The plan by the Delta State government to establish three new universities has sparked outrage among the ethnic nationalities in the state. There are also questions about how the institutions would be funded. OKUNGBOWA AIWERIE reports on the issues surrounding the proposal.
Controversy has continued to trail recent moves by the Delta State government to upgrade three tertiary institutions in the state to universities.
The institutions to be elevated are the College of Education, Agbor, in Ika South Local Government Area, Delta State Polytechnic, Ozoro, in Isoko North Local Government Area; and a satellite campus of Delta State University, Anwai, Oshimili South Local Government Area.
With the Delta State University (DELSU) in Abraka, Ethiope East Local Government Area, there would be four universities, three polytechnics (Delta State Polytechnic Ogwashi-Uku; Delta State Polytechnic Otefe and Delta State Polytechnic Burutu), and two colleges of education (College of Education Warri and Delta State College of Education Mosogar) run by the state government when the institutions are upgraded.
DELSU runs a multi- campus system and has two other campuses at Oleh and Anwai.
The major objection to the proposed upgrade, apart from the contentious issue of funding, is the tribal/ ethnic undertones being insinuated from sections of the Delta South Senatorial District comprising the Ijaws, Isoko and Itsekiri ethnic groups.
Although the state government has said its decision is devoid of ethnic undertones, many prominent Deltans, including the Itsekiris and Ijaws have described the move as a deliberate plan by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to keep the people educationally disadvantaged.
The Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) western zone accused the state government of a deliberate ploy to keep university education far from Ijaw people.
It noted that for equity, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa should include School of Marine Technology, Burutu in its tertiary institution upgrade in the state.
The IYC stated that any attempt by the government to ignore or play politics with their demand would be viewed as deliberate ploy to perpetually keep university education far from Delta Ijaw people.
Its zonal chairman, Frank Akiefa frowned at the “brazen and indecent haste” by Okowa and the State House of Assembly without input from the Deltans to look into areas that are educationally disadvantaged.
IYC said the upgrade of either School of Marine Technology Burutu or Sinebe College Bomadi in Ijaw speaking areas was the only way Okowa could show appreciation to Ijaw nation.
The group also urged the government to re-visit the abandoned Bomadi polytechnic project, saying education was key to curbing youth restiveness and militancy.
The statement also charged Delta State deputy Governor, Mr Kingsley Otuaro and the five Ijaw members of the State House of Assembly to wake up from their slumber and do the needful to ensure that a degree awarding institution is located in Ijaw land.
Another pressure group, Ijaw People’s Development Initiative (IPD) slammed the proposed upgrade describing the plan as “non-inclusive and devoid of equitable development”.
The group’s spokesman, Ezekiel Kagbala, said though the upgrade was commendable, the Ijaws and Itsekiris were grossly neglected.
Yet another group, Concerned Citizens for Izon-Ebr Development (CCFID), Oyinbi Onduku said the decision reeked of tribal sentiments.
“If Governor Okowa can upgrade two institutions to university standard from one senatorial district in Delta North,what stops him from doing the same in Delta South? Okowa should know that what is good for A is also good for B.”
The allegations that the upgrade is politically motivated may not be far-fetched. Historically successive elected governors in the state have often been perceived as concentrating development in the senatorial district or local government areas from where they hail.
Under James Ibori, Oghara, Ethiope West, a rural community, was literally transformed into a modern, bustling town – thanks to massive infrastructural development projects and the establishment of the Delta State Polytechnic Otefe, Mosogar, and Delta University Teaching Hospital, Oghara.
His plans, in the twilight of his tenure, to move the NYSC permanent camp in Issele-Uku, Aniocha North Local Government Area to Oghara failed after the decision was rebuffed by politicians from Delta North.
Although Emmanuel Uduaghan built the Asaba Airport as governor, he was often accused of skewing development towards Warri, Delta South to the detriment of Asaba, the state capital. But under Okowa ,a lot of abandoned projects in Delta North like the Stephen Keshi Stadium, the intractable flooding problem in Asaba metropolis were completed. A multi-million naira secretariat is also nearing completion.
Aside this, Okowa’s home local government Ika North East Local Government Area hosts both the multi-million National Teachers Training Institute which is nearing completion, and the Federal Road Safety Training Institute lend fillip to the accusation of favouritism in citing projects.
So when on January 26 an Executive Bill for the Establishment of three new universities in Delta was forwarded to the state legislature, Okowa showed he meant business.
With the first reading passed on January 27 and the second reading fixed for this month, the bill may soon become law.
Apart from the tribalism factor, critics are asking how the institutions would be funded. Given its history of chronic underfunding of tertiary institutions, they are asking if the government is placing a premium on quantity over quality.
Delta Higher Education Commissioner, Prof Patrick Mouboghare, said at a press briefing in Asaba that the state was not starting these universities from the scratch, which makes them less expensive than they would have been if they were brand new.
“We are not starting from the scratch; we are starting from existing institutions, so it is much cheaper for us,” he said.
Mouboghare justified government’s plan to upgrade the three institutions despite the underfunding of the existing tertiary institutions. He said that funding of universities should not be left to government alone.
He said that self-sustainability of higher institutions was an inevitable reality. He said that it was one of the major outcomes of the Delta Education Summit organised by the Okowa administration in 2016.
He said the state government pays salaries of workers in tertiary institutions and allows the schools manage their internally generated revenue.
“By way of deliberate policy, government pays the salaries of workers in the institutions and the little they generate from sundry charges is used for running and some infrastructural development. If you go to our schools, you will see three types of structures. Those built by the institution, those built by government and by interventionist agencies like TETFUND. You cannot leave infrastructural development to government alone,” he said.
The Commissioner wondered why despite spending N475 million on subvention for DELSU, the institution had the same complaints of underfunding as the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma which has a student population of 14,000 and gets N250 million monthly from the Edo State government.
He however, said despite the imperatives of self-sustainability, the new institutions will be funded by the state government.
Explaining further, Mouboghare said the judicious utilisation of public funds was one of the reasons the government decided to upgrade the institutions.
He said the government seeks to eliminate wasteful expenditure and expand admission spaces for Deltans seeking university education.
He said the dwindling enrollment figures of the three Colleges of Education in the state and the urgent need to create career development path for graduates from the colleges made the upgrade imperative.
He said: “We have three Colleges of Education at Warri, Mosogar and Agbor for the NCE programme. At the time they were established, each could boast of student population of 5000. As we speak the total population for all the Colleges of Education is 2,888 and the total wage bill is N457 million for a combined staff strength of 1,893. To us that is wasteful expenditure. Our children are no longer interested in the NCE programme. But since we will not shut down any the schools, we decided to upgrade one to a university status to enable our children find progression in their chosen profession,” he said.
The Commissioner added that many brilliant Deltans were on the waiting list for university admission across the country. He said the long wait may lead to indolence and crime on the part of youths.
He said: “For the 2019/2020 admission, 25,896 candidates chose Delta State University, Abraka, as first choice. Out of this number, 22,358 qualified, applied for and wrote the post-UTME; only 4,854 could find space after the admissions, leaving the remaining 21,042 candidates stranded and almost hopeless.
“We need to provide for these qualified and ambitious children and this we are doing through the establishment of new universities by upgrading three existing tertiary institutions.”
Mouboghare also said the government decided to upgrade College of Education, Agbor because of its landmass and top notch infrastructure on ground.
The Commissioner assured that the new schools would open for business from the 2021/2022 academic session, while phasing out of the existing programmes would commence immediately.
However, with an allocation of N21 billion for Higher Education in the 2020/2021 budget which is a miserly 5.4 per cent of the entire budget of N385 billion, the funding of the four new universities is likely to be a Herculean task for the Delta State government