Since the Minister for Education, Prof. Ruqayyah Ahmed Rufa'i, suspended three academic programmes run by the University of Abuja (UNIABUJA), namely, Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Engineering, on April, 4, 2012, neither the minister nor the university has known peace.
The fourth academic programme, Agriculture, narrowly escaped being axed when it was discovered that it was erroneously included on the list of suspended programmes. Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufai, had, while announcing to journalists, government’s decision, said that they were run without the requisite accreditation by the National Universities Commission (NUC).
She said the affected programmes lacked accreditation by professional regulatory bodies such as the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN), Veterinary Council of Nigeria (VCN), and the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN).
According to her, “it is on record that the university had continued to offer these programmes against the NUC directive on their stoppage. Consequently, we are now in a situation where students who were admitted into these programmes spent so many years without a graduation date.”
She continued, “the ministry has initiated the process of strengthening the governance structure of the university to ensure compliance and effective programme development.”
She, however, maintained that the courses are not scrapped but suspended and that the affected students are not going to be short-changed, adding, “there was no point carrying placards when you are not sure of graduating in the next two or three years.” The announcement did not go down well with the students, their parents as well as members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of the university.
Most worrisome is the fact that over 500 students, some of whom have spent close to eight years for a five-year programme, had their fate hanging in the balance. Not knowing what to do, the students took to the streets to protest the abrupt end of their programmes. They wondered why government allowed such rot to take place for the number of years before finally hitting them with the big hammer.
Apart from disrupting academic activities which led to the indefinite closure of the university, the students took their anger to the Ministry of Education and the ever-busy Abuja-Lokoja Expressway, where they held several travellers hostage for several hours before they were successfully dispersed by soldiers on Internal Security Operations.
During their protest march to the ministry, the students accused the minister of being aware of the lingering problems of these faculties but doing little or nothing to bring succour their way. Rather, she decided to take the easy way out by shutting down the affected faculties.
The angry students, chanting war songs, urged the minister to tackle the problem of corruption which, they noted, has eaten deep into the university, rather than suspend the four courses. They also called on government, to urgently provide the necessary facilities and equipment required for the accreditation of the affected courses.
The news, they argued, came to them as a big shock, especially given the fact that the suspended courses were created during the 2005/2006 academic session with students duly admitted into these faculties and and went ahead to blame the authorities for their inability to provide necessary facilities needed for accreditation.
One of the students’ leaders told the minister that “we the students, psychologically tortured and emotionally traumatized, received with uttermost shock the proclamation and the ill-advised solution of the Minister of Education to this long standing problem.”
They noted that if any of the government officials had their children studying any of the suspended courses, government would not have turned a blind eye to the issue and waited for them to complete their courses before taking such drastic action.
But since they are children of poor parents, they believe they were being treated as guinea pigs. The protest led, as expected, to the indefinite closure of the university which did not go down well with the university chapter of ASUU, who called on the Governing Council to remove the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Sunday Adelabu. Several other protests were held by the students which may have prompted the minister to nullify the earlier decision and to give Prof. Adelabu six months to get everything ready for the accreditation of the four departments.
As a first measure, the minister said the Governing Council had been directed to look into the issue of the Vice Chancellor’s negligence and to make immediate recommendation to the ministry within one week or face dissolution.
Apart from that, she also said that students of the university who wish to transfer their studies to other universities with full accreditation were free to do so. UNIABUJA, ASUU said, they saw the crisis coming.
They specifically accused the Vice Chancellor of total neglect because, according to them, two weeks before the three faculties were suspended, a team sent to assess the needs of public universities in line with the FG/ASUU 2009 agreement set the tone for events that followed when its leader and Executive Secretary, Tertiary Education Trust Fund, Dr. Mahmood Yakubu, had expressed shock at the lack of basic teaching and learning facilities, especially in the Sciences Faculty during their visit.
Of particular concern to the committee was the fate of the students studying in the affected faculties. The committee had discovered during their fact-finding visit to the university that about 100 students of Veterinary Medicine were being taught by 45 lecturers who have been doing so without a functional laboratory for the practical aspect of the courses, while the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine also does not have a Veterinary Clinic much less a hospital for clinical students.
Yakubu, in his report, stated, inter lia, that “part of the problem over a long period of time is complete absence of planning.
Programmes were established without accreditation by anybody, they have students that cannot graduate as you have seen here and probably elsewhere. “We have looked at infrastructure here and the learning resources, there is something that we need to do and government is committed, that is why government is saying there will not be additional money committed unless and until we know precisely what we are funding.’’
As if that was not enough, the committee was informed that the Veterinary Council of Nigeria, which is the regulatory body charged with accrediting such programme, insisted that a laboratory was an irreducible pre-requisite for the programme.
This situation, according to the Dean of the Faculty, Prof. Tunde Ajagunna, was responsible for the non-graduation of students. Some of the students have been forced to spend eight years for a programme which ordinarily should run for five years.
He lamented that there were currently three batches of students in the faculty waiting to graduate, while the story was more pathetic at the Faculty of Engineering where 10 students were allowed to graduate without the approval of the NUC and COREN. As a result of lack of accreditation, the faculty has, in the past two years, stopped admitting students. It has 400 students and 35 lecturers.
National President of ASUU, Prof. Ukachukwu Awuzie, who was also part of the team that expressed their dismay over the issue, said: “The University of Abuja, by my own belief, is supposed to be the epitome, the best in this country because of its strategic location.
"Unfortunately, it is not attaining that level because of poor planning and again, because of underfunding that we have always emphasised. We have seen the agony of our children who have stayed here for several years and cannot graduate.
"If all the facilities were there, there is no way they won't graduate and even the environment under which they were taught, you can be sure that it cannot produce world-class engineers, or world-class veterinary doctors or world-class medical doctors and these are some of the professions you cannot toy with.
"In summary, it's not our expectation but we are not surprised. This is the fate of most of our universities. Some of you have not gone round to see that we are now using plastics as seats in some of our universities."
The University of Abuja, which clocked 25 years on January 1 this year, rather than celebrate its silver jubilee, is still searching for peace.
The university was established to provide a conducive atmosphere for teaching, learning and research for Nigeria’s ever growing population of energetic youths seeking for knowledge to contribute their quota to national development.
The university can be said to be one of the most peaceful tertiary institutions in the country until government's decision to suspend three of its programmes. Since then, the university and the ministry have not known peace as the students have vowed to disrupt academic activities until government reverses its decision.
The school has been forced to close down about four times since April, 4 when government decided to murder sleep. And as for the fate of the affected students, especially from engineering department, succour seemed to have come their way, when, on Tuesday, March, 12, the chairman of the team to the university, Prof. Chiedu Mafiana, announced that 334 students have been distributed to six other universities to complete their programmes.
He listed to include the University of Ilorin, Federal University of Technology Akure, Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Yola; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Bauchi, Federal University of Technology, Minna and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
The chairman explained that this measure became necessary after a visit to the university by the task team that revealed that the university might not be able to graduate the students because the structure for running the course had still not been put in place and charged the students to abide by the rules and regulations governing their new universities.
On the faculties for Medicine, Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture that were closed down alongside Engineering, Mafiana said their cases had been resolved, and that the Faculty of Agriculture had put in place necessary requirements for the smooth running of the course while the Veterinary Medicine had been visited and would start clinicals.