Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

What The Papers Say

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New Nigerian

Professor Jubril Aminu, Vice-Chancellor, University of Maiduguri, has been consistently critical of the questionable wisdom that informed the proliferation of universities in Nigeria in the last four years. Professor Aminu urged the Federal Military Government

to take bold decisions on the number and type of universities in the country, and pointedly asked the million Naira question: "Why do we need a separate University of Technology when existing universities with faculties of technology are yet to be equipped and properly staffed?"

Many well-meaning Nigerians have been asking the same question. In the civilian administration, the answer was simple: they made political sense because they helped to rake in votes. Post-primary and post-secondary institutions were, therefore, indiscriminately established at the federal and state levels for that reason. In the wisdom of the time, even a wretched state like Benue, deceived itself into believing it could fund its own university!!!

The military take-over has mercifully halted this madness. There won't be new universities but what do we do with the existing ones? That is the crucial question. The Federal Military Government owns 19 universities.

Not surprisingly, all of them are short of funds. They receive a lot less than their budgeted capital or recurrent expenditures from the FMG. Thus strapped for funds, their operational problems are legion.

Who suffers? Not the students who, at the end of their prescribed courses of study, must receive their increasingly disesteemed certificates. Not the university vice-chancellors crying themselves hoarse over the crippling predicament. It is the nation, Nigeria, reaping rotten grapes from all these. Last February, the FMG abolished private universities because they were mushroom institutions: poorly-funded, poorly-staffed and extremely poorly-equipped.

There is abundant evidence that virtually all the federal universities of technology and federal and state-owned universities and polytechnics are mushroom institutions too. Must they be allowed to exist because they are government-owned? Certainly not. A mushroom institution no matter who owns it.

They too must go this way: we need no more than perhaps two universities of technology. The rest should be merged with existing universities as schools of technology. All the new polytechnics, federal or state-owned, must be similarly treated, either by merging them, particularly in states where there is more than one or abolish them.

Our quest for rapid educational development is no reason why the nation must insist on galloping on a horse tethered to a tree.

Which way forward? (2)

The Guardian - Nigeria

The catalogue of our past economic crimes is virtually infinite. But since we must begin somewhere, let us start first with our external earnings and reserves.

For us today, no principle of fiscal planning can be more appropriate to our circumstances than zero budgeting. Every project, every idea that involves expenditure, no matter how small, must be critically examined, not merely as to its desirability, but also as to its potential benefits. Our food import bill must be cut by no less than half, and all rice importation must cease. It is no longer a question of what we might do by way of substitution. Necessity alone ought to concentrate our minds, and could even lead us to discover alternatives we never before dreamed of.

Punitive measures, through taxes and tariffs, must be adopted to discourage industries that automatically opt for imported raw materials. Incentives should be offered to those actively exploring local resources, or are actually using them. And the onus must be placed on each industry to establish both the desirability of its existence, and the fact that by its very nature it cannot find its raw materials locally.

The purchase of machinery and spare parts constitutes a major charge on our external reserves. Government must adopt a simple rule that says that no industrial equipment may be contracted for from abroad except on a term payment basis, the installments to be paid from each user's actual earnings, and not through start-up funding.

The merits and disadvantages of devaluation are numerous and compelling. But a sensible regard for our own interests and the precarious nature of our economy ought to discourage any temptation to devalue.

And as for external financing even of the most strategic projects, we must resolve, first, that no project may ever again be totally financed from external borrowings, and secondly, that the local content of the cost of any project must be financed from domestic sources.

The 20 governments of the federation owe N11 billion abroad, and nearly N30 billion at home. Much of the domestic debt is the result of careless planning and wasteful spending.

For a start, all governments must now begin to seriously consider selling off or decentralising virtually all parastatals, and handing their management over to the private sector. The social obligations of the state are not exclusively achieved through omnipresent government. Indeed, the Nigerian experience clearly indicates that government control of any service industry is tantamount to a mandate for failure. The proper business of the state in these matters is to regulate and monitor, not to manage and control.

Governments ought to have no interest, for instance, in commercial and merchant banking, except to regulate and police its conduct. And the banks themselves, rid of government interference, ought to begin to offer more civilised and comprehensive services to their clients.

All institutions of the state, the armed forces, the police, the universities and the schools, must be made to begin at least in part to feed themselves through farming. There is no better way to encourage an agricultural revolution than to compel every community or institution to attempt to feed itself. Rural communities must be shown that it is not merely patriotic to achieve a revolution in agriculture. They must be offered incentives that are directly beneficial to them.

And finally, there really is no point talking about an industrial and economic revolution in the country, unless we are first prepared to provide the necessary infrastructure without which no revolution is possible. Steel, petrol chemicals, power and water are simply basic. There can be no industry without them.

With careful planning and prudent spending, this nation can find the resources to build a useful foundation for industrial development, and to provide the social services that make development meaningful.

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