What Nigeria needs is not the proliferation of Universities but a national strategic vision for education, with specific changes in policy and governance. It is depressing to see a country with so much potential, lose so much for the lack of long range vision. I have no hope in the Buhari-led federal government to do right by Nigeria.


Nigeria has the worst and the largest higher education system in Africa, with 174 universities, 128 polytechnics and 177 colleges of education. Not only do the older universities like the University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University, and University of Nigeria, Nsukka lag well behind leading top universities in the Western world, but also universities in emerging global economies like Malaysia, Thailand, South Africa, Egypt, Turkey and Brazil. It is no secret that Universities in Nigeria are underfunded and predictably in sorry states, yet new universities are created as often as politics and other myopic considerations allow. For decades, successive governments have not invested enough in education in terms of structure, facilities and people for skills acquisition and experiential learning.

True to form, the minister of Transport announced the creation of University of Transportation in Daura to the displeasure of many. When ill considered decisions like this are made, what comes to the mind of right thinking people is: What exactly informs decision-making at the top levels of government in Nigeria? When will Nigerian leaders stop doing stupid things? Why do seemingly educated people allow myopic considerations get in the way of sound decision-making? The answer lies in what Carl Richards calls “the behaviour gap” – the distance between what we should do and what we actually do. It is frustrating watching Nigeria dig deeper into the gorge it has created. It is painful seeing leaders who learn nothing, making the same mistakes over and again.

In 2009, the education budget was 7.25 per cent of the national budget. Nine years later in 2018, it has remained almost the same, but with more young people per capita. It can be inferred that underfunding is the major reason why Nigerian universities do not rank high in world university rankings.


The disastrous consequences of decades of under-funding is evident in the glorified primary schools that we call universities in Nigeria. Instead of establishing a new University of Transportation, why couldn’t it be an institute within Ahmadu Bello University, with better funding and a new dedicated and equipped block? With the country’s population approaching 200 million, existing universities have no capacity for higher intake. A country as broke as Nigeria needs to save costs by improving on capacity and expanding facilities, rather than creating new ones. Are young Nigerians ever going to be competitive under this shortsighted approach? With almost 70 per cent of the population under the age of 25, where is hope when quality education is a mirage and there are no jobs for the few who have made it through tertiary education despite the odds?

It is far easier to destroy than to build. The military years catered to defence, more than to education, and the results of this are out. With dwindling income, government funding for education has remained abysmally poor for decades. Unfortunately, years of neglect cannot be remedied easily. In 2009, the education budget was 7.25 per cent of the national budget. Nine years later in 2018, it has remained almost the same, but with more young people per capita. It can be inferred that underfunding is the major reason why Nigerian universities do not rank high in world university rankings. University of Ibadan, once referred to as the Harvard of Africa by Time magazine, has lost its prestige. Nigerian universities lack the prestige of high performance due to a poor scholarly profile. Scholarly profiles are built through grants, funds, endowments and support for research by government, companies, donors and alumni. Only the University of Ibadan and Covenant University made the world’s top thousand in the 2019 Times Higher Education world university rankings. While Nigeria barely showed up, nine universities made the list from South Africa and 11 Universities made the list from Egypt.

The seven federal Universities established by President Goodluck Jonathan are still struggling, yet another one is being set up in Daura, in addition to a military University in Biu. The proliferation of universities in the country is counterproductive. Most universities do not have the lecturers to teach their students nor the infrastructure to support and breed a new generation of leaders…


It is a shame that we value quantity over quality. The seven federal Universities established by President Goodluck Jonathan are still struggling, yet another one is being set up in Daura, in addition to a military University in Biu. The proliferation of universities in the country is counterproductive. Most universities do not have the lecturers to teach their students nor the infrastructure to support and breed a new generation of leaders with well-rounded university education. Many undergraduates sleep on dirty brown, thin foams on hostel balconies and corridors; they defecate in nearby bushes; and hang on windows to receive lectures. When they are socialised into degrading conditions, the poor mindset they acquire affects them in their working lives. This is one of the reasons why stealing and disregard for civilised behaviour is on the rise in Nigeria. Does the statistics of underperformance bother Nigerian leaders? According to published reports, Nigeria has six times more universities than South Africa but the scholarly output of its lecturers is 44 per cent of the scholarly output of South Africa’s lecturers. For additional comparison, Nigeria has four times more universities than Egypt but produces only 32 per cent of Egypt’s scholarly output. These appalling statistics have shown that quantity unaccompanied by quality is near useless.

What Nigeria needs is not the proliferation of Universities but a national strategic vision for education, with specific changes in policy and governance. It is depressing to see a country with so much potential, lose so much for the lack of long range vision. I have no hope in the Buhari-led federal government to do right by Nigeria. Hopefully, Nigerians will be smart enough to elect someone with intellectual heft, who can help us beat the path to the fourth industrial revolution, in the near future. Unfortunately, education is the only route to this sort of leadership capacity. A youthful Nigeria needs and deserves quality education and a great plan for its youth to prosper.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES. Follow me on Twitter @olufunmilayo