Cablegate: The Birth of Private Universities in Nigeria:

Published: Thu 12 Jun 2003 10:37 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. Nigerian universities, once among the best in
Africa, deteriorated badly under 30 years of military
rule. Nor was their plight alleviated during the last
four years of democratic governance. They remain
overcrowded, poorly funded and decrepit. Currently,
there are 42 universities: 25 federal, 12 state, and 7
private. The universities are supervised by the
National Universities Commission (NUC), a coordinating
body that sets academic standards and allocates
2. Plagued by insufficient funds, student and faculty
strikes, and leadership crises, public universities are
in constant turmoil. Students continually strike over
payment of small annual fees for housing and meals.
Faculty members protest late salary payments, poor
teaching conditions, and low budget allocations for
education (1.85 percent of the 2003 budget). A 5-month
strike called by the academic staff union in December
is finally ending as universities gradually re-open.
A New Challenge to Universities: Student Cults
3. Over the past decade, student cults have caused
a breakdown of law and order on university campuses and
are now endemic. A perverted form of terrorism,
disruption seems to be their only goal. Cultists
engage in murder, anarchy, arson, rape, and ritual
killings that often force universities to close.
4. The Obasanjo Administration has cracked down on
cults, and several students, lecturers and Vice-
Chancellors have been expelled or suspended for
participating in cult activities. Anti-cultism
billboards are erected on every campus and in nearby
towns. Students and community groups organize
theatrical productions and other public events to
campaign against cults. Still, the problem persists and
is one more challenge for public universities.
Private Universities: An Alternative System in the
5. Five years ago, the NUC approved eight private
universities. Supporters hailed their arrival as a
"renaissance" in higher education while critics saw
their existence as "cheapening and commercializing"
higher education in Nigeria. Nonetheless, the
perennial disruption of public universities has made
private universities a much sought-after alternative
for parents and students.
6. Four of the five private universities are church -
affiliated, and all are located in southern Nigeria.
Predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria has yet to open a
private university although Heritage University in
Kaduna, sponsored by former military dictator General
Ibrahim Babangida, was one of the first private
universities approved.
7. All but one of the universities offer moral
teachings along with academic courses and an emphasis
on community service. These universities are much
better equipped than their public counterparts and more
advanced in technology, administration and academic
development. They have plans for an annual meeting and
a joint sports and cultural festival. Though gradually
increasing, enrollments in these private universities
represent less than one percent of the total population
of university students.
8. Tuition at private universities ranges between
$3,000 to $5,000 -- an enormous sum of money in a
country where the average annual income is $300.
Still, many wealthy parents, when unable to send their
children abroad, are now turning to private
universities as the only institutions where a student
can complete a Bachelor's degree in four years.
8. The number of private universities may grow in the
future. On May 28, one day before the Obasanjo/Atiku
inauguration, the NUC awarded a license to ABTI
University in Adamawa, the home state of Vice President
Atiku. Three additional universities are already
approved, and applications for seven new universities
are pending. Thus, there are potentially ten new
private universities that could eventually join the
five currently operating universities.
9. Following are brief descriptions of the private
universities currently functioning. Note that the NUC
lists two other universities besides the following five
on its list: The Pan-African University, an extension
of the prominent Lagos Business School, yet to
officially open; and the Benson Idahosa University in
Benin City, about which PAS was unable to find
substantial information.
Private Universities: A Description of the Big Five:
10. Igbinedion University in Edo State was the first
private university to be established. It matriculated
the 3rd set of students (about 2000) in May 2003 and
plans to establish a Postgraduate School in the near
future. Igbinedion's College of Medicine is the first
in a private university to be accredited by the Medical
and Dental Council of Nigeria. In addition to its own
resources, the university receives financial support
from foreign individuals, organizations and
11. Bowen University in Osun State developed from the
Nigerian Baptist College(a teacher training institute).
Barely a year old, it has over 500 students and three
faculties. It is funded by the Nigerian Baptist
Convention and operates on a shoe - string budget. It
has yet to establish substantial ties with Baptists
elsewhere. Located in a rural Muslim community, Bowen
has been well received.
12. Babcock University in Ogun State is affiliated with
the Seventh Day Adventist church. Like Bowen, it has
three major faculties. But, it has more facilities,
courses and teaching faculty than Bowen. Babcock has
established links with several local and international
foundations and agencies that have contributed
generously to its development. Founded in 1914 by
American Missionary David Babcock, Babcock is modeled
on American universities and has Nigeria's only known
work-study program. Students run its highly developed
agricultural plantations, food services program and
maintain its attractive campus grounds.
10. Madonna University of Science and Technology
in Anambra State is affiliated with the Catholic
church. The Catholic faith is practiced by over 80% of
Nigerians in the East and dates back to the
establishment of Catholic churches, convents and
schools in the post-slave trade era. Madonna is a
product of its regional surroundings, reflecting not
only the predominant religion but also the preference
of indigenes for technical and industrial subjects.
11. Covenant University, just outside of Lagos, is
funded by Pentecostals. The campus is built on
"CanaanLand" and attached to its enormous chapel. Like
the chapel, Covenant was built entirely by volunteer
labor and took only a year to construct. Affiliated
with Oral Roberts University in the U.S., Covenant held
its first matriculation ceremony early this year and
has over a thousand students in three faculties and
twenty departments.
12. Whether or not they represent the future of
Nigerian higher education, a sort of Nigerian Ivy
League or just something entirely different, private
universities are on the rise and are attracting
international attention and support. Right now, a
degree from the University of Ibadan or Amadou Bello
University is more prestigious than a degree from any
of the private universities. However, if upheaval
continues in the public universities this may change.
Private universities are not perfect -- they have their
own administrative problems, and there is a report of
cultism at Babcock -- however, their emergence has been
a positive development in Nigerian higher education
that bears watching.
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