The relationship between universities and their respective state/federal governments have been known to be largely individualistic and independent from each other despite the former being the beneficiary with the later – sponsor. In the status quo ante, universities have enjoyed unfettered autonomous operations devoid of any form of government or political interference from the government of the day.

Such well established independence from politics ensured deepened academic research, better university management and fair admissions procedures especially as JAMB, through its CAPS system, have made admissions simplified and dependable in recent times.

University autonomy as defined by Akinwumi and Olaniyan (2001) who cited Udoji Commission Report (1974) is the “freedom to teach and examine students undisturbed, freedom on what to teach and how to teach it, freedom of research and freedom to select students”. This corroborates the European University Association’s (n.d.) definition of academic autonomy as a university’s ability to decide on various academic issues, such as student admissions, academic content, quality assurance, the introduction of degree programmes and the language of instruction. The UNESCO’s Academic freedom and university autonomy working document (1992) stipulates that these concepts guarantee the preservation of that climate required for the search for truth and new knowledge.

Recently, there seemed to be a wave of governments clamping down on the autonomous operations of the universities. In Bayelsa State, the Niger Delta University under the recent past administration of Gov. Seriake Dickson, was stripped naked of any vestige of autonomy. The then Bayelsa State government was able to steal the much protected NDU autonomy by previous administrations by installing a Vice Chancellor of his choice. Together with close ties with members of Council, workers were sacked without due process without knowing who issued the sack.

As if to add insult upon injury, the state government, under the guise of civil service reform/purge, reduced the subvention to the university from N494 million to N350 million – a move that affected the university severely as management could hardly meet up with university’s obligations (Michael, 2019).

The raid on the Niger Delta University’s autonomy did not end there. School fees were also sharply increased to meet up with the shortage in subvention. To tackle critiques, the government, in collaboration with the school mangement made the increment a technical one. Hence, students who were supposed to pay lesser fees in subsequent years were made to pay same fees as they move higher. As it is now, 200 level students now pay same fees as final year students. The lies that followed the school fees increment on both the part of government and the school management will make anyone fight for university autonomy at all cost.

Series of challenges sprung from all of these. Students protested increase in fees and the management ended up banning students unions and all its activities on campus. Communities took over as they also protested against sack of workers – a move that led to bloodshed and turned the Amassoma community to a near war-torned community. School was closed for months until stakeholders meddle in the dispute.

The above challenges were issues that were avoided for years as a result of stiff and vehement opposition to State’s intrusion into academic affairs.

The threats which universities’ truncated autonomy posed for the university community is not restricted to Bayelsa and NDU alone. Several governments opposed the concept of university autonomy. The immediate past governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan held that “in Nigeria of today, we might not be able to have university autonomy. I say this because in business, there is nothing such as ownership without control (Michael, 2020). Uduaghan’s assertion corroborates Akinwumi and Olaniyan (2001) who held that “he who pays (sic) the piper dictates the tune”. Hence, by inference, governments of the day have to dictate the tune for Nigerian universities. This is politics deciding knowledge.

The influence of political involvement in academics can seen in the ongoing 2020 ASUU strike which began March, 2020. It is very apt to refer to the ongoing Federal government/ASUU rift as a very good point to emphasize that universities laid bare for political manipulations only destroys the universities in its entirety.

Akinnaso (2016) describe the consequences of the fall of university autonomy in Nigeria to include:

(1) the drastic reduction in the current budgetary allocation to education by federal and state governments;

(2) the approval of the appointment of new Vice-Chancellors for 13 federal universities, without the required recourse to their Governing Councils–a decision that was reversed, following its public denunciation;

(3) the premature dissolution of the Governing Councils of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and the University of Port Harcourt, following controversies over the appointment of their Vice-Chancellors; and

(4) the appointment of new executives for three governmental institutions, each with a crucial role in university affairs, namely, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board; the National Universities Commission; and the Tertiary Education Trust Fund.

The consequences of truncating university’s autonomy are grave. From poor academic outcome to weak teaching strength, the impact of political interference on academics can be overbearing and can tell on the longterm development of an academic institution.

As we look ahead to more formidable academic institutions, devoid of interfering political policies, we hope that Universities will be better placed to determine academic operations from within.

References

Akinnaso, N. (2016). Achieving university autonomy in Nigeria. Retrieved November 8, 2020 from

Achieving university autonomy in Nigeria

Akinwumi, F. S. & Olaniyan, D. A., (2001). Analysis of university autonomy in Nigeria. Retrieved November 8, 2020 from

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343307341_ANALYSIS_OF_UNIVERSITY_AUTONOMY_IN_NIGERIA

European University Association, (n.d.). Academic. Retrieved November 8, 2020 from

https://www.university-autonomy.eu/dimensions/academic/

Michael, O. J. (2019). Full report on the VC’s award ceremony. Retrieved November 8, 2020 from

Full Report on the VC’s Award Ceremony

Michael, O. J. (2020). The university autonomy question by Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan. Retrieved November 8, 2020 from

The University Autonomy Question By Emmanuel Ewetan Uduaghan

UNESCO, (1992). Academic freedom and university autonomy: proceedings. Retrieved November 8, 2020 from

https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000092770

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