The Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigeria has commended the Federal Government over interventions in 44 Federal tertiary institutions as well as the on-going infrastructure development across the country just as the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola SAN charged the nation’s universities on the need to produce men and women of character worthy to take over the leadership of the country.
Fashola, who spoke when the Committee of Vice Chancellors/Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVC/AVCNU), paid him a courtesy visit, also stressed the importance of universities as a place where the characters of young people were finally shaped in readiness for leadership.
Stressing the importance of universities as platforms for character molding, among other functions, the Minister, who described investment in universities as “casting a stone of faith into the future”, said it was an investment that always yielded very enormous profit for any nation.
“It is a place where young boys and girls transit to becoming young men and women and that is where their characters are finally shaped in readiness to take over the leadership of the country”, he said adding that as overseers of the institutions, the Vice Chancellors have daunting tasks to accomplish.
Assuring the University dons of government support to ensure success, Fashola declared, “Somebody like me, I am a product of an investment of those who set up the University of Benin. Also there are many Nigerians who, like me, are products of that act of faith that happened in the 1970s”.
“I sit here today, and there are Senators, Senate Presidents and so many other professionals who were also products of that investment. And what is true of the University of Benin is also true of all other universities across the country”, he said.
The Minister, who also charged the Universities on the collation and use of data, said the world was now chasing data and there was, therefore, need for the universities to put in useful form the data they have accumulated over the years to assist governments and businesses in the country in national development.
“The world is chasing data, collating data. This data is sitting in our universities. Almost every lecturer I know asks students to write one research paper or the other. The data is there, but can we put it in a useful form to inform our governments, to inform our businesses, to inform our society?” he said.
Recalling his years as Visitor to the Lagos State University (LASU), Fashola, who noted that they had meetings which they christened “The Town and Gown”, with the Town representing Government and the Gown representing Universities, said his administration gained a lot in terms of research outcomes and development.
“It was a time when we had lectures, symposia, not just in LASU but in other universities”, he said adding that the University of Lagos Consult was one of the state government registered consultants which his administration used to do a lot of research and a lot of consultancy work.
The Minister, however, expressed regrets that not enough universities were investing in such consultancy today pointing out that there are many areas in which Nigerian universities could do research and consultancy such as on general elections and other political issues arising from elections across the country.
Noting that every government would be interested in such research results, the Minister asked, “How many universities have hosted Presidential Debates? You have the auditorium, you have the students, If you put it together you will have sponsors”, adding that governments and the universities could work together to ensure that the right persons were elected into office.
On collaboration between his Ministry and the Universities in infrastructure development in tertiary institutions, Fashola, who expressed readiness to work with the institutions to strengthen their infrastructure, however, urged them to come up with a structured plan adding that any such plan that would ensure security of investment would attract investors.
Assuring the university dons of his readiness to collaborate with them in infrastructure development in the tertiary institutions, Fashola asked them to develop a plan for such investment adding, “When there is a plan, money will come”.
“Let us start from hostels. Students are paying something or the other, but is there a structured plan to ensure that there is land, to ensure that the land is safe, to do a survey about students’ willingness to pay. What is the average size of rooms available? What is the market cost, transport cost that is safe? Those are the things that any investor would want to know”, he said adding that an investor would also be interested in knowing that the academic year would not be disrupted by strikes of either the academic or non-academic staff.
Expressing confidence that investments in infrastructure would happen in universities in the country, Fashola declared, “I offer myself willing and ready to work with you along this line anytime”, adding that the Ministry was currently in 44 tertiary institutions owned by the Federal Government, both Universities, Colleges of Education and Polytechnics building their internal roads.
“Some of those roads have not been touched for 20 to 30 year”, the Minister noted expressing dismay, however, that when people complain about the budget for education, they do not put into account such investment as road rehabilitations and other interventions from other sectors outside Education.
He told his guests, “We want the universities to come out and say, no this is also investment in education. So it is not only what you see in the Ministry of Education that is the sum total of the investment in Education”, adding that there is a lot that the universities could do.
Fashola also decried the proliferation and abuse of Honorary Degrees by universities in the country recalling that in his eight-year tenure as Governor of Lagos State and Visitor at LASU one of the things his administration did was to put on hold the award of any Honorary Degree for about two to three years.
“We said, look we are going to be different and for two or three years we did not award any Honorary Degree because truly the idea of Honorary Degree is an important building block of society and once we throw those blocks away or make them unviable then the purpose for it is lost”, the Minister said.
He recalled. “In my eight years in office I had 17 offers and I didn’t take one. I told them to wait until when I was out of office and if they still find me worthy they should then come. And when I was out of office only one came back”, adding, “The point I want to make is that we have to encourage our children to work hard. What have these honorees of the universities done to deserve the honour? What of those who have become undeserving, will you go back and tell them to return the degrees, that they don’t deserve it anymore?”
Noting that there was need to have an acceptable version of the History of Nigeria, Fashola charged the Committee to assemble the many professors of History in the universities and assign the task to them to produce such a version that would be a true History of Nigeria, acceptable by all Nigerians, including the Historians themselves.
“There is one thing you can do for Nigeria. Bring all these people together to start work on one acceptable version of Nigeria’s history. It is that version that can be thought in primary and secondary schools. Because that is what is happening in other countries. They fought wars too but they have written one final version of their history. When you have written that final version it will be thought in our primary and secondary schools”, the Minister said.
Earlier, in his opening remarks, the Chairman of the Committee, Professor Yakubu Aboki Ochefu, said the Committee had come to express gratitude to the Minister for the interventions in 44 tertiary institutions across the country adding that it was the first time government was undertaking rehabilitation of roads in the institutions.
Professor Ochefu, who also informed the Minister that the Committee was preparing a Compendium of Achievements as part of programmes being lined up to celebrate its 60th anniversary in October this year said the Committee had prepared a questionnaire for the Minister to fill that would give them an insight into his infrastructure development at the Lagos State University while he was Governor of Lagos State, which would form part of the Compendium.
Giving a brief background of the Committee, the Chairman said it was established in 1962 with eight universities, including the Universities of Lagos and Ibadan as members adding that the membership now stood at 174 consisting of 46 Federal, 48 State and 79 private universities. He noted that the Committee was working to improve the number of women Vice Chancellors in the country.
Professor Ochefu, who later handed a copy of the questionnaire to the Minister explained further, “We will devote a section of the Compendium to share with you how you turned the fortunes of the Lagos State University (LASU) during your tenure as Governor of Lagos State and Visitor to the University. Also present at the occasion were the Minister of State, Engr. Abubakar Aliyu, Acting Permanent Secretary, Engr. Yemi Oguntominiyi, Directors, Special Advisers and other top Ministry functionaries while on the Committee’s side were three other executives including the Secretary General of the Committee