No Nigerian University made it to the world’s top 1,000 Universities list released in July 2016. This sad statistic gets worse when you find out that South Africa had five Universities in the list and Egypt had four. In 2015, no Nigerian University made the list also.
There might be a wave of a graduate of private universities bashing graduates of public universities or vice versa but the truth is that private and public universities are babies in the same cradle.
With the outrageous fees paid at private universities, it is baffling to find out that none of them is in the top 100. And with decades of existence and powerful alumni it is embarrassing that none of the big universities funded by the government is on the list.
Our educational system is so inferior that is impossible for a Nigerian graduate to use his degree to look for a job overseas. Degrees from Nigerian universities are worth a plain sheet of paper abroad.
The Golden Era
During the colonial era, missionary schools were all over the country. These schools helped educate young Nigerian people and made them educationally sound. I remember my friend’s grandfather who used to correct our spoken English. His highest level education was Standard Six as it was known back then.
The level of education was so high during the colonial era as compared to now that our grandfathers and grandmothers can school most English teachers in the country.
In 1948, the University of Ibadan, the first Nigerian University, was founded. In 1960, the University of Nsukka was created. In 1962, three universities were founded- Obafemi Awolowo University, University of Lagos and Ahmadu Bello University.
Nigerians in their 60s are fond of telling their children and grandchildren about these times. This was the period when Nigerian undergraduates were lectured by foreigners who were the best in their fields. This was the period when jobs were waiting for young Nigerians before they even graduated.
On January 15, 1966, Nigeria had her first military coup. This would be the first dark turn for the promising and young Nigeria.
With the succession of coups, Nigeria’s educational system took a hit due to bad policies and neglect. By the early 70s, the Nigerian government took over missionary schools. This would turn out to be a grave mistake.
Missionary schools were responsible for the growth and education of some of the nation’s brightest leaders, but with the government taking them over, they slowly went into decay and ruin. After the civil war, the Federal Government established more universities.
In 1978, Olusegun Obasanjo, then ruler of Nigeria introduced some student fees which angered Nigerian students who wanted free education. Their anger led to the infamous Ali Must Go riot which lead to the death of Akintunde Ojo of the University of Lagos.
Obasanjo handed over power to a democratically elected government (the Shagari led government), which unfortunately legalized corruption in Nigerian government circles.
By 1983, with the crippling economy, the military boys took over. Nearly, two years later the Buhari government was toppled by the IBB administration in 1985. This was the start sharp the decline of Nigerian universities.
Due to the volatile political nature of the country in the early 80s, military leaders started using the university confraternities that had been existence since the early 50s to checkmate the vocal student union groups and their protests.
Years later the ideology would morph into something more deadly- cultism. Military rulers would give confraternity groups arms and weapons to fight student groups whenever they protested against the government. The confraternities would use these weapons to fight rival groups instead.
During the military rule in the 80s, the government reduced its allocation to education while giving weapons to confraternities. This two-pronged approach would ground the Nigerian educational system to its knees.
By the early 90s, Nigerian universities were a shadow of their once glorious self. Strikes, violence and cultism clashes disrupted the education calendar. Instead of 4 years at the university, a lot of students during this period spent 6-8 years because of strikes stemming from protests or cult clashes.
The deplorable state of Nigerian universities continued into the millennium with Internet fraud and prostitution taking over on many campuses.
With the advent of democracy, things have only gotten slightly better. There aren’t many cases of strikes like before and cultism in most government universities have been greatly reduced. Although the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) still battles the Federal Government for better pay and funding.
Private universities have not helped the situation, to be honest. Most private universities are owned by flashy pastors or politicians. The high tuition fees of these institutions cannot be afforded by millions of Nigerians. Politicians who are in power send their kids abroad, and when they come back they are given jobs in government.
Nigeria’s educational system did not crash overnight, it was a systematic destruction to silence the voice of the youth and those in search of truth and knowledge.
Some will say the reason why most young people in Nigeria today lack focus and direction are because of the poor education they were given.
The most worrisome thing about Nigeria’s educational system is that there is no clear blueprint yet to get it back to its glory days.