Monarch joins furore over new specialised college bill
In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, influential Yorubaland monarch Oba Adedotun Gbadebo, who holds the title of Alake of Egba, has argued against the tabling of a new bill by federal Education Minister Adamu Adamu which is directed at the closure of colleges of management sciences in all federal universities of agriculture by 2018. The move has sparked protest from both staff and students of the affected colleges and beyond.
Gbadebo’s letter in which he describes the bill as 'counter-productive' and the harbinger of 'negative consequence' for all federal universities of agriculture, has received extensive coverage in Nigeria’s media, and has also been debated on the country’s campuses.
In Nigeria kings or monarchs are often appointed for five-year terms as chancellors of public universities. They are used by university governing councils to lobby government and they also act frequently as mediators between the government and leaders of university-based unions.
In his letter, Gbadebo, who is also chancellor of Federal University Ndufu-Alike Ikwo in Ebony State, Eastern Nigeria, reminded the president that permission to mount such courses by agricultural universities was given in terms of Act No 48 of 1992 (amended) introduced by former president Goodluck Jonathan. He said that the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, or FUNAAB, which is located in his kingdom, has graduated about 1,000 students since the College of Management Sciences was established six years ago.
“As you are aware, FUNAAB established in 2011 the College of Management Sciences, or COLMAS, in response to the directive of former President Goodluck Jonathan to all specialised federal universities to diversify their academic programmes to enhance access to higher education in the country with a view to accommodating the teeming applicants. Sadly, the minister has gone against such a popular and progressive policy," he wrote.
The king also argued that the implication of the new bill would be that local students would have limited choice of courses.
“It is important to emphasise that offering courses in management sciences by federal universities of agriculture has no negative effect on the effectiveness and ability of the institutions to train students in its core mandate. There are examples of specialised universities of agriculture and technology in the United States, Europe, China and South Africa, diversifying to run courses outside their core mandates in line with the current realities … COLMAS of FUNAAB has been operating for the past six years and has graduated two sets of students numbering about one thousand,” he wrote.
“For this technological age and in order to transform agriculture into a world class process, a robust and all-inclusive learning and training programme should be adopted and encouraged. This is why we are appealing to the National Assembly, through the senate president to persuade the education minister not to take many steps backwards by passing the new bill into law,” he said.
Many other commentators on the issue have criticised the education minister for being ill-informed about the modern trend towards a multidisciplinary approach to agriculture.
Professor Sunny Ighalo of the Department of Crop Science at the Faculty of Agriculture, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State in South Nigeria, said: “It is wrong to believe that a university of agriculture cannot mount courses in management. There is a management index in agriculture. This management index has embedded sub-themes in accounting, econometrics, marketing and administration. I think our leaders should be knowledgeable enough to hold the position they are holding; otherwise we would be moving in an endless circle."
Business sector support
The move also has some support from the business sector.
“If a programme is efficient and candidates register for it every academic session in all the federal universities of agriculture, what is the rationale for scrapping it?" asked Rebecca Akindele, managing director of Lagos-based Hope Insurance Company.
"I have recruited to my company graduates who did very well in their courses in management sciences from universities of agriculture in the country, I am proud of them … This is a complex issue. The minister should have a rethink by consulting widely again amongst stakeholders,” she said.
What seems clear is that the issue is far from being resolved.
Dr Folasade Ajasin, director of academic planning in the College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Ibadan, admitted that the issue is still being discussed among authorities of federal universities of agriculture and their affiliated colleges.
In an interview with University World News, she said the education minister would need to tread softly as the issue was complicated.
Internally generated revenue
“There are those institutions who float management science courses with a view to improving upon their internally generated revenue because of the shortfall in government subvention. Since higher education is capital intensive, it is imperative that government should increase the subvention of all tertiary institutions so that the focus is not on internally generated revenue,” she said.
“The second category of institutions mounting management courses have perfectly integrated management sciences into their core mandate. These institutions should be allowed to run their management courses. In order to separate the wheat from the chaff, the minister should get experts to conduct forensic tests on all agriculture-based universities and their affiliates. The minister should be careful not to throw away, in some cases, the baby with the bathwater.”
Professor Oyewale Tomori, an international virologist and former vice-chancellor of Redeemer’s University in Shagamu, Ogun State, expressed a different view.
In an interview with University World News, he said: “For the first time, I am in agreement with the decision of the minister of education that our universities of agriculture should stop running courses in business studies. There are many and much better universities equipped to offer training in business studies than the charlatan universities of agriculture.”
Tomori described the management courses in the universities as a “distraction” and an “inordinate commercialisation of knowledge”.
“The craze for internal generated revenue is the main reason why many universities now offer courses in business management/studies. It is the ‘crude oil’ for many universities and many are not capable of refining it,” he said.
Focus on feeding the country
He said agricultural universities should focus on achieving their purpose, which is to positively turn around agriculture in Nigeria, so the country can feed itself and export its agricultural products.
“We hear of alternating seasons of food scarcity and food wastage as a result of lack of proper storage and preservation. We have about 28 federal universities of agriculture running degree courses in one form or the other; yet we still cannot preserve an ordinary tomato for two days. We hear of worms destroying our crops and other such disasters. And our universities of agriculture are running courses in business administration. What a joke!”
However, despite Tomori’s objections, the heads of these specialised universities are backing efforts by the monarch and are lobbying members of the National Assembly to reject the reforms.