Of agriculture varsities and the Agriculture Ministry

THE Federal Government’s decision to return three Federal Universities of Agriculture, formerly under the auspices of the National Universities Commission (NUC), to the Ministry of Agriculture, is neither supported by logic nor reason, and should be reversed forthwith. The decision to hand the oversight of the three universities—Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State; Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue State; and Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State—to the Agriculture Ministry was announced in Abuja in late January by Chief Audu Ogbeh, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Addressing various stakeholders, including the Vice Chancellors and Governing Boards of the three universities, Chief Ogbeh suggested that the move was justified by the imperative of ensuring that the universities rediscover their lost mandate as agriculture-focused research intensive institutions. Argued the minister: “Your return will effectively help us to reposition the three universities of agriculture as centres of excellence for the rapid development of the agriculture sector. There is no place where the competence and capacity to drive agriculture resides outside the universities of agriculture. We need to achieve a hunger-free Nigeria. Henceforth, students who are not interested in becoming farmers should be made to seek admission elsewhere. We are determined to offer you the necessary support for your transformation, for research for a healthier realm of discovery and self-actualisation.”

The minister cannot be faulted for insisting that the universities pour all their energies into agricultural research, and his contention that “students who are not interested in becoming farmers should be made to seek admission elsewhere” is backed up by simple logic. But we fail to see exactly how putting the universities under the Ministry of Agriculture solves these problems. For one thing, the Agriculture Ministry cannot regulate education. That is not its statutory duty. Second, curricular development, research and similar activities that Chief Ogbeh would rightly have them focus on are beyond the ken of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Besides, if you bring Federal Universities of Agriculture under the Ministry of Agriculture, do you also bring the universities of Science and Technology under the Ministry of Science and Technology? Is sport research better enhanced under the aegis of the Ministry of Youth and Sport? The minister seems to be conflating cause and effect.

True, some agriculture extension agencies in the respective universities may have a special relationship with the Agriculture Ministry, much in the same way that University Teaching Hospitals are overseen by the Ministry of Health. But these unique instances are a far cry from what the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development has proposed.

We are surprised that none of the stakeholders in attendance at the meeting with the minister raised a finger in protest against an idea so illogical, and so patently inimical to the development of the universities as research institutions. Indeed, the vice chancellors of the affected universities were reported to have lauded the Agric Minister’s initiative when he announced it to them during  the meeting he had with them. This is distressing, to say the least.

The Agriculture Ministry is not the right institution (if any were needed) to saddle with the oversight of research in any university worthy of the name. This is a terrible and poorly thought out policy, and it should be walked back without delay.