Across the globe, governments have been at the heart of the investments needed to grow their economies. The Internet, the human genome project, cutting-edge research in vaccines and medicines - all these were led by governments interested in investing in their own people. When he founded the University of Virginia in 1819, Thomas Jefferson, then America's president, for instance, had envisioned a citadel of learning that would not only educate talent across the new nation, but would also lead the way in the R&D needed to accelerate America's transition, at the time, from an agricultural to an industrial economy.
The fact therefore remains proved that in order to prosper and thrive, a nation must continue to improve its education system. It must make the investments needed to transform low-performing schools to high-performing ones and in the process inspire its students to achieve as a matter of priority.
This is why despite misgivings in certain quarters the Federal Government's decision to establish new universities is a welcome one. As the Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Rufai noted, the decision is purely to gross the nation's competitive advantages educationally, and extend opportunity for the nation's sons and daughters to have easy access to higher education.
For some politicians in the People's Democratic Party (PDP) from the northeast sub-region, however, this purely national affair is now mistaken for an opportunity to score cheap political capital. Because the federal government, over the last many years, is seen in the northeast as having failed to extend the practical advantages of democratic governance - a neglect that some say added to the fuel of the recent insurgency, these politicians immediately seized the moment to speak about President Jonathan fulfilling his 'PDP campaign promise' to establish a University in Gashua, Yobe State.
A text message circulated around the Yobe/Borno axis yesterday, for instance, purportedly from the Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama made the announcement on establishing a federal university in Gashua a partisan one, saying the minister "congratulates the president for fulfilling his PDP campaign promise" to establish the university. The text message also mentioned a non-existent Kano-Nguru-Maiduguri Ndjamena rail line, which it said President Jonathan had started also as part of the PDP service to the people of the northeast.
Those who tried to make partisan this issue of a federal university in Gashua appear desperate to take the credit. Although this desperation is understandable given the federal government's failure to really impact the lives of the people of the region, the actual credit, in reality goes to Governor Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State. This is why I argued earlier that the issue is not a partisan but a national and policy one.
Once the federal government decided that a federal university would be established in Yobe State, according to available information, the Yobe State governor was said to have met with the President and the minister of education and asked that the new university be established in the town of Gashua. He was said to have argued that Gashua which is the headquarters of Yobe Zone C did not have a federal institution in the same way that Potiskum, which is the headquarters of Yobe Zone B has a Federal College of Education and a State University exists within territorial Yobe Zone A.
Last year, the Emir of Bade, His Royal Highness Alhaji Abubakar Umar Ibn Suleiman along with some elders from the Bade Emirate including members of the State Assembly from Bade Local Government went to the Government House Damaturu to express thanks and appreciation to the governor for insisting on Gashua as location for the new federal university.
Information also had it that the federal government had asked the Yobe State Government to provide an initial, temporary site for the school and the state government is said to have considered Government Comprehensive Secondary School Gashua as temporary site for the federal university.
Governor Geidam is said to have argued that although he could have the university cited anywhere within Yobe State other than Gashua, he particularly preferred Gashu'a because it symbolically represents Yobe Zone C and would mean extending opportunity to the people of the zone.
Yet, I have not read anywhere that the governor was making this an ANPP affair (his own political party) nor for that matter hankered to take plaudits for it. This, though, is not so much a statement about the governor's humility, which is well known, as it is about his desire to see the people of Yobe State benefitted in every way possible.
So, rather than make one federal university in Gashua a reason for their demonstrably undeserved self-congratulation, PDP politicians, such as Ngama, should look at what a university stands for within the political economy of leadership and responsibilities. They should be honest to tell the world that there is no such thing as a rail project by the PDP government from Kano to Nguru, Damaturu, Maiduguri and Ndjamena. If a project like this is in the offing, they should wait to celebrate it when it is there to be seen.
These politicians should also be reminded that to date, the President is yet to visit the northeast (Maiduguri and Damaturu especially) to see for himself the extent of misery that the people are in despite the humongous level of destruction and suffering wrought upon them by that mindless Boko Haram insurgency. There are no projects (except the Kano-Maiduguri highway started by former President Yar'adua) which are on the ground currently benefitting the people that the Ngamas can be so full of in the manner they seem to be doing.
I therefore conclude by saluting the manner that the minister of education, Professor Ruqayyatu is going about the new federal universities as purely an issue of national development. Short-sighted politicians who have nothing to show should beware.
Babayo wrote from University of Maiduguri.