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Ten African Centres of Excellence: Positive Research Milestone for Nigerian Universities

By Simeon Nwakaudu

The march to greatness for Nigerian Universities has remained consistent. More than any other time in the recent history of our beloved country, the nation’s universities are getting local and international accolades for the marked transformation that has been deliberately engendered by the Jonathan administration.
Gradually, but definitely, the universities are now competing with the very best on the continent and on the global stage. Like we have maintained over the last two months, the results are way beyond the false alarms and reports planted by propagandists in a few pliant media.
The common saying that falsehood travels fast, but is usually overtaken by the truth is most applicable to the public perception created by propagandists about the nation’s universities. The reality on ground is that in the last three years, Nigerian universities have grown in leaps and bounds to the appreciation of international development partners.
The marked improvement in these universities are hardly highlighted because most non-governmental organizations and media practitioners have refused to go the extra mile of inspecting and assessing the infrastructural and academic programmes being executed by the Jonathan administration. The failure to conduct independent assessment has given rise to the fixated reports that nothing is happening in the schools.
The World Bank thinks otherwise having detailed technocrats to access infrastructure and academic programmes in Nigerian Universities in its quest to establish African Centres of Excellence. As you read this article, the World Bank has designated ten Nigerian Public and Private Universities as Centres of Excellence for outstanding research programmes in key areas of societal development.
Before you wonder what this is all about, it is necessary to inform you that each of this designated African Centre of Excellence, ACE, is to receive a grant of $8million USD (N12.8billion) to run approved research projects. These funds are to be expended between 2014 and 2017. Importantly, of the 18 African Centres of Excellence, ACE, designated by the World Bank, 10 are in Nigeria.
This fact underscores the improvement of facilities and academic programmes in Nigerian Universities in the last three years. These ten universities emerged after critical project analyses were conducted by 18 International Evaluators, who were not influenced by any other considerations other than the physical assessments they conducted in the participating universities.
The benefitting universities include; Redeemers University, Mowe Ogun State/University of Ibadan, African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, African University of Science and Technology, Pan African Materials Institute, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Centre for Agricultural Development and Sustainable Environment, Ahmadu Bello University, Centre of Excellence on Neglected Tropical Diseases and Forensic Biotechnology and University of Jos, Phyto-medicine Research and Development. Others are University of Benin, Centre of Excellence in Reproductive Health and Innovation, University of Port Harcourt, ACE Centre for Oil Field Chemicals, Obafemi Awolowo University, Knowledge Park: A Model for National Science Technology and Knowledge Park Initiative, Bayero University Kano, ACE in Dryland Agriculture and Benue State University, Centre for Food Technology and Research.
From the list of benefiting universities, we have seven Federal, two private and one state-owned university. These African Centres of Excellence were made possible by the massive investments of the Jonathan administration in the strengthening of the capacity of the National Universities Commission, NUC, to effectively monitor the activities of the all universities in the country for greater achievements. The selected private universities are performing creditably because of the enabling environment created for them to thrive.

The feat achieved by the Nigerian universities is a product of conscious investment by the Federal Government and effective monitoring by the National Universities Commission, NUC. Nobody, no matter how hard people try will wish away the positives in the nation’s education set up. Since Jonathan, an academic took over the leadership of the country, he has changed the face of university education. His introduction of the Book Fund, the Presidential Programme for the production of fresh first class academics, the local and international training for close to 7000 academics to acquire Ph.Ds and the injection of N1.3trillion in the coming six years are key novel programmes that have revolutionised the nation’s universities.
The World Bank Team Leader, Mr. Andres Bloom, expressed the willingness of the body to partner with the Government of Nigeria. He also expressed satisfaction with level of commitment of officials to the project.
NUC Executive Secretary had said that the Commission has, for the past five years, focused on building of capacities with a view to come up with  researches to solve problems. He said that the result can be seen in the numbers of the institutions that got the grants.
He said the Commission will continue to provide the leadership and give the necessary support for the success of the ACE project.
Speaking, the Supervising Minister, Chief (Barr.) Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, described the development as a good thing to happen in the Education Sector, saying that the transformation in the sector is yielding fruit.  He noted that for eighteen Centres of Excellence in Africa, Nigeria got ten, saying, “Why then are they saying Nigerian Universities are not doing well?”
He said that for ten Universities to get a minimum of US$8 million (about N12 billion) for research purposes, is a good thing of note. He urged the benefitting institutions to demonstrate high commitment towards ensuring successful utilization of the grants, stressing that grants were due to  the quality of  their proposals.
The Minister commended World Bank for the support to the development of the Education Sector, and assured of Government commitment to the success of the project.
A key point that should not be lost on Nigerians is the fact that out of the 18 Universities selected by the World Bank from 52 proposals in West and Central Africa, 10 are from Nigeria. Few years ago this would not have been possible. It is now possible because the academics are being properly groomed through several training programmes, while the decaying infrastructures are being improved all across the nation.

The recognition for the improvements of the universities will continue to pour. Several other international agencies have approached the Federal Government to collaborate with it to further deepen the gains achieved in the last three years. Celebrations as we have had with the massive investment in the nation’s universities by the World Bank will continue unabated because the administration has built the much needed confidence with its sincerity of purpose and commitment to excellence where none existed in the past.

This is a milestone for the Nigerian University System which clearly bring to the fore the bright future of our citadels of learning.

Simeon Nwakaudu is the Special Assistant (Media) to the Supervising Minister of Education.

AmarSim Associations Development Consultants

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