By Aare Afe Babalola, SAN
The quality of education in Nigeria is debased by several factors, including poor infrastructure, inadequate budgetary allocation, the inadequate or total absence of standard educational materials, among others.
However, one nuisance that continues to run rampant in the Nigerian education sector is the bane of fake universities, and over the past years, the National Universities Commission, NUC, has released the names of illegal tertiary institutions in Nigeria, together with taking some punitive steps towards ensuring their closure.
Nonetheless, the problem of fake universities in Nigeria may be likened to a multi-headed hydra, with no action by the government putting a finality to this embarrassing issue.
Many of the names published as far back as 2012 are still being repeated in 2021, with other names now added to this budding list of illegality. Therefore, in this edition, I will weigh in on this topic, and proffer practicable solutions to curbing the menace of fake universities.
It is increasingly becoming clear that Nigeria is well-renowned in one particular area of the fake goods or services market: fake or illegal schools. Have you heard of the University of Industry, Yaba? How about the UNESCO University, Rivers State or even the Blacksmith University, Anambra State which from its curious name must be a school for students aspiring to a career in the centuries’ old vocation of ironworks? Why have illegal schools become so commonplace in Nigeria? Education is an important factor in the development efforts of any society or government.
In Nigeria, the government is enjoined by the provisions of Section 18 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to ensure that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels.
Prior to the coming into effect of the current Constitution and particularly in the early years after independence, the regional governments, most notably the government of the Western Region, had indeed placed a high premium on providing adequate educational opportunities for the citizenry by the introduction of numerous policies such as free education.
Governments established primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions of learning which provided in most cases free or highly subsidised education. However, with the passage of time and the worsening economic situation of the country, it became apparent that government could not continue to fund education alone.
Decreased funding brought about dilapidated structures, the exodus of highly trained and qualified staff, labour unrest and student disturbances. Many public schools became schools only in name. In several instances, students were forced to take lectures in the open field or under the shade provided by trees as the regular classrooms became unusable.
It was against this background that private schools began to blossom. Private schools suddenly became the choice of many parents who had become disgruntled with the decay in the public schools and who all the same desired quality education for their children.
To a large extent, these schools have performed creditably well in assisting Government to meet the obligation imposed upon it by Section 18 of the Constitution.
The advent of illegal schools: However, the Nigerian educational system has for decades now been troubled by the high number of fake or illegal institutions of learning. It appears that some Nigerians desperate to exploit the yearning of Nigerians for education have identified the educational sector as a potential gold mine through the establishment of illegal schools.
Before now, Nigerians were accustomed only to incidents of fake clothing or food products. But at the moment, fake or illegal schools are now a common phenomenon. Recently, the NUC released a list of 58 illegal universities operating in the country.
Back in 2016, the number of fake universities was 36. From the recently published list on the website of the Commission, the universities were located in virtually all parts of the country.
Many indeed had very curious sounding names which reasonably should have alerted discerning minds to the fraud represented by the institutions.
On the list of illegal universities were UNESCO University, Rivers State, Pebbles University, Atlantic Intercontinental University Okija, Samuel Ahmadu University, Makurdi; Christian Charity University of Science and Tech., Volta University College, Royal University, Izhia; Houdegbe North American University; Atlanta University, Anyigba; Evangel University of America and Chudick Management Academic, Lagos; Bolta University College, Aba; United Nigeria University College, Okija; Blacksmith University, Anambra State; Pilgrims University and one University of Industry, Yaba, Lagos.
As shocking as the above revelation is, it is clear that the problem is not limited to tertiary institutions alone. In Lagos State, the government, years back, closed down three private schools operating in the state. One of the schools was reported to have been using a container used for the importation of goods as a classroom.
In Delta State, the government shut down over 600 illegal schools. In Ogun and Kaduna states, the numbers of illegal schools detected were 160 and 642 respectively. In Kaduna, the commissioner of education stated that several of the schools were operating from uncompleted buildings, garages, and shops. As staggering as these figures are, I believe that the number of illegal schools operating in various states are much higher.
Furthermore, it does appear that the presence of illegal schools is not new. Many Nigerians have been “awarded” the certificates of these illegal schools in their bid to acquire education. Several of these persons only discovered the truth when they presented their certificates in the process of either seeking employment or seeking promotions at their places of work.
Furthermore, it appears that the illegality in the operation of schools is fast transcending the fact of registration with the regulatory authorities alone. In other words, a school that is properly registered and, therefore, operating legally in the eye of the law, may yet be operating far below the minimum standards required by law which in my estimation will still qualify it as an illegal school.
A visit to many so-called private nursery and primary schools will reveal that many of the teachers are poorly trained and often with little or no educational qualification themselves. Such schools basically employ fresh secondary school graduates who are pursuing admission into tertiary institutions.
In few instances where some of these so-called teachers had some form of education, they are usually lacking in any form of training required to enable them to interact with very young pupils who by that fact alone deserve special attention. Yet these primary schools are the foundation of the country’s educational system.
Way out: I am of the view that the increasing number of such schools shows that much more still needs to be done by governments and the regulatory agencies. It is on record that after the USA, Nigeria has the largest number of illegal universities in the world. That the NUC could identify and publish a list of 58 unaccredited or illegal universities, as good as it is, is also an indictment on the law establishing the commission.
It is also a pointer to the fact that there could be more. The question then is how do we get out of this embarrassing problem? The answer is that government should urgently and immediately amend the NUC law and give the commission sufficient powers of immediate and outright closure of illegal universities with further powers of severe sanctions including forfeiture of the university’s properties to the government while the promoters, founders, councils and teachers of such illegality should face life imprisonment.
What the promoters of these illegal universities are doing is worse than armed robbery. Apart from ruining the future of education in Nigeria, they are equally jeopardising the interest of young Nigerians yearning for quality education for which they deserve no mercy.