By Eze Amaeshi
Last week the Imo State government received a delegation of the National Universities Commission Verification Committee for the proposed university of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Umuagwo. I even read of Governor Hope Uzodimma joyfully stating that the proposed university would go a long way in curbing unemployment in the state and making our youths more responsible, as well as usher in a new era of food sufficiency in the state. I am honestly dismayed over this submission by the state government. At the moment Imo State has over 10 institutions of higher education offering certificates ranging from NCE, ND/HND and degrees, including the open university that has been churning out graduates over the years. Whether the idea is to upgrade the Imo State Polythetic which is formerly known as College of Agriculture, Umuagwo to a university or to build a brand new university at Umuagwo, I maintain that the idea is a misplacement of priority and will never in any way, either today or in the future, be the solution to the massive unemployment of our people and the social vices that are rooted in unemployment. If the college of Agriculture, Umuagwo that has been in existence for over 30years has not solved the agricultural needs of the sate and by extension, the social vices occasioned by unemployment, even 10 universities of agriculture will certainly avail nothing! This reasoning is based on the fact that the present state of high unemployment, social vices, poor IGR base and other challenges facing Imo State and Nigeria in general have nothing to do with the establishment of any university of Agriculture. Our problem has always been poor leadership which has given birth to serious misallocation of resources over the years.
And the idea of building another university-at this time is another grand misallocation of resources which shows that the present administration in the state is providing poor leadership.
If the present government thinks the state has enough money to prosecute a new university, it would be better to channel the funds into more creative ventures such as payment of pensioners and civil servants, fulfilling the state’s counterpart payments with agencies-local and international. Payment of pensioners and civil servants have a high multiplier effect on the economy and lives of Imolites because the state is presently 80% dependent on government. The informal sector is never captured in the state’s economy, even though it employs a significant number of people. When salaries and pensions are paid regularly, the liquidity in the state is boosted and the economic activities are energized. The worst thinking on the part of the government would be to finance the proposed university through borrowing. It is economically unsound to borrow to finance a project that has no inherent potentials to repay the loan. In any way, building a new university or upgrading a polytechnic to the status of a university is a very expensive exercise. By the economic principle of opportunity cost or alternative forgone, this would mean starving vital sectors of funds in order to execute the university project. Funds are limited in nature and misappropriating it into a white elephant project or one devoid of economic values would cost dearly to the state. This misappropriation or rather misallocation of funds would most certainly lead to an upsurge in the very problems of unemployment and social vices it was meant to curb. This idea of a university of Agriculture is comparable to Rochas Okorocha’s so-called 27 general hospitals. Okorocha adduced all kinds of reason to support the ventures, but everyone knew he never meant well for the state.
He was only looking for projects to point at to show how he spent the state’s funds, not that the state was in need of such projects. Imo State had, in Okorocha’s time, about 11 general hospitals which were in very poor state and needed urgent government intervention. However, Okorocha abandoned them to embark on new “general hospitals” which are mere houses and conduit pipes to siphon funds. The proposed university of Agriculture promises to serve the same purpose as Rochas Okorocha’s “27 general hospitals.” Let us change from this way of doing things.
If the state has funds that could finance a new university, is it not better to channel it into the already existing state institutions such as Imo State University, Imo State University Teaching Hospital, Orlu and of course upgrade our already existing general hospitals and health centers? Just as Governor Hope Uzodimma through his 3R mantra of recovering, rehabilitating our dilapidated roads, so also, he should forget building a new university and embark on rehabilitating our dilapidated state-owned institutions and making them more effective. Imo State university is currently ranked 60th among the comity of universities in Nigeria. Instead of building a university of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences that is a “highly rated Citadel of Learning,” in the words of Deputy Governor, Prof. Placid Njoku, let the government promote Imo State University and others to such heights that it would become highly rated in Nigeria and Africa. It would be far better to do so.
Governor Uzodimma should focus on providing good leadership which is principle-centered. He needs to build trust with Imolites and trust is a product of character and competence. The idea of a new university smacks of incompetent leadership, no matter under what guise it is promoted. Imo State is having a lot of challenges and this administration should become proactive in addressing these challenges, some of which it brought upon itself. The question of trust is vital. Unfortunately, the governor has surrounded himself with overzealous sycophants who have become the interface between the administration and the people. As it is today, Governor Uzodimma is not aware of the reality of the feelings of the people towards his administration. Imolites are hurting very deeply and what they need now is not a new university but programmes and policies that would re-vitalize the economy, re-define the image of the administration as trustworthy and provide the enabling environment that could attract investors into various sectors of the state. The governor could use people, even outside his present team, to accomplish the task of good service to Imolites.