Since he was sworn in in 2015 as the executive governor of Delta State, Senator Arthur Ifeanyi Okowa has left no enlightened person in the state in doubt concerning his concept of governance. He has defined his purpose, which is to make a difference by impacting positively on the state and the people, on the principles of justice, equity, and fairness. In doing this, he has thus far, tried to engage experienced and high calibre professionals in his cabinet. He has also ensured that, as much as possible, the different parts of the ethnoculturally plural state are accommodated in political and other appointments.
Then, in the critical area of physical infrastructure, the empirical evidence on ground is that of equity. On road construction in which he has visibly demonstrated unerring focus and great commitment, there are areas yet to be covered, but keen and nonpartisan watchers of the development pattern can predict with some precision that those areas will ultimately become part of the infrastructure revolution.
Our focus here is however on the establishment of three new universities in the state. These are at Anwai, Agbor, and Ozoro. On the surface and given the huge and ever- rising numbers of candidates of Delta State origin seeking varsity admission, the establishment of three new varsities is most commendable.
But as a Delta indigene I am concerned about the financial and cost implications of establishing three new varsities at the same time. Although I am not part of the government of the state, and hence I am not in a position to know the financial strength of the government, I have been part of the varsity system in Nigeria long enough to have a fair idea of what it takes or what it should take to run a university and ensure that minimum national standards are maintained while aspiring and working towards minimum global standards.
That the three new varsities are but an upgrade of existing institutions does not in any way mean fiscal resources would not be appropriated for their basic infrastructure needs. The new varsities will have to employ the required academic and non-academic staff. There will also be administration comprising the office of the vice chancellor, the registry, the bursary, works and services, etc, etc.
One would have thought that the government of the state would have expanded infrastructure and facilities at the Delta State University, DELSU , Abraka, to enable it to increase the number of students it can admit. Anwai campus should have been allowed to continue as a degree-awarding college of DELSU. Again, the polytechnic at Ozoro should simply have been made a campus of DELSU.
The College of Education, Agbor would appear to be the institution richly deserving of the upgrade it was given. That would have meant two autonomous Delta varsities instead of the four the state now has. The College of Education, Agbor should simply have been transformed into a conventional university with the following faculties, education, arts , sciences, agriculture, social sciences, and management sciences. Education students would then choose their core teaching disciplines from the other faculties.
The point here is that the state ought to have considered one additional autonomous varsity at Agbor and ensure that it is expanded and equipped to annually admit a significant number of eligible candidates. Many countries in Africa do not have four public universities!
For a government that is committed to all-round development of the state, establishing three autonomous varsities in one fell swoop would be a critical financial challenge. The state has been battling with payment of long outstanding retirement benefits to deserving ones. There is also the problem of healthcare delivery.
If the decision to establish three new varsities was not a decision cast in iron, the government may consider a review, that the state can have a credible public varsity system that the government and people of the state would be proud of, and that the status of the varsities may not in the future be reviewed and thereby generate political dissension and wrangling and community agitation.
JGN Onyekpe, PhD, FHSN, teaches History at the University of Lagos, Akoka.