The controversy surrounding the proposed decentralisation of Ambrose Alli University (AAU) Ekpoma in Edo State has unveiled incredible political ‘gerrymandering’, astounding prebendalism, ethnic irredentism, intellectual laziness, initiative deficit, and a shocking capacity for mischief.
Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki had on Friday, February 18, 2022, announced the conversion of the university to a multi-campus institution with two other state-owned tertiary institutions. The governor told stakeholders at an education policy town hall meeting convened by the Edo State Ministry of Education that the main campus would be in Ekpoma while the two new campuses would be located in Oredo local government and Owan federal constituency.
For Oredo, the state chief executive said the campus would focus on technology and engineering, while the sister campus in Owan would be for agriculture and natural resources. Obaseki also announced an upgrade of the State College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi to a degree-awarding institution with two other campuses in Agenebode and Uromi.
“We are, as a priority, upgrading our College of Agriculture into three campuses and the college would be degree-awarding.
“We have the main campus in Iguoriakhi, we have another campus in Uromi, and the third one in Agenebode.
“The one in Iguoriakhi is almost completed, while the ones in Agenebode and Uromi would be captured in our next budget.
“The same philosophy would apply to our College of Education, which has been converted into three campuses.
“Abudu campus will focus on basic and early childhood education, the main campus in Igueben will focus on secondary education, while Afuze on special, physical and health education,” he said.
Let me state upfront that I do not expect anyone to like my position on this matter. My intention is very distant from that. Anyone waiting to be liked by everyone is waiting for Godot. Also, this is not to defend Governor Obaseki’s decision but rather to objectively appraise the pros and cons of the decision based on facts and MY personal experience. Governor Obaseki does not know me from Adam.
It would be ludicrous to expect anyone to jump on an ethnocentric bandwagon on account of tribe. Parts of this treatise will reflect why. Naturally, a man is expected to have a strong attachment to the land of his birth. But nurturally, a man’s world view is affected by his learning, experience and exposure. Therefore, it is understandable, though inexcusable, that certain positions on this matter are influenced by some of these variables.
When we introduce ourselves to guests at a gathering abroad, do we say without prompting for specifics, “I’m Mr X from Ebhoiyi-Uromi in Esan North-East Local Government Area of Esan Central Constituency of Edo State, Nigeria? If you did that, you would not only look foolish, but also people would tag you with a tribal bigot’s badge. Folks who have not travelled or lived abroad may find it difficult to relate to this. But it is what it is.
Back to the subject-matter, many of those hollering the loudest that any part of AAU should not be moved from Ekpoma are not from Ekpoma. The most notable alumni of AAU are not necessarily from Ekpoma. Some of them are not even from Edo State. Yet, that did not stop them from attaining enviable heights in their careers, propelled by the sound academic foundation and values AAU availed them. Some have risen to the zenith of their academic profession, from undergraduate right through to the top, all within AAU. The fact that they are not from Ekpoma or Edo State did not hinder them.
I have a few friends who attended State universities abroad. In like manner, if students come from all over Nigeria to school at AAU Ekpoma, why can Esan people not school at any of the proposed campuses of AAU in any part of Edo State? Have Esan people living far away from Ekpoma not been schooling at AAU? Would it not be a relief to such people and their children if a campus of the university were located in their vicinity within the same state?
Sadly, the above rationalisation has little or no place in the calculations of the protagonists of this AAU-must-stay-in-Ekpoma crusade because their perspective is mainly anchored on political considerations. They see AAU as a democracy dividend bequeathed on Esanland by an Esan son, rather than as a development institute born out of the desire to use education as a catalyst for the development of Esanland in particular, and Edo (then Bendel) State in general.
It is pertinent to underscore the philosophy behind the establishment of Bendel State University (now AAU). Professor Ambrose Folorunso Alli, renowned professor of pathology, the first executive governor of Bendel State and the founder of the university is on record to have said:
“When you educate a child, you educate a nation. When you educate the body and mind you have an effective instrument for social and economic development. Education is the platform for progress. It is the foundation of life itself”
That was his mantra. That was what drove the establishment of over 800 secondary schools and several tertiary institutions, including AAU, in Bendel State during his memorable tenure that was regrettably terminated under circumstances better reserved for another day. He did not say, “When you site a school or university in a constituency, you bring economic prosperity to the constituents.”
It is interesting to note that multi-campuses was an integral part of the original blueprint for the establishment of AAU, as confirmed by Dr Onoho’Omhen Ebhohimhen, a celebrated scholar of Political Economy, Policy and Development Studies:
“I was a young man then and as Publicity and Research Officer at the UPN Secretariat, I was one of those who took the Minutes of the Meeting in question. I recall vividly that the entire party leadership agreed on the need to establish a State University…
“I will conclude that the multi-campus idea was floated at the establishment stage of the Bendel State University. It was rejected due to cost implications. The same facts about the paucity of funds don’t seem to have been overcome,” Dr Ebhohimhen told The Associates, a virtual forum of Nigerian professionals.
Dr Ebhohimhen also detailed how the decision to site AAU in Ekpoma was a product of consensus:
“The two contentious arguments were the location of the Bendel State University and its nature. The Bendel South leaders asked that it should naturally be in Abraka that already had the College of Education that had the foundational infrastructure to provide. At the period, Abraka had also started awarding degrees in Education subjects in partnership with Temple University, USA. Bendel South had a good argument to formalize the institution as the State University in Abraka. However, the leaders from Bendel Delta Senatorial District disagreed on different grounds. They posited instead that the Bendel South was an NPN-controlled zone; no single UPN member was elected to the Legislative arm at the State or Federal level. Even the Deputy Governor, Chief Demas Akpore was scorned by his Urhobo people. Therefore, it was inappropriate to reward the implacable opponents of the UPN. The debate ended on the note that since the State Government had a degree-awarding institution in the Delta Province, comprising Bendel South and Delta Senatorial Districts, the Benin Province, comprising Bendel Central, North, and part of East Senatorial Districts should host the State university.
“The debate further narrowed again to the point that Bendel Central already had the University of Benin. And so, the location of the university became a matter between Bendel North and East Senatorial Districts. When Bendel North was considered, there was already a Polytechnic in Auchi. Then, the other half became the preferred option. I can safely report that Ekpoma was preferred to Uromi because the two-State Assembly constituencies in Uromi were represented by NPN Legislators, viz., Hon. James Akhigbe and Hon. Vincent Ogun.”
Of course, there have been very valid arguments about the lack of resources to fund multiple campuses. But such arguments have been advanced mainly as missiles to shoot down the governor’s decision, with hardly any attempt to proffer suggestions on how to surmount that challenge if there is any merit in the decision.
Those championing the anti-decentralisation crusade deliberately forget to mention that the same Professor Alli scattered four colleges of education, two polytechnics, and several colleges of agriculture and forestry across Bendel State. There was only one university to be established and Dr Ebhohimen’s exposition plausibly justifies its location in Ekpoma. Clearly, it was not a dictatorial or nepotistic decision, unlike what many disgruntled characters and self-acclaimed messiahs would have done if they were in Alli’s position.
Considering his antecedents, it is not difficult to imagine that if Professor Alli had stayed longer in Osadebey House, he would have found a way around the challenge of funding multiple campuses to ensure that he brought university education closer to all Bendelites based on his philosophy that “Education is the platform for progress. It is the foundation of life itself.” If the legendary professor and administrator wanted to give Ekpoma something that would yield direct economic dividends, he probably would have established a gigantic rice factory instead of a university. No sane governor would have decided to create branches of the rice factory in other locations, whether they have the raw material (rice) or not. The raw materials for a university (students) are found everywhere. The roads Alli built in Ekpoma are still serving their economic and logistics functions today. They are not being used by only Ekpoma or even Esan people. In fact, they serve as alternatives to the federal roads that are constantly in a state of disrepair. Nobody is going to ask for the relocation of some of the roads to other constituencies in Edo State.
To be continued. Part two will examine the advantages and disadvantages of multiple campuses and proffer suggestions on how to resolve the ‘impasse’.
Tony Ekata is a Nigerian-born, South Africa-based communications consultant and former
Head, Southern Africa Bureau, Voice of Nigeria.