President’s action well-advised, says Peter Okebukola



Professor of Science Education and the immediate past executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Peter Okebukola, in this interaction with ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, maintains that President Muhammadu Buhari was right to suspend the conversion of four federal colleges of education to universities. He insists that the country would be better for it at the end of the day

The Federal Government has put on hold plans to upgrade four colleges of education to universities of education, which was at the behest of the immediate past administration. Do you think the president was well advised to punctuate that metamorphosis?
I think we should interpret the presidential directive correctly. “Put on hold” does not mean, “cancel.” Put on hold means, suspend implementation until what should have been done in the first place is done and due process followed. The due process in this case has three major steps (there are several subsidiary steps). The first step is to provide a justification for upgrading the colleges of education to full-fledged degree-awarding institutions. This was done as far back as when I was executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) in 2005. The NUC under the leadership of Professor Julius Okojie further endorsed this justification. Before the due process runs its full course, the NUC has been unrelenting in ensuring that the colleges’ discharge their mandate to affiliated universities and one is happy to note that through the rigour of the quality assurance operations of NUC, the colleges have been producing quality graduates in education.

The second step in the process is the development of academic brief and physical master plan for the colleges towards their evolution as standalone universities.

The third and most important of the steps is the enactment of an enabling law as a university for each of the colleges, which will abrogate the laws setting up the institutions as colleges. With the laws in place, the colleges can now comfortably enjoy university statuses. If in the past, governmental action had breached this due process in some instances of setting up universities, such actions are unfortunate and ill-advised. It is on account of this narration that I adjudge the action by President Muhammadu Buhari to be well-advised, so we can do the right thing.

How will this action of his dampen the enthusiasm of the nation, which was preparing to take delivery of university-trained teachers in a couple of years?
Patience is the word. The nation will soon reap the bountiful harvest after we must have done things correctly. Now talking about harvest, who says that the teachers who are even now being produced by the colleges are not university-trained? Some of the best university-degree holding teachers are from Adeyemi College of Education, Alvan Ikoku College of Education and the other two in the pack. Do not forget that we have over 50 faculties of education in well-established universities training quality teachers, year-in, year-out. A number of these university-trained teachers and those from degree-awarding colleges of education are still without jobs. So, a couple of months of doing the right thing to get the four colleges on firm footing as universities will not severely hurt the nation.

Do you think the hurried appointment of principal officers of the erstwhile universities of education, was in any way, responsible for eclipsing the lofty idea, which the setting up the varsities was, and which expected gains were beginning to silhouette on the horizon?

I believe the hurried appointment of principal officers could have been one of the subsidiary reasons; the main reason in my view is the overall breach of due process in the whole arrangement. On the matter of appointment of principal officers, I believe it is an unhealthy precedent, which the Goodluck Jonathan government should have avoided. It would have been nice if government did not breach the laws it instituted on the appointment of vice chancellors, which provide for fair competition by candidates who would have applied on the basis of an advertisement and worked through a process of screening, selection and appointment by council. I am not sure why the Jonathan administration switched to the stampede mode in the twilight of its tenure with regard to these appointments, but perhaps there are political reasons, which sadly fail to stand the scrutiny of due process.

I am unable to justify the rush since the upgraded colleges were peaceably running their programmes, even degree courses to which their proposed new statusaccords them.

How will this “put on hold” directive, if not rescinded, affect the fortunes of teaching in the country?
I endorse the setting up of universities of education to strengthen the production of quality graduate teachers for the education sector. I do not endorse the setting up of such institutions using the “jankara” method, which is going about it through the back door, and in a hurried manner. The fortunes of teaching in Nigeria will be best served with properly set up universities of education. Tai Solarin University was properly set up and it is doing excellently well.

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