Universities Without Electricity: Nigeria’s Contribution To 21st Century knowledge


“Do our universities deserve what they are getting having failed to find solutions to the country’s problems, including electricity generation and distribution? Or, does the country deserve the universities it has for not providing even the most basic needs like electricity? On the other hand, do they deserve themselves?”


JUNE 2024. Festivity was in the air. Professors and students, staff and high class visitors were in attendance. The highlight was a first class dinner. Africa’s book factory, Professor Toyin Falola, flew into the country to deliver the farewell lecture. It was all in honour of Professor Abd-Rasheed Na’Allah, out-going Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja, UNIABUJA. But, trust spoilers.

They are never far away from festivities. As the wining and dining went on with fine speeches seeing off the VC at month end, students of the university were lamenting the N500 daily they pay to charge their cell phones. It was the second week the university had been plunged into darkness. It was not that the university is new to power outages, but this particular one had lengthened to pay farewell to Professor Na’Allah.

UNIABUJA claims it is “the model University in Nigeria (and) a pride of Nigerians and in the provision of higher education”. I am amazed it achieved these and attained such lofty heights while enveloped in darkness.

UNIABUJA students are quite measured: they can live under any condition. But not so the students of the University of Benin, UNIBEN. Confronted with the same circumstances, they took to the streets, blocking the busy Benin-Ore Highway to protest weeks of electricity cut. The students were two weeks away from their examinations, yet had no electricity to study after lectures. They demanded a 24-hour electricity supply. The authorities could not meet the demand, so they shut down the university.

While professors in other countries are professing and advancing the frontiers of knowledge, their counterparts in the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, are lamenting the lack of electricity to do basic work. So, 40 of them signed a petition last week asking the Visitor, President Bola Tinubu, to intervene given the centrality of electricity supply to the operations of the university. They stated what appears to be the obvious. That a university with an average total annual budgetary overhead grant of N150 million, cannot pay an electricity bill of N3.6 billion. The egg heads calculated that if the bill were to be transferred to the 50,000 students of the institution, charges would need to be hiked by over 500 per cent.

The professors suggested alternatives. Government could pay for the cost of electricity as part of its overhead grant or, use its 49 per cent shareholding in the electricity companies to direct them to supply universities uninterrupted power supply in exchange for tax credits. A third suggestion is to mandate the electricity companies to introduce a dedicated social tariff band with rates the universities can afford.

The government’s response is uncertain, but I assume that the university still has many moons to go: producing first class materials without the benefit of electricity supply. Is it for nothing our national anthem proclaims ‘Nigeria, we hail thee’?

The University College Hospital, Ibadan, founded in 1952, is the pioneer teaching hospital in the country. Its 1,000 beds makes it one of the biggest hospitals in the country.

The legendary UCH proclaims, like Ozymandias: “We are the flagship tertiary healthcare institution in Nigeria, offering world-class Training, Research and Services.” It even has a Department of Nuclear Medicine, that branch involved in the use of radioactive substances in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases, including nuclear imaging. Short of witchcraft, how can the UCH perform all these, including blood storage and endless operations, with power outages and even conscious power disconnections? The Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company had for several days, disconnected UCH from the electricity system for owing N400 million.

Six years ago, the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, Idi-Araba decided to check power cuts by imposing an N11,000 electricity levy on each student. When the students refused to pay, the tertiary health institution reduced power supply to four hours daily. But mass protests led the authorities to seek other ways of reducing the power outages.

The first generation University of Nigeria, UNN, was by 2018 producing about 10,000 first degree graduates and 3,000 higher degrees. But its power outages were between 48 and 120 hours weekly. Sometimes, power cuts lasted a whole week. So, small or micro generators began to pollute the campus.

The Federal University Kashere, FUK, Gombe State is in an area with sweltering temperatures. So, the authorities supply the hostels two hours of electricity daily. The students in most cases pay commercial centres to charge their phones and laptops.

But these power cuts to universities, lasting weeks at a stretch, is like child’s play when compared to the case of the Kaduna State University, KASU. The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, branch Chairperson, Peter Adamu, who made a diagnostic analysis, said the situation, like advancing cancer, had gone from intermittent and epileptic to a total blackout. It became so bad that the Kafanchan campus had no electricity supply for over seven months! Adamu described the atmosphere in the university: “There is a feeling of pessimism, hopelessness, despair, despondency and dissent premonition that if the management of the university did not redouble their efforts, the end to this ugly situation might not be palatable.”

The miracle is that KASU, which is like a patient on life support, is still breathing and giving birth to new graduates and post- graduates!

Power failures, I must say, is not just a disease of public universities, the private ones also suffer it. For instance, the students of the American University of Nigeria, AUN, on April 24, 2024 staged peaceful demonstrations against persistent power cuts. To assuage the students anger, school authorities gave an assurance of a minimum five-hour power supply daily until public power supply is restored. They also shifted the commencement of examinations and, agreed to halt regular teaching to give the students more time to study.

Anybody who does not believe academics, staff and students can perform miracles, should visit Nigerian universities.

Electricity is central to the operation of universities, polytechnics and technical institutions. It is necessary for the running or functioning of equipment. It is fundamental to learning, industrialisation and development. So, running tertiary institutions with little, epileptic or no electricity, is nothing short of the miraculous. But it is not a lesson other institutions outside Nigeria want to learn from or experiment.

Do our universities deserve what they are getting having failed to find solutions to the country’s problems, including electricity generation and distribution? Or, does the country deserve the universities it has for not providing even the most basic needs like electricity? On the other hand, do they deserve themselves? But this is no time to trade blames. Rather, it is the time to put our hands on the plough and let there be light.

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