New university curricula and the neoliberal siege against Nigeria

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NUC emblem at its headquarters in Abuja

By Omotoye Olorode

It is probably no more news that the National Universities Commission (NUC) “…on Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th December 2022 rolled out its drums to celebrate its 60 years of existence… with the unveiling of a new curriculum—Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standards (CCMAS) for universities in Nigeria”.

A friend observed that the celebration of 60 years of existence by NUC was probably premature because NUC was established on January 15, 1974 by National University Commission Decree 16; re-christened National University Commission Act, Cap N81 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. This issue needs not delay us here as celebrations can always be funded with one’s own money, other people’s money, loans; donation etc. and they are good for public relations especially when content is disappearing and form needs to be vigorously valorised.

The issue that we need to pay serious and more focused attention to is the nature, origins and timing of the “unveiling” of this CCMAS phenomenon! The purpose of this piece is to situate the birthing of CCMAS appropriately in what is now generally characterised as “State Terror” “Shock Doctrine” or “Conquistador Mode” of a ruling class.

The Nigerian ruling class, as agents of the ventriloquists of the World Bank and their Nigeria middle-men and women, now believe that the fifty-years war of attrition against higher education in Nigeria is in its final stages. CCMAS, it appears, is being delivered as the coup de grace!

Before proceeding, we may add that another Federal Government higher education parastatal, TETFund had started, in collaboration with NUC, its own war against the Nigerian University System embarking on a programme that has absolutely nothing to do with its mandate—a project to investigate what it called “employability” of graduates of the Nigerian University System—NUS (TETFund Commences National Employability Programme in Nigerian Universities ! Pure blackmail!

On February 3 2023, I received a dire alert from one of the first generation Federal Universities regarding a new directive from Nigeria’s National University Commission (NUC) detailing what they call core courses that all Universities will now be required to teach to be accredited and, obviously, to be eligible for funding and NUC (government) recognition. It is also obvious that the “innovation” is a fait accompli confronting the University Senates and, at least, significantly annulling the laws of the universities and the authorities Senates derive there from!

Although the National Universities Commission ostensibly anchors this alleged innovation, the real lever is being activated directly by Peter Okebukola (a former Executive Secretary of NUC) who is also communicating directly with the universities and their accredited officials and faculty members especially the CCMAS accredited Professors from various universities. I have access to information in this regard and to the effect that this CCMAS has not only actually independently accredited (coopted) a coterie of professors from various Nigerian Universities as reviewers of the curricula, its sponsors have sold everyone the usual World Bank dummies including the allegation that universities are part of what they call “…..bottom-up inclusive process applied in the development and approval of the CCMAS for that programme to earn a place in the CCMAS”. And as for universities that may be reticent about this attempt to completely emasculate the Senates by the World Bank people, the alleged “Frequently Asked Questions on the CCMAS and 30% University Development Course” is replete with veiled and not-so-veiled threats regarding tardy compliance or non-compliance. The significance of this, for universities and university administrations, that are already virtually on their knees, must be quite obvious.

The “Masters of Illusion” as Catherine Caufield (1996) called the World Bank people, and their supranational evangelists and financial forces, coopt their victims into forging their own fetters peddling the “bottom up” mantra! They even insist, as Babangida’s military junta did in 1986, during the so-called Political Debate and the IMF Loan Debate, that impositions like CCMAS are “indigenous” on “home-grown” initiatives! It is sad. In peddling this illusion, the CCMAS documents kept referring to NUC’s ES (Rasheed) as the “boss”! They even gave Rasheed a title “His Academic Excellency” (HAE)!

Even VP Yemi Osinbajo further helped prop the CCMAS illusion: “This document has truly taken cognizance of the need to provide greater academic autonomy to universities with regard to development of some percentage of course content”. This is a sorry opposite of the truth on the matter! Our universities and their autonomy, if any of the latter remains, are under escalating threat! The off-shore intellectors of African ruling class told them long ago they don’t need universities!

And incidentally, 1986 was such a pivotal year in World Bank’s systematic subversion, along with African ruling classes, of higher education in Africa. Teffera (2009) observed: “At a meeting with Vice- Chancellors of African universities held in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1986, the World bank sensationally claimed that African countries would be much better off if they close down existing universities and train their people in foreign institutions instead”. [Teferra, D. 2009. The World Bank’s perspective on African Higher Education. International Higher Education (54)].

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And in 1986, a former NUC ES and Minister of Education, Minister of Petroleum, in the military dictatorship, was already canvassing privatisation of Nigeria’s public universities under General Muhammadu Buhari, now president, who already promulgated Decree 16 of July 1985—the prototype of the current CCMAS! Talk of continuity of World Bank siege on public funded education!

But the story and the blueprint of the so called CCMAS goes much farther back! A most enlightening record of this fact was provided for us and for posterity by our late illustrious Comrade Dr Yusufu Bala Usman in American Plans for Nigerian Universities whose essence are copiously excerpted in the Appendix to Chapter 6—Future Nigeria-US Linkages in Higher Education May, 1977. Reference: AID Sod C-15/HE008-792 (For the Liberation of Nigeria, New Beacon Books, London 1979, pp. 75-77). The role of foreign finance (loans that are used to control development of the education sector and to decide which programmes will survive or die, and in particular the role of the National Universities Commission in the scheme, were clear in the referenced excerpts of the Appendix. Perhaps the most pivotal of this programmed asphyxiation of public-funded university system across Africa was the collection of essays edited by S. Federici, Caffentziz and Alidou: a Thousand Flowers: Social Struggles against Structural Adjustment in African Universities, Africa World Press Inc., Trenton, New Jersy & Asmara, 2000.

The quest for the control and subversion of Nigeria’s higher education by the World Bank and the Nigerian ruling class governments (via NUC) has since sapped the patriotic energy of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Nigerian students’ movement and the Nigerian labour movement since 1977 and especially since 1980. Significant outcrops of this unending struggle occurred in April 1984, June 1986, 1988, the 1990s and since 1999; occasioning bans, sack of lecturers and students, detention of ASUU activists and killing of students! The massive opposition of ASUU and the students movement to World Bank Loans in the 1980s, the massive opposition to the so-called Nigerian Universities System Innovation Project—NUSIP from 2001, are what resulted in unimplemented agreements (between FGN and ASUU), and on funding especially, since 2001.

More recently, the absolute lack of progress in ASUU-FGN Re-Negotiations since February 2017 is also the result of FGN negotiators insisting on imposition of the same World Bank paradigms on the Nigerian people and insisting that ASUU must capitulate to them!

It was in the process of this government siege against public purpose, and in which the ruling class was enlarging its private accumulation of wealth, that FGN added another World Bank regime for salary payment for all University workers from the Accountant Generals Office in Abuja: the regime which they call Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and which created massive dislocations all over the Nigerian University System. It became quite clear that the debut of IPPIS in the Nigerian University System (NUS) was a further effort by the World Bank agents in Abuja to foist IPPIS, yet another World Bank instrument of control and demolition, not only to stultify the ASUU-FGN Re-Negotiation process but to further administer debilitating “Shocks” on the NUS! Talk of “The Shock Doctrine” of neoliberalism (Klein, Naomi. 2007. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Penguin, London.

But whose project is really CCMAS?

Contrary to the claim by the anchors of CCMAS inside and outside the NUC that CCMAS is an “indigenous”, “bottom-up” NUS project, evidence for, and influence of, the recent origins in the World Bank higher education think tanks and ideological centers and their collaborators were visible at the celebrations of the 60th Anniversary of the NUC at Abuja on 5th and 6th December 2022 where the anniversary lecture was delivered by a Quality Assurance (QA) chieftain, Douglas Blackstock. Incidentally, what they call Quality Assurance and Minimum Academic Standard (MAS; as in CCMAS) are really the same affair! Perhaps the most recent origins of CCMAS was the Quality Assurance Cairo Conference of 2018!

The Origins: “Egypt road map to address poor quality at universities”

At the said Cairo Conference, Egypt’s National Authority for Quality Assurance has adopted a range of measures. The Road-map was approved at the Fifth International Conference on the quality of education organized by the country’s quality and accreditation body in Cairo from 22-23 April, 2018.

At the Conference, “Doughlas Blackstock, Chief Executive of the UK (QAA) …. suggested that prioritisation would be key to success of the roadmap not only within Egypt but as part of … Harmonization of Africa Higher Education Quality Assurance and Accreditation (HAQAA) project” newly-developed African Standard and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ASG-QA). The body of the “roadmap” is a replica of the US State Department document (Usman, 1978) of 1978.

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Doughlas Blackstock, who delivered NUC’s 60th Anniversary lecture was the Executive Officer of UK’s Quality Assurance Association until 2015 (a company or what they now call NGO; and there is a plethora of consultancies and companies hooked on to the World Bank and state actors in Europe and USA!). He is currently the President of European Network for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA); talk of metamorphosis! University World News described Douglas Blackstock as “… a leading global tertiary education expert and a former World Bank…”

These are the education think thanks in Europe where education, especially higher education is in crisis and shambles especially over its commercialisation and privatisation (see Peter Fleming’s Dark Academia: How Universities Die; Pluto Press, London, 2021).

Road map to address poor quality university

NUC’s Professor Rasheed claimed (NUC, 2022) that the NUC “commenced the journey to restructure the Benchmark Minimum Academic Standard BMAS in 2018, introducing in its place, the Core Curriculum Minimum Academic Standards (CCMAS) with the aim to re-examine existing and introduce new disciplines and programmes in the Nigeria University System”. The Coincidence of the commencement year (2018) of the CCMAS “journey” with a major QA Conference in Cairo (Egypt) is striking!

Clearly it was at the Cairo (Egypt) Fifth International Conference of 2018 Roadmap to address poor quality of Universities, which was ostensibly convened to address the alleged QA requirements of Egypt that their QA clones and affiliates were set up! It was there that subaltern clones in different countries of Sub-Saharan Africa were instigated to implement a range of measures ‘…which include plans to promoting innovation entrepreneurship, establish industry-higher education institutions partnerships and set up applied universities” (Universities World News (Africa edition)… https://www.universityworldnews.com: Wagdy Sawahel, 18th May, 2018). Present at the Cairo Conference were Douglas Blackstock, World Bank representatives, and United States’ Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic (of Council for Higher Education Accreditation—CHE—in the United States of America)! Also, see NUC’s CAIRO REPORT: “Reports of Study Visits to Egypt and the UK by NUC Strategy Advisory Committee for the Revitalisation of University Education in Nigeria: September 24-October 6, 2018. This is the “Strategy Advisory Committee” (STRADVCOM) that also powers CCMAS. So, how “indigenous” can CCMAS really be?

Incidentally, clearly in compliance with the mandate of the 2018 HAQAA project, NUC is setting up “applied university” all over in spite of Osinbajo’s claims at the NUC 60th Anniversary Celebration that government cannot fund universities!

We must point out here the very interesting connection, or is it causal relationship, between the growing power and influence of neoliberal private “Quality Assurance” companies in the education sector world-wide. The programmed neoliberal and ideological shift from public-funded education (and education as “public good”) to privatization of education at all levels, has quietly handed over the superintendence of content and quality of education to the so-called private sector (the QA companies) many of which are multinational and hooked on to international and transnational finance capital and the so-called “donor agencies” and “development partners”!

The upshot of this is that public regulatory departments and agencies are now under direct ideological and bureaucratic control of neoliberal private penumbra of private consultancies and managements. These private companies have now transformed higher education, especially, and its ethos into regular for-profit “corporate institutions complete with all the corporate gimmicks such as advertisements, plain fraudulent propaganda, and padded images through “webometrics”, the so-called “global ranking”, PR spins and the so-called “Advancement Offices”!

Under neoliberalism, universities are not what they really are; they are what people are made to believe they are!

At a more general level, Milton Obamba (Obamba, 2013: Higher Education Policy 26: 83-108) puts all of this in perspective : “ …the [World] Bank embrace the neoliberal economic ideology and a narrow interpretation of the “rates of return” calculation to promote higher investment in basic education while systematically marginalizing higher education….”. [Obamba examined] “…the coordinates of two recent and increasingly significant World Bank Policy: ‘the innovation systems’ and ‘global partnership approaches’ and concluded that “the embedded patterns of asymmetry and dependency between the global North and South could persist or even further deepen if the current unequal framework of the global knowledge–based economy and the organizational architecture of knowledge production are not radically re-configured to become more truly equitable and inclusive”. This is a surprisingly tepid conclusion indeed in spite of the very bold and Africa-peoples’-centered title of Obamba’s paper “Uncommon Knowledge: World Bank Policy and the Unmaking of Knowledge Economy in Africa” (my emphasis)! But we do not have time to critique its logic of NEPAD—the new partnership between the horse and the horse rider (as LARRI of Nambia put it).

This is how the ruling class education policy makers have taken Nigeria higher education hostage! And this is how they have sustained a situation in which government officials and policy makers are constantly cornered by global government hegemonies, neoliberal NGOs and agencies, alleged donors and partners. Our governments and policy makers are coached to reinforce received policies that undermine Nigeria’s independence and development!

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VP Yemi Osinbajo then gloated about ASUU strike and instigated the Minister of Education to “…trim (sic) the power of NUC with those of professional bodies trying to compete with the Commission in the area of accreditation…and gave directive to the Minister of Education to make professional bodies to limit their power when it comes to approval and accreditation of programmes….” (NUC,2022). Direct threats to NMA, NBA, COREN and other professional accreditation bodies!
With all these actual and potential threats to the authorities and lawful powers and integrity of University Senates, professional accreditation bodies etc. a behemoth is clearly birthed around the NUC with most of its awesome powers largely outside the NUC itself and with inexplicable acquiescence and/or deafening silence in the university Senates! The NUC and the CEO of CCMAS will of course insist that the Vice- Chancellors (Chairpersons of University Senates) and Chairpersons of Governing Councils were all parties to the “unveiling” of CCMAS by VP Osinbajo who himself is a Professor of Laws! We already referred to the coterie of NUC/CCMAS-accredited professors!

Who will fund these new CCMAS programmes: some of which are new, and some of which are the products of what was labeled “unbundling” of existing programmes? Professor Osinbajo Observed correctly that “…all issues (of strikes by university-based unions) had remained the same primarily, funding, university, autonomy, infrastructure, among others…”. He prefaced that observation, however with saying “…one of the major issues…..was incessant strikes… These arguments have been going on since 1978 with ASUU and the labour and students’ movements making proposals which the Nigerian ruling class was advised consistently, by the neoliberal forces, to reject. These are the arguments that brought Nigeria to its knees while a few rich steal and/or privatize public property, impose new hardships on the masses (high energy cost, increased VAT, devaluation of the Naira, low or unpaid wages, etc.) and privatise the education sector and health-care delivery.

In any case the overlapping generations of functionaries of Nigeria’s comprador ruling class cannot be serious about such excuses as the one claiming that “Government alone cannot fund education”! They and their Minimum Standards Foreign masters and contractors did not even show any awareness, for more than three decades (1979 to 2013), that facilities and infrastructure in Nigerian universities were grossly inadequate, were collapsing or had collapsed! It was after years of massive pressure on governments exerted by ASUU that the union persuaded the Federal Government of Nigeria to set up the Needs Assessment Committee which exposed the terrible living, learning and teaching conditions in the NUS! They ignored ASUU’s clarion call (ASUU Press Release signed by ASUU President late Dr. A.B. Ogundimu on November 1, 1979) where the chief sources of deterioration in the NUS were identified as: Inadequacy of facilities due to lack of funds, poor conditions of services… and the mass exodus of academic staff from universities”! November 1, 1979!

How will they then prefer to fund these new CCMAS programmes that are also meant to give neoliberal forces the control over the NUS? Increased school fees? They are already doing that! Set up more and more private universities? NUC is working overtime on that! Retrench unwanted staff? Appoint required staff from CCMAS CEO’s bureau in Abuja? Insist on more of the so-called IGR? Employ casual lecturers and casualise the employment of those on ground? Close down non-compliant departments and programmes, or kill them via non-funding? Fully commercialize tertiary education including setting up what they call Key Performance Indices (KPIs) as a means of justifying retrenchment of lecturers and other workers?? Ban all union activities? Register Government unions? They are already waging war against university-based workers’ unions’ via IPPIS by (criminally) paying arbitrary salaries and wages, withholding union dues and third-party deductions which they extract from workers’ salaries and wages, etc.!

Most of these are already on ground! The Education Sector “Hit Men and Women” are already in town everywhere and their experiments have commenced in USA and Europe. And in all likelihood, this comprehensive demolition is being funded by international “Hit.ORGs”! Their victims are also organising and fighting back everywhere.

But we need to engage in massive self- and public- mass education and conscientisation about the nature and the forces of the siege and how to resist them effectively. Time of full-scale action is now! Now!


Omotoye Olorode,[Member, TPAP-M CAST-NIGERIA Secretariat Collective].Odoje Biodiversity Center, Ogbomoso. Email: omotoopo@gmail.com

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