . . .
I should start my address with all gratitude to God, the Almighty, who has made today, and indeed all things, possible. He has brought us here together in love and unity for this rare ceremony. We pray that He will also lead us back to our various destinations in peace and harmony.
The Distinguished Visitor, Governor of Kogi State, and a great son of Onitsha, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, I thank you most sincerely for considering me worthy of becoming the first Chancellor of this young and enterprising university. You have been a tower of support for education in the state. I pray you will live long to see the fruits of your investment.
I thank the Pro-Chancellor, Dr. Usman Onipe, and the Governing Council, and the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Hassan Isah, and the Senate, for deeming me a fit and proper person to receive an honorary degree of this university.
I salute the staff and students, who are the body and soul of the university. To the students I say a big “Gbosa”!
I also pay tribute to the founding fathers of the university, particularly, Alhaji Abubakar Audu, the founding governor, and Professors Simon Okwute and Francis Idachaba, former vice-chancellors. I salute you for your service and dedication to education and human capital development.
It is a rare privilege to be conferred with an honorary degree. It is even more singular when combined with installation as Chancellor at a special
Convocation. I am very humbled by this preferment. I pledge to do my
utmost to support the institution to rise to greater excellence.
My appointment as Chancellor is significant in more than one way. Firstly, I
had earlier referred to the Governor as a great son of Onitsha. That is
because he grew up in that ancient city, where he developed the enterprising
spirit that enabled him to become a successful businessman in Sokoto and
thence governor in this noble state.
Secondly, I am the king of Onitsha Ado N’Idu by virtue of my direct
patrilineal descent from Eze Aroli, our eighth king, whose mother Ennobi,
was a princess from Igala Kingdom. To place today’s event in both historical
and contemporary contexts, I have chosen to speak on “National
Integration and the University Challenge in Nigeria”
Onitsha Ado N’Idu was founded early in the 15th century by the great
Ezechima, who led a migration eastwards out of Benin following some
misunderstandings within the royal courts of Benin. This migration spawned
several towns and communities in the present day Delta State, including
Obior, Onicha Ugbo, Onicha Ukwu, Onicha Olona, Isele Uku, Isele Azagba,
Isele Mkpitime, Ezi and Obamkpa, collectively called Umu Ezechima.
The founders of Onitsha Ado N’Idu (sons of Chima) were assisted in
crossing the River Niger by Igala fishermen they met on the banks of the
river. The descendants of these Igala fishermen (Ugbe and Ekeke) today
comprise the Mgbelekeke Village, who have retained ancestral land rights at
the river front at Onitsha.
Furthermore, Ogbe Otu Village descended from two Igala traders,
Okomanya and Ogbogodo, and the Obikporo Village, descended from
Idoko, son of Usse. Usse was daughter of King Aroli, who married the
legendary Igala warrior, Onojo Oboni. These three villages of patrilineal
Igala descent are grouped as the Ogbe Olu administrative clan in Onitsha
Kingdom and are the custodians of the Egwugwu masquerade derived from
Igala. The descendants of Aroli, whose link to Igala is matrilineal, comprise
several villages grouped as the Umuezearoli administrative clan.
Over time, Onitsha Kingdom, comprising of six administrative clans, has
become a fusion of Edo, Igala and Igbo cultures such that our monarchy is
largely Edo, our traditional spirituality, Igala, and our social system, Igbo.
On its part, the Igala kingdom had historic contacts and relationships with
other great kingdoms. Through warfare, but also trade and commerce,
diplomacy, inter-marriages, and adventure, the Igala has dispersed
historically, geographically, socially, culturally and ethnically amongst the
Binis, Igbo, Yoruba, Idoma, Nupe, Kakanda, Gwari, Ebira, Jukun, and many
other ethnic groupings. In the process, there have been mutual influences on
The Igala experience was not unique. Other great empire and civilizations,
such as the Caliphate, Borno, Benin, Yoruba, Igbo, etc, share similar
attributes of dispersion and influence on neighboring groupings. Thus today,
there is more from our past that can bring people of the various ethnic
groups in this country closer together than put them apart.
So what has the University got to do with all of the foregoing? I would
answer much, if not everything. The University, being by definition a citadel
for knowledge and learning, should have a key responsibility to identify and
expose these positive features of convergence, thereby promoting greater
harmony and integration in the country.
Rhetorically, however, is the Nigerian University today a true citadel of
learning and in position to meet the challenges of producing a genuinely
learned citizenry, which is needed for the rapid development of our country?
Let us remind ourselves that, apart from University College Ibadan, the
earliest intervention in university education in the country was through the
regional governments of the East, West, North and Mid-West, following the
recommendations of the Ashby Report. From this early start, the situation
has exploded in terms of the numbers of institutions and of the students
enrolled in them. Today, we have one hundred and four (104) universities
comprising 27 Federal, 36 State and 41 Private. Still, the system has been
unable to provide for up to 20 percent of the candidates yearning for
university education. In 2009 for instance, the total capacity of the 104
universities was just over 180,000 whilst the total number of applicants was
about 1.2 million.
Whilst the above phenomenal increase in opportunities is welcome, we face
the dilemma of how to meet further demand for access without
compromising quality. I will dilate on this dilemma under two broad
challenges, namely, the funding challenge and the challenge of generating
The rapid expansion has placed great pressures on the basic facilities at the
universities, namely, utilities, infrastructure and teaching facilities, in
addition to salaries, bursaries, allowances and pensions. The condition of the
facilities at our universities varies from serious decay due to overuse and
lack of maintenance in the older universities, to incomplete or scaled down
in the middle generation universities, and a total absence in some of the
Our universities share a common feature in that they expect the bulk of their
funds from their respective proprietors, namely the Federal and State
Governments and the private promoters. Whilst many universities have
embarked on exploring alternative sources of funds, it will take some time
for these alternatives to become significant and sustainable. Thus, unless
urgent steps are taken, the funding challenge will continue to take up a
substantial time of the people managing the affairs of universities, who, in
other countries, would devote up to 85% of their time to administering
Therein lies our dilemma. How can we free our university leadership from
the necessary chores of generating and deploying funds so as to concentrate
on the primary purpose of the university, namely, generating, preserving and
imparting knowledge? I trust I am not exaggerating when I suggest that the
decay in the university facilities and infrastructure has been matched, if not
exceeded, by the glaring decline in academic quality and relevance in terms
of curriculum development, teaching and research, as well as quality of staff
and students. This has manifested in many unwholesome traits, one of which
is the large number of unemployable graduates that abound today. Indeed, I
see the challenge of restoring academic standards and relevance, thereby
reasserting the reputation for excellence, as the great challenge of this
century for the Nigerian University.
As a way forward, I see the necessity to separate, but not divorce, the
responsibility for fund generation and management from the more critical
role of academic leadership. Most American universities would have a
Business or Development Office, manned by staff of proven managerial
competence, and headed by an equivalent of a Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
Such a position would have the responsibility for diversifying and
actualizing the revenue streams and managing the finances on a sound
business basis, including capital development and investment of surplus
Besides subventions from the proprietor, other potential sources of income
have been canvassed at various times and places. These include: gradual but
modest increase in fees as well as progressive privatization of the hostels
and boarding facilities; engaging in constructive dialogue with the organized
private sector to significantly increase the support from their sector; an
Alumni Fund; consultancy, applied research and problem solving on a fee
yielding basis; and commercial investments, say, in stocks, shares and
There is not sufficient time in this address to dwell on the peculiarities,
sensitivities, and merits of these potential sources. It is important to state,
however, that a clear strategy should be evolved and pursued consistently
over a long time, using professionally competent people. It is also important
that university administrators should be expected to apply modern
management techniques and discipline to ensure that scarce funds are
With less burden from the chores of the non-academic sector of the
university enterprise, the Vice-chancellor and academic staff will be better
placed to act quickly and decisively to restore academic standards and
discipline. Some of the areas screaming for action are: engaging widely with
stakeholders to ensure the relevance of curricula, programmes and courses;
closing ranks with WAEC, JAMB and NECO to raise admission standards,
and with NUC on accreditation standards; massive training and re-training
of staff locally and overseas; re-inculcating the noble attributes of university
culture such as honesty, integrity, industry, and the honour system; adequate
investment in Information and Communication Technology (ICT);
developing the spirit of enterprise and self-sufficiency amongst graduates to
reduce dependence on salaried employment; and constantly being mindful of
the distinction between training and education.
I would now briefly say a few words on the State University system.
Already, state universities have overtaken the federal universities in number
and are set to grow further, particularly in student enrollment. They belong
mostly to the youngest generation of universities and are far less endowed in
terms of facilities and staff. In other words, the dilemma of the competing
challenges of funding and generating knowledge is most glaring at the state
But we cannot pretend that the state universities are not part and parcel of
the national agenda for higher education. Also, it is not in the national
interest to technically relegate them to a lower status because state
governments are hamstrung for funds. Since most of their student enrollment
would be from within the state, many of whom can commute from home,
state universities could ultimately become cheaper to run. Thus, it would be
prudent and in the national interest for all stakeholders, led by the federal
government, to engage in honest and holistic dialogue on how best the
nation’s challenge on higher education can be met. Additionally, it would be
wise for the local government councils to support their state university
financially. I understand that this is already happening in at least one state. It
is very worthy of emulation.
In summary, I have made a case that ethnic groups and peoples of this
country have more factors that should bind, rather than divide, them. This
was so in the past and should be usefully applied in the present day for
national integration and harmony. I also argued that the University in
Nigeria can play a major role in this process through studies and research to
unearth those positive attributes of history, culture and social practices, and
place their findings in the public domain to foster a more harmonious
country. But the university system today is seriously constrained by two
competing challenges of inadequate funding and sustaining higher academic
standards. I have suggested a separation of the two challenges so as to
pursue each optimally thereby meeting, what I consider, the University
challenge of the 21st century, namely, reasserting the reputation for academic
excellence. With particular reference to State Universities, I have speculated
that their significance would grow in the generation of human capital for the
nation. I therefore suggested that all stakeholders, led by the federal
government, should come together to fashion a sustainable strategy for
higher education in Nigeria, inclusive of the State University system.
The views I have expressed in this address are not prescriptive. Indeed, there
is not much that I have said that is new. My purpose has been to lend voice
to the on-going debate on important issues. I hope I have done so.
Let me close by sharing the experience I had yesterday. Accompanied by a
retinue of my people, I paid a courtesy visit to His Majesty, Alhaji Dr. Aliyu
Ocheja Obaje, CFR, Attah of Igala, at the historic palace at Idah. It was an
exhilarating re-connection with our glorious and ancient past. For me,
personally, it was a materialization of a long standing ambition to meet this
icon of traditional leadership, who has occupied the throne of his ancestors
for over half a century. That visit, combined with the ceremony of today, has
been absolutely fulfilling for my people and me. We thank God for that
favour. We are proud to be part of this university and of Kogi State.
I thank you for your attention. God bless you all.