Does Nigeria need a new military university?

A new military university focused on nuclear technology is to be located in the town of Biu in Borno State, a uranium-rich area and the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency which has ravaged the country for the last eight years. While the new institution will be open to civilians, not everyone agrees that Nigeria needs another military university.

The new university – the second degree-awarding military institution in Nigeria after the Nigerian Defence Academy, established in 1964 – will also have an environmental school, biotechnology centre, an evaluation site for military equipment and will offer courses on cyber security and intelligence-gathering. Approval for the institution was granted by the Federal Executive Council on 11 April.

The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, said the new university would go beyond the role of a professional training institution for military personnel.

“The Nigerian army of today cannot afford to remain static and must therefore explore the fields of science, engineering and even the humanities,” Buratai said.

Buratai said that the location of the new university would be good for inter-ballistic displays and the production of laboratory equipment. It would also provide a semblance of a military presence to communities still recovering from the effects of Boko Haram insurgencies.

Chairman of the University Planning and Implementation Committee, Major General (Rtd) Mathias Efeovbokhan, said the university would accommodate 75% civilians and 25% military personnel (due to operational exigencies), adding there was a need to train the military and civilians together to promote a cordial relationship that would benefit the country and solve its numerous security challenges.

He said the university would offer services akin to Silicon Valley in the United States when fully operational and that strategies were already being developed to ensure the sustainability of the new institution. Among a “variety of revenue generating ventures” was a solar farm project with 300-400 trees consisting of neem, gum arabic and cotton trees that would offer some employment opportunities.

Professor Abubakar Rasheed, executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), said the new Nigerian Army University will serve the country as a centre for engineering, science and technology studies.

According to Rasheed, the university will be providing one of the most critically needed platforms in the country for citizens and military interactions and for brainstorming solutions to national challenges.

“We at the NUC are excited that the army university will not be exclusively for the military but instead will cater for the entire society. This will lead to the advancement of knowledge. When people of all strata participate in research generation in the university, there will be a harvest of knowledge that will positively impact the nation’s development,” he said.

Former minister of science and technology Professor Turner Isoun has faulted the siting of the university in Biu and its focus on nuclear technology to take advantage of the area’s uranium.

Isoun said the capacity to undertake quality research and not the availability of raw materials should be the most important factor behind choice of a site.

“If the reason for siting the university in the area is because of the availability of uranium then we have goofed in our planning. Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) have research reactors, and the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC) has existed for the last 15 years. If a university is going to focus on nuclear technology in the country, it is important that such an institute collaborate with ABU, OAU and NAEC to tap into the available human capacity already existing there,” he said.

The motive behind the establishment of the new university as well as its location are the subject of some debate, particularly as the head of the military himself hails from the Northeast province where the new university is to be situated.

Dr Ogbonnaya Pius, an educationist, said the decision to establish universities and where to locate them was often not motivated by the need to propagate knowledge, but was part of a “national mentality” afflicting those in power which saw them situate national projects “in their own backyards”.

“We have the NDA [Nigerian Defence Academy] that has existed over several decades awarding bachelor and postgraduate degrees and about 200 universities in the country. Yet we are establishing another university rather than improve on the already existing ones that are not competitive globally,” he said.

As society debates the desirability or otherwise of the military university, the Nigerian navy and air force have already submitted their applications to the NUC seeking permission to establish their own universities. The trend is likely to continue as all paramilitary outfits, such as the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, may seek to establish their own universities as is currently permissible for all religious and cultural organisations in the country.