THE Rochas Okorocha-led Imo State Government has given approval for the takeoff of four new state universities, just about three weeks to the end of his two-year-tenure.
They include the University of Science and Technology, Omuna Isiaku; University of Creative Technology, Umuna, and the University of Medical Sciences, Ogboko (Okorocha’s hometown), and the Imo State University of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.
These universities, added to the already existing Imo State University (IMSU), Owerri, bring the total number of universities owned by the Imo State Government to five, excluding the other tertiary institutions like the Imo State Polytechnic, the College of Education and Schools of health.
The final approval for the establishment of the new four universities was granted on Tuesday by the National Universities Commission (NUC).
Speaking at the event, the Executive Secretary of the Commission, Abubakar Rasheed, commended the Imo State Government and expressed his readiness to accord the state all the help it would require in developing appropriate curriculum and strategies for the effective and smooth running of the school.
“By the provision of the law establishing the NUC and by the power conferred on me (as the Executive Secretary) and the Imo state House of Assembly having passed the law for the establishment of the universities, I hereby recognise the universities,” Rasheed was quoted as saying.
Okorocha, in his remarks at the event, explained that the establishment of the universities became necessary due to the huge numbers of Imo State citizens seeking for admission into tertiary education institutions every year.
“The challenges of no admission for our children will be reduced with the establishment of the new universities. As a state, we have made adequate provision for sustaining the university through enough funding to run the universities,” he said, adding that the project started five years ago.
However, the development has drawn criticism and condemnation from several quarters. Many described it as an inappropriate move for a government that has barely a month more to spend in the office.
Premium Times, in a report on Wednesday, quoted a top official of the Imo State University (IMSU) as condemning the move to create more universities when the existing one was not being properly funded by the governor.
“The staff have not been paid their promotion arrears since 2004 till date. Their pension remittances to PFAs have not been paid for the past 36 months. Gratuity also has not been paid to our retired staff,” the anonymous was quoted as saying.
“NUC is looking for money now. And you know, the governor is about handing over. By May 29, he ceases to be the governor of this state. So what he is doing now is to frustrate the incoming government.”
Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will be taking his oath of office as the new Imo State Governor on May 29. He defeated Okorocha’s son-in-law and preferred candidate, Uche Nwosu, of the Action Alliance (AA) in a fiercely contested poll earlier in February.
Unions sing discordant tunes
Meanwhile, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has condemned Okorocha’s this latest development, describing it as “plans to erode the basis of meaningful university education in Imo State”.
“ASUU cannot take him (Okorocha) seriously,” said Biodun Ogunyemi, ASUU National Chairman. “We don’t believe that he meant what he was doing because universities are not primary schools.
“You have to ask him what has he done with the Imo State University, why is he doing this in his last month in the office. If he meant well for that state, he was there for eight years. Why should he wait till the last two weeks or so to establish three universities?
“It is never done in any part of the world that you turn the establishment of universities into a constituency project. We see this as over politicisation of education and somebody must tell Governor Okorocha that he’s not helping that state.
“Every reasonable Nigerian should condemn this misadventure by Governor Okorocha. It is a misadventure and a joke of the century.”
However, Chairman of the IMSU chapter of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Felix Chukwu, declared his support for Okorocha’s creation of additional universities in the state, provided they are adequately funded.
“We need development but will they be funded adequately? The governor is a wise man so I think I give him my support. But the issue is, will the government adequately fund the universities?” Chukwu asked rather rhetorically.
Imo’s budget for the entire education sector in 2018 was 13.5 billion, an approximation of $37 million. That is far less than the budget of a single state university in the United States.
For example, the 2018 budget for the State University of New York was over $10 billion.
Imo education budget for all schools, colleges and universities in 2018 is 0.3 per cent of the NY state university.