By Tonnie Iredia
In year 2000, the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, was directed to implement a bogus policy of building a television station in every Senatorial District of Nigeria. One obvious laughable aspect of the implementation of the policy was the mad rush by each Senator to get the station in his/her constituency launched when necessary groundwork had not been done to ascertain the viability or survival of the stations.
The arrangement on ground was for different communities to make land available while the government empowered NTA and her supervisors to import dozens of transmitters and other facilities for the project. There was no room for feasibility studies to determine the suitability of the locations that were donated by the communities.
The only direction on ground which was that the project was to be handled in phases merely exacerbated the mad rush. The priority was to install and thereafter organize a commissioning ceremony. Many of the communities rejected pleas for the conventional test transmission schemes to be followed. Consequently, many of the projects were hurriedly executed.
In the process, so much went wrong. In certain states, such as Yobe, the community stations in the local areas were commissioned without a station in the state capital. In Delta State, where the land provided was technically inappropriate, the Asaba station was transmitting to River Niger rather than to the people of the state.
Other areas had their own woes. When I assumed duties in 2003, I immediately replaced the haphazard arrangement with an orderly plan. This was unacceptable to Senators who were bent on getting theirs without reference to the workability of the system as a whole.
Some of them who claimed to be quite close to the corridors of power threatened to use the ruling party system to effect my removal. They however found the need to relax on account of two things; first was their realization that I didn’t quite mind removal from office for performing well and second, my decision to install stations in only the villages with public power supply broke their ranks and I left them to fight it out. Many of those political stations have since failed irretrievably.
The above narration was what I first remembered when I heard a few days ago that some of our Senators were seeking to influence the establishment of Law School Campuses in their villages.
According to media reports, the Senate has been assiduously working on the scheme through the instrumentality of “A bill for an Act to Amend the Legal Education (Consolidation etc.) Act by Establishing Campuses for the Nigerian Law School, and for other related matters.”
The bill, seeks six additional campuses to be located in Kogi, Borno, Kebbi, Anambra, Delta and Ekiti States. One of the factors which was said to have influenced its main sponsor was the need to provide greater opportunities for law graduates to have more access to legal education.
Unfortunately, what the proliferation of institutions in Nigeria appears to have done has been to give room to political leaders and other variants of the elite class to influence the admission of unqualified candidates into such schools thereby lowering standards.
Besides, accessibility to any form of higher education in Nigeria is not necessarily constrained by only the issue of space. There are many students who are never able to afford the cost of such education.
So, even if another set of Senators sponsor bills to give every senatorial district a law school, many qualified Nigerians would still be unable to enjoy the fruits of such enlarged access. As a result, the sponsor of the bill on the need for more campuses must work out how to provide for those who cannot take advantage of the more spaces his bill is likely to provide, otherwise he would not have covered the field.
For example, the revelation by both the President of the Nigerian Bar Association and the Chairman of the Council of Legal Education that existing Law School Campuses in Nigeria are grossly underfunded, means that the plan to add more Campuses is a clear invitation to more financial disasters for the sector.
In other words, it is more rational to focus on existing institutions thereby making optimal use of what is on ground instead of dissipating the meagre resources available to the sector on replicated overheads.
Again, one reason Nigeria does not have strong public institutions is because our political leaders deprive every institution the opportunity to use their initiative to drive service delivery.
The recent failed plot to supervise an “independent” electoral body on the modalities of voting is a good example. The Council of Legal Education (CLE) is no doubt better positioned to determine the need for more Campuses of the Law School than legislators who are permanently in search of where and how to grab projects which they would claim to have initiated by themselves.
It would have been more salutary if the law makers had put forward a legislation that provides for the creation of new campuses and allowed the CLE to empirically determine how many to introduce at a point and where to locate each on the basis of needs assessment.
Instead, the supporters of the bill decided to name their own villages as the locations to be recognized by law – a rather uncharitable ambush. Worse still, they went ahead to give another slot to the South-South despite the existence of Yenagoa and Port Harcourt Campuses.
Perhaps, it did not immediately occur to them that to frustrate the Port Harcourt Campus, would be a futile exercise because no location would favourably compete with the one being built by Governor Nyesom Wike, Nigeria’s Mr. Project.
It is obviously not enough to enact a law to establish campuses which like the village TV stations of the NTA would not survive over time. The decision to establish or expand/increase institutions must be a calculated endeavour.
The human and material resources needed for the survival of such institutions should not only be tabulated; the continued source of their viability must be articulated and honoured to ensure their sustainability. But that is never the case with public projects in our clime as our greatest strength lies continuously on the spur of the moment.
The Nigerian Law school which was first established in Lagos in 1962 was for instance, hurriedly relocated to the town of Bwari near Abuja in 1997. History tells us that at the time of the movement, “hostels and the main auditorium were still under construction. The town had no hospital, no telephone and banking services, and the school was constructing its own borehole to provide potable water.”
There is nothing to suggest that the villages being proposed for new Campuses would fare better because those who clamour for the setting up of institutions are usually overwhelmed by the victory of allocation hoping that all would be well. Strong institutions deserve far more than that.
When NTA asked for funds to complete the expansion programme after the first few years, it was no longer considered. Indeed, the National Assembly provided a zero allocation for the project all through my tenure because I didn’t know how to ‘lobby’ legislators.
It is probably in Nigeria and perhaps other poor African countries where corruption thrives that a public institution has to lobby legislators to provide funds for the implementation of approved public projects.
But while we must be fair enough to accept that not much is heard these days of corrupt lobbying, other issues which impact negatively on governance still abound. The issue of loans is one of them.
If President Buhari ignores the bill on village law campuses when passed, critics would say he is a dictator. But if in the spirit of collaboration between the executive and the legislature, he tries to implement it, he would need a loan of N32billion to meet only the take-off requirements of the Campuses. Is that what our Senate wants?