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Whither the university system in Nigeria?



By Prof MK Othman

The University system consists of four statutory organs, which makes it a kind of government within a government. It has a legal power to make laws (Statute) for direct Gazette without passing through the National Assembly provided such laws are not in conflicts with constitutional provisions or extant Laws. The organs of the university are a council, senate, congregation, and convocation; each having distinct power and functions designed to complement each other and optimize teamwork. This is why the university system is managed using a committee system.

Accountant General

The University council is the highest decision and policymaking body with a quasi-legislative function, including the power to make law (statutes). Council is the employer of all categories of university employees. The power of the Council includes governing, manage, regulate the finances, accounts, investment, property, business, and all affairs whatsoever of the university.

As stated in the 2007 Universities Act, 2003 and 2007 “The Governing Council of the university shall be free in the discharge of its functions and exercise of its responsibilities for the good management, growth, and development of the university”. Council has two classifications of membership; ex-officio and non-ex-officio members; and external and internal members with the Chairman being an external member. Ex-officio members are council members by their offices. These are the Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellors, and one person from the Federal Ministry of Education. Internal members are four members from the senate and two members from the congregation. External members of the Council consist of the Pro-Chancellor/Council Chairman, convocation representative and the four other members representing a variety of interests appointed by the National Council of Ministers. Because of its paramount importance, council membership is strictly guided by university law “ person to be appointed to the council shall be of proven integrity, knowledgeable and familiar with affairs and tradition of the university”. Although no academic qualification is ascribed to the credentials of nominees to the council membership, however, to be knowledgeable and familiar with the affairs and tradition of the University, the nominee must at least have gone through the University system. This means a member of the Governing Council should be at least a graduate from any recognized University. With this criterion, the university council has no place riprap and persons of questionable character. Legally, the university council cannot be dissolved except it is found incompetent and corrupt.

Senate is the second organ of the university system, the highest decision and policymaking body of the university on academic matters covering all educational programs, admission, award of degrees, diplomas, and certificates to deserving undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as individuals who merit fellows or honorary degrees or diplomas. It supervises and regulates the implementation of all the academic programs of the university, which cover teaching and research. Senate exercises other functions following the Laws and Statutes of the university. Membership of the Senate comprises all Heads of Academic Departments, Deans, Directors, Principal officers of the University, all professors, congregation representatives and co-opted members as stipulated in the university laws and statutes. Senate is normally a large gathering of eggheads who brilliantly and articulately discuss issues from different points of view that sometimes become stormy and arriving at decision only by voting. Generally, strong reason carries the day devoid of emotion.

The last two university’ organs are congregation and convocation. The congregation is the body through which representation of university staff other than members of the senate is secured on the council and senate. The primary function of the congregation is to provide a forum for the discussion of matters affecting the academic wellbeing of the University and to make recommendations, from time to time, to the Council or the Senate on such matters as it thinks fit. Membership of congregation consists of the officers of the University, all members of the academic staff, and all members of the administrative staff holding degrees conferred by recognized universities or other qualifications recognized by the Senate as equivalent to degrees for this Statute. Convocation is an organ of the university, which provides a representation of one member on the council. Membership includes graduates of the university, chancellor, pro-chancellor/chairman of the council, and all the academic staff. Chancellor is the chairman of the convocation. Other important personalities to university are chancellor and visitor whose roles and functions are stated in the university law.

The legal power vested on the council makes the university to be relatively autonomous devoid of bureaucracy associated with normal government establishments like ministries and agencies. So, government officers and other personalities questioning the autonomous power of the university are either ignorant of the law or are just being mischievous.

The elaborate, vibrant and composite structure of the university was designed to achieve three cardinal objectives of teaching, research, and community service.

With the multifactorial structure of the university, it is absolutely necessary to acquire an autonomous power against external interference to effectively perform the three functions of manpower development, research for development, and community service. The university law has graciously granted the needed autonomy for the university in Nigeria to be in line with international standards. The university system constitutes the critical ingredients for national development. The nation’s economic and developmental vibrancy depends on the intellectual capacity of its citizens particularly the leadership.

This intellectual capacity of a nation is acquired as a product of a university system. When the system is rotten, it will produce engineers who do not know engineering, lawyers who do not know the law, accountants who do not know accounting, and other professionals who know next to nothing of the profession they claim to profess. Somehow, the nation is cursed to employ these unbaked professionals to manage its affairs. How has the university system in Nigeria been faring? What kind of graduates the system is producing?

(To be concluded next week)

Othman, a university Don, is a renowned columnist.

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