For more than five weeks now, Lagos State University, Ojo, has been in darkness. The Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) reportedly cut off power supply to the institution because of N29m electricity bill that the Chairman of the university’s Governing Council considers to be too high.
Although the council gives the impression that it is not paying because the bill is outrageous, to an average worker in LASU, the university is broke. It was lamentation galore the last time I visited LASU, a university whose sobriquet is “Citadel of learning that produces professionals and great students.” It is impossible not to pity the workers- from the non-academic to the academic staff. The hot weather compounds the problem. To worsen the situation, the lack of electricity on the campus also translates into lack of water. So, the whole place was messy. Imagine a university community without power and water. The library was not only empty but dark.
The university has been trying to run on generator, but this is not sufficient. For now, it rations power. Each faculty or section gets a two-hour electricity supply daily. The situation has become so bad to the extent such that some departments are pleading for helps from people outside the campus. This is the situation of things in Nigeria’s second best university going by the 2021 Times Higher Education Ranking, and in a university owned by the state of Excellence, located right within Lagos, Nigeria’s economic nerve centre. This says a lot about Lagos as a state and Nigeria as a country. In normal climes, LASU won’t just be a citadel of learning, but a representation of excellence that Lagos State claims to stand for.
This is called branding, reputation building or image management. Branding, among other things, helps in shaping what others think about a product. How can a university community be off power supply for more than five weeks? Aside being absurd, it sends wrong signals to the outside world? How does Lagos think others will perceive the state and how can a university like this attract foreign students?
Honestly, Nigeria is a bundle of paradox. Otherwise should this be the time that a university recently listed among the 501-600 brackets in a global ranking be showing the world that it cannot manage an ordinary power problem? If, indeed, LASU and its management truly understood the worth of the institution’s current position in world university ranking; it would have done everything possible to manage its reputation and refrained from washing its dirty linen in public. As it is, I doubt if a ranking body like THE World University Ranking reputed for assessing hundreds of universities across over 90 countries and regions around the globe, would love to be identified with LASU in its current precarious situation. It is bad enough that the university is struggling to appoint a new Vice Chancellor which shouldn’t be so in a normal circumstance, adding the problem of lack of power to the cup is pretty mouthful.
Let’s even forget about global rating and consider the functions of a university. I will refer to the words of Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bristol, in this regard. According to him, the main functions of higher education and universities are predominantly two-fold. One is as educational establishments and the second as generators of knowledge and technology. As educational establishments, they are to provide able, self-directed, independent and confident learners who could take leadership roles and as research institutions, they are there to provide new knowledge, to change paradigms, to aid society in its development and in meeting new challenges as they come along.
Which of these functions can LASU perform under its present circumstances? How can teaching and learning take place without power and water? How can any teacher think not to talk of focusing on any research in their current predicament? Is anybody even thinking about its 35,000 student population now? I guess a jeleosimi (sub-standard) private primary or secondary school operator will show more concern for their students. After all, we see what some private primary and secondary schools do to make their students comfortable.
Imagine this save our soul note sent to a group of alumni of the institution. The notes reads: “The school is passing through a tough time. For the past one month, we’ve not had light and water. Each faculty has been trying to fix its water problem personally as the university is grounded financially…. We need N78, 100 to fix the water. There are other important and expensive needs the faculty is trying to also fix. Thus, I want to suggest that we assist. Other sets have also been consulted.” This is the kind of problem that a university alumni are being asked to solve!
Compare this to the robust support that institutions like the California State University, a publicly funded university in the US gets from its own alumni. The CSU’s more than 3 million alumni are reputed to be a powerful force within California. They shape the state’s future through teaching, agriculture, business, and sciences. Approximately one in ten workers in the state is said to have a CSU degree, including more than half of California teachers and more than half of its state legislators. There, the alumni are involved in campus programmes that support students and system initiatives. They are also actively engaged in marketing the institution; they send their own children there, so many of the CSU’s financial supporters are themselves alumni and parents. How many alumni would want to send their children to LASU if they have a choice?
Seriously, things are upside down in this country. Sometimes I hear overwhelmed Nigerians say things like: Who did we offend? Who cursed us? How did we get here? I often smile because I know that Nigeria is not under any curse; the country is just in a wrong course. What we see is a simple case of planting and reaping. You can’t plant orange and reap pineapple. We all understand this principle very well. So, why are we expecting good from bad? We keep planting mediocrity and expecting excellence. It can’t work! Alumni in other countries make donation towards mentoring students, research, etc. They help in building and growing their institutions’ brand. They provide internships and career opportunities to students. Here we are asking our own alumni for donations to buy petrol to fuel generators and buy water. Is that normal?
I want to assume that Governor Babajide Sanwo- Olu of Lagos State is not aware of what is presently happening in LASU. I won’t blame him if he is not. As a governor, he should have his hands full. Besides, the university has an acting vice chancellor who ordinarily should be able to handle its affairs. It also has a governing council that ought to have put things in order. However, since the situation has obviously degenerated to this ugly and unpardonable level, I think it’s time for the governor to act. He also needs to do so fast enough to recover the university’s battered image. The governor should also consider the plight of the students and the workers and release the funds required to offset this electricity bill. He needs to put an end to this public embarrassment. The university alumni should be involved in more serious things that could lead to greater impact on the university not this kind of mediocre contribution.