Professor Nasiru Idris
Professor Nasiru Idris rose to become a professor at age 40 years. Presently, the Adamawa State-born academic is the Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Nasarawa State University, Keffi. A strong voice on environment matters in the country and beyond, Professor Idris shared his views on the sector, and involvement of academics as election officials among others. Apex News presents excerpts of the interview.
What do you think is the solution to the admission crisis in Nigeria where many are seeking admissions with fewer slots?
It only in Nigeria that admission is secured through the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Let’s look at the Asian Tigers for example. You secure admission directly through the Admission Officer of each university, but in Nigeria that’s not the case. The population of Nigeria is about 190million with few universities. Malaysia has 26million people but with over 100 universities. Therefore, there is need for more universities in Nigeria. In Nigeria, it is only Ogun State that has about fourteen or fifteen universities. In other states there are just two universities, one for the state and the other for Federal Government and there is high demand for admission. As such, we need more universities in Nigeria as well as expand the departments and faculties, because the more you have more of these, the more the students. More universities are very important but as the case may be in Nigeria, private universities are very expensive. An average state in Nigeria needs to have seven or eight universities to accommodate applicants from JAMB.
But there are fears that if there are more universities, there will decline in standards.
Talking about standards, if you look at the United Nations (UN) and UNESCO, it says you should allocate at least 26 per cent of budget to education sector but in some states it is less than 5 per cent. So, if the 26 percent is allocated or even 10 per cent, it will go a long way. That is why we have Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND), Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) among others as government need to do something. The quality of education will continue to go down as long as we don’t allocate the required percentage to the sector in the budget.
You were recently elected as Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Nasarawa State University, Keffi. How did it come about?
There was a popular saying that ‘Rome was not built in a day.’ When I secured a job at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, I was appointed a coordinator of a programme in the Department of Geography and after few months, I became the Director of Environmental Studies and later contested for the Deputy Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences and won. Later the Vice Chancellor appointed me as Head of Department of Geography then I initiated the establishment of Urban and Regional Planning programme as a unit under the Department of Geography. This is because I realized that environment is key. If you look at issues as regards climate change, there is need for us to have a Faculty of Environmental Sciences. Let’s even look at the state of deterioration in Abuja, the facilities are overstretched so there is need for environmental managers to come and cater for Abuja very well. And other universities close by do not have environmental studies programmes. I realized the need to established such Faculty at Nasarawa State University because of proximity and cater for Abuja and that is what led to my election as the Dean of the Faculty. I initiated the establishment of Architecture, Building, Estate Management, Urban and Regional Planning and Environmental Management and therefore the Vice Chancellor deemed it fit that I become the pioneer Dean and the law states that after two years we have to go into election and I contested and based on my track records, I won.
What are the challenges you faced as the pioneer Dean of the Faculty?
There were challenges but we are very lucky in Nigeria we have TETFUND that came to our assistance. Currently, a two-storey floor is going on that TETFUND is building for us. But we are going to have serious problem of employment, qualified students and some of the facilities of which I hope the state government as well as TETFUND will come to our aid. We also have some courses at Post-graduate level like Facility Management, Project Management, Construction Management, Environmental Resource Management and Geographic Information System. All these are courses that will help Abuja as well as the 17 Goals of SDGs.
How will these courses help Abuja? Did you identify some environmental challenges?
Let us go back to the reasons why Lagos ceases to be the capital of Nigeria. This was because Lagos was fulfilling a dual role of a capital city as well as a state capital and does not have space for further expansion. Lagos also has a big problem of waste management because of larger population and not centrally located. Some of these problems are in Abuja-overstretching of facilities, waste management is becoming a problem so also is urbanization and maintenance of the city. That is why during the administration of Nasir el-Rufai as Minister, sold all government houses because government cannot cope with the maintenance. A civil servant will be staying in a government house but the maintenance will be on the government, why can’t they maintain their own houses? That was why the government of el-Rufai initiated that those houses be sold so that government doesn’t need to cater for the burden. That was very important but now there are private developers and even as they are expanding, still the facilities are being overstretched. This is so because government is not doing its own primary responsibility for the expansion of the city. Sites and service scheme is very important but now we don’t have that. The FCT has a Satellite Town Development Agency and are they doing their primary responsibility? I don’t think so. That is why if you go a few kilometers out of Abuja city Phase I, everywhere is ghetto. This is not that practice if you go other parts of the world. Abuja is supposed to be a World-class city based on Garden City concept as well as Neighbourhood Design. Neigbourhood design is to cater for security while Garden City design is for the nature. But today, we don’t have it in Abuja. Therefore, there is need for the review of Abuja Master-Plan and who are the primary people that will review the Master-Plan? It is the people that will be graduating with environmental-related courses.
Though Nasarawa State University has established a Faculty of Environmental Sciences but are people really interested in the sector?
Let me make reference to public health where we have medical geographers that look at issues of public health. Geography is the studies of space and time. It encompasses so many things, that is why issues that deals with environment is very important. For example, in any layout, first and foremost, you need a surveyor, a planner to design and so who is going to erect the structure? It is an architect and the structure is ongoing, you need a builder, a structural and civil engineer. So all the physical structure you see in a city, you need an environmentalist, so a city cannot survive without an environmental manager and I am talking about all the discipline under environmental sciences.
Today, there is a serious awareness about environmental issues. There is the climate change issue. There is rapid influx of students from Abuja into Nasarawa State University to study environmental sciences. There is high demand for the courses. People want to know what is happening in their environment. You have climate change, flooding, desertification and people want to have the basic knowledge.
One good thing about environmental-related courses, you don’t need the government to employ you. As an Estate Surveyor, you establish your office, as a planner, you can do advocacy, as structural engineer, you work with private developers. Many graduates of environmental sciences don’t wait for government. They are self-employed and that is what the present government is advocating.
There have been back and forth between government and Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in terms of lack of infrastructure among many other things. What is the way out?
If you look at the 2009 ASUU agreement, there are so many thing included in that. For example regarding EARNED allowance which is key to the 2009 agreement, they should incorporate it into the salaries so that every month, but cumulatively it will be too much to pay. Government should spend huge amount of money on education sector and the 26 per cent budgetary allocation I talked about should be incorporated into TETFUND. The federal government has been helpful because in all universities including those of the states, there are TETFUND projects. Government should continue their responsibility of erecting structures through TETFUND. The head of TETFUND should be fair and just and go to all the universities, meet with the management and ask of the primary demand of each university. Also I want to appeal to the government to increase the salary of an academician. A professor is earning less than N500, 000 a month and compared with what is earned in neighbouring countries, is not the case.
Presently, there are many private universities being established in Nigeria. What that impact negatively to standard of education?
Private universities are being established because the quality of many public universities in Nigeria is going down. And many parents want their children in private universities so that they can be monitored rather than take them overseas. But if you look at the tuition fee in private universities is very expensive and an average Nigerian cannot afford it. If you go to Ghana or Benin Republic, private universities are not expensive. We can also have private universities that are not expensive but most are established because of the monetary gains. The tuition of private universities in Nigeria is between N2-N3million. Government can have public university but private-driven. So government can evolve a public-private partnership university and it will go a long way and reduce the burden when it comes to admission.
During the 2019 election, many academicians participated as officials where some did well and others didn’t. What is your take on that?
Academicians are neutral. Why I say so is because most of the Returning Officers are professors and a professor will not just go and disgrace himself. But anything you hear from the returning officer is from the collation officers and they are not professors. It is what is brought to him that is read. He will not influence anything. It is the figure before him that is presented. It is okay to use academicians but politicians must not influence. Majority will never compromise for sure because as a Vice Chancellor or Senior Professor, you will never spoil your name.