YabaTech, Kaduna Poly as university is a disaster

By Tunji Ajibade

There is a plan to turn Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, into a university. The question I asked as soon as I became aware was, “For what reason?”

On TV, the lawmaker pushing it is heard saying YabaTech is the oldest higher institution of learning in Nigeria. That was the reason provided, and this made me ask more questions. It was the kind of question I asked the highest decision-making body of an organisation about 20 years ago. This body wanted to establish an entity. The debate was about where the proposed entity should be located. There were two options. In favour of one of the options, the argument was swinging towards the mundane: “It’s what everyone does, so let’s do it too.”

At that point, I asked a few questions. The foremost roughly goes thus: “Do you want to locate the entity in such a place because it’s what everyone does, or there’s a set of objectives you have outlined, and which the selected location will ensure you achieve? If you have objectives so, so, and so, then the location that’s popular with all of you is not the right location. Rather it is the other location.” There was a moment of silence thereafter. I had sounded different in that setting. I’m used to sounding different, saying it as I see it, being alone, one reason even today I state things on this page and those who can’t stomach anyone who holds a view different from theirs have engaged in swearing.

Those who swear are people who don’t want to hear other perspectives, being so fixated on the course they follow. Some of them are people who claim to be religious leaders. Their seats confer on them the authority to pray and bless people, but swearing is what they devote their time to just because others express views that are different from theirs. They expect respect from their own followers, but they publicly tell leaders of other religions such as the Sultan of Sokoto that he should have “remained quiet”. That was because the Sultan expressed his view on a national issue just like some of us are doing on the pages of newspapers. These ‘religious leaders’ hate with unbelievable intensity, they incite hatred in their followers for fellow humans, and we even hear some say “it serves them right” when misfortunes such as killings and kidnappings befall fellow Nigerians that their religion asks them to win over. These ‘religious leaders’ miss the path of the religion they claim to have by a million miles, yet they hate it when religious leaders such as Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said they shouldn’t lose focus of their calling. If some us worry about such ‘religious leaders’ who swear at others for expressing a different view on national issues, we wouldn’t be here addressing those who want to turn Yaba Tech into a university for no reason other than the phony excuse that others do it, so they too want to do it.

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There are differences between a university and a college of Technology or polytechnic? The latter is specifically established to provide higher technical training to students. Once it imbibes the philosophy of a university, which is generally more theory-focused, some fundamental changes occur. In a country where the level of technology is still low, one of the few colleges of technology that’s churning out quality skilled manpower is about to be turned away from that lofty objective. It will be rendered impotent as most universities here have become, sending out graduates in technical-oriented courses who cannot effectively hold a spanner. This is more so as majority of our higher institutions have no focus. University of Technology runs programmes in Medicine, social, as well as actuarial sciences. University of Agriculture offers social science courses. Yet there’s a National Universities Commission that approves these things.

It makes one ask: Do we have an education policy that states what each kind of institution should be focused on? We need to have answers because the current trajectory isn’t producing the kind of results we need. It doesn’t, at a time when we need to produce skilled graduates. Instead what we have are so many graduates who cannot do anything with their hands apart sitting behind a desk and earn a salary. This kind of job isn’t available in the numbers we need them, and in any case a nation doesn’t add value to itself, its people, and the economy that way. At a time we complain that we need to diversify the economy, which requires that we produce people with skills in diverse fields, some people at Yaba Tech are out to make us lose this foremost institution that has made significant contributions to the limited pool of technically sound Nigerians that we have.

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I’m not a technical-oriented person, but I know how important people with technical skills are to our nation. YabaTech has produced a sizeable number of skilled people. I watch some of these brilliant minds on TV, and I hear them proudly state that YabaTech made them who they are. This is the same institution that some want to make deviate from its primary focus. Now I understand it if one reason for this move is to make YabaTech a degree-awarding institution. Technical people should be given the equivalent of university degrees rather than diploma if their institutions upgrade accordingly, and I think the debate on this has been on for a while. But to take YabaTech out of its technical depth and turn it into a theory-focused institution that our universities have become will be a disaster of monumental proportion. That, in the context of where this nation finds itself.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that this push couldn’t have happened without the involvement of the current management at YabaTech. I’ve not heard that the institution is listed as the foremost college of its type in the world. So, is it that this management has no vision such as one that can position YabaTech as a world-class institution in its area of specialisation? Is it university this management sees as the next vision to pursue? A management that realises the relevance of its institution’s place in the nation’s development won’t embark on this jamboree that the management at YabaTech busies itself with. Compare it with the management at Kaduna Polytechnic.

Incidentally, on the same day that the bill for the conversion of YabaTech was read on the floor of the National Assembly, Kaduna Polytechnic held a public event. In terms of prominence and the quality of their graduates, YabaTech and Kaduna Poly arguably occupy the first row in Nigeria. But the management at Kaduna Poly declared itself opposed to any move to change the institution to a university. At the public event, Prof. Idris Bugaje, the Rector, stood on the podium and said he was not in favour of the call to turn the institution into a university. He said such a move would destroy the technical focus of this technical-oriented school. That’s an educationist who doesn’t lose focus of the reason his school exists, as well as its place in the overall education policy of this nation. Does the management at YabaTech and the lawmakers they lobby have the same awareness?

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I don’t think the management of institutions such as YabaTech should be allowed to abandon what the Federal Ministry of Education appointed them to do. They are losing focus of their responsibility which, I think, is to administer well and reposition the institution under them to be the best it can be in the world, even as they churn out quality technical people for our nation. What the YabaTech management pushes lawmakers to do circumvents the goals and aspirations of the nation as stated in its education policy with regard to technical education. It’s an act of sabotage, and the management of any FG-owned higher institution that engages in this kind of pursuit is wasting resources, energy, and time of the institution it presides over. The Federal Government should restrain such management henceforth. For me, this bill is an exercise in jamboree. It doesn’t serve the interest of the nation. The President should kill it when it arrives his table.

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