Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council, Federal University, Lokoja, Nigeria. February 2016
Member, Court of Governors, College of Medicine, University of Lagos, October 2015 for four years.
Opening Remarks – – At a summit such as this, time allocation to invited speakers is usually restricted. Mine is no exception. I have been requested to speak on the topic of ISSUES ON HIGHER EDUCATION IN RIVERS STATE for a period of 30 minutes. So, the issues cannot be treated in any degree of depth. Furthermore, many of us here are very familiar with these issues in the bigger context of Nigeria – funding difficulties, infrastructural deficits, especially those of electricity and water, inadequate access, quality assurance, malfeasances, which I referred to as scourges1 in a previous presentation, inadequate commitment to research and much more. Therefore, while I will briefly address some of these issues as they relate to Rivers State, I will also speak to some other matters, which are pressing issues in the state and so ought to attract the attention of policy makers and operators of higher education in the state. For instance, should higher educational institutions in the state not be the flagship institutions for the study of petroleum and related matters in Nigeria, judging from the extent of the availability of the hydrocarbon in the environment and the near total dependence on it by the nation? With the high level of youth unemployment and deviant behaviour in the state, should higher education not concern itself with programmes that aim to inculcate social responsibility and those that would enable beneficiaries to create jobs for themselves and others, upon graduation? Can higher education in the state not react to the parlous state of development by coming up with innovative development plans that would bring about a paradigm shift? These and much more could be considered, were time to permit. To my mind, this pattern of thinking is necessary because higher education should not only address global issues; it should also seek local relevance. But before all this, some background information on higher education in Rivers State which is herein regarded the same as tertiary, post-secondary or third level education, is necessary.
Higher Education in Rivers State: Background Information
Higher Education in Rivers State is currently run by federal, state and a private organisation as education is on the concurrent legislative list of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Whereas the Federal Government runs the University of Port Harcourt, Choba, and the Federal College of Education (Technical) Omoku, the Rivers State Government runs the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), Nkpolu, the Rivers State Polytechnic, Bori, the Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Rumuolumeni and the Rivers State College of Science and Technology, Rumuola. The only private Higher Education institution in the Rivers State is the Madonna University, Elele Campus, which is run by the Catholic Mission.
With a regular student population of over 26,000, staff strength of 4,213, four Colleges, six schools, 15 faculties, and 66 Departments, the Federal-Government owned University of Port Harcourt, which was established in 1977, is the largest higher educational institution in the state, followed by the Rivers State Government-owned RSUST. The others are smaller.
The institutions are all clustered around Port Harcourt metropolis except those in Bori, Omoku and Elele which are about 30km, 50km and 40km respectively in different directions from the central business district of the city.
In 2007 when the current administration of Governor Rotimi Amaechi took charge of the affairs of Rivers state, government declared a state of emergency in the educational sector on account of the level of dereliction it met in the sector. To remedy this, Government is building 700 model primary schools in the state, of which 500 have been completed, each with 20 classrooms.
Government has also planned to build 24 model secondary schools across the 23 local government councils in the state; well structured and fully equipped with modern-day educational, recreation and boarding facilities with standard housing for teachers. Of these, four are complete and one has commenced full operation. Tuition and board are free and books, uniforms, sandals and meals are also provided by government. In order to obtain the teachers to teach in these institutions, government is currently recruiting 13,152 trained teachers. Furthermore, only last week, government set up a Quality Assurance Board with a seasoned academic, Emeritus Professor Otonti Nduka as Chairman, to keep a close oversight function on the schools. These investments at the primary and secondary levels, are designed to ensure adequate preparation of students to enable them benefit from higher education. Furthermore, a new campus, which will have up- to- date facilities in all respects, is being built for RSUST at the upcoming Greater Port Harcourt City.
The state Ministry of Education launched an education policy3 very recently , in which it stated its policy thrust in Higher Education as being that of developing manpower in the priority areas of Agriculture, Law, Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Science and Technology Education, Computer Sciences and Medical Sciences. The policy stated further that “in an effort to realize this manpower development goal, 70% of the annual admissions in every state-owned tertiary educational institution…..shall be exclusively reserved for Rivers State indigenes”3.
As for the higher educational institutions that are owned by the Federal Government in the state, it is pertinent to observe that the University of Port Harcourt has also undergone massive expansion under its present administration led by Professor Joseph Ajienka as Vice-Chancellor. It has instituted several new colleges and a Faculty of Law. The university is an equal opportunity institution which functions on the basis of clearly defined federal government guidelines.
Higher Education in Rivers State: Recurring Issues
Available information indicates that most of the higher educational institutions in Rivers State were established after due thought processes and careful planning. Of the two largest, it is said that the University of Port Harcourt ” was born in a spirit of burning enthusiasm”2, while RSUST, Nigeria’s premier university of science and technology, was established as an ” uncommon university with commitment and mission to solving the environmental and developmental problems of the Niger Delta”3. But they all face certain recurrent challenges which some have opined have compromised the ability of some of the institutions to carry out their principal functions of producing quality graduates and engaging in ground breaking research. The capacity of the higher educational institution to handle these challenges have differed and have depended, to some extent, on the attitude of their proprietors, availability of funds and the quality of governance available in the institution. In this segment of today’s lecture, I will briefly address some of these issues.
Sustainable Development in the Education Sector in Rivers State, the object of this summit, can only come about if there is stability in higher education and the institutions are run in accordance with clearly stipulated guidelines. it is higher education that has the capacity and responsibility of training the experts that would work in the other sections of the education sector – teachers, administrators, engineers, health workers and others. So, ensuring that higher educational institutions in the state function properly, becomes a matter of utmost importance.
The administrative formation and mode of operation of higher educational institutions in Nigeria differ and depend to some extent on their stated institutional objectives, the orientation of their proprietor(s), and the institution’s area of specialization, if any. These structural and operational details are usually clearly stated in a document which is enacted into the Enabling Law or Decree of the particular institution by the Federal Government in the case of federal and privately- owned institutions and state governments for institutions owned by them. The Enabling Law or Decree defines powers of the institution as well as the governance structure. It also clearly spells out the responsibilities and limitations to the powers and authority of each of the organs and officers of the institution4.
Since the Enabling law is of such vital importance in the running of higher educational institutions, there is a need to ensure its currency in the light of contemporary events. It must also be ensured that officers and organs of the institution are very conversant with the content of the Enabling Law and at no time, act outside their jurisdictions. The current laws of the higher educational institutions that are owned by the Rivers State Government are those that were signed into law at the commencement of the life of the respective institutions, except that a change of name was reflected for one of the institutions. Since then, there has been some pertinent changes in the higher educational firmament of the country which may necessitate another look at the laws. This would afford the proprietors of the institutions the opportunity to assess the desirability or otherwise, to bring the operational laws in line with current practices elsewhere in the Nigerian Universities System.
Neglect of Higher Educational Institutions
Neglect is a strong word to use. But that was the word that was used in a previous presentation5 when we described the state of affairs at some time at RSUST, which, arguably, is the apical higher educational institution of the Rivers State Government. After the passion and commitment that was exhibited by successive governments in the run up to the establishment of the university, there followed a period in which subsequent governments did not appear to have shown that level of keen interest and support for the university as was the case earlier. On many occasions, once salaries were paid, no further financial disbursement was made to the institution and the university was asked to manage from its Internally Generated Revenue. Little wonder that until recently, there were many projects that had been commenced but abandoned due to lack of funds. The massive loss of accreditation of its programmes by the National Universities Commission (NUC) that the university suffered in 2005 was partly due to the dereliction and decrepit state of most of the faculties and departments in the university due to long standing disregard. Furthermore, staff welfare and research funding were not given any serious consideration as salaries and emoluments were not regular, resulting in the withdrawal of services by staff of the university at various times. The same was true of the then Rivers State University of Education, whose law has now been amended to give it the new name of Ignatius Ajuru University of Education.
Such neglect of a higher educational institution is unfortunate as a derelict work environment dampens morale and diminishes academic and research productivity and it would be asking for the moon to expect the best of workers in such an environment. As for the non payment of wages as and when due, this should be considered as inconceivable as it is incompatible with the high standards and morals demanded of staff of higher educational institutions.
Students Hooliganism and Other Deviant Behaviours
Nothing typifies the hooliganism and violence that occasionally happen in higher educational institutions in Nigeria, including those in Rivers State, as what has now come to be known as “the Uniport 4″6 which has become a euphemism for the mindboggling event that occurred on Friday, October 5, 2012. On that day, at about 9am, four students of the University of Port Harcourt were publicly sprayed with petrol and burnt alive in the open gaze of onlookers in the village of Omokiri-Aluu, very close to the university. The gruesome murder was recorded live with many communication gadgets – mobile cell phones, IPod, Video cameras and were distributed virally across the globe directly and through different social media. Many, even in this hall, I believe still have the gory photos on their handsets. As expected, the local and international reaction of shock and condemnation was unbelievable; the university was shut down for five weeks.
Such violence, including other deviant behaviours such as rape, arson, shootings, killings, cheating at examinations, exchanging grades for sexual favours, takes place in our universities under the guise of cult activities. As for what initiates such aggression and brutality, they range from the mundane to the austere – shortage of water and electricity, dispute over girl friends, university examinations, cult supremacy and much more.
Strikes and Poor Work Ethos
Even as we speak now, there are some academic staff of the RSUST who have withdrawn their services on account of issues which they can settle with their Governing Council- their employer. The fact is, in Rivers State as it is in other parts of the Nigerian University System, there are too many unions and they readily resort to strike actions, even on issues which can be resolved through dialogue.
Information from the Office of the Registrar, reveal that between 2006 and 2012, academic work at RSUST was disrupted every year by strike actions by one union or the other but more commonly, from the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) for varying periods. Whatever else that these strike actions may achieve, they do incalculable harm to the cause for which the university was established. The disruption rubbishes the university calendar and drives students into all manner of deviant actions, including prostitution and even armed robbery. They make those who can afford it to shun universities in Nigeria and seek admission outside the country, especially our neighbouring state of Ghana where it is known that money coming from tuition fees paid by students from Nigeria now constitute an important part of the country’s income.
It is known5 that at the floor of the unions, those who always push for strike action as the only option for the resolution of a crisis are mostly those who found themselves in the system through ways that are less than ideal. They plagiarise, cancel classes and are just unable to come to terms with the culture and age-long traditions of universities – self discipline, honesty and hard work. It is doubtful if such persons really have a place in the universities.
Access and Carrying Capacity
According to figures released by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) for the year 2012, 9,808 candidates applied for admission into RSUST as their first choice institution. Of these, the university was only able to admit about 10%. But even at this, the carrying capacity – student/staff ratio was exceeded in a number of academic programmes, and infrastructure like classrooms, water supply, power, accommodation, grossly inadequate.
The issues that have been cited here as affecting Higher Education in the state have been described as recurrent because they, and some others, have been there for some time and are not necessarily confined to the higher education system in Rivers State. To some extent, they depict the existing value system in the country, where hard work and merit have been jettisoned and the nation has lost its core value of honesty, integrity and accountability. In the circumstance, some now see the ardent pursuit of the tenets of sound education and commitment of academic staff to scholastic productivity as irrelevant.
In a way, too, they depict our management failures where we are unable to provide municipal services of water, electricity and transport for our citizens, including our university students, where the future leaders of the country are expectedly being trained. Such uninspiring outcome from our higher education system should compel policy makers and operators of Higher Education system in Rivers State to think outside the box and become introspective. Could a more vigorous application of the capability and full might of higher education – meaningful research, application of its findings, community interactions- on some of the peculiar issues in the state not result in a better outcome – enhanced employment opportunities, better developed environment, safer place to live in and more. It is these other issues as it were, that now bring me to the next section of my short address.
Higher Education in Rivers State: Other Issues
Since petroleum was discovered in commercial quantities in Oloibiri in the former Rivers State in the 1950s, the petroleum industry has developed to become the largest in size and contribution to Nigeria’s GDP- at times contributing up to over 80% of the foreign exchange earnings. Sadly, till date, the exploration and exploitation of this natural resource has remained largely in the hands of multinational conglomerates – Shell Petroleum Development Company, Total, Chevron and others, whose staff that are in positions of authority are mainly foreigners and non-indigenes of Rivers State. Nigeria has been striving to increase the number of its citizens in the decision making bodies of the industry and is currently debating a Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) at the nation’s national assembly in which the issue of “local content” stands out as an important matter.
Understandably, the early crop of Nigerians who served as Management staff in the industry were trained abroad in petroleum engineering, geology, geosciences and other related subjects. But the country took some giant steps in the need to train workers and conduct research into the petroleum industry when it established Petroleum Engineering Departments in the Universities of Ibadan (1972), Benin(1974) and Port Harcourt (1974). The Rivers State Government also established a similar department in RSUST(1980). So, there are currently two departments of petroleum engineering in Port Harcourt.
Recognizing the strategic role that is expected of Rivers State as the hub of the oil and gas business in Nigeria, the University of Port Harcourt has gone ahead to take a number of steps to place it at the commanding heights of studies in petroleum in Nigeria. It established the first ever department of Gas Engineering in the country, which is now a Centre of Excellence in Gas Engineering for the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF). Furthermore, in collaboration with Elf Petroleum Nigeria Ltd (EPNL), the Ecole du Petrol et des Moteurs (IFP School) Paris, an institution of immense standing which had trained a good number of the persons who are occupying the upper echelons of the petroleum industry in France and Nigeria, and with approval from the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), the university has established an Institute of Petroleum Studies (IPS)7. Lecturers at the institute are partly from the University of Port Harcourt (1/3), the IFP School, Paris(1/3) and the petroleum industry (1/3). The school carries out postgraduate professional work on many aspects of the petroleum industry and at the end of their studies, successful students receive certificates jointly signed by authorities of the University of Port Harcourt and those of IFP School, Paris. Thus, the certificates receive instant global recognition.
I consider the strong environment that is available for both academic and professional work at the undergraduate and post graduate levels at the University of Port Harcourt and RSUST as a huge capital that should be exploited by policy makers in higher education in Rivers State. The institutions should be expanded with support from policy makers and given a charge to make Rivers State the preferred destination for all academic and professional studies required in petroleum industry, not just for Nigeria, but for the larger energy environment of the Gulf of Guinea.
It is true that Nigeria is currently seeking ways of diversifying its economic base so as to be less dependent on petroleum as a revenue earner. This is highly commendable. But be that as it may, petroleum would still be relevant to the Nigerian and even global economy for a long time to come. So, were the state able to position itself to serve as the petroleum hub of the Gulf of Guinea, just as the State of Texas is in the USA, the harvest in trained manpower, enhanced economic activities and global visibility would be tremendous.
The need for a special effort to be made in order to develop the part of Nigeria which is currently occupied by Rivers State and its adjourning states, commonly referred to as the Niger Delta, was recognized even before the British granted independence to the country as a sovereign nation, in 1960. It was felt that the place was backward, neglected and its topography, difficult. This position was arrived at well before the discovery of petroleum in the same place, the sale of which at international markets has brought in huge sums of money into the treasury of the country. However, more than 50 years thereafter, and despite several efforts by various development intervention agencies – Niger Delta Special Area, Niger Delta Basin Authority, Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission, (OMPADEC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs – the groundbreaking development that would convert the place to an industrial, hospitable, modern society, similar to what the Mississippi Delta in USA has become, has still not occurred. Many parts of the land are still inaccessible by any means of transportation. The people in many parts, still dispose of their human waste into the same streams as they obtain water for drinking. Diseases associated with poor hygiene and environment – cholera, malaria -still decimate thousands of their children and pregnant women. It was this blatant lack of concern by successive Nigerian governments, that ignited the violence in the area, which is still simmering till date. Surely there is a need to rethink the development of the area.
The Rivers State Economic Advisory Council had proposed a privately driven initiative of a Development Energy Corridor which will stretch from Calabar to Lagos, running through the South-South states to which companies can locate and do business, thereby creating employment opportunities and improvement in the quality of life of the people. The South/South governors at their 2012 summit in Asaba , accepted the concept as one that would connect the people and bring about the much needed development, peace and security of the area through creation of employment and eradication of poverty..
But this remains an idea for now and requires extensive analysis and evaluation – an exercise for which higher educational institutions are well-known and possess relevant expertise. In carrying out this evaluation, the institutions could even come up with other forms of development options which will serve as paradigm shifts from the drudgery and monotony of the past years.
STEM and Research
STEM, the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, embody the core subjects which when mastered, can be exploited for the development of a place. Their adoption in national life and proper application marks the difference between development and underdevelopment. For those who have endorsed them as a major tool in nation building, the salutary effects have been far reaching – stable economies, improvement in amenities, security, enhanced welfare of the citizens and much more9.
As for research, that is the way by which new discoveries are made and innovative approaches to the solution of mankind’s problems, identified.
The value of STEM and research in tackling the myriads of problems of the area was not lost on the proprietors when they set up the various higher educational institutions in the state. The preference for Science and Technology in RSUST is a case in point. But several factors have diminished teaching and learning in the sciences and made research output, poor. Higher educational institutions in the state have to revive this.
It is expected of Higher Education to act as an agent of social change and to use its privileged position as a recognized forum for intellectual exchange and generation of ideas, to inculcate the tenets of social responsibility in the society10. Right now, Rivers State is grappling with deviant youth behaviours – stealing and illegal distillation of petroleum, human abduction for ransom and so on – thereby creating some level of insecurity of lives and property and environmental degradation. Some persons have put this behaviour of the youths down to a high level of unemployment, lack of education and the systemic corruption that is so rampant in the country.
Although the situation in the state is better than is the case in some other parts of the country, the Rivers State Government, as a responsible government, is anxious to get to the root of the deviant behaviour by the youths and to deal with it decisively.
Since higher educational intuitions have always included “community service”, by which they get involved in events that result in the common good, they should be tasked with the responsibility of proffering workable solution to these problems.
Already the University of Port Harcourt has a Community Service Programme in which students interact with members of various communities outside the university on issues that promote accord and bring about harmony and cohesion to the community. It also has a Centre for Ethnic and Conflict Studies where such research work is based. Furthermore, the university is teaching the rudiments of entrepreneurship to all students to enable them become providers of employment on graduation. The university’s 27th convocation lecture – Entrepreneurship In University Education: Beyond Talk – was devoted to this issue11.
Even on global basis, governments now see higher educational institutions, especially universities, as crucial national assets in addressing many policy priorities, and as sources of new knowledge and innovative thinking as well as providers of skilled personnel12.
The literature is therefore replete with information on how to bring about improvement in the sector, especially in Nigeria, where the general feeling is that the quality of performance of higher educational institutions, is poor. A rehash of these recommendations with respect to infrastructure, violence, examination malpractices and others, would be boring but two, to my mind, need reiteration on this occasion – good governance and diversified financial base.
Good governance means running the higher educational institution in accordance with the content of its enabling law and statute. The Visitor of the institution must ensure that he appoints men and women of integrity to serve as members of the Governing Council of the institution. Thereafter, the Visitor should, as much as possible, let Council serve out its appointed time and superintend over the affairs of the institution. Those so appointed must be persons who would work earnestly for the institution without seeking gratification by way of inflated contracts and making all manner of demands on the authorities of the institution. They must be persons who are prepared to apply due process and merit in the appointment and promotion of staff and not through ethnic considerations.
The Chief Executive should be fair-minded and balanced. The incumbent should use laid down principles in arriving at decisions and should pay attention to staff welfare. Done this way, areas of friction between Management and staff would be reduced to a minimum.
As for finances, no institution can hope to receive all it would need to run the affairs of the institution from its proprietors. So the authorities of the institution in collaboration with Council must come up with innovative and legal ways of raising money for the running of the institution: internally generated revenue, tuition fees, endowments and harnessing the resources of the alumni.
All keen observers of the education scene in Rivers State would commend the current government of the state, led by Governor Rotimi Amaechi for the tenacity and vigour with which it has pursued issues in the education sector. There is no doubt that the state of dilapidated classrooms with no roofs and desks which made children to “study” under trees, at the time the Government came into power in 2007, have largely changed for the better. The model primary schools, state-of-the-art secondary schools with on-campus accommodation for teachers and students and the brand new campus being built for RSUST, are all legacies which have been achieved at great costs.
To ensure that these legacies do not die, effective measures must be put in place for the sustainability of the system and in this respect, the outcome of this Summit will be instructive. The school-based management which is vested with respectable members of the local community, the formation of a Quality Assurance Board, the legal requirement of the Universal Basic Education which makes education for all children of school age free and compulsory, and the state’s demand of evidence of tax payment to access free education up to the secondary level, are all steps in the right direction.
In all these, Higher Education has a major role to play not only as a development tool that should be made equally accessible to all13, but also as the leader of the orchestra of the educational sector. Therefore, not only should Higher Education be sufficiently nurtured so that it can be maximally exploited for the solution of local problems, it should also be given a task to work out modalities for the sustainability of this magnificent edifice that has been constructed. A 10-year strategic plan for the entire education sector in the state should be produced by operators of higher education in which the responsibility of all concerned with education – the pupils, governments, schools, private sector, parents, faith-based organisations and others, are clearly delineated, with penalties where applicable and feasible.
The adoption of sound education in national life is an essential platform for development. The wish is that the current investment in education in the state, would eventually lead to the emergence of a critical mass of skilled and well-informed men and women who would commence a knowledge-based economy in the state.
1. Briggs, Nimi.(2001) Scourges in our universities. What role for Alumni Associations? Third Annual Public Lecture of the Ahmadu Bello University Alumni Association. Rivers/Bayelsa chapter, Port Harcourt.
2. Briggs, Nimi (2006). Turning the Tide. Spectrum Books Ltd. Publisher.
3. Okilo, Melford (1980) An address by His Excellency The Governor of Rivers State Chief Melford Okilo on the occasion of the formal opening of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, 31st October, 1980.
4. Briggs, Nimi (2013) An Overview of University Education and Administration in Nigeria. Retreat organised for Council Members of Rivers State University of Science and Technology. January 2013
5.Briggs, Nimi(2012) Fulfilling the Mandate. 24th Convocation Lecture. Rivers State University of Science and Technology. May 3, 2012
6. Ajienka, Joseph(2013). The New Uniport. The Making of an Entrepreneurial University. Vol. 3: The Development.
7.Ajienka, Joseph (2012) IPS Uniport. The Making of an Institute. Uniport Publications. University of Port Harcourt.
8.The 1958 Willink Commission Report.
9. Fubara, Dagogo and Briggs, Nimi (2012) The Way Forward with Science and Technology in Rivers State. Document submitted to Rivers State Economic Advisory Council,12 April, 2009
10. Briggs, Nimi (2009) Women’s Health: A Nation’s Wealth. Valedictory Lecture Series No. 2. University of Port Harcourt. February 23, 2009.
11. Okebukola, Peter (2011) Entrepreneurship In University Education: Beyond Talk. 27th. Convocation Lecture. University of Port Harcourt. Thursday, June 16, 2011.
12..Bamiro, OA(2012).The Nigerian University System and the Challenge of Relevance. Convocation Lecture. University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, 12th January 2012.
13..The UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights. 1966.
ISSUES ON HIGHER EDUCATION IN RIVERS STATE by Professor Nimi Briggs, Emeritus Professor, University of Port Harcourt on Monday, March 25, 2013