Varsities Talk: Be careful, private universities can fold up – Dele Sobowale

No Comments » February 5th, 2014 posted by // Categories: Higher Education in Nigeria




Varsities Talk: Be careful, private universities can fold up

on    /   in Education

Dele Sobowale

“I can’t validate anything like that because I just came to close down the school. I’m here to close the campus down; we are closing the school in 30 days. Academic programmes have since stopped”. Pete Sith, President Saint Paul’s College, Virginia, U.S.A

According to Sahara Reporters, the College (University) where Ms Stella Oduah claimed to have attended for her Master’s Degree in Business Administration, had not only stated that: “we do not have any graduate programmes at all”, exposing the fraudulent claim, but it has disclosed that the school was closing down due to “financial reasons”.

The College was founded in 1888 – one of several universities established by various Christian denominations for the education of kids born into those faiths. The most widespread were Catholic colleges. As populations grew and the people became more wealthy, on the aggregate, it was assumed that college enrollment would also increase for ever. In fact, the baby boom, which occurred after the Second World War, encouraged the expansion of many universities.

Nobody foresaw the break that would come as the generations which would follow started practicing birth control and having fewer babies. Today, some American universities are experiencing a scarcity of students and a few, like St Paul’s College are closing down. There is a lesson for Nigerians in this development. The next series of articles might as well be titled THE VULNERABILITY OF PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES, and it will still be correct; because, the sustainability of Nigerian private universities is more suspect than most people realize.

It is a matter of money and control. We start with fate-based universities and the sustainability problems which they pose. The Federal Ministry of Education through the National University Commission, NUC, had eagerly accredited private universities merely by assessing the individuals or groups promoting them at the moment and without asking if their successors will be able to carry on for – ten, twenty, fifty, hundred years from now.

St Paul’s has only served to remind us that universities, like all things established by people, actually die. Some sooner than expected.

Below is the list of the few Nigerian private universities which had been established by religious groups – Christians and Muslims in alphabetical order:

1.    Achievers
2.    Ajayi Crowther
3.    Al-Hikmah
4.    Babcock
5.    Benson Idahosa
6.    Bowen
7.    Covenant
8.    Crescent
9.    Joseph Ayo Babalola
10.    Madonna
11.    Novena
12.    Redeemers
13.    Wesley

There might be one or two missing from the list, but, that would not invalidate the points being made here.
About two weeks ago, writing on the Business pages of the VANGUARD, under the title THE INHERITORS: WHY NIGERIA’S ONE MAN BUSINESSES DON’T LAST, the point had been made that the spirit of the founder of a great business empire had not been demonstrated to be inheritable by his successors. No big Nigerian business had survived beyond the founder. The series is still on.

Unfortunately, when we examine the history of most religious bodies established by Nigerians, using Christian churches as examples, we can easily observe a unique trend which might pose dangers to the fate-based universities in Nigeria. Two churches will be sufficient to illustrate the point – the Cherubim and Seraphim Churches and the Christ Apostolic Church.

There are, at least, twenty separate groups laying claim to the name Cherubim and Seraphim; yet all started from the church established by Mose Orimolade. The  Christ Apostolic Church is once again going through the motions for “reconciliation”. There are now over twelve bodies to be reconciled. But, the Christ Apostolic Church started with Joseph Ayo Babalola.

Fortunately for the C&S churches, Mose Orimolade died before the arrival of private universities. The same can be said of the Celestial Church of Christ under Oshoffa and the Aladurra Church under Ositelu.  But, virtually all these churches broke up into splinter groups after the founder d

Fortunately for the C&S churches, Mose Ori-molade died before the arrival of private universities. The same can be said of the Celestial Church of Christ under Oshoffa and the Aladura Church under Ositelu. But virtually all these churches broke up into splinter groups after the founder died. At least, none went beyond the immediate successor before breaking into factions.

Winners is still led by the founder. So, it has not yet experienced the problems of succession which have characterized such huge financial empires. It has a university. The most troubling question is: what happens after the founder passes on? After all, everybody must die – whether man of God or not. And, anywhere there is enormous wealth to fight about, people will fight over its control.

Nothing in the Holy Books argues against that. Since division is inevitable, the next question is: what happens to the university jointly established by the “faithful” and will the successor to the original founder inherit the visions and the zeal which got it established in the first instance or will they go off in a different direction? Furthermore, in the case of a break-up of the church, who will inherit the university and will the support provided by the whole church still be available?

There are literally thousands of questions which one can ask with respect to the future of faith-based universities which have been established by one man. It is clear enough what happens when the battle for control of bank accounts starts and when management of key assets are being disputed. But a university is not a building you can lock up for three years while the issue of leadership and control is being sorted out in the courts of law. It must function everyday or die within months.

To a great extent, what is true of the Christian faith-based universities is also true of the Muslim universities. The best example, (there are few to chose from) so for convenience, let us start from Crescent University in Abeokuta, Ogun State. The Prime mover is Prince (Alhaji) Bola Ajibola, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, former Federal Minister for Justice and Attorney-General; former World Court Justice, etc, etc..

He belongs to one of the three original Muslim sects in Nigeria – Ahmaddiya, Ansar-U-Deen, and Zumratul (forgive me if the spellings are incorrect on any of those). But as with Christians, other Islamic sects have risen to challenge the mainline sects mentioned above. Irrespective of which of the sects establishes a university now, banking on the financial prowess of the founding fathers and mothers, the question of sustainability for 10,20, 50, or 100 years must be answered.

Otherwise, we are only establishing universities which might not outlast their founders. Then what? Neither the Federal Ministry of Education, nor the NUC, had, to the best of my knowledge, addressed this problem.




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