Nigerians cry foul over outrageous fees charged by church-owned varsities
By ORI MARTINS, GABRIEL DIKE and SAM OTTI
Give and it shall be given to you is a regular message in churches. Congregations of various religious groups, are always in wont of giving. With fruits of charity from cheerful givers, various Christian denominations in the country established tertiary institutions in choice places. The decrepit state of facilities in public universities and incessant strikes by academic, non-academic staff have contributed to nurture this desire to reality and most of them are indeed, flourishing.
Built on Christian foundation and philosophy, these academic institutions define their mandate as those on a mission to rescue the sickening education system in the country. Thus, they were expected to cater for both the poor and the rich.
These tertiary institutions continue to increase, as more churches proliferate. Today, most Christian parents and guardians who cannot afford the high fees charged by the church-owned universities are wondering why things have gone too awry concerning tuition fees in those schools. Martins Ibanye is a businessman based at Ojudu- Ikeja, Lagos.
He frowned at the spurious tution being charged as fees by church-owned universities. According to him, ‘I am not very comfortable with the way and manner they are casting burdens on their poor faithful by charging fees that are beyond the ordinary man. The church is meant to protect the poor man whether spiritually, socially, economically or academically.
I am disturbed because the European missionaries built schools free and trained us with their grants without any of us contributing any kobo. But now, our priests and pastors are taxing us so heavily that we cannot afford to send our children to the universities we built’. Also, Edith Darlington, an industrialist, noted that it is a shame that the universities that came into being from the sweats and contributions of the poor church members can no longer admit the kids and wards of the faithful that denied themselves food and pleasure to ensure the erection of the universities. She said, ‘we all are aware that most of those universities were built by the offerings and tithes of church members. In other words, the universities are our commonwealth and should therefore accommodate all our interests. After building the universities, the authorities of the respective institutions now hiked the fees beyond our reach.
The institutions are now for the rich just as the not too privileged are not considered. This is quite condemnable’. A victim of the outrageous fees, Onyinye Ikenga, narrated how she was forced out from one of the universities. ‘We are devout Catholics and I suspect that was why my father sent me to a Catholic-owned university. I got admission to read Law but I spent only two academic sessions as the school continued to increase its school fees with reckless abandon until my parents could no longer afford them.
I later finished at Imo State University. What I am saying is that as it is with the Catholic university where I could not graduate from because of spurious school fees, so also it is with other church-owned institutions. Their fees are not what some of us can afford and it is really sad’. She added,
‘What pains me most is that majority of the pastors that owned the universities charging these out-of-the-world fees are the ones that are flying private jets all over the place. They could have used the money expended on acquiring those jets to subsidize the schools so that the poor can equally get admission rather than junketing all over the globe’. Meanwhile, a banker and chief executive officer of Vandoze Enterprices, Owerri, Chukwuemeka Dozie, revealed that church-owned universities are charging high to meet up with international standard. He said that there was no way the schools would have put in place high standard of education without charging high fees.
He said, ‘we cannot expect the church-owned universities not to charge high fees because, if they do not, it will be difficult for them to meet up with international standard and the quality will be low and we shall still complain’.
UNIVERSITIES’ MISSION AND VISION
The Bowen University was established by the Nigerian Baptist Convention and named after Reverend Thomas Jefferson Bowen who pioneered Baptist work in Nigeria in 1850. The university obtained a final government approval in 2001, but commenced academic activities on November 4, 2002 through its first student intake of about 500.
Also, Covenant University, according to information on its website, was a part of the Liberation Commission that God gave to the populist presiding Bishop of the Living Faith Church, (aka Winners’ Chapel), Bishop David Oyedepo, some years ago. The appropriate forms of intent to establish a private university was submitted to the National Universities Commission (NUC) in March 2000 and by July 15, 2001, the NUC verification team came for the inspection of facilities and programmes. On February 12, 2002, the Federal Government officially presented the certificate, which granted Covenant University the licence to operate as a private university in the country.
The founders of these institutions maintain that they were led by God’s spirit to establish these universities. For instance, after the establishment of Church of God Mission in the 1960s, the late Archbishop Benson Idahosa, reportedly received specific directions from God to venture into the area of education, starting from nursery education to the university level.
By 1981, the Vision of Christian Faith University (CFU), which was later renamed Benson Idahosa University, had matured in the mind of the Archbishop. But the actualisation of the vision had to be suspended to provide room for the establishment of the highly reputable WORD OF FAITH GROUP OF SCHOOLS (Nursery, primary and secondary) in the 1980s. It was in 1992 that Archbishop Idahosa applied for a licence to establish and operate a private university. In February 2002, 10 years after the application to start a private University, the federal government, acting through NUC, granted their prayers.
The university opened its gates as a fully-licensed institution in March 2002 with an initial student enrolment of 400, registered into two faculties (Faculty of Arts, Social Sciences & Education and Faculty of Basic and Applied Sciences). In establishing the Redeemer’s University (RUN) by the General Overseer, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, was believed to be running with the vision of ‘increasing the number of Nigerian youths seeking higher education, but also to arrest the decay in the educational system, through appropriate training.’ The vision of the university is to ‘have a country where judges are just and impartial, soldiers, policemen and women are compassionate and considerate, traditional rulers embody distinction, dignity and decorum, bankers are honest and honourable.’
There are other institutions like Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, established by the Supra Diocesan Board (West) of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), the Madonna University, Okija, a Catholic institution and Franciscan institution of higher learning founded by the Felician Sisters in 1937. Babcock University, Ilishan Remo, Ogun State, founded by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, is also a fast growing university built on the cornerstone of Christian principles.
Despite the noble mission of the founders of these institutions, tuition fees that form part of students’ admission requirements have continued to rise. This has continued to raise dust both within and outside the circles. At Bowen University, for instance, N485, 000 was scheduled as fees for the 2012/2013 undergraduate programme.
For the MBBS programme, all students/Pre Clinical would pay N700,000 while clinical students would part with N850,000. According to the payment structure, a minimum of N400,000 and N500,000 must be paid from the session fees by pre-clinical and clinical students respectively in the first semester before registration.
Feeding throughout the study shall be on Pay As You Eat (PAYE) basis. At the Redeemer’s University, first and second year students in College of Humanities would pay as much as N510,000, while those in College of Natural Sciences would also part with N550,000 for their school fees. The sum of N407,100 goes to third and fourth year students in the College of Humanities, while students in the College of Management Sciences would part with N413,000.
From the school’s website, where this information was obtained, there was no indication whether the fees covered feeding throughout the session. At Babcock, first year students need between a N774,830 and N1,033,030 depending on their programmes. The fees cover three meals, accommodation in choice hostel, medical services and others for the 2012/2013 session. Some parents and other stakeholders are worried that the current fees charged by these church-owned institutions have deprived the poor members of the society the easy access to tertiary education. One of those bothered seriously by this ugly development is the Rector of Abia State Polytechnic, Elder Allwell Abalogu Onukaogu.
Speaking at a public lecture in Aba, on the topic, ‘Re-inventing yesterday’s educational practices today for a better tomorrow,’ he said the rot in the tertiary institutions could be blamed on the inequitable distribution of education facilities between the federal, state and the mission universities, describing it as social injustice to the poor who are constantly denied the opportunity of intellectual development. In what he described as the brazen quest by churches to establish tertiary institutions, Onukaogu said, ‘Although private institutions have positively impacted on the educational landscape of the system; the craze at which churches expend the tithes of indigent members to build universities for the stupendous rich unbelievers at the exclusion of their poor members remains a grave concern to the development of education in Nigeria.
However, the fees are priced outside the reach of even the middle class members of the church. The fees range between N500,000 and N1 million per academic session; this constitutes a threat to education in Nigeria.” He advised the churches to prudently divest from tertiary education; and expend its resources on the primary and secondary education so as to instill morals and fundamental intellectual potentials at the lower tier of education. Aside the Rector’s concern, parents, who constitute large membership of these religious bodies, have continued to grumble and murmur why these schools built with their offerings like sowing seeds, development fund collection, tithes, first fruit offering and harvest offering have become commercialized. They appealed to their church leaders to have a rethink and rescind for the sake of the poor.
The Vice Chancellor of Babcock University, Prof Kayode Makinde has dismissed the notion held by majority of Nigerians that churches-owned universities are unnecessarily charging bogus fees at the expense of the poor members of the church. According to him, ‘Babcock University is a unique institution. To start with, education is quite expensive no matter how you look at it. Anybody who does not know that doesn’t know anything because you have to pay the lecturers. If you can’t pay your lecturers well, will you hire mediocres from the streets to teach the students? What about keeping and maintaining the school?
At Babcock, for instance, we have 24 hours power supply and you know that diesel costs money. And this is why I believe that government that talks about free education is being deceptive because nothing is free. I must also tell you we do not discriminate against the poor. We are here for everybody.’
Also, the Coordinator of Education Rights Campaign (ERC), Comrade Taiwo Hassan, stated it was a pity that the universities owned by the churches are charging exorbitant fees and wondered what happened to the spirit of ‘carrying one another’s burden’. He said, ‘If you are poor, you have no place in any of the church-owned universities. But it is unfortunate because the church ought to be compassionate on all grounds’. For the vast majority of working class parents, this is a letdown of historic proportions given the fact that just a little over 30 years ago, government’s education policies aimed to attract to school the highest possible number without any inhibition of fees etc. According to him, with sky-high fees, only a few are able to attend private universities administered by the churches.
Again, considering the prevalence of poverty, how many of the poor members can afford the hundreds of thousands being charged by the private universities established by churches? Reacting to the high fees by private universities established by churches, the son of the late human rights activist, Mr. Mohammed Gani, faulted the exorbitant fees charged by the institutions saying even their members who pay tithes and other contributions cannot afford the high fees while suggesting the federal government should regulate the fees through NUC. ‘The FG should through the NUC regulate the fees charged by these church-owned universities. In fact, the churches ought to provide the institutions as part of their responsibility to their members who contributed to the building of the institutions. I can’t imagine one of the universities charging as much as N1.3million for a session. How do they expect an average Nigerian to get the money?’
He added, ‘Some of the pastors or owners of such universities benefitted from government free education and have used the church funds to build such institutions and now turn around to demand high fees. Most of them don’t have their wards in Nigeria. They are abroad using money realized from members to educate their children. The FG should come out with a policy on what is to be charged per session by these church-owned universities’. The chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), University of Lagos (UNILAG), Dr. Karo Ogbinaka, noted that the federal government has not gotten it right on issues affecting university education as long as it allows private universities established by churches to be charging soaring school fees.
“What the church-owned universities seem to be saying is if wealthy Nigerians can afford to send their wards to Ghana and other West African countries, they (Nigerians) can equally afford to pay any amount of money to stay back in the country and study. However, NUC cannot regulate fees in the private universities because the FG or NUC does not give them grant but in terms of quality, the commission should continue to regulate their academic activities”, the ASUU boss enthused.
But Dr. G.S. Mmaduabuchi Okeke of the Department of Political Science, UNILAG, disagreed with Dr. Ogbinaka, insisting the FG must regulate the exorbitant fees charged by the private universities particularly the ones owned by the religious bodies.
His words: “It is unfortunate that our education system is going through this phase. Most private universities charge fees that cannot be paid by the middle class including members of their churches. Most of the institutions lack better facilities which do not correspond with the high fees charged. The fact that university education has been deregulated does not mean they should charge exorbitant fees. The NUC has the powers to intervene”.